HOMOSASSA – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Park Service today celebrated Yuma, a Florida panther kitten, and his move to his permanent habitat at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. They were joined by officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Yuma arrived at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park on April 3. Yuma is a Native-American word that means “son of the chief.”
As a 1-week old kitten, he was discovered barely alive Jan. 23 by Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission biologists checking on the den of a female panther in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Naples. The kitten had apparently been abandoned, was dehydrated and non-responsive. He received emergency care at Animal Specialty Hospital in Naples and rehabilitative care at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa.
“It is an incredible honor to have Yuma at the Wildlife Park,” said Clif Maxwell, district chief for the Florida Park Service. “While we are saddened he cannot be returned to his natural habitat, this will provide visitors to Homosassa Springs the opportunity to view one of Florida’s rarest and most iconic endangered species. We are very proud to add Yuma to the Homosassa family and will enjoy watching him grow.”
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Since he cannot return to the wild, he will live at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, where he will serve as an ambassador for his species. Park staff and volunteers have been preparing this exhibit for the rambunctious panther kitten for the last seven months.
It is estimated only 100 to 160 adult panthers remain of the species. Most of them are in Lee, Collier, Hendry, Dade and Monroe counties. By 1995, only 20 to 30 panthers remained in the wild. That year, eight female Texas cougars were relocated to the area to restore genetic viability. The biggest threat to Florida panthers is loss of habitat, according to the FWC.
Florida panthers are considered an umbrella species. Many plants and animals benefit from its protection and the protection of its habitat. Panthers prowl the same woods as black bear, coyotes, bobcats, white-tailed deer, wild hogs and many smaller mammals. Many varieties of birds, reptiles and amphibians live side by side with panthers.
Rare tropical plants flourish in the south Florida wilderness where panthers roam. By protecting habitat for panthers, we protect our environmental heritage and health, and provide a wildlife legacy for our children and generations to come, according to the FWC.