Many of you have seen T’challa’s story in bits and pieces and have had a lot of questions. Is he a pet? Why do people keep calling him “potato?” What’s that thing on his neck? Can I pet him?
For our newer friends and fans, here’s his whole story… and an opportunity to ask us anything!
T’challa was found in a driveway as a newborn kitten, on what was no doubt a very surreal morning for his finder. He had a gash on his foot that looked like it was left by a raptor claw and was taken to a veterinarian. The vet treated him for his injuries and got him to an emergency foster home, with people experienced caring for newborn domestic kittens, while they looked for a rehabilitator. They found us!
We named him T’challa because we thought it would be suitable to name this year’s bobcats after Marvel heroes, since they’re so powerful and majestic. But, during his kittenhood at For Fox Sake, it slowly became clear that T’challa was “special.” He missed all of his milestones, and was late to learn to do things as simple as licking formula from a dish. He didn’t try to “hunt” food or toys at the ages he should have done so. His lack of intelligence ultimately earned him the affectionate nickname “Potato.”
Although we tried to maintain our distance in hopes that he could “wild up” and be released one day, he was overwhelmingly friendly and tame.
When T’challa was four months old, his veterinarian asssessed him and determined that he could not be released to the wild, and wasn’t likely to develop the skills necessary to do so. Not only did he have no instincts to hunt or defend himself, but he was rejected and attacked by other bobcat patients we tried to introduce him to. He believes he is a person! In the wild, he would have either starved or gotten trapped or shot.
This put us in a dilemma. We loved him dearly, but we believe that bobcats should never be pets and should never be presented to the public in a way that makes it look like they’re pets. A bobcat on a leash and harness just isn’t the message we wanted to give!
Most bobcats are not like T’challa and will eventually become unmanageable and aggressive. They mark everything they own with concentrated urine and they have powerful jaws and claws that can be very dangerous if they “snap.” We felt T’challa would do best at a large facility where he might get some much-needed love behind the scenes, but would only be seen by the public in a natural-like setting.
We worked hard for months to find T’challa a home with large facilities, zoos, and nature centers, particularly those accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance. But, because COVID hit many organizations’ budgets and most are overwhelmed with bobcats that were surrendered “pets,” no large facility in Tennessee was able to take him and the state denied our request to transfer him out of state.
We’d be lying if we said we weren’t, on some level, happy about setting up a huge habitat, sorting out licensing and insurance, and keeping T’challa here. We love the little booger and know he feels safe and loved here.
But we also know that our education programming sends mixed messages to the public. Since we can’t “display” animals at a home-based facility where wildlife rehabilitation takes place, it means T’challa comes off-site on a leash and harness when he comes to educational programs. We worry that our supporters see him wearing his harness and leash and— despite everything else we say— get the idea that they can go out and buy a bobcat and expect it to grow up to be a big silly potato like T’challa!
Although having T’challa as a permanent resident at For Fox Sake was plan C— after releasing him to the wild and rehoming him to a larger sanctuary— we’re ultimately thankful for the honor of giving him a forever home and sharing him with you.
Our ultimate goal as T’challa’s handlers is that he will help people realize that bobcats are beautiful, sensitive, and worthy of love and respect in the natural world. We hope he might make people think twice before shooting or trapping a bobcat to turn it into a coat or out of a misguided attempt to protect livestock.
We also hope that people understand that bobcats are happiest in the natural world, and that it’s not a good idea to kidnap or buy a bobcat in hopes that it might grow up to be this docile. He is one-of-a-kind and that’s why he is so precious!