Friday, May 24, 2013

Lake Metroparks has paws full caring for two bobcat kittens (complete reworking of original story)

Having received one orphaned female bobcat kitten to raise May 14, Lake Metroparks was awarded custodial care of a second female bobcat kitten Thursday.

This second female kitten arrived from Noble County whereas the first female bobcat kitten came from Muskingum County.

Both counties have some of the state's highest bobcat populations though by no means is the species common anywhere in the state.

It will become the goal of the staff at Lake Metroparks' Kevin P. Clinton Wildlife Center in Kirtland to raise both bobcats so the animals will have the best opportunity to survive on their own in the wild.

Asked by the Ohio Division of Wildlife if it is up to the unique requirements necessary for rearing a member of the solitary bobcat clan, the Center's staff harbored no doubts about its capabilities.

After all, over the past decade the accredited Center has cared for representatives from 46 different wildlife species, including any number of which are either state or federally listed threatened or endangered.
Among the species having received care at the Center have been American bald eagles, river otters and a host of others.

But few species demand the requirements imposed by raising and preparing a bobcat for its eventual return to the wild.

The first kitten was less than one month old when Lake Metroparks took temporary possession of the animal, the bobcat coming from Muskingum County as a confirmed orphaned.

“We got the call from the Ohio Division of Wildlife about the first kitten,” said Tom Adair, Lake Metroparks' Park Services' director “We were told that a couple found the kitten and began to care for it. At the time they didn't realize it was an orphaned bobcat and not just the offspring of a feral house cat.”

When the family understood a few days later this was no ordinary kitty-cat it contacted the Wildlife Division which then confirmed the animal was orphaned and needed long-term care.

A little underweight when the Center took in the first kitten, the staff has since begun the arduous task of caring for the bobcat.

The second bobcat kitten was even younger with the best guess being that animal was no more than three weeks old, Adair said as well.

In this case a Noble County property owner was mowing his lawn when he very nearly ran over the tiny kitten, Adair said.

“The property is very close to a busy highway so it's assumed the kitten's mother was struck by a car,” Adair said. “The Wildlife Division made the determination at that point to rescue the kitten and have us care for it until it can be returned back into the wild.”

When this small wild feline was delivered late in the day on May 23 it was severely dehydrated and weak, Adair said.

Thus the for the first several hours it was touch-and-go as the center's trained staff of professional and volunteer wildlife care specialists began round-the-clock care, Adair said.

Following oral and subcutaneously feedings the kitten responded and began to perk up by the next morning, Adair said.

Since each of the kittens are small and demand constant care, members of the center's staff have been taking the bobcats home.

A big part of the reason for this, says Adair, is because the kittens need to be fed every two hours.

“It's a lot of work,” Adair said.

Yet having a second bobcat to raise likely will help ensure a grater chance of success of raising both animals, says Paul Palagyi, Lake Metroparks' executive director.

“This way the two bobcats will have the opportunity to interact through play the role they'll have once they are released,” Palagyi said. “It will be a great way for them to exercise, learn how to defend themselves through play as well as learn from each other.”

Already the first kitten is demonstrating it's a handful to raise, says Palagyi also.

“It has very, very sharp teeth that can actually bite through the leather gloves our staff members must wear when handling her,” Palagyi said. “The only time it even comes close to being okay to handle is when it's being fed with a bottle, but even then it once bit off the bottle's rubber nipple.”

Up ahead is the chore of helping the animals better take on the demands of life in the wild yet without being dependent or accustomed to human intervention.

“The bobcats will be fed a variety of food depending on the stage of their development,” said Tammy O'Neil, the Wildlife Center's manager. “We will provide live mice and chicks along with supplemental food like cat food, eggs, and bugs.”

In order to better mimic how a bobcat experiences living and eating in the wild, the Center's staff will incorporate real-life cat-hunting strategies, O'Neil says.

“We'll hide the food so the bobcats have to look for it, using their senses,” O'Neil said. “And we won't provide the food at the same time each day. Along with minimizing human contact as much as possible, of course.”

This last element is to force the bobcats to become hunters and not beggars.

Consequently the ultimate objective is to raise the bobcats to be as defensive and aggressive as possible prior to being released back into the wild, O'Neil said.

Adair said too that once it's determined the bobcats are eligible for release – likely some time later this autumn - the Wildlife Division will decide where best to relocate the animals.

“We're in daily contact with the Wildlife Division about the status of the kittens,” Adair said.

Adair said also the Wildlife Division's District Four (Southeast Ohio) will make the final call on where the bobcats will achieve their final freedom.

Lake Metroparks is accepting donations for the care of the male bobcat kitten. Further information is available by contacting Adair at 440- 639-7275 or the Wildlife Center at 440-256-2131.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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