Whittier Bobcat was the last to leave home.
His mom had done an excellent job of raising him in the Three Lakes Wildlife Management area south of Kissimmee St. Cloud and north of YeeHaw Junction in south central Florida. Unlike most wild bobcats he was in excellent weight and condition. Clearly, even though his mother was likely raising her next litter of kittens, Whittier had held back from launching out on his own, and had enjoyed the benefits of her hunting skills, as well as his own. But her spring litter was now taxing her abilities to feed them all and it was time that Whittier find his own territory.
There was another lake and good hunting ground just the other side of the four lane Turnpike. Whittier’s mom had led him there before, but she had done it in the middle of the night, when their were fewer cars on the road. Whittier’s mistake was to try it at rush hour.
Meanwhile a woman named Anastasia, who said she knew us from social media posts, and had actually gotten engaged at the sanctuary in 2014, called to say that she was from out of town and didn’t know the area, but she saw a bobcat on the side of the road. She said it was dead. She said she saw spots and that was how she was sure it was a bobcat. Florida bobcats don’t look very spotted, except for their bellies, so I was doubtful that it really was one.
There was no way I was going to get there before dark, and the Turnpike isn’t lit, so I knew I’d never find a cat in those conditions. I reached out to Facebook and posted an alert asking if there was anyone in the area who could drive out there to at least confirm that it was a bobcat. If so, I’d go. I sent an email to our Bobcat Rehab Team at Big Cat Rescue but accidentally sent it to firstname.lastname@example.org which was wrong, and went no where. The email address was different than that, but I’d remembered it wrong in my panic about the bobcat.
The next day I rode my bike into the sanctuary and asked a member of the Bobcat Rehab Team how it went. That’s when I discovered my mistake. I loaded up the rescue truck and headed out across the state. Google maps said it would be 2.5 hours to the mile marker Anastasia thought it was. What I did not calculate into driving time was the lack of exits so when I entered the Turnpike I turned south, which turned out to be wrong and added 84 miles to my trip, just to get back to that exit. Then I went north, knowing that when I spotted whatever it was, I’d have to go up to the next exit to turn around, which would be many more miles.
On high alert the whole way, I counted dead on the highways; a dog, a coyote, a turtle, a rabbit, a raccoon, two animals I could not identify…and an alligator. Only in Florida.
Hope against hope was, that this would NOT be a bobcat. I can’t explain why one animal is so much more important to me than another. It’s not logical, but it is what it is. There was a center railing between north and south bound traffic, so I had to ride in the fast lane and lean way up over the steering wheel to scan the far side of the south bound lane for a shape that didn’t belong on the shoulder. Due to heavy traffic, I kept having to move out of the fast lane to let semis fly past, and each time wondered if I’d missed seeing the bobcat during their time going by.
At the 228.5 mile marker, right where she said the cat would be, I saw the unmistakable curve of his hip, and the little fluff of his bobbed tail. He’d almost made it. He’d bounded across two lanes of northbound traffic, through the median and cleared the guard rail on the southbound side. Probably just that split second of visual impairment with the rail caused him to mis judge the velocity of his path with that of oncoming traffic. His face was pointed toward a new life on the other side. A place where he would reign supreme, and be the hottest guy in town with the female bobcats, because he was so strong and handsome. He was so ready for this and nature needed this infusion of strength and virility.
My heart sank. I was pretty sure that if he’d been laying there this long he wasn’t going to be alive, but all I could do was hope. I had to go up to the next exit at the Canoe Creek station and turn around to get on the right side of the road. As I drove up to him, I saw the spotted belly fur that had signaled to Anastasia that this was a bobcat. Jumping out of the truck, I ran up to him. I could smell that he was dead before I could see that his head had been crushed beyond recognition in the impact. I had a moment with him; seeing his last few moments of life; feeling both his exhilaration and his hesitation in starting this new life without the ever present mother who had raised him so well.
I wrapped him in a sheet and put him in a carrier in the back of the truck, so the blood wouldn’t seep into the carpets. He wouldn’t be left to rot on the highway. He deserved so much better. I couldn’t give him the life that should have been his, but I could give him some dignity in death. I couldn’t do even that, if not for all of you who support our cause and share our videos and information. How many hundreds of people drove right past him and yet the one who called was someone who had found us on social media. Thank you Anastasia and everyone else who made it possible for Whittier to be laid to rest at the sanctuary with the others of his kind.