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Report: Real-Life FL Mascots Behind March Madness Need Protection

Photo: Panthers are visible in parts of southwest Florida, even under highway overpasses. Courtesy: FGCU Panther Posse
Photo: Panthers are visible in parts of southwest Florida, even under highway overpasses. Courtesy: FGCU Panther Posse
March 13, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Basketball fans are gearing up for March Madness, but a report released this week by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) finds that the real-life mascots behind some of the teams are in need of someone to rally behind them.

Among animal mascots listed in the report is the Florida panther.

The state animal's population dwindled to 30 cats 20 years ago.

Now there are at least 160 living in southwest Florida, but animal advocates say panthers have a long way to go to recovery.

Nancy Payton, southwest Florida field representative for the Florida Wildlife Federation, says the health of the panther population says a lot about the entire ecosystem.

"Panthers are an indicator that Florida still has large tracks of healthy, functioning, wildlife habitat, and they signal a connection with the Florida that many of us came to Florida to enjoy," she says

Wild cats serve as mascots for several teams, including the University of Kentucky, Villanova University and Davidson University.

The report – Mascot Madness – indicates climate change could play a big role for the panther.

Estimated sea level rise by the end of the century would flood 30 percent of the panther habitat in Florida.

According to the report, Florida Gator fans also should rally behind their mascot animal.

Alligators could be impacted by climate change, according to the Federation.

Doug Inkley, a senior scientist with the NWF and a lead author of the report, says that when gators overheat, most eggs hatch as males, which will ultimately limit reproduction.

"It is a big opponent,” he stresses. “It is a big challenge, this climate change.

“And what we need to do about it is we need to reduce our carbon emissions and we need to develop clean energy sources: wind power, solar power."

While most mascots are in need of greater protection, there are a few that need to be curtailed.

The Miami Hurricanes are a perfect way to describe a powerful team, but as climate change prompts more extreme weather in our country, Inkley says it's better to leave hurricanes on the field than in Florida waters.

"It may be fun to address this during March Madness and look at the mascots, but it is a very serious issue we can do something about,” he says. “We must address the issue of climate change."

The NWF report recommends greater support to reduce carbon pollution, create more renewable energy sources and making communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - FL