(April 30) — Two separate groups of bobcat babies are really milking the attention they're getting from their adopted moms.
In Tampa, Fla., three bobcat kittens, whose mother was killed by a hunter in Alabama, are being nursed by a domestic cat named Bobbi, whose own babies recently jumped to solid food.
If that isn't strange enough, a similar case is occurring in Columbia, S.C., where three other bobcat babies are being nursed by a domestic tabby named Zoe, after they were orphaned when the abandoned house they were living under was demolished.
After being orphaned when the abandoned house they were living under was demolished, a litter of bobcats nursed with Zoe, a house cat, on April 29 in Columbia, S.C.
Carole Baskin, who runs Big Cat Rescue, a Tampa organization that takes care of big cats that have been abused, abandoned or risk extinction, has used domestic cats to nurse orphaned bobcats in the past, but says it's very rare — and having two cases at the same time is even more unusual.
Sadly, she says this may happen more frequently than it should.
"Part of this could be because this is the nursing season for many wild animals, and as we destroy their native habitat, cases like this may become more common," Baskin said.
Joanna Weitzel, executive director of the Carolina Wildlife Center in Columbia, has been rescuing wild animals for 20 years, and this is her first hands-on contact with baby bobcats. When the babies were discovered a few days ago, Weitzel called Baskin for advice.
"You want to keep the animals as wild as possible," Weitzel said. "We tried to reunite the babies with their mom, but if there's a lot of activity in the area, the mom probably isn't going to come back."
Baskin concurs, adding, "Our babies haven't opened their eyes yet and you don't want the first thing they see to be a human, bottle-feeding them."
Not every mother cat wants a few more mouths to feed, so introducing the bobcats takes a little finesse. Baskin's approach is to wet down the mother cat's real kittens, rub them and then rub the bobcat babies, to transfer the smell.
"After a while, hopefully, she can't tell the difference," she said.
In Weitzel's case, they used a towel to transfer the scent.
It's a little bit of work, but she says it's worth it.
"If we're going to spend 12 to 18 months raising these babies to go back into the wild, we want to give them the best chance to survive," she said,
Weitzel admits getting the bobcats to actually nurse on the cat had its challenges as well.
"The hard part is getting the bobcats to root around and attach to the mom," Weitzel said. "The nipples we were using were much bigger."
Still, if the cats hadn't taken to Zoe, they likely would have had to be hand fed every two hours.
Baskin says she lucked out with Bobbi. She had a similar experience a year ago with a different cat and thought the odds of finding another feline willing to nurse animals of another species were "one in a million."
"But we lucked out," she said. "Zoe was perfectly fine with it."
Both sets of bobcat babies will spend the next couple of weeks with their adopted moms, but not much more than that. In a short while, the bobcats' teeth will get too sharp for their adopted mom and it's likely they will start increasing in size.
By the time the cats are fully grown, they will weigh around 70 pounds, seven times more than their new moms. In both cases, they will be reintroduced into the wild.
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
Caring for cats – Ending the trade
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