Friday, November 22, 2013

Florida Panther Festival: A Great Day of Awareness and Fun

Amazing volunteer, Roy Ault, holding down the Sierra Club table! (c) Alexis Meyer
The Florida Panther Festival was a great success! Held at the North Collier Regional Park in Naples on Saturday, November 16th, the annual event, now in its 3rd year, brought together local communities to learn about Florida panthers.

With over 1,500 visitors and 50 vendors and exhibitors, it was an incredible day. The Florida Panther Festival aims to raise awareness for the critically endangered Florida panther, while bringing together numerous stakeholders who work on panther issues.

Model of livestock fencing. (c) Alexis Meyer
The objectives of the Festival are to "educate both residents and visitors to South Florida about the management needs of the Florida Panther and to heighten the awareness for the maintenance and protection of panther habitat through not only the core panther population area but practical expansion areas in Florida. To make the Festival a self-sustaining event that not only develops public and private partnerships but empowers the private community partners to become Festival leaders. To conduct the Festival as a free entertaining, educational, fun-filled event, combined with field-based learning opportunities. And to establish the Festival with interactive educational experiences that foster a broadened understanding of living and recreating in panther country and that promotes personal safety and the protection of livestock and pets."

Sun Lion Tangerines. (c) Alexis Meyer
Ranging from non-profits and government agencies, to universities and orchards, the festival housed numerous stakeholders working to help panthers. A demonstration tent was set up outside to promote the use of predator-prooffences. People in panther habitat can house their livestock in these fences to prevent predation by panthers, bobcats, coyotes, and other predators. Numerous children's activities were set up, including face-painting, a petting zoo (in conjunction with the "Living with Panthers" display area), and an awesome panther mascot! A trail tour of North Collier Regional Park was lead by rangers from Big Cypress National Preserve, and allowed attendees to get out and explore nature.

The following day, Sunday, was filled with field trips to areas known for panther sightings. Participants could go on a CREW "Passport to Panthers" guided walk, a Panther Bike Ride through Big Cypress, a buggy ride through the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, and many other activities through out Picayune Strand State Forest, Fakahatchee Preserve, and Babcock Ranch.

Overall, it was an incredible experience. Having so many dedicated people and organizations in one room was truly inspiring. So many people have dedicated themselves to raising awareness for panthers, and the Florida Panther Festival is a wonderful place to see all their hard work in action. It was the first time Sierra Club has been involved with the festival, and we can't wait for next year's event!

Good times had by all!