Britain's Prince Charles stroked a panther Saturday before mounting up under sunny skies for a benefit polo match before 4,000 fashionable spectators.

The Prince of Wales arrived at Patrick Air Force Base during the morning, a day after he met with President Bush, and was whisked to the new Windsor Polo and Beach Club. He was not accompanied by his wife Diana or their two children on his fifth trip to south Florida since 1980.The polo match, a benefit for the Friends of Conservation, a group that raises funds for African wildlife, was the first Prince of Wales Cup match.

"This is so surprising for Vero Beach to have something of such importance happen here," said Patsy Helseth of Vero Beach as she sampled wine under a tent on the polo grounds. "It's really a feather in our cap."

After he arrived, Charles mounted a dais for a wildlife display conducted by television naturalist Jim Fowler that featured a Florida panther, a cheetah, a Harris hawk and a Florida screech owl.

Fowler persuaded the prince to pet the panther.