Wildlife center prepares orphaned bobcats for the wild

Dr. Suzanne Colbert checks Tilden's legs, paws and nails with

Seventeen years ago, the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation
Center developed a groundbreaking bobcat kitten program for single
orphans to socialize and reinforce bobcat behavior, such as hunting
and stalking, so when they’re released back into the wild they will
stay clear of humans.
Seventeen years ago, the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center developed a groundbreaking bobcat kitten program for single orphans to socialize and reinforce bobcat behavior, such as hunting and stalking, so when they’re released back into the wild they will stay clear of humans.

The method might be considered messy. At the WERC compound in the foothills of west Morgan Hill, a bobcat “mommy” dresses in a full-body bobcat costume that’s scented with bobcat urine. Before she puts on the suit, the “mommy” deodorizes by rubbing herbs all over her clothes and hair. WERC’s bobcat “mommy,” Colleen Grzan wears heavy gloves, and never makes a sound when crawling around the cage to feed, clean and play with bobcat Crystal Spring.

Two other kittens live together in a separate cage and are learning adult bobcat behavior without the aid of a “mommy” because of their ages. The kittens will return to where they were found at about 9 months old once they’re mature enough.

WERC’s executive director Sue Howell said they’re caring for three orphan bobcat kittens – one shy of WERC’s bobcat capacity – along with more birds of prey than she’s ever seen in her decades at WERC.

“We haven’t encountered anything like this,” Howell said.

In 1994 when the public first saw the bobcat costume method, Howell said many were skeptical.

“To me it made sense. We want them to go out in the wild. They need to be fearful of humans, see humans as a negative and stay away. It was tough. People thought we were going in to have fun and play with the animal and that’s not why we do it,” Howell said.

BOBCATS NEED YOUR HELP

The three kitten bobcats and other animals at WERC are going through mice rapidly – 300 a day to feed two snakes, a gopher, possum and 30 various birds of prey and sundry birds. If you can help WERC, call 779-WERC (9372) or email [email protected]

Meet the bobcats:

Tilden is 17 weeks old, 28.5 inches long, 12 pounds, and was found in Tilden Park near Berkeley; eating 1,000 grams, or 30 to 40 large mice daily.

Morty is 11 weeks, 22.5 inches long, 4 pounds, 11 ounces, found in Monterey; eating 1,000 grams, or 30 to 40 large mice daily.

Crystal Spring is 9-10 weeks old, 1 pound, 8 ounces, found in San Andres Park in San Mateo County (near Crystal Springs Reservoir); eating 300 grams or 30 small mice daily. The bobcats are named after where they are found and never given “pet” names, Howell said.

View more photos of the WERC Bobcats at our

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