Orphaned by a Wildfire and Then Rescued by a Forest Ranger, Chips Is Now Bracing for a Frightening Return to the Wild
|Chips and Tad Hair|
"Tad (Hair) just took pity on her. He gathered her up and flushed her eyes out. Some girls have all the luck."Inside a forlorn enclosed pen at a wildlife rehabilitation center in northern California an almost seven-month-old bobcat named Chips to struggling to come to terms with the vicissitudes of outrageous fortune. Left an orphan by a wildfire of the same name that consumed seventy-five-thousand acres of the Plumas National Forest last August, her fragile life is now suspended between the human and animal worlds and she is facing a truly terrifying future.
-- Nan Powers of Sierra Wildlife Rescue
On August 25th, members of the Mad River Ranger District stumbled upon the then three to four week old kitten alongside a road eight miles outside of Chester. Dazed and dehydrated, Chips was walking in circles around a tree stump. As it shortly was to be revealed, disorientation was the least of her worries in that she had sustained second-degree burns on all of her four paws as well as to her back. Her whiskers were singed and her eyes were so infected with soot and oozing so much pus that she could barely see well enough to even walk.
The rangers' first thought was to ignore her and to continue on with their mop up work but Chips was not about to be denied. Despite her obvious impairments, she still possessed enough presence of mind in order to utilize her keen sense of hearing in order to follow in their footsteps and every time that ranger Charles "Tad" Hair would stop she would curl up around his boots.
It is not known why she selected Hair to appeal to for help but that spur-of-the-moment decision in the end has made all the difference. If she had picked out another ranger he could have ignored her entreaties and sooner or later she in all likelihood would have succumbed to either starvation or predation and the world thus would have been deprived of ever knowing that she had existed.
Even then Hair's next inclination was to attempt to reunite her with her mother but that ultimately proved not to be possible. "No tracks whatsoever in the ash except for this little gal's," he later told the Plumas County News of Quincy on December 12th. (See "Chips the Bobcat Gets a New Home for the Winter.")
Rather than just leaving her to die on her own, Hair made the fateful decision to take her back with him to his base in West Lake Almanor. "I just couldn't leave him (sic) there," he later told the USDA's web site on September 5th. (See "Baby Bobcat 'Chips' Rescued from Chips Fire.")
There is an old adage that stipulates whenever a person saves the life of another he is from that time forward responsible for the well-being of that life and, accordingly, Hair's and Chips' fates are forever intertwined and cannot be torn asunder. Hair thus is now responsible for Chips whether he likes it or not.
"Tad just took pity on her," Nan Powers of Sierra Wildlife Rescue (SWR) of Placerville, which currently has custody of Chips, told The Sacramento Bee on December 27th. (See "Bobcat Gets Lessons on Living Wild.") "He gathered her up and flushed her eyes out. Some girls have all the luck."
|Chips Is Fed by Laurie L. Pearson of the United States Forest Service|
Considering the horrific toll that wildfires take on all animals each summer, it is a wonder that Chips survived at all. That is especially the case in that she was found in one of the worst burned-out areas.
"How it survived with the fire passing through is miraculous," John Heil of the United States Forest Service told The Sacramento Bee in the article cited supra.
As far as it is known no records are kept regarding the number of cats, both big and small, that are killed by wildfires each year. Moreover, only a handful of those that are rescued at the eleventh hour ever make the news.
One such fortunate cat who amazingly survived the Humboldt fire in northern California back in June of 2008 was Phoenix. Found near Paradise, she had sustained severe burns to her paws while saving the life of her kitten, Blaze. (See Cat Defender post of July 3, 2008 entitled "Phoenix Is Severely Burned but Still Manages to Save One of Her Kittens from the Humboldt Fire.")
Hair and his fellow rangers almost immediately fobbed off Chips onto the shoulders of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care (LTWC) in South Lake Tahoe. While she was interned there, her eyes were flushed thrice daily in order to clean out the infection and her burns were treated.
In order to fatten up the twenty-four ounce kitten, staffers fed her a daily ration of a dozen mice. Lacking the teeth in order to skin and grind up the bones, the rodents had to be pulverized before being presented to her. By contrast, bobcat kittens in the wild consume food regurgitated by their mothers. (See video entitled "Dinner with Chips" which was posted August 28th at www.ltwc.org.)
She also was given a special kitten formula, perhaps Kitten Replacement Milk, and pieces of ice not only to ease her dehydration but also to soothe her irritated throat and lungs. More soot and ash were removed from her fur.
|Chips on the Mend|
On November 1st , she was relocated to SWR in Placerville and since then both her paws and eyes are believed to have completely healed. She is currently confined in an outdoor enclosure with two other orphaned bobcats.
One of them is named Tuffy who is recuperating from a broken elbow that he sustained when he was run down by a motorist. The other one, Sierra, became separated from his mother near the Sierra Army Depot, southeast of Susanville.
Upon arrival, Chips at first continued to receive her customary daily rations of mice, chicken, and cat food but now that is largely a thing of the past. In an effort to prepare her for an eventual return to the wild, she is expected to catch her own mice and rabbits. Occasionally, however, she is fed roadkill squirrel and possibly other meats as well.
Placing her with Tuffy and Sierra is designed to not only acquaint her with other members of her species but hopefully she will be able to learn from them how to play and hunt. "The kits need to learn about and play with their own species; it is really good for them," Powers told the Plumas County News in the article cited supra. "They learn hunting behaviors, wrestle and play together."
In addition to forcing Chips to procure her own food, officials at SWR are intentionally being mean to her in a belated effort to instill in her a fear of humans. Toward that end, she is squirted with water whenever she comes too close to any of them.
"If you have a friendly bobcat in the wild, that's not going to work," the organization's Jill Tripoli told The Sacramento Bee in the article cited supra. The tactic seems to be working to a degree in that she now has taken to hiding whenever humans approach although, unlike Tuffy and Sierra, she still sticks her head out in order to have a peek at them.
There can be no denying, however, that Chips has much to learn and many mental adjustments to make before she will stand much of a chance of surviving in the wild. Plus, time is fast running out for her in that SWR plans on returning her and her mates to the wild in either March or April.
|Fragile and Confused, Chips Is Torn Between Two Worlds|
"They are too young to be released right now and wouldn't be able to fend for themselves," Powers conceded to the Plumas County News in the article cited supra. "We don't release any wild animals until they are old enough to fend for themselves and free of any injuries."
Despite the formidable obstacles awaiting Chips, Powers is confident that she and her companions are up to the herculean task that awaits them. "We try to keep them wild and so far, they are thriving and growing," she pledged to the Plumas County News. "By the time they go back into the forest, they will be about eight to nine months old and will be able to cope and defend themselves."
Surviving on her own, however, involves considerably more than simply being physically fit and having reached a specific age. Powers, accordingly, is guilty of failing to explain how six months spent in captivity ever could even remotely prepare Chips for what lies ahead.
Normally, bobcat kittens are born in the spring and remain with their mothers until some time in the autumn. In some cases they in fact spent the entire first years of their lives alongside their mothers.
It therefore strains credulity that SWR is going to be able to accomplish with Chips in six months what it takes female bobcats up to a year to do. That is especially the case in that the highest mortality rate found amongst bobcats is in those that die shortly after leaving their mothers and before they are able to perfect their hunting skills.
Even for those cats that are lucky enough to reach adulthood the going is so perilous that they live only six to eight years on the average. By contrast, they have been known to live for as long as thirty-two years in captivity.
Perhaps SWR is doing the very best for Chips that can be expected under the circumstances but that still does not constitute a valid excuse for condemning her to an almost certain death. Her life should be worth considerably more than that.
As far as it is known there are not any reliable statistics available as to the success rate of rewilding orphaned bobcats, but even despite that glaring absence there is good reason to suspect that Powers's halcyon assessment of Chips' predicament is little more than public relations propaganda and a fundraising ploy. For example, a study conducted by Kristen Jule of the University of Exeter concluded that tigers and other large carnivores born in captivity stand only a thirty-three per cent chance of surviving in the wild. (See National Geographic, January 23, 2008, "Most Captive-Born Predators Die if Released" and Cat Defender post of March 11, 2008 entitled "South China Tigers Are Being Bred and Trained at a South African Reserve for an Eventual Return to the Wild.")
Whereas there is, admittedly, a world of difference between a tiger and a bobcat, the fact that Chips was orphaned at such a tender age makes it pretty much the same as if she had been born in captivity. In particular, it is doubtful that the hunting, mating, and nurturing skills that she would have acquired from her mother can be learned in captivity.
Much the same thing can be said of her urgent need to develop a healthy fear of humans. In short, everything that she would have learned from her mother must be rapidly picked up in either the School of Hard Knocks or from Tuffy and Sierra.
It also is important to note that SWR's specialty is rescuing and rewilding songbirds which is a considerably easier task than reintroducing medium-sized mammals to the wild. Even when it comes to birds the organization fails to disclose on its web site its success rate in returning them to nature.
By contrast, LTWC declares on its web site that over the course of the past three decades it has cared for twenty-thousand "critters" and released thirteen-thousand of them back into the wild. It conveniently omits, however, both a species by species accounting of those released and, most important of all, what later became of them and those not released. Accordingly, its boast of successfully rewilding sixty-four per cent of its "critters" is not only a meaningless statistic but a misleading one as well.
Even in the absence of any data concerning the success rate of rewilding orphaned bobcats it readily can be seen that Chips is facing an uphill struggle. Since Americans are so dead set against making the roads even moderately safe for animals, pedestrians, and bicyclists, motorists pose a major threat to her well-being as Tuffy so rudely found out for himself.
In many locales bobcats are hunted either for their pelts or because they are considered to be nuisance animals. A few individuals even dine on their flesh.
Thirty-eight-year-old Henry Arnibal of Sleepy Valley Road in Morgan Hill, thirty-seven kilometers south of San Jose in Santa Clara County, does both. Following his arrest on November 7, 2011, he admitted to not only skinning and preserving the pelt of a cat that he shot after it allegedly devoured five of his more than fifty fighting cocks but also to consuming its flesh.
|Bobcat Trapped Atop at Saguaro Cactus|
Since under California's draconian animal protection laws it is perfectly legal to both kill and to eat bobcats, Arnibal was charged only with shooting the cat without a permit. Santa Clara prosecutors compounded the miserable situation by being so lazy and derelict in their duties as to not even charge him with cockfighting. (See San Francisco Weekly, November 16, 2011, "Henry Arnibal, South Bay Man, Allegedly Likes to Consume Meth and Bobcats -- in That Order.")
Bobcats also are horribly abused and ruthlessly exploited by unscrupulous breeders, such as Mitchell Morris of Lawrence County, Alabama, who trap them in order to forcibly breed them to domestic cats so as to create Pixie-Bobs.
Despite the genetic abnormalities, personality disorders, and other hideous consequences of such mismatched matings, the $300 to $1,500 price tags that such designer cats command is making this abhorrent practice more common. "I found gold in my backyard with these kittens," Mitchell, a devout Christian, crowed in 2007. "God will send you money and miracles in the strangest ways." (See Cat Defender post of June 28, 2007 entitled "Rural Alabama Man Makes a 'Killing' Forcibly Breeding Domestic Cats to Bobcats in Order to Create Pixie-Bobs.")
Even when man is not the menace, starvation and disease, particularly parasites, bedevil the lives of bobcats. Owls, eagles, coyotes, and foxes routinely kill bobcat kittens and adults are subjected to predation at the hands of cougars and gray wolves.
For example, in August of 2011 a bobcat was chased up a fifty-foot-tall Saguaro cactus in Arizona's Sonoran Desert by a hungry cougar. The cougar stared up at the bobcat and growled several times before going on about its business.
Not about to take any chances, the bobcat awaited atop the three-hundred-year-old cactus for six hours before coming down and heading back to the Superstition Mountains. "It's a successful story of a bobcat (who) avoided being eaten by a mountain lion with a happy ending of its successful exit back into the desert," Curt Fonger, who photographed the dramatic confrontation, told the Daily Mail on August 24, 2011. (See "How Did He Get Up There? The Cat Who Got Stuck Up a Cactus.")
In the barren desert, cacti are, arguably, a cat's best friend and that is true for domestic cats as well as for bobcats. For instance, later in that same year a black domestic cat with white patches was forced to spend three days atop another Saguaro cactus in the same desert near the town of Mesa.
|A Domestic Cat Likewise Ends Up Stranded Atop a Cactus|
Believed to have been chased up the cactus by a coyote, the cat cruelly and inhumanely was left to fend for itself after local firefighters, in stark juxtaposition to the conduct of their English counterparts, adamantly refused to mount a rescue. (See Cat Defender posts of February 20, 2007 and March 20, 2008 entitled, respectively, "Stray Cat Ignominiously Named Stinky Is Rescued from a Rooftop by a Good Samaritan After Fire Department Refuses to Help" and "Bone-Lazy, Mendacious Firefighters Are Costing the Lives of Both Cats and Humans by Refusing to Do Their Duty.")
Fortunately, the cat eventually was able to make it down on its own after which it promptly disappeared. (See Daily Mail, November 15, 2011, "Make a Sharp Exit: House Cat Gets Stuck Twenty Feet Up a Giant Cactus for Three Days Before Climbing Back Down.")
Even if against all odds Chips somehow should be able to steer clear of all human and animal predators she in all likelihood ultimately will be done in by her rehabilitators. Although SWR has not publicly broached the subject, it would be shocking if it does not outfit her with an electronic surveillance collar before releasing her. After all, the turning of all animals into guinea pigs that they can ruthlessly exploit at will is far too much of a temptation for wildlife biologists and rehabilitators to resist.
Should that turn out to be SWR's game plan, Chips' sojourn upon this earth will not be anything short of an unrelenting Hell consisting of nonstop harassment, repeated trappings, and tranquilizations. While they have her at their mercy, her handlers at SWR will rob her of blood and tissue samples as well as repeatedly measure, weigh, and probe her insides.
Once they have sucked all the blood out of her, they will manufacture some phony-baloney excuse in order to kill her. That is precisely what wildlife biologists in Arizona did to Macho B. a few years ago. (See Cat Defender post of May 21, 2009 entitled "Macho B., America's Last Jaguar, Is Illegally Trapped, Radio-Collared, and Killed Off by Wildlife Biologists in Arizona.")
Such barbaric and patently inhumane behavior already is the norm as to how bobcats are treated in Vermont. Since at least 2004, Mark Freeman, Kristen Watrous, and others affiliated with the University of Vermont in Burlington have been doing precisely that to hundreds of them in a joint project with the Vermont Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.
Financed by Vermont Fish and Wildlife, Shelburne Farms, the Vermont Trappers' Association, and unidentified private citizens, this massive surveillance and abuse project has been undertaken ostensibly in order to study the impact that development and road construction are having on the cats. As per usual with all wildlife biologists, that is not even a rough approximation of the unvarnished truth.
|Kristen Watrous with a Drugged Bobcat|
Au contraire, the project's ulterior motive is to fabricate data so as to rob the bobcats of what little that remains of their habitat and in turn to give it to developers and others. While it sans doute is true that wildlife biologists would like a few of the cats to survive, that is only so that bloodthirsty, moneygrubbing hunters, trappers, and houndsmen will have them to kill and chase.
Trumping all of those nefarious designs, the project provides wildlife biologists with a carte blanche opportunity to line their pockets and to further their careers. Above all, it allows them to play God by ruthlessly dominating and abusing these cats. (See Seven Days, April 18, 2007, "What About Bobcat? Taming Vermont's Feline Fatale.")
With such a perverted mindset, it is not surprising that wildlife biologists and their cohorts kill thousands, if not indeed millions, of animal each year while tagging them. Amazingly, this detestable naked abuse and subjugation so far has escaped public censure.
Saving the animals is not nearly enough; they also must be free of human abuse and domination. (See Cat Defender posts of February 29, 2008, June 11, 2007, May 4, 2006, and April 17, 2006 entitled, respectively, "The Repeated Hounding Down and Tagging of Walruses Exposes Electronic Surveillance as Not Only Cruel but a Fraud," "Katzen-Kameras Are Not Only Cruel and Inhumane but Represent as Assault Upon Cats' Liberties and Privacy," "Scientific Community's Use of High-Tech Surveillance Is Aimed at Subjugating, Not Saving, the Animals," and, "Hal the Central Park Coyote Is Suffocated to Death by Wildlife Biologists Attempting to Tag Him.")
In little Chips' case, the difficulties associated with the de rigueur of everyday living pale in comparison with the confusion that exists in her mind. Born in the wild, she first became separated from her mother and since that time has been living with humans. Now, she is about to be abandoned again, only this time around it is going to be into an environment that is far more perilous than anything that she has known before in her young life.
Like the gods of the Epicureans who were said to exist in the intermundia, Chips belongs neither totally in the wild nor in civil society. In just a few short weeks she will be forced to either sink or swim on her own in an unforgiving landscape where even so much as a split second of either confusion or indecision could be fatal.
It perhaps would be better to send her to a bobcat sanctuary if a legitimate one could have been secured. Under absolutely no circumstances should she be interned at either a godforsaken zoo or captive-breeding facility.
The only other option would be to reverse course and raise her as a domestic cat and on that subject there is a sharp divergence of opinion. For example, Barbara Roe of Bitterroot Bobcat and Lynx of Stevensville, Montana, maintains that bobcats can be made into loving pets.
"Bobcat and lynx, when tamed and raised properly with lots of human contact, bond very strongly to people and domestic pets," she states on her web site where she offers bobcat kittens to the public for $1,750 apiece.
On the other hand, Alyssa Ast maintains that because of their mercurial temperaments the cats are dangerous to both their owners and other domestic animals. She also cites their penchant for spraying and destruction of property as two additional reasons why they do not make good pets. (See Yahoo News, September 23, 2010, "The Dangers of Owning a Bobcat.")
True enough on December 7, 2008, a cat named Benny inadvertently bit Santa Claus's left wrist when he became spooked by dogs at a picture-taking event held at PetSmart in the Shore Mall in Mays Landing, New Jersey. Jonathan Bebbington of nearby Vineland, who was posing as Santa, later was treated for six minor puncture wounds.
|Chips Emerges from Her Den at SWR|
It never was clarified, however, whether the eight-month-old cat was a genuine bobcat or a hybrid Pixie-Bob. In either case Benny's owner, Christine Haughey of Egg Harbor Township, should have had more bon sens than to have exposed him to a crowd of not only Christmas shoppers but dogs and cats as well. (See Cat Defender post of December 19, 2008 entitled "Regardless of Whether He Is a Pixie-Bob or a Bobcat, It Is Going to Be a Blue Christmas for Benny after He Inadvertently Bites Santa Claus.")
Although the anecdotal evidence is far from being conclusive, domesticating a bobcat kitten certainly would be a considerably easier task than George and Joy Adamson had with the world famous lioness, Elsa. (See Cat Defender post of October 10, 2005 entitled "Animals Start Returning to Born Free Nature Reserve in Kenya as Poachers and Bandits Are Driven Out.")
Of course, the entire subject of adopting and providing Chips with a loving home is moot without there being someone willing to undertake that daunting task and that quite naturally brings this discussion full circle back to Hair. Although there is absolutely nothing in the public record to even remotely suggest that he has either the inclination or resources to do so, he has shown himself to be a compassionate individual and accordingly adopting Chips is an option that he should give considerable thought to before it is too late.
Some people would counter by arguing that it already is too late to domesticate Chips. Perhaps so, but as long as there is life there is hope and Chips' life is far too precious to be sacrificed without a fight. She has come too far and endured too much to become a victim of SWR's ideology.
Despite whatever wildlife biologists and rehabilitators, scientists, and rationalists claim to the contrary, there actually is very little about life that is logical. Rather, it is profoundly absurd and, most often, gut-wrenchingly heartbreaking.
The Fates conspired so that Chips' and Hair's paths crossed on that deserted road back in August. By abdicating his responsibility to her, Hair is tampering with fate and that always is a very dangerous thing to do.
Both the ancient Greeks and the Germanic tribes of old essentially agree on the tragic nature of life. Since most thing cannot be altered for the good, man's only true choice in life is either to summon the courage in order to deal with fate or to cowardly run from it. Tant pis, is to stubbornly deny the crucial role that it plays in this world.
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche recommended that life's challenges be met with amor fati. Whereas it is always possible that Hair will have a last-minute change of heart not only for Chips' sake but for his own as well, that does not appear to be in the cards.
Instead, he apparently has decided not only against mounting a second rescue but to indulge in a touch of the macabre by personally being on hand for Chips' sendoff. "(I) would love to be involved in her eventual reintroduction into the wild, whenever that may be," he told the USDA's web site in the article cited supra.
Barring nothing short of a miracle, that is destined to be the last time that either he or anyone else ever sees Chips again, at least alive.
Photos: United States Forest Service (Chips and Hair, Chips and Pearson, and Chips being held), Lake Tahoe Wildlife Center (Chips on the carpet), San Francisco Weekly (Arnibal), Daily Mail (bobcat and cat atop cacti), Seven Days (Watrous and tranquilized bobcat), and Randall Benton of The Sacramento Bee (Chips coming out of her den).