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Wildlife - Florida's Gulf Coast

The Wildlife of Florida
By Jennifer Jordan

Many people who come to Florida for the wildlife probably come for one animal alone: a talking mouse. While this talking mouse is a fun attraction, and quite articulate for a rodent, Florida is also filled with many other types of equally-appealing species. These beasts might not have been invented by the genius of Disney, but the creatures of Florida definitely allow Mother Nature to give ol’ Walt a run for his money.

Alligators: In 1987, the American Alligator became the official reptile of Florida. The reason for this is simple: in Florida, alligators are everywhere. This might not seem exciting to the people who live there: the alligators may be viewed as nothing but pests who swim in ponds, walk slowly across roads, and occasionally eat a neighbor’s cat. But for people visiting from places that don’t have alligators, they can be exciting. There’s nothing quite like seeing an alligator, taking a picture of him, and stating how you loved his work in "Crocodile Dundee."

Dolphins: Dolphins are extremely popular animals in our culture. Not only are they highly intelligent, with recent researchers in Australia discovering that some dolphins teach their children how to use tools, but there are various tales of dolphins protecting humans from danger. One recent story states that several Dolphins in New Zealand swam around a group of stranded swimmers, protecting them from a Great White Shark. The face of a dolphin, seemingly always smiling, only further perpetuates our love for them. Dolphins are also one of the only mammals that, like humans, mate for reasons other than reproduction. See, I told you they were intelligent.

Manatees: Manatees are aquatic mammals, sometimes referred to as sea cows. The name “Manatee” is derived from a Carib word meaning “Beast.” “Beast” may be a fitting way to describe the physical attributes of this creature - they can weigh between 500 and 1000 kgs – but it’s not a fitting way to describe their demeanor: manatees are peaceful herbivores that spend their day grazing and surfacing for air. Due to their peaceful nature, or their overwhelming size, manatees have no known predators. However, human expansion has led to a harsh decline of their species. This has landed them on the Federal Endangered Species List. Originally listed as Endangered in Florida as well, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently voted to upgrade their status to “Threatened.” This angered many wildlife conservationists who believe manatees should remain listed as an Endangered Species on national and state levels. Presently, there are thought to be between 2000 and 3000 manatees in Florida.

The Florida Panther: The Florida Panther is a subspecies of Puma that is, sadly, highly endangered. With most living in the low lands, forests, and swamps of south Florida, the Florida Panther is the only species of Puma in the entire US. But, this may be only for the time being: what once was a booming population is now down to less than 70 breeding panthers, a number that makes up a dismal 5 percent of what the Florida Panther population once was. The reason for their demise falls on human expansion, automobile accidents, and killing each other, in a fight over limited territory. These types of panthers differ from other types in that they have a wider skull, longer legs, and a crook near the end of their tail, a trait that may have resulted from inbreeding the species in an attempt to expand the population. Management of the Florida Panther has been a topic rich in controversy as people have argued the best route of conservation. On the bright side, the past few years have seen the Florida Panther population nearly triple.

The wildlife of Florida can be dangerous – meeting an alligator or a panther in a dark alley might be a problem for some – but keeping your distance and respecting Mother Nature helps to grant you safety. Particularly for those who live in landlocked areas, there is nothing quite like the wildlife of Florida. We give it two thumbs up, and a fin.

Jennifer Jordan is a senior editor for An avid traveler and sightseer, she has been to a variety of places around the world. She’s also been to Wyoming more times than she cares to count.