NEW HOPE FOR THE FLORIDA PANTHER (3 of 6) | Saved by ranching | As the sun rises across Buck Island Ranch near Lake Placid in central Florida, three modern-day cowboys round up a herd of historic ‘cracker’ cattle – descendants of the cattle brought from Spain to Florida in the early 1500s. With cattle ranches occupying almost a sixth of Florida’s landmass – and with most of the unprotected lands in the Florida Wildlife Corridor – the recovery of the Florida panther depends largely on the preservation of these ranches. But as suburban sprawl encroaches, the price of land increases and many ranches are being sold to housing developers, cutting off essential panther habit along the wildlife corridor. Fortunately there are research ranches such as Buck Island Ranch that undertake long-term studies to attest to the benefits of the low-density cattle ranches in this region, from cleaning water in the Everglades watershed to increasing carbon sequestration (capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide) in the semi-native pasture grazed by cattle. It is important to highlight the value of these traditional ranches, says Carlton, who sees them as part of the solution for protecting wild Florida. On exhibit at @natural_history_museum in London @nhm_wpy#WPY55@natgeo@insidenatgeo@ilcp_photographers@pathofthepanther@flcattlemen@ilcp_photographers#FloridaWild#KeepFLWild
Photo by Carlton Ward Jr. @carltonward | This is Walter, a six-year-old Florida panther living at ZooTampa. He was rescued in 2017 by @MyFWC biologists and veterinarians from Highlands County, where his front left foot had been caught in a snare that cut into his bones and nearly killed him. At @zootampa he underwent a series of surgeries and a partial amputation that saved his life. Unable to be returned to the wild, Walter was given a permanent home at ZooTampa, and he was named after a donor who was inspired to invest in the veterinary facilities to help Walter and other Florida panthers. Walter is now an ambassador at ZooTampa, where his story can inspire nearly one million annual visitors and where 13 Florida panthers have been rescued and rehabilitated since 1988. I am working with dedicated conservationists at ZooTampa and other Florida zoos to use my #PathofthePanther project with @insidenatgeo to help protect the Florida Wildlife Corridor. I captured this portrait with a lucky 1/10-second handheld exposure, focusing through the steel mesh of his enclosure with a telephoto lens. @pathofthepanther@FL_wildcorridor#FloridaWild#Panther#KeepFLWild.
NEW HOPE FOR THE FLORIDA PANTHER (5 of 6) | Family rescue | Veterinarians and staff from White Oak Conservation carry two anaesthetized male Florida panther kittens into a clinic for pre-release check-ups. Four months earlier, their mother – known by her radio-tracking collar number as FP224 – was found on the side of a road near Naples with a broken hind leg after being struck by a vehicle. As one of only a few panthers wearing a tracking collar, state biologists knew that she had recently given birth to three kittens. Aware that the youngsters would not survive alone while their mother was being treated, the team managed to trap two of the three kittens. The pair were then transferred to a rehabilitation center, where they were eventually reunited with their mother once she had recovered from surgery. Following the story, Carlton witnessed the first time that a Florida panther family had been rescued, rehabilitated and released back into the wild together. On exhibit at @natural_history_museum in London @nhm_wpy#WPY55@natgeo@insidenatgeo@ilcp_photographers@pathofthepanther#FloridaWild#KeepFLWild@myfwc@whiteoakconservation
NEW HOPE FOR THE FLORIDA PANTHER (2 of 6) | Squeezed by sprawl | Viewed from the air, suburban housing on the eastern fringe of Naples in southwest Florida encroaches on prime panther habitat. As one of the fastest-growing states in the United States – and currently the third most populous – Florida is losing more than 40,470 hectares (100,000 acres) of rural and natural habitat each year to accommodate the influx of people moving to the state (estimated to be a million people every three years). The statewide Florida Wildlife Corridor – a network of public and private land that supports wildlife – offers a path to recovery for the endangered Florida panther. But, says Carlton, if suburban development continues unchecked, most of the missing links in the corridor will be lost and the big cats’ stronghold in southern Florida will be permanently cut off from the rest of the state and country. ‘There is little hope for the recovery of the Florida panther without more land conservation,’ says Carlton. On exhibit at @natural_history_museum in London @nhm_wpy#WPY55@natgeo@insidenatgeo@ilcp_photographers@pathofthepanther@ilcp_photographers#FloridaWild#KeepFLWild | Flight provides by @lighthawk_org
Photos by Carlton Ward Jr. @carltonward | Lara Cusack, panther veterinarian with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, handles kittens belonging to their mother, FP-224, one of several panthers in southwest Florida wearing a radio collar for research and monitoring. These young cats were measured and given immunity boosters while FP-224, which has repeatedly broken bones in vehicle collisions, was away from the den hunting. The previous year (second photo), two panther kittens were stranded when FP-224 was hit by a car near Naples. Biologists found the kittens, and the family was rehabilitated at White Oak Conservation Center. Here, the panther family is released. The young brothers stayed together briefly but were both killed by cars within a year. The mother survived to produce another litter (first photo). Vehicle strikes are the leading cause of death for Florida panthers, killing nearly 30 per year. Please see the new article by Douglas Main at NationalGeographic.com/animals. Follow me and @pathofthepanther for more photos showing how the endangered Florida panther can help save the @fl_wildcorridor.#FloridaWildlifeCorridor#Floridapanther@MyFWC#FloridaWild#KeepFLWild
This is Walter, a nearly 6-year-old Florida panther living at @zootampa. He was rescued in 2017 by @MyFWC biologists and veterinarians from Highlands County, where his front left foot had been caught in a snare that cut into his bones and nearly killed him. He was brought to ZooTampa, where he underwent a series of surgeries and a partial amputation that saved his life. Unable to be returned to the wild, Walter was given a permanent home at ZooTampa, where he was named after a donor who Walter inspired to invest in the veterinary facilities to help Walter and other Florida panthers in the future. Walter, who you can see at ZooTampa, is now an ambassador in a place where he can inspire nearly one million annual visitors about the challenges his species faces in the wild. Since 1988, 13 Florida panthers have been rescued and rehabilitated at ZooTampa, where I am on the board of directors and working with their dedicated conservationists to use the Path of the Panther project to help inspire appreciation and protection of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. I captured this portrait last week with a lucky 1/10 sec handheld exposure focusing through the steel mesh of his enclosure with a telephoto lens. @pathofthepanther@FL_wildcorridor#FloridaWild#Panther#KeepFLWild.
A large red drum (redfish) looks up from a temporary examination table on the deck of a commercial fishing boat last week. Biologists and friends from @myfwc were catching, sampling and releasing redfish during spawning aggregations in the Gulf of Mexico near the mouth of Tampa Bay, as part of a multi year population study that has taken on new relevance with recent red tide events. The day I was on the boat, 40 redfish received surgically implanted sonar tags that will allow scientists to track their movements using an acoustic listening array in nearshore Gulf waters. Fish in the study often provide years of data. Stay tuned for more photos from this exciting research in coming weeks. #redfish#reddrum#fish#gulfofmexico#floridawild#keepflwild