Ricky Pires gets honored by Florida Panthers hockey club
While the Florida Panthers have are having a stellar year on the ice. The endangered Florida panthers, off the ice, haven’t been so lucky. The Florida Panthers hockey team honored FGCU Wings of Hope Director Ricky Pires during the NHL team’s Conservation Night, recognizing her for her efforts to help save the endangered Florida panther species.
“It is dear to my heart,” said Pires, who was honored as the Community Champion as part of the NHL team’s #MoreThanAMascot campaign. “It’s just a big partnership that makes this work. A lot of people help us out because it’s a lot of work.”
Wings of Hope, also known as the Panther Posse, is an environment education outreach program that brings approximately 5,000 Lee and Collier county elementary school students and FGCU Environmental Humanities students together to educate them about the Florida panther, water conservation and the Southwest Florida natural world. The Florida panther is one of the most endangered species in the United States, with its population estimated between 100 and 180 in the wild.
In 2015 alone, 41 Florida panther deaths were recorded — 30 of them due to impact with a vehicle — making it the deadliest year for the Florida big cats. So far this year, there have been two deaths.
“We never want to say goodbye to the Florida panther and this natural world,” Pires said. “The bottom line is we’re trying to make people understand to be kinder people in this world, not just to the natural world but to each other.“ Now, 16 years after its start, some of Pires’ old elementary school students have returned as FGCU students to take on the other side of the program.
“They’ve come to me now and told me, ‘You know, you really changed my way of thinking about the natural world,’” Pires said. “They say that they will never forget the Panther Posse, and that it was very special to them.”
Wings of Hope, which has expanded its reach to 35 elementary schools in the Southwest Florida area, challenges its students to teach others about the natural world after they leave the program.
“Hopefully, it’ll continue on, and we can train someone to eventually take over,” Pires said, “even though, I’ll probably never retire.