Naples Zoo, craft brewery raise money to replace stolen cameras monitoring Florida panthers
Brew at the Zoo is back, and this year Naples Zoo and Riptide Brewery have a specific focus: saving scientific data.
This year’s event is a bit modified from previous years as money raised will help replace seven trail cameras stolen earlier this year from the Big Cypress National Preserve.
“Generally what we’ve done is raise money that went to the zoo that was earmarked for panther conservation,” Riptide General Manager and Beertender Chris Johnson said. “This year we decided to opt to replace the cameras. The data that has been lost really causes an issue with research on the neurological issue that the panthers are having trouble with.”
Panther biologists working in the preserve have been using data from the cameras to study a disorder recently found in endangered Florida panthers.
“Understanding what’s debilitating these animals is like putting together a puzzle without knowing the final picture,” the preserve’s superintendent, Thomas Forsyth said in a news release. “Camera trap data represents pieces in that puzzle, and someone just threw a lot of pieces away.”
Tim Tetzlaff, director of conservation at the Naples Zoo, said the stolen cameras were the perfect thing to focus this year’s efforts on. He said stolen cameras present a real challenge for scientists.
“This is a global problem when people steal cameras,” Tetzlaff said. “Scientists will stop putting cameras where they can get the best data, but instead in areas where they’re least likely to get stolen and that is creating bad data.”
Brew for the Zoo is focusing on this issue specifically is to raise awareness about that issue.
“Sometimes people take one and repurpose it themselves but don’t realize the impact they could be making,” Tetzlaff said. “And when wildlife decisions are made in a multipurpose preserve like Big Cypress, it could impact access for people.”
Wildlife researchers across the globe have dealt with camera theft, resulting in a loss totaling about $1.5 million between 2016 and 2017, a recent study says. The thefts not only result in financial loss, but the loss of those images and videos “has the potential to inhibit robust wildlife surveys.”
Biologists studying the disorder affecting Florida panthers, known as feline leukomyelopathy or FLM, began noticing it in 2019, according to reports from The News-Press.
Trail cameras similar to those stolen from Big Cypress captured panthers walking with a strange gate, prompting researchers to identify and begin studying the disorder.
Deborah Jansen, a wildlife biologist with the National Park Service at the preserve, said she's grateful for the event and to be able to continue studying panthers.
Jansen and researchers at the preserve have had cameras out since 2013, and once the disorder was identified, began focusing efforts on capturing videos of affected animals.
The cameras have so far detected seven individual family groups in the preserve, with four of those displaying symptoms of the disorder.
"We first thought that it might be caused by toxins in the environment because Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is by an agricultural area," Jansen said. "We were certainly hoping, because Big Cypress was remote and without agriculture by us, that our panthers would not have FLM. Last July was our first indication and yes, it's out there."
The goal of the cameras is to help locate panthers with the disease so researchers can trap them and study how the cats may have been initially infected, Jansen said.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates there are only between 120-230 adult panthers in the state. Panthers, the state’s official animal, are listed as a federally endangered species.
Brew for the Zoo starts at noon on April 10 at Riptide Brewery, located at 987 Third Ave. N. in Naples. The two ales will be on tap and cans will be available as supplies last.
Those who are unable to visit the brewery can make donations through the Naples Zoo website: napelszoo.org/donate. Just make sure to put “panther conservation” in the memo line, Tetzlaff said.
Anyone with information about the stolen cameras may call or text the investigative services branch tip line at (888) 653-0009 or submit an anonymous tip online at www.nps.gov/ISB. Then click “Submit a Tip.”
Karl Schneider is an environment reporter. Send tips and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @karlstartswithk