Three Orphaned Bobcat Kittens
Big Cat Rescue has a tremendous success rate when it comes to rehab and release of wild bobcats that other facilities cannot even come close to matching. National statistics state that 70% of rehab bobcats don’t survive to release. Most zoos report an 80% mortality rate in captive born, mother-rejected wildcats. In more than 20 years of rehabbing wild bobcats we have had a mortality rate of less than 10%. That is due largely to the fact that we devote far more time, energy and funds into insuring success for the cats in our care.
But sometimes that isn’t enough.
In 2010 we got a call from at veterinary clinic saying that a hunter had brought in a bag full of bobcat kittens stating that he had shot their mother and wanted the clinic to raise the kittens up for his kids to have as pets. The clinic called the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to find a rehabber but no one would accept the kittens. The clinic was not an appropriate environment for the purpose of rehabbing bobcats to be released back to the wild and they certainly weren’t going to turn them over to the man who had brought them in, so in desperation they called Big Cat Rescue.
We also searched the Internet for anyone else closer by who would take the orphaned bobcat kittens. We often work with rehabbers in other states and even if they haven’t raised bobcats for release we will help them via consultation throughout the process. Most of the sites we found were no longer in business and none of the ones who were would take them. Meanwhile the clinic only had access to KMR which usually causes diarrhea and death in bobcat kittens. Something had to be done immediately, or the kittens would die.
Big Cat Rescue asked for an emergency import permit from the Florida Wildlife Commission to bring the babies to Florida and the FWC acted quickly despite typically long turn around times. The first order of business was to save the kittens lives and if we succeeded we would work with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to try and release them back into their native habitat where they belonged.
The bobcat kittens, named Midnight, Rain and Storm, had been housed at the previous veterinary clinic with puppies. I am sure the people there figured warm bodies would be good for the youngsters, but it appears that they were exposed to Parvo this way. We still are not sure because in 20 years of doing necropsies whenever a cat dies, we almost never know with certainty what killed them. It just isn’t like T.V. where you always know the cause of death. We continue to pay the exorbitant costs of the necropsy though because we always want to do everything in our power to make sure our colony of exotic cats are protected from anything that we can.
It is not standard procedure to vaccinate rehab animals because a live virus vaccine could cause them to carry the disease back into wild populations and a killed virus vaccine is not known to be effective. It had not been our practice to vaccinate wild bobcats for Parvo or Distemper as it is usually called in cats. We had never lost a bobcat to anything that even remotely resembled Parvo or Distemper and had felt it was better to count on the cat’s own immune system to be built up naturally to protect them from any future exposure. In the wake of these kittens dying, from what could possibly have been Parvo or Distemper, we have changed our policies to include vaccination with a killed virus in future rehab bobcats despite the careful quarantine that we already practice.
All three of the bobcat kittens died very suddenly and with no signs of illness. We monitor the rehab cats via closed circuit television surveillance and had no reason to suspect that any of them were ill. As you can see from the documentation below, when Storm died we found no evidence of Parvo or Distemper and did find a thickening of the heart wall. When Rain died we found the same heart wall thickening and the perforated intestine, but she tested negative for Parvo or Distemper as well. It wasn’t until Midnight, the last to die, that there was a positive necropsy finding for Parvo. That finding made sense of the previous perforation in Rain because there had been no foreign body causing it and it is common to Parvo. Rain’s necropsy had tested negative for Parvo though, so at the time of her death, we still had no reason to think that Midnight could be positive.
We had done everything we could to give these kittens a second chance at living free. We were in discussion with both the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Florida Wildlife Commission to try and arrange release for them when they became adults. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources was being unresponsive so we were asking the FWC if we could release them at the FL / AL border into a national park that spans both states as the cats really don’t care about property lines. We don’t know what the result would have been in our quest to find them a patch of wilderness to call their own.
There are some truly evil animal abusers who have been attacking Big Cat Rescue for trying to help these orphaned bobcats. You can find out more about their ringleader at TigerCubAbuse.com People who hate that we are succeeding in ending the trade in wild cats have filed many false complaints about us and all of the investigations have shown their allegations to be without merit. The only good to come of this is that the Florida Wildlife Commission now contacts the authorities in the state of origin before issuing import permits into the state of FL. This will help cut down on the number of cats who are being illegally traded into Florida and something we would like to see other states adopt as well.
Below are posts from our internal website to give you a more complete background on what was happening with the bobcat kittens and what we were trying to do to save them.
Midnight the Rehab Bobcat Has Died
Feb. 26, 2011 Midnight, the last of the three orphaned bobcats that were rescued when a hunter shot their mom, has died. She was found dead, asleep in her boma, on Saturday at feeding time. She had not shown any signs of being ill and Sunday Dr. Selah did a necropsy to see if he could determine the cause of death. She was in beautiful condition and had always been the strongest of the three kittens so her death came as quite a shock.
Dr. Wynn got her preliminary results and reports, “Dr Saleh called me this evening with his preliminary results. He said overall she looked ok. No obvious signs of trauma or illness. She did have some bloody feces in her colon. Internally, there were no significant findings that he could see. No obstructions or foreign bodies. He is sending her heart and intestinal tract for pathology. The analysis of these organs should help us determine the cause of death. They will look for signs of infectious disease in her intestinal tract and check her heart for congenital problems.”
Rain the Rehab Bobcat Has Died
We were all shocked and saddened that little Rain, the gentlest of the rehab bobcats, was found dead. Dr. Wynn did a necropsy and found that she died from a perforated intestine, but there are still lab tests pending to determine how that could have happened as she had no wounds and nothing in her GI tract that would have caused the puncture. Her heart was a little thickened, as was the congenital defect that killed her brother Storm, but that was not prominent enough to have been what killed her. Midnight is alone now, and we desperately hope that she will survive and one day next spring go free.
Storm the Rehab Bobcat has Died
The following is Jamie’s experience so that you might know this little bobcat a bit better. This has been extremely hard for her and is only made harder by people coming up and consoling her. The best thing you can do is just send love and thoughts of well being to Storm’s siblings.
“An average day filled with Fur Ball preparations, a Volunteer Committee meeting, and email catch up from the weekend was the order. At feeding time I collected my rats and my bucket as usual and loaded up the dump truck cart. Four live rats and a bucket full of food is too much to haul across the sanctuary by foot. I drove to the rehab bobcats first. The rats were large and it was a tight squeeze for them in the jars. I placed the rats into the feeder tubes one by one. Next I cleaned the water bowls. At the end having seen none of the kittens I called out to them in our familiar vocalizations. The kittens were at a stage in their development where they hid from humans. However they would always come out for me as I was accepted as one of them. Every night I feed them, if I cannot see them hiding in the bush or perched atop their platforms, I call out to them performing a sort of role call.
I called out to the kittens. Midnight immediately answered and sauntered over. Rain, whom usually is more timid and cautious to reciprocate, answered just after chirping and mewing. I thought this unusual since Storm was almost always the first to greet me. When I did not see him I called out again…and again. Still no answer. I felt nervous; my eyes shifted darting across all areas of the enclosure. I did not see him. Next I walked the perimeter of the enclosure, going slowly and taking my time. I gradually walked the outside of the enclosure taking in all of the sights, smells, and sounds. Looking for holes in the wire and flies on the ground.
Half way around the enclosure, constantly followed my Midnight and Rain, I grew confused. If Storm had escaped surely he would not have gone far and would return my calls from some tree or the rooftop. I thought to myself with dread, what if he did escape and I never find him? My mind raced and my heart was heavy. I turned the corner and began inspecting the large boma that edged the north side of their enclosure. My eyes scanned the wall for holes and then fell towards the floor as if drawn in. There he lay as if sleeping.
I stooped to wake him only to realize there were flies around him and he had not responded to my footsteps. Midnight and Rain, who had been enthusiastically, shadowing me, approached slowly with a somberness that broke my heart. They looked up at me with their big golden eyes and then back to Storm’s lifeless body, sniffed his head and then walked away. They seemed to be confused at his lack of reaction and relieved that I was there to help him.
The reality of the scene that had unfolded before me crashed down on my chest with a weight that was so unbearable it restricted my breath. Tears erupted from my eyes and streaked down my face in an uncontrollable flood. I cried out NO! Please Noooo! I clasped my hand over my lips. The spoken word was prohibited in the presence of these bobcats being reared with little human contact so as to ensure that they will one day be released into the wild. Still my thoughts screamed inside my head.
Eyes bleary I hurried to the enclosure door. I fumbled the keys out of my pocket. Hands trembling I dropped them into the mud. I retrieved them and steadied my grip so I could unlock the door. I secured myself within the safety gate and then unclipped the main door. Midnight was so nearby that I jumped into the enclosure and quickly swung the door shut snapping it closed. Midnight and Rain circled me as I made my way to the boma. Circling my legs and jumping ahead as if it they were leading the way chirping all along. I faced the large boma and thought of deconstructing a pathway through it. The tangle of branches were intimidating and I grew impatient. I stepped high into the thicket of dried sharp brush. I stepped again and maneuvered my torso under a large branch.
I stretched far down into the boma and felt his cold hard little body. Tears flooded my eyes making it hard to see. I squeezed them tightly shut several times clearing the saline that was blocking my view. I gently gathered his scruff and lifted him upwards. The scruff was tight and the body maintained its shape as it was lifted towards the sky. Midnight and Rain had vanished. Perhaps they had been fearful that I might snatch them up next. Or perhaps they were hiding in the boma confused with the situation.
I made my way back across the enclosure and into the safety gate. I lay him down gently in the middle of the floor. He was in a delicate sleeping position. One paw perfectly tucked beneath his body, the other outstretched before him. His head balanced perfectly on his nose which touched the ground as if he were laying down watching the birds and had nodded off slowly as his nose grew closer and closer to the ground with each dreary nod of his head. An image of him as a baby flashed through my mind, a memory so clear of this spunky and voracious eater. Just a wobbly little kitten he had eaten so much turkey for dinner one evening. He stopped to take a break and had fallen asleep face down in his plate of food.
As he lay there it was heard to believe that he was not going to wake up in a few moments and continue on with his antics. The reality flushed over me, my skin grew cold, my stomach sick. My face contorted into a mournful expression no matter how hard I tried to fight it back and internalize my feelings. The reality of it was so sickening my heart ached. I carried his lifeless body back to the hospital to keep him in the cooler until a necropsy could be done.
At the end of the room there stood a massive collection of bins with blankets of all shapes and sizes. I pulled out the top bin. It was light with the weight of only a small blanket or towel. I opened the lid only to be struck in the heart once more. A lump swelled with in my throat and my eyes welled up once more. I reached out with the same hand that had just grasped the lifeless body of Storm the bobcat and timidly retrieved the last linen in the bin. It was a red fleece blanket with white snowflakes adorning it. I pulled the cozy blanket in close and closed my eyes. I recalled the night nearly five months ago when I retrieved the three kittens from their rescuer at a vet clinic.
I remember walking into the room to see a cardboard box on the coffee table. I pulled open the top of the box and peered inside. My eyes fixed on three tiny balls of spotted fluff snuggled up in the warm of this very same red fleece blanket with white snowflakes adorning it.” – Jamie Veronica, President of Big Cat Rescue
Necropsy Report 9/20/2010. Storm’s initial necropsy showed a thickening of the heart wall and some blood in his intestines. We feared the latter may indicate some sort of viral disease, but the lab reports came in today and conclude that the blood was just the result of his body decomposing after death and that the thickened heart wall was probably the cause of death. This is a congenital heart condition and thus a birth defect. Since he was never sick but rather always the rowdiest of the bunch we had no way of knowing that he had this problem. It is the same heart condition that we treat Kalahari for, but it usually kills kittens before they are diagnosed.