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February 8, 2013

Injured Bobcat Regains Freedom

Kitten is the FFAWC's last 2012 patient returned to the wild

  • "Eye Bob" came to the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center with a corneal abrasion to his right eye. Gina Taylor

  • In a few weeks, little Eye Bob joined the others in the FFAWC's bobcat enclosure. Gina Taylor

  • On release day, Eye Bob waited anxiously at the door of his transport crate. Himne Drees

  • Eye Bob's surly glance over his shoulder showed he was ready to roll out on his own. Himne Drees

by Ali Crumpacker

Like their larger cougar cousins, bobcats are so reclusive that most people will never spot one in the wild.

Indeed, the closest a person might come to these secretive cats is running across their tracks or maybe a tuft of fur snagged on a branch.

So that's why it was surprising when a motorist spotted a thin, bedraggled bobcat kitten on the side of a busy road in Lake Elsinore, Calif., in October.

Keeping quiet vigil over the kitten, she dialed for help and waited for animal services to come. From there, it was a long haul south to our rehabilitation facility in Ramona.

The perils of play

An exam at FFAWC revealed that a corneal abrasion was causing the kitten a lot of difficulty in seeing—and probably a lot of pain. We checked him into our care center for a long-term stay, and "Eye Bob" was born. 

We'll never know exactly what caused his injuries. Perhaps he fell from a tree limb and hit a rock, or ran too fast into a stick. Like domestic kittens, young bobcats spend a lot of time playing with sticks and leaves, chasing shadows, and trying to balance on tree limbs, all in preparation for the day they leave their mothers and go it alone.

The days of recovery

After four weeks of daily medication and a well-rounded diet, Eye Bob joined the other bobcats outside in a pre-release enclosure. There he frolicked with other youngsters in recovery, drank from a waterfall, and climbed tall trees. In four more weeks, his eye fully healed.

But although Eye Bob's former rehab playmates were released, Eye Bob wasn't quite ready. He was a late-season baby—not quite old enough to make it on his own. Still too kittenish and naive, he lacked the toughness a wild cat needs.

Ready for release

Throughout the holiday season, Eye Bob chased shadows and pounced on leaves in his enclosure, solo—until one day, we got the sign we were waiting for.

When Eye Bob snarled and hissed at his human caretakers, we knew he was ready for release. His raised hackles and growl told us he was wary enough of humans to avoid them and mature enough to fend for himself.

So on the last day of January, we lured Eye Bob into his transport carrier and drove him back to Lake Elsinore. Once there, student interns reunited him with his original rescuer, and together they hiked until they found a clearing well away from human activity. 

Once the carrier door was opened, Eye Bob made it known just how ready he was to be rid of his human helpers. With a fierce glance back and hackles raised, he sauntered off into the brush.

If you find an animal in distress

If you discover a wild animal who is injured or sick, contact your local rehabilitator or animal services for assistance. Small animals can be safely contained and transported to a rehabber by most people using a large towel and sturdy cardboard box, but larger animals like bobcats should be left to the professionals.

Always keep your distance but stay with the patient until help arrives so that you can show the rescue team where to find the animal and provide the needed medical help.

Ali Crumpacker is the director of the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center in Ramona, Calif. The FFAWC is operated by The Humane Society of the United States in partnership with the Fund for Animals, providing care for more than 400 wild animals annually.

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