Wildlife & Wild Places

Athena’s Army

The goddess Athena is best known to be the patron of heroic endeavor in Greek mythology. This Athena symbolizes that sentiment exuberantly.

Athena in her new habitat (image credit: Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens)

Six months ago, in the vast 720,000-acre Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida, a tiny three week old Florida panther kitten mewed desperately for her mother. But her mother was gone, having taken three of her four kittens to a new den somewhere else in the expansive natural habitat. The runt of the family was abandoned.

Rescue, Rehab and New Home

The U.S. National Park Service manages the preserve and its biologists found Athena at the original den site after the radio-collared mother had left. After attempting to reunite the kitten with her mother, the decision was made to remove Athena from the wild. She was taken to an animal hospital in Naples, Florida, that was closest to the preserve, where she was treated for malnourishment, dehydration and pneumonia. While there, she reached 11 pounds. Later, she was taken to the Naples Zoo for further rehabilitation where she was cared for behind the scenes by the Zoo’s Carnivore Team and veterinarian.

Athena on the prowl
(image credit: Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens)

Goddess of Skill, Courage and Inspiration

Today, this mighty exuberant Florida panther kitten is a thriving six-month-old, 25-pound force of energy to be reckoned with. She clearly has mastered the art of wrestling the tropical foliage, learned how to climb trees at least part of the way up, and takes a wary interest in the zoo vehicles going by. Like most youngsters, she relishes running, leaping and hiding behind rocks.

Panther kittens need their mothers for the first six months of their life to learn how to be a panther. Without them, they would not survive in the wild. Due to her very young age, Athena was not considered a good candidate for reintroduction to the wild when she is older.

Exuberant, intentful stalker
(image credit: Becca Bryan)

Athena’s Army

Athena’s warriors come from three government agencies and two organizations. Working together for the best possible outcome for the state’s cat, and this wee one in particular, the U.S. National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Animal Specialty Hospital of Florida and the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, combined forces to ensure Athena survived to live the best-possible life.

The team of dedicated and committed wildlife heroes and heroines work in conjunction with each other whenever a Florida panther, kitten, sub-adult or kitten is in need. With a growing panther population in the wild, (now estimated between 120-230 by the Service), and some moving north of the Caloosahatchee River, the teamwork is stretched northward to aid the orphaned, abandoned or injured cats, and report the ones killed by vehicles or other ways.

Six-month-old Florida panther Athena at snack time (image credit: Becca Bryan)

Companion of Heroes

Greek goddess Athena is described in mythology as the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, and skill.  She is also portrayed as a companion of heroes. Six-month-old panther Athena presents all of those traits, as well as being a true companion to the band of heroes who came to her aid.

Author’s Note

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists six sub-species of puma concolor, of which Florida panther is not mentioned. In North America, puma concolor cougar is the sub-species listed. The taxonomy is still under review by the IUCN SSC Cat Specialist Group, and these six sub-species are suggested based on DNA research. Until a final determination is made, I chose to call Athena by her taxonomic name: Florida panther. While the IUCN Red List classifies them under the “Least Concern” threat level, they are still listed as “Endangered” on the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Becca Bryan is a published freelance writer in Florida. Her work includes interviews with celebrities, U.S. military members, veterans, journalists, and takes great pride in highlighting Florida wildlife and those who care for it.

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