Rehabbed Orphan Bobcat Returns to the Wild

Baby Bobcat

Story at-a-glance -

  • A year ago, U.S. Forest Service firefighters battling the 75,000-acre Chips wildfire in Plumas National Forest found an orphaned bobcat kitten with serious injuries. The kitten, dubbed “Chips,” was taken to a wildlife center where she was cared for by veterinarians and wildlife specialists.
  • After extensive human handling to treat her injuries, Chips was deemed “too friendly” to be returned to the wild. She was transferred to a second wildlife rescue center where she spent several months reclaiming her wildness with only other bobcats for company.
  • In April, at eight months of age, a healthy, growling, snarling Chips was released with one of her den mates back into “bobcat territory” in the Lassen-Plumas region.

By Dr. Becker

Almost exactly a year ago during the 75,000 acre Chips wildfire in Plumas National Forest in California, a four-week old bobcat kitten was found by a crew of U.S. Forest Service firefighters. They tried to find the mother bobcat, but had no luck.

The 1.5 pound baby bobcat, named “Chips” after the wildfire, had second-degree burns on all four paws and her eyes were infected, so she was taken to the Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care center, where she was cared for by veterinarians and wildlife rehabilitators.

Chips Reports for Intensive Rehab at the Sierra Wildlife Rescue

In November of last year, Chips was transferred to the Sierra Wildlife Rescue in Placerville, California.

According to Cheryl Millham, executive director of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, the survival rate for animals rehabilitated at centers like hers and Sierra Wildlife Rescue is excellent. “We teach them hunting skills, so they know how to hunt when they are released and what food to find in the wild,” said Millham. “That is one job of successful rehabilitation centers. The animals are not released until the skills they need are in place.”

Initially, there were concerns that Chips had grown too friendly with humans due to all the handling she received while being treated for the serious injuries she sustained from the fire. Rehab specialists feared the bobcat kitten wasn’t wild enough to be released.

To address the problem, Chips was placed in the exclusive company of other bobcats at Sierra Wildlife Rescue. No humans allowed. After several months, she became very wary of any human contact, to the point that she would not come out of her den if people were around. (This is a good thing and comes naturally to bobcats that have never been handled by humans.)

Chips spent her time eating, sleeping, playing, wrestling and competing with her den mates. The group became very competent at catching their own prey (live mice), which was supplemented with additional foods bobcats hunt in the wild.

Eight Months Later, Chips and Friends Are Returned to the Wild

Experienced rehabbers eventually determined Chips was ready to be returned to her natural habitat, and on April 19, at eight months of age, she was released back into “bobcat territory” in the Lassen-Plumas region.

Chips was released with Sierra, a male den mate who is about the same age and was orphaned around the same time. Two other den mates, Tuffy and Sutter, were released together in another region.

Prior to their release, Chips and Sierra growled and snarled at their caretakers and tried to attack the camera, leaving no doubt in the rehabbers’ minds that the bobcats had reclaimed the instinctive wild behavior they were born with.

According to Nan Powers, a Sierra Wildlife Rescue rehabber, “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.”

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