Make us your home page

Gatorland: Panther siblings join the sights in Orlando

By Jay Cridlin

Times Staff Writer

Danielle Lucas cautions Gatorland visitors to temper their expectations when visiting the park's new 2,000-square-foot habitat Panther Springs habitat.

"Just like typical cats, they're lazy and love to sleep all day," said Lucas, the park's lead animal care specialist. And you won't hear them roar; their squeaks and purrs sound more like those of the tabby you left at home.

But Neiko and Lucy, the habitat's furry new residents, are still mesmerizing to behold.

This has not been the kindest couple of years for the Florida panther. Already endangered nearly to the point of extinction, a record 26 panthers — as much as a quarter of the state's estimated population — were killed in 2012, most of them by vehicles. A number of panthers do thrive in captivity.

Bred and raised in captivity, the 7-year-old siblings are hybrids of a true Florida panther and a Western cougar. At 210 pounds, Neiko is markedly bigger than Lucy — "He looks like a true Western, and she looks like a Florida panther," Lucas said.

The cats are fed indoors, but handlers do place "bloodsicles" — frozen chunks of blood and meat — in the pen for them to snack on. The siblings occasionally interact with each other, wrestling playfully and tussling with an exercise ball (the keepers usually toss it in the goat pen beforehand to give it that delicious new-goat smell). Lucy can be a bit of a diva, but Neiko can be quite charming, taking dips in a pond, playing peek-a-boo with handlers and inspecting curious children.

"He'll put his nose right up to the glass, and you'll see his breath hitting the glass," Lucas said. "He's just wanting the kids to play with him through the glass. He likes the attention. He's a bit of a ham."


Gatorland, which features thousands of alligators and crocodiles, including four rare "white" alligators, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (later during the summer) at 14501 S Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando. Admission is $24.99 for adults, $16.99 for children. Through June 16, admission for Florida residents of all ages is just $9.99; through June 2, the Screamin' Gator Zip Line is $49.99 for Florida residents (it's normally $69.99, which includes park admission). Call

toll-free 1-800-393-5297 or go to


The park has held a behind-the-scenes "panther breakfast," during which visitors get a closer look at the cats' behavior early in the morning, when they are more active. The panther breakfasts aren't listed on Gatorland's website, so if you're interested, call (407) 855-5496 to find out when the next one is scheduled. The initial tour was $69.95, though that price may change.

Gatorland: Panther siblings join the sights in Orlando 05/22/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 6:37pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Ticket window: Shania Twain, Chicago, George Benson

    Music & Concerts

    Tickets for the following events go on sale this week:

    LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 01:  Singer Shania Twain performs during the debut of her residency show "Shania: Still the One" at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace on December 1, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)
  2. Plan your weekend Aug. 25-27: Craig Morgan, Wearable Art 13, SNL's Pete Davidson, Rodeo Fest


    Plan your weekend


    Pete Davidson: Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson will headline this year's University of South Florida Round-Up Comedy Show, a back-to-school tradition at USF. Expect to hear about his recent trip to rehab, since he's known for his confessional …

    The 12th annual Wearable art Fashion Show was held at the Dunedin Fine Art Center on Saturday evening, August 27, 2016.
DAVID W DOONAN | Special To The Times
  3. Pasco Events for Aug. 25-31


    25 Friday

    Feeding Pasco's Elderly hosts inaugural Leadership Breakfast: The Pasco County Elderly Nutrition Division/Feeding Pasco's Elderly will host this east Pasco event to mirror the Ambassador's Breakfast fundraising event that has been held the past two years on the county's west side. County …

  4. Local craft beer of the week: Cherry Pastelitos, Coppertail Brewing Co. in Tampa

    Bars & Spirits

    On Saturday, Tampa's Coppertail Brewing Co. will celebrate its third anniversary with a Florida weisse festival, showcasing densely fruited tart wheat beers from more than a dozen Tampa Bay area breweries including, of course, many of its own brews in this summer-friendly style.

    Center: Coppertail Brewing’s Cherry Pastelitos. Flanking it are Coppertail’s BOMP (blood orange, mango, passionfruit), left, and Pinky Swear (pink lemonade-flavored).
  5. 'Smokey Joe's Cafe' opens run at Show Palace Dinner Theatre


    The Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson takes a nostalgic swing through the 1950s and '60s with its production of Smokey Joe's Cafe, which opens Aug. 26. The local offering of the longest-running rock 'n' roll revue in Broadway history features the legendary pop tunes of hit makers Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber. …

    A local production of the 1950s and '60s musical revue "Smokey Joe's Cafe" opens Aug. 26 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson.