What does a Florida panther have in common with the New Orleans Saints or with a man who built and sold radio stations? Well, if you have the pleasure of visiting the Bear Creek Feline Center just north of Panama City, Florida, you will meet Saint, the Florida panther who was born on February 7, 2010, the day the New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. The Saints rose from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina much as Saint is rising up from the near destruction of the Florida panther gene pool. Jim and Bertie Broaddus, who gave Saint his name, founded the Center with resources provided from the sale of several radio stations they owned.
Saint is now four years old and has become part of a breeding program for continuing the gene pool of these magnificent animals. Would you like to see these cats up close? Well, you can! Since BCFC is not a zoo but a habitat for the animals, visitors can see these cats in a more intimate setting than in a zoo. BCFC is open to the general public by appointment only and offers volunteer opportunities as well. The Center, founded in 2000, was grandfathered into the area as Panama City’s environs expanded. But not to worry, these cats are securely housed. Just don’t poke your fingers into any cages!
While Saint remains an ambassador of the Center, a new smaller feline is today taking more of the headlines. A jaguarundi is a small wild cat native to Central and South America, which is believed to have migrated up through Texas and perhaps as far as Florida. Jim and Bertie Broaddus recently raised one of these cats, Yoda, alongside their house cat, Obama. To see Yoda and Obama play is a bit unusual, and it seems Obama gets the upper hand most often. You can read more about Yoda’s upbringing in an article written by Jim for the Feline Conservation Federation magazine in the May/June 2013 issue: Jaguarundi Husbandry: Keep An Eye On Your Coffee Cup!
Apparently little Yoda likes a stiff cup in the morning.
While his initial passion for extending the Florida panther gene pool grew into a larger mission of conservation and breeding of rescued and re-homed feline species, Jim has expanded the mission once again to include being the only Center breeding jaguarundi in all of North America.
The Center today houses 24 cats ranging from the small Geoffrey’s cat to large panthers and cougars. Some of the resident species are: Siberian lynx, panthers/cougars (puma), Geoffrey’s cat, and African servals. Jim’s “Florida Wildlife Treasures”, a unique feature of BCFC, include the bobcat, the panthers, and the jaguarundi. BCFC is the only center nationwide in which you can see these three species in one place.
While the sale of Jim’s radio stations provided the seed money to start the center, of which he is the Director/Founder, he has many other credentials: graduate of the University of Georgia, member of Phi Kappa Phi Society, freelance writer, and member of the Feline Conservation Federation. He also holds current licenses through the FFWCC, USDA and USDI (US Fish and Wildlife Service), all of which support this 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
Jim sees his successes in terms of the animals. He states that “with felines.... no doubt the successful breeding of the jaguarundi has been notable. The fact that these little brown cats were gifted to BCFC from Russia, Germany, Czech Republic, Netherlands is noteworthy. Our contacts in the Republic of Panama and with ANAM (their equivalent to USF&W) is part of the networking that sets BCFC apart from the others.”
BCFC also offers volunteer as well as educational opportunities, both of which help educate and train today’s young people to value and protect these threatened and endangered felines. This is one of their core missions.
“We gained approval from the State Department of Education back in 2010 to offer instructional services to those who qualified under the provisions of the OJT/VR program. We had one graduate! The program is arduous so it takes a special person to pursue it through,” said Jim Broaddus.
Visiting at Thanksgiving is a particularly special time at BCFC. Walking into the center recently, I heard acoustic music, smelled turkey cooking and saw a couple of Native Americans selling handiwork and performing special ceremonies in honor of the day, the guests and the animals. It was such a lovely scene of camaraderie and kindness where all were welcome. My husband and I brought soft drinks, while others brought food, gifts or donations.
This wonderful, annual Thanksgiving event is called The Rendezvous. Jim gives the history: "The Rendezvous was an out-growth of a traditional Thanksgiving gathering that we hosted while we were in the radio business. The DJ's either had no homes, couldn't afford travel expenses or were on the air and couldn't leave town on Thanksgiving Day. We fed them as was the custom, in keeping with the care and feeding of DJ's.... giving 'em $200 a week and all the records they can eat!”
BCFC also has its share of celebrity visitors. Jim’s friend and BCFC supporter, Tim Thomas, attended the Thanksgiving Rendezvous to enjoy the festivities and to sign his new book. Tim presented his book DIDYANO? which was subsequently hand delivered to National Geographic in Washington DC. Tim, who has written and beautifully illustrated several children’s books promoting animal conservation, also helps Jim with his website.
Recently, Joel Sartore, National Geographic’s elite photographer, spent time at the center. Eight years ago, Joel began “Photo Ark”, a project to photograph roughly 6,000 captive species of Earth’s assortment of animals. Now he’s more than halfway there, having catalogued 3,050 species including the jaguarundis at BCFC. While at the Center in November 2013, Joel took a number of photographs including one of Yoda, showing his photogenic face! You can see more of Joel’s work at www.joelsartore.com. For more recent news about BCFC and Joel Sartore, see also the latest issue of Feline Conservation Federation Journal, which features the Bear Creek jaguarundi colony.
Very soon as you are driving from the Emerald Coast (Panama City going west) to the Forgotten Coast (Mexico Beach going east), you will be able to turn your radio dial to WECO – EcoRadio. You will hear Jim once again living the radio life. Last year when the FCC opened a filing window for Low Power FM Licenses (LPFM), Jim fell “off the wagon” as he puts it, and started up this new eco-station, He broadcasts from the Center, where he was already participating by lending his efforts regarding local weather.
The acquisition of the LPFM station will enable BCFC to underwrite future budgets to sustain the cats residing at the Center.
“The value of this new license, which permits us to reach out to tourists as they travel up and down the main North/South corridor with our message of conservation, is unique and exclusive,” said Jim Broaddus.
The first EcoRadio work session was held at BCFC on February 15 at 10 AM. You can take the man away from the radio but you cannot take the radio out of the man!
When I asked Jim what keeps him awake at night, he said, “I realize that I am not in love with cats in cages. I would much prefer to see them range in wide-open spaces. I am bugged by people who acquire wild felids as pets only to discard them midlife. We hear too often: Isn't he cute or Oh, I want one. Keeping these cats in captivity is a 24/7/365 responsibility, for maybe 20-25 years! I am horrified when I see pet fanciers, collectors and hoarders. They should be jailed!”
When I asked him what keeps Bertie up at night, his reply was short: “Me!”
While Jim’s reply regarding collectors may be controversial to some, the passion that Jim and Bertie share, and their dedication and love for the cats are undeniable. Their warmth towards the public in conveying this important work is contagious. They may indeed be one small link in preventing the extinction of the Florida panther as a species and in the long-term survival of each of the species in their care.
You might not know that the Florida panther was bred with the Texas cougar back in the 1980’s in an effort to save the species in Florida from extinction. The program was somewhat successful, though continued loss of habitat remains the largest threat to the panther’s long-term survival.
Did you know that some cats are picky eaters and prefer only raw chicken? Others eat deer and chicken! Hunters sometimes donate deer meat, but most meat for the cats is purchased from Steve Page, a local processor, who delivers 50 gallon drums of carcasses, which are then trimmed and frozen.
Jim’s connection with National Geographic was made through Patrick Callahan, the big cat curator at the Cincinnati Zoo.
You can see all six of the BCFC jaguarondis by visiting the Center or on the live jaguarondi video cam at their facilities at www.bearcreekfelinecenter.org.
The Bear Creek Feline Center is owned by Jim and Bertie Broaddus. It is located approximately 18 miles north of Panama City off Highway 231
Hours are by appointment only
8822 Tracy Way, Panama City, FL 32404
Mission: To promote and protect “Florida Wildlife Treasures” and exotic felines.
Long-Term Plans: To move the center to a larger range, build a school and promote eco-tourism.