Two female bobcat kittens, believed to be between six and eight weeks old, were discovered Friday in a train car in the Tuscola area. They are now receiving care at the University of Illinois Wildlife Medical Center. The mother bobcat may have been using the train car as a den, and then wasn't on board when the train left Louisiana last week.
URBANA — For a pair of bobcat kittens, home may have once been a freight train car.
But now they're orphans, possibly because the train left without their mom aboard.
The two female bobcat kittens, believed to be between six and eight weeks old, were discovered Friday in a train car in the Tuscola area, said Nicki Rosenhagen, a veterinary student and ward manager at the University of Illinois Wildlife Medical Center.
The man who found them heard them making sounds and thought they were domestic kittens. Then he did exactly the right thing by keeping an eye out for a time to see if their mother returned before alerting the UI clinic, she said.
A clinic volunteer came and got the kittens, and they are now receiving care at the clinic, Rosenhagen said.
Dr. Julia Whittington, medical director of the clinic, said bobcats are native to Illinois.
But these bobcat kittens may have traveled a bit.
Whittington said the mother bobcat may have been using the train car as a den, and then she wasn't on board when the train left Louisiana last Tuesday.
From the kind of sounds the kittens were making, they were likely calling out for their mother, Rosenhagen said.
They arrived at the UI clinic hungry, thin and dehydrated but otherwise in good health, she and Whittington said.
The good news is they're eating and didn't show any signs of injuries or trauma, Rosenhagen said.
The UI clinic will keep the kittens a week or two, long enough to get them stronger and until a licensed rehabilitator is found to take over the next stage of their lives, she said. As orphans, they'll stay with the rehabilitator until they're old enough to be released back into the wild.
Meanwhile, the kittens are being kept in an isolated area and getting food deliveries — without any petting or coddling — from the clinic staff, Rosenhagen said.
It's important to maintain the bobcats' wild nature, she said, because otherwise they might begin to identify people as food sources. Then when they're adults, they could approach people aggressively looking for food and be considered a threat.
"The best thing is that we act detached and identify them by their case numbers," Rosenhagen said. "And it keeps us from getting attached."
Bobcats are naturally secretive and fearful of people, Rosenhagen said. Under normal circumstances, they aren't a danger to people unless they feel threatened.
"But they don't attack people. They're going to avoid us at all costs," she said.
The UI Wildlife Medical Clinic is a nonprofit organization that covers its costs through fundraising and donations. It is run mostly by student volunteers and accepts ill, injured or orphaned wildlife seven days a week, 24 hours a day, with a goal of helping the animals recover so they can be released back into the wild.
For more information about the clinic, see: vetmed.illinois.edu/wmc .