Bobcat Rehab and Release
Big Cat Rescue does bobcat rehab and release of native, Florida bobcats. The video playlist below shows the great lengths we will go to in order to save bobcats and give them a second chance at living free. Search our site for the word “rehab” to see more.
Stories about some other rescued bobcats: https://bigcatrescue.org/a-boatload-of-bobcats-turns-big-cat-rescue-into-modern-day-ark/
A Baby Bobcat Named Faith
Gets a Second Chance at Freedom
Get a brochure you can print and share: Living with Bobcats
In 2005 Big Cat Rescue released a native bobcat back into the wild. While this is done frequently by Big Cat Rescue for bobcats who were adults when they arrived, it was the first time that we had raised an orphaned baby to be released. Her mother had been killed by man and she was found near death in a parking lot. She arrived at Big Cat Rescue, wrapped in an American flag and spent her first few days in an incubator in intensive care. This interview was between freelance writer Christy Anderson and Jamie Veronica, the President of Big Cat Rescue and the person responsible for raising this baby bobcat to once again live free.
• Why did you rehab her?
When Faith first arrived at Big Cat Rescue, she was estimated to be about 4-6 weeks old. She was emaciated, dehydrated, and extremely weak. The very night that she came to the rescue the decision had to be made as to whether she should be raised to live a life in captivity or to be released back into the wild. Everything that rescuers did from this moment forward would affect either of these options. This was a very tough choice. On the one hand she would be raised to be trusting of humans so that her life in captivity would be one of tolerance, on the other hand she would be raised to be wild, with bare minimum human contact so that she could be released back into her natural habitat when she proved ready. The former was an easier path, but would ultimately end up with another sad bobcat in a cage for 20 years, the latter would be a challenge and the end result was not a guarantee.
Big Cat Rescue had never rehabilitated such a young bobcat; the cub would need to be taught how to hunt and to find water, and shelter. If she did not prove to be a good candidate for release she would be doomed to spend out her days in captivity fearful of humans. The decision was made to raise this young cub for release. Big Cat Rescuers had faith in her will to survive and be free once again. Once this choice had been made, the young bobcat was appropriately named Faith.
• How did you know she was ready, What told you?
Faith pulled through her initial few days under intensive care at Carrollwood Cats, she trudged on through weeks of medical rehabilitation for injuries and sicknesses that she had when she arrived. She became healthy and active and most importantly developed an attitude with her caretakers; she was fearful of humans and disliked their mere presence.
She was moved from indoor housing to an enclosure outside that neighbored that of Bailey, a resident bobcat at Big Cat Rescue. Bailey and Faith quickly grew attached to one another. Bailey taught Faith how to vocalize with others of her kind. This was a unique interaction to observe from afar.
Faith was immediately introduced to a diet of whole prey, she survived on dead chicks and mice and readily accepted these forms of sustenance. Once she became more active these killed whole prey items were hidden in her enclosure under logs and in the grasses, so that she would have to search them out.
The next step was to encourage hunting behaviors. A mother bobcat will bring back wounded prey to her cubs allowing them to make the kill. This develops their skills as successful hunters. To simulate this the rescuers hung a small dead bird from the roof of her enclosure. The bird swayed in the breeze and bobbed about as if it were alive. After a very long time watching from the security of her den, Faith finally emerged and quenched her curiosity. She batted playfully at the bird, but with each swat she became more serious until she jumped onto it and switched from a curious cub to a focused hunter. She managed after several attempts to release the bird from its binding and they both hit the ground with a thud. She quickly snatched up the prize and slinked off to her secluded den to feast. This was more than what could have been hoped for, not only did she recognize a prey item, but she took it down, and she quickly concealed herself to eat. All of these things were very exciting steps in her long journey of rehabilitation.
The next challenge would be to teach her to hunt live prey. After much conversation and thought the rescuers designed a hunting box for Faith. This box was an ordinary dog kennel with a large hole cut into the top of it. Live mice were placed in the crate and Faith could observe them from the top of the kennel and jump in to catch her dinner. The mice however could not escape the confines of the crate, allowing her as much time as she needed to capture her prey. Once again Faith met this challenge with skillfulness and once again the stakes were raised.
The hunting crate was replaced with a small yard with walls made of slick plastic. This “hunting yard” was about 1/3 of her enclosure. The yard provided more room for her prey to hide in the brush and escape her grasp. And again Faith exhibited a fantastic ability to catch her dinner.
• How old was she?
Faith was released on April 21, 2005 when she was nearly a year and a half old. Young bobcats will stay with their mothers upwards of two years learning everything they need to know in order to survive in the wild. Faith was released early due to the time of the year. In the spring all of the baby birds and bunnies and other yummy bobcat treats are just leaving their nests and are often helpless in their first few weeks. This would be the ideal time to release an adolescent bobcat back into the wild. She would have plenty of opportunity and would be more likely to successfully provide for herself.
• Where do you do it?
When the time came to release Faith, the rescuers called in a favor to their good friends at JB Starkey’s Flatwoods Adventures. This 200 acre wildlife park comprised of oak and cypress forests interspersed with fields of palmetto and pine would be the ideal habitat for a native Florida Bobcat. Starkey’s land also borders more than 19,000 acres of protected Florida habitat giving Faith even more room to roam at will. The property is home to an abundance of native wildlife including wild pigs, swamp rabbits, deer and the choice prey of bobcats, wild turkey.
• What was it like to see her go?
When the day finally came to release Faith emotions were running high. Several staff, volunteers and interns convoyed to the release site to witness what every person in the animal field longs to see, a wild animal that has been given a second chance to be free. More than 18 months of special care went into the successful rehabilitation of Faith and opening the door to the crate exposing freedom was the ultimate satisfaction. As Faith bounded towards freedom a bittersweet feeling took over onlookers, a sadness to say goodbye and see her go and a swelling pride in knowing that she was going to make it.
• Have you had any sightings of her to this point?
Big Cat Rescuers check in frequently with the staff at Starkey’s for updates on any sightings that may have occurred. In the past, guests visiting the park on horseback and jeep tours have seen other bobcats released by BCR, but no one as of yet has sighted Faith. This is completely expected though as she is new to this environment and may not yet be comfortable in her surroundings. She will most certainly keep a very low profile in the first several months out on her own.
The afternoon before Faith was released she was tranquilized so that Big Cat Rescue Veterinarian, Dr. Stacie Wadsworth DVM, could do a full workup to assess her health. She was administered vaccinations to give her a head start on the health issues she may face and was micro-chipped with a Home Again chip. These chips are small capsules that are injected into the skin above the shoulder that are permanent and can be read with a special scanner. If she were captured by wildlife officials she could be identified as having come from Big Cat Rescue. Faith’s ear was also “tipped”. This is a common practice in the feral cat community to identify cats that have already been captured and spayed or neutered. Faith’s ear was tipped so that she could be easily identified as a bobcat that had been rehabilitated and released back into the wild. After all of these crucial procedures were completed she was crated for the night so that she would be ready to go at first light to be released.
Since her release, several “Faith Tracking” expeditions have been led by staffers and interns at the park. A long creek bed in the center of the oak forest provides several great places to search for bobcat tracks. On these expeditions evidence of bobcats has been found quite frequently including tracks in the mud, leftover kills that have been buried, and tree scrapings. While she has not been sighted there is an abundance of signs that Faith is doing just fine.
• What was learned?
There was not very much information available detailing how to raise a bobcat cub to adulthood for release into the wild, therefore much of what the rescuers did came by way of creative thinking, a little luck, and a lot of faith. Inventive contraptions were designed to teach Faith how to hunt her own food and were constantly updated and remodeled to meet her skill level and to challenge her in new ways. Enclosure design became an important aspect so to prepare Faith for her natural habitat and the advantages as well as disadvantages she would soon face. The complexity of implementing these things was in keeping Faith’s contact with humans to a bare minimum.
• Would you do it again? Was it successful overall?
Faith was the first bobcat that had been raised from a small cub to be released back into the wild by Big Cat Rescuers. Her life was one of trial and error and an unforgettable learning experience all the while. Though her rehabilitation was quite difficult due to the uncharted territory covered it turned out to be completely successful. With the data and experience collected throughout her rehabilitation rescuers are now confident that this extreme task could easily be tackled again.
Big Cat Rescue, the World’s Largest Accredited Big Cat Rescue Facility
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625 813 920-4130 bigcatrescue.org
All but one of the close up photos in this presentation are not Faith as she was kept away from people and only monitored by surveillance cameras during her time at Big Cat Rescue.
Read another bobcat rehabilitation story from 1999
Read about more about our rehab and release success.
Read about bobcats rescued in 2007 or watch as one of them returns to freedom below.
For Big Cat Rescue to give these bobcats a second chance at life we need your help!
On 10/6/99 we had a successful bobcat release from Big Cat Rescue. Judy Watson had been caring for the male bobcat who had been hit by a car in Brandon and after months of recovery he was set free this past Wednesday. He had to have very expensive hip reconstructive surgery, but as you can see from the photos, he’s as good as new. This is our second successful release in the past year of Florida Bobcats. In photo above is Judy Watson and Jason Bearse. Photo by Volunteer Anissa Camp.
Refuge helps wildcats heal
When injured animals need some rehab, they can get it at Big Cat Rescue in Citrus Park. A fund-raiser is planned to pay for their upkeep.
By JACKIE RIPLEY
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 13, 1999
CITRUS PARK — With all his snarls, fangs and spunk, you’d never guess this bobcat had been hit by a car and endured major surgery.
But that’s exactly what happened to the young feline recovering at Big Cat Rescue, a refuge for roughly 150 exotic cats including cougars, tigers, leopards, servals, and lynx just south of the Citrus Park Town Center.
A man driving along Pinecrest Road in Brandon last month found the unconscious animal on side of the road, said Dr. Richard Funk of Care Animal Hospital of Brandon Inc. “I was tickled pink to look at it.”
Funk said the 24-pound cat was beginning to come to when the man, who was not identified, arrived at the hospital.
“He was a less-than-happy kind of hurting bobcat,” said Funk, who used a syringe at the end of a six-foot pole to sedate the animal, still in the cab of the truck.
“With the door just slightly open, I poked him in the butt and waited until he went night-night,” Funk said. “At that point, I picked him up and and brought him into the clinic and assessed that he had a broken pelvis.”
Judy Watson, education director of Big Cat Rescue, then took over the rescue, transporting the injured animal to Florida Veterinary Specialists in Carrollwood.
There, Dr. Preston Stubbs repaired the fracture with a specially designed plate and screws.
The surgery was successful and the cat was released to Big Cat Rescue the next day, said Tammi Fischer, spokeswoman for Florida Veterinary Specialists.
Soon after the surgery, the cat was “doing extremely well, standing on all four legs,” Watson said. “He has a real bad attitude and is acting very normal.”
Bobcats are three to four times smaller than the endangered Florida Panther, and can sometimes be glimpsed running through orange groves.
Funk said he generally treats one or two bobcats a year, mostly males who tend to wander more than females and who often get forced from their territory by more dominant males.
“We try to fix up as many animals as we can; squirrels, rabbits, hawk owls,” Funk said. “If we don’t do it, nobody’s going to and they’re dead.”
Care handles wildlife cases for free.
“The reason we did this is he’s only a year-and-a-half-old bobcat, a very young male with a lot of life left in him,” Watson said.
Doctors estimate it will take several months for the cat to heal. Then Watson’s real work begins.
“Sometimes it takes longer to find a release site than to rehab him,” Watson said.
Watson is planning another fund-raiser at Big Cat Rescue to help defray the $1,500 bill at Florida Veterinary Services.
Such events at the sanctuary have become more commonplace since the Co-Founder turned up missing nearly two years ago. His wife, Carole Lewis, was left to run the sanctuary amid finances muddled by her husband’s disappearance.
Family Day, scheduled for 3 to 7 p.m. July 3, costs $10 for adults and $5 for children. Guests will be able to view the animals and talk to volunteers about the various cats there.
For reservations and directions, call 926-2907
Successful opossum release on January 21, 2000 and recorded on the Jack Hanna’s Wild Adventures show. Thanks Judy!
Rehabilitation in General
Depending on where you live, you could one day, be called upon to care for an injured wild cat. The Bible says that God knows when the sparrow falls, and I believe that God knows how to get help to his injured cats. Perhaps His reasoning is more geared toward making better people of us by coaxing us into caring for something other than ourselves, but whatever the reason, if you keep big cats, the day will come when you will be called upon to care for a non domesticated version of felid. This has been very emotionally rewarding for us and has helped us to better grasp the reality of what life is like for most wild animals.
The more I see of the condition of wildlife, the more I am amazed that any of it still exists. The indomitable spirit is the life blood of these animals and the phrase, “survival of the fittest” takes on renewed meaning. No wild animal has ever come to us that was not eaten up with worms, fleas, mites and ticks. Add to this the fact that they are almost always on the brink of starvation and haven’t an ounce of body fat. Just when it looked like nature was going to do them in, they have come in contact with man. They have been trapped, or shot, or hit by a car and now broken and bleeding they are cursing us with every breath as we step in to alleviate their pain.
This was most true in a recent case, when just after midnight on Christmas Eve we received a call from my brother, Chuck Stairs, who was on call as a Deputy Sheriff. He said a wild cat had been injured in an auto accident, but that it was still very much alive. Half dressed my husband and I grabbed flash lights, nets, blankets and a carrier and raced to the scene. When we arrived she had dragged herself into the brush a few yards off the highway and four deputies were searching with flash lights. Since we live in Florida, we could assume that a wild cat sighting could be a 15 to 20 pound bobcat or a 50 to 80 pound cougar, and not much else. As Our Co-Founder and I pushed our way into the brush, the startled cat let out a howl that sent all of the deputies, except for my brother who had cared for our cats, back out to the road. In the quivering light I could see the cat, a bobcat, all rolled up into a ball on her side. I put my net down over her to keep her from crawling further into the woods. Our Co-Founder slipped his net under her and picking her up thusly, we were able to slide her into the carrier.
We rushed her to a nearby vet who advertised a 24 hour service and waited for thirty minutes for a vet to arrive and let us in. The bobcat was now deep in shock and had balled up in a most uncomfortable looking way. She stared straight ahead and was breathing very shallowly. The veterinarian who arrived had never handled a wild cat, although the clinic catered to exotics, and she told us that there would be nothing anyone could do for the cat until after the holidays (three days later). She injected the bobcat with three cc’s of Dexamethazone 9 mg for shock and sent us home. Not knowing if there were any internal injuries or broken bones we located our regular vet nine hours later who took a series of x-rays showing that there was no indication of internal bleeding nor of any broken bones or vertebrae. Our vet, Dr. Stacie Wadsworth, believed, based upon these findings that the injury was a temporary paralysis cause by a severe blow to her head. She had cuts over one eye and had apparently made contact with the car or pavement with her head. Our vet sent her home with four days worth of injections, to be given twice per day. She prescribed 3 cc injections of the steroid, Dexamethazone and 100 units of sub cutaneous fluids to be administered twice daily.
We modified a large SkyKennel pet carrier to be her temporary home. We built a frame out of two by fours and covered it with plastic coated 1 inch mesh wire, so that it would fit down snugly into the bottom of the carrier. On top of this we piled fresh hay so that the cat could lay down comfortably without the risk of having to lay in her own urine. We attached a feed dish and a water dish to the front grate, but she would not be using those for a while. When we had to tend to her we could easily detach the top of the carrier and take off the door. If she were not paralyzed this would not have been possible.
The bobcat had loosened up from her tightly balled condition and she was now able to move her head to focus on us as we worked on her. In a language that only bobcats speak, she told us repeatedly that as soon as she was able to stand up she was going to kill us all. You would expect this while you are giving shots and IV fluids and even while helping her to eliminate waste and cleaning her up with baby oil to keep her skin from chaffing, but the whole time she is eating and drinking, she is still growling and hissing and threatening to tear us to shreds. When you give of yourself to a wild animal, it is only because it is the right thing to do, not because anyone, especially the animal will ever say thank you.
It is very difficult to get a wild cat to eat in captivity. In the wild, they will only eat what they have killed themselves. We cut her food into easy to swallow strips and with gloved hands and long bar-be-que tongs dangled the strips of chicken, turkey, gizzards, hearts and red meat over her nose. More than anything, she was snapping at the food out of ferocity and the side benefit was that she was swallowing it and getting the nutrition she needed. She began consuming full meals this way, all the time pretending that she was just biting out of anger and not that she was really hungry. She doesn’t chew her food, so we were able to worm her with her food and when her belly filled with gas we were able to sneak a little tagamet into her food to help with the heartburn. We filled a rabbit type water bottle with sterile water and let her bite at the steel nipple to get water into her. She was taking enough water this way, by the fourth day, that we discontinued the sub Q fluids.
At each feeding, which is twice per day for her, we use a warm wet paper towel to massage her anus and lower abdomen. After she has eliminated we soak a paper towel in baby oil and thoroughly clean the fur, so that there is no chance of urine burning her skin. We have also been turning her from side to side, so that she does not get sore. By the third day she had use of her front paws and is able to strike out and hit what she is aiming for. She can kick well with one back leg and just barely with the other. To keep her from smacking us around, we drape a thick towel over her head and legs while giving her shots, cleaning her or turning her and while she is eating, we only uncover her face. Twice she has pulled herself around on her own and each time we turn her we can detect a little more mobility than the time before.
A few things to keep in mind if you should find yourself caring for a wild cat are:
Take care of yourself. Make sure you have your rabies and tetanus vaccines and wear gloves and protective clothing.
Protect your other cats. Do not let the injured cat in contact with your own animals. Keep in mind that germs can travel under doors and through the air vents to other rooms. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before and after exposure to the wild cat and wash all clothing, towels etc. in bleach before allowing your animals in contact with them.
Protect the wild cat from your domesticated stock. The greatest threat to the wildcat is some little house cat sneezing on him. Domestic cats and domestic exotic cats have had the benefit of vaccinations to protect them from the five big cat killing viruses, but the wild cat has no natural immunity and has never been vaccinated. If the animal can withstand it upon arrival we vaccinated with the Fel-O-Vax LV-K IV which is a killed cell vaccine protecting against Panleukopenia, Calici, Rhinotracheitis, Chlamydia, and Feline Leukemia Virus. A second dose must be given ten days later and a third dose would be great, ten days after that. By doing so, you will probably add more than a year to the cat’s life once it has been returned to the wild.
Keep in mind that one day this animal may have to be returned to the wild. You don’t want this cat to approach humans because most people don’t take it very well. Keep your contact with the cat to a minimum and if possible do not let them make the association between people and food. We try to feed the cat from a position where it is hard for her to see us. We try to keep her bedded in straw and natural fibers that do not have the human scent upon them. We don’t talk to her much or pet her or try to play with her and we don’t let other around her. She doesn’t listen to the radio or TV all day, although we do give her a cage full of birds to look at in an attempt to get her on her feet.
Try to find a safe place for the animal to be returned to the wild. Typically, wild cats are not happy in captivity, so if it is feasible to return the cat to the wild, it should be attempted. Try to find a place where they are protected, such as a State Park, or a place so isolated and desolate that the cat will never encounter another car, hunter or trap. A river or lake will usually provide the resulting prey that a cat needs.
The cat needs to be in optimum condition before attempting any return to the wild. Even if you can eliminate man as a menace to the cat you must consider the fact that hunting grounds for cats are dwindling and each cat in an area already has an established range which they protect fiercely from other cats, especially males. When you drop a cat off in the woods, you don’t know whose territory that is and whether or not there are any vacant territories around. A bobcat keeps a five square mile territory and will protect his or her turf to the death. Your displaced cat must be in a condition capable of dealing with the sort of fight that is sure to ensue.
November 1998 we were able to successfully release a Bobcat who was previously hit by a car in Brandon, FL breaking both and front and back leg and fracturing the pelvis.