Panthers Expanding To North Florida?
Published March 21st, 2014
GAINESVILLE - Florida panthers are endangered-- but some believe their chances can be improved if their habitat is extended to North Central Florida. Experts from all over the state gathered here today to find ways to help the Florida panther to recover.
While these big cat's home is in south Florida, environmental groups hope to expand their territory to north Florida as well.
This is the first Florida panther symposium here in Gainesville. During this daylong event, experts and the public got together to discuss the opportunities of expanding the Florida panthers range.
“That's kind of how I got into environmental work, as I traveled around the country and around the world I always looked at natural areas... I was always interested in the different habitats and the different critters that live in these habitats," Matthew Schwartz the Executive Director South Fl Wildlands Association said.
Schwartz from south Florida, has always been fascinated by wildlife. Especially Florida panthers— "Some people call it charismatic megafauna, a big animal that's beautiful and interesting... And people like it," Schwartz said. Florida panthers are an iconic creature but a dying species as well.
"You also have the historic side. They are state animals, they were declared the state animals in 1982, by school children. And now we only have 100 to 160 left... They really represent old Florida,” Alexis Meyer a Panther Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club.
Most Florida panthers reside in south Florida, however that doesn't mean it’s the best habitat for them. A symposium in Gainesville gathered experts in different areas to establish a goal of reintroducing the cats to other areas and expanding their home.
Jaclyn Lopez a Florida based staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity said, "The recovery plans for the Florida Panther state that self-sustaining populations, in addition to the one that is in south Florida are necessary for bringing the panther back from the brink of extinction, so we know that this is a necessary step. We also know and scientists have shown us, it is feasible to bring panthers to north Florida, we have the right type of habitat."
One place they are looking into is around the Okefenokee wetlands. Lopez says this area has the right type of prey and habitat. And while experts say this species is recovering, they also say there's still plenty of work ahead.
"With that recovery we have to protect habitat if we want to see them do even better," Meyer said. On Saturday there will be a field trip to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
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