Bobcat Enrichment (photos are from pumpkin enrichment)
At Big Cat Rescue, the volunteers formed a committee to focus on the development of appropriate enrichment for the animals in our care. When using different enrichment techniques, the animals can be stimulated to investigate and explore their surroundings. This can be accomplished by presenting novel food items (or presenting food in different ways), as well as novel objects and smells. The presentation of new items and scents can help relieve boredom and improve the overall welfare of the animals. The committee decided to focus our enrichment on trying to encourage increased natural behaviors in our captive cats.
Being a sanctuary to approximately 100 cats we had to decide exactly where to start. As a committee we determined the easiest
way to approach our task was one species at a time. We started with our bobcats for a number of reasons. We are home to a significant number of them (over 40) at a wide range of ages. Also, they represented a variety of backgrounds. Some were pets, some came from fur farms, some were hand-raised and some came from the wild.
For our study of bobcats and enrichment, we used the SPIDER model, which was
presented by staff from Disney’s Animal Kingdom at a recent conference attended by some our our volunteers. SPIDER stands for Setting Goals, developing a Plan, Implementation, Documentation, Evaluation, and Readjustment. This presented a simple and organized system for us to follow.
The committee then used a list of questions to research bobcat behavior in the wild. These questions related to their hunting techniques and prey, territories and markings, threats, interactions with other animals as well as other observations. We also reviewed the histories of our current bobcat population and examined their enclosures. We investigated what bobcats did in their natural environment and then brainstormed ways to try to encourage and recreate those behaviors in their enclosures here.
From our research, we were able to target a number of behaviors that we wanted to encourage with our bobcats. These included grooming, water play, sunning, climbing and denning. When the committee developed ideas to recreate these behaviors, the ideas were then submitted to our staff and veterinarian for further approval. (It is important to consider individual health issues for each cat when determining the appropriateness of different types of enrichment.) These steps covered the goal setting and planning part of our model. Next came the fun part, the implementation!
For grooming, we used scents that we could spray into their enclosures. We used star anise and vanilla steeped in water. We then put the scented water into squirt guns and sprayed logs and trees in the bobcat habitats. (Just a note: the star anise was much more popular than the vanilla.) The bobcats would usually find the scent and either roll around or rub against the area we had sprayed. We found that when multiple bobcats were housed in the same enclosure, they would often start to groom each other as well. This was probably one of our more successful enrichment goals and it was fun to watch the responses of the cats.
They loved it!
During our research, we discovered that bobcats will sometimes spend time in the water. We purchased a galvanized tub that was large enough for the bobcats to play in, but small enough to be easily moved from cage to cage. The tub was placed inside an enclosure and was filled with a few inches of water. We found that some of our bobcats really enjoyed splashing around and investigating the water.
We also wanted to find ways to encourage our bobcats to sun themselves and climb, which were other natural behaviors that we studied. This involved examining our current enclosures. We had to determine which cages naturally had
rocks and logs in sunny spots or trees for climbing and if or how we could improve or change the others. We used scented treats in the higher spots of their enclosures to encourage them to climb. The bobcats seemed to enjoy this as well. We did note, however, that on our types of cage wire, the cats that were clawed sometimes had difficulty climbing the cage itself. We restricted any treats on the cage itself to cats that were declawed.
Our research also revealed that bobcats will often create temporary dens. To encourage this behavior, we placed large boxes in their enclosures. The boxes had holes in them large enough for the cats to enter. The results of this were mixed. Some of our bobcats loved them (although they did not necessarily use them for dens) and some of them were not interested.
After each implementation of enrichment, we evaluated our successes and failures, determined what changes we needed to make and sometimes tried again (the readjustment part of the model). The adjustments we made were noted above.
As far as documentation, we decided the easiest way for us to record our enrichment was to make a list of all of our animals. When one of our volunteers gives an animal enrichment, the date and type of enrichment is logged on the list. The lists are updated monthly.
The enrichment committee at Big Cat Rescue has found this model to be helpful in organizing, researching and documenting our progress. We have learned so much more about our animals through this process and with that knowledge, feel like we can give them better care while they are with us. We hope you can use some of the information we have shared here.
Former Volunteer, Carolyne Clendinen
Reactions ran from leaping, pouncing, rubbing, drooling, spraying, guarding and eating the pumpkins. Like most things, the best things in life are free.
These were some of the ploys used by zoo keepers across America to entertain captive cats. Our Volunteers implement them here for our animal’s enjoyment.
Laser Mouse: The red pin light pointing device. The cats will chase this thing anywhere, just don’t point it in their eyes. Even during the day, the beam is bright enough to catch their attention.
All Spice or just about any other cooking spice will “spice” up an old toy or cause the cat to rub all over a log of specific spot. Ask for outdated stuff at groceries or spice dealers.
Cantaloupe, coconut, apples in water bucket
Use yogurt containers to make blood- cicles for the cats to lick in the heat. Use bucket forms to make them for the Tigers. You can get plenty of blood at food prep at 7 pm each night.
Move their cage furniture around to make things more interesting, just be careful not to make an escape route.
Do not use staples, tape, wire or string in making permanent cage toys.
Pinecones, dipped in blood with meat chips smushed in are great amusement, but not on Mondays as the cats might be hungry enough to eat the cone.
Civet poop is very aromatic. Have a sample tested by the vet to make sure there are no parasites to pass along.
Pumpkins full of crickets. The crickets will hang out in the pumpkin for food and the cats will have fun chasing them if they don’t. Use natural vine to hang chicken wings so that the cat can pretend to capture it’s food. Be careful that the cat cannot hang it’s self. Tape recorder playing bird calls sealing in a plastic ball. Geoffroy cats, put their litter boxes as high up as you can as they use trees in the wild.
Astroturf, outside Lemur cage, but within reach. Spread with peanut butter and let them pick at it all day. Be sure to wash thoroughly.
Toilet paper rolls make great places to hide treats for cats, lemurs, civets, coati etc…
Training dummies soaked in hunting scents, like rabbit and grouse, hung from heavy duty plastic chains, at just above nose height, will keep
The animals enclosure should supply them with ongoing things to do.
Above right, Pisces, the Fishing Cat catches a fish in his stocked pond.
All tigers should have access to a pool. Three of our tigers have access to a lake in which they can swim. 11 of our tigers retired here in their golden years and had never had the opportunity to swim, so shallow cooling pools were created for them to insure they didn’t drown. Their pools over look the lake and have pumps that keep the water from the spring fed lake circulating through the pool and then back to the lake via a water fall. This creates a nice atmosphere in which the cats can lounge at the lake’s edge and dream about the swans and ducks they could catch.
A very inexpensive way to amuse cats for hours is to use paper towel, toilet paper and fabric tubes to hold various meats that aren’t the cats typical fare. The tubes are sometime sprayed with perfumes, or marinated in spices. All of our volunteers collect these card board tubes and save them up for enrichment days. One of our supporters, Kay King has a fabric related company and donates the fabric tubes for the larger cats. Photo by Anissa Camp of Mary Ann Reeds hands.
The cats will spend hours carrying the tubes around as if they caught the “prey” themselves. They roll on them, drool on them and eventually shred them to pieces to get to the good stuff inside. This stimulates all of their natural predatory instincts and provides a safe form of amusement. Photo by Anissa Camp of Shadow the Western Cougar sniffing his tube to see what the mystery treat of the day is.
Enrichment on a Budget
Being a non-profit sanctuary poses several obstacles for enrichment activities. Many resources, primarily money and time, are extremely limited. Volunteers are required to wear multiple hats to ensure a safe and healthy life for our animals. To add enrichment activities to the exhausting cleaning, maintenance, and fund raising was a daunting prospect. But despite the struggle, Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, FL has implemented a successful enrichment program.
Many of the enrichment types we utilize have already been mentioned in several places, so this article will focus more on how we’ve implemented the program, giving some insight into the challenges we faced.
One of the first actions taken was to determine what enrichment activities absolutely could not be accomplished. Mimicking foraging and other food-based enrichments are usually major activities at large institutions. We see the benefit of such projects, but are not able to implement any for our carnivores. Due to the fact that all animals are housed outside in Florida weather, mealtime comes just before
dusk for all meat-eaters. Any other feeding time would run the risk of increasing our bug and parasite populations. Another negative aspect is that the volunteers who prepare meals are not always the ones overseeing enrichment, so there is room for error in diet.
Instead, bite-sized “treats” are used in food-puzzles or as motivation to inspect a new object. Using frozen fish for enrichment has proven very successful. We feel that because fish is not an item used in our regular diet preparation, it is a novelty itself. Frozen fish purchased by the bag is inexpensive, and the long shelf life helps with our time constraints. A common use of food in our enrichment program is to hide a piece of smelt inside a paper towel roll with the ends curled in. We’ve received positive responses from Cougars (Felis concolor), Servals (Felis serval), Caracals (Felis caracal), as well as Binturongs (Arctictis Binturong) and African Civets (Civettictis civetta).
After determining what enrichment activities were unsuitable for our program, we then brainstormed the ease of implementing the activities left on the table. It may seem that the animals are being short-changed by our realistic approach, eliminating very effective and useful activities. But it is our careful thinking and knowledge of how the sanctuary must be run every day that allows the program to continue and flourish.
After all the planning, we ended up with a selection of easy to implement, use and monitor activities to enrich all of the species (over 25!) at the sanctuary. Many of the materials needed can be saved from the trash (yogurt cups make the perfect size bloodcicle to fit through our cages). We modified projects that required purchasing items to use things that were cheap and easily available. For example, a project that intrigued us was to cut holes in a gourd and stuff it with liverwurst. Gourds are seasonal and can be expensive, so we modified the activity to use potatoes. An apple corer is used lengthwise on the potato, and then the left over center can be used to either plug the potato, adding a level of difficulty to the activity, or the center is rolled in sweet basil and pumpkin spice and given to our Geoffroy’s cats (Felis geoffroyi). The Geoffroy’s have shown much more response to olfactory stimulation than any other toy or food.
What ties our enrichment program together is a database where all activities are recorded. This database tracks the date, species, name, enrichment type, and the animal’s reaction. The species, animal name, and enrichment type are fields that must be chosen from lists. We are alerted when an attempt is made to add an item to these lists. This gives us an opportunity to realize something new has occurred and we should discuss it with the rest of the group.
Besides reports on all the animals, the database can search on any of the first four fields (date, name, species, enrichment type). This allows for all sorts of questions to be answered. In an instant, we can learn who received enrichment last, what types of enrichment a certain species has responded to and how, as well as take a look at individual cases.
In particular, we have many cougars that were privately owned and truly enjoy human company. While this is an added bonus to help care for them, they often prefer the enrichment volunteer to the enrichment activity. It is extremely useful to have at our fingertips an individual history on each cougar of what has been offered them and how they have responded.
Big Cat Rescue houses approximately 100 animals on 69 acres. With volunteers undertaking the daily workload, starting an enrichment program seemed impossible. But with careful planning before implementation and the open communication of the database, we have logged hundreds enrichment activities and have seen wonderful reactions from all of our animals. Now that the initial hurdles have been conquered, we are taking steps to implement some of the more labor-intense enrichment activities previously discarded.
This may just be the perfect enrichment picture. Conan, a retired circus tiger, enjoying life on Easy Street in his 2000+ square foot Cat-A-Tat with earthen floors, real plants, trees, leaves and grass, a waterfall, pool with boomer ball, two white swans swimming by the outside (top center) and a box full of enrichment goodies. What a life!
The Ice Hasn’t Melted in Florida Yet
Below is enrichment made by Big Cat Rescue volunteers. Mice in ice blocks, swings in the shade and cool rock dens are all ways the cats of Big Cat Rescue can endure the summer heat.
This was a great day of enrichment for a few of the cats. Obviously, Moses and Ana really do love their swing. I found them on it in the morning when I arrived and pointed that out to all the guests on the tour when they were still hanging up there together.
Although Apollo and Zeus really could have cared less about their block of ice (ironic since they’re Siberians, huh?), Shadow was another story. He was still working on that block of ice at night when we were there to feed him. As food aggressive as he is, can you believe he didn’t even come to lockout to eat? He was still working on that rat in the ice and it had been hours already. Sugar had only been mildly interested, but was really much happier to be able to eat her dinner in peace while the beast just kept licking his icicle.
It gives us such a good feeling to see them enjoying themselves this much.
About once a month some film producer calls me and makes some variation on this pitch:
“We want to find cases where we can bust down the door, like Dog The Bounty Hunter, and save these animals from their current situations. We’d like to find enough cases to sustain several episodes.”
It just doesn’t work that way.
Our response is typically,
“The only time animals can be seized by USDA is usually at the end of a 6 + year long legal process. States have a patchwork of rules and in 30 years of rescuing exotic cats, I can’t think of a single time when there was a “bust down the door like Dog The Bounty Hunter” moment. It just doesn’t happen. The state processes are like those of the federal government and require years of court battles before the person eventually gives the animal up.
Even then, they usually won’t allow cameras and when they do, it is not an explosive situation, if the person rescuing the animals has any concern for the animals. The best way to move any exotic cat is through patience, quiet and working with the existing owner to make the transition go as smoothly as possible.
The only accredited sanctuaries are listed at SanctuaryFederation.org Any place else you send a wild animal could very well end up in trouble again not too far down the line. That wouldn’t reflect very well on you. Accredited sanctuaries do not buy, breed, sell, allow public contact nor take animals off site for exhibition. People who run accredited sanctuaries aren’t going to act stupid on film for you and do things that would jeopardize the animal or public’s safety.
Every situation is different, but the following is a step by step guide that Big Cat Rescue uses when rescuing an exotic cat.
1. Gather information
We try to gather as much information as possible on the cat and the situation. Rescue logistics are almost always tricky and you can’t be prepared for every possible snafu unless you have asked the right questions and listened to the answers. There are the obvious questions, such as species, name, age, claws or not, neutered or not, bottle raised or not, health, temperament and the size and complete description of the existing cage. Getting a cat out of a tiny cage is not too hard because they are usually more than glad to escape into any other contraption to get out of their confinement, but if they have space to hide, or avoid capture, they will use it.
Write it all down, as soon as you find out, because different people will tell you different things and you’ll probably have to extrapolate the actual situation based upon a lot of faulty input. Ask someone who is there to send photos, video or sketches of the cage, the surrounding terrain, roads for your vehicle and the distance you will be carrying some 400 lb cat by hand to get to the road. Assess weather norms for the area and a forecast close to travel time. You can almost count on the fact that it will be raining, snowing and sleeting in a lightning storm, during an eclipse, regardless of your best laid plans.
Unless it is a government seizure, or an abandoned cat, we require that owners contract with us to never own another exotic cat. Most people who are unloading lions and tigers on others are using them for profit while they are young and then discarding them when they are no longer making money for the owner, or when they are too big to play with any more. We believe that it just enables this bad behavior when sanctuaries allow exotic owners to use them as a dumping ground, because the owner will often go out and buy another cub or kitten to use.
If you want to send your exotic cat to Big Cat Rescue you will have to sign a contract that says we will take your cat, at no charge to you, but if you obtain another exotic cat, or even pose with one after the date of the contract, then you owe us whatever it would cost to take care of your abandoned cat for the rest of their life (which can be more than 20 years.) This contract is usually the deal killer and the irresponsible owner will just find some roadside zoo, breeder or pseudo sanctuary who won’t hold them responsible for their acts.
To bring a cat into Florida we have to get a Health Certificate, from a veterinarian who is licensed in the state where the cat is, stating that the cat is healthy enough to travel. No shots, blood tests or any other kinds of tests are required and every vet’s office has these three part forms, which are typically used for moving dogs and cats across state lines. That means that the exotic owner, who has probably never provided vet care, now has to get their cat to a vet, or get the vet to their home, to do this Health Certificate, which will be good for 30 days.
When dealing with exotic pet owners, we know how flaky they usually are, so we don’t even apply for an import permit until they have signed the Surrender Contract, in front of a notary, and have obtained the Health Certificate from a vet and faxed both to us. There is no sense in tying up our Florida Wildlife Commission staff in issuing an import permit when most exotic pet owners will fail to comply. If they do comply, then we fill out a form and submit it to the Florida Wildlife Commission and ask that they allow us to import the cat. They will contact the owner and the wildlife department of the state where the cat lives, in order to make sure that no laws are being broken. It can take 2 days or 2 weeks to get this permit issued and it is good for 30 days.
The clock is ticking down from 30 days on the Health Certificate so all of the other arrangements have to fall into place before it expires. Here are examples of the paperwork. Health Certificate FL Import PermitContract For Surrender USDA Transfer Form
3. Reducing Stress for the Cat
If possible, we like to give the cat time to feel comfortable in the transport carrier. If it is a small cat, an airline kennel works well, but for cougars on up, it has to be substantially bigger and heavy duty enough to prevent an escape. The exotic pet owner is almost never equipped and/or willing to build something for the cat to use. They just want the cat gone and don’t usually care how that happens. This often means that we have to send someone up, ahead of the rescue team, to build a transport cage on site and install it so that the cat gets used to eating and sleeping in this new crate.
If you were to play this video in reverse, you would get an idea of how we hook the transport up to the side wall of the existing cage to get the cat used to using it.
It at all the possible the cat should be allowed to come and go freely from the small transport cage while eating and for sleeping, so that when moving day comes they feel safe in that small space. You will notice that we cover the cage, so that it looks like a nice, safe den.
4. Prepare for the worst
We make every possible attempt to safely capture the cat without sedating them. Exotic cats often die from simple procedures because of hyperthermia caused by the drugs used to anesthetize them. Even if the sedation doesn’t kill them right away, it is a toxin that their kidneys can’t fully flush out and over time can result in renal failure. If you take your time, prepare in advance, and watch the cat for cues, you can often manage to crate them for transport without using drugs.
Nonetheless, we have to prepare for the worst; ie: the cat just won’t go, or the cat escapes because of the rickety enclosure where they have been housed. Even if our vet goes along on the rescue, they cannot transport drugs across state lines, so we can bring the “jab” stick, the blow pipe, and the dart guns, but we have to find a vet where the cat lives who will meet us at the scene with the appropriate cocktail of drugs to sedate the cat and a willingness to be in a situation that is usually fraught with danger. That is a pretty special vet and can be hard to find. We often spend hours on the phone trying to find just one who will help.
If the cat were a cougar or larger and managed to escape during the rescue attempt we have to be prepared to shoot to kill because sedation drugs take 20-30 minutes to take effect and often do not work at all if the cat has enough adrenalin pumping through their veins. Being free for the first time in their life is usually enough that there is no drug that will bring them down. Even if it did, they are 30 minutes down the road and could be drowning or stumbling out into traffic.
5. Send enough of the right people
Everyone at the sanctuary wants to go on a rescue. It’s exciting! But, the people you need on the rescue mission are the most experienced, the most calm, and depending on how far you are traveling, they have to be expendable from the daily work of the sanctuary. You may be able stop for food and overnight resting on the way up, but not on the way back. No one is going to let you rent a room and haul your circus wagon with a tiger in it into the motel for the night. You can’t leave the cat in the trailer because they make noises that attract ignorant people who will do stupid things to see what is inside.
You will have to have a crew that can take shifts driving if you are coming across country with a big cat. Nothing spells disaster for good working relations like traveling 3 days straight, eating junk food, listening to static on the radio and smelling cat urine for hundreds of miles.
6. Be ready to receive the new cat
The people left behind are usually trying to raise the funds for the rescue, building or modifying a cage, making arrangements with the media and then wrangling the press on the day the cat arrives. The media can be a sanctuary’s life blood because a good story, along with thrilling photos and video, will raise awareness about the plight of these cats in captivity but you have to keep the press from getting in the way or scaring the animals. They often want snarling photos and roaring cat sounds, but our mission is to make the transition as smooth and peaceful for the cat as possible. To do that you have to have the media area staked out and enough people to keep them far enough from the cats that they cannot spook them. Giving the press a great spokesperson to answer all of their questions is a great way to make the most of the situation and insure that they understand why it is so important to put the cat’s needs first.
7. Follow up
Even if the exotic cat owner was a jerk, we let them know that the cat arrived safely and encourage them to follow us on Facebook and YouTube for updates about their cat. We follow up with the press to give them updates, although it is rare that the media will report anything after the initial rescue. Whatever money you raised before the rescue is all you are going to raise, for the same reason. Before the rescue the public is on pins and needles, following you through every step that you will share with them and helping as much as they can. After the cat is at the sanctuary, most member of the public are off looking for the next “feel good” story where they can be involved in another rescue.
The cat you rescue today could live another 20 years, so it is vital that you have planned for that long term care. I have never seen a rescue effort raise more money than the first years’ cost of the cat. All too often “sanctuaries” continue to rescue animal after animal because of the funds they can get from the initial rescue, but it is never enough for life time care and eventually the places implode and the animals are all shifted around the country again.
This photo was from circa 2009 when Precious could get up in her tree. She’s had a stroke, at the age of 21, but has been working hard to get back on her feet and managed to do so recently. The photo below is Levi bobcat during a recent vet check up.
Food Prep Photos
The building was built by friends of Big Cat Rescue in 2003-2004 for $40,000. The lion’s share of the money raised to build it came from Jamie Veronica’s college fund, supplied by Jacqueline Norris, her great grandmother. Jacqueline was known to her grand children as Momma Jacquie, and thus the sign out front that says, Mamma Jacquie’s Cool Cat Cafe – Food Prep Center.
At the far left is the “rat room” and laundromat for the Cat Hospital next door. Live rats are raised there for the rehab bobcats. This area is screened for fresh air and is also where the hot water tank and water purification system is housed.
We later added on a metal roofed carport for golf cars, our beast wagon and our van.
The right end of the building is a carport styled “roof over” for the two walk in freezers. The small freezer is for whole prey and frozen treats for the cats. The larger freezer can hold 17,000 lbs of food and contains the ground diet, beef and chicken. Having these freezers under the roof will extend their lives.
The back of the freezers shows that the compressors are kept under the roof as well to protect them and the whole area around the freezers has hurricane panels cut for quick installation in the event of an emergency.
Behind Food Prep is a propane storage system and generator, donated by the Body Shop, to run Food Prep in the event of a loss of power.
Inside the main section of Food Prep is the computer where volunteers and staff log in and out for the day. It is also where another computer is set up for them to log their observations from feeding and cleaning the cats into the Intranet site for Big Cat Rescue. These entries send emails to the CEO, President, Operations Manager, Maintenance Team and Vet, with the full report of feces found, food left behind and any maintenance or veterinary issue that is observed.
Feeding supplies, such as paper plates, rubber gloves, paper towels etc. are on the top shelves in the back ground and cleaning supplies are on the bottom, so that there is no chance of something spilling and contaminating the food delivery products. At the left you can see stainless steel sinks and cutting boards where the food is chopped.
Behind the shelves is a huge walk in cooler that is the full width of the building. In the photo you can see an Intern carrying a box of frozen meat into the cooler where it will defrost for the following day.
Inside the walk in cooler are racks on the left for thawing whole prey and wrapped items and on the right is a stainless steel morgue table for draining the blood off the meat which is captured in buckets below. The walls are clad in an easy to clean water proof sheeting like you would see in a shower stall. A lot of our cats are on special diets due to old age and health issues, so the buckets on the rack in the back right of the photo are for creating those diets before the feed wagons leave the Food Prep area.
Special lights are needed inside freezers and coolers and are very expensive.
The stainless steel sinks wrap around three sides of the room. There is a lot of natural light in the room from windows and there are overhead lights as well. The floors are all tile and mopped down daily after feeding.
On the left is a cabinet for feed and bedding for the rats and stainless steel rat cages on the right. The washer, dryer, hot water tank and purification system are behind the rat cages. In order to keep vermin from entering this area, the screens are covered with a 1/4 wire mesh on a frame mounted to the outside of the room over the screened windows.
When another sanctuary asked for details about our nutrition center or food prep area, I figured I’d just post it here for anyone who is interested.
From our friends at HSUS:
California Restricts Bobcat Hunting and Bans Lead Shot
Today is an important day for wildlife protection in California. Gov. Jerry Brown signed two pieces of legislation today thanks in no small part to all the hard work The HSUS and our supporters have put in to protecting California’s wildlife and people.
Gov. Brown’s signing of AB 711 means hunters in California will be required to use non-lead ammunition to stop the incidental poisoning of dozens of species, and stop these bullets from killing long after they have left the chamber. His signature on AB 1213 will add a no-trapping buffer zone for bobcats around Joshua Tree National Park and stop commercial trappers from catching and killing bobcats on private property without the consent of the property owner.
Our California State Director Jennifer Fearing says, “California has led the nation in creating humane laws, and today’s pair of actions by Governor Brown is an incredible victory for wildlife and humans alike.” Read more on my blog»
Thank you for all you do for California’s animals.
Wayne Pacelle, President & CEO
The Humane Society of the United States
Domestic cats win hands down when it comes to house manners and exotic cats are more easily influenced by what other cats show them than what we try to teach them. For this reason, we employ domestic cat mothers, strays with kittens of their own for the most part, to help us guide these impressionable little ones. Our Veterinarian, Dr. Stacie Wadsworth D.V.M., specializes in cat care with her own clinic called Carrollwood Cats and takes in all of the felines brought to her doors. She screens them for every known disease, worms and vaccinates them and then adopts them and their kittens out. We often turn to her for surrogate mothers and step brothers and sisters for our exotics. Even free ranging domestic cats will use a litter box if they are confined to a cage.
We use a four foot square wire cage that is two feet tall. It is light weight and easy to move around and clean under. Even if the surrogate mother is not inclined to nurse the exotic cub, after proper introduction, we have never had to worry about her hurting a kit. When she teaches her own young, or when she uses the litter box, the exotic kitten will follow their example and it’s as easy as that. Once the cats, kittens and cubs are all consistently using the box, then we allow them to run loose. If someone has an accident, then he goes back in the cage for a day or two until manners are resumed. For the exotic cat, this re-learning process can be necessary for a lifetime. If the cub is larger, you may need to confine him to the bathroom for a couple of days until he remembers what that box full of sand was for. Just like with domestic cats, if you see the kitten going where it shouldn’t then scoop him up and take him to the box. A lot of yelling will only frighten him and may cause him to hide under the bed, or in the closet to eliminate.
If a surrogate mother is not practical, then you will have to do this in cages and in stages. When the kitten is about four weeks old, offer a box with low sides and a non clumping litter. (The popular clumping kind turns to cement in their intestines and must be surgically removed). This year we had ten bobcat kittens that jumped right in and knew what the box was for. If your kitten prefers to eliminate somewhere else in the cage, then scoop up the poop and put it in the litter box and put the box in the corner the cub had preferred to use. Repeating this process a couple of times is usually all it takes. If you allow the kitten to roam freely before being adequately trained, then you may never instill this litterbox habit and it won’t be long before you won’t want to live with this animal any longer. Another trick to teaching the kitten to go to the litter pan is to pour a little ammonia in the box to attract them for that purpose. Cats like to use the same area as everyone else, at least when they are young and subject to peer pressure, so they may believe that another cat went there before.
Because of this, it is very important to keep the floors clean, so that the cats do not choose their own spot and then entice all their friends to do the same. Under beds and behind the furniture are favored spots and you may have to customize your furnishings to prevent cats from getting to these humanly inaccessible places. Once a bad habit is started it is very hard to break. It is worth the extra effort to make training as positive an experience as possible.
We have had some kittens that required more work than any others. For these we use little baby steps by using a large tray filled with litter that fills the entire floor of the cage and gradually reduce the size of the box as the kitten accepts the difference between litter and no litter. Each time the cub has an accident, then we back up to the size that worked last and after a few days of success, return to reducing the size of the box. When the kitten is using the litter pan regularly, then we can let him roam freely, but any accident results in return to the cage and the litter box, until training is re-established. N o one hates to see cats in cages, more than us, but it is a necessity that will allow the cat many years of freedom if you are consistent.
Toilet training is quite easy for some breeds who naturally prefer to eliminate in the water. Bobcats are a natural for this sort of training and as long as you don’t mind sharing the commode with the cat (they are a little messy) then it can be the easiest for you and the feline. A common problem with exotic cats and housebreaking is that if you teach a cat to use a box, then it cannot distinguish a box with litter in it and a box with jewelry in it. Any box is fair game, as is anything that could be loosely construed as a box, such as an arrangement of high things, in box like formation, like a living room pit group, with the ottoman missing. Even cats with very good house manners will fall into a case of mistaken identity. The same is true of cats trained to water, you must cover your fish tank and not leave big bowls of water, or sinks full of water, or bathtubs full of water where the cat is likely to come across it. To the exotic cat, water is water and the toilet is no more compelling than any other large body of water.
Training a bobcat, or Leopard to use water, only requires offering a large, shallow pan full of water and nature will take it’s course. As the cat gets larger you can place a toilet seat over the pan of water, or over the litter box for cats started on litter so that this becomes routine. N ext move the accepted “toilet” closer and closer to the real thing, until they are side by side. Then using telephone books, you can gradually lift the height of the “toilet” upwards, until it is level with and adjacent to the target toilet. The transition over should come natural after time, the key is to be patient and observant. Once the switch is made you can remove the bogus “toilet” and work on teaching the cat to flush. The only drawback to toilet training is that some cats like to stand in the water while they go and then when they hop out they get the seat all wet and smelly. I find it easier to wipe down the seat than to deal with litter boxes though.
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Some breeds of cats are so insistent on using water, that they will soil their own water dishes and for these we offer a water bowl and a bowl to defecate it. Most exotics will be happy enough with this provision, but some want to go in ALL water containers and for them you must get creative in providing a clean water source for them to drink from. If they are caged it is not too difficult to attach a water dish to the wire, with the top being higher the rump of the cat, so that it has to reach up a little to drink. If the cat climbs the wire to go in the dish, you can attach a shelf over the top of the dish, high enough for the cat to stick it’s head in and drink, but low enough that the cat cannot squeeze in backwards. Another alternative is to cut a hole in the wire and hang the dish on the outside (enclosed with wire of course) so that the cat must stick it’s head out to drink. Some people use water bottles and/or drip lines, but the bottles are a pain to clean and the drip line could clog for days, before someone noticed the cat was parched. If your water soiling cat is a housepet, you can provide a sanitary water dish by using a plastic bucket or container with a lid. In the side, a few inches up from the bottom, we cut a hole large enough for the cat to poke his head through comfortably and drink.
If the cat was properly house broken and then begins having recurrent accidents there could be more going on than their forgetful nature. Often sickness will manifest itself in the cat soiling places other than the accepted container, as the cat may not be able to control it’s bladder or intestines. Sometimes the feline is trying to tell you something, such as “I don’t like the new cat” or “I don’t want to share this space with your new friend” or “I’m ready for love! Can anyone out there smell me?”. Be sure that the cat is in good health and stress free before assuming that the problem is a training issue.
If the problem is health related, you will need to have that diagnosed and cured before your training can resume. If the cause is stress then each and every situation will require it’s own remedy to remove the cause of the stress if possible, and if that is not feasible, to help the cat cope with the new situation. Cats, both exotic and domestic, are creatures of habit and they do not like change. Something as simple as moving the furniture around can really upset a cat so keep this in mind when you begin thinking about introducing new animals or people to your “pride”.
If the problem is due to the cat being in the mood for love, there is nothing you can do to stop the spraying. It doesn’t matter how early you spay or neuter and exotic cat. When they are full grown they all spray. Males and Females, neutered, spayed or not; they ALL spray. Too many people think that they will take home a cute little exotic, raise it up and let it pay for itself by producing a litter or two of kittens but then they have an adult that they can no longer handle. Even females will spray buckets on everything, including you to attract a male and the males are worse. We have terrazzo floors, plastic on the walls and two full time housekeepers to clean up behind all of them, and if we didn’t, we couldn’t live in the same house with them.
Neutering a male is a simple procedure and he can come home the same day. Spaying a female requires the removal of the womb and requires an overnight stay. Altering is a permanent decision and not one to take lightly. If you were to die, or be incapacitated, would there be a home waiting for your neutered pet? Many of the cats we have brought home from auctions were cats that were altered or too old to breed and the only people who would purchase them were the taxidermists and the owners of hunting ranges. In many cases, an old or un-breedable cat is worth much more to some people, dead than alive. The tamer the cat the more valuable they are to the sport hunters, because even a lousy shot can bag a Mountain Lion or a Lynx, when the cat will walk right up to them. Canned hunts are abominable, but they are not illegal, and as long as there are sick people in this world, your pet is not safe if out of your sight.
It is legal in the USA to operate what are commonly referred to as game farms or hunting ranches. These are businesses that cater to enormous, macho egos of those “humans” who thrill at killing an animal. For a fee a hunter can be guaranteed the opportunity to tract down and murder the animal of his choice. For a few hundred dollars a person can go to these farms and be guaranteed the kill of a Cougar. Because the rancher is dealing with the lowest form of coward, the best animals for him to purchase are the discarded pets sold at auction. This way the hunter is at virtually no risk and can get very close to his target. It is openly legal to offer Cougars, Bobcats and Canadian Lynx for the killing, but it is possible, illegally and at a considerable price, to “hunt” Lions, Tigers and other endangered species by invitation.
There just no are good options for exotic cats and the best thing you can do is to not support the exotic cat trade by buying.
Big Cat Rescue has evolved since its inception in 1992. By 1997 we had seen enough of the abuse and abandonment caused by the pet trade that we had previously engaged in to know that there was no reason to breed exotic animals for lives in cages. As a result we increased our efforts through spaying, neutering and cage building to ensure that we would no longer be a part of the problem. As we have continued to learn about the causes of so much suffering we have become
active in stopping the exotic pet trade through education and legislation. The above is provided only for those who have already made the mistake of supporting the pet trade so that the animal in your care does not suffer even more after being ripped from his mother.
Note: I am not a veterinarian. Please consult with a licensed veterinarian if your exotic cat is dehydrated.
Hygiene serves as a most important tool keeping sanctuary functioning property. There are several reasons why hygiene must be effective in the sanctuary.
(a) Health Needs: to help prevent the spread of disease among animals and zoonosis between staff and visitors and the animals.
(b) Husbandry needs: to provide clean safe conditions for the maintenance and housing of animals (biological needs).
(c) Aesthetic needs: to provide a clean environment to enhance visitor learning.
Hygienic work practices include the following procedures
Removal of animal discharges.
Removal of spilt and left over food stuffs.
Removal of other wastes and organic material that will decompose rapidly.
Removal of all waste material without exposing it to other animals or to visitors.
Regular cleaning and disinfecting of tools and equipment.
Periodic replacement of exhibit furniture.
Cleaning of exhibit surfaces with water, steam, chemicals, etc.
Replacement of natural surfaces (sand, earth) and bedding materials.
General maintenance of grasslands in pastured exhibits.
Frequent changing of pool water, cleaning of pool surfaces and flushing to remove chemicals.
Daily cleaning of food and water containers, replacement of drinking water.
Cleanliness in handling, presentation and storage of foodstuffs, including hay.
Cleaning of food preparation utensils and areas.
Cleaning of public areas, washrooms, facilities, general sanctuary grounds.
Care and attention in handling animals.
Big Cat Rescue endeavors to house its animals in naturalistic surroundings. This means additional labor to maintain substrates, plants, cage furniture etc., and not many “wash down” exhibits. However, basic wash down procedures are used in feeding areas, all primate holding areas, in the Cat Hospital and recovery cages.
PERSONAL HYGIENE AND ZOONOSIS
Tiger Taking a Bath at Big Cat Rescue
Personal cleanliness and hygiene in the sanctuary cannot be emphasized enough; it is an extremely important part of Keeping. Many of the problems of disease and infection can be prevented by cleanliness and common sense.
The keeper should be aware of the ways in which disease and infection can be spread. Disease can be introduced into the body through injuries from animals, particularly cuts, bites and scratches; it can be caused by contact with feces, urine, saliva, skin, or direct respiratory exhalation. It can be present in cage soil or substrate, in objects removed from the cage, boots, dirty hands, clothing, or it can come from direct contact with the animal. (Don’t kiss the llamas)
Avoid unnecessary contact with animals; wear rubber gloves, coveralls, boots and proper protective clothing. Use a face mask when spraying or working in very dusty areas.
Before leaving the sanctuary site, wash up and change clothing.Report any cuts, scratches or bites, no matter how small, to your supervisor and to first aid.Wash your hands before eating or smoking, whenever leaving or between work areas, or after handling animals.Don’t eat or smoke in animal containment areas.In quarantine, follow the posted procedures; they are for your protection and the protection of your stock.Never touch dead animals or animal fecal matter (especially primate) with the bare hands. Use rubber gloves.Remember you can bring disease into the sanctuary from farm animals, pets, and other humans, as well as spreading sanctuary diseases outside the sanctuary site. If you are sick or have any kind of respiratory ailment, flu or cold, try to stay away from primates – they are susceptible to human diseases. Wear a face mask if primate contact is necessary. Cats are carriers of strep throat. Keep your fingers out of your mouth, eyes and nose.
Zoonosis is defined as those infections which are naturally transmitted between vertebrate animals and man (W.H.O. Committee on Zoonosis, 1969). There are more than 100 diseases of vertebrate animals that can be transmitted naturally and directly from wild and domestic animals to humans. Read about some of them HERE.
Big Cat Rescue has a Human Health Program and Zoonosis Control Advisory Group which meets several times a year to monitor and control zoonosis in the sanctuary. It is made up from the Animal Care Supervisor, volunteers and first aid staff.
Every zoonosis is a potential threat to human health; zoonosis is an occupational hazard for sanctuary staff who have close contact with the animals.Zoonosis is defined as infectious diseases, and are caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa or by parasites. They may infect the body through the respiratory tract, mucous membranes, the mouth or the skin.Zoonosis can be transmitted from animals to man by several methods. The diseases used as examples below are listed according to their main method of transmission, but most can be transmitted by several different methods:
Direct Transmission; direct or immediate contact with a diseased animal. (e.g. Rabies, ringworm). Indirect Transmission; exposure to disease by being in contact with objects or materials which have been contaminated by a diseased animal. (i.e. Amoebiasis, hookworm). Contact with Disease Carriers; some diseases may be carried by a species without causing illness, but contact with the carrier may cause illness or death in susceptible species. (i.e. Herpes B virus). Infections from Food and Water; some diseases persist in contaminated food and water, and are transmitted by ingestion. (i.e. Giardiasis, salmonellosis).
Air-borne Infections; disease organisms can be transmitted on droplets of moisture coughed or sneezed by a sick individual, or on dust particles in a contaminated environments, and breathed in by the susceptible host. This kind of transmission is facilitated by close proximity and a closed-in environment. (i.e. Psittacosis, tuberculosis).
Infections from Blood Sucking Arthropods; Some diseases of man and animals are normally passed through the bites of fleas, flies, mosquitoes, lice, or ticks. (i.e. Equine Encephalomyelitis, malaria, West Nile Disease, FeLV).Zoonosis confirmed in animals at the Big Cat Rescue (as of 11/2003) include:
Salmonellosis (one lemur in 1999)
Scabies (bobcat in 1993)
Ringworm (bobcat in 1995)
Cryptosporidiosis (lion 1994)
Most zoonotic infections can be avoided by persistent cleanliness and sound personal hygiene. Prevention by means of vaccination and control by check ups, X-rays, and stool checks on a regular basis are successful. All new keepers should participate in the sanctuary’s health program, including vaccinations and regular fecal samples.
By knowledge of disease transmission, good personal cleanliness and clean working habits, the keeper can take precautions against being a link in the transmission of disease between animals and man and vice-versa.
For further more detailed information on zoonosis see “Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine”. W.B.Saunders 1986, edited by Murray Fowler, D.V.M
BIG CAT RESCUE’S PEST CONTROL PROTOCOL
Pest control in the Sanctuary is necessary to help prevent the spread of disease and infection, to protect the visitor from exposure to certain zoonosis, to reduce the annoyance to both animals and man, and to ensure that captive animals receive the food set out for them (rather than having that food consumed by rodents, birds or insects).
Rodents include rats, mice and voles, both those common to human habitations as well as local and naturally occurring wild rodent populations. Rodents can be disease vectors as well as freeloaders on a Sanctuary’s food supplies, and rodents can also cause physical damage to material and to other animals.
Birds such as pigeons, sparrows, starlings, raptors and various waterfowl can compete for food with sanctuary animals, foul food and water and be vectors and reservoirs for disease.
INSECTS AND ARACHNIDS
Cockroaches, flies, ants, ticks, fleas and lice all cause various problems, they contaminate food supplies (their larvae), spread disease and are parasitic on (or annoy) sanctuary animals. Cockroaches can carry several infectious agents and parasites. Spiders are generally beneficial but centipedes can bite.
INDIGENOUS AND FERAL CARNIVORES
Predators can cause much damage in sanctuaries by killing and injuring animals spreading disease such as rabies, and generally stressing animals. Stray cats and dogs, raccoons, foxes, skunks and owls all cause problems.
Poisonous plants, thorny brush, trees and weeds can also be annoying/dangerous to animals, staff, and visitors.
Many factors contribute to the presence of pests in the sanctuary today and much can be done to eliminate them or reduce them to manageable proportions.
Improper sanitation: Spilt food in food storage areas and kitchen refuse all become a food source for pests. All bulk food should be stored in rodent proof containers, preferably off the floor in a clean dry place. Always clean up spillage, never leave spilt food where it may attract pests. Kitchen areas must be kept scrupulously clean, as must all storage areas. Animal wastes should be bagged where possible and stored in a proper location until garbage pick-up. Bagged refuse should not be accessible to rats, mice, raccoons, etc. Keep drains and ditches clean eliminates breeding places.
Nesting areas: Don’t leave timber and other material laying around where it can provide resting places for rodents. Keep your area tidy, clean up woodpiles and block all holes in floors, walls, eaves, etc. to keep out sparrows and other birds.
Inadequate barriers: Many buildings abound with places for rodents to hide and nest. Keep food in tightly lidded containers. Keep doors shut; check fences top and bottom and ensure that they are predator proof. Block off holes which might provide access for birds.
Sanitation: Maintain a clean work place.
Physical control: There are various live traps which can be used for rats and mice and others to catch larger predators – skunks, raccoons. The simple rat and mouse traps, spring loaded, can be very effective when properly used. (Trainees should read the chapter on “Catching Mice Without Bait” in H. Hediger’s book “Man and Animal in the Sanctuary”, available in the Sanctuary library. Flypaper, mechanical devices, electrical fences and pest proofing can all reduce pests to a controllable minimum.
Chemical control: Application and procedures involving chemical poisons must follow federal and provincial regulations. Poisons can be dangerous in the sanctuary unless sanctuary animals are absolutely protected against accidental contamination, from both the poison source and from poisoned pests. Pesticides (paints, sprays, fogs, dust and baits) are used; so are anti-coagulants in baits and traps. No-pest strips can be used in small exhibits to control insects, especially overnight if the cage is empty. Flypaper is safe and effective in non-animal areas -corridors and kitchens.
Biological control: In some cases biological control of pests using natural or imported predators or disease may be undertaken, but this isn’t very common in the sanctuary. The use of ferrets and snakes as a control on rodents has been successful under some circumstances; lady bugs have been used to protect some of the sanctuary’s plants against whitefly (aphids).
PEST CONTROL AT BIG CAT RESCUE
Pest control at the Big Cat Rescue is carried out by the staff and coordinated by the Supervisor. The staff are responsible for traps, poison baits, bait stations, spraying, etc. but can only be effective if the Keeper does a good job and reports any pests or signs of pests. The Keeper must also take care that all pest control measures in his area can in no way be a danger to Sanctuary animals:
Maintain a clean and tidy work environment.
Know the location of traps and bait stations in your area.
Don’t wait until an area is saturated with rodent or bird fecal matter; act as soon as signs of pests are noticed.
Look for fecal matter in bowls, on ledges and in the exhibit and in and around food daily.
Use wire mesh to block off holes where mice or birds may enter a building.
Make sure that regular checks of the bait stations and traps in your area are a standard part of the routines; don’t just leave this to the pest control officers.
Kill all pests, voles, deer mice and field mice, etc. Just because something looks cute doesn’t mean it can’t transmit a disease or contaminate or consume Sanctuary animal food.
Use boiling water or grits on ant beds inside cages and Amdro outside cages.
Hire a licensed trapper to relocate raccoons and other large, unwanted pests.
Pest control is the Keeper’s responsibility and the commercial agency used by the Sanctuary is a means to control pests.
Hazards to the Keeper – Never handle dead animals with bare hands -always use rubber gloves. Be especially careful of unnatural behavior in animals such as raccoons, foxes, skunks; these animals may be rabid. Do not approach them if alive, and if dead, use extreme caution when handling the carcasses. Always double bag the body. Use care around sprays, baits and traps. Wash your hands if you have been working around any poisoned material. Avoid skin contact with poisons, which can cause skin reactions. Hazards to Sanctuary animals: Rodents or birds can consume so much of an animal’s food that it does not get enough to eat. Check all feed dishes, especially dry food, for rodent feces, by which disease can be spread to your animals. Rabies is a dangerous disease; its frequency of occurrence coincides with increases in natural predator populations (such as skunk and fox.) Observe your animals for any bizarre behavior or sudden behavior changes, both of which might indicate contact with a rabid animal. Hazards to the public: Remember that Sanctuary visitors can be exposed to infection or disease through contact with pests in the Sanctuary. Keep your areas as clean as possible. Wild birds: Wild birds are often a problem in the Sanctuary. Their extreme mobility makes them a dangerous disease vector, their droppings contaminate food and water areas and they can consume more sanctuary animal food than the animals for which the food is meant. Wild bird populations may also be reservoirs of avian T.B. Poisonous plants: Poisoning of Sanctuary animals by consumption of plant material containing toxic substances is uncommon, though any animal fed in a controlled environment can be exposed to toxins. Usually when good food is available foraging animals won’t select poisonous plant; as many of these taste bitter. Dried and cured poisonous plants usually lose their toxic properties (i.e. in hay.) Sometimes they may inadvertently be used in an exhibit as cage furniture, decoration or be offered as browse or occupational food. Poisonous plants should not be planted or allowed to remain in or near animal exhibits; all areas in and around exhibits should be regularly checked for poisonous plants. Mold: Common mold is not poisonous to most animals, but is an indicator that the food it is on is undergoing chemical changes and that toxins may have developed. Sweet clover is poisonous when moldy; equine animals are most sensitive to moldy hay; sheep are often affected while cattle and pigs appear most tolerant. Never feed moldy hay or allow hay to get moldy or damp. Check each bail before feeding out.
Botulism: (Clostridium botulinum) The botulism organism develops in decaying plant or animal matter; it is anaerobic and doesn’t require oxygen for its survival. It can also be found in stagnant water and in food that does not appear to be spoiled. This organism can be controlled if hygiene principles are closely followed when dealing with foods and feeding.
Fungi: Ergot, a fungus found on rye and some other grasses, produces a large misshapen dark “seed”. Poisoning isn’t very likely in the sanctuary, as grain normally undergoes control by feed companies.