Solitary and seldom seen in the wilderness, bobcats have been popping up all over the region this winter it seems.
B.C. Wildlife Park has two of the medium-sized cats in rehabilitation at the moment, one from Invermere and another from Lillooet. A third cat from Merritt had to be euthanized last week, said Adrienne Clay, animal health technician.
“His front leg was broken and it was a really old break,” Clay said, something she determined from the amount of calcification on the bone. Without use of their front legs, cats have difficulty hunting and feeding.
“We decided that even if we did the surgery, it was not going to be recovering.”
While their range extends from central Mexico to central B.C., the cats are concentrated in the southern half of the province. As their northernmost range, the Thompson-Okanagan region is bobcat central, well suited because of its normally minimal snowfall. They’re not a threatened species.
Two to three times the size of an average housecat, bobcats have shorter fur, shorter legs and smaller paws than their relative, the lynx. They’re not as well adapted to deep snow, which may explain why so many are gravitating to populated areas this season. Young animals are particularly vulnerable.
“Merritt especially had a lot of cats coming down,” Clay said. “I think it’s the snow. I’ve had a lot of calls, basically since the snow started, and this happens every year.”
One cat has been holed up in a Westsyde barn.
The Merritt bobcat brought into the park had attacked a housecat and wouldn’t surrender its prey as a conservation officer and police officer struggled for 40 minutes to capture it. The injured housecat was eventually freed.
The Invermere cat was likely caught in a leghold trap before it was taken to a vet clinic there, where a hind leg had to be amputated. The park plans to release the three-legged cat. On Friday, it was perched high in his barn stall, nestled among fir boughs that mimic natural habitat.
“Because it’s a hind leg, he should do OK; they use their front legs to catch prey.”
A third cat was lethargic, emaciated and roughly half its ideal weight — a sign of malnourishment due to deep snow — when brought from the Columbia Valley. Bobcats feed on rabbits, mice and other small prey, but they are capable of bringing down a deer, so Merritt residents have been warned to keep an eye on small children and pets after numerous bobcat and cougar sightings.
And, like all wild cats, bobcats can be difficult to handle safely. Clay, who arrived at the park three months ago, draws on her experience handling feral cats. Along with another animal tech, she did suffer a bite, though.
“We got the teeth sunk,” she said. “The bacteria they carry in their mouths can cause much more serious infections” than birds, which most commonly arrive at the rehab centre. Antibiotics are used to control infection while animal bites are left unsutured so they can drain.
“They’re not very social, but the challenge I have is trying to house them. My barn is full.”
Keeping their living areas separate from feeding areas allows her to avoid coming into direct contact with the cats.
The park is looking forward to breaking ground this spring on its new wildlife rehab centre, an $860,000 project, said general manager Glen Grant.
“It’s been a few years now we’ve been working on it,” he said. “We’re finding it a little tougher to raise money in today’s world.”
The large-animal vet clinic will enable the park to treat its resident animals safely rather than in the field. They must be isolated from wild rehab animals to guard against cross-infection.
“We’re not looking to do more rehab,” Grant explained. “We’re building this because the animals need a better level of care.”
Corporate and philanthropic donors are stepping up for the project, and Grant is counting on community donations when it comes time to equip the hospital. A new sanctuary for Clover the Kermode bear is also needed, but animal health is fundamental.
“There are a lot of projects we’d like to do, but we can’t lose sight of this.”