Bobcat with three legs released back to the wild south of Seagoville
12:48 AM CDT on Monday, June 22, 2009
By EMILY FOX / The Dallas Morning Newsmailto:Newsefox@dallasnews.com
SEAGOVILLE – Darlean, a three-legged bobcat from Frisco, had company Sunday on her journey back to the wild. Rescued raccoons and several families of possums all caught a ride back to nature in the bed of a pickup.
Volunteers worked carefully to avoid getting clawed by the snarling, growling, hissing animals – and those were just the raccoons.
All the animals were released south of Seagoville by the Wildlife Center at Crosstimbers Ranch. Their new home is on private property near the confluence of the east and west forks of the Trinity River. Darlean was the fifth and last bobcat to be released by the group there this year.
Valeri Marler, chief operating officer of the ranch, said that despite Darlean's missing back leg, she had high hopes for the bobcat's survival.
"She's very fiery. She has an attitude," Marler said.
The bobcat had lost her back right paw and six inches of her rear right leg, up to the knee, to a claw trap. The wound never completely healed, and the bobcat compensated by learning to balance on only three legs while still in the wild.
Marler said she guessed the bobcat was injured a few months before being captured in Frisco by animal control officers.
She was turned over to the Outdoor Learning Center in Plano. But the center, which often assists injured wildlife, was not equipped to rehabilitate bobcats. So she was transferred again, this time to the ranch in Terrell – also an outpost of the National Bobcat Rescue and Research Foundation.
After two months of observation, the ranch staff decided her only chance for reintroduction to the wild was to lose the rest of the injured leg. It was amputated up to the hip, and a few weeks later she was ready to be released.
Marler, whose group rehabilitated and released more than 900 animals last year, said she had confidence in Darlean's chances of survival.
"Normally a three-legged bobcat in the wild would not do well," she said.
But she said Darlean's early adaptation to coping with only three legs improved her chances.
Ken Kaemmerer, curator of mammals at the Dallas Zoo, said he agreed with Marler's assessment. But he cautioned against being overly optimistic.
"A predator depends on all its faculties," he said. "Even a slight diminishment can affect its survival."
Darlean's first challenge will be location, he explained. Being released into an unfamiliar area can cause confusion and may also lead to competition with other bobcats in the area to establish her own territory. If she can't, she'll have to migrate.
This is all in addition to vying against other predators such as raccoons and coyotes for food, he added.
"They'll be releasing it with best hopes. That's all they can do," he said. "It may make it, it may not – I hope it does."
Surrounded by a crowd of well-wishing volunteers, Darlean balked when the time came for her release. Marler had to lift the travel cage upside down and shake it to encourage her to exit.
Sliding out tail-first, she turned and took only a split-second look at the crowd before streaking into the forest.
"Did y'all get that?" Marler called out to the crowd. " 'Cause I missed it!"
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org