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FCF Wild/Exotic Feline Husbandry Course Review

Obligate carnivore…. USDA-APHIS….CITES, REAC…. 9-guage wire…. Ketamine….stable over most of range, 2 subspecies endangered….

The information started flowing at 9:00 am and didn’t stop until after 6:00, when were challenged to retrieve it from our tired brains for the test. We were an exceptionally diverse group, brought together by one common denominator: passion for exotic felines. There were owners of tigers, cougars, servals, caracals, Geoffroy’s cats, leopards, and bobcats; sanctuary employees, USDA inspectors, and people interested in getting their first exotic cat. The June 27th FCF Basic Wild/Exotic Feline Husbandry Course was attended by 18 students.

Instructor Leann Montgomery valiantly presented a mountain of material despite distractions, debates, and questions galore. The Wilsonville Public Library’s air conditioning decided to malfunction just for us, cooling the entire facility with the exception of our conference room. Leann got to stand all day in 84-degree heat, making herself heard despite the library loudspeaker so thoughtfully piped into our room (“We will be closing in thirty minutes, so please make your way to the checkout desk….”) and the din of the library director’s retirement party. During the test we were treated to a very interesting (and loud) foot-stomping live Mennonite adaptation of We Will Rock You. Despite their best efforts, we all passed!

The course covered a broad range of topics, including natural history, regulatory agencies (nicknamed “Alphabet Soup” by Leann!), caging, equipment, nutrition, veterinary care, contingency planning, and training. It was a lot to cover in one day, and I think it’s safe to say that everyone learned something new. The attendees made some excellent suggestions; we obviously have much to learn from each other.

Any shortfalls of the venue were overshadowed by the wonderful opportunity to learn and to meet fellow cat people. Many of us were glad that technical difficulties with the projection system delayed the start of the course, as it gave us the chance to introduce ourselves and share pictures of our cats. The presence of two USDA inspectors added to the value of the course; they were very willing to answer questions and emerged with a greater understanding of wild feline husbandry along with - I venture to say - increased respect for the FCF.

The next day, we were off to Wildcat Haven. Cheryl and Mike Tuller spent hours showing us their cats and their beautiful facility, home to 25 felines. This is an exotic cat and cat lover’s Mecca, with large, naturally landscaped enclosures containing servals, bobcats, lynx, cougars, ocelots, and a caracal, jungle cat, and Geoffroy’s cat nestled amongst the trees.

One of the highlights of the day was meeting Noni and Neko, the two rescued cougars. They eliminated a personal prejudice of mine with a single purr. While I support the right of qualified people to own whatever animal they choose, I admit to having questioned the wisdom of living with a cougar, having written them off as too dangerous. That attitude changed forever as I slipped my hand through the wire to scratch a purring puma on the chin. My cougar infatuation began the moment Noni cradled his powerful head in my hand, narrowed his eyes in contentment, and wrapped a gentle paw around my arm. I am incredibly grateful to Cheryl for introducing me to her boys; it was an unforgettable experience. I hope to visit them again some day.

Another special moment was meeting Paris and Bellagio, the two ocelots boarding at Wildcat Haven. I never could have imagined that ocelots were so stunningly beautiful. Their shiny, velvet coats are emblazoned with the richest and most striking markings you can imagine. And who couldn’t fall in love with Bear, the friendly bobcat who greeted us with a purr and invited all comers to scratch his chin.

Of course, I had to linger with the beautiful spotted servals, finally meeting some of my Sirocco’s kin. The opportunity to tour Wildcat Haven was thrilling, as the only exotic cats I’d met before that Sunday were Sirocco and a lynx at a wildlife park.

Two course attendees considering getting a small exotic feline had their first chance to meet servals “up close and personal” and see a wide range of personalities from friendly to shy to downright hostile. The tiny, hissing 22-year-old Geoffroy’s cat could melt anyone’s heart, and we met many beautiful bobcats and lynx as well. On behalf of all of us, I would like to say a great big thank-you to Cheryl and Mike for opening their doors to us and trusting us to interact with their cats.

You remain responsible.. Forever...
For what you have tamed.
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery



Review by Jessi Clark-White

 

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