PHOTOS: Chilly weather keeps Panther road rally participants to a minimum

Volunteers Wade Gurley, Liberty Gibson, Laura Novosad and Tim Wolcott bring out 'Ranger' a mascot at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.  The Refuge was a checkpoint of the Panther Prowl Road Rally held on February 28.

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Volunteers Wade Gurley, Liberty Gibson, Laura Novosad and Tim Wolcott bring out 'Ranger' a mascot at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge was a checkpoint of the Panther Prowl Road Rally held on February 28.

— The chill may have put a damper on Sunday’s Panther Prowl Road Rally, but it didn’t stop volunteers for the ride.

“It’s as much fun to volunteer as it is to participate,” said Mary Crawford, 60, who volunteers with the Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge, which sponsored the event.

The 185-mile road rally, which winds through panther habitats in Lee and Collier counties, was aimed at raising awareness of Florida panthers and to support efforts to protect and preserve the highly endangered, reclusive cats in the wild. Officials believe the chilly morning temperatures kept away many participants.

The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge is made up of 26,400 acres and is located within the heart of the Big Cypress Basin in Southwest Florida.

It’s located 20 miles east of Naples, at the northwest corner of the intersection of Interstate 75 and State Road 29. The refuge is due west of the Big Cypress National Preserve and due north of Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve and Picayune Strand State Forest.

The wildlife refuge was established in 1989 under the authority of the Endangered Species Act to protect the Florida panther and its habitat, and is located in the core of occupied panther territory.

The Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge is the official support organization for the Florida Panther Refuge and its programs.

Rosemary Enger, a volunteer with Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge, said less than 100 adult panthers remain in South Florida — all that remains of a species that once ranged throughout most of the southeastern United States.

The group hopes that the nonprofit’s next Poker Run, which starts at 9 a.m. on March 28 at Cracklin Jack’s, 9080 Collier Boulevard, will be more successful.

For information, e-mail info@floridapanther.org or visit www.floridapanther.og.

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Connect with Elysa Batista at www.naplesnews.com/staff/elysa_batista

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