While many have been out buying gifts and goodies for the holiday season this past week, the students at the Wildlife Medical Clinic have been hard at work trying to give the perfect gift to a young bobcat—a second chance at a wild life.
In late November, this beautiful animal was crossing a road with her mother and sibling in Bloomington, Ind., when she was struck by a car. The other two cats got away unharmed but this poor girl was badly injured. Fortunately, the community reacted quickly and within 20 minutes of the collision, staff from the sheriff’s department and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources responded and were able to safely capture her for transport to a wildlife rehabilitation facility.
At the rehabilitation facility, the bobcat was stabilized; she received pain medication and fluids and was kept quiet in a carrier overnight. The following morning, the cat was transported to a veterinary hospital where a full physical examination complete with x-rays revealed a broken rib and multiple broken bones in her pelvis. The types and locations of the breaks in her pelvis were such that surgery would be necessary for this animal to ever walk again.
Due to the severity of the cat’s injuries, the veterinarian who diagnosed the broken bones felt unable to perform the procedure herself. So the wildlife volunteers went on a hunt for help. Eventually, the University of Illinois Wildlife Medical Clinic was mentioned, and the volunteers contacted Dr. Julia Whittington, the clinic director, who agreed to take over care of the bobcat and pursue the surgery.
Four days after the accident, the bobcat was brought to the Wildlife Medical Clinic. She was anesthetized and received another physical examination and pain medications. Repeat x-rays were taken and blood was collected for analysis. After consultation with the orthopedics service, the doctors determined that surgery was indeed necessary and they agreed to perform the procedure at a discounted price. However, even with a discount, the Wildlife Medical Clinic was faced with a bill of nearly $2,500 for the surgery alone. This didn’t take into account the cost of the x-rays, the bloodwork, the medications, or the food that this animal would require in the time after her surgery as she recovered. And while the Wildlife Medical Clinic has to be judicious in its spending, this particular case fulfilled all three branches of its mission: to provide care and treatment to sick, injured, and orphaned wild animals; to offer hands-on training to veterinary students; and to educate members of our community about coexisting with native wildlife. Rarely do members of the wildlife clinic have the chance to make such a significant impact with one animal. It’s a chance we couldn’t pass us, for the sake of the bobcat, the students, and the community.
The surgery was scheduled for the following week and entailed removing a part of the bobcat’s femur (the big bone between the hip and the knee), placing a plate with screws into the pelvis, and then reattaching the piece of femur. After four long hours, the bobcat woke up in fewer pieces than she went to sleep in. The surgery was a success and the doctors were happy with the results.
Now, it’s just a waiting game. We’re two weeks out from surgery, and the bobcat is doing very well. She’s using both of her hind legs, she’s eating, she’s grooming, and she’s growling. There’s a lot of growling. But that’s great. When this cat gets released back into the wild, it’s imperative that she retains a healthy fear of humans, for their safety and hers.
The bobcat will be with the Wildlife Medical Clinic for another couple of weeks as she continues to heal. When she’s strong enough, she’ll be transferred back to her home state for some pre-release physical therapy to regain her strength and learn to be a bobcat again, and with a little luck, she’ll be back out in the wild just in time for spring.
Up until 2005, bobcats were listed as endangered species in Indiana. Now, after nearly 40 years on that list, the Hoosier bobcat population is finally expanding. And this is good news. Bobcats are important apex predators. Like other carnivores, bobcats help maintain a healthy diversity of species in their habitats. Without these animals, animals like rodents and rabbits can reproduce to numbers beyond what a healthy environment can manage. This causes imbalance in the food supply and can lead to the spread of diseases, many of which can affect humans and their pets. Additionally, bobcats act as competitors for other predatory species, like coyotes, to keep their numbers in balance. Without many of the other species at the top of the food chain (like cougars and wolves), bobcats are especially crucial to keep their ecosystems balanced. Despite their carnivorous diet though, bobcats very rarely pose a threat to humans, their pets, or livestock. In fact, a report from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources indicated that the food items found in deceased wild bobcats consisted almost entirely of rabbits and small mammals and, to date, they have received no verified accounts of bobcats injuring a pet.