The fourth annual Florida Panther Festival — Saturday, Nov. 15, at North Collier Regional Park in Naples — offers interesting and fun opportunities to learn all about Florida’s State Animal and one of the most endangered mammals on planet Earth, the Florida panther.
The festival is a free, family-friendly event designed to shed light on the plight of the endangered Florida panther through unique interactive activities such as presentations by panther biologists, a Living with Wildlife Pavilion, nature walks, children’s activities, a rural backyard demonstration, exhibits by conservation agencies, live music, storytelling, entertainment, vendors, food and much more. On the day following the festival, Sunday, Nov. 16, a variety of field trips are available by reservation throughout Southwest Florida where panthers roam. Various fees apply to field trips.
The Living with Wildlife Pavilion will once again be a star attraction. Since the Florida panther’s primary habitat is in rural Collier County, attendees will receive advice from wildlife experts on minimizing human-wildlife conflict. There will be a presentation at 1:30 PM about how Florida residents can coexist with wildlife. Then, for the first time this year, there will be a special Rural Residents Meeting at 2:30 PM at the Pavilion where experts will explain ways to substantially reduce the risk of bears, panthers, coyotes and other wildlife from visiting their homes, livestock, pets and property. Staff will explain how residents may qualify for financial assistance to build livestock and pet safety pens and provide technical assistance on how to install and maintain these pens.
Kids will especially enjoy the rural backyard display adjoining the pavilion, which will be filled with live goats, chickens and rabbits. Visitors will also see panther and bear tracking tools. Wildlife management policy does not permit the display of live caged panthers at the festival, but attendees will have many opportunities to view videos of live adult panthers and kittens from motion activated trail cameras and videos taken by biologists. Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission officials will conduct an Exotic Pet Amnesty Day event at the festival from 10 AM-2 PM. Anyone can surrender an exotic pet with no penalties. Live exotic animals like boa constrictors and various rodents, reptiles, birds and small mammals will be on display and up for adoption by pre-registered adopters. Visit MyFWC.com/nonnatives for information.
Live music and tasty food will energize the festival. Scheduled performers include Darrell House, a singer/songwriter also known for his children’s books and storytelling performing from 10:30 AM to 12:30 PM and popular swamp rock musician Raiford Starke onstage between 11:30 AM and 3:30 PM.
Fascinating presentations by wildlife biologists and others — some featuring never-before-seen trail cam video of panthers in their natural habitat — will take place throughout the day. On-site adventures include the Walk the Panther Mile hike guided by Big Cypress National Preserve rangers. Visitors will uncover the secret life of Florida panthers, learn about their habitat, and meet one of the Preserve’s panther biologists. This free 1.5 hr walk requires advance registration and takes place two times Saturday morning. Make reservations for the Saturday walks and Sunday field trips and check the festival activity and presentation schedule at floridapantherfestival.com. Free Nature Detective walks will also take place Saturday afternoon and are open to everyone first-come, first-serve.
The Florida Panther Festival is a collaborative effort by organizations including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Collier County Parks and Recreation; the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau; Audubon of the Western Everglades; Defenders of Wildlife; Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary; Big Cypress National Preserve; Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge; CREW Land & Water Trust; Nature on Wheels; and Florida Gulf Coast University’s Wings of Hope Program.