In August of 2012 there was a devastating wildfire in California near Lake Almanor, called the Chips Fire. I remember hearing about the bobcat kitten rescued by firefighters working in the area and came across many stories about this lucky kitten, dubbed “Chips” by the firefighters who rescued her so I decided to pursue the rest of the story.
Members of the Mad River Hand Crew were patrolling the north end of the fire on the last Saturday in August and happened to notice a bobcat kitten by the side of the road, seemingly dazed and confused and circling a stump.
They stopped to investigate and the kitten began following them. There was no sign of an adult bobcat nearby so they decided to bring her back to their fire camp near Chester, California. And here began the passage to recovery for this four-week-old kitten, who surely would have perished if not for the intervention of the fire crew that day.
Chips fire officials contacted Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care (LTWC), a non-profit organization on the south shore of Lake Tahoe, founded by Tom and Cheryl Millham. The rehab center sent Anna Thompson, a Feather River College biology instructor, who also serves as a volunteer, to the camp, where she was met by an off-duty firefighter, Sean Bailey, who irrigated the kit’s eyes. It responded to the special formula for bobcats that Anna had brought so Chips began her 175-mile journey to the wildlife care center in South Lake Tahoe.
LTWC veterinarian, Dr. Kevin Willitts, treated the injured bobcat for second-degree burns on her paws and for eye infections. Over the next month, Chips gained weight and healed from her wounds.
In late September, Chips was deemed well enough to get a roommate, a male bobcat about a week older than she, who was found orphaned in Lassen County. The two cats took to each other and soon were tumbling and wrestling in their enclosure at the wildlife center.
The goal of wildlife rescue is to eventually release the animals back into the wild, and each step that these dedicated people make is geared toward that end. Cheryl was sad to see them go, but in early November 2012, the two young bobcats were transferred to the Sierra Wildlife Rescue Center in Placerville, California, where they would spend the winter in the company of other bobcats.
As any good little bobcat should, over the winter, Chips became cautious of human contact, socializing and interacting solely with her den mates, eventually growling, snarling and lunging at humans who attempted to contact her. Success!
In April 2013, Chips was released into bobcat territory in the Lassen National Forest in Plumas County and hopefully is leading a normal bobcat life, which entails hunting for rabbits, mice and squirrels. She will have claimed her territory with urine markings and by clawing on prominent trees.
She should have secured a primary den and will have other secondary shelters on the edges of her range. She will most likely begin breeding in the spring and will raise her young, usually two to four kittens, without the aid of her mate.
One little bobcat, leading a normal bobcat life, thanks to the many people who care, beginning with the firefighter who noticed a confused kitten by the side of the road.
Lake Tahoe Wildlife Center really began in 1978 when Cheryl saw a photo of a woman holding a baby raccoon in Women’s Day magazine in an article talking about an up-coming training seminar to teach local citizens how to care for orphaned and injured wild birds and animals.
Cheryl, her husband, Tom, their daughter, Connie and a friend attended the seminar. Upon their return to South Lake Tahoe, they began contacting entities that would come in contact with orphaned and injured wildlife, informed them of their plan to raise and rehabilitate these animals and asked for their help.
The rest is history. LTWC has cared for more than 23,000 critters and has released over 14,000 back to the wild.
To see videos of Chips and other rescued animals, and to learn how to help this organization care for wildlife, visit ltwc.org.