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The secret lives of Florida wildlife can be real page turners
Kirsten Hines MS '02

The secret lives of Florida wildlife can be real page turners

Kirsten Hines MS '02 staked out creatures great and small to capture them in intimate photos that she accompanies with essays, the collected volume of which was published by University Press of Florida and honored with a Florida Book Award

May 28, 2024 at 2:00pm

Author Kirsten Hines MS ’02 takes readers of Wild Florida: An Animal Odyssey on a knee-deep tour of her muddy, scenic adventures.

Hines studied amphibians in Costa Rica while working on her master’s degree in biology at FIU, but volunteering on fellow graduate students’ Everglades-based projects ignited her interest in Florida.

And while she enjoyed her time in Central America, she enjoyed the chance to do a little research “in our own backyard,” she says. “It was nice to be part of a program that is centered around what’s special about South Florida.”

It was this exposure that sparked Hines’ appreciation of Florida and led to her five-year journey around the state to better understand Florida’s wilds, which she caught in images as well as the essays she wrote to accompany them. Hines says she enjoyed the surprises she encountered while working on her book. She once stumbled upon rare Everglades mink babies, a mid-sized weasel relative that survives by eating small mammals, snakes and insects. After discovering the young, she tracked the family for several months, identifying their favorite waterholes until one finally paused long enough for her to capture the photograph that eventually made it into the book.

But it’s the photo of a Florida panther with her two cubs that is her favorite. Landing that image as well as many of the others, Hines says, required hours of patiently observing where various animals gathered and sometimes camping out in their habitat. For some animals, she waited weeks. Others took months. Florida bears took years.

“At times, the project seemed hopeless,” she said. “It was difficult to find some of the animals that I had on my list. But then, just when I would be ready to give up, some animal from the list would magically appear or I would find other animals that weren’t even on the list.”

Wanting to write a book that everyone could enjoy, Hines includes personal stories combined with research to give readers a comprehensive and accessible understanding of wildlife in Florida. Both the non-fiction writing and the photography have earned awards.

The endeavor allowed Hines to put her biology degree to use in a creative way. It was only after earning her graduate degree and planning to travel abroad that she received her first-ever camera: a gift from her lab partners in the biology master's program, many of whom she is still close with today and whom she credits with introducing her to photography.

Hines has also co-authored several books with her husband, Jim Kushlan, a world-renowned ornithologist. Wild Florida, published by University Press of Florida, is her first solo project.

Hines has spent the last several months on a book tour across the state. She’s taking a break over the summer to work on a pictorial history of Big Cypress National Preserve before hitting the road again for her newest release, Birds of Florida: A Photographic Guide and Recovering Caribbean Nature. There’s no slowing down for this FIU alumna, who brings to life the importance of protecting Florida’s native treasures through captivating storytelling.