Ricky Pires Director,
“Wings of Hope” Program
I have a quite an amazing story to share with you. It's a true story. This I know because it is my story. I am Yuma, the Florida Panther. It is not only a story of my will to survive; it is so much more. It is a story of an amazing committment, the committment of all those people who have devoted their careers to saving endangered Florida panther and in this instance saving my life as well.
It all began on a cold January day, when Florida Wildlife Commission biologists were trying to locate a female Florida panther in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge that they thought might be looking to den up to give birth to kittens. While searching for this female, and by sheer fate, they stumbled upon a tiny, helpless ball of fluff. It was me. Reaching down, one biologist picked me up. While I could not see him for I was only a week old and my eyes were still closed, I felt his warm hand surround my very cold body. I heard strange sounds that I could not undersatand, but he held me close to his chest. The warmth from his body surrounded me. I could feel myself being carries as I drifter into a deep sleep.
The next thing I remembered were many new smells and sounds and hands touching me. I was very cold, but soon I was warm. I was very thirsty, but soon my thirst was quenched. I was hungry, and soon my stomach was full. I was beginning to feel strong again, and rest came easy. Soon, however, I felt myself being gently moved once again.
This time I was being fed warm milk from a bottle every two hours, and I came to know Dr. Ray Ball, head veterinarian for Lowry Park Zoo and chief veterinarian for Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. He and his staff provided me around the clock feedings every two hours. When the day came that I opened my eyes for the very first time and the world around me came into focus, I saw not my panther mother or siblings, but my human caregivers. I was now a fully human-imprinted animal. While I know I received the best possible care, I still will not have the opportunity to be taught survival skills handed down from my mother. The decision was made that I would never be able to survive in the wild. Instead, I would be going to the premier assisted living facility for Florida wildlife, a place known as Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Ever since I arrived here, I have been treated with kindness and the utmost respect. I know that I will have a good life here, and I will always be grateful to the people from:
Florida Panther Conservancy
Veterinarians at the Animal Specialty Hospital in Naples, Florida
Lowry Park Zoofor all their hard work