Rehabilitation Program: Big Cat Rescue rescues and rehabilitates wild Florida bobcats from all across the state. Bobcats are in need of rehabilitation for two main reasons; 1. They have been injured or are sick. 2. They were orphaned and are too young to survive on their own in the wild. Injured or sick bobcats are treated and given time to heal until they are ready for release. Orphaned bobcats are raised using a hands off approach to teach them necessary survival skills and then released once they are old enough to survive on their own. The Bobcat Rehabilitation Program Manager is Jamie Veronica. All inquiries about the program or the cats currently in the program should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Relocating Bobcats: Landowners who have seen a bobcat on their land frequently contact us and request the bobcat be relocated. The usual reasons include; they fear for their children or pets, they fear their neighbors will kill the bobcat, or they believe the bobcat is predating their farm animals. Under the regulations of the state we are not permitted to relocate nuisance bobcats. Requirements for release call for the bobcat be returned as close to the original site as possible. The bobcat would just move back into their territory once they were released and would be at risk of injury or death crossing roads to return to their home range.
As an alternative to relocation we work with landowners to provide advice on how to cohabitate with their wild neighbors. We also share facts about why bobcats make great neighbors.
Regulation & Inspections: FWC regulates Florida bobcats being rehabilitated for release at Big Cat Rescue. They inspect the animals and their enclosures when they do their periodic inspections of the sanctuary. USDA does not regulate the bobcats in our rehab program and does not inspect these animals or area where they are housed when they do their routine inspections of the sanctuary.
All wildlife held for rehabilitation purposes must be released, transferred, or euthanized after 180 days, unless a licensed veterinarian has certified that a longer time period is necessary in the interest of the health and welfare of the wildlife. In these instances, medical records must be kept at the facility and made available for inspection by FWC personnel.
Wildlife diagnosed as “physically impaired,” must be evaluated by an independent rehabilitator or veterinarian and FWC staff before it is considered non-releasable.
Bobcat Think Tank: In an effort to continue to improve our Bobcat Rehab Program, volunteers, interns, and staff will be invited to participate in scheduled meetings where we discuss new ways to evolve the program.
Rehab Bobcat Keepers: There are 5 keeper spots available at any given time. Level 5 Interns and Coordinators are eligible to request to become a rehab bobcat keeper. Requests should be emailed to the program manager. In order to expose the rehab bobcats to as few individuals as possible once a person is assigned to be a rehab bobcat keeper for a specific set of bobcats they may stay on as a caregiver for that bobcat for the duration of their time in rehab. This will fluctuate as Level 5 Interns finish their internships. Efforts will be made to include all that request to participate in the program, however, it should be expected that being put on a waiting list is likely.
Schedule: Each rehab bobcat keeper is assigned a specific day of the week for which they are responsible for caring for the rehab bobcats. The program manager cares for the rehab bobcats on Tuesdays and Fridays. Leaving Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday open for keepers. The keeper schedule is posted at the top of the daily tracking chart for each rehab bobcat currently in the program. If necessary, keepers can make arrangements to switch days occasionally, however if a permanent schedule change is needed the program manager should be notified and the posted schedule updated.
Correspondence: To communicate with all of the bobcat rehab keepers and the program manager simultaneously email email@example.com. If you receive an email from the program manager please reply; read, understood, received, etc. so that the manager knows that everyone has read the information and is up to date. This email address may also receive emails regarding wild bobcat reports or questions regarding our rehab protocols from individuals or organizations. The program manager will respond to these emails.
Keeper Vaccinations: It is required that all keepers receive pre-exposure rabies vaccines. Pre-exposure vaccination consists of three 1 ml injections of vaccine given intramuscularly, one injection on day 0, one on day 7, and one on either day 21 or 28. Injections are given into the lateral aspect of the upper arm over the deltoid. The cost of these vaccines are approximately $900. Level 5 Interns who participate in the rehab program may receive these vaccines at Big Cat Rescue’s expense. Coordinators who participate in the rehab program are responsible for the cost of their vaccines. Only keepers who have been vaccinated may lead initial capture or assist with veterinary procedures and care for rehab bobcats during the 10 day observation period upon intake.
Keeper Apparel: In an effort to disassociate humans with providing food and care ghillie suits must be worn when feeding, cleaning water dishes, perimeter check, and raking/cleaning enclosures. Normal attire is appropriate for initial capture and exam, catching rehab bobcats for vaccinations, veterinary procedures, and when working on labor intensive projects in the outdoor rehab area.
Acquisition: Big Cat Rescue acquires bobcats in need of rehabilitation in a number of ways. We receive calls from; Individuals or law enforcement who have seen an injured or orphaned bobcat, but have since left the scene, individuals or law enforcement who have found an injured or orphaned bobcat and remain with the cat until help arrives, fellow rescue centers who do not have the experience or facilities to rehabilitate large carnivores, or veterinary clinics that have had an injured or orphaned bobcat brought to their facility. In any case we typically request photos be texted or emailed so that we can confirm the identity of the bobcat prior to arranging rescue/pick up.
Rescue Protocol: In the event of a rescue or pick up the BCR truck is loaded with needed supplies (some of these supplies are permanently housed in the truck, however, it should be confirmed they have not been removed). Supplies include; medium sized carrier (the squeeze cage is too cumbersome to move efficiently at a rescue site), 4 nets, catch pole, welding gloves, blankets and towels, head lamps, water dish and water. A minimum of one vaccinated rehab bobcat keeper is required to lead the rescue. Unvaccinated staff, volunteers, interns, or members of the public may be utilized to assist in capture but should not come in direct contact with the bobcat as there is always a risk of injury or exposure to rabies. If a veterinarian is available to assist with the rescue it can be very beneficial as they can transport sedation drugs so that the cat can be darted.
Rabies in Cats: Virus excretion can begin 4 days before onset of illness. The incubation period for cats typically ranges from 9 to 51 days, with most cases showing clinical disease within 14 to 21 days. The morbidity period is generally from 1 to 8 days. The “prodromal phase” of the morbidity period is 1-day duration. Low-grade fever and a pronounced change in behavior characterize this phase; the cat may also become unusually affectionate or withdrawn.
The “excitatory phase” of the morbidity period is 2 to 4 days duration. It may begin with increased accumulation of saliva, slight incoordination or muscular tremors, often accompanied by nervousness, aggressiveness, and irritability. At this time the cat may be particularly dangerous, often attempting to bite and scratch anything encountered. The “paralytic phase” of the morbidity period is 3 to 4 days duration. Difficulty in swallowing develops, causing the animal to drool saliva; convulsions may occur at this point. The cat develops ascending and generalized paralysis; coma and death soon follow.
A bobcat that bites, scratches, or otherwise potentially exposes a person to rabies should be isolated and confined for observation a total of 10 days. Observation is of value because the length of time that virus may be excreted in the saliva prior to onset of signs can be predicted. It is known that cats may excrete rabies virus only a few days prior to onset of illness. The observation period is longer to allow for a wide safety margin.
If the biting animal is alive after 10 days from the exposure, it was not shedding rabies in the saliva at the time of the bite. Conversely, if the animal exhibits signs of rabies, it should be euthanized and the head submitted for rabies testing immediately. If the sick animal cannot be immediately tested, postexposure prophylaxis should be initiated for persons who were exposed. Rabies vaccines should not be administered to the suspect rabid cat during the observation period because this would require people being exposed to the animal. In rare cases, side effects from the vaccine administration can also be confused with rabies signs and animals may be euthanized and tested unnecessarily as a result.
A bobcat should be confined and observed when they are bitten or otherwise potentially exposed to rabies by other animals. The quarantine period is 45 days for vaccinated cats and 180 days for unvaccinated cats. As rabies vaccines are used “off-label” in exotic cat species the quarantine period would be 180 days.
Documentation: When a bobcat is rescued we create a daily tracking chart in google docs and must document the following in the header; Male or female, approximate DOB, acquisition date, location or address where found, contact name, email, and phone of individual reporting or relinquishing the bobcat, brief history regarding the bobcat, and date to request extension to rehabilitation if warranted.
FL regulations require daily entries (which can be inspected at any time) on this chart which includes; date, time, food type & amount, clean water, notes, and name of keeper. Also documented when appropriate are weights and program enhancements. This tracking chart is shared with all rehab keepers as well as Carole Baskin. Warning: Be careful when making changes to this chart as it changes for everyone who has access.
Each bobcat also has a med chart on the tab following their daily entry chart. Medications such as de-wormers, flea treatments, vaccines, and non-routine medications are pre filled on these med charts. Check the med chart daily and initial next to the meds that you have administered.
Veterinary Care: All bobcats that come into the rehabilitation program receive a full examination upon intake. A routine exam includes; weight, physical exam, eye check, mouth check, x-rays, blood-work to evaluate hematology and chemistry as well as to check for infectious disease, fluid therapy, flea treatment, and vaccinations.
Non routine veterinary care may include such procedures as; fracture repair, tooth extraction or repair, soft tissue surgery, and minor wound repair. In special needs cases boarded ophthalmologists, neurologists, and surgeons are consulted and utilized.
In rare cases bobcats that are rescued may be euthanized upon initial exam if their injuries are irreparable. Past cases include; severe skull fracture, broken back and multiple missing limbs.
Hospitalization: Bobcats that are too young, ill or injured to be housed in the outdoor rehab enclosures are kept in the recovery hospital for care and observation. In addition, newly acquired bobcats should be housed indoors until they are clear of hookworms or other spreadable contagions.
Hookworms are prevalent in wild bobcats and are extremely difficult to eradicate once introduced to the outdoor enclosures. The bobcat should be housed indoors until a fecal sample can be collected and returns free of this parasite.
In the event a bobcat is positive for hookworm, ringworm, or scabies the following cleaning protocol should be followed daily; wear gloves when handling everything the bobcat has contact with, change all inside bedding and outside coverings daily, bag linens in a garbage bag, wash linens with detergent and bleach, remove pee pads from under big cage daily or do not use at all if the bobcat is utilizing a litter pan, spray down floor of cages with bleach before replacing bedding, clean toys with bleach daily and rotate with other toys, do not provide a scratching post, sweep and swiffer mop daily, spray the bottoms of your shoes with bleach after working in the room.
Ghillie suits should be worn when caring for hospitalized bobcats under 1 year of age, as well as with adult bobcats that seem to be habituated towards people.
Hospital housing should be two hospital cages with a dividing door in the middle. The cages should be clipped securely together to prohibit the bobcat from pushing them apart. The cages should be constructed of appropriate wire to confine the bobcat. Some hospital cages constructed of 2”x4” wire are not suitable for small kittens as they can easily pass through the bars. The squeeze cages also have gaps on the top that are big enough for a kitten to escape. Special cages constructed of 2″x2″ wire, or cages covered with wire mesh are suitable for kittens. Bobcats that require daily injections or fluids should be housed in a hospital cage connected to a squeeze cage.
Bedding consists of fleece mats, fleece beds, towels, and blankets. If the bobcat destroys these items or attempts to eat the bedding an alternative option is hay. Hay is not preferable in most cases as hospitalized bobcats may become bored and eat an excessive amount of hay, which can upset their stomach or even kill them. Eating bedding or hay can cause them to become constipated or blocked.
A water dish should be provided in each cage with the exception of squeeze cages. Water bowls in the squeeze cage prohibit the squeeze cage being used to effectively squeeze the bobcat. Wild bobcats have a tendency to urinate and defecate in their water. Dishes should be installed at a height to prohibit this or in a water box with an entry point just big enough for their head.
When cleaning cages the bobcat should be shifted into one cage, the dividing door closed, and the cage housing the bobcat covered completely. To clean the cage; soiled bedding should be removed, the cage sprayed with a disinfectant and wiped down (as needed if urine, feces, or food drippings are on wire), new bedding placed, and pee pads replaced as needed.
Once cleaning the empty cage is finished, the bobcat should be shifted into the clean cage and the process repeated. Utilizing coverings aids in shifting the bobcat from one cage to the other. Removing coverings from one cage and completely covering the other cage encourages the bobcat to shift as their natural instinct is to hide.
Care should be taken when uncovering sections or prompting bobcats to shift so as to not cause injury or jeopardize healing. Some wild bobcats will refuse to shift while there is a human presence. In these cases the cage where the bobcat needs to go should be covered and the cage requiring cleaning should be uncovered. The keeper should then leave the room, or sometimes the building until the bobcat has shifted. The use of monitoring equipment can be of help in determining if the bobcat has shifted.
Monitoring cameras are placed on hospitalized rehab bobcats and stream live on the web. Once cleaning has been completed the cameras should be set back up and positioned so that the entire enclosure is in view and the view is not obstructed by wire. Camera positioning can be checked on the computer in the hospital prior to leaving to ensure proper placement.
Metal litter pans can be offered and in some cases aid in maintaining a cleaner environment. Each bobcat is different and this may not be an appropriate option in some cases. Some bobcats will utilize the litter pan and in turn keep their bedding cleaner. Other bobcats may just dig up all the litter, flip the pans, and drag their food through the litter making their environment unsuitable.
Food and food debris attract pests. In order to keep the hospital free of ants, roaches, and other pests the floors should be swept daily and mopped with a wet swiffer. The porch to the hospital should also be swept to remove pine needles and debris that attract and house these pests. Mats should be provided inside the two entry doors of the hospital to help decrease the amount of debris tracked inside. These mats should have a rubber backing that grips tightly to the floor. If the mats slide easily on the tile they should be discarded. Mats that slide on the tile can cause great injury to individuals entering and exiting the hospital.
Enrichment for hospitalized bobcats is extremely important to prevent self harm and alleviate boredom. Kittens may be given toys such as; stuffed animals, balls, scratching posts, or chase around tracks. Toys should be changed daily to keep the kitten interested. Cardboard boxes, tubes, paper bags, scents, spices, herbs, and sicles can be given to bobcats of all ages. Prior to offering any enrichment check with the program manager to ensure there is no conflict with veterinary care.
Kittens and some adult bobcats may require several meals throughout the day. To feed the bobcat, close the dividing door and place the food in the empty cage. Care should be taken to avoid the bobcat seeing the keeper place the food. The food should be placed in ceramic, metal, or sturdy plastic dishes to keep meat juices from seeping into bedding and therefore encouraging chewing of the bedding. In rare cases a bobcat may require stick or syringe feeding until normal eating takes place. Stick or syringe feeding should be kept to a bare minimum to prevent the bobcat from becoming habituated to humans.
Hospitalized bobcats may require medications in the form of pills or liquid. These medications should be given in a small piece of meat or ground meat as appropriate and served on a feeding dish prior to serving the regularly scheduled meal. Placement of the feeding dish should be done as stated previously with the cat shut away from the cage where the food is being placed. Medications should not be given in chicks or rats or a large meal of meat, there is too great of a chance that the medication can fall out of the whole prey or meal and become lost. If this happens it may appear as though the bobcat has consumed the medication when in fact it has not.
Vaccinations & Parasite Control: Nearly all bobcats that come into the program arrive with a heavy parasite overload including; fleas, ticks, and internal parasites like hookworms, roundworms, and spirometra. This can be especially harmful and in some cases deadly to young or weak bobcats. Other infestations that are rare but have occurred include mange and ringworm.
During initial intake or exam the bobcat should be treated with Revolution for cats which is applied topically to the skin between the shoulder blades. Saturation of the skin is very important in order to completely eradicate fleas and ticks. Subsequent flea treatment is in the form of oral medications such as Comfortis.
Upon arrival the veterinarian will often prescribe a course of parasite control including Panacur and Marqui. The dose for Panacur is 0.25ml per pound, which is given orally once daily for three days (five days if parasites are confirmed, and then repeated in two weeks for another five days). A liquid form of this medication is housed in the recovery hospital. The dose for Marqui is 0.1ml per pound, which is given orally once daily for two days.
During the bobcat’s time in rehab it will be on the same schedule for de-worming as the permanent residents at the sanctuary. Ivermectin is given one day per month. Panacur is given three consecutive days quarterly.
Panacur, Ivermectin, and Marqui can be given in a chick for bobcats 4 months or older. Bobcats younger than 4 months should be given these de-wormers in a small portion of ground meat.
Vaccinations during the rehabilitation include FVRCP and Rabies. FVRCP is an acronym for the standard cat vaccine, also called “the feline distemper vaccine”, given to cats and kittens throughout their lives as part of a preventative health program and considered, along with the Rabies vaccine, as a Core (very important) vaccine.
FVR – Feline Rhinotracheitis virus: A viral infectious respiratory disease caused by feline herpesvirus type 1. This virus is an extremely common cause of respiratory disease and often results in chronic, often life-long, infection with intermittent recurrences causing respiratory and sometimes eye disease. It is spread easily through airborne respiratory secretions and direct contact with a carrier cat or contaminated objects. Unvaccinated cats are most susceptible as well as the very young and the very old.
C – Calicivirus: A common viral infectious respiratory disease, can also cause mouth sores resulting in severe oral pain. Spread by direct contact with an infected cat or by contact with contaminated objects. The virus is very resistant to disinfectants and persists in the environment. Unvaccinated and inadequately vaccinated cats of all ages are at risk.
P – Panleukopenia: A severe, highly infectious and sometimes fatal disease of the gastrointestinal tract, the immune system and the nervous system. The disease is named for the characteristic severe decrease in white blood cells, the body’s defense against disease. The virus is very persistent in the environment. This virus spreads by direct contact with infected cats or by contact with viral particles in the environment. Unvaccinated and inadequately vaccinated cats of all ages are at risk.
The FVRCP vaccine is administered at the age of 6 weeks, then every 3 weeks thereafter until the age of 16 weeks. If the bobcat is older than 16 weeks the FVRCP vaccine will be administered upon intake and then boostered 3 weeks later. The Rabies vaccine is administered at the age of 16 weeks (or any age thereafter). If a 3 year Rabies vaccine is given it must be boostered annually as long as the bobcat remains in rehabilitation.
Diet: Bobcats in the rehabilitation program are fed strictly whole and live prey unless they are too young to consume these food items, or their injury or illness prohibits them from eating boned foods. An exception to this rule is the use of meat or ground meat to deliver medications. Food items include; mice, rats, rabbits, quail, turkeys, and squirrels. Whenever possible these prey foods are purchased in a natural color that would mimic their wild counterparts. However, it is often difficult to acquire natural colored mice and rats as white is the standard in the industry. Chickens are readily available, but never used. The use of whole prey chickens may result in a nuisance bobcat once released.
A set feeding schedule has been devised throughout the years and is pre-filled into the daily tracking chart by the program manager. This feeding schedules changes frequently and is based on the individual needs of the bobcat. Be sure to check the chart prior to feeding each day to ensure the correct food is given.
General Feeding Guideline:
>4 Weeks – Foster Nursing Domestic Cat, Day One Kitten Formula (only in an emergency while seeking a foster, or to supplement a foster)
4 Weeks – Begin weaning onto ground turkey
8 Weeks – Introduce whole prey chicks & mice, 1 chick & 1 mouse AM, 1 chick & 2 mice PM
9 Weeks – 1 chick & 1 med rat in AM, 2 medium rats in PM (Consuming 20% body weight in food daily)
10 Weeks – Large rat cut in half, one half twice daily. Feed on ground for a few days, then on top of feeding station for a few days.
11 Weeks – Increase diet to 1 large rat in AM and 1 medium rat in PM. Begin feeding in feeding station using timed delivery system.
12 Weeks – Large rat once daily
13 Weeks – Introduce live prey. 3 days 2 med rats on ground near cat in AM, continue to feed large rat (placed on feeder station) in PM then 4 days 2 med liverats in feeder station in
AM, continue to feed large rat (placed in feeder station) in PM
14 Weeks – 4 days 4 med live rats in tunnel system once daily
15 Weeks – Large live rat in feeder station once daily
16 Weeks – Large live rat in tunnel system once daily, small whole prey bunny twice a week, supplement with quail or squirrel as available
Feeding Techniques: Varying feeding techniques and employing tactics to remove the human impact from food delivery is critical to ensuring the bobcat remains a candidate for release. The goal of feeding is to provide whole or live prey in a manner that closely mimics a wild environment and encourages the bobcat to employ its senses and physical acuity while removing the human element.
The feeding station was designed to mimic a den site and when utilized simulates the way in which a mother bobcat would bring whole and live prey to her young kittens. This prey is contained in a secured environment allowing for the kitten to have ample time to investigate, capture, and consume. This feeding station is a large crate with a hole cut out of the top big enough for the bobcat to enter the crate. A ledge should be left along the perimeter of the hole providing the bobcat sufficient area to jump up and perch on. The wire door of the crate allows for the bobcat to see the contents prior to entering. Smaller kittens may require a log to be placed down into the opening of the crate which they can utilize to climb down inside and back up out of the crate.
Whole or live prey is deployed on or into the Feeding Station with the aid of a timed delivery mechanism. Prey items are placed into the mechanism and a timer set. The keeper then leaves the area and 30 minutes later the food is released thus removing the human element. To encourage the use of the feeding station whole prey foods are placed on top of the crate in plain view for the bobcat to find. Once the bobcat has learned to approach the crate for food the whole prey is placed inside the crate.
After a few days the bobcat will quickly catch on and immediately jump onto and enter the crate to retrieve its food. Once the bobcat is skilled at entering the crate for food, live prey can be introduced. Wild bobcats have an innate response to being exposed to live prey for the first time and often quickly dispatch the prey even though they have had no formal training.
The next phase of live prey feeding is the use of a tunnel system. A maze of PVC tunnels are connected to the rehab enclosure. Each begins at a drop station and then takes twists and turns eventually ending up inside the rehab enclosure. In order to encourage the prey to move through the tunnels small holes have been drilled every few feet along the underside of the curve of the pipe (to prevent flooding). Prey is placed in the drop station and the lid screwed shut. The keeper then leaves the area.
The prey navigates the tunnel system choosing its own path and eventually exits into the rehab enclosure. Connecting tunnels together and providing multiple exit points mimics as closely as possible the random nature in which wild prey becomes available to the bobcat. Exit points can also be utilized by the prey as an escape strategy. In these instances the prey may either exit at the same location or may navigate to another exit point, further adding to the functionality of the tunnel system. The timeframe in which the prey becomes available to the bobcat varies greatly depending on how quickly the prey navigates the tunnel system and if it utilizes the tunnels to escape.
Nursing Kittens: Kittens under 4 weeks of age are of nursing age. Protocols for caring for nursing bobcat kittens can be found in the Kitten Nursing class. The only exceptions to these protocols would be any instances where socialization is encouraged. During this impressionable stage of life extreme care should be taken to avoid having the bobcat kitten imprint on humans. Should the bobcat become imprinted on humans it can significantly decrease its candidacy for release.
Foster Families: Depending on the nursing stage of the kitten a foster family may need to be acquired. Weaning can typically be accomplished between 4-6 weeks of age. If the kitten can be weaned within a few days a foster family will not be necessary. If weaning will not be possible for a week or more a foster family should be obtained.
Shelters are usually willing to transfer a nursing mother cat with kittens to Big Cat Rescue for the purpose of becoming a foster family to the bobcat kitten. Ideal candidates are nursing mother cats who have already adopted other domestic kittens that are not her own. The foster family should be tested for infectious disease, treated for parasites, and vaccinated accordingly.
Introduction of the bobcat kitten to the foster family should be done in a quiet area once the foster family has settled in. As a first step the bobcat kitten should be introduced to the domestic kittens. Transfer the scent of the bobcat onto the domestic kittens by petting the bobcat, and then petting the domestic kittens or by allowing the bobcat and domestic kittens to mingle in a small space. Once enough scent has been transferred the domestic kittens should be placed back with their mother. She will immediately begin sniffing them. If she accepts them back warmly it is safe to try and place the bobcat kitten with her. If she hisses at the scent of the bobcat she will require more time getting used to this scent prior to introducing the bobcat. Not all foster mothers will accept the bobcat kitten. Close observation should take place during this process to ensure the mother does not attack the bobcat kitten or otherwise ignores the bobcat and does not provide care.
Weaning: Weaning should be encouraged as soon as possible to avoid too much socialization with the bobcat kitten. From weeks 4-12 the kitten should be fed twice per day, once in the morning and once in the evening. To begin the weaning process formula should be added to a small amount of ground turkey. (Bobcat kittens seem to prefer ground turkey.) Once the kitten takes to the mixture the amount of milk should be decreased slightly with each feeding over the course of a few days until the kitten is eating just the meat.
During the next few days mush should be gradually added to the turkey and the amount of turkey gradually decreased until the kitten is eating only the mush. This protein is a balanced diet and better suited for a growing kitten until it is consuming whole prey. Once the kitten is readily eating mush whole prey can be introduced.
From weeks 4-6 weeks the kitten will wean onto ground foods. From 6-10 the kitten should be supplemented with chicks (1.1oz) and medium rats (1.9oz). During these weeks the ground diet should be decreased until the kitten is consuming only whole prey. At the age of 10 weeks the kitten can move up to large rats (8oz) which should be divided in half, one half fed in the morning and the other half fed in the evening. At week 12 the kitten can be fed 1 large rat, once a day. At 13 weeks live prey (medium rats) can be introduced using the feeding station.
Once the kitten is proficient at capturing the medium rats in the feeding station it can graduate to being fed via the tunnel system at week 14. Large rats should be introduced at week 15 and fed using the feeding station. Then at week 16 the kitten can graduate large rats fed via the tunnel system 5 days a week and small rabbits fed 2 days a week (Tuesdays and Fridays). Whole prey rabbits are hidden in the enclosure in bushes, mock burrows, or other random locations. The final stage of live prey feeding occurs at the age of 6 months in which live small rabbits replace the whole prey rabbits. There is currently no option for feeding rabbits whole or live other than entering the enclosure and placing them inside. This is done by the program manager. The bobcat is secured in one side of the enclosure and the rabbit is placed in the empty side of the enclosure.
Rehab Enclosures: The rehab enclosures are similar in design to the enclosures of our permanent residents. Each are divided into two sections with a guillotine door. The enclosure is constructed of 4×4” wire panels and completely covered in chicken wire or mesh to prevent the escape of prey items and smaller kittens. A panel of wire is buried along the inside and attached to the perimeter wall. This wire prohibits bobcats or prey animals from digging out. Each section has a den with fresh brush surrounding it providing natural places to hide. Logs are provided for climbing and to create burrows to hide large whole prey items. Shelf like platforms are installed on the walls of the enclosures to provide the bobcats with higher vantage points. Enclosures may also include platforms or swinging catwalks.
Daily Care: Daily care includes; perimeter check of the enclosure, cleaning or raking of the inside of the enclosure (performed every 3 days), cleaning of the water bowl, feeding, program enhancements on cleaning/rake days, and on some days medications or veterinary care. Daily care should be completed in the mornings to ensure the bobcat has fresh clean water at the start of the day. All daily care should be conducted at one time to limit the amount of human exposure the bobcat is subject to.
Perimeter Check: If the enclosure is not scheduled to be cleaned a perimeter check should be performed. Lock the bobcat in one section of the enclosure and check the perimeter of the opposite section. Once complete, shift the bobcat and check the other section. Locking the bobcat away will prohibit it from following you during the perimeter check. This is more pertinent when working with kittens. Wild adult bobcats will usually either hunker down and hide, or run to the opposite side of the enclosure on their own, so shifting them may not be possible or necessary.
During the perimeter check visually inspect the enclosure for damage, paying close attention to the wire at ground level. The is where the chicken wire or mesh is most often damaged and requires repair. Also check the roof of the enclosure for large branches that need to be removed. A ladder is stored behind the plastic bench near the water hose. Finally, check for low areas that require fill dirt.
Cleaning & Raking Enclosures: Because of the chicken wire and mesh covering the enclosure we are unable to clean the enclosure in the typical fashion elsewhere at the sanctuary. Every 3 days the enclosure must be entered and cleaned.
If there is a significant amount of leaf litter the entire enclosure should be raked and the leaves discarded in plastic bags. When raking take care to rake lightly as to not disturb and uproot any grass that is growing. Rakes can be found in the safety entrance and garbage bags and gloves can be found in the plastic bench by the water hose.
If there is not much leaf litter then a cleaning will suffice. Take a plastic garbage bag and tongs and walk the enclosure removing feces, left over foods, mushrooms, and nuisance plants. Tongs can be found hanging on the safety entrance to the enclosure. (In some cases if a bobcat is on quarantine it will have its own tongs & rake.)
Check inside dens for stashed food items and remove them. Replace hay in den if soiled. If clean, fluff up the hay to make new again.
When raking or cleaning take time to visually inspect the enclosure, paying close attention to the integrity of the chicken wire or mesh at ground level. If any holes have opened up repair them before giving the bobcat access to the section. Wire and tools can often be found in the plastic bench by the water hose.
Check the entire enclosure for low areas or areas where the buried wire floor is exposed and add fill dirt as needed.
Water Bowls: Water bowl boxes are affixed to both sections. Only the water bowl nearest the hoses are used, unless the bobcat has to be locked away from this section for more than 3 hours in which case water must be provided in the section where the bobcat is housed. Water bowls that are not being used should be stored upside down so as to not collect leaves and other debris.
The water bowls are accessed via a flip up wire panel on the top of the water bowl box. This panel is secured with a clip on each side and a padlock on the front. Prior to unlocking and opening the water bowl box shift the bobcat to the opposite section. Unlock the water bowl box and remove the water bowl.
Discard the water, spray bleach solution into the bowl and scrub with the cleaning brush. Bleach solution and a cleaning brush are hanging on the safety entrance to the enclosure. (In some cases if a bobcat is on quarantine it will have its own cleaning brush.) Rinse the bowl out thoroughly, fill with fresh water, and place the bowl back into the water bowl box.
Secure the two clips onto either side of the top of the box, lock the padlock on the front of the box, and place the tile on the top of the box. (Shifting may not be possible with an adult wild bobcat that is insistent on remaining hidden. If this is the case, ensure the bobcat is a safe distance away and be sure to use the clips to secure the water box once you remove the bowl to clean it.)
Locks & Clips: Each rehab enclosure has a safety entrance. Both doors of the safety entrance should be closed tightly and secured with 3-4 clips and a padlock. Each enclosure has two water boxes that are secured with 2 clips and a padlock. Doors and water boxes should be checked daily regardless of if you have opened them to ensure they are shut, properly clipped, and padlocked. If a door is found clipped with less than 3-4 clips, a water box is clipped with less than 2 clips or a padlock is unlocked report it to the program manager.
Enhancements: In order to get the most out of the program for yourself as well as continuing to improve the quality of care the rehab bobcats receive, enhancements should be implemented on rake/cleaning days. This is a time when the enclosure must be accessed anyway and therefore does not add to the human exposure the bobcat receives. Take a few extra minutes after raking or cleaning to enhance the program by doing one of the below listed enhancements and noting it on the daily tracking chart. Be sure to check prior entries so you are not duplicating enhancements of consecutive rake days.
Monitoring: The rehab bobcats are monitored using a variety of camera systems. The largest original rehab enclosure has a live streaming camera in the bigger section that is broadcast on explore.org. This camera is live 24 hours a day and captures video only, no sound. The smaller section of this enclosure and the larger section of the neighboring enclosure have cameras that capture video 24 hours a day (no sound). These two camera feeds are accessed via an app called Symphony as well as a permanent recorder and television in the staff residence nearby. Camera traps are utilized to capture specific events like drinking, hunting, or mobility.
In the recovery hospital drop cams are used in conjunction with apps such as Nest, Arlo, and Ustream. In some cases these drop cams can be used outdoors depending on wifi access. All of these cameras give us the ability to closely monitor the bobcat’s health and progress without adding to their human exposure.
Non-Releasable Bobcats: In some cases a bobcat may be deemed non-releasable. Bobcats that fall into this category if; injuries are too severe to fully recover from, mental functionality has been permanently impaired, or the bobcat has become too imprinted. Bobcats diagnosed as non-releasable, must be evaluated by an independent rehabilitator or veterinarian and FWC staff before it is considered non-releasable. If the bobcat is considered non-releasable by the FWC the agency has the right to place the bobcat in a facility of
its choosing. In the past non-releasable bobcats have been permitted to become permanent residents at Big Cat Rescue, however, this is not always a guarantee. In addition, the FWC can require the bobcat be euthanized.
Release Candidates: Once the bobcat reaches an appropriate age and weight or has recovered completely from its injuries it will be examined and evaluated to determine if it is a candidate for release.
In the wild a bobcat kitten would remain with its mother for up to a year. The opportune time to release an orphaned rehab bobcat would be close to a year of age and coinciding with Spring (as this is when there is an abundance of easier prey). Regulatory limitations must be considered when choosing a release date. In some cases an exemption may be acquired in order to extend the maximum permitted time the bobcat spends in rehabilitation. (To date the youngest bobcat released was 7 months old.) Weight in combination with age is a big determining factor.
While a kitten may be of an appropriate age to be released it may not yet weigh enough to ensure success in hunting large prey items like rabbits. Prior to release monitoring equipment should be used to confirm that the bobcat is an efficient and successful hunter.
Recovery time required for injured bobcats varies greatly depending on the severity of the injury. In most cases the 180 day rehabilitation limitation is sufficient, if not an extension may be acquired.
Injured adolescent or adult bobcats who have recovered completely may be released at any time of year as they already possess the hunting skills necessary to survive in the wild. They do not require the soft release that is afforded during springtime. Prior to release the bobcat should be thoroughly evaluated using monitoring equipment to ensure that it is physically and mentally fit for release.
Release Sites: Once a bobcat is ready to be returned to the wild a suitable release site must be secured. The site must be a minimum of 40 acres located within the same county from which the bobcat was rescued and written permission from the landowner must be obtained and kept in the bobcat’s permanent record. Release sites should provide adequate natural shelter, a water source, plentiful prey base, and if possible adjoining tracts of land with similar features or that may serve as a corridor to additional parcels suitable for the bobcat. It is our goal to release our rehabilitated bobcats on the largest property available in order to ensure the success of the bobcat’s survival.
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