2020 ended with a historic conservation success for Naples Zoo. Partnering with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the Zoo was able to rehabilitate and help FWC release a wild Florida panther – marking the first time Naples Zoo has been able to release a panther back into the wild.
FWC received a call on December 9, around 4:00 pm, about a Florida panther that had been hit by a vehicle and was still alive. The accident occurred on Oil Well Road, just west of the junction with State Road 29.
FWC panther biologists responded to the call and safely transported the panther to Naples Zoo’s Glass Animal Hospital. Upon arrival at Naples Zoo, the panther received an emergency health assessment and treatment by veterinarian Dr. David Murphy.
After x-rays and a full body exam, no major fractures or lacerations were found.
This was the first wild Florida panther treated in the Glass Animal Hospital at Naples Zoo since it opened in November 2019.
The male panther recovered well, spending two weeks at the Zoo being monitored and cared for by Naples Zoo’s animal care team and FWC biologists. At first, he was still sore from the accident and walking with a slight limp. But after a few days, he started eating and becoming more active in the overnight hours, which were all positive signs.
The panther was released back into the wild the week of Christmas – a perfect holiday gift for all the biologists and zoologists who worked so hard to rescue him.
In 2015, Naples Zoo joined a collaborative effort with US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the FWC to assist with Florida panther rescue efforts. This five-year partnership has helped to save five Florida panthers. Before this most recent cat, all of the rescued panthers were too young or their injuries were too severe to be released.
In addition to Naples Zoo’s direct care for panthers, visitor education efforts encourage guests to learn about Florida panthers and ways that they can help them in the wild.
Join Naples Zoo and FWC to help reduce the risk to panthers on the roads by committing to drive the posted speeds in panther crossing zones.
Visit www.panthercrossing.org to make your commitment today. With as few as 20 to 30 cats surviving in the 1970s, Florida panthers once teetered on the very edge of extinction. Several decades of conservation efforts for this federally listed endangered species have increased the population to an estimated 120 to 230 adult cats or more.