Bobcat kittens to be released back to wild

The two bobcat kittens under the care of Lake Metroparks’ animal rehabilitators for the past year will soon gain their independence.

Wildlife biologists with the Ohio Division of Wildlife have given the go-ahead to return the two bobcats to the wild. Likely the release will be near the edge of Noble County and one of its adjacent neighboring counties.

Though no specific release date has yet to be set, the timing likely will occur no sooner than the middle of May. This is just fine with Lake Metroparks, the agency hand-picked by the Wildlife Division to raise the two bobcat kittens to maturity.

These specialists knew from the first days when the bobcats arrived not much larger than furry puff balls with sharp claws and equally sinister teeth their care was just a temporary – though exciting – study in wildlife rehabilitation. Especially for a species that’s listed as threatened in Ohio.

“The Wildlife Division asked if we’d be interested in raising the kittens, each of which had genuinely been orphaned,” said Tammy O’Neil, the manager of Lake Metroparks’ Kevin P. Clinton Wildlife Center in Kirtland, Ohio. “Believe me; we didn’t need any arm-twisting for us to say ‘yes.”

A backdrop pointed to the kittens arriving separately from two different southeast Ohio counties last May. Though one of the kitten was slightly older than the other both were in need of medical attention and each successfully integrated with the other, O’Neil said.

“One is very inquisitive and brave while the other is more reserved,” O’Neil said.

Even so, O’Neil said, raising the bobcats was an interesting challenge but hardly an undertaking the wildlife center’s staff was unable to successfully navigate. This adaptability was particularly true when the labor-intensive effort of near round-the-clock care and hand-feeding no longer was required.

“Once we put them in the enclosure their instincts kicked in,” O’Neil said.

At that point human interaction with the bobcats was all but eliminated. The public never was allowed to visit the bobcats in their 30-foot-by-28-foot-by-16-foot-high isolated and specially constructed open-air enclosure.

And the agency even hauled in any number of deer carcasses which were donated by hunters and others, O’Neil said.

Even feeding was taken into consideration when approaching the task of minimizing human contact. A large PVC-plastic tube was used to supply live rodents, which slid down into the enclosure with its eagerly awaiting bobcats.

“Every time we care for a wild animal we learn something but having the bobcats gave us an entirely new protocol to work up and deal with,” O’Neil said. “The entire process was an invaluable educational experience for us and we are grateful for all the help we received from other states, other experienced wildlife rehabilitators but especially the Division of Wildlife.”

Yet all good things have a closure and that end incudes raising the two no-longer bobcat kittens. They are very nearly now fully grown and have reached the point in their lives when their respective mothers would have shown them the door, O’Neil said.

O’Neil said that once a release site is selected and the bobcats given their one-way ticket and ride the felines probably will hang out together at first. Maybe even see that their final home turfs overlap a bit, O’Neil says.

And the Wildlife Division will even have some ability to keep tabs on the wild cats. Each animal will wear a radio-transmitting collar.

“I really don’t believe they’ll have any problems,” O’Neil said.

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