Chips Is Abandoned in the Perilous California Wild Where Her Fur Alone Is Worth $700 to Trappers
|Chips Prior to Her Release|
"They were nice and wild, spitting and growling when we came close. Chips will be just fine. We couldn't even get any video -- they both ran away as soon as we opened their cage up."
-- Nan Powers of Sierra Wildlife Rescue
Chips and her mate, Sierra, were released into the wild by Sierra Wildlife Rescue (SWR) of Placerville on April 19th. Two of their den mates, orphaned bobcats Tuffy and Sutter, were released at a separate location sometime earlier.
The exact location of their release remains to this very day a closely guarded secret. According to the April 22nd edition of The Times-Standard of Eureka, they were released at an undisclosed location in Humboldt County in northern California. (See "Orphaned Bobcat Released Back into the Wild.")
An April 30th posting on the USDA's web site, however, lists the location as having been in Lassen County. (See "Rescued Bobcat Chips Returned to Natural Habitat.")
Concerns over the cats' well-being and safety doubtlessly account for the discrepancy. "That's for their own protection," Nan Powers of SWR told the San Jose Mercury News on April 23rd. (See "Orphaned Bobcat Set Free in California Wild.") "We make sure they are far away from other people. The last thing we want is a bunch of people running out there to shoot or photograph them."
That certainly is a valid concern in light of all the media attention generated by Chips' dramatic rescue on August 25th of last year by Charles "Tad" Hair of the Mad River Ranger District of the United States Forest Service (USFS). That was when the three to four week old kitten, who weighed less than two pounds, was found injured and disoriented alongside a road in Chester.
Compounding an already dire situation, she also had been left an orphan by an eponymous wildfire that had devoured seventy-five-thousand acres of the Plumas National Forest. "How it (sic) survived with the fire passing through is miraculous," John Heil of the USFS later told The Sacramento Bee on December 27th. (See "Bobcat Gets Lessons on Living Wild.")
Hair then gathered up Chips in his arms and took her back to his base in West Lake Almanor before soon thereafter fobbing her off onto Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care (LTWC) in South Lake Tahoe. On November 1st, she was relocated to SWR in order to supposedly toughen her up for an eventual return to the wild. (See Cat Defender post of February 21, 2013 entitled "Orphaned by a Wildfire and Then Rescued by a Forest Ranger, Chips Is Bracing for a Frightening Return to the Wild.")
Since to its credit SWR does not electronically tag animals that it rescues, rehabilitates, and then releases, the world likely has heard the last of Chips. "The whole idea is to get the animals back into the wild and leave them alone," Powers admirably told the San Jose Mercury News. "We want to let them be wild. That's what the rehabilitation process is all about."
Despite the daunting obstacles confronting both Chips and Sierra, Powers is optimistic about their chances of surviving. "They were nice and wild, spitting and growling when we came close. Chips will be just fine," she predicted to the San Jose Mercury News. "We couldn't even get any video -- they both ran away as soon as we opened their cage up."
Although wanting out of a cage and surviving in the wild are two entirely different things, Cheryl Millham of LTWC was equally confident that they had acquired the prerequisite skills that they dearly will need in order to survive on their own in a forbidding landscape. "We teach them hunting skills, so they know how to hunt when they are released and what food to find in the wild," she told the San Jose Mercury News. "That is one job of successful rehabilitation centers. The animals are not released until the skills they need are in place."
In spite of Powers' and Millham's halcyon rhetoric, it is difficult to understand how that less than six months of instruction at a wildlife refuge is any substitute for the hunting, mating, nurturing, and fighting skills that bobcat kittens acquire over the course of the extended six to twelve month period that they spend in the wild with their mothers. Plus, Chips already has had several positive experiences with humans and those memories could very well prove to be lethal to her in the wild.
|Chips and Charles "Tad" Hair|
Moreover, the highest mortality rate among bobcat kittens occurs after they leave their mothers but are yet to perfect their hunting skills. Even those who are lucky enough in order to make it to adulthood live only six to eight years on the average in the wild as opposed to up to thirty-two in captivity.
Even if Chips and Sierra somehow should be able to stave off both starvation and the onset of disease, they face a myriad of other dangers. In particular, owls, eagles, coyotes, and foxes prey upon kittens whereas adults are hunted by cougars and gray wolves.
None of those imminent threats are even remotely comparable however to those posed by man. For instance, many bobcats are deliberately run down and killed by motorists while others are trapped and nakedly exploited by breeders in order to create hybridized designer pets. Wildlife biologists also bedevil their lives by repeatedly trapping, radio-collaring, and stealing tissue samples from them.
Farmers and others kill them because they believe them to be nuisance animals while still others have developed a taste for their flesh. In California, however, it is trappers who covet their valuable pelts that pose the greatest danger to their longevity.
For example, during the 2011-2012 hunting season, licensed trappers killed one-thousand-four-hundred-ninety-nine bobcats while hunters shot another three-hundred-fourteen of them. The number of unreported killings likely was even greater.
The motivating factor behind these slaughters is, of course, money. Since 2009, the price of bobcat pelts has skyrocketed from $78 to $700 with demand being the highest in China, Russia, and Greece.
Those who traffic in their pelts are not only ruthless murderers but devious devils to boot. For instance, one of their more common tactics is to use pheromones in order to lure the cats out of national parks and refuges. A bill passed earlier this fall by the California legislature and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown hopes to curb this and similar underhanded practices.
Specifically, the law aims to establish no-trapping zones around Joshua Tree National Park in the southern part of the state and at other unnamed public parks and wildlife refuges. It also makes it illegal for individuals to trap bobcats on private property without the written consent of the landowner.
Regrettably, the law directs the thoroughly discredited California Fish and Game Commission (FGC) to set trapping fees at a level sufficient in order to pay for the cost of implementing and enforcing it. It was, after all, only last year that the president of that body, Dan W. Richards, was forced to resign after he shot and ate a cougar in Idaho and then publicly boasted about his foul deed. (See L.A. Weekly, August 8, 2012, "Dan Richards Loses War to 'Enviro-Terrorists': Mountain Lion Killer No Longer President of Fish and Game" and KQED-TV of San Francisco, August 8, 2012, "Cougar Hunter Dan Richards Is Out as Fish and Game Commission after Vote.")
"I believe this law will have a real impact on the level of bobcat trapping statewide," Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) pontificated to the Los Angeles Times on September 11th of this year. (See "Bobcat Bill Approved by State Legislature Would Set No-Trapping Zones.") "In southern California, where we have a lot or protected habitat, it should play a substantial role in maintaining a healthy bobcat population."
That is pure, unadulterated, self-serving balderdash! The staggering amounts of money to be made by killing the cats far outweighs the minimal deterrents establish by this law even if the FGC could somehow be prevailed upon to expeditiously implement it and then to halfway seriously enforce its strictures.
|Grinning Dan W. Richards with His Dinner|
Secondly, bobcats have an unqualified right to live and to be free from all human manipulation and abuse. Unfortunately, that moral imperative is completely beyond the intellectual grasp of Cummings and his phony-baloney colleagues at the utterly laughable CBD.
The CBD's position also is hypocritical in that its members are all the time crying out their jaundiced peepers over the plight of gray wolves. When it comes to safeguarding the lives of bobcats, however, they are more than willing to join the ranks of the California legislature, Governor "Moonbeam," and the FGC in stooging for their killers and shekel chasers. (See USA Today, December 8, 2013, "Proposal to Stop Protecting Gray Wolves Stirs Controversy" and Huffington Post, December 4, 2013, "Death of Yellowstone's Most Famous Wolf Is a Troubling Sign of Things to Come.")
In that light it is interesting to note that those very same individuals and groups who earnestly believe that the animals were put here on earth to be ruthlessly exploited by man and exist solely for his benefit, a fundamental tenet of all Christian theology, feel exactly the same way about their fellow human beings. C'est-à-dire, the underclasses must by necessity be deprived of money, jobs, housing, health care, veterinary care for their animals, education, and basic civil liberties so that the bourgeoisie and the capitalists can not only hog a lion's share of the world's resources but lord it over them with a vengeance as well.
The only conceivable way that bobcats like Chips, Sierra, Tuffy, and Sutter stand so much as a ghost of a chance of surviving would be if Californians were to outlaw the killing and abuse of them and other members of their species under all circumstances. Furthermore, if either SWR or LTWC truly cared about the fate of those cats that they rescue and rehabilitate they would be agitating day and night for such a prohibition instead of knowingly and willingly dispatching them to the gallows.
Much more importantly, in Chips' case there were other readily available options. First and foremost, Hair could have provided her with a permanent home.
"Tad just took pity on her," Powers told The Sacramento Bee in the article cited supra. "He gathered her up and flushed her eyes out. Some girls have all the luck."
As things ultimately turned out that proved to be the outer limit of both his compassion and responsibility to her. After that initial fit of conscience, he could not get shed of her fast enough.
"(I) would love to be involved in her eventual reintroduction into the wild, whenever that may be," he told the USDA's web site on September 5, 2012. (See "Baby Bobcat 'Chips' Rescued from Chips Fire.") Yet there is absolutely nothing in press reports that would tend to indicate that he even bothered to attend her sendoff into the wild.
Placing her in a sanctuary was another possibility. Although far from ideal, that still would have been a major improvement over simply sacrificing her to the myriad of dangers that awaited her in the wild.
That is not meant to imply that wild animals do not normally belong in the wild. It is simply a reminder that sometimes circumstances and morality dictate otherwise and that most certainly was true in Chips' case.
If compassion and morality had held sway over dogma, selfishness, and rank opportunism, Chips surely would be alive and safe today. Under the losing hand of cards dealt her by everyone concerned in her rescue, rehabilitation, and shameless abandonment, that seems highly unlikely.
Photos: Robert Campbell of SWR (Chips before being released), USFS (Chips and Hair), and L.A. Weekly (Richards with dead cougar).