Panther pair gets new home, exhibit at Gatorland

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Florida panther and Texas cougar mix Neiko stalks his prey.

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two representatives of one of the most endangered members of the large cat family on earth, the Florida panther, will be making their debut at the all-new Panther Springs exhibit scheduled to open in April at Gatorland.

Neiko and Lucy, a brother and sister pair, are a cross between the extremely endangered Florida panther and a Texas cougar.  Shortly after birth at a Florida rescue and rehabilitation center in 2006, the pair were adopted and raised in the loving care of a Florida conservationist until their arrival at Gatorland.

The Florida Panther is an endangered subspecies of the American cougar and is the only cougar population east of the Mississippi River.  This stealthy predator once ranged through all of Florida to northern Georgia and the southern parts of Tennessee, and as far west as East Texas.  The only breeding population now exists in a small area of southern Florida in portions of the Big Cypress National Preserve, Everglades National Park, and the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.

Historical persecution severely depleted the population in the early 20th century and the Florida panther has been protected from legal hunting since 1958.  This large cat was listed as an endangered species in 1967 and was named the official animal of Florida in 1982.  Continued habitat loss and degradation from human population growth caused the number of panthers to plunge to about 20 in the mid ‘90s.  Due to such a small, isolated population, inbreeding and birth defects pushed these beautiful cats to the brink of extinction.

In an effort to save the population, eight female Texas Cougars were introduced in 1995.   This “experiment” proved successful in providing genetic diversity and healthier kittens, so much so that the wild population is now estimated between 100 and 160.  Without the introduction of the Texas cougars, scientists estimate the number of Florida panthers would be about 10 today and incapable of avoiding complete extinction.

The natural setting of Panther Springs will provide the perfect backdrop for these elusive creatures.  At over 2,000 square feet, the open-air exhibit will feature a waterfall for enrichment opportunities, numerous napping ledges near guest viewing areas, and a state-of-the-art husbandry center. 

Neiko and Lucy will make perfect ambassadors to help educate our visitors on the peril of the Florida Panther,” states Mark McHugh, President & CEO of Gatorland.  “The fight to save this species is ongoing, and our efforts to showcase their mystique and beauty will encourage our guests to support further conservation efforts to protect North America’s largest cats.”

Gatorland is a 110-acre theme park and wildlife preserve, combining “Old Florida” charm with exciting new exhibits and entertainment.  The park opened as a roadside attraction in 1949.  Today, it provides affordable-priced family fun with thousands of alligators, crocodiles, an aviary, breeding marsh with observation tower, petting zoo, nature walk, educational wildlife programs, Gatorland award-winning gift shop, Florida’s best train-ride, restaurant, Gator Gully Splash Park and one-of-a-kind reptilian shows including the Gator Wrestlin’ Show, Gator Jumparoo and the Up-close Encounters Show.  And, don’t miss the world’s largest collection of giant white alligators in the new White Gator Swamp and the all new Screamin’ Gator Zip Line featuring over 1,200 feet of high flying thrills, five intense zip lines and a massive 150 ft. suspension bridge.

To find out more about “Orlando’s only Theme Park with Bite and Attitude,” visit us online at: www.gatorland.com or call 1-800-393-JAWS.