Sunday April 13, 2003

Wild Cat Adventure

There's a group in the SF Bay Area called Leopards, Etc that I recently found out about! They do educational programs (public outreach, programs for schools, corporate and private events). They do 150 programs of some sort a year! Leopards Etc. is owned and operated by Rob and Barbara Dicely, experienced educators (formerly teachers), licensed by the State of California, the US Dept. of the Interior, and various other governmental organizations to keep, train, and show wild cats. They have a 20-acre property in Sonoma County, CA, with (at present) 24 cats.

Several times a year they do a public outreach program called "Wild Cat Adventure". This is a one-hour program to which they bring 5 or 6 cats and give a talk, with demonstrations. I was looking forward to attending as soon as I heard about it (only a few weeks ago) and today we attended the Wild Cat Adventure at Foothill College (just north of San Jose).

The program was wonderful. Such biig kitties ... our Maine Coons are so little :-) And Mezzaluna's ear tufts hardly compare to those of the Canada lynx we saw. (The photo is from the Leopards, Etc web site; I forgot to bring a camera! Rich says if I'd had one I would have spent more time playing with the camera than watching the cats. But maybe I'll bring one for the next show.)

Rob and Barbara brought Denali, a Canada lynx (in the photo); Lakota, a female cougar; Kamau, a handsome and regal cheetah; Nakuru, a _very playful_ and highly exuberant serval; and Umfazi, a female leopard. Photos and biographies of these (and other) cats are online at www.leopardsetc.com/meet.html.

Rob brings the cats in, one at a time, while Barbara tells the audience about them, making sure to discuss natural environment, size, weight, age, diet, whether the species is endangered, and more for each cat. Rob constantly pets, rubs, and touches the cat (and feeds it treats). I was envious of the constant touching part. He says the cats "don't love him" but "use him"; however, I think he was going a little overboard to make the point that these are wild animals and not housepets. The cats don't love him the way our domestic cats and dogs love us, but I could see that there is mututal respect, trust, and friendship there. For example, Barbara lay her cheek on the cheetah's cheek; that's simply not possible without a lot of trust, be it a cheetah, the neighbor's dog, or a domestic housecat.

The Cananda lynx didn't seem to be quite sure at first that he wanted to be there. He kept turning around; Rob would put a hand under his chest and heft him toward the next table. He also held the cat up under the arms to show its length and big feet. After a while, though, the lynx decided he was content, sat and stared at the audience. His face is different from the bobcats I've seen in zoos and pictures, with a wider nose. And those ears! When it was time to leave the stage, Rob had to push and heft a little to get him to go; he wanted to stay now!

Next in was the cougar; apparently there were so many cougars in North America that the cat has 65 different names: cougar, catamount, mountain lion... This was a female; she was slimmer than I expected but handsome, and very long; Rob got her to stand on her back legs and she is at least 6 feet (and then there was the impressive tail).

The cheetah was third; this was a male. They told us how they exercise the cheetahs. They take the cat to a large field (the size of two football fields end to end). There, they have the cheetah's favorite prey - a red rubber ball! The ball is attached to 200 yards of twine, and the twine runs through a traffic cone (on its side) at the far end of the field. The twine is unrolled, the ball is hidden under a board. The other end of the twine is attached to an automobile motor operated with a switch.

In the first 4 seconds, a cheetah reaches 45 mph; in the next 4 seconds he'll reach 70 mph. But he can only run for 30 seconds before his muscles would seize up and he could have heart failure. wow.

So they take off the leash and Rob starts the motor; the ball takes off, the cheetah takes off after it. Rob keeps the ball just in front of the cheetah. The ball reaches the end of the field (and Rob) and dives into the traffic cone and disappears. At that instant, Rob holds out a frying pan full of chicken. Success! The cheetah chased his prey (the ball), "caught" his prey (the chicken) and while he is happily devouring his prey, Rob puts the leash back on and everyone is happy and well exercised.

Next was the serval, who had been in a (large) cat carrier at the back of the stage). The serval was a happy bouncy thing (22 lbs of muscle and big ears); he can easily highjump 10 feet (they demonstrated this with a bit of chicken on the end of a stick). Servals use their long skinny feet (no big round snowshoe paws on a serval) to reach down mouseholes and catch mice; a Serval can catch and eat 6000 mice in a year; that's a lot of mice. They demonstrated the mousehole trick too, with a clear plastic tube (and chicken meat). These cats go through a lot of chicken. They get rabbits and rats for treats.

It was fun to watch the serval bounce around the stage, especially when he hopped down off the table, on the far side, and then his head and paws popped up over the edge, eyes and ears intent, paws patting the table for another treat. I've been in love with servals since I first saw them at the National Zoo in Washington, DC.

Last was the leopard, who they warned us was the most impressed by her surroundings; if people moved around too much and she got uncomfortable, she'd just leave. So everyone stayed on their best behaviour. This was a golden leopard (her mother is also golden; her father is black, aka a "panther"). She weighs about 100 lbs, but can carry a 150 lb deer 50 feet up a tree. They told us that jaguars are similar to leopards but larger; jaguars range from 200 - 300 lbs and are more muscular.

After the main show, after most of the audience had left, Rob came back out with the cheetah and a small crowd of about 20 people gathered around at the front of the auditorium, perhaps 6-8 feet away from where the cat lounged on the table looking very regal and sure of himself. People asked more questions; the cheetah lounged. It was obvious he knew the position of every human in the room and occasionally looked up over our heads at people moving at the back of the auditorium.

Finally they took the cheetah out to the van and we left the auditorium. As we stood out front talking to some other attendees, Rob drove the van around front to load some of the pamphlets and things. Someone asked if the cats were inside and he said yes and opened the side door. There were several large carriers inside, such as are used for dogs (big dogs :-) all covered with blankets. He called the cougars name and she obliged with a growl. The cheetah was (still) purring madly. In the auditorium I was able to hear the cheetah purring from the 7th row!

They've modified the van with a swamp cooler and plenty of water so the cats are comfortable in any heat. All the cats are used to riding in the van; the only problem comes if both the male and female cheetahs come to a show because both want to ride behind the driver so he can reach a hand back and let them sniff his fingers.

I had an absolutely delightful time and plan to watch the web site for the next Wild Cat Adventure. I want to attend again (and again, and again...).


Also:

Wild Cat Adventure ( in category Nature/Cats ) - posted at Sun, 13 Apr, 23:27 Pacific | «e»