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Many people are unaware that the wild bobcat is native to Ohio. Not only is it native but it presently exists, though in very small numbers, in mostly southern regions of this state. It is quite sad to have one of our own native species, so endangered, that it has never even been seen by most. Another of our endangered species, the bobcat has succumbed to the same fate caused by deforestation as many of our other wild inhabitants, be it bird, reptile, amphibian, mammal, insect and even plant. Bobcats require large, unbroken tracts of forest encompassing hundreds of acres, for hunting and breeding territories. It's the same old story, but a real one - those forests are gone.
Our Bobcat here at the center is another of our permanent residents. Her story is extremely sad because her disability was deliberate. Her "owners" had her declawed, in an effort to possess her as a pet. Of course, it didn't work - it never does. Domesticated animals result after thousands of years of close contact with humans and selective breeding. Wild animals can never truly be tamed. As wild animals reach adulthood, their disposition changes and they become aggressive and dangerous. They guard their food and react with deep instincts. They do not reason whether they should bite a certain person or not. They are programmed with and for a distinct purpose - to eat and to survive. That isn't to say they don't enjoy human contact when orphaned, they are hungry and will eat and look for warmth. Nurturing is necessary for any animal to survive, but humans are a poor substitute for the real parent. It is when these hand-raised babies grow up that their human owners get hurt - physically. And, of course, the animal suffers too. It is either passed on to someone else, (who in turn does the same thing), put in a pitiful cage and ignored, turned loose (in the wrong place), or destroyed after it has hurt someone.
Our bobcat was released into the wild by her former owners, with all four of her feet declawed! And she was released in a part of Ohio where no bobcats live. She had discovered some domestic geese on a farm and was able to capture and kill a few, before being discovered by the farmer. A concerned rehabber convinced him to let them live trap her and she now will live the rest of her life out at "BACK TO THE WILD". In captivity, she could live 30 years!
She is doing very well here on a diet of raw turkey, chicken, some beef, rodents and rabbits or squirrels that have died from their injuries. She would not do well on commercial cat food and in fact refuses to eat it. She is quite small for a wild cat, weighing only 22 lbs., which is average for her species. Her cage requirements are a lot of room, staggered shelves at different heights, hollow logs and open areas to bask in as well as cool, shaded areas. We have planted lots of tall grasses and bamboo in her pen and she enjoys jumping and hiding in them. Visitors sometimes can hear her purring loudly, as she checks them out through the wire - but if they could only see her at feeding time - she is a wild animal and always will be!
Our red fox is white! He is genetically 100% red fox; that is, he is not crossed with an arctic fox or any other kind. He was a propagated animal, meaning the parents were captive bred, also. Many fox were raised this way in the past to supply the fur industry with popular and beautiful colors. There are many variations in coat color in the red fox, when propagators use selective breeding. I am appalled to learn that his coat color is called Platinum Shadow. It reminds me of a can of paint to choose from to please our taste - but this is a living animal - with the need to be wild. Of course, he ended up like so many others. The red fox is fairly common in Ohio, spotted at night running across highways or even by day crossing fields or following streams. They eat everything from insects to berries, birds and small mammals e.g. cottontails, squirrels and meadow voles. They den in abandoned woodchuck holes, hollow logs, or in natural dens in rocky cliffs. One of their greatest enemies, besides man, is the coyote whose numbers are increasing drastically in Ohio.
Our red fox is absolutely gorgeous in the winter with a beautiful coat and tail of long, silky winter fur, but in the summer, he can look quite unkempt as he pulls out his too warm coat and loses his plumed tail. He appears to have lost half his weight, but has really only lost half his fur!
Once people meet our opossum, they are amazed to learn how interesting and unusual these creatures are. Opossums hold the record among mammals of North America in many traits: they are the only marsupial, meaning the female nurses and carries her young in a pouch; they have more teeth than any other mammal - 50 in all; they have the shortest gestation period of any other mammal, only 12 1/2 days; and it is North America's oldest and most primitive mammal, outliving the dinosaurs - a living fossil. They have a hairless prehensile tail with which they are able to grasp and hold things. Their hind feet are equipped with an opposable thumb that has no nail. When confronted with danger, an opossum is said to "play dead", but in reality, the deathlike state they use as a defense mechanism is an involuntary reaction. Opossums are truly omnivorous consuming everything and anything. This includes worms, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, mice, bird eggs and young, snakes, garbage, carrion and much more. Many opossums are killed as they are drawn to roads to feast on roadkill.
Our program opossum is one of these statistics. Her entire family was killed by a car, as they crossed a road clinging to the mother's back. She was rescued and cared for at another rehabilitation center, suffering from severe head trauma, which left her blind. After being transferred to this center, to be used for education, she has fulfilled a double role by interacting with orphaned baby opossums, who arrive here throughout spring and summer, allowing them to cling to her fur, carrying them around for hours. Interaction like this, with their own species, will help to ensure a successful release into the wild.
Our opossum has a great appetite and an unbelievable sense of smell. She loves to wander around the center, finding her way with her nose. If ever you dared to think of an opossum as cute, it would have to be after meeting this one. Many visitors have described her as exactly that. She does have a charm about her, but maybe I'm being partial. What a great way for the kids to learn what an opossum is really like. They get to see the real thing!
It is ironic that perhaps the least aggressive, most gentle creature of the woods possesses the most powerful weapon of all. A member of the weasel family, the well-known skunk is provided with musk glands under the tail, which produce a clear amber oily fluid that in terms of odor, defies description! Skunks usually give three warnings before discharging their spray. Stamping their front feet is the initial warning; next, they raise the tail, but hold the tip downward; and lastly, they raise the tip of the tail and spread it out. (Spotted skunks will do a handstand at this point!) They can fire a jet stream with incredible accuracy up to 14 feet or more, and usually aim for the eyes of its attacker. The musk is made up of n butyl mercaptan, a sulphurous compound that can cause temporary blindness in its victims - dogs, owls or humans. Great-horned owls seem to be the only member of the birds of prey, or any other forest-dwelling creature for that matter, that will consider a skunk as a prey item. This center receives a few Great-horned owls each year that are temporarily blinded in this way. If your dog brings home this dilemma to you, there are commercial products to bathe your dog in, such as "Skunk Off" or the old stand-by remedy of tomato juice, which works very well. Striped skunks have poor vision and hearing, cannot climb and have a top speed of about 4-6 mph. - but with their built in chemical warfare, speed is insignificant to them! By the way, skunk kits of only a few weeks of age are capable of spraying.
Our program skunk was confiscated by a local wildlife officer, from an individual who did not have permits to possess a wild animal. Unfortunately, this person had already had the skunk surgically de-scented. Of course, this prevents him from ever being released into the wild. I try to discourage this kind of action in humans. It is a selfish and inhumane thing to do to a wild animal.
Like our declawed bobcat and white fox, he is sentenced to life in a cage, or death. Remember, too, that skunks, bats, fox and raccoons are rabies vector species, even as newborns and no one should ever take the risk of hand-rearing these creatures of the wild.
Gliders of the night! Pixies! Fairy diddles! They really do exist - in fact; these wonderful little creatures are very common throughout the entire eastern United States and are just as common right here in Ohio. Biologists and naturalists agree that the Southern Flying Squirrel is more abundant than the gray, red and fox squirrel, but due to their nocturnal habits, they are seldom encountered. Flying squirrels are the only nocturnal squirrels and are much smaller than tree squirrels - about 8-9" in length and weigh less than 3 or 4 ozs! Their eyes are huge in proportion to their tiny heads, which makes them look quite mischievous. Of course, flying squirrels do not actually "fly". They do not have true wings, but loose flaps of skin called the patagia, extending along their sides from their wrists to their ankles, which gives the little squirrel a built-in parachute. They glide or volplane from tree to tree, and are capable of glides up to 150 ft! Their most obvious adaptation is their flattened, feather-like tail, which acts as a rudder for steering, balance and most importantly as a brake in landing. Flying squirrels need cavity trees for nesting and shelter and mature trees producing acorns and hickory nuts for their major food source. They are even found in urban parks and backyards as long as appropriate trees are present. These little squirrels will den together in the winter for warmth, in a single tree, in groups of up to a dozen to thirty or more. Tree cutters are surprised to see dozens of them scurrying or gliding away when they fell a tree. Unfortunately, these squirrels choice of an ideal home is usually in a dying or dead tree that poses a safety threat to our human dwellings and roadways. Its greatest threat is clear-cutting. They will accept and occupy artificial nesting boxes similar to a bluebird nesting box, with the same size entrance hole of approximately 2 1/2" to 3". Providing this kind of artificial habitat component allows a species to exist where it might not otherwise be able to.
Our educational flying squirrel was caught in a mousetrap (meant for a different type of rodent), which caused extensive damage to his front leg. If he were released, he would most definitely fall prey to an owl, raccoon, cat or other predator looking for an animal with a detectable weakness. Our flying squirrel is by far the most favorite of all our educational animals at the center! When the children meet him, he peers out of a white, cotton sock with his huge, dark eyes. The sock of course, gives him a safe, dark place to hide during the day. Next, he actually allows me to deposit him onto my shirt, where he sits quite still (most of the time) and even lets me extend his soft, fur-lined flaps of skin. Sometimes, he is so cooperative, I believe he knows he is helping to teach! At night, he leaves the sock to dart around in the safety of his large cage, equipped with natural tree cavities and nesting boxes.
I feel that his part as an educational animal in our programs can greatly benefit others of his kind. Many visitors attending our programs have gone home to take steps to provide "habitat" for this wonderful little creature of the night.
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