The newest residents of Gatorland are warm-blooded and furry. Neiko and Lucy, a brother-sister pair of Florida panthers, have moved into a new habitat dubbed Panther Springs.
The 7-year-old big cats moved in early this week and are getting accustomed to their new environment, a 2,000-square-foot area shaded by cypress trees with a pond, platforms to climb and nap upon, and grass on which to stretch. Their ears perk up when they hear the bellows of neighboring alligators.
Gatorland guests can observe the panthers up-close through a wall of glass on one side or, from a slight distance, through wire netting on one end.
The transition to their ceiling-less home on the north end of the park is going well, says Tim Williams, Gatorland spokesman.
"Once you see them grooming themselves, we know they're pretty comfortable," he says.
Neiko and Lucy were raised by a Florida conservationist who wanted them to have larger living quarters. They are naturally nocturnal, so their activities are somewhat sedate during the day. So far, they wander closest to the glass during the afternoon, when that area is shadiest, Williams says.
Just like little cats, they are prone to napping and playing with lizards. However, in the wild, they would be powerful forces, says Danielle Lucas, one of four Gatorland animal trainers assigned to Panther Springs.
"These guys would go right for your jugular," she says.
The $200,000 exhibit expands Gatorland's collection of animals native to Florida. The Florida panther was listed as an endangered species in 1967. It became the official animal of the Sunshine State in 1982.
"Here's a chance to tell a story about something that's really struggling," Williams says.
More Panther Springs notes:
+ Gatorland isn't starting a breeding program of the Florida panthers. The animals are related -- and neutered.
+ The panthers are fed raw meat, including beef and chicken. They don't like pork, but they love liver. They also like "blood popsicles."
+ They purr, but they don't roar. Their sound is more like a chirp, Lucas says (they sometimes hiss, she says).
+ Lucy is laid-back, while Neiko is more of a ham, trainers say.
+ They aren't fans of cowboy hats or the color red, it appears.
For more information, go to Gatorland.com.