– Two baby bobcats arrived Friday in Morgan Hill to learn how to
catch mice, fend for themselves and, above all, to fear humans.
Delivered to WERC (the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation
Center), the two-week-old kittens were given a thorough medical
checkup and went to their new home with WERC
volunteer and bobcat supervisor Evelyn Davis.
The pair will stay in a specially prepared room and learn to how
to survive in the wilderness for the next six to eight months
– untouched by human hands and never, ever hearing a human
MORGAN HILL – Two baby bobcats arrived Friday in Morgan Hill to learn how to catch mice, fend for themselves and, above all, to fear humans. Delivered to WERC (the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center), the two-week-old kittens were given a thorough medical checkup and went to their new home with WERC volunteer and bobcat supervisor Evelyn Davis.
The pair will stay in a specially prepared room and learn to how to survive in the wilderness for the next six to eight months – untouched by human hands and never, ever hearing a human voice.
WERC, led by director Sue Howell, essentially “wrote the book” on raising bobcats in a way that allows them to be reintroduced into the wild – and survive on their own. A bobcat without a fear of humans is doomed in the wild, Howell said after the last complaining kitten was bundled off to its new lair.
And, of course, they need to catch their own food and not rely on mouse-providing humans.
Caretakers never show themselves to their charges; they rub themselves with herbs or eucalyptus leaves and bobcat urine to cover the human scent, then don masks and gloves made from spotted, bobcat-like fabric.
The WERC method of rehabilitating bobcats is now the official method adopted by the state department of Fish and Game.
The two siblings came to WERC from the Pacific Wildlife Care center in San Luis Obispo. The local WERC, unlike other similar organizations in the region, has the benefit of complete and free veterinary service, compliments of veterinarian John Quick. Because of the medical care and because of the local WERC’s solid reputation for successful bobcat training and release, San Luis Obispo called on Howell to take over.
This time, though, it wasn’t Quick who handled the squawking infants but veterinarian Shanna Compton, new to Quick’s practice – the Animal Care Center – and a 1996 graduate of the U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. It was Compton’s first go at bobcats.
An eager group of WERC volunteers and staff gathered round as Compton reached in the carry cage and pulled out a scrawny, mottled kitten, which she pronounced to be a male.
“Then we’ll call him Miguel,” Howell said. The kittens were confiscated from a ranch in the San Miguel area by Fish and Game officials. San Miguel is north of Paso Robles.
Compton popped the kitten into a lidded basket balanced on a scale. The lid keeps small animals from scrambling out and falling while they are being weighed. Miguel weighed 268.5 grams.
“He’s about 14 days old,” she said. He was also somewhat dehydrated.
Compton showed Davis and the assembled WERC volunteers how to tell: She pulled slightly on the skin and watched how long it took to return to shape. This kitten’s skin took a bit longer, she said, than normal.
Poking and prodding, checking eyes, ears and several just-budding teeth, Compton talked continuously to the squirming little cat to reinforce the negative experience.
“I want them to associate the human voice with bad things,” she said.
Miguel did not appear to be enjoying himself. He was measured – 9.5 inches from nose to tip of tail – and had his temperature taken. At 98.6 degrees, Compton said he was a little cold. A temperature of 99.5 -102 degrees is normal for small cats, she said. Davis said she had a hot water bottle in the car ready to warm him up. Miguel gave blood – rather unwillingly – and a fecal sample – less so – to be tested for disease and parasites.
When Miguel was returned to the cage, a second kitten emerged, larger and lighter in color than the first.
“This one’s a girl,” Compton said, “and she looks real perky.”
“Her name will be Samantha,” Howell said. “Sam and Miguel because they come from San Miguel.”
Samantha tipped the scales at 310 grams, stretched to 10 inches and displayed clear eyes and ears too.
“They are both very lively,” Compton said.
The kittens come from an uncertain background. Fish and Game officers were tipped off that they were being raised illegally on a ranch in San Miguel. Charles Snyder, WERC operations coordinator, said their mother was found dead inside a barn on the property.
“The kittens had to be confiscated,” Snyder said, implying the people raising them did not give them up willingly. “They could have been raised as pets or for sale as pets or, he said, in the worst case, for fur.”
The reason knowing the kittens’ background is important, Snyder said, is that the first few days with their mother are critical. They learn skills and, more importantly, they gain antibodies and, thus, immunity to disease from the mother’s milk.
“Nature didn’t intend for us to raise them,” Snyder said.
Bobcats are not often given names in rehabilitation. When they are named, they never hear it spoken since they do not hear human voices except during veterinary examinations; the surrogate “mothers.”
Howell said WERC has trained and released many bobcats in the past, but it was “Rocky”, “Bobbie” and “Liberty” who were raised from kittens and grabbed the most public attention.
In the six months Sam and Miguel will be in WERC’s care, they will devour about 110 pounds of mice – each, Quick estimated.
“There’s a long road ahead,” Howell said.
“We were ridiculed at first,” she said, about the bobcat suits, the herbs and bobcat urine rub. “But now we get calls from all over the country.
“Ours (bobcats rehabilitated by WERC) are more wild than the ones caught when they are older,” Davis said.
The WERC Web site is www.werc-ca.org and address is W.E.R.C, P.O. Box 1105, Morgan Hill, CA. 95038-1105.