Ensuring bobcat kittens grow up and remain wild

Ensuring bobcat kittens grow up and remain wild

In May, a man out walking his dog came across a bobcat kitten
all by itself under a tree. The man was worried that the kitten was
orphaned and might starve or be attacked by other animals. He took
it to his local wildlife shelter who then contacted the Wildlife
Education and Rehabilitation Center in Morgan Hill.
In May, a man out walking his dog came across a bobcat kitten all by itself under a tree. The man was worried that the kitten was orphaned and might starve or be attacked by other animals. He took it to his local wildlife shelter who then contacted the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center in Morgan Hill.

In 1994, WERC developed this ground-breaking program, based on bird-of-prey anti-imprinting techniques, to ensure that single bobcat orphans do not become habituated (identify with their human caretakers) during their time in care. The program helps to ensure that when the bobcat is released back to its native habitat, it will steer clear of humans and survive with its predatory hunting instincts intact.

WERC named this 6-week-old, 2-pound bobcat “Stanley,” after Stanislaus County where he was found. Upon arrival, he was brought to a bobcat “nursery,” where he was cared for by his surrogate mother – a human wearing a scented, full-body costume – who brought in Stanley’s food (small rodents) and played “bobcat games”, like chase-the-mouse, attack-the-twig and hide-and-seek, which helped to reinforce his hunting instincts.

In June, when Stanley was 3 months old, he transferred to the outdoor bobcat enclosure at WERC in order to acclimate him to the weather, including summer heat and autumn rain, and give him lots of room to climb and run.

Over the next four months, Stanley grew robust and feisty on a healthy diet of assorted rodents and other natural foods that he would find in the wild. Dr. Suzanne Colbert (Princevalle Pet Hospital in Gilroy) vaccinated him against rabies and other feline diseases and certified him in outstanding health.

By the end of October, it was time to find a suitable new home for Stanley, who was now 7 months old and 16 pounds. To preserve the genetic integrity of the species and for the animal’s best chance at survival, a release ideally occurs at or near where the animal was found. However, the original location where he had been discovered was determined not to be in his best interests, as it was surrounded by large agricultural fields and residential tracts.

Location is even more important for wild animals than it is to human habitation. WERC carefully researches possible localities before choosing the best release site for a particular animal. There must be a plentiful source of natural food, such as field rodents, pond fish or wild berries, depending on the animal and its diet. There must be access to water, whether a river, creek, lake or pond. And there must be cover – trees, caves, brush, rock piles for example – places for the animal to hide from predators, build a home or provide shelter from bad weather. Others of the same species must be known to reside in the area, a validation that the release site is suitable. And finally, permission must be received to release animals on public or private property.

On Nov. 10, a beautiful day with a clear weather forecast, Stanley was released at a prime bobcat habitat, on private property near the San Luis Reservoir. He was driven miles and miles into the remote wilderness, far away from any human habitation and traffic, but where other bobcats were known to live. Multitudes of ground squirrels could be seen scampering about hither and yon. After his carrying kennel was opened, he leapt out and jumped over a small creek, ran up a hill and climbed into a tree. Basking in his new-found freedom, he stared down at his former “captors” until we left. So long, Stanley.

Thank you to all our volunteers and supporters, whose generous help provides our bobcats and other critters with care, medical treatment, and housing and without which the animals would not survive to be released back to the wild.

Leave your comments