He wants to play but his owner can't handle his strength anymore. His cage – set far away from the house in the backyard – is rusted and much too small to contain his growing body that lacks proper food and nourishment. Lately, the silence and loneliness have caused his aggressive behavior to escalate, because he needs attention and companionship. And, the infection on his paw from hitting his cage festers while needed medical attention never comes. Sadly, he lays his head down and waits. He's just one more statistic – one cat among thousands nationally and around the world – who won't be contributing to the continuation of his species.
The Cat House
This all-too-common scenario among wild cats being held as pets or for private breeding purposes doesn't have to exist – especially since there are places today like The Exotic Feline Breeding Compound's (EFBC's) Feline Conservation Center (FCC).
The EFBC/FCC, also known as the "Cat House," is located in Rosamond, Calif., and its goal, according to founder and director Joe Maynard, is to increase the conservation and survivability of some of the most rare and endangered wild cat species. "We acquire our wild cats from all around the world," Maynard says. "We have a cooperative breeding program with many zoos throughout the world and we get most of our wild cats on formal breeding loans."
After their cats are bred, offspring are supplied to zoos around the world, thus helping the perpetuation of many endangered species. At any given time, the EFBC/FCC has 13 to 15 species of wild cats, including: the Amur leopard; the Northern Chinese leopard; the African leopard; the black leopard; the jaguar; the tiger; the cougar; the ocelot; the margay; the jaguarundis; the fishing cat; the serval; the caracals; the bobcat; and the Eurasian lynx. "Here at the EFBC/FCC, we most often breed the North Chinese leopard, the Amur leopard, the jaguar and the fishing cat," Maynard adds.
A Sad Scenario
Unfortunately, according to Maynard, many people think they can privately keep wild cats as pets or breed them in hopes of making extra money. However, most of these cases don't have happy endings. "Many of these people may have good intentions at first, but they really don't know what in the world they are getting into," Maynard states. "Wild cat cubs are alluring at first because they're cute, cuddly and playful but they grow fast and need the proper vet care, diet and housing, which many don't get."
As cubs they like to play rough. At first – when they're 3 pounds – that's fine. But, when they become 150-pound cubs, it's a whole different ballgame. A playful cub doesn't know he has gained all this weight and he isn't aware his playful games may become dangerous to his owner. For this reason, cubs are often exiled to small cages and don't get the proper nurturing, attention and room they need to grow healthy. When these cats don't get attention, they tend to become even more aggressive and more dangerous. "Unfortunately, most of these animals end up being put down or euthanized," Maynard says.
The FCC mainly works to conserve precious wild cats. It doesn't take in cats that have been rescued from private owners because these animals are usually generic hybrids that come with no paper trail. It's impossible to trace their backgrounds and history – information you must have when breeding.
Maynard says that private and individual wildcat owners/breeders do have options – other than neglecting their cats – when they find they can no longer handle their animals or their upkeep. "You can give your cat(s) to an animal sanctuary. However, before making a decision on the sanctuary, you should check with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make sure the establishment is licensed under the Animal Welfare Act and hasn't been sited or warned for any violations relating to animal care." Donating your wild cat to a zoo may be another option but, according to Maynard, many no longer accept private donations and only work with legitimate breeding centers.
A Celebration of Life
The EFBC/FCC is part of a "worldwide network of zoos and facilities dedicated to the preservation of endangered cats, acting as a modern-day ark in the face of human overpopulation and mass extinction of animal species." This organization is a link of hope in a worldwide chain that's helping to make a dent in the wildcat endangerment problem.
As a non-profit organization, it's run entirely on donations and is recognized by state and federal agencies as a zoo, wildlife museum and licensed research facility. Funding goes toward the care of the compound's animals and long-term goals, which include a research clinic facility, a natural history museum and public education programs.
On guided, free tours of the compound you can view more than 50 of the world's most endangered felines. Special Twilight Tours are available in spring, summer and fall and enable visitors to see the cats at night when they're most active. And, though the staff is made up of mostly volunteers, visitors can be certain that experts and veterinarian are always on hand to care for the animals that are housed in natural habitat enclosures.
Maynard has a few words to explain his pride for what he does: "I love seeing animals – that were, in the past, difficult to breed – now breeding successfully. I'm overjoyed to see our facility expanding and the public's acceptance of it. We're becoming worldwide and people are beginning to understand the complexity of conservation, etc. With more people aware, we'll break barriers both politically and geographically and be able to save even more cats. We all live in this world together and we must, together, make it livable for all creatures."
For more information or to learn how to give donations or become an "adoptive parent" to one of the centers felines, call (661) 256-3793 or visit www.cathouse-fcc.org