Thursday, April 2, 2020

Kowiachobee Preservation Through Education


Photo courtesy of Damaris Gonzalez | White tigers Tanju and Mali cool off in their pond on a hot summer day.

You may be surprised to learn that in the Golden Gate Estates there exists a five-acre nature preserve housing over 100 different exotic and domestic animals. The Kowiachobee Animal Preserve (KAP) has been helping injured, abandoned and endangered animals since 2001.

The Seminole Indian word Kowiachobee means “big screaming cat” or “big cat.” But lions and tigers are not the only animals that KAP helps. Some of KAP’s other residents include alligators, ducks, pigs, zebras, parrots, tortoises, horses and many more.

KAP’s mission is to preserve the existence of both exotic and domestic animals through education and public awareness. Owners and husband and wife duo John and Grace Slaby originally met at a sanctuary for big cats. After several years there, the two wanted to focus more on the educational aspects of preservation.

“We tend to refer to our animals as residents or ambassadors more so than pets or something to just be exhibited,” John Slaby says. “My philosophy at the end of the day is that it’s better for the animals that we understand them better and more education gets out.”

A main focus of KAP is first-hand education that supports local elementary school science curriculums. The variety of residents help KAP teach a wide range of lessons, such as the differences between warm-blooded and cold-blooded creatures, farming and agriculture, and most importantly, the responsibility of conservancy.

“When we educate, we go back to responsibility all the time,” says Slaby. “It’s the idea that unless you change the behavior of people, you’re never going to solve that worldwide problem.”


The variety of residents help KAP teach a wide range of lessons, such as the differences between warm-blooded and cold-blooded creatures, farming and agriculture, and most importantly, the responsibility of conservancy.


Safety is a serious factor at KAP and is an important part of the educational presentations. KAP teaches three guidelines to help people coexist with wildlife.

  1. Never feed wildlife or a person will break the barrier that exists between humans and animals. Animals view humans as a potential danger and tend to stay clear, but the animal will soon depend on humans as a food source.
  2. Avoid their activity type – nocturnal or diurnal. For example, if a predator hunts at night in an area, be sure to travel in groups, as they are less likely to attack due to the noise and the number of people.
  3. In the chance of an encounter, stand your ground and face the animal. Do not threaten or challenge it, but back away slowly. Be sure to avoid the situation at all cost and eliminate the risk.

Enclosures at KAP are double the size required by standard regulations and are built to withstand a hurricane. The enclosures fared well through our latest impact from Hurricane Irma, Slaby says. New enclosures are being built, and Slaby continues to improve the living quarters for KAP residents. For example, soon the goats will get a new concrete cave. The concrete will naturally help the goats maintain their hooves.

Slaby has also installed solar powered motion sensor spotlights that will startle any panther intruder and infrared motion sensor sprinklers.

Kowiachobee Animal Preserve is licensed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the USDA. The preserve receives no government or federal funding and thrives solely on private donations and public support. “If you’re going to focus [on an issue], focus locally,” Slaby stated. “When you’re dealing with local organizations you have the unique ability to go see what your money is doing and the impact that it’s having.”

KAP welcomes animal lovers. To arrange a visit or make a donation contact 239-352-5387 or www.kowiachobee.org.

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