Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge
Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge
Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in southwest Florida, covers nearly 26,400 acres. The sanctuary has protected natural plants and wildlife since it was founded in 1989. It is located twenty miles east of Naples in Collier County at the center of Big Cypress Basin. The resort was purchased for 10.3 million dollars from the Collier family who owned much of the land.
They made this refuge not only for the endangered species that live there, including its namesake the Florida panther, but also because of the mass deforestation that took place during World War II. For hundreds of years, cypress trees towered 130 feet over the area and stood 25 feet in circumference. Starting in 1944, at the beginning of the war, the area began being logged in order to provide wood needed for soldiers. The trees were cut down at an alarming rate, averaging one million board feet per week. The last of the trees was chopped down in 1957. The only trees that remained were on Corkscrew Audubon Preserve. Amazingly, today the cypress trees are slowly replacing the ones lost long ago.
The cypress trees are just one of the major factors to why we need the Florida Panther NWR. They are working on the Orchid Restoration and Conservation Project, since this is home to many rare species of orchids. There were 43 known kinds in this area, but only 30 have been spotted in the past 30 years.
They also spend a great deal of their resources ensuring the survival of the Florida panther, since this is the only known spot it is protected today. This species of mountain lion has been spotted in nine counties of Arkansas along with other parts of Florida, unfortunately southern Florida remains the only area they can assure the protection of these beautiful cats. In order to better protect them, they have researched about how these creatures live through radio technology collars and infrared cameras. Prior to the building of the reserve, the panthers use to roam throughout all areas east of the Mississippi river, which shows how much of its land has been taken away.
This refuge not only uses its funding towards these great cats, but also in researching, monitoring, and evaluating ways to improve the natural ecosystem of southern Florida, along with educating people to stop the destruction of their own natural habitat. One of the things they need to do to help is to remove non-native plants, due to the harm they are causing on the natural native ecosystem of Florida.
Plant life in Florida Panther NWR
There are at least 700 species of plant life native to this area, including:
- cypress trees
- glades lobelia
- hydric pinelands
- prarie milkweed
- rare orchids
- saw palmetto
- splash pine
- tropical hardwood hammocks
- wet praries
Photo of Florida Panther
Dangers of Non-Native Species
One of the greatest threats to the natural habitat of southern Florida is the many non-native plants that have been brought and planted in the area, such as the Brazilian pepper tree, the old world climbing fern, and the Australian pine. Each of these have spread throughout the area, invading land where the plant species native to the area used to live. This has also changed the natural processes that allow for the species to better live, such as natural forest fires.
Many areas need natural fires to begin to allow for the vegetation to flourish the best. These invasive plants have caused a reduction in natural fires in some areas, and causing other areas to havc the fires cause more damaging effects than they would have years before the introduction of these exotic plants. Another reason, we do not want these foreign plants to be around is because the animal species native to the area, eat the native plants and do not eat the non-native plants. By the non-native species taking over, this allows less edible vegetation for the native creatures to eat.
In order to reduce these other plants, we need to discourage people from planting foreign species in the area, especially ones that spread. Also, the Florida Panther NWR is working on removing many of these through herbicides, biological means, and controlled fires.
Fires are very important to many of the plants even without the encroachment of these exotic species, because they allow the reduction of the debris and build up that would be hazardous to the flourishing of natural plants. These man-made fires usually target shrubs such as wax myrtle and willows that have been transplanted to these areas. They are only done when conditions are ideal and are very well controlled. In order to fund these operations, the Florida Panther WLR gets donations and encourages visitors in parts of the reserve.
Wild Life in Florida
- Big Cypress fox squirrel
- Black Bear
- Black rat
- Common opossum
- Diamond-back rattlesnakes
- Eastern cottontail rabbit
- Eastern gray squirrel
- Eastern mole
- Eastern pipistrelle bat
- Evening bat
- Everglades mink
- Feral hog
- Florida black bear
- Florida panther
- Florida water rat
- Grey fox
- Hispid cotton rat
- Long-tailed weasel
- Marsh rabbit
- Norway rat
- Rice rat
- River otter
- Seminole bat
- Shorttail shrew
- Spotted skunk
- Striped skunk
- White-tailed deer
- Wild Turkeys
- Yellow bat
Visiting the Wildlife Refuge
The reserve has eighteen staff members and approximately 8,000 visitors a year. The visitors are only permitted to walk on certain trails, while the majority of the land can only be visited through limited tours.
Many people hope to see a panther while visiting, although this is very unlikely since like most cats, they are nocturnal or active at night. Plus there is only an average of 5-11 Florida panthers that den, hunt, roam, and lounge in the area, due to their dwindling numbers. They do not travel in groups, which is why so few can live in a certain area, since they like to have their own space. Plus, only limited areas are allowed for visitors to view, to allow the panthers and other animals to live undisturbed. Keep in mind the purpose of the reserve is not for human enjoyment, but to keep the animals from becoming extinct.
There are two trails humans can walk on that are open only during the daytime. Keep in mind that during the summer, the refuge has rain showers that flood the area. During the winter these areas dry out. One trail, which during the summer and fall time is often flooded is located north of the intersection of State Road 29 and I-75, and loops one and a third mile. This trail is also unable to be mowed during the wet season. This is great if you like a challenge, but not if you are looking for a leisurely stroll.
The other is a third mile wheelchair-accessible loop that meanders through a hardwood hammock and other tropical vegetation. It is referred to as the Leslie M. Duncan Memorial Trail. Both trails were constructed in areas where the panthers seldom visit, although occasionally you will find a trail from one, as well as from deer or bears. Morning and evening is the best time to see active wildlife in these areas.
Pic of Florida Panther at the Florida Panther Wildlife Reserve
Protecting Endangered Animals
We should not leave the protection of our world's resources, animals, and vegetation to only hired professionals. There are things we can do as well.
- Educate others by talking, the more people who are interested in protecting endangered animals, the better impact we will have on our environment.
- Visit national parks and nature reserves and take part in paid guided tours to help fund their projects. While there, make sure you abide by the rules, because they have them for a reason.
- Make your backyard as much like a wild reserve as possible to allow for as many inhabitants as you can.
- Plant a tree that is native to your area, it takes a hundred years to grow to the height of many of the trees that are being chopped down.
- Have a bird feeder during the winter and a bird bath during the summer.
- Use compost rather than chemical fertilizer in your garden. This will benefit you as well as any animals that live in your area.
- Recycle, many places will do this for free, or you can have a door service very cheaply.
- Reduce how much disposable products you use, for instance a washcloth instead of a paper towel.
- Donate old toys rather than throwing them away.
- Turn off lights and water when not in use. For instance while brushing your teeth don't let the water run.
- Write articles or letters to inform others of endangered species.
Video about Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge
© 2013 Angela Michelle Schultz