Nestled in Loxahatchee Groves, just off D Road, is a special place called the Panther Ridge Conservation Center. There, you can meet big cats of all kinds, including the newest edition, Kai.
Kai is a three-month-old mountain lion, also known as a puma, cougar or panther.
“He came to us to be a companion for our other resident cougar, Meeka, who is seven years old,” Animal Curator Sadie Ryan said.
The staff at Panther Ridge got together and brainstormed to find a Native American name for him, since Meeka has a Native American name.
Kai means willow tree, Ryan said, and Meeka means intelligent racoon, though the Native American spelling is actually Mika.
This unique species is the largest of the purring cats, Ryan said, and they communicate through chirping and squeaking.
Over the next few months, between five and nine months of age, Kai’s spots will fade and his bright blue eyes will turn into a greenish yellow or light brown. Once he is fully grown, he will weigh somewhere between 150 and 170 pounds, far surpassing Meeka’s 120-pound frame.
“He has a lot of growing to do before we can actually introduce them,” Ryan said. “People can keep up with Kai’s growth on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and YouTube. We post very regularly on all those different channels. Also, you can come to Panther Ridge for an actual visit to see him in person. He is much, much cuter in person.”
Just like any other baby animal, Kai loves stuffed animals, scratches, pets and attention. As Ryan checked in on the other residents of Panther Ridge, she could hear him calling for her. And she happily obliged, unable to resist his allure.
Currently, there are 26 cats at Panther Ridge, representing 10 different species. Donations of any kind are always welcome, as Panther Ridge is a nonprofit.
“Every little bit helps here,” Ryan said. “The money that is generated from the tours is income that is used to feed the cats and take care of them.”
Prior to the pandemic and the more recent increases in prices, it cost approximately $150,000 a year to feed the cats. Now, that number is far higher. And inflation certainly hasn’t helped.
“It’s rough to be able to feed all of these growing, hungry mouths,” Ryan said.
In addition to keeping the cats fed, keeping them happy and engaged is another thing they do at Panther Ridge.
The cats enjoy daily enrichment activities, whether that’s playing with boxes, finding things in their habitats, playing with toys, or scent enrichment.
Scent enrichment is when they get to find and explore scents in their homes. For example, Ryan and the team will spray colognes or perfumes, or sprinkle some spices or essential oils.
“A tiny bit goes a long way with these guys when it comes to scent enrichment,” she said. “Enrichment helps to stimulate them mentally and physically. What we’re trying to do is encourage natural behaviors with them. It keeps their minds active and healthy, as well as their bodies, because they need physical exercise as well.”
The cats love tearing up new boxes, just like standard domesticated cats. For Kai and the other young cats, stuffed animals and cat toys are always a welcome surprise.
Panther Ridge is open by appointment only, and for special events. Visitors can call (561) 795-8914 to schedule a guided tour, to RSVP for a Twilight Hours self-guided tour once a month from October through March on Saturdays from 6 to 9 p.m., to schedule a Cheetah Walk, a big cat experience, a small cat experience or a group tour. The next Twilight Hours event takes place Nov. 18, followed by Dec. 16, Jan. 20, Feb. 17 and March 23. Panther Ridge’s annual fundraiser takes place March 14.
There are many different Panther Ridge items available on the web site, including gift cards and artwork, making the perfect holiday gift.
Visit www.pantherridge.org to learn more about the cats, peruse the Amazon wish list, and learn how to donate, how to become a volunteer or intern, and how to otherwise get involved.