Thursday, August 21, 2014
August 21, 2014: a very special day today over at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.
It was the day that after 7 months of life-saving care, nuturing, and familiarization, the rescued, endangered, Florida Panther kitten, now named Yuma, was to be introduced to his new permanent habitat at the park.
Everyone was there.
Funny thing- I had been given the wrong location in the park for the event and when I entered and went there, there was not a soul in sight. I checked at the entrance building and it was deserted. I called the main office and got only an answering machine. There was no one! The place was deserted!
Everyone was over at the Animal Presentation Pavillion awaiting the big event.
I headed over.
Several brief introductions were made, a few words from each, many thanks were given to everyone involved in the rescue and care and future well being of Yuma.
Park Manager Kimberlee Tennille; Dawn Jennings, Panther Coordinator, USFWS; Clifton Maxwell, Florida Park Service, District 2, Bureau Chief; and Chris Wynn, Regional Director for Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Then the press, and then the guests, were directed over to the new enclosure, where after brief count-down the gate was lifted that gave access to Yuma into his new newly renovated and wide-open habitat.
At first he cautiously looked at this new opening, then stepped forward just enough to see what lay beyond; then a slow walk along the back fence, near to his familiar holding pen, where for the last several months, he had been brought for half an hour, twice a day, to acclimate him to his future home.
Gaining confidence, he moved further out into the open space and started exploring. He paced around the perimeter, being distracted occassionally by some plant or feature that called for a brush or a paw or a chew, and glanced at all the people up on the boardwalk watching his every move.
Suddenly, a large butterfly flew past him and, instincts taking over, he burst into chase mode and leapt after it. Seeing it fly away, too high, he just as quickly resumed his slow pace and exploration.
He came to the front to see what all the commotion was about, having no idea it was him, and he seemed to be looking for one of his ranger friends to come in and play with him.
At one point he stopped right in front of me, for he recognized the man next to me, Dr Ball, the veterinarian who had raised him from "Chilly Willie" to Yuma, Son of the Chief. He made two chirps, calling out to his friend.
Dr Ball, Veterinarian to the Lowry Park Zoo and the Homosassa Wildlife Park, raised Yuma.
I have video of that: and several other clips, interviews, sound recordings, and stills, but that will all be a few days in editing.
I returned later, after the crowds had dissipated, and found that Yuma had pretty much settled down into his new digs, finding a spot in some tall grass behind a tree, and keeping watch for anything that might move and give him reason to pounce; but otherwise, just relaxing on what was another very hot summer day in Florida at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Spring Wildlife Park, now the home of Yuma.