Chips the bobcat, whose rescue by a firefighter from the Chips Forest Fire in Plumas County last August gained national attention, was released back into “bobcat territory” in Lassen County on April 19, along with den mate Sierra. The juvenile cats are now eight months old and were judged by experienced rehabbers to be ready to be returned to their natural habitat. Their other den mates, Tuffy and Sutter, are being released together in another region.
Chips was about four weeks old when rescued by U.S. Forest Service firefighter Tad Hair, of the Mad River Hand Crew. Orphaned or lost, Chips’ eyes were full of soot and ashes and her paws had second-degree burns. The bobcat kitten was taken to Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care for intensive medical treatment by veterinarians and rehabbers, and subsequently transferred to a Sierra Wildlife Rescue rehabber in Placerville to continue her recovery. Since rehabbing organizations strive to always place all wild animal babies with others of their species, Chips was soon joined in her spacious enclosure by rescued bobcat Sierra, a male of the same age, and the two others.
Since, as a kitten, Chips was thought to be a little too “friendly,” due to necessary handling by humans to treat her extensive injuries, early concerns were that she would not become wild enough to be released. However, over many months in the exclusive company of the other bobcats, she became extremely cautious of any human contact, emerging from her den only when no one was in evidence, and grew up eating, playing, wrestling and competing with her den mates, as a proper bobcat kitten should. Along with the others, she became very competent at chasing down her own food (live mice), supplemented with additional nutritious foods she will hunt in the wild.
For release to their new home, Chips and Sierra were encouraged, using reliable, low-stress techniques, to enter large animal carriers, and were then transported to Lassen County. During the photo shoot, through the wire of their spacious pen just prior to transport, Chips and Sierra both growled and snarled at their rehabber and lunged at the camera, showing the kind of instinctive wild behavior rehabbers ensure is present in any animal prior to its release.