The Story of Tres

Written by Dr. Ray Ball, Vice President of Medical Sciences & Senior Veterinarian 

What has three bionic legs, leaps into tall trees, lived in ZooTampa at Lowry Park, and now runs in the wild of South Florida?  The only possible answer of course is Tres, the rehabilitated Florida panther.

Tres is a male Florida panther that was hit by a car, actually we believe twice.  He was found along a road with three broken legs, both back legs and his left foreleg.  The FWC biologist and veterinarian rescued him and presented him to the Animal Specialty Hospital in Naples where Dr. Mark Havig made him bionic.  After several hours of surgery, 6 stainless steel plates and 42 screws were placed into Tres broken limbs, he was on his way to Tampa.  He was still not recovered from his surgery when I pulled him out of his travel crate and got him settled in.

The Story of Tres - ZooTampa at Lowry ParkThe Story of Tres - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Figure 1 Fractured left forelimb on Florida panther Tres and the surgical repair.

Within 24 hours he was up on his feet.  Within 48 hours he was leaping.  He did this for a few days then settled in.  Several days later he started to eat and his recovery really began.

Taking care of wild animals, truly wild animals intended to be returned to the wild, is different than the rest of the animals at the Zoo.  For the wild panthers we want to keep them away from people as much as possible, and in Tres case we really want him to stay quiet and heal.  Fortunately the Katherine Starz Veterinary Hospital has just that capacity and Tres was to call this his home for the next several months.  He would need a couple more surgeries to manage his fractures but he really just needed the opportunity to heal.  It can be a delicate balance when to step in and intervene and when to allow an animal to take care of itself.  Tres told us what he needed and when to leave him alone and we listened.

Once Tres was medically cleared by the team at ZooTampa, he was moved to White Oak Plantation in north Florida to allow him some physical therapy time in a large outdoor enclosure.  He would spend a couple months here regaining the fitness he needed to better his chances at survival.  The team could also make sure he did not become too accustomed to people.  Having a releasable panther at ZooTampa was novel.  In the past we had only managed panthers that were not able to be rehabilitated.  Our approach was a little different but it made sense to us.  Only time would really tell if this would work.

The Story of Tres - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Figure 2 Camera trap photo showing a very healthy looking Tres prior to his release.  His behavior also suggested he was ready to be released.

In February the team encompassing the FWC, White Oaks, and ZooTampa gave Tres one last exam and he was determined to be ready to release.  He was fitted with his radio collar and loaded up for his journey back to south Florida.  The five hour journey allowed him plenty of time to recovery from his exam and at the mid-point when I checked on him he was posed very stately in his travel crate.  He was ready.

In carrying out our mission we encounter numerous events that are extremely fulfilling such as seeing a child smile as the otters play or the birth of a rare animal.  But nothing is quite the same as watching a manatee swim away after weeks in the rehabilitation center and seeing an orphan bear cub run into the woods after you have taken care of it.  Or seeing a Florida panther race away from you, becoming invisible in an instant.  We have learned many things from taking care of Tres and seeing him back in the forest of south Florida will stand out in our memory.  We wish him well.  We also hope to never see him again.

The Story of Tres - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Figure 3 Dr Lara Cusack from FWC releases Tres in south Florida.


Please review our booking tips before continuing

Outside Food & Drinks Policy

ZooTampa at Lowry Park offers a variety of delicious food for guests at several restaurants and concession stands throughout, but we understand that guests may need to bring outside food for special dietary needs. Acceptable and prohibited food items are listed below. For the convenience of our guests, there is a picnic area located outside the park near the main parking lot.

 Acceptable Items
  • Bottled water (max 20oz bottle, sealed) one per guest
  • Small snacks for young children
  • Baby food/baby formula
  • Soft-sided insulated bags no larger than 8.5” wide x 6” high x 6” deep (limit one per child)
  • Pre-purchased empty ZooTampa souvenir cups
  • Any food required for medical purposes and medically-indicated nutritional supplements
 Prohibited Items
  • Prepared or packaged food or meals
  • Alcohol
  • Glass or any open containers or water bottles filled with beverages
  • Hard-sided coolers of any size
  • Soft-sided coolers larger than 8.5” wide x 6” high x 6” deep
  • Suitcases and soft-sided bags with wheels larger than 24” long x 15” wide x 18” high

Prohibited Items

For the safety of our animals, guests and employees, the following items are not permitted to be brought into ZooTampa:

  • Any type of explosive or weapon
  • Knives or other sharp objects
  • Pepper spray
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Marijuana
  • Illegal drugs
  • Straws
  • Clothing likely to create a danger or disturbance
  • Any hazardous items or materials

The following items are also prohibited to avoid blocking of walkways and/or trip hazards:

  • Segways
  • Hover boards
  • Two-wheeled scooters
  • Self-balancing electric vehicles
  • Shoes with wheels
  • Drones
  • Hard-sided coolers of any size
  • Soft-sided coolers larger than 8.5” wide x 6” high x 6” deep
  • Suitcases and soft-sided bags with wheels larger than 24” long x 15” wide x 18” high

Please leave any unnecessary articles secured within your vehicle to expedite your entry into the park.

We reserve the right to deny entry to anyone not observing Zoo Rules.

Pay For A Day Tickets

With a new Pay For A Day, Rest of Year Free ticket – for a limited time – you get unlimited admission through December 31, 2023 including access to our seasonal event series. Some blockout dates apply — see below for details. Not valid with any other discounts.

When does my Pay For A Day ticket expire?

For a limited time, new Pay for a Day, Rest of Year Free tickets are valid from the day of purchase until 12/31/2023 Pay for a Day, Rest of Year Free tickets which were purchased prior to October 1st, 2022 are valid until 12/31/2022.

What are the blockout dates?

3/11/23 – 3/19/23
11/24/23 – 11/26/23
12/26/23 – 12/31/23

Can I purchase a Pay For A Day ticket on a blockout date?

Yes! You can purchase a Pay for a Day, Rest of Year Free ticket for first-time use on a listed blockout date and have full access to the park on that day. Blockout dates apply to repeat visitation.

Can I use my Pay For A Day ticket on blockout dates?

If you already have your Pay for a Day, Rest of Year Free ticket and wish to visit during a listed blockout date, please stop by the Zoo’s ticketing windows for alternate options:

  1. During blockout periods, Pay For A Day ticket holders have access to significantly discounted single-day tickets.
  2. For a limited time from the date of purchase, Pay For A Day tickets can be upgraded to a Zoo Membership (with no blockout dates).
I purchased a Pay For A Day ticket online. How do I get my actual ticket?

Bring a copy of your confirmation (or show the confirmation email on your mobile device) to expedite entry into the Zoo. At your convenience during your visit you can stop by the Tours & Guest Services kiosk located just inside the Zoo to print your physical pass. No need to stand in line at the ticket windows. Walk right in!
Still have questions? Email us or call (813) 935-8552 ext. 0.