Florida. It's a flat state with great beaches and ocean views. But there's more to the state than sunbathing and surfing. The wildlife's pretty spectacular too. And we're not talking about the kind you see barhopping on Duval Street in Key West or spilling out of South Beach clubs as most people are getting up and ready to head to work.
In addition to the usual suspects -- the alligator and the crocodile -- the Sunshine State is home to a growing list of endangered species, including the wild panther, bobcats, and black bears. In fact, a total of 98 species of mammals call Florida home. Among them: armadillos, hogs, shrews, rabbits, possums, coyote, fox, lemurs, monkeys, deer, apes, and bats. Yes, bats. In fact, the Mexican free-tailed bat, the evening bat, and the big brown bat are common sightings everywhere in the state except the Keys and major metropolitan areas. Much cuter than bats are deer, the only native in the state being the white-tailed deer, which happens to be the major prey animal of the Florida panther. A smaller subspecies of these are Key Deer, which live only in the Keys and are few and far between -- only around 800 or so are in existence.
And contrary to popular belief, the "snowbird" is not the official fowl of Florida, a state with hundreds of species of land birds and water birds from vultures, eagles, and ospreys to owls, woodpeckers, pelicans, herons, ducks, loons, and anhingas.
Marine mammals, however, are the true stars of the state, with the manatee at the top of the endangered list. According to experts, the highest count of manatee in the state at one time was in 2001 with 3,276. As for Flipper, the most common dolphin in the state is the bottlenose dolphin, while the most frequent orca known to the state is the Atlantic northern white whale. Bottlenose dolphins are not endangered and have a stable future thanks to their adaptability. Climate change, however, is an inevitable factor many species are facing rapidly with little time to adapt. And while some animal activists protest that keeping dolphins in captivity for tourism is cruel, in some cases, the dolphin swims are performed in the ocean with wild dolphins, while other programs are conducted in aquarium environments. Those programs which are neither are what come under fire from the activists.
But back to that alligator. No thanks to global warming, the American alligators are most affected by damage to their habitats. But global warming isn't the only reason the alligator is endangered: Increased levels of dioxins found in the bodies of water are also a key ingredient. Some would also say the alligator is also newly threatened by the recent Burmese python invasion that's straight out of a horror flick. While the python situation is out of control due to irresponsible pet owners who discard them in the Everglades when they become unmanageable, it's not a major factor in the alligator's status as an endangered species.
In December 2009, Congress allotted an additional $15 million to the federal State and Tribal Wildlife Grant program to help bring wildlife action plans into alignment with climate change. For a list of opportunities, sites, and outfitters and guides for wildlife viewing throughout the state, go to http://myfwc.com/viewing.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.