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An Earth Day Note of Gratitude

Since I’ve had my little blog, I’ve been blessed with requests from biologists, scientists, park rangers, national wildlife organizations, and artists to use my photos — my tiny glimpses into the continually threatened natural Florida. I always learn so much from them all, and am incredibly grateful to have met them.

In honor of Earth Day, I want to give an enormous THANKS to all of those who work so incredibly hard, often in dubious and/or dangerous situations, for our beautiful blue sphere — the hands-on scientists and rangers working directly with the wildlife and lands, caring for the welfare of so many threatened and endangered critters and ecosystems. An equal shout of gratitude to the writers, artists, and outspoken voices of our wonderful world!

Most recently, I met Everglades biologist John Kellam, and he kindly shared his amazing research on the endangered Florida panther. To say that this is a special and rare glimpse into the lives of these magnificent and elusive animals is an understatement! I hope you enjoy John’s images and descriptive text as much as I did — and another thanks to him for sharing his work for, and obvious love of, these endangered creatures.

From John: I am a biologist; Since 2006, I have been a member of the National Park Service Florida panther capture, research, and monitoring team, and the lead biologist of the first successful home range and habitat use study of the Big Cypress fox squirrel (a Florida State listed Threatened species) in natural habitats (

Florida Panther Kitten  (Copyright  John Kellam), Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Florida Panther Kitten (Copyright John Kellam), Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

More from John: The kitten in the photos is 1 of 3 kittens located in female Florida panther #162’s den on August 15, 2014 in the interior of Big Cypress National Preserve.

Florida Panther Kitten,  Copyright  John Kellam, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Florida Panther Kitten (Copyright John Kellam), Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

When a female panther is denning and her kittens are @ 14 days old (based on radio-telemetry data), we wait until she leaves the den (typically to go hunting), then we locate the den and process the kitten away from the den site. Our medical work-up of kittens involves collecting biopsy, hair, and ectoparasite samples, inserting subcutaneous microchips (PIT-tags), obtaining body mass/measurement data, and administering oral medications. Once we have processed the kittens, we place them back in the den.

When kittens are handled at dens, we gain valuable reproduction information on litter size, gender, weight, genetics, and overall health of kittens. In addition, kittens with microchips provide us information on movements and survival if handled again as an adult.

Florida Panther Kittens at Den (Copyright  John Kellam), Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Florida Panther Kittens at Den (Copyright John Kellam), Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Here’s much love and good wishes to a promising future for these amazing animals — Happy Earth Day!

Animal Bridges and Wildlife Crossings

I recently read a statistic — nearly 70% of Florida panthers were killed by vehicles in 2012. That’s stupendous; visit Wildlife Extra to learn more. So while overall their populations are faring well, our state could definitely use some more of these most amazing animal bridges in key wildlife areas….



Animals bridges, which may also be known as ecoducts or wildlife crossings, are structures that allow animals to safely cross human-made barriers like highways. A wildlife crossing is the broadest term and can include: underpass tunnels, viaducts, overpasses and bridges, amphibian tunnels, fish ladders, culvets and green roofs. [Source]

Wildlife crossings are a practice in habitat conservation, allowing connections or reconnections between habitats and combating habitat fragmentation. They also assist in avoiding collisions between vehicles and animals, which in addition to killing or injuring wildlife may cause injury to humans and property damage. It has been reported that vehicle-animals collisions costs the United States a staggering $8 Billion a year.

The first wildlife crossings were constructed in France during the 1950s. European countries including the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and France have been using various crossing structures to reduce the conflict between wildlife and roads for…

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Flamingo Gardens: Botanical Gardens & Everglades Wildlife Sanctuary

Truth be told, I was hesitant to visit South Florida’s Flamingo Gardens. I hadn’t visited a zoo-like environment in nearly 34 years, when a piddling 7-year-old-me had to be dragged in hysterics from the Honolulu City Zoo. Since then, I haven’t entered another — and the only sanctuaries I visit are carefully researched. So when friends suggested Flamingo Gardens after being pleasantly surprised by the facility, I researched the place in my typically type-A spastic nature: Was the native wildlife truly injured/non-releasable, blah blah blah? But it wasn’t just me with doubts: On entirely separate occasions, acquaintances expressed concerns about the location — fears that it was a tourist trap for visiting snowbirds, and consequently hosting less-than-stellar conditions for animals. In hindsight, I’m wondering why others had the same worries… Was it poor marketing? Would a tagline help? Was the signage scaring people off? Or were we all simply misinformed, over-reactive idiots?

Whatever the reason, it’s a dayum shame. My/our crazy conservationist fears were completely unfounded.

South Florida Flora

One of the oldest botanical gardens in South Florida, Flamingo Gardens today is a not-for-profit facility with more than 3000 tropical and sub-tropical species of plants and trees. Within its 60 acres also resides an Everglades Wildlife Sanctuary and aviary, which is home to the largest collection of Florida native wildlife in the state. The Wray Botanical Collection at Flamingo Gardens includes 21 of the largest trees of their species — “Champion Trees” — and a unique hammock of 200-year-old live oak trees. While walking through these beautiful giants, it’s mind-boggling and heartbreaking to think that without the efforts of the Wrays — who simply didn’t allow these trees to be logged like so many others, and fought for the land’s protection — this jungle growth, some of the last in South Florida, now represents the oldest in the state. A narrated tram tour (which we didn’t take) leads visitors through some of this last natural South Florida growth, located in the back 50 acres of Flamingo Gardens. More on these most amazing gardens and champion trees…

South Florida Fauna

Within the Everglades Wildlife Sanctuary, aviary, and Bird of Prey Center, permanently injured and non-releasable wildlife are given special care and a home. Read about their stories — so many people, nearly all in fact, just strolled right by the detailed plaques that explained how and why these animals came to be at the sanctuary. Infuriating. Eight-three species of Florida native birds and animals, including alligators, panthers, bobcats, otters, eagles, free-roaming peacocks, and of course the namesake flamingos reside at the sanctuary. A half-acre free-flight aviary is home to more than 250 birds representing 45 species — in the last 20 years, these birds have produced over 2000 offspring which have been released into the wild. Five native Florida ecosystems are exhibited at the aviary: coastal prairie, mangrove swamp, cypress forest, sub-tropical hardwood hammock, and sawgrass prairie. A daily Wildlife Encounter show offers live presentations of Florida native wildlife from sanctuary, including birds of prey, mammals, and reptiles, elucidating their relationships to humans and the environment.


Barred Owl

Arriving to Florida in 1925, Floyd and Jane Wray were quickly intrigued with the horticultural possibilities of their new subtropical home. They purchased 320 acres of land on Long Key in the Everglades, and incorporated Flamingo Groves on January 2, 1927. Orange trees were planted — and by 1939 2,000 acres were covered in citrus groves. But earlier, in 1928, the Wrays envisioned a botanical showcase of subtropical flora, and began a project that was to become one of the first botanical gardens and tourist attractions in South Florida. The gardens received foreign plants and seeds from the federal government for test planting in a subtropical growing climate — rare tropical fruit and flowering trees were displayed so that visitors could experience South Florida’s beauty and diversity.

In 1969, Jane Wray — herself a musician, teacher, and poet who loved the gardens — established the Floyd L. Wray Memorial Foundation in honor of her late husband, to preserve the property and protect the history of the Everglades. The name changed to Flamingo Gardens, the botanical gardens were expanded, and the Everglades Wildlife Sanctuary was added in 1990. The Bird of Prey Center and the free-flight aviary were built in the early 1990s. The 1933 Wrays’  home — now the Historic Wray Home — is registered as a historic site and has been restored as a museum providing a glimpse of life in the 1930s. Unfortunately (or fortunately — it provides an excuse for a return trip!), we missed this while we rambled amid the gardens and animals.


Long story, short…. GO! Visit this amazing place, walk among the centuries-old trees, say hello to the rescued animals, and learn of their stories. We were able to visit on a comparatively quiet weekday, and it was amazing to chat with the animals’ overseers. It’s heartbreaking — but at least these animals’ stories ended well. With as many sanctuaries and animal rescues as I’ve visited, one can only wonder how de-clawing exotic cats is still permitted when it causes extreme pain and lameness; or the horrific “legal” state minimum enclosure requirements for bears, big cats, and other wild animals (envision a tiny jail cell); or why people would even *want* to shoot endangered, majestic birds of prey. It’s appalling. So I’m only sorry that I — as well as others, obviously — remained in the dark as long as I did regarding this facility’s nature and mission. If you visit, be sure to check their calendar for upcoming special events (for instance, they’re having an Earth Day event, including a benefit flea market on April 21…. FUN!). And give the parrots some loving attention on the way out; several — the Cockatoo and the African Grey (at least, at that moment) were especially anxious for one-one-one time, having obviously been accustomed to it in their pasts.

From the website:

Flamingo Garden’s mission is to depict and preserve the natural and cultural heritage of South Florida and the Everglades in our botanical gardens and wildlife sanctuary:

* by providing a repository for endangered plant and wildlife species and a living library of specific taxa available for research and education.
* by inspiring an appreciation for the beauty and diversity of tropical and subtropical plants from around the world that can be grown in our area.
* by guiding the public in environmentally responsible and aesthetic horticultural practices.
* by encouraging environmental awareness and Everglades preservation to visiting tourists, residents, and school children.

Contact Information:

3750 S. Flamingo Rd.
Davie, FL 33330
Phone: 954-473-2955

Hours & Pricing:

$9.00 child (ages 4-11) / $15.00 seniors, students and military / $18.00 adult
(Check online for coupons!)

Hours: 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. / Closed Monday (June 1 – Oct. 31)
Open Year-Round

For More Information:

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Panther Kitteh Released into Big Cypress

Trees Along the Florida Trail, in Big Cypress

Defenders of Wildlife recently announced some great news for the Florida panther! An orphaned kitten, discovered last year (I remember the sad story — they never found his brother) has been released in Big Cypress National Preserve. Much luck to them all, and profuse thanks for the continued rescue and conservation efforts on the biologists’ behalf.

Rescued Florida Panther, Panther Ridge Conservation Center

The cats have much to contend with in Big Cypress these days — continued threats of oil-drilling expansion from Florida’s Governor Rick Scott, and the increased use, and consequently trails, of off-road vehicles (ORVs). The battle rages, with overwhelming concerns for the wildlife — mainly for the elusive Florida panther’s habitat. As of early November 2011, a lawsuit has been filed to protect Big Cypress from invasive ORV employment — seeking to overturn National Park Service’s decision to introduce extensive ORV use in the Addition Lands. According to the lawsuit, NPS authorized the ORVs in the Addition Lands, a result they achieved “by improperly excluding pristine lands from a wilderness eligibility study, which allowed NPS to bypass recommending those areas to Congress for long-term preservation as wilderness for the public’s enjoyment of these lands in their natural state. The lawsuit also raises concerns with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion, which failed to address several key threats to the highly imperiled Florida panther, as well as other species. Here is a link to the press release, and here is a link to the complaint.” (WE-blog: Wildlife and Environment Blog). As one who’s encountered these mechanical beasts within the far reaches of Big Cypress, it’s indeed a sad and scary thing to witness — their sheer size, their bellowing noise, their enormous tracks — after walking for hours through the silence and beauty of Big Cypress, their force is all that more mind-blowingly evident.

From the Defenders of Wildlife article:

(Visit the Defenders of Wildlife blog for the complete article by Caitlin Leutwiler, Panther Kitten Released into the Wild.)

This week saw the happy return of an orphaned Florida panther kitten to the wild. The release of the 1.5-year-old cat took place on Tuesday evening in Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve, near the area he’d been discovered last year.

Watch the video footage of the kitten as he takes off into the Big Cypress National Preserve (footage provided by Ralph Arwood).


On October 25, 2010, through on-going tracking activity within the preserve, the radio-collar of female panther FP102 began emitting a mortality signal. Upon reaching the site of the signal, National Park Service biologists found the remains of the cat. A subsequent necropsy confirmed that she had died from wounds received during a fight. Five months earlier the cat had given birth to two male kittens. After the death of FP102, one of the offspring, was discovered. His sibling was never found.

Rescue efforts:

The National Park Service, working closely with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, transported the kitten, now called FP194, to the White Oak Conservation Center, a wildlife facility in northeastern Florida. At the facility, the cat was cared for and housed in appropriate facilities with minimal human contact….

For More Information on the ORV Issue and Lawsuit:

For More Information on Big Cypress National Preserve:

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