CANTON — The Fedex driver thought he was bringing a wayward kitten into the Spoon River Animal Clinic in Canton on Aug. 29, but Dr. Sarah Phipps knew even before seeing the little creature that it wasn’t a domesticated cat.
“The cry was a very distinct wild animal cry, more like a screech or scream, like something you hear when you are out in the woods at night,” said Phipps during a phone interview Wednesday morning. “I said ‘that’s not a house cat, that’s a wild animal.’”
The little bobcat cub was found at the edge of a busy road along the Fedex driver’s route in Fulton County.
“He said that cars were going past at 60 to 70 miles per hour, so he decided to stop, probably risking his life, to pick it up,” said Phipps. “When he got here and found out it was a bobcat cub, he was glad he didn’t take it home. He said ‘my wife would have killed me.’”
The staff at Spoon River Animal Clinic see wildlife quite a bit. That same week they saw a bat and a baby squirrel, and people occasionally bring in injured hawks. And with a couple veterinarians on staff who treat exotic pets like lizards, bunnies, and snakes, they are used to seeing a variety of critters. But this was their first bobcat cub.
“Oh my gosh, it was very cute,” said Phipps. “It weighed 15 ounces, not even a pound.”
The little cub seemed hungry, but it wasn’t interested in kitten milk replacer or baby food, said Phipps.
“So we Googled ‘how to care for a baby bobcat,’ and it said to give it raw meat.”
One of the clinic’s technicians had just gone to lunch at Tracy’s Supper Club. She got a phone call.
“We asked her to see if Tracy would donate raw meat, and she did. She gave us a whole hamburger patty and half a steak,” said Phipps. “Then she called back and said ‘I have plenty of chicken too.’ It was neat how everyone wanted to help this little baby.”
The cub chowed down on the hamburger, then slept for an hour or two before it started crying again. Phipps knows that it’s best to keep human contact to a minimum when dealing with wildlife, but the cub kept crying.
“I put more meat in with it, and that didn’t help, and that’s when I thought it just needed warmth,” said Phipps. “So I wraped a towel around it and carried around for about 40 minutes, and that did calm it. As soon as I put it down it started screeching again, so that’s how I knew it needed some sort of warmth. It was better than being scared.”
Late that afternoon the cub was transported to a certified wildlife rehablitator in Peoria who took it to another rehabilitator who had more experience with bobcat cubs. Eventually it was taken down to Treehouse Wildlife Center in Dow, Ill.
“We just got in an unreleasable adult bobcat, and we put them into contact visually and audio-wise, so the cub can get some idea of what she’s supposed to do,” said Adele Moore, executive director and founder of Treehouse Wildlife Center.
The center has a three-story cage for the older bobcat, who has a health problem which keeps him from returning to the wild. The little cub, a female, is being kept in a way where she only sees the adult bobcat, not the humans who are feeding her, said Moore.
The cub is close to weaning age, but with all the excitement, she’s developed an on-again, off-again case of diarrhea, which isn’t unusual. Otherwise she’s doing well and they hope to release her into the wild once she is old enough to fend for herself, said Moore.
Wildlife experts generally tell people to leave wildlife alone when you find it, but there are sometimes situations when the creature is in trouble, and that was the case with the little bobcat cub, said Moore. The Fedex driver saved a life when he picked her up and took her to the Spoon River Animal Clinic.
“There was definitely something wrong,” she said. “Mom might have gotten killed or injured. The cub should not have been found walking on a road by itself. A cat that small can’t keep up with mom — she would have been carrying it or it would have been tucked into a den somewhere.”
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.