Two weeks ago, TreeHouse experienced a very exciting first.  The bobcat we admitted in March after she was hit by a car in Belleville gave birth to a kitten.  The baby, which we have decided to call “Bobbie”, seems to be perfectly healthy, but we are adopting a totally hands-off approach and allowing the mother (“Belle”) to care for the baby entirely on her own.  For this reason, we do not even know Bobbie’s sex—it would be too stressful to both mother and infant for us to take the baby away for an examination.

Belle and Bobbie are just the sixth and seventh wild bobcats TreeHouse has ever admitted.  It seems that the population of bobcats in southern Illinois is growing, as all have been admitted since 2005.  Prior to that point, we had received a few bobcats that were confiscated from people illegally keeping them as pets.

Belle was admitted to TreeHouse on March 7, and Bobbie was born, by our closest estimation, on April 16.  The gestation period for bobcats is around 62 days, so Belle would not yet have been half-way through her pregnancy when she was struck by the car and brought to TreeHouse.  She had full-body X-rays taken at that time, but even under magnification the radiographs show no sign of a developing fetus—it was simply too early in the pregnancy.

As Belle progressed in her rehabilitation from the head injury she sustained in her accident, she remained very secretive, only leaving her den box when no one was around to see her.  For this reason, although we believed that she was recovering well, we were reluctant to release her until we could verify that she was not experiencing any lingering neurological effects, such as problems with balance or diminished eyesight or hearing.

One of our first glimpses of Belle exploring her surroundings.

As a means to observe Belle’s movements without disrupting them, we obtained a trail camera with an infrared flash that would be able to take still pictures and video whenever Belle moved past it, day or night.  It was while the camera was being installed in the cage, on April 16, that we first heard the kitten mewing from inside the den box.

Belle was extremely defensive of the den at this point, showing her teeth and growling menacingly at anyone who approached her cage.  As we began to suspect the presence of kitten, we were cautious of causing any unnecessary stress to the mother, so it was not until the next day that we actually caught a glimpse of Bobbie—at that point basically a dark blob curled up by Belle’s stomach.  We immediately began to take measures to reduce any noise or disturbance in the vicinity of the bobcat cage, erecting a privacy fence around the cage and strictly limiting the number of people who would enter the cage to feed.

Our apologies to anyone who came to TreeHouse in the last two weeks and were told that the bobcat was unavailable for public viewing because she was a candidate for release and needed to remain isolated from humans.  This is true—we hope to be able to release both mother and young back to the wild once Bobbie is old enough—but the presence of an infant made complete privacy even more imperative, for multiple reasons.

Belle guards her den against anyone who approaches.

Although wild felines are typically very good mothers, if conditions are unfavorable for rearing a litter, they will abandon their young.  Unfavorable conditions can mean poor habitat, inadequate food supply, or a stressful environment.   Belle seems perfectly content with her den, and she is certainly receiving enough to eat, so our primary concern is limiting stress.  Being stared at all day by strange humans can be incredibly stressful for wild animals, so it is for this reason that she will not be available for viewing.  The presence of hormones associated with stress can even interfere with the production of hormones necessary for lactation, so if Belle becomes too stressed she could become physically unable to care for her baby.

If this were to happen and it became necessary for us to intervene in order to save Bobbie, we would do so, but it would be better in every way for the bobkitten to be raised by its mother rather than being hand-reared by humans.  It will grow up much more wild this way, and since we hope to release it to the wild, it is important that the kitten not become too accustomed to humans.

So, the reason we delayed releasing the information about Bobbie’s birth is that we needed to find a way to share this exciting story while also protecting Belle and Bobbie’s privacy.  The animals always come first at TreeHouse, and during this time the most important thing is for Belle to feel comfortable and secure.  Instead of subjecting her to the stress of having a stream of people come out to see her baby in person, we therefore will be uploading pictures and video from the camera in her cage to our new Youtube page.  Check for a new video each week, as we follow Bobbie’s growth and Belle’s daily movements.

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