Embracing Florida’s diverse wildlife

Submitted photo/Lewis Perkins
A panther crossing the road is not a rare sight in this area.

Many tourist associate Florida with alligators. Souvenir shops play on this notion by offering toy and candy alligators. Some even offer miniature stuffed alligators, stuffed alligator claws, or offer full size alligator skulls for consumers to buy. Doing this down plays the furiousness of alligators and people take unnecessary risks to snap a picture with this behemoth reptile. An alligator jaws can clamp shut with 2000 pounds of pressure. Therefore, the best practice if you see an alligator is to leave it alone and get any pets that you have away from it.

However, the majority of tourist know very little about Florida’s other vast wild life such as snakes, raccoons, coyotes, and bears. Seeing these animals was once a rare occurrence, but now you can see it happening on a daily basis on the evening news. Residence no longer see the uniqueness of each of these animals, but do see these, and other Florida wildlife, as nuisance animals. These animals make messes by getting into trash and knocking the cans over and dragging the trash all over. Raccoons, coyotes, and bears are omnivorous, which means they eat plants and meat which makes their diets very versatile. Also, each of these animals grow as big as their environment allows them. Although the average weight of a Florida bear is 215 pounds, the largest Florida bear that was caught weighed 740 pounds. Some of these problems are because people feed these nuisance animals and they come back looking for more food. The Florida Fish and Wildlife’s penalty for feeding these animals is 60 days in jail and up to $500 in fines.

When I first moved here about 30 years ago, this was not as big a problem. However, as more of Southwest Florida’s woodlands was cleared and industrialized, more animals came into urbanized areas looking for food. As these animals continue to reproduce, they are only going to become more trouble unless communities work together to limit the incidences with these animals. In order to do this, everyone needs to follow these two steps: wait until the morning of trash day to take your bins to the curb, and store pet food indoors. This may seem like a simple solution, but many people are going to extremes and poisoning these animals by setting traps or putting toxic chemicals in their trash. Needless to say, this is against the law, but people see no other answer. This is why we have to work as a community, because if one person provides a food source for these animals, they’ll keep returning to that area.

More importantly, we should learn from our mistakes. Many of Florida’s wildlife, including alligators and manatees had been added to the endangered species list. Although the alligator population has recovered, and they have been taken off the list, we need to learn from this lesson, otherwise, these animals will end up like the animal that truly represents Florida: the panther. Statistically, the panther population has almost quadrupled during my 30 years living here, but there are still only less than a hundred panthers in this state. An adult male panther needs a roaming space of over 200 miles, while an adult female needs about 80 miles.

The panther population is slowly recovering from once being aggressively hunted. Likewise, many individuals are taking aggressive measures to get these nuisance animals out of their neighborhoods. If people don’t start embracing Florida’s wildlife, the only place that we’ll see these animals are in zoos or in pictures.

Lewis Perkins is special to the Immokalee Bulletin and can be reached at ibnews@newszap.com

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