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.
Meet Khaleesi the bobcat kitten, she arrived at Big Cat Rescue on June 24th from another rehab facility. She will remain at Big Cat Rescue until she is ready to be released back into the wild where she belongs! Follow her progress online by subscribing to our Youtube channel and “liking” us on Facebook.
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Early this year we spent months trying to humanely trap an injured bobcat in the Brookside subdivision to no avail. Yesterday we got this message:
I received your email from my friend XXXX. This bobcat appeared at my friends front porch at 6 pm on July 4 th and then proceeded to walk across the street into the conservation area. She did note that he was holding up his left rear leg. We are wondering if the bobcat could be the cause to the 4 missing cats in our neighborhood. We live in XXXX Pasco County
Thanks for your help XXXX
Thank you for the photos of the bobcat. It is wonderful to see them living free, the way nature intended. You should count yourselves lucky that you have a bobcat in the area. They are your last line of defense against being over run by rabies vector vermin.
Domestic cats that are left outdoors are subject to perils far worse than bobcats; such as cars, poisoning and being infected by other cats carrying FIP, FIV or FeLV. Those cat killing diseases are spread cat to cat during mating or fighting. Sadly, a huge percentage of free roaming domestic cats are positive for these diseases. Often when people find out their cat is sick the turn them loose, rather than give them proper vet care or humane euthanasia.
When cats are killed by wild animals, it is usually by coyotes, which are not native to FL, but due to the Florida Wildlife Commission’s lax attitudes toward exotic pets, we are just over run with them.
This bobcat would appear to be a male, based on his battered ears, from many a battle for territory with other male bobcats. If he were consuming infected domestic cats, he would be dead already. It is highly unlikely that the bobcat is responsible for the missing domestic cats as they would much prefer easier prey, like rats, mice, rabbits, snakes, opossum, raccoons, squirrels, etc. A bobcat knows that every fight with another cat, bobcat or domestic, could end up in an injury that will ultimately cost him his life.
You said he is limping, with a back leg jacked up. That is more likely from a car strike than a fight. Bobcats are amazingly tough and often survive being hit by cars. Bobcats aren’t like coyotes and foxes and won’t usually eat anything that they didn’t kill themselves. This makes it nearly impossible to catch them and even if we do, here is the dilemma:
Florida law requires that the animal be released back to the same spot they were picked up. Even if we were able to trap the cat, treat the injured leg and get him ready for release, we would have to bring him right back to your neighborhood to set him free.
Any nuisance trapper that tells you otherwise is going to kill the cat, or sell him into some awful situation where he will be used as bait for training hunting dogs.
If we were able to trap him and set his leg, it would mean months of cage confinement for the pins and plates to heal and wild bobcat will tear themselves to pieces trying to escape. As long as this cat is able to support himself in the wild, even with this injury, he is probably better off there. I am pretty sure I got a call about this same cat several months ago, and he is still managing to survive. With the help of a resident we set traps for him in the XXXX area early this year to no avail before that. Bobcats cover a 5 square mile territory in order to find enough prey.
If he gets to the point where he can’t hunt and you think he can be lured into a humane trap, please let me know and we can supply you with one. It will need to be baited and checked every day and you will catch everything else in the neighborhood before catching the bobcat, but we would be willing to help you try.
JOIN ANIMAL BASED CHARITIES AT NEW LOCATION!
We are excited to tell you we are moving to a new, bigger, location. The new store is about six blocks south, behind Sonic, and a couple of doors down from You Fit on West Gandy. It is also adjacent to West Oakeller Ave. We will be in the old Winn Dixie shopping center, occupying the space where the Bethesda Tabernacle was previously located.
Please join us for our Grand Re-Opening on Tuesday, August 20th. We will have week-long celebrations with food, drinks, raffles and door prizes!
Because of the larger space, we will be able to accept furniture donations AND furniture for sale on consignment!
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.
Much of the Keeper’s time is spent in basic husbandry routines such as cleaning and feeding. Unless efficient procedures are mastered the Keeper can waste much time in unnecessary movement and labour, especially where large areas must be covered. Proper routines are efficient, effective and flexible; they have been developed over a period of time into the best way to cope with a particular job. Routines are always subjected to change as they deal with living, changing animals; routines evolve and change as necessary for safety and efficiency. Do not stress animals for the sake of the routine.
FACILITIES AND EQUIPMENT
A conscientious Keeper becomes thoroughly familiar with the area in which he works. He/she knows the layout of the run or building, location and names of all the individual animals, cages or holding area, entrance and exit doors, and where all the equipment is kept. A good knowledge of the location of all safety equipment (telephones, fire extinguishers and alarms, animal escape equipment) is helpful.
The Keeper should know the condition of the facilities and make necessary repairs promptly, or report the need for repairs right away. It is a good idea to make a daily check to spot needed repairs and note potential hazards. A Keeper who is on good terms and cooperates with the Maintenance Department has a better chance of getting needed work done quickly. If a problem arises the Keeper must determine (a) what effect it will have on the animals, and (b) what precautions must be taken to alleviate the problem. Animals may have to be taken off exhibit or moved temporarily to effect repairs. Remember that the Keeper’s primary responsibility is to the animals he/she cares for.
All barriers, fences, glass, bars, etc. should be routinely inspected to make sure they are strong, safe and in good condition. Do not forget that animals under stress are often capable of prodigious physical feats and feats of strength. Maintain the integrity of your barriers at all times.
No area should have loose fencing, wire, nails, twine, tools, loose boards or protruding screws in it. Everything which is taken into an exhibit for repairs or cleaning, make sure you take out, before the animals are given access. A few extra minutes spent checking your area will prevent possibly fatal accidents. “Hardware disease” occurs when a foreign object, such as a piece of wire, punctures the reticulum of a ruminant; this can easily happen because ruminants are often indiscriminate feeders, and so are exotic cats. Always bend back wire and nails to prevent injury; even years after construction has taken place in an area, nuts, nails and bolts, etc. can work their way to the surface. Sometimes earth fill contains wire, cans, etc. Use a magnet to check over a new exhibit, or where repairs have been made, before the animals are allowed into the exhibit.
Keepers should watch for foreign objects thrown, blown or dropped into exhibits; animals will consume plastic bags, paper cups, the poisonous backing off Polaroid films, coins, etc. Be aware of materials inadvertently left in an animal area that might be thrown or dropped into exhibits (stones, bricks, boards, scrap material, etc.)
Keepers should obey no smoking signs wherever these are posted; older wooden buildings, some beddings are all highly flammable. Each Keeper must know the location and type of fire extinguishers in his area, and what they are used for; fire procedures for each area should be worked out before there is a fire.
Never “fool around” in front of animals. Two Keepers wrestling or even back-slapping can upset some animals, such as primates. Other people (visitors or staff) may upset the animals, and you, as their Keeper may be the object of the animal’s stress or frustration. Always check the condition of your animals before you enter the cage.
One of the goals of the Big Cat Rescue is the conservation of wildlife. We must also consider conserving other resources, such as fuel, water, gas and electricity. Keepers can help conserve resources by efficient work routines and by not wasting water and electricity. This is money down the drain when a resource such as water is wasted. Every dollar saved here can be applied to new exhibits or to updating and repairing older ones.
A basic work routine benefits both Keeper and animals; it helps identify problems, allows for prompt treatment and ensures that all animals in an area receive proper care and attention. It can be used to reassure the animals and reduce stress, by providing them with certain fixed times in their day, and generally is an efficient way for the Keeper to organize his/her work, with the least chance of missing important steps.
When developing or learning a routine, try to avoid having to retrace your steps unnecessarily. Learn to use efficient time and movement patterns in your area. Do not assume that what one Keeper can do can be done by all.
The Keeper’s day usually starts with a check of all animals in his or her area. Where possible this will be done first thing in the morning; at this time all the animals are accounted for, their general condition is noted, as is the general condition of each exhibit, amount of food and water remaining, temperature, etc. where relevant. Before checking, the Keeper should check the dry erase board, read Keeper Observation Reports and if possible speak to the Keeper who last worked in the area (especially if it is some time since you worked in the area). This way the Keeper doesn’t get any unexpected surprises when he/she starts the rounds.
During this first check, all animals that were sick, injured or due to give birth are given extra attention. If any medical or maintenance problem needs immediate attention, the proper personnel are notified promptly. Fences, windows, water levels, temperatures, mesh, and physical features are all checked.
By talking, whistling or singing, the Keeper lets the animals know he is approaching; his voice identifies him to the animal. The sound of the Keeper’s voice can soothe an excited animal; even though the animal can’t understand the words, tone and calmness are easily understood. In some areas a radio can be helpful to provide background sounds and voices. Animals have highly developed extra sensory perception and can easily pick up on your moods. Keep a positive attitude and let the animal know that you are just there delivering “room service”.
Before entering an exhibit to remove food or water, or clean, it may be beneficial to the animal to allow it to move to another cage or enclosure. This applies even to animals which pose no threat to the Keeper, as well as to highly excitable or dangerous animals. Cleaning is important but not at the animal’s expense.
Knowing how to work with various species and individual animals is very important. Eye contact can elicit an attack; exotic cats and primates feel threatened or challenged when looked at while some timid species of birds and animals will remain calm and can be moved if the Keeper’s back is kept towards them. Large raptors may be aggressive, but can usually be kept at a safe distance by keeping eye contact all the time the Keeper is working near them. The Keeper should move slowly and deliberately around his/her animals, and try to develop an air of confidence.
Cage cleaning should be thorough and efficient. Keep your proper tools in good working condition, and your disinfectants and cleaners in a safe, convenient location, close at hand, but out of reach of animals. Use chemicals according to their instructions, don’t contaminate an exhibit by flushing debris or feces into it from another cage. Don’t return animals to a unit until it has been properly cleaned, food and water containers cleaned and replaced, all cleaning materials have been removed, and the cage securely locked.
Some animals anticipate feeding time: it may be the high point in their day. Part of the Keeper’s daily routine is to feed the animals on schedule; this includes both the number of times during the day the animal is to be fed as well as the hour the food is offered. Animals with high metabolic rates should be fed often; it is important that such animals do not go for long periods (when they are active) without food.
Keepers should “police” their area as part of the daily routine, especially on crowded days, to discourage visitors from feeding or harming animals, to remove harmful objects from cages, and to explain the policy of no-feeding if this is being abused. This check also provides the Keeper with a chance to observe the animals.
In addition to the morning check, the Keeper should routinely check all the animals in his area before leaving at the end of the shift, to ensure that:
all animals are alive, well, and accounted for (count them).
all exhibits were cleaned and are free from harmful foreign objects.
all animals have been properly fed and watered (including adequate overnight supplies where necessary).
doors are properly closed and locked.
all lighting and temperature control equipment is properly adjusted and that adequate provision has been made for weather conditions.
Important information should be entered into the record system at the end of the work day or shift. A Keeper’s notebook is handy for jotting down information during the day so that it can be transferred to the day or area book and the Keeper Observation Report. Additional information for the next shift should be provided using the blackboards, notes and reports.
When working in an area, a new Keeper should stay with the person instructing him and follow all instructions. Do not run in or around any animal exhibit. The Keeper is in control of his animals, and this contact can be lost or destroyed unless orders are followed.
Wherever there are two or more Keepers in an area never change anything unless at least two people agree. Change can be disruptive to the animals; stick to your routine and only make changes by agreement with the other Keepers involved.
Try to work out effective compromises for the animal’s benefit, not just the Keepers.
Routines must be flexible to allow for unexpected accidents or injuries to be treated and for additional work that disrupts schedules. Routines help provide the animal with a sense of security and can be a self-checking practice for the Keeper.
There are a number of different ways to clean cages, using both wet and dry methods. Cleaning removes the causes of disease and infection, rotting food, fecal matter, mould, etc. It also helps meet the aesthetic needs implicit in public viewing. Cleaning also helps lessen odors and “offensive” smells.
Cleaning usually takes place in an empty exhibit; if the Keeper is working in an exhibit or holding area where animals are present, extra care must be taken not to upset the animals or place the Keeper in a dangerous situation.
SERVICING OCCUPIED CAGES
Certain procedures should be followed when entering a cage already containing an animal. If the animal can be moved to another cage without stress, then this is preferable to subjecting it to the stress of being in the same cage at the same time as the Keeper.
If the cage is occupied, the Keeper should never move immediately to the center; keep to the edges or perimeter of the enclosure and don’t crowd the animal. Give it as much space as possible while you work or clean. Move to the center part of the cage for cleaning last, once the animal has become used to your presence, and will better tolerate you coming closer. Don’t shout, gesticulate or make any abrupt movements. Watch the animal using peripheral or direction vision, whichever is best for the species involved.
Don’t waste water; when not using the hose, turn it off. Dirt, feces, food and other matter can be loosened by first spraying it with water, and leaving it to soften. Wasted water is money down the drain. Keep the hoses away from the cages. Many cats will reach out for it and then bite it full of holes. Don’t pull the hoses if you cannot see what is holding them back. Too much pressure will cause them to snap off at the base and then the water must be shut down in the entire park until it can be fixed.
If you are cleaning walls, start from the bottom and work up so that you don’t leave stain marks from cleaning agents on the walls. Make sure all surfaces are rinsed free of cleaning agents when you clean a cage. Bleach or disinfectant can burn animal’s flesh.
When dry cleaning try to avoid creating unnecessary dust – many animals (especially birds) are susceptible to respiratory illness and infection caused by dust. If you are raking hills, where possible rake along contours or uphill. Raking down hill eventually wears down the hill. In aviaries and other sandy areas, don’t rake towards the door, rake back into the exhibit or sand build-up will prevent the door from being closed. Some Keepers like rake marks in the sand, others prefer to sweep lightly over the rake marks with a broom. Either method is preferable to a row of boot prints.
Don’t overload your wheelbarrow; fill it only to a level you can comfortably manage. Tamp down material on the barrow before moving it. Rake in the direction of the wind where possible to avoid making extra work. Clean-up after yourself; once you have moved the bedding, clean up the debris. Keep your service areas and garbage dump areas clean.
Dry bedding is important – don’t just add dry material, remove wet bedding first.
Remember (in winter especially) it may be better to have a dry, dirty cage than a clean, wet one. The Zoo is not a hospital; the cleaning levels required are those acceptable to the Zoo Management, the animals’ needs, and the conditions at the time.
Learn to clean properly – don’t clean in a sloppy, dirty manner, or use more tools than are necessary. Make sure you clean stall corners and don’t forget, cob webs belong to Keepers – look up when you are cleaning.
Spot cleaning an exhibit can sometimes be as effective as a total cleaning. It may be better to clean-up feces, etc. but leave one rock uncleaned for marking, to provide the animal with a familiar smell. Cleaning can be considered with reference to the size of an animal’s normal living area in the wild state. If it has a large territory then it probably has minimal contact with its own feces; animals in small spaces are much more likely to come across their own wastes during their daily activities.
Cleaning can also be considered from the point of view of the animal’s cycle. For example the cage may be given regular cleaning for one reproductive cycle of the animal, and then cleaned extensively.
When cleaning up feces, look under leaves, etc. Some animals hide their excrement. Move substrate material around to air it. Pick up the feces with a shovel or scoop; also remove some of the contaminated substrate from underneath the feces. Try to pick up all fecal matter before you rake or sweep the exhibit, to avoid spreading excrement. Some parasite ova have a very long life and you could spread eggs, etc. around the exhibit.
SUBSTRATES AND BEDDING
Different materials are used at Big Cat Rescue to provide bedding and substrates for cage and exhibit floors. In inside exhibits almost every kind of material may be used: concrete, earth, clay, bark or wood chips, wood mulch, sand of different grades, large gravel, biturninized surface (for water ponds), pine needles, clay pellets, peat moss, sphagnum moss, etc. DO NOT USE HAY OR STRAW. There have been two cases of cats cholicking, like a horse would, from ingesting hay, so it is not reccomended for bedding for exotic cats. The substrates are chosen as best suitable based on water-retaining abilities (or lack), their aesthetic appearance, the fact that some are sterile, or to provide burrowing or digging areas for some animals. Concrete, rock or hard earth may be necessary to provide claw wear.
Check fill dirt, especially outside, on a daily basis to find items working their way to the surface.
Sometimes animals require various nesting materials for lining nest boxes or making nests. Quantities of the appropriate material should be added when necessary and can be collected throughout the year (dry grass and dry leaves, for instance) and stored.
In some areas of the Sanctuary we use hot beds in winter as a means of providing a warm surface and bedding for the animals in outside enclosures. Check these regularly to be sure they are working properly, are not overheating and that the power supply cords are intact and out of the reach of the animals.
CARE AND MAINTENANCE OF TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT
Proper use of tools and equipment makes the Keeper’s work easier and more acceptable; it can save much time and unnecessary labour.
Each work area usually has one or more places where the tools and kept. Make sure you return tools to the proper place for storage when not in use. Don’t take more tools than you need into an exhibit to clean; it is easy to leave one behind when you have finished, so always check the exhibit when you have finished for rakes, shovels, brooms, etc. before you let animals back in.
Use the proper tool for the job; square-mouthed shovels are not suitable for digging.
Don’t overload your wheelbarrow – only put in as much as you can comfortably carry. Before moving the wheelbarrow, tamp down the load, to compact it; you will lose less material off the barrow if you do this and save time and effort when cleaning up.
Don’t use corn brooms in water – they quickly rot and soon lose their bristles. Use a stable (yard) broom or leaf rake.
When cleaning, try to have a routine which you follow, rather than a haphazard cleaning of an exhibit. Account for all your tools when you leave an area, make sure they are all in their proper places.
Remember that tools which you are using in an exhibit occupied by animals may elicit an attack or a reaction. Some hoof stock, for example, may react to your rake as though it was a set of antlers or horns. Don’t poke at animals with tools.
When you are lifting (wheelbarrows, shovel loads) bend the knees, not the back.
Keep your equipment in good order. Tools are kept clean for a reason, not just so they look nice. Hygiene and longer tool life are both better served by well kept, properly stored tools. Linseed oil and turpentine on the handles of tools make them smoother and less likely to splinter.
When tools are properly stored, other Keepers know where they are and don’t waste time hunting for them.
Hang brooms to dry. Rakes and shovels should be washed after use and hung up out of the way. Periodic oiling of all metal tools increases life; grease your wheelbarrow axle as a part of your routine.
Always keep your tools stored neatly; treat them as though they were your own. Tools cost the Refuge a lot of money – don’t misuse them.
Tools and equipment left lying around are dangerous – people may trip over them. Keep your wheelbarrow and buckets clean and stand them up out of the way to dry.
Remember that pitch forks and bale hooks are potentially dangerous and always use them with care. Never swing a bale hook towards your body or legs, always off to one side.
A clean exhibit can be spoiled if the area around it isn’t clean and tidy. Keep your hoses neatly coiled out of the way, and all tools hung in their proper place where they won’t impede passage, especially in areas without much space. Place all bagged trash in containers and secure the lids.
Oil locks, door hinges and sliding bolts and pulleys. It is a good idea to establish a regular routine for this job, say once a month, so that it becomes another work habit.
Try to keep your garbage storage areas as tidy as possible. Clean up around garbage containers, wash and disinfect your garbage cans regularly.
Money which the Sanctuary spends on tools, equipment, uniforms etc. isn’t available for use in other areas. If you are working in water, wear rubber boots. Leather boots should be regularly treated with a waterproofing compound if they are to last any length of time.Restraint and safety equipment is also the Keeper’s responsibility; all equipment should be kept in good condition and properly stored in easily accessible places. Make sure you are familiar with the equipment and where it is kept -someone’s life may depend on it.
THE KEEPER IN SUMMER
Extra care in Keeping is necessary during the sometimes very hot summer temperatures.
Keepers should make sure that animals have adequate shade where necessary. Remember that some animals, such as light coloured animals have sensitive skin liable to sunburn.
Make sure adequate clean water is available and replenish as needed. Animals may consume more water than normal during especially hot weather.
Very hot summer days may necessitate changes in the feeding schedule. Be aware that meat may quickly spoil or become flyb1own in the heat; it is better to feed smaller amounts more often to avoid this problem, rather than feeding all the food at once. The cats are fed at dusk to eliminate this problem. Other mixed, moist food, or cut fruit, etc. may spoil rapidly in hot weather; gelatin melts in the sun. Sometimes wild animals will steal food unless small quantities are fed (e.g. rats stealing food).
Keepers should also consider their own health and safety during very hot weather; wear a hat if you are working in the sun and protect your neck; both habits will help prevent sunstroke. Cover your skin if you are susceptible to sunburn. Drink plenty of liquids to replace those lost through sweating. Adjust your routines to do heavy outdoor work in the cool of the morning or late afternoon, rather than during the heat of the day. Wear mosquito repellant if needed. Watch for mosquitoes on the animals and log it on the Observation Chart.
Remove algae on a regular basis to prevent a major build up and a slippery safety hazard.