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FWC Response 4.2.13

June 2, 2013 in Admin

FWC RESPONSE:  April 2, 2013  to Complaint filed on 3/10/2013

Dear Linda,

Thank you for contacting the FWC Office of Inspector General.

As you may know, the agency received several complaints regarding the Big Cat Rescue Tampa. Please see the attached response.
If you have any additional information or complaints concerning the Captive Wildlife Office please let me know.

Best Regards,

Major Amy M. Schmidt

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Office of Inspector General
620 S. Meridian Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600
850-488-6068 Office
850-617-9460 Direct Line
850-363-1286 Cell
850-488-6414 Fax

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Attached FWC Response Copy: April 1, 2013

Dear customer:

Thank you for your letter informing the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) of your concerns regarding the welfare of the wildlife at Big Cat Rescue, Inc. (BCR). Your complaint was forwarded to and reviewed by FWC Division of Law Enforcement, Captive Wildlife office staff. The results of the review are described below.

FWC carefully reviews complaints and has given your complaint much consideration. Making changes to rules and regulations requires scientific research, input from stakeholders and the public, and consistency with FWC’s mission of “Managing fish and wildlife resources for their long-term well-being and the benefit of people.”

In response to “Complaint #1: BCR producing live stream internet feeds of nativeFloridawildlife under active wildlife rehabilitation, for public view”:

On September 6, 2012, FWC Investigators James Manson and Daryl Amerson conducted an inspection of BCR, in response to complaints received about BCR exhibiting rehabilitated animals on live web cameras or on the Internet. Eleven out of the fourteen of Internet links in your complaint are duplicates of links addressed by Investigator Manson’s and Amerson’s inspection. At the time of the inspection (Reference Number FWSW12OFF9040), the Investigators found no violations, and advised that the links reviewed in the inspection were not under the control of BCR, were not displaying native wildlife, were not public, or were not displaying an animal undergoing rehabilitation. Three out of the fourteen links were not reviewed by the Investigators during the September 6, 2012, inspection. On March 11 and 12, 2013, FWC, DLE Captive Wildlife Office staff reviewed the other three links. These three links were also determined to be displaying non-native bobcats and were images of some of the same non-native bobcats displayed in some of the other links mentioned. No violations were found at that time.

In response to: “Complaint #2: Feeding of live prey to wildlife under active wildlife rehabilitation (specifically domestic rabbits)”:

FWC staff has reviewed your complaint along with past complaints related to feeding live prey, specifically domestic rabbits, to wildlife under active wildlife rehabilitation. FWC staff has consulted several resources (some listed below) designed to be guides for wildlife rehabilitators to use in practice. FWC has no rules prohibiting the feeding of live prey to predators that are in rehabilitation status and understands that there is need to mentor a predator’s natural instinct to sustain itself by catching and killing its own food. Rabbits are a natural part of a bobcat’s diet, and wildlife rehabilitators need to use what is reasonably available to them to simulate natural diets and promote the ability of the bobcat to sustain itself in the wild. Additionally, FWC Legal Staff and a State Attorney Office’s prosecutor have provided the opinion that the use of rabbits as live prey items does not violate Florida Statutes regarding animal cruelty. Therefore, no follow- up investigation into the matter of rabbits being used as prey items by wildlife rehabilitators is warranted at this time.

The following are some resources reviewed by FWC staff, and FWC staff finds evidence in these resources that feeding of live prey to wildlife under active wildlife rehabilitation may be acceptable for use in a professional, appropriate manner by wildlife rehabilitators to prepare wildlife for release:

• According to the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) Principles of Wildlife Rehabilitation: The Guide for Novice and Experienced Rehabilitators by Adele T. Moore and Sally Joosten, “upon release the rehabilitated wild animal must be capable of much more than merely running, walking or flying out of sight of the wildlife rehabilitator. It must be capable of recognizing, obtaining and processing food.” The NWRA’s Principles of Wildlife Rehabilitation goes on to say that “Captive-raised animals should be introduced to a variety of the types of foods they will be consuming after release” and that “since bowls of dog food or mealworms are few and far between in the wild, captive-raised animals should be required to locate and process foods in a manner as close as possible to what will be required of them in the wild.” Additionally, Principles of Wildlife Rehabilitation advises that “predators must develop hunting skills before release. Due to the complex nature of prey recognition, pursuit, capture, dispatch and processing, a predator release without thorough experience with these skills is likely to starve before they are learned.”

• The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Manual, by Patricia Thompson, states that “Cats are usually strict carnivores” and that for wildlife rehabilitators “It is vitally important” that they “know the details of wildlife nutrition and specific food requirements of the species with which [they] work.”

• The International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council’s Minimum Standards for Wildlife Rehabilitation, Third edition, edited by Eric A. Miller, DVM, provides minimum care procedures for rehabilitating wildlife. For the “pre-release conditioning” the manual advises to provide “ongoing, appropriate nutrition, introducing a more natural diet.” For “Release evaluation,” the manual provides that the wildlife should demonstrate “ability to self-feed (perhaps catch live prey).”

• Finally, the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center’s (W.E.R.C.) Procedures for Bobcat Rehabilitation, prepared by Evelyn Davis of W.E.R.C., advises that rehabilitators should “As the bobcat grows, provide it with larger mice, rats or other prey it may encounter in its natural habitat.” The Procedures for Bobcat Rehabilitation also states that “The bobcat must be able to sustain its weight strictly on live kill” and that the bobcat, in weeks prior to release, “must be able to hunt and kill its own food” (emphasis original).

We appreciate your concerns regarding this matter and hope that this response answers your questions. We do understand that this process can be viewed as offensive by some people. We will continue to monitor these issues on a case by case basis. If you have any questions, please call Captain Tom Haworth at (850) 488-6253, or write to him at Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Division of Law Enforcement, Captive Wildlife Office, 620 South Meridian Street, Tallahassee, Florida32399-1600.

Sincerely,

FWC Customer Service

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