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From the Cage to the Sage: Captive bobcats didn't always have it so easy 

The High Desert loses one of their top live exhibits, Ochoco the bobcat.

click to enlarge bobcat-01.jpg
The High Desert Museum's painful loss of their premier live exhibit, Ochoco the bobcat, triggered memories that go back to the '50s when I first became involved with rehabilitating wildlife.

The year was 1955 or 56, when I met a de-clawed bobcat of the same disposition as Ochoco being kept in horrifying conditions at a sporting goods store on the corner of 3rd and Franklin in Bend.

Customers and passersby would come into the shop and poke sticks at the poor animal that was stuffed in a four-by-four cage. It would hiss and strike out at the pestiferous people who, for some strange reason, got some kind of diabolical joy out of making it thrash about.


One Good Samaritan decided enough was enough, and called the state police game warden (as they were called in those days). That was when I became aware of the situation. Avon Mayfield, a state police officer working wildlife, called me and asked if I'd go with him to pick up the bobcat.

Avon and I were longtime friends from almost the day I began working with golden eagles. He and I teamed up, arresting shooters that killed eagles and hawks perched on power poles, including two baby eagles shot in a nest. Every time I witnessed a shooting I'd call Avon with the license number of the shooter's vehicle, and Avon would say, "Wait 'till I get my uniform on."

The day he called me about the bobcat, I said, "I'll be waiting on Jones Road." At the time, I was living with Dean and Lily Hollinshead at their place on their Timberlane Ranch on George A. Jones Road. Today it's a meeting place with a beautiful community garden.

I had built a large flight cage - 20 feet long, six feet high and five wide - in which I could train birds to go back to the wild. Avon's trip that day turned my flight cage into a bobcat-training arena.

Avon cited the owner of the sporting goods store for illegal possession of wildlife and we hauled the cage and bobcat out the door. As we drove away, Avon looked over at me and said "Now what? We can't turn it loose, it has no claws to catch things to eat."

Then he looked in the rearview mirror and said, "And look at it. It's nothing but skin and bones."

In those days, there was no High Desert Museum to take in the unfortunate animal as they did Ochoco. Even the Portland Zoo didn't want it. Then I thought of my flight cage. "How about we put the poor thing in my flight cage until we figure something out?" Avon agreed and we did just that.

My dear old pal Ed Park, who went out among the stars a while back, came up with what he thought was a perfect solution to keep it happy. "Why don't we catch live jackrabbits and see if he can kill them?" He suggested.

"How?" I asked.

"Easy," Ed said. "We'll take your little Jeep out to the crested wheat fields on Powell Buttes, chase jackrabbits around until they get tired, scoop up a couple in a salmon nest and dump them in the cage for the bobcat."

Avon helped us obtain a special permit to conduct the experiment, and away we went.

It wasn't as easy as it sounded, but we managed to accomplish the feat by launching Ed from my old Jeep with a big salmon net. We caught three rabbits on three attempts, which was a better success rate than golden eagles.

I thought Ed and I were still friends, but things changed after the third rabbit. As he was painfully getting up from the ground, he said, "OK, it's my turn to drive."

Anyway, to make a long story short, the scheme worked; within three weeks the bobcat had trained itself to bat jackrabbits into submission. It gained weight, but still had an attitude about people and that was OK by me. I called Avon and asked him what he thought. He said, "Put it in that abominable cage it came in and I'll take it down to Cougar Butte in the Fort Rock Valley and turn it loose."

If there's a Beautiful Place where bobcats and people go when we leave our Home away from Home, maybe those two unfortunate animals will meet and compare notes. I hope so, because I'll be looking for them when I get there - but I'll also be watching out for all those jackrabbits spirits at the same time.

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