Meet Buddha, a Florida panther at the Tallahassee Museum

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A close up of a panther

At 8:30 in the morning, I walk into the Tallahassee Museum, humidity clinging to my t-shirt, the thermostat already rising. A half-hour before the museum opens, I gather with my team from WFSU, Suzie Buzzo, an animal curator at the museum, and Chris Bruton, Lead Keeper, to watch them ready the Florida panthers for the day.

Walking past industrial refrigerators filled with food in what Suzie referred to as “the kitchen” we come face-to-face with Buddha, a Florida panther, dozing in the corner of his nighttime quarters–a simple chain-link enclosure with a raised platform. As we walk up to his cage, Buddha becomes excited, pacing the concrete enclosure, stimulated by Suzie’s voice. As his oversized paws pad the ground, a deep purr emanates from his chest. Suzie scratches the back of his head.

“They’re the largest wild cats to purr,” she says.

Buddha, the Tallahassee Museum's resident Florida panther.
Buddha, the Tallahassee Museum’s resident Florida panther. Photo by Lydell Rawls.

Meeting Buddha, The Tallahassee Museum’s resident panther

Buddha is a 12-year-old 120-pound male Florida Panther, one of the largest and most charismatic animals at the Tallahassee Museum. Like most of the animals at the museum, he’s incapable of living in the wild. As a kitten, before arriving at the museum, he fractured his humerus, later receiving an injection of stem cells to heal the injury. Now, as part of his morning routine, Buddha gets laser therapy treatment via a wand that emits a low-level light to provide some relief to his inflammation, arthritis, and swelling. As Suzie and Chris wave the laser across Buddha’s thick fur, he lays on his raised platform, purring loudly.

After Buddha’s therapy, which lasts only a few minutes, I follow Suzie as she walks Buddha’s larger, daytime enclosure. A large live oak casts shade over the enclosure; resurrection fern that has turned brown in response to the recent dry spell traces its spindly limbs. Dried leaves crinkle beneath our feet as we walk.