Faith the Rehab Bobcat
How it all began
Released back to the wild: 4/21/2005
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.
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. 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.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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
Wild bobcats come to Big Cat Rescue for two reasons:
Injuries such as having been hit by cars or disease, illness, birth defects.
Kittens that have been separated from their mothers or orphaned and are too young to survive in the wild.
Upon arrival, the cats receive a full exam and given whatever medical care is needed for their injuries or illness. Blood is drawn and tested for infectious diseases. They are vaccinated, dewormed, and flea treated.
Injured cats are given the time and supportive care they need to heal. They must prove they can hunt and survive before being released. Our six rehab pens are 230 feet long by 20 feet wide giving the cats 4600 square feet of natural space to learn their skills.
When possible kittens are given a domestic surrogate mother. When a surrogate is not available the kittens are bottle fed but weaned from the bottle as soon as possible. They are then raised with as little human contact as possible and given opportunities to learn to hunt.
Rehabbing and releasing bobcats is much more difficult than the rehabilitation of most wildlife. These magnificent little wildcats need every opportunity to fulfill their role in nature and Big Cat Rescue is here to give them that second chance.
While we do bobcat rescue, rehab and release in Florida, we will not relocate bobcats as state law requires that they are released very near where they were captured. They must be released on at least 40 acres and we must get written permission from the owner/manager of the property.
Big Cat Rescue has decades of experience rehabbing and releasing bobcats back to the wild where they belong. We provide huge, naturalistic enclosures where these cats can learn or perfect their hunting skills before being released back to the wild. We have trained staff who are experts at capturing an injured bobcat or hand-rearing orphaned bobcats until a surrogate can be found.
We go to great lengths to keep these wild cats from imprinting on humans and monitor their care via surveillance cameras to make sure they are thriving. When they are healed, or old enough for release (about 18 months of age) we find the best habitat possible for sustaining them and set them free to live out the life that nature intended.
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Donate towards the rehabilitation and care of a native Florida bobcat at Big Cat Rescue. Donors who contribute $500 and up to support the bobcats will receive a beautiful ceramic tile with a color image of the most recent rehab bobcat and the donor name that will be displayed in the tour waiting area for a year and then permanently installed at the sanctuary.
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