The alligators of Orange Blossom Trail are about to get new neighbors. Gatorland is adding an exhibit called Panther Springs, set to open in April.
The $200,000 attraction will feature a brother-sister pair of big cats named Neiko and Lucy, Florida panthers that are nearly 7 years old. The 2,000-square-foot, open-air habitat, which passed inspection Thursday, has a waterfall, climbing areas and napping ledges near guest walking areas.
"A number of years ago we really changed our focus in the park to one that educates people about Florida animals and wildlife in particular," says Mark McHugh, president and CEO of Gatorland. "A lot of our attractions have evolved in that direction." The two panthers were born in a rehab center and raised by a conservational on the west coast of Florida. When she decided to relocate, she could not take the animals with her.
She and Gatorland reached an agreement last fall, McHugh says.
Panther Springs is located behind Gatorland's Gator Gully Splash Park, in a spot that was once a snake pit, McHugh says. After the animals move in, Gatorland will start a behind-the-scenes tour called Breakfast with the Panthers, McHugh says.
"This is a brother-sister pair, so they're not breedable. We're not looking to be a breeding facility," McHugh says. "It's really more of an opporutnity to educate our guests on the plight of the Florida panther." They are expected to live to about age 20.
Florida panthers were on Gatorland's wish list. Still there on that list: black bears and smaller animals such as bobcats.
"They're definitely still on our radar," McHugh says.
More information: www.gatorland.comCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times