HIGHLANDS COUNTY, FL — The Florida Wildlife Corridor is home to many valuable and endangered species.

Professionals can obtain images and videos of these animals without humans in sight, allowing researchers to study animals like bears in their natural habitat.

George McKenzie Jr. is a photographer and camera capture technician with the Path of the Panther project. ABC Action News anchor Lauren St. Germain and photojournalist Alison Shaw traveled with McKenzie on the day he was scheduled to service one of the cameras in the Florida Wildlife Corridor. Knowing where to put cameras is really a science, he explained.

“Bears use the same place all the time. They’ll come up – they’ll sniff – necessarily on all fours, and then they’ll get up and just scratch, sometimes bite. If you look right here, the hair is still there,” Mackenzie said. “A mother bear will teach her cubs the same procedure so that they learn to scratch the tree and look for scents from an early age.”

Without realizing it, these animals take their own pictures by transmitting an infrared wire.

“This is another form of trigger that we use – an infrared beam. See, you just activated that little red dot. Boom, that’s it,” McKenzie said.


Infared wire trip Florida wildlife corridor


Tori Linder is also from Path of the Panther. The photo trap network is the field program of this project.

“The Florida panther has a truly incredible history. It is an endangered species. From an all-time low in the 1970s, there are more than 200 panthers today. However, capturing their image is not easy,” said Linder.

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They have a network of dozens of photo trap systems throughout the Everglades ecosystem. Linder explained that it is very rare to see a panther. They are lucky to get caught on camera every few months.

“Over the past six years, we’ve seen the Florida panther make great leaps in its recovery. A female panther was found north of the Caloosahati River, and today we see the females expanding their territory north,” Linder said.

Linder said it’s incredible to watch this recovery happen in real time, and people can take action now to help and protect other animals in the process.

“What Florida residents need to consider when relocating to Florida panther habitat is that the number one cause of death for Florida panthers is vehicle collisions — we lose an average of about 30 a year,” Linder said.

Solutions are under development. ABC Action News reported on new wildlife crossings that will connect ecosystems that have been separated for 50 years. Last year, our Mikhail Paluska brought us to the village a new crossing that will allow animals like panthers and bears to cross I-4 safely.

Back at the Everglades-Hatwaters Ranch, Linder said the plan is to bring mapmakers, ranchers and political leaders together to work together to protect Florida.

“What I find so inspiring about efforts to protect the Florida Wildlife Corridor is that they span decades. Each of us has a role to play in the future of wild lands and the future of our state,” Linder said.

The Way of the Panther is a project Wild way. The film “Way of the Panther” tells the story of the Florida panther and the land it needs to survive. The movie is now in theaters, and you can find information about the time and place of the show here.

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