In the US, the Florida panther found only in South Florida is among the most endangered species, with an estimated population of less than 130. Its habitat includes thick jungles, marshlands, swamps, which makes it extremely difficult to track. Ezra Van Florida man saw five panthers in one day this past January, including capturing a family of four on video, and it went viral in Miami.
Ezra, a former search and rescue patroller, spent five years demonstrating his encounter, keeping detailed notes of his explorations that included local migration patterns, evidence of recent kills, tracks. Ultimately he was at the right place at the right time in the Fakahatchee Strand State Park on January 13. What makes the story more interesting is not just the amount of energy he put into tracking the panthers or seeing five of them in the wild but where the sightings took place.
The Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park is a part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, in the form of legislation that just received the recognition that allocates around $400 million to protect millions of acres of the state’s precious green space. It was created in 1974, but until 1994 it received no limelight. In 1994, poachers were caught going out of the area with bags of its most precious orchid species.
The story was liked by the people and became the subject of, The Orchid Thief (best-selling book) by Susan Orlean, and later the 2002 movie, Adaptation. Visitation to the park happened slightly afterward but with no long-lasting effects. Despite being Florida’s largest state park, it is one of the least visited in South Florida today. Like Big Cypress and Everglades, nearby Destinations draw more than a million visitors a year, but the Fakahatchee sees less than 100,000.
It is known as the Orchid Capital of North America and the Amazon of North America. It could very well be South Florida’s best-kept outdoor secret, diverse, exotic species, full of complicated history and educational programming.