Keeper Walkabout

December 10, 2008

If well received, this may be the first in a series of Keeper Walkabout notes by our staff and volunteers. As I walk about the sanctuary each day I often think how much our supporters would love to see what we see on a daily basis. It is so sad that these cats are in cages, but inspirational to see them make the best of it. This is an effort to convey the daily life at Big Cat Rescue.

As I arrived Kathryn was scurrying to the gate for a tour. Honey was busy in the gift shop and Jessica popped in to update me on the medical conditions of some of the domestic cats she has taken home to foster and place. The new intern was cleaning inside and outside there were “Blue Shirts” everywhere, buckets in hand, cleaning the cages.

Later Honey updated me on Hope and Ace the rehab bobcats. Hope weighs about six pounds now and has finally figured out that if you stick half your body into the pipe where the rats come from, the rats won’t come that way. Back before Ace was diagnosed with AIDS she would have been able to show Hope how to cheat, which is to get in the highest place in the cage and watch all of the rat holes at the same time. Because we don’t want the rehab cats to associate people and food Jamie had installed pipes to send the rats into the rehab cages, with the entry point far from the bobcats. Because Hope is getting too good at catching the rats, keepers had to extend the pipes much further away so that the arrival of the rat did not coincide with a keeper coming to clean their water bowl. There is a screen to hide behind while cleaning the water bowl, but bobcats are pretty smart, and we do all we can to insure they will survive in the wild when they get to go free.

The sun is shining through the fuchsia colored Bougainvillea that drapes over Windstar the Bobcat’s cage outside my window. It is too pretty outside to be sitting at the computer, so I head out. The first cage I notice appears to be waist high grass throughout and guests must wonder why we don’t mow in there, but if you stand and gaze at the enclosure, you start to notice a maze of tunnels. Little bobcat size tunnels that weave and wind all over the 1200 square foot space. There is one special little sunning spot where the grass is padded into a purr-fect little cat bed with a view of the white sand beach and lake. Little Feather is the resident here and would surely throw a hissy fit if her grass labyrinth were altered in any way other than her own choosing. Mike was cleaning bobcat cages nearby but he knows that poo and leftovers are all you can take from Little Feather’s cat-a-tat.

About 30 mallards, here for the winter, took to flight as I walked too close to where they were hanging out with the swans and guinea hens waiting for Mary Lou and Rosie to feed them. That caught the eye of Apollo, Zeus and Anastasia, the Siberian Lynx nearby. Old Anastasia is crippled and diabetic, but was working on a mat in her ruff when the commotion began. A couple days ago it was 40 degrees and today it is 75 degrees and her coat doesn’t know if it is coming or going. As the old coats shed and new coats come in, some of the lynx look like Rastafarians with their dreadlocks.

Calvin the Palm Civet cautiously watches from inside his new den in his new enclosure. This new place has so many more great places to climb and root about thanks to the hard work of our keepers in transforming an otherwise bare space into a Palm Civet wonderland. Also enjoying his new digs, is Pappa Bear the Coatimundi. His former owners had cut off all his toes in a botched declawing attempt and shaved his tail to hawk him as the “world’s largest rat.” After the old bobcat Sheera died, Pappa Bear was the perfect candidate for her cage since he cannot climb or dig. Today he was rooting obliviously in the leaves and brush of his new piece of real estate.

Adonnis and Bagheera the Black Leopards were sacked out and sleeping so soundly that even the sound of fall’s leaves crunching under my feet didn’t elicit so much as a whisker twitch. They were sleeping in exactly the same position and looked like a mirror image of each other. On the far side of the sanctuary the wind blowing in the cattails on the lake was mirrored in the way the breeze swayed Joseph the Lion‘s big dark mane. Cameron the Lion had decided that he didn’t want the keepers taking his left overs from last night and was barking at Marie if she came too close. Lions are funny that way. You never know when they are going to get possessive about something; their mate, their food, a stick… but when they get into that mindset, all you can do is leave them be.

While writing this, Scott came in with a hawk in a towel and Chris in tow with a video camera. Apparently the hawk had gone into Hercules the Snow Leopard‘s cage and in the excitement that followed, was unable to take the time of squeezing back out through the 4 x 4 wire. Scott and Chris were taking the hawk to examine him for injuries and if he was OK he would be released immediately. Never a dull moment…

I had just caught Shaniqua the Jungle Cat pinning something to the ground. As I tried to see around her to learn if it was a mouse, lizard, snake or bird, she turned around, one paw behind her back (still holding down whatever it was) and gave me the same feigned innocence of a child with her hand caught in the cookie jar. I asked, “What have you got there?” to which her expression clearly said, “Who me?” Not budging, I just waited to see, and she reluctantly let it go. She probably figured she could easily catch it again when the “prey police” weren’t around. Tonight is whole prey night and it is every cats’ favorite night because you get whole mice, chicks, rats, rabbits or beef ribs depending on how big you are. They are dead on arrival though and not as much fun as catching your own prey, but we discourage eating lizards here as they often cause liver flukes.

TJ the Tiger was neutered a few days ago and the next day seemed completely over it. Today he was chuffing softly at passerbys and gazing out at the ducks who had settled back onto the lake. Vern was busy renovating a jaguar cage for a new liger and tiger rescue. That meant building a bigger den, bigger feeding area and bigger doors between sides of the enclosure. Somewhere a ball was banging noisily against the side of a cage and guessing from the sound of the impact, it was a tiger having fun. Julie’s video of cats with balls is pretty hilarious:

The sounds of scrapers clinking against the wire walls of the cages and the sounds of scrubbing and hoses spraying water bowls was not enough to make Cleo Cat Tra the Serval lift her head from a mid morning nap. Not even the flick of an ear, but several of her Serval neighbors, Arizona, Purrsonality, Esmerelda and Shasta were strolling about, with ears ever tuned to each sound. I am sure they were straining to hear the clicker sound that goes along with Operant Conditioning. They love the treats on a stick and the relief from boredom that comes along with the clicker sound.

Passing by Trucha and Modnic, the Tiger sisters, who too were up and about, and King the Tiger who was lounging in his den, I came upon Pat, our resident master gardener, and her troop of gardeners. They were almost entirely obscured by the mountains of trimmings they took out of the butterfly gardens in preparation for winter. She kept reassuring me that this was healthy for the plants and they would come back even more beautiful in the spring. I’m glad we have so many talented volunteers from every walk of life. Dropping into the Volunteer check point, volunteers were clocking in and clocking out. I ran into Kym who gestured wildly in her enthusiasm about having Big Cat Rescue as her team mascot in the cancer awareness event coming up in April. There will be 60 camps at the event and each prepares a goodie bag for all of the other campers. Her bags will be full of information on the tigers at the sanctuary, as the theme was wild animals and she chose tigers. With fewer than 4,000 tigers left in the wild and China farming them for their parts, the tigers need all the awareness they can get.

Catera the Bobcat looked great and lately we have been really worried about him. His mother killed all his siblings, 11 years ago at birth, and Catera is mentally challenged as well as being frequently sick. Catera is the canary in the mine here and if there is a flea on the 45 acres, it will be on Catera. If there is anything going around, he will be sick first. His mom knew he wasn’t thrifty enough to survive, but we didn’t give in so easily. It has been a struggle to keep him healthy, but he has such a zest for life, we just never could give up on him. This last bout of intestinal issues had me thinking it was the end for him, but after exhausting all of the natural remedies we could find, Dr. Liz resorted to a chemical stool softener that he will have to be on for the rest of his life. He was dancing in circles, chirping like a bird on speed and back to his effusive little self today, so I guess it was worth it all to him.

Running Bear and Little White Dove, the dynamic Bobcat duo, just had their cage size doubled. Most of our cages are in excess of 1200 square feet, but as the lesser cats have died we have not found others in need of rescue. There is a huge need for cage space for Lions and Tigers but only our “Green Shirts” are qualified to care for the big cats. It takes as least 2 years and a commitment of no less than 8 hours per week, every week, to be a “Green Shirt” here so we are limited by the number of keepers for bigger cats. An article in today’s news about an idiot taking her bobcat to Petsmart to have her photo with Santa, and the mauling of Santa that followed, said that she paid $1,500. for the bobcat. That is three times what they sold for a decade ago, so that tells me that the breeding is slowing down as a result of the bans we have been able to help pass in 7 states recently. If we could ban it in FL, OH and MO. the suffering caused by the exotic cat pet trade would be all but over. You can help us do that at Showing off their new space to run, Running Bear and Little White Dove went bounding from one end of the old enclosure to the far end of the new add on. Julie did a great play on the idea of what is on and under our trees during the holiday season and you can see these two and lots of others enjoying their trees here:

Nico the Geoffroy Cat was moved to the tour path. As he has grown bolder around people we decided to move him out to where he can get an even broader look at the world. He had been a pet that came to us taped up in a box. He is the last of the Geoffroy Cats at Big Cat Rescue and you never hear about people trying to keep them as pets any more. The smaller the species, the more they have to prove. It never works out well for the cats when people attempt to make pets of them. It goes against everything they are hard wired to be. Today as I walked by he was peering from the depth of his den; two shining orbs in the pitch blackness. His new enclosure is closer to the path, but not on the main route and we will watch him carefully to be sure he is happy with the arrangement. We offer 14 regular guided tours each week and the public is not allowed to visit unless on a guided tour. All of our cats have the ability to hide if they want to, but we don’t want to put any of them in a position where they are uncomfortable, so we’ll see how it goes.

Some cats LOVE attention and Rambo the Jungle Cat is one of them. Perhaps by the next writing he will be in his new home which is right in the middle of where the tour paths converge. He is going to love that kind of attention!

As the three o’clock tour guests arrived I warmed up my long overdue lunch of tofu and green beans and talked to Bill the tour guide. Two years ago, after protesting fur sales at the mall, Bill, a veteran, had gone to MacDill Air Force Base and asked why they were selling animal fur garments in the Base Exchange. Unable to justify such an antiquated practice the base removed the fur products from their store and chose to go fur free. Two weeks ago, the entire SE region, which spans VA, to MS to FL has gone fur free too. One person really can make a difference.

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