Bobcat Rescue Call in Estero FL
Dec 21, 2016:
When people call to report an injured bobcat I usually insist on a photo because most people can’t tell a house cat from a Florida Panther or a coyote from a bobcat. I also don’t want to waste a lot of precious time chasing my tail because some animal abuser thought it would be a good way to keep me busy or to lure me to my death. For some reason I believed this caller.
Julie said her boyfriend, Jeff, was working a construction site on Corkscrew Road near Alico Road in Estero and saw an injured bobcat. I asked her to have him text me a photo, but an hour later, and still no text so I called her back. She said he wasn’t allowed to answer his phone, except at lunch which is when they had talked about what he’d seen. I tried calling him twice and went to voice mail so I explained that it would be 2.5 hours before I could get there, which would be about 4:30 - 4:45 PM.
Half heartedly I loaded up the Dodge van, since the Tundra was being used to haul a trailer around the property on a mission Chuck, Gale and Josh had started; of clearing underbrush from the swamp. It’s our busy time of year so I didn’t want to take anyone from the sanctuary and Jamie was busy with Frosty Serval, who had to see the vet. I decided to drive down to Estero to see if I could find the cat. I took the van because I figured that if I were able to net the cat, all I’d be able to do, would be to carry the netted cat back to the van.
Jamie and I had done something similar with Tommie Girl. It’s a dangerous proposition, but locking yourself in a closed van, with an injured bobcat does insure that he isn’t going to get away. It does not insure that you are coming out unscathed, or that the cat’s going in the carrier, but all things considered, it’s the choice we make if a bobcat’s life is at stake.
You might think that if the bobcat is in good enough shape to escape the net and carrier, they are going to be fine, but when we rescued Bellona, she ran across a field, through a creek, ran across another field and wasn’t netted until she was half way across a pond. Her pelvis had been completely shattered during a car strike and she was running and swimming faster than I and a much younger, stronger, faster, male helper could go. She would have died from her injuries if not captured. She was pretty much running with her front legs and dragging the rest of herself.
So, for two and a half hours I’m playing out every possible scenario for how this could go down. I’m also fighting the miserable steering on this 1998 Ram van. It is just awful to drive, but there isn’t enough room for bobcat wrestling in the back of the topper for the 2011 Tundra pick up.
When I get to the location the work crew is gone, so I call Julie again who has Jeff call me. He says he can direct me straight to where the bobcat was seen and stays on the phone with me as I follow his route and report to him that:
I’ve found the second culvert,
I’ve found the white floaty thing,
I’ve walked up the drying creek bed about 75-80 feet,
I see the footprints of him and his co workers where they all stopped to stare at the cat,
I see the tree where the bobcat was supposedly hiding…
There is no bobcat here.
Julie convinces Jeff to drive back to the scene to show me where I’ve lost the trail.
Meanwhile I have an hour or two to look around and I find bobcat prints. I’m pretty elated as I find the drag marks in the slightly damp sand and follow them into an impossible tangle of underbrush. Getting down and crawling, I make it out into a clearing on the other side and the prints and drag mark continue, but now there is a second set of tracks that are as big across as my foot and they are feline.
At once I am both elated and nervous. Jeff kept saying the cat he saw was bigger than a bobcat. Could this be an injured Florida Panther? I still want to help, but the stakes just got higher. I can wrestle a 30 pound wildcat into a net and carry it the half mile to my van, but I can’t do that to a 60-90 pound Florida Panther. My net would only cover half of that sized cat. I’m also wondering if it is a Florida Panther, how long and how badly is he injured? Just enough that I’d make a good meal?
I’m really not liking this and it’s getting dark. The mosquitoes are about to carry me away. No one is going to find my body way back here because I’ve gone further into the woods than the road workers did. Still, I want to be sure, so I use the rest of the waning light to see if I can follow the tracks, but as the sand gives way to sticks and leaves, there are no more tracks to follow as I hit another wall of thick underbrush all around this open space. I crawl back out, the same way I came in, but this time with a sick feeling because I can’t see behind me.
Now I’m back in the area where the workers had been scared off by the cat and I peer into the deepening darkness with the flash light I’ve brought. I check behind every tree, bush or clump of brush as deep as I can push back into the weeds along both sides of the creek bed. I cringe at how thick the poison ivy is here and know I’ll be picking burrs out of my hair the whole ride home.
I figure that Jeff and Julie should be arriving soon, but it wouldn’t be safe for them to be out here with no protection at all, so I head back to the van to get the other two nets. Just as I’m coming up out of the ravine, they are pulling off onto the shoulder of the road. We shake hands, spray for bugs, I arm them with nets and we head back in.
I pull up a photo of a bobcat on my phone and ask Jeff if that’s what he saw and he thinks it is. He says the cat was a burnt orange, so it could be either, but he thinks it weighed more like 30 pounds than 60 pounds. “Good.” I think to myself. If we find the cat, we can probably save his life without anyone getting killed.
Jeff takes me right back to where I’ve just spent the last couple hours looking and the cat is still gone. At least I know that we were looking in the right spot. Most of the time the directions I get are so fuzzy that I’m not sure if I’m even within a mile of being in the right spot. Jeff and Julie give me a hug as we get back to our cars and I let them know they are a rare species. Most people don’t care enough to help, even if they cared enough to call.
Two and a half hour drive back to Tampa and I have a lot of time to wonder:
Was the cat injured at all or just hunkered down?
Was a bobcat injured and then carried off by a Florida Panther?
Was the cat injured enough to not run away while the men were there, but maybe still in good enough shape to hunt?
Would there be any point in returning to this spot in the morning?
I don’t know. It’s often the case that there are more questions than answers.