Keeping Them Alive
By Rosa Jordan & Jona Jordan, DVM
From the beginning of time, wild animals have been kept in captivity. Some have adapted well, others not at all. Among those who adapt poorly to captivity are the wildcats. Kept in a cage they will never be happy. Given a chance, they will, like most prisoners, make a dash for freedom. Thus those of us who persist in maintaining them in captivity have a responsibility to protect them and provide them with a quality of life to make up for the loss of freedom they would have enjoyed in their natural habitat.
Protecting a wildcat in captivity is a monumental task. In 1980, two magnificent jaguars escaped from their enclosure at the Belize Zoo and were shot by nearby farmers. A flea infestation in the Los Angeles Zoo led to the death of two baby snow leopards. In the Guyana Zoo, a mentally unstable man cut the lock off the lion’s cage, and when it ran out, it was shot by a soldier. In 1991, a Southern California wildlife refuge lost seventeen wildcats, including lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars, to canine distemper, a disease for which the cats were not vaccinated because until then it had not been known that the virus could attack cats.
Wildcats adored by private owners fare no better. A businessman in a tropical country told me he had owned three margays, and all had died because he “couldn’t get the diet right.” My own margay kitten, which I owned in Mexico some 40 yars ago, escaped from the house where it roamed freely and was hit by a car. Other wildcat owners have had their pet put to sleep when it grew too large, too dangerous, or simply too expensive to keep.
As many species move toward extinction, most of us are now aware of how harmful to the species it is to remove a wild animal from its natural habitat. Nevertheless, circumstances arise where it seems justified. We thought, when we bought ours from hunters who had killed the mother, that we were saving her. It didn’t occur to us that our buying the kitten would only encourage the hunter to kill more wild mothers to get more kittens to sell. In addition to people who want to own exotic cats for pets, there are breeders, zoos, show biz, and so on, each with their own rationale. Despite today’s stringent laws about the import, export, and ownership of wildcats, thousands remain in captivity.
If you have a wildcat, your work is cut out. Before you can do it right, or even well enough to keep your animal alive, you need to learn everything you possibly can about its nature and needs. This booklet is not comprehensive. It is merely meant to add information, particularly about health care to what you already know, and to remind you of the sacrifices you should be prepared to make when you live with a wildcat.