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A Pawesome Retirement

Happy Retirement to the Central Florida Zoo's Leopard!

Most people dream of the day they can retire and move down to sunny Florida. But what about when you already live in Florida? And what about when you’re a 22-year-old leopard living at the Central Florida Zoo? 
 
That’s right, our leopard is retiring! She will be moving into a behind-the-scenes area at the Zoo to have a quiet break from the hustle and bustle of a busy day at the Zoo. Born in 1996, our leopard is 22 years old. A leopard’s average lifespan in the wild is estimated to be in the late teens, with leopards in AZA-accredited facilities often living into their early twenties. This move will make sure that our Golden Girl is as comfortable as possible.  
 

So come wish our leopard a warm farewell!

The last day to see our leopard will be Saturday, March 24, 2018. Visit on that day to sign the “Happy Retirement” banner that we will hang in her new behind-the-scenes home!
 
 

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To account for our leopard’s advanced age, our Animal Care Team works daily to ensure her comfort and monitor any behavioral changes. Steps have been built leading to platforms, and she often receives extra hay bedding and heaters in cooler weather before other cats at the Zoo do. Additionally, voluntary blood draws ensure that our veterinarian can monitor blood levels without any stress to the animal. Our leopard also voluntarily receives shots and medication when needed. Years of training and positive reinforcement have resulted in our keepers and veterinarians being able to give our elderly leopard the proper healthcare she needs with as little stress as possible.
 
The Zoo’s leopard is melanistic, which is a genetic trait that results in a higher production of melanin, a dark pigment. If you look in the right lighting, you can still see her spots in the black fur! Although leopards are native to both Asia and Africa, melanistic leopards are usually only found in southeast Asia, as the dense rainforests create many shadows for the leopard to blend in with. “Black panther” is a misnomer: black panther could refer to any number of melanistic cats, such as a melanistic leopard or melanistic jaguar.
 
In the wild, leopards are one of the most widely distributed cats, but are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Redlist as populations continue to decline. Habitat fragmentation, increased wildlife trade, retaliation for livestock predation, harvesting skins for ceremonial use, decline in prey species, and poorly managed trophy hunting are some of the threats facing these big cats.
 
 
 
 
 

Central Florida Zoo Receives Three Education Grants

Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens Receives Grants to Provide Even More Educational Opportunities to the Community

 
Sanford, FL – The Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens is excited to announce philanthropic support for the continued advancement of its educational programs after being awarded three grants for 2018. The Zoo applied for and was awarded over $75,000 in grants from Walmart Foundation, Wayne M. Densch Charities, Inc., and Spectrum News to continue to spread the Zoo’s message of conservation and animal wellbeing to the community’s youth. Most notably, the grants will assist the Zoo in reaching economically disadvantaged and underserved schools. 
 
Wayne M. Densch Charities, Inc. awarded the Zoo over $33,000 to supplement programs that reach Title 1 elementary schools and facilities that support mentally and physically impaired students. The amount awarded from this grant will allow 2,000 students from qualifying schools free admission and participation in an animal encounter. Grant money from Wayne M. Densch Charities, Inc. also gives the Zoo the opportunity to bring in over 400 middle school students for the Zoo’s new Environmental Science program that began in 2017.
 
The Zoo also received a grant of $41,250 from the Walmart Foundation to support K-12 curriculum programs at the Zoo. This program will bring in 3,750 disadvantaged students to participate in the Zoo’s education programs that are designed to supplement educational services provided by the public school in accordance with state achievement standards.  
 
“The Zoo’s education programs provide local community students with hands-on learning that takes place outside of the classroom,” says Stephanie Williams, Director of Education. “We provide informal science education that supplements grade-specific science, math, writing, and reading topics. Additionally, an enriching visit to the Zoo provides students with opportunities for engagement and an increase in empathy towards animals. Funding from these grants will allow the Zoo to offer these informal science education opportunities at no cost to even larger number of Title 1 schools.”
 
The Central Florida Zoo also received $5,000 from Spectrum to continue to support nature play programs for preschoolers in the Spectrum News 13 Children’s Garden. This area within the Zoo provides young Zoo guests with hands-on enrichment in nature, and this grant will also help fund the Zoo’s summertime Cub Club, a preschool program that introduces two to five year olds and their parents to animal care and conservation. 
 
“The Zoo’s mission is to provide experiences that excite and inspire children to learn and act on behalf of wildlife,” states Dino Ferri, the Zoo’s CEO. “Philanthropic partnerships are vital to expanding our Zoo’s reach throughout the Central Florida community. This funding will ensure that even more children, regardless of background, are learning to care about their environment, as well as developing skills in science, critical thinking, communication, and problem solving.”
 
 

Central Florida Zoo Announces New CEO

Dino Ferri Named as CEO of

Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens

 
Sanford, FL (December 14, 2017) – The Central Florida Zoological Society is pleased to announce that Mr. Dino Ferri has accepted the position of CEO of the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens. Mr. Ferri moves into this position after serving as Zoo Director since May 2016.
 
“With over 20 years of zoo management experience, the Central Florida Zoo has benefited greatly from Mr. Dino Ferri’s expertise.” says Charles Davis, Central Florida Zoological Society Board of Directors, Chair. “The Board strongly believes that Mr. Ferri’s vision and existing leadership of the Zoo will serve to move the organization forward in the coming years. His guidance throughout the reaccreditation process in 2016 showcased his commitment & dedication to maintaining the Central Florida Zoo’s reputation as a regional education and conservation resource.”
 
Before arriving at the Zoo in 2016, Mr. Ferri served in leadership roles at several other facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), including the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, Virginia Zoological Gardens in Norfolk, VA and the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens in Florida. Dino also holds a B.S. in Biology from Wayne State University and is a recognized expert in the field of Herpetology. Throughout his career, Mr. Ferri has served on the AZA Inspection Team and was most recently appointed to the AZA Field Conservation Committee in September 2017. Mr. Ferri’s longtime zoo experience and expertise will provide the Central Florida Zoo with stability and knowledge in achieving the Zoo’s recently adopted 20-year master plan.
 
“The vision for the future of the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens is one that I am proud to have helped develop, and that I am eagerly looking forward to realizing for the benefit of all Central Florida residents and visitors,” states Mr. Ferri. “We will create meaningful and lasting partnerships within our community while we continue our mission to inspire others to learn and act on behalf of wildlife and the wild places they call home.”
 

Returning Eastern Indigo Snakes to the Wild

Why Your Visit Matters: A Success Story for Our Native Wildlife

When you visit the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens (Zoo), your visit helps support the care of over 400 animals and over 100 acres of beautiful Florida wetlands. Your visit also helps educate and inform thousands of guests, school children, and community members through formal and informal outreaches and programs about the threats that species face around the world. What you may not have realized is that your visit is also helping to restore an icon to the Florida longleaf pine system: the threatened eastern indigo snake.

In July 17, 12 eastern indigo snakes were released into the wild at Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve (ABRP), land owned by The Nature Conservancy, in northern Florida. These juvenile snakes, eight males and four females, were hatched and raised at the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens’ Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation (OCIC). OCIC is a state-of-the-art facility built specifically for the breeding and caring for the eastern indigo snake, and located about 25 miles from the Zoo in Eustis, FL.

Eastern indigo snake hatched at OCIC

"The Central Florida Zoo's Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation is honored to be involved in the repatriation of the eastern indigo snake in Florida,” said Michelle Hoffman, Curator, Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation. “As the sole facility that is breeding indigo snakes for release back into the wild, the OCIC provides these animals with expert care to ensure the breeding success of this challenging species in captivity."

The eastern indigo snake is listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Habitat loss and fragmentation have greatly contributed to the decline in this species. With a native range that once stretched from southern South Carolina, west into Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, and throughout Florida, the eastern indigo snake is now rare and has been largely eliminated from northern Florida. The last observed eastern indigo snake at ABRP was in 1982. This release marks the beginning of a ten-year commitment to restoring their population in north Florida. 

 
 

While this was the first release of eastern indigo snakes in Florida in 30 years, it was not the first for the Central Florida Zoo’s Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation. Since opening the facility in east Lake County in 2012, the Center has hatched over 160 indigo snakes and has released over 100 indigo snakes into the Conecuh National Forest in Alabama. Just days before the release in north Florida at ABRP, 26 eastern indigo snakes were released in Alabama.

Eastern indigo snake in gopher tortoise burrow after being released at ABRP.

These snakes had been hatched at OCIC, and raised at Zoo Atlanta in Georgia, showcasing the important role that all accredited zoos play in helping wild animals. The eastern indigo snake is the longest native snake in the United States, reaching up to 8-9 feet in length. The snake is non-venomous and feeds on a variety of animals, including other snakes. Eastern indigo snakes play a critical role in their ecosystem as apex predators, maintaining the balance that is critical to a healthy wildlife community. Eastern indigo snakes rely heavily on the burrows of gopher tortoises, as do many other species. In addition to this release and partnership, the Central Florida Zoo works tirelessly to educate our guests on the importance of native species and balance in ecosystems. You can observe eastern indigo snakes and a variety of other native snakes in our Herpetarium located at the Zoo.

Your visit and donations to the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens helped make this release possible. Support of the Zoo helps us keep our commitment to being a conservation and education resource for the Central Florida community, as well as assisting populations of our native wildlife.

 

(L to R) Dino Ferri (Central Florida Zoo Director), David Printiss (The Nature Conservancy), and Michelle Hoffman (Curator of OCIC) with an eastern indigo snake on the day of the release.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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