This is a moral and ethical dilemma as much as a practical problem. Big Cat Rescue (BCR), a controversial wild cat sanctuary in Tampa, Florida run by Carole Baskin, say that they have to feed specially bred live rabbits to two captive bobcats who are destined to be returned to the wild because it is the only way to ensure that they know how to hunt. If they did not feed the bobcats this way, they would not survive in the wild once released.
“She’s fed live rats Monday through Friday and rabbits on Saturday,” says the announcer in a video produced by Big Cat Rescue.
Do you buy that? Do you think it is okay to feed live rabbits and rats to captive bobcats?
I can see what how it can make some people angry. There are a huge number of people who keep pet rabbits. It is likely to upset them.
In the wild, mother bobcats teach their offspring to hunt. If these BCR bobcats were at some stage, as adults, taken from the wild and made captive they would not need to be trained to hunt.
If the cats were raised by humans in captivity from newborns or young kittens then they would have to be trained to hunt. So the answer depends on the age at which the cats where made captive.
We happen to know that these bobcats, Moses and Bailey, were abandoned as kittens. Therefore they do need hunting experience before being placed in the wild to survive on their own. BCR have a decent argument.
“They are not scavengers like coyotes, so they have to be able to hunt, and they have to be able to know what their food source looks like,” said Baskin.
However, I am not convinced that this is hunting training. When a rabbit is placed in an enclosure with the bobcats and is a few yards from them, the bobcat does not really have to hunt. Yes, as Baskin said they will know what their food source is from this experience but it can’t be called a genuine hunting experience.
BCR purchase rabbits bred as food because they believe it is more humane. Wild rabbits caught in the wild may also introduce disease to the cats.
Is there a more humane way? There are possibly only two alternatives.
- The bobcats are raised at BCR and feed properly prepared wild cat food (not live food) and then released into a very large enclosure where there are wild rabbits and where the cats can be monitored before being released into the wild. At least this would replicate to a certain extent the wild habitat. This idea is probably impractical.
- The idea of returning the bobcats to the wild is abandoned and the cats are feed in the normal way with prepared food.
I find the idea of feeding live rabbits to bobcats in an enclosure distasteful. I am sure many people feel the same.
The real problem is one created by people. Some people like to keep big cats as pets and then tire of it and give up at which point BCR rescues them. The most ethical and humane solution is for a complete cessation of wild cats as pets in the USA.
Source: Animal Rescue groups collide over feeding live rabbits to rescued cats