Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tech Student Knows All About Big Cats

By John Larson

SOCORRO – The care of injured and sick bobcats and tigers was the topic of discussion in a seminar given by New Mexico Tech biology student Candace Cotter Monday, Nov. 16.
The seminar in Jones Annex was titled “Bob the Blind Bobcat,” and detailed what Cotter had learned about big cats in captivity.
Cotter, a 2007 Socorro High School graduate, spent part of August and September as an intern at Tiger Creek Wildlife refuge in Tyler, Texas. In May and June that she spent several weeks at a monkey sanctuary in South Africa.
“Some people call me that crazy cat lady around here,” she said.
Cotter feels her studies in genetics in the Biology Department at Tech provides a good foundation for her work with animals.
“I began considering going on to a veterinary school after I graduate from Tech,” Cotter said. “My major here is Biology, which is a good route for that. I found out about the internship at Tiger Creek and applied for it last spring.”
Cotter said most big cats in captivity are in private homes and, through ignorance or indifference, end up being mistreated.
“People want cubs because they are cute, but after a few months they get too big and aren’t cute anymore and people want to get rid of them,” Cotter said. “Two of the tigers I worked with at Tiger Creek were once owned by Michael Jackson. They called and said they were bringing them because he didn’t want them anymore.”
She said there is big demand worldwide for black market cats, strongly suggests against private ownership. “What happens is that most cats in private homes are improperly documented, and most owners have no idea how to take care of them if they are injured or become sick,” Cotter said. “In some states it is not legal to have a big cat as a house pet and people won’t take them to a vet.”
She said she help treat cats with diverse medical conditions, both congenital and human caused. Some of the privately owned cats suffered from malnutrition, scarring on paws from concrete floors, and general abuse. She said she cared for a bobcat at Tiger Creek with a spinal cord injury that “had been a housecat for several years,” and a three legged cougar that had its leg shattered from a dart gun.”
“Inbreeding, which is common with cats being sold to private owners, is a big cause of medical problems,” Cotter said. “We had cats with severe hip dysplasia, crossed eyes, weak immune systems, abnormalities, and birth defects.”
“There are only two to three thousand tigers left in the wild today,” she said. “One reason is that they are losing their habitat because of human population increase. Another reason is the poaching of tigers for their skins, and medicinal concoctions.”
She said a common misconception is that big cats are quick to attack. “They never attack out of aggression. As much as people fear tigers, tigers have fear for themselves,” Cotter said. “They will attack out of protection. Protection for their cubs, for example.”
She said cats like to wrestle around with each other, and will do that with a human.
“Play is important, and people will mistake play behavior for an attack,” Cotter said.
Part of her responsibilities at the refuge was feeding the cats.
“In the wild a tiger will eat up to 80 pounds at one time, then eat again in two days or so,” she said. “We fed them 10 to 20 pounds twice a day, so their eating is more regular.”

Photo: Candace Cotter at Tiger Creek Wildlife refuge with Piffer as the tiger was getting an upper GI for his digestive problems. Cotter feels her studies in genetics provides a good foundation for her work with animals especially the big cats.
Courtesy of Candace Cotter


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