People often ask why we don’t let our cats all live together in one big yard. I used to think they were just baiting me to snap at them, because exotic cats will kill each other and at the end of the day there would only be one cat left standing. As the years rolled into decades I realized that most people just don’t know anything about wild animals; especially wild cats. Their questions are sincere and we have answered countless queries about why big cats don’t like sharing space. The question I am addressing here today is:
Why Do You Have to Reintroduce Cats Who Have Always Lived Together?
The reason is that cats are solitary by nature. They don’t like sharing space for the most part. It is our human interference, based on our primate mentality that likes companionship, that insists cats would be happier in pairs or groups too. It just isn’t true.
When we say this, we inevitably get the “Oh yeah, well what about lions? or cheetah?”
Those are social groups of family members. Lions don’t just head out looking for new friends to add to their pride. Males take over prides by killing the competing males and all of the cubs. Cheetah who work in groups are usually male siblings who find it easier to work in a pack until they develop better skills. Cheetah are so inbred and thus so rare in captivity that they almost never end up in sanctuaries and there have never been any here. We have tried, over the years, to introduce lions to each other, but it’s never worked for us. Other places do it, but I don’t know how they can give individuals the care they need when they are in large groups.
There will always be spats, over the best sleeping spots, the best lookout spots, the best toys, and especially over food. It’s kind of like the old joke about men and remote controls; “They don’t want to know what is on T.V., they want to know what else is on T.V.” The same goes for cats in groups. It doesn’t matter how much food there is or how often they get fed, cats always want to know what the other cats got, and that leads to fights. At Big Cat Rescue we separate cats at feeding time until everyone in the pair or group is done eating so we can be sure they had plenty of time to eat in peace and to make sure that any who are on meds got their medication. The minute you open the gates back up they are checking out the other feeding lockouts to see what the other cats might have had.
When a cat is pulled from a group for surgery or medical care there is always a tense process of reintroducing them. First we put them back into the enclosure, but separated into their own section. We may switch them out between sections to get their scent on things again and to re acclimate them to the terrain. When possible we will make the reintroduction in the heat of the day when no body wants to exert energy on fighting. We make the reintroductions brief and stand by ready to break it up with water hoses, noise makers or fire extinguishers. As long as the fights are just noise and not involving any actual contact we will continue the sessions together for longer periods of time until we are sure they are going to get along.
Why Do It At All?
It is such a tedious and dangerous process to introduce wild cats to each other and to reintroduce them, you might wonder why we do it at all if they would rather have their own space. There are a few reasons.
Bobcats Grooming by Beth Stewart
1. As the cats age they are less apt to fight and more apt to actually help each other groom spots they can’t reach. They need to have learned to live together when they were younger if they are going to trust each other when they begin losing their sight, hearing or mobility.
2. Captivity is boring and sometimes just having someone to fuss with or about is better than nothing.
3. This could be a sub heading to #2 above, but cats are highly intelligent and problem solving keeps them from losing their minds in captivity. For those cats who will tolerate company at all, it is an opportunity for them to work things out with their cage mates.
Sometimes you will see us post comments about how much the cats love each other or we might say other anthropomorphic things about our cats, but that is just to entertain and engage with our audience. We know cats have their own way of doing things and their own agendas. We are just trying to help get their issues out to the masses who may become more involved in doing what is necessary to protect these cats in the wild and to end the practices of breeding them for life in cages.
Olga Bellon gets a crash course in big cat care at Big Cat Rescue to implement in the new big cat facility being built in Spain as part of AAP. Download the Lower Res Podcast File here.
More about Big Cat Rescue’s work with AAP Primadomus
Big Cat Rescue was recruited to offer our expertise and guidance in the development of a rescue center in Spain that will be broadening their focus from primates to now include big cats. AAP Primadomus is located on more than 400 acres in Villena and currently houses a variety of primates that have been rescued from private ownership, circuses, and laboratories. They are now expanding their focus to also rescue countless lions and tigers that are in need across their country.
In an effort to prepare for this project nearly a dozen experts were invited to a symposium that focused on sharing information regarding the proper care of big cats in captivity, emergency protocol development, and enclosure design. Big Cat Rescue President Jamie Veronica and volunteer veterinarian Justin Boorstein travelled to Spain and joined experts from Italy, South Africa, France, Austria, the Netherlands and all across the United Kingdom.
Over the course of three days the team worked tirelessly to provide as much information as possible to the members of not only AAP Primadomus, but its origin center Stitching AAP. Stitching AAP is a rescue center for apes, monkeys and small exotic animals in the Netherlands that was founded more than 35 years ago.
The symposium was a huge success. Big Cat Rescue will continue to work with AAP remotely throughout the development process. We are so pleased to provide assistance to organizations that are saving big cats across the globe!
Primadomus Success 2015
It has passed almost 2 years since you came to Villena to help us in this new project for us.
We are very proud to inform you that we finally made this reality and wanted to share it with you, so you can witness from distance the good job we all did! We had to take some time after being able to share graphic info, that’s why I contact you today, but we have had all you in mind during this time.
Last Friday we rescued our 4 first animals. We are very happy to give them a better life in our facilities.
I hope you enjoy!! And of course, you are all welcomed to come to visit us and see it by your own eyes.
DOB 4/30/92 – 6/24/16
The Great Pretender came to Big Cat Rescue at the same time and as a litter mate to Precious. We named him the Great Pretender because he always pretended to be so “bad” when he was little. Unfortunately, once he was full grown he wasn’t just pretending anymore. He does not care for people much and actually grew to be quite aggressive especially at feeding time. This changed dramatically after he began to participate in operant conditioning sessions. He is much calmer when being fed which in turn makes feeding time less stressful for him and more safe for keepers.
When I was in grade school my father (Vern) was a Private Detective and our family believed in raising their own kids so after school, instead of ending up in daycare, I ended up on stakeouts with my dad. I learned to look for clues and to notice patterns in behavior. It has served me well, but this set of clues has me befuddled. As you know from the Safari Guide, Precious and The Great Pretender are littler mates who we rescued from an auction where they were being bid on by taxidermists. They were 6 months old when they came home with us in October of 1992. They were already vicious, so we never handled them when they were young.
It wasn’t until 2010, when Pretender was being checked out for neurological issues that we discovered he had been declawed on the front and one toe had been declawed on the back. Well, that was weird, but we didn’t think much of it. Then, back to back Precious ended up on the Observation Chart for a malformed claw and Pretender was on the chart for not eating. The video below is 23 minutes long and not required watching, but shows you the lengths we went to in order to clip Precious’ nails, without sedating her. At 21 years of age, we really didn’t want to sedate either of them because the sedation can be very dangerous.
Pretender’s issue was not as easy to assess, so he had to be sedated for a full blood work up, sonogram and rotten tooth extraction. While Jamie and I were trying to wake him up, which took more than 6 hours, we began wondering aloud about why someone would have these two kittens, probably as pets, and yet one was declawed on the front, and one toe on the back and the other kitten had all her claws? Maybe Pretender had been declawed front and back and just had some grow back in. Maybe the people realized after the surgery just how scary it is to sedate a cat (did they have to finish before they were done due to some emergency?) or maybe they just felt so bad about doing that to him, that Precious was spared? If they cared so much, then why would they offload the kittens at an exotic animal auction where taxidermists would bid on cats to turn into den decorations? Who knows?
What we do know is that Precious and The Great Pretender have lived long healthy lives here; thanks to all of you keeping such a close eye on them and because of the great care you give all of the cats.
The Great Pretender Joins Precious Over the Rainbow Bridge
This morning the Great Pretender was able to rejoin his sister Precious in Heaven. She passed on two years ago and we all thought that Pretender would be the first to go. He had been examined back in 2010 for neurological issues that caused his head to bob from side to side and gave him the gait of a drunken sailor. He’s pretty much been on death watch for the last six years and has had extra special attention given to be sure he eats and drinks enough. Most of his time was spent sleeping. For the last year he’s been pretty much blind, but his keepers made sure he could find his food and water.
His keepers would feed him a couple times a day and would weigh his food before and after to make sure he was getting enough to eat. His grooming was getting worse, as his arthritis got worse, so he was assigned special keepers who are trained to use the long handled combs to help the older cats with their fur. He liked it for the most part, but would grumble at them occassionally, just to remind them how “bad” he is. He loved to pretend he was the meanest bobcat in the world.
On June 22, Dr. Justin Boorstein came out to check on the cats. We took a look at Nairobi Serval and then Angie Bobcat and while both could use a vet day, neither looked like an emergency. There were 14 elderly cats on the list and the next one was The Great Pretender. One look at the way he was making faces when he drank and the ginger way he took meat off a stick was enough for Dr. Justin to decide that the other cats on the list would have to wait. Pretender needed to be checked out more thoroughly.
Absolutely horrible kidney values were expected, and found, as Pretender was our second oldest cat, at the age of 24. (Sabre Leopard is slightly older) What we didn’t expect was to find 9 bad molars. He’d been on the chart before for being fussy once in awhile about eating, but for the most part ate his entire diet. There had been no indicators lately of any issue with him chewing weird and his canines were in great shape. Those are usually the only teeth you get a good look at.
Elderly exotic cat kidney values are always just off the charts, compared to domestic cat kidneys. When they get to be as old as Pretender (twice the age that most bobcats live) there is always this tough decision to be made. Is it time to let them go and euthanize them, or should we remove the obvious cause of discomfort and infection and see how they do? When it is life or death, then it almost always seems that the right thing to do is to try. We removed the bad teeth, gave him fluids, antibiotics and pain medicine and then put him in the the West Boensch Recovery Hospital to sleep off the anesthesia.
When we had sedated him back in 2010 it took a very long time for him to wake up. Back then he was 18, which is our average lifespan at Big Cat Rescue for bobcats. Now he was six years older, so we expected it could take 48 hours for the drugs to be completely out of his system. The day after his surgery, Dr. Justin came to check on him again in the evening. He had slept all day, except for lifting his head when someone would enter the room. He was given fluids morning and night sub q, but had not stood or drank from him bowl on his own. We feared this was going to be the end. Dr. Justin scaled back the pain meds to make sure that it wasn’t drugs keeping him down, but he died in his sleep.
Even when you know it’s time for them to go, it’s still hard to say “good bye.” The only good in it is knowing that he doesn’t have to spend even one more day in a cage.
How The Great Pretender Got His Name
Thank you Milady Blue for sending us this video.
How The Great Pretender Came to Big Cat Rescue
Some cats, including The Great Pretender were purchased at auctions where the uncaring owners were dumping the cats with no concern about their welfare. The people bidding on such cats were usually taxidermists or those who owned canned hunting ranches. There is much controversy over whether we did the right thing by paying the ransom for these cats. We still accept many unwanted cats each year, but do not pay for them and typically require that their owner surrender their license, in an attempt to keep people from just trading in their cats each year for a newer, cuter model. We have to turn away more than 100 cats each year due to a lack of space and funds and the lack of regulation of the exotic pet trade. Read more about our Evolution of Thought HERE
Tell the FWC Commissioners to oppose the draft position statement. Attend the upcoming FWC meeting in Ft. Lauderdale on September 2nd, 2015 at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina. The FWC will be voting on the revised statement as well as finalizing rules for the impending bear hunt.
The US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) maintains that for the Florida Panther to go from Endangered to Threatened there would have to be at least 2 populations of Florida Panthers of at least 240 animals each. For the Florida Panther to be healthy enough to sustain populations for the next 100 years there would have to be at least 3 populations of 240 animals each. The Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) says there are currently 100-180 Florida Panthers.
Back up a minute. 100-180? That is a huge gap and for many years we’ve been told that Florida Panthers number less than 100, so why is it that now, when they are trying to rush through a proposal to give up on the Florida Panther, is the FWC saying there could be 180 of the sleek, elegant cats? No one has guessed such a high estimate before now. But even if they were right, that is a far cry from the 720 Florida Panthers needed to ensure their survival.
If you take a look at the presentation that will be shown to the Commissioners on Tuesday you will see that it concludes that the state of Florida should abandon plans for reintroduction of the Florida Panther outside of its very small area, of mostly flooded Everglades territory, and implies that:
1. There aren’t many deer or other prey animals left there for hunters to shoot anyway.
2. If Florida Panther are allowed to migrate outside of the Everglades they will kill the deer and other prey species that hunters want to shoot.
3. People are afraid to live near Florida Panthers and Florida Bears.
Let’s Take Those Reasons One at a Time
1. There Isn’t Enough Prey in Florida Panther Territory
That may well be true, but it isn’t the Florida Panther’s fault. The Florida Panther has been struggling to survive due to habitat destruction, human hunting of the prey species the big cats need to survive, and the FWC’s refusal to ban the private possession of exotic animals, which has resulted in discarded pythons and other exotic reptiles, sucking the Everglades dry of just about every species living there. If the FWC really cares about providing better Florida Panther habitat in southern Florida, then it needs to ban hunting there and ban the private possession of exotic animals in the state.
The report states that it is based primarily on camera trap studies from April to September 2014, but no study could be complete without covering a full year as patterns change based on weather, tourists, hunting and breeding seasons. The report also stated that it couldn’t tell un collared cats apart, other than sometimes by sex, so the current report is based on many assumptions that haven’t been proven. Unlike tigers who can be identified by their stripe patterns, the camera trap imagery is insufficient to determine if researchers saw 131 un-collared Florida Panthers or if they saw 1 Florida Panther 100 times or so… or anywhere in between.
2. If the Florida Panther Migrates North It Will Kill More Deer
Yes, that’s how nature works. No one needs to kill wild animals to “manage” them, if you get out of the way and let Nature do her thing.
The report cites that from 2004-2015 106 hobby farm animals (like backyard chickens) and domestic pet deaths (mostly free roaming cats) were blamed on Florida Panthers and 34 calf deaths were blamed on the cat. The report doesn’t say how they determined the culprit was the Florida Panther, (rather than free roaming dogs, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, etc.) but even giving the FWC the benefit of the doubt, compare those 140 losses to the more than 165 Florida Panthers who were killed by car strikes during the same period and tell me who the real menace is here?
The report did state that the hobby animals and domestic pets, that were thought to have been killed by Florida Panthers, was a “very small proportion” of the Panther’s diet, but if you do the math, that statement is so negligible that it seems the only reason to include it would be to justify giving up on the Florida Panther. Consider the lowest number of Florida Panthers in the state being 100 and that they only eat twice a week, which may be just barely surviving, that’s 10,400 animals a year consumed by Florida Panthers. That means the 140 farm and domestic animal meals, over the 11 year period, are 0.001 % of their diet. Defenders of Wildlife and The Conservancy of SW Florida both offer programs to assist people in protecting their livestock and pets should be kept indoors. These organizations also offer $340 per calf killed so that there is no loss to the farmer.
3. People Are Afraid to Live Near Florida Panthers and Bears
Much of the reasoning the FWC offers for wanting to resume bear hunting (after 40 years of protection) and for wanting to give up on the recovery of the Florida Panther, is blamed on people not wanting to live near these wild animals. If that’s true then why hasn’t the FWC responded to the tens of thousands of complaints sent to them by Floridians who do not want to live next door to crazy neighbors who keep tigers in their backyards and garages? There are more than 100 places in Florida that are licensed to possess dangerous big cats, and at last count 314 of the dangerous big cats were tigers.
Only 3 of those places were AZA accredited zoos and one was GFAS accredited Big Cat Rescue. The rest are a hodgepodge of back yard breeders and tourist traps with very little oversight. The FWC and USDA may inspect once a year, but if they don’t catch someone in the act of harming the animals, or doing something reckless, then they are typically given a clean inspection report.
The FWC points to four recent bear / human conflicts and can’t find any such cases of Florida Panthers stalking people, but ignores the fact that from 1990 – 2014 there were 84 killings, maulings or escapes by captive exotic cats in Florida. If you are going to use public safety as a reason to hunt and kill our precious natural predators, then why doesn’t that same logic result in a ban on the private possession of lions and tigers in Florida? When the next big hurricane hits Florida, it will be the thousands of dangerous exotic animals potentially freed from cages who will be endangering the public; not our native bears and cats. All throughout this report the FWC claims to be taking a proactive approach to the situation, but that has not been the case with captive exotic animals at all.
The FWC says that managing the survival of these iconic wild animals in their historic range takes up too much of the FWC’s time and resources. Their tagline is to Protect and Serve. Most people think that means to Protect Wildlife and Serve Floridians, but it’s been my experience that it is more to Protect Hunting and Serve Hunters. That is particularly egregious since less than 2% of Floridians are hunters.
Judge for Yourself
The Florida Legislature’s 2014-2015 Appropriations to the FWC, which is funded by those pretty Save the Florida Panther license plates, was $1,324,534.00 That paid the salaries of 10 people working for the FWC. It provided paychecks to 5 biologists, who you would have to assume came up with these proposals, to give up on the Florida Panther and open hunting on the protected Black Bear. It also provided paychecks to 5 law enforcement officers, but to this day I’ve never heard of one catching the poacher of a Florida Panther or Black Bear in the act; have you? Seems like that would be a pretty good story for boosting their funding, but I can’t recall ever hearing about such a thing.
If you go to the FWC’s website ( http://myfwc.com/ ) the first thing you will notice is that their top two flashing banner ads are about teaching children to kill animals before they are old enough to know better. Next is a pitch to catch more fish. Then a note to check out the bear updates and then a picture of turtle hatchlings going out to sea. Leaves you on a happy note, even if everything up until then makes an animal lover want to fire the whole agency. If you go to any of the FWCC meetings, you will be appalled to hear them go on and on and on about how they have to make killing animals more attractive to children and battered women.
Add to the controversy the fact that among the landowners seeking the permit is Immokalee rancher Liesa Priddy, who in 2012 was appointed to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission by Gov. Rick Scott.
Going back to the bear update, it appears the primary focus is to get people to report more bear problems so they can build up that case for opening up bear hunts. I think that’s the real impetus behind giving up on the Florida Panther too.
If the FWC can push through this proposed policy that states that the FWC is not going to burden itself with assisting the recovery of the Florida Panther outside of its barren range, then I believe they will use that as a stepping stone to allow the killing of Florida Panthers who dare to try and leave the flooded plains of the Everglades. They have already done the same to bears by allowing “nuisance” bears to be killed rather than requiring people to keep their trash in bear safe cans.
Then they can offer more hunting opportunities to those children and battered women.
Read the whole report and you will see some mention that the FWC intends to try to improve the small area where they want to relegate the Florida Panthers, but that seems to be more smoke and mirrors to make it look like they will make some effort to preserve the cat, when those small measures could never really save the Florida Panther long term.
Big Cat Rescue Protects Florida Panthers
What You Can Do
Come to the meeting and speak your mind. They will limit you to 3 minutes, but if you don’t speak up to protect the Florida Panther and the Florida Bear, who will?
June, 2015 Commission Meeting
Time: 1:30 pm the first day, 8:30 am each day thereafter
Dates: June 23 – 25, 2015
Place: Hyatt Regency Sarasota
1000 Boulevard of the Arts
Sarasota, Florida 34236
Befitting her name, Breezy’s cat-a-tat is naturally located on the lakeshore where she enjoys our tropical breezes. This little bobcat, though hand-raised, only bonded with her foster mother and is still timid around strangers.
She has a very lush enclosure with many hiding places to make her feel safe and comfortable. Occasionally, she sleeps up in her oak tree, comes out to enjoy enrichment items put in her cat-a-tat, or watches the ducks, peacocks, and swans as they wander by. When she does, it is the perfect opportunity for everyone to get a good view of this beautiful bobcat.
Most of our bobcats were rescued from fur farms where they were being raised to slaughter for their fur. Some were being sold at auction where taxidermists would buy them and club them to death in the parking lot, but a few were born here in the early days when we were ignorant of the truth and were being told by the breeders and dealers that these cats should be bred for “conservation.” Once we learned that there are NO captive breeding programs that actually contribute to conservation in the wild we began neutering and spaying our cats in the mid 1990’s. Knowing what we do about the intelligence and magnificence of these creatures we do not believe that exotic cats should be bred for lives in cages. Read more about our Evolution of Thought HERE
Sanctuaries Need Social Engagement to Do Their Good Work
Our social maven came to us as a volunteer who was always reaching out to answer questions and who enjoys photography, videography and editing digital photos and videos. She was doing such a great job we finally hired her, even though she lives all the way across the country from us.
So my first bit of advice would be to find that person you your organization who knows photos, videos and editing and who is so passionate they do it for free and then give them access to the channels.
We post to Facebook every 4 hours and make it a mix of fun, sharable photos and videos and then throw in a small number of asks, such as for wish list items, legislative action or donations.
We use some automation tools because we share on Facebook, Twitter, G+, Instagram, YouTube and others, so we set it to post on one and copy to the other channels where possible. We use scheduling on FB so that posts go out throughout the night too, because our supporters are from all over the globe.
We give several of our volunteers access to our social sites so they can respond to questions right away. That makes a huge difference.
Use the social sites as a way of bringing people to your website and to sign up for your emails. Building that list is essential to your financial success.
In the early days of the sanctuary, when I could only afford 3 paychecks, this was the first three people I hired:
1. Operations Manger to manage 100 volunteers. No one here gets paid to work with animals because people will do that work for free. The Ops Mgr organizes all of that free labor to make sure the cats are fed, cleaned, given treats, and have all their needs met.
2. Gift Shop manager. You can’t save animals without income and you need income other than just donations. Volunteers help with sales, mailing out goods, etc., sending Thank You cards and such, but someone has to be the constant person in charge to make sure it happens.
3. A Videographer / Photographer. This is the one that most sanctuaries resist and see as a luxury, but our story is visual and the best way to engage the public is to share what happens every day.