A new exhibit coming to the Florida Museum of the Photographic Arts will showcase the extraordinary work of bay area resident Carlton Ward Jr., whose images of the endangered Florida panther are among the most revealing ever created.
Since 2015, Ward has been a pioneer in the employment of movement-triggered cameras, planted deep in the most remote areas of South Florida where the highly secretive animal lives.
Ward and his work were featured earlier this year in a National Geographic/Disney+ documentary. The film and the Tampa museum exhibit (opening Dec. 7) share a title: Path of the Panther.
“My goal in the photography is for people to fall in love with these places,” Ward told the Catalyst in February. “And I think the best way for people to connect with these places is to connect with an animal, like the Florida panther.
“My first choice would be for everyone in Florida to go out on these rivers or hike these trails, but we also need to meet them where they are with stories. And the Florida panther is one of those stories that’s been talked about, but not so much shown.”
Florida panther numbers had dwindled perilously in the 1980s (there were, it was estimated, fewer than 30 cats left in the Everglades, Big Cypress Swamp and the Fakahatchee Strand). Today, thanks to public awareness and consistent conservation efforts, there are perhaps 200 panthers roaming the wilds of South Florida.
Ward is a longtime cheerleader for the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, which has already set aside 10 million acres – through state allocations – for conservation, so that panthers will always have the wild space they need to survive. With 8,000 acres remaining for the proposed corridor to be complete, there is, he and other conservationists know, still work to be done.
“It was important to me,” Ward said, “to show the panther immersed in that quintessential South Florida swamp, because the panther’s ability to persevere in that swamp is the reason we still have a big cat left in the Eastern United States. Because they were outside the reach of our development, our encroachment, our hunting and persecution.”
Carlton Ward Jr: Path of the Panther will be on view from Dec. 7 through March 17, 2024.