Girl working to end bear hunts sets sights on panther preservation

- She's only 10-years-old, but don't let Megan Sorbo's age fool you. She is on a mission to save Florida's wildlife and wild places, and she means business!

Disney World and all its princesses used to be her fascination. Understandably so, since she and her family live in the shadow of the theme park, less than a mile from the entrance.

A trip to the Everglades, when she was seven, changed her world. 

"It was so peaceful and quiet, that all the magic drained out of Disney World and into the Everglades. I see fireworks at night from my room, but I still prefer the Everglades. It's my heart and soul," Megan said.

She and her mom transformed her room into all things Everglades. A passage from Marjory Stoneman's landmark book, "The Everglades: River of Grass" is etched on her wall. There's an alligator over her door, native birds, and her favorite, a stuffed panther named Panthera.  

While Megan is now known for her fight to save Florida's black bears from planned hunts, panthers are her true love.

"I've seen a bear, but I long to see a panther. I really want to see one. Desperately," Megan said.

Home schooled by her mom, the plight of the Florida panther is what inspired Megan to start taking her advocacy on the road. She made her public speaking debut last September at a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Advisory Board meeting.

Tina Sorbo said her daughter was extremely nervous her first time.

"Her biggest fear was, she thought she had no business speaking up as a child," Sorbo said.

As it turned out, Megan had nothing to fear. Climbing up on her little pink stool, (so she could be seen over the podium), clutching Panthera, Megan spoke clearly and passionately.

"This is my future Florida and my generation's Florida that is in question... you are charged with protecting. That animal's needs come first, not ours as humans," Megan said to the board.

The chairman responded, "wow Megan! That's awesome!" 

Megan was a hit. Tina Sorbo couldn't have been prouder.

"If she's smart enough to learn about these issues, if she's old enough to learn about them, she's old enough to have her opinion and speak out about it. As an adult, I'm not sure could do it... but I'm amazingly proud of her," Megan's mom said.

Now, Megan is traveling the state, speaking at various county commission and city council meetings, urging them to vote for a ban on hunting Florida's bears. She spoke at a Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners meeting a few weeks ago. Recently, Seminole County and the city of Fort Myers approved a hunting ban.

It's largely symbolic, but Megan hopes it will send a message to the FWC, not to hold another bear hunt.

When she's not attending meetings, Megan dictates letters and emails to her mom, who types faster than Megan, and then sends them to lawmakers. 

It's part of everyday life for this very articulate 10-year-old, who's hoping to keep what's left of her wild Florida, wild.

Megan's blog:
https://meganforwildflorida.com/

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