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Zoo News

Man Walking 200 Miles to Save Florida Panthers Visits Palm Beach Zoo

WEST PALM BEACH, FL - February 9, 2021 - Steve Fugate crisscrossed the U.S. eight times and his latest mission is to bring attention to the plight of the Florida panther. Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society has invited Fugate to stop by on his walk to meet resident Florida panther Sassy.  

“I am so VERY excited to come and visit Sassy. Though I once saw a Florida panther in the wild, I've never had the privilege of seeing a real one up close,” said Fugate.   

Fugate’s latest walk began January 30, from his hometown of Vero Beach. His travels will take several months as he traverses Florida visiting the Keys, Ft. Myers, Tampa, Pensacola and Tallahassee. He partnered with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to raise awareness and funds to help the panther, which is an endangered species with an estimated 120-130 left in the wild.   

A thriving population of Florida panthers is important to wild Florida, and the Zoo works to inspire visitors to save these native animals. Panthers are at the top of the food chain, and they effectively manage entire ecosystems by keeping the population of other animals in balance. The Zoo actively engages in field conservation work to help protect many Florida species including the Florida panther.

Conservation Efforts: Why Protecting Panthers Matters  

The Florida panther is an indicator of the overall health of the habitat that supports wildlife and the ecological process upon which humans and nature depend. The future of Florida panthers relies on providing these endangered cats room to move about Florida and to safely raise their young. Connecting protected national, state and county parks, as well as private ranches and agricultural landscapes, is key to protecting the Florida panther. 

Collisions with automobiles is the number one cause of death for our endangered Florida panthers. Palm Beach Zoo, in partnership with National Geographic Explorer and photographer Carlton Ward Jr.'s Path of the Panther project, collects data and inspires action to provide corridors for panthers and other wildlife to safely traverse Florida. Special high-resolution cameras are stationed along panther habitats to collect critical information for the management and protection of panthers. Palm Beach Zoo helps fund Ward Jr.'s work and deploys their trained zoologists to help maintain the monitoring system throughout southern Florida. 

Steve Fugate's Story 

Fugate is an author who has been spreading his “Love Life” message for more than 20 years. He has logged more than 47,000 miles on his journeys. His first walk came after a tragedy; Fugate lost his son, Stevie, to suicide at the age of 26. He carried the LOVE LIFE sign in his effort to, as he says, “mend the broken heart while still beating.” Six years later, as he was finishing a walk when he learned that his daughter, who was suffering with MS had died from an accidental overdose. 

Fugate’s book, Love Life Walk, is available on Amazon. He is donating 25 percent of the sales, and 25 percent of all donations to his walk to FWC’s Florida Panther Fund. 

Sassy’s Story  

On the west coast of Florida near Collier-Seminole State Park, a Florida panther cub survived unthinkable odds when her mother was hit and killed by a passing car. Alone and defenseless, the panther kitten endured a month on her own in the wild. Thankfully, she was rescued by FWC and nursed back to health. Without fully-developed hunting skills, she would not be able to survive in the wild, so she was placed in her forever home at our Zoo. Despite her tragic beginning, this healthy cat earned her name, “Sassy,” as she now patrols the John and Carole Moran Panther Prowl at Palm Beach Zoo, happily interacting with zoologists and guests.     

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