WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society announces the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend debut of Fiona, an orphan jaguar rescued from Panama.
Fiona was just days old in October 2014, when she was found motherless and clinging to life following an attack by hunting dogs. The tragedy, at such an early age, means Fiona is unable to survive in the wild.
“When she was brought to the Pan American Conservation Association (APPC), a wildlife rehabilitation center, as an injured cub she was estimated to be less than a week old and her eyes were still closed,” explained Nancy Nill, the zoo's associate curator. “Following mandatory quarantine, Fiona has spent the past few weeks adjusting to the jaguar night house, which marks her first time seeing another jaguar.”
Fiona was raised by biologists at the APPC during her recovery and quickly developed a special bond with her British caretaker, volunteer Lynne Hawksworth.
“It is obvious Fiona has had excellent care,” said Nill. “Her arrival at our Zoo was an emotional day for us and for Lynne, who clearly shares a special place in her heart for Fiona.”
It has taken nearly two years and the dedication of an incredible team to transport Fiona to Palm Beach Zoo from the Gamboa Rainforest Resort home of the APPC. The effort was spearheaded by The Panamanian Ministry of the Environment, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the Jaguar Species Survival Plan (SSP) and the conservation fund provided by Sea World/Busch Gardens Parks in the U.S., which provides financial support for conservation groups. The Grants Administrator of the conservation fund, Rob Yordi, helped transport Fiona from the Gamboa Rainforest Resort to Palm Beach Zoo.
“It is so nice to see how calm she is,” Yordi noted during Fiona’s arrival at Palm Beach Zoo. “There was so much work done in Panama by the APPC to get Fiona comfortable with her surroundings and different sounds. Seeing her so happy and seeing the staff so excited to welcome her into their family, I know she’s found the right home.”
Fiona is the number one jaguar in the U.S. as far as genetics, and as part of its (SSP) program, the Zoo has already identified the perfect mate, a jaguar from Quebec named Zooka.
“This speaks to the core of Palm Beach Zoo’s international connections with movers and shakers in the conservation community,” explained Nill. “There are less than 300 jaguars left in Panama. There are only one or two in the U.S., and the population keeps diving. We are working with multiple governments, the best of the best, to keep a species from becoming extinct.”
Fiona is not just a superstar; she's an international sensation whose genetic diversity makes her a fantastic ambassador for her species. The Emmy-nominated team from The Wildlife Docs filmed Fiona’s arrival at Palm Beach Zoo, and her story of survival is slated to appear in one of its upcoming programs.
Meantime, Palm Beach Zoo is gearing up for Fiona’s Memorial Day weekend public debut, sponsored by Jaguar Palm Beach on Saturday, May 27. The winner of the Zoo’s ‘Flat Fiona’ contest and an annual Zoo membership will be announced. The Zoo is also giving its members a sneak peek on debut day, allowing them to arrive at 8:30 a.m. (30 minutes before normal hours) for a chance to see the jaguar who captured Panama's heart, first.