All around the world, wild animals are being pushed from their natural habitats. And recently, a bobcat kitten was discovered in a new housing construction zone in Florida, requiring her rescue and rehabilitation.
Big Cat Rescue – experts in dealing with this wildlife problem on a daily basis – were called to the scene. Jamie Veronica, President of Big Cat Rescue and licensed rehabilitator, searched the location for other kittens or signs of the mother, but with no success.
It was estimated that the bobcat kitten – named Hope by the Big Cat Rescue team – was about two weeks old when she arrived at the Tampa-based sanctuary. She was too young to be weaned from milk, but to be a candidate for release a rescued bobcat cannot imprint on humans, so minimizing human interaction with the animal is extremely important. Big Cat Rescue rehabilitators had to come up with a creative solution – they contacted local animal shelters requesting a mother cat with kittens. This strategy proved successful. A mother domestic cat quickly accepted the bobcat kitten as part of her own family and nursed Hope for several weeks.
Soon Hope was weaned and able to eat whole dead animals. “Hope developed quite a taste for her whole prey and moved on to hunting her own food,” a Big Cat Rescue representative shared with me. “Teaching Hope to hunt was accomplished through many phases. For a week she was given dead whole prey inside a large dog carrier with the top cut off. Once she was used to the idea of jumping down inside of the carrier to retriever her dinner, a live mouse was placed in the carrier. Since she was used to finding her food inside the carrier, she jumped down inside only to find her dinner moving about. It actually took her by surprise at first, but her natural instincts quickly took hold and she instinctively snatched up the mouse killing it with a bite to the neck. She was fed live prey in this controlled manner for another two weeks. She could jump down into the carrier from the top and the mouse had no escape. She became quite good at this game and so a new feeding system went into action.”
I spoke with Carole Baskin, Founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, to learn more about the issues of abandoned kittens and displaced big cats. According to Carole, rescued big cats are often bottle-fed, played with by humans and then released back into the wild with “no skills to survive when they are no longer any fun to play with.” While licenses are in place, the Florida Wildlife Commission only requires that a bobcat cage be 6 feet by 12 feet (72 square feet) and do not mandate that the animal be kept away from the public or imprinting on people. At Big Cat Rescue, Carole emphasizes, “our rehab cages are more than 1,000 square feet of space, [the animals] are kept away from the public and we go to ridiculous lengths to ensure the bobcats will be able to fend for themselves when released and to be sure they never wander up to a human.”
After one year of successful rehabilitation at the sanctuary, Hope weighed a robust 12 pounds, boasted a shiny coat and passed a final healthy exam with flying colors. She could hunt her own prey and had developed important survival skills, like problem solving, and still maintained a natural fear of humans. Hope was then successfully released back into the wild.
Photo Credits: Big Cat Rescue