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Panther Ridge Conservation Center Puts Its Focus On The Survival Of Story and Photos by Callie Sharkey

Cheetahs are the second-largest big cat in the world, right behind the mountain lion. To hear a cheetah purring loudly, all one has to do is meet 14-year-old Charlie when he is around Judy Berens, founder of the Panther Ridge Conservation Center. “I came to Wellington originally because it was a fabulous place to show horses,” recalled Berens, who competed as a hunter rider until 2010. Her passion for horses eventually expanded to include exotic cats.

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“I started in the early 1990s,” she said. “Then once I had all my appropriate licensing, people would call me and say there was an animal that needed help. I went from being a pet owner to a rescue, and as the years have gone by,

we have become much more involved in the conservation of these animals because they are absolutely disappearing from the face of the earth.” One such case of a rescued animal living at Panther Ridge is Toltec, a 12-yearold ocelot. The cat was living at another facility for wild animals but was severely abused there. “He kind of wobbles around like a drunk sailor, but he is the first ocelot to ever receive stem cell surgery in the world,” Facility Manager Sadie Ryan said. “We did that for him about three years ago, and it helped, but he will, unfortunately, never walk normally.” Now Toltec’s life is filled with enrichment training conducted through positive reinforcement, along with a variety of other treats. “He also gets special CBD popsicles to help with his arthritis and loves his toys,” Ryan said. “Toltec is a fanatic for some expensive cologne, too. He thoroughly enjoys a good scent sprayed in his enclosure.” Originally based in Wellington’s Palm Beach Point community, the growing nonprofit moved last year to a much larger home in Loxahatchee Groves. Currently, Panther Ridge houses 19 exotic cats representing many different species, including clouded leopards, jaguars and even a rare fishing cat. Mateo, a three-year-old jaguar, was transferred from a zoo to Panther Ridge, where he was hand-raised. Now that he is reaching maturity, the team has arranged for a two-year-old female named Onyx to be his future girlfriend, Meeka is a puma, also known as a cougar or a panther.

september 2019 | wellington the magazine

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Wellington The Magazine September 2019  

September 2019 | ON THE COVER Lola the tiger is one of the many exotic animals living at McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary, which is featured in...

Wellington The Magazine September 2019  

September 2019 | ON THE COVER Lola the tiger is one of the many exotic animals living at McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary, which is featured in...