Melting Florida panther illustrates effects of climate change

A newly installed wax sculpture of a Florida panther melted over the weekend at ZooTampa at Lowry Park in an effort to draw attention to the very real effects of climate change on Florida.

The stark reminder designed and created by Bob Partington reflects the threat of the disappearance of the Florida Panther, one of the state’s critically endangered species, and served as the setting to launch the #FLClimateCrisis campaign to bring awareness to the increasing impacts extreme weather changes will have on this state.

The Tampa Bay Area is on track this year to have the hottest year on record, says Rep. Kathy Castor, standing a few feet from the melting wax panther sculpture. She joined with representatives of the CLEO Institute, the City of Tampa and others, in partnership with the VoLo Foundation, to kick off the local awareness campaign. 

The effort started in Miami, then came to Tampa, where a small group gathered at the zoo to see the melting wax panther and listen to discussion on the importance of fighting back against climate change.

“Much of Florida, including Tampa and St. Pete are most vulnerable to coastal flooding,” says Yoca Ardita-Rocha, executive director of the CLEO Institute, a non-partisan organization dedicated to teaching people about climate change.

“The Tampa area is at a huge risk for climate change because it sits mostly at sea level. From extreme heat to extreme weather events … our government needs to do more to mitigate heat-trapping gases from our climate,” she says. “Scientists are telling us it is getting too hot for many species to survive and too hot for many species to thrive, including us.”
It does not take a scientist to realize how hot it is, she says. “We see the signs of tipping points being reached, exacerbated by rising temperatures. Last July was the hottest on record for the northern hemisphere.” If global warming goes unchecked, she adds, the four or five days of temperatures in the high 90s here each year will increase to about 80 days in just 14-15 years.”

“We will lose what we love the most from our great sunshine state,” Ardita says. “And that is what this campaign is all about. It is about elevating a complex issue with simple messages. More heat, less wildlife, more heat, less beaches, more heat, less quality of life for all of us. In short, the more climate crisis we have, the less Florida we will have.”

Castor, who chairs the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis, says the time to act is now. Already, she says, this country has waited too long to address the ongoing disaster that is climate change.

“We are in a climate emergency and unless we take action now, things are going to get worse,” Castor says. “We cannot wait any longer,” she says, pointing out the wildfires out West and the near record-breaking hurricane season that already brought Hurricanes Laura and Sally to the Gulf Coast.

“We put off action for too long. And I’m grateful to the CLEO Institute and the VoLo Foundation, to ZooTampa and their educational mission to help us get the message out about how important it is that we act with great emergency.”
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Read more articles by Yvette C. Hammett.

Yvette C. Hammett, a native Floridian and a graduate of the University of Florida, has spent much of her career as a professional journalist covering business, the environment, and local features throughout the Tampa Bay Area. She is an avid camper and outdoors person who has also been involved in local events for foster children and the elderly.