Nearly a year ago, an only 10-day-old bobcat found alone in Haines City came into the care of an animal rescue in Florida operating out of Odessa. Now just 10 months later, the Owl's Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife has some big news about their fostered handsome boy, Maverick, and shared the story of his progress with their followers on social media.
Due to how young and frail Maverick was when he came to them, the orphaned bobcat required around the clock care over the last year. Early efforts the rescue gives large credit to someone by the name of Sam, who the writer of the Instagram post sharing the updates on Maverick refers to as a dedicated board member. Sam's job was to make sure the large cat would have everything he needed to save his life and help him grow into the happiest and healthiest bobcat he could be.
After some time under Sam's care, Maverick eventually graduated from needing to be watched 24/7 to being able to run a bit more wild at the Owl's Nest Sanctuary. Once transferred, a group of volunteers stepped up to the challenge of helping raise and enrich him.
All work raising Maverick at the sanctuary was done with guidance from Owl's Nest Founder, Kris Porter — a passionate animal advocate who has a bachelor's degree in Zoology. She graduated in 1991 with a major in marine mammals.
Porter has also worked as Lead Zoologist at Busch Gardens Tampa before moving into Zoo Education, eventually becoming their Senior Zoo Keeper at the Busch Gardens animal sanctuary. She also has past experience with raising a variety of big cat species and is said to tackle leadership and each new animal's challenges with fearlessness.
The rescue had more than just saving the little ball of fuzz in mind when taking him in though. The rescue's rehab efforts are done with the purpose of being able to return them to the wild without any longing or desire for human interaction.
"He has been through countless tests over the last four months," the sanctuary shared, "and has passed them all with flying colors."
Maverick was also checked by veterinarians at Busch Gardens, as well as by Dr. Ray Ball, who is currently working alongside the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to study a neurological disorder that has been spreading between Florida bobcats and panthers.
The condition, which the FWC dubbed Feline Leukomyelopathy — FLM for short — was first documented in 2017. It was was first confirmed and widely reported on in August of 2019, following additional observation of animal behavior by a handful of collared big cats in the wild, as well as study of samples from necropsied bobcats and panthers found as roadkill.
Updates from the FWC are released to their website as regularly as science allows, with the most recent one having gone up on March 9 of 2022 announcing 14 confirmed cases of FLM. 10 were found in bobcats, with the other 4 cases being found in local panthers, though the Wildlife Commission did note a pattern of decrease in new cases compared to previous years.
While the FWC suspects that approximately 58 infections exist across the two species of big cat state-wide, Maverick was not reported to have the condition, and, so far, no cases have yet been reported in domestic cats.
After many months of nurturing, testing, rehabilitation, and suggestions from the Conservation Commission and Hillsborough County Parks Department, Owl's Nest Sanctuary picked a spot they thought was perfect to release Maverick and set off to see if he was ready for reintegration into the wild.
It turned out Maverick was more than ready to leave the nest.
"He took off without a backwards glance!" said Owl's Nest Sanctuary in their Instagram post. The announcement was accompanied by a carousel of 9 images taken by volunteer, Kristen Brigham, showcasing snapshots of the once tiny bobcat and his journey up to being all grown up, "He proved to us he had no connection with humans...incredible joint effort by all!"
According to Owl's Nest's company mission statement, they work to protect and conserve native Florida wildlife while also aiming to inspire others to care about and appreciate nature. The ultimate goal? To reduce the human impact on Florida's native wildlife through rehabilitation, education, and teamwork.
How it all started? With passion and a phone call from a co-worker.
After 14 years in the field, Porter received a ring from a fellow zookeeper telling her she should stop wasting her time working for the zoo and dive into becoming a rescue and rehab specialist. She eventually took the dive and eased into rescue and rehabilitation by raising baby squirrels and rabbits. Within four months she was a licensed specialist. After licensure, her sanctuary started to rapidly take shape into what it's become today.
The Owl's Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife has now grown into a federally recognized non-profit with over 200 volunteers. Sanctuary volunteers do a little bit of everything from clerical to construction work, rescue, rehabilitation, and everything in between — with all operation and animal care funding coming from generous donations.
The rescue doesn't only work with bobcats like Maverick, or even owls as the name might suggest either. Alongside native wild birds, the Owl's Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife has rescued, rehabilitated, and released sick, orphaned, and even injured mammals, turtles, reptiles, and more across a variety of species.
Some of the animals they have rescued since their founding include opossums, raccoons, foxes, armadillos, eagles, hawks, herons, cranes, snakes, and even alligators. They're willing to help any native Florida species. If for some reason they can't, they'll help other animal lovers trying to save furry and scaled lives alike by finding someone who will.
"I have been blessed to be able to work with animals for almost 40 years now, in one way or another." says Porter, "Not many of us get to live out our life-long dreams, but rehabilitation has proven to be a team effort."
"Sharing this experience with my children has also enhanced their lives for the best. Not only do they get to see firsthand their mother doing what she was born to do, it allows them to watch the wonders of nature up close and personal."
If you'd like to learn more about the sanctuary or donate to the Owl's Nest's rescue, rehab, and education efforts, click the orange donate button in the top right corner of their official website here.
To see updates about the sanctuary, as well as keep tabs on all the other adorable animals they rescue, follow @owlsnestsanctuaryforwildlife on Instagram, or like their Facebook page here.
Article by Rachael Volpe
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