Letters from Experts

May 10, 2014 in Admin

Live feeds at wildlife rehabs are a serious animal cruelty issue as well as a promotion of animal abuse. 

Quotes from:  Biologist, Veterinary, Big Cat and Wildlife Rehab Experts

The use of live domestic rabbits in attempts to train hunting dogs, bobcats, and other predators constitutes animal abuse, causing significant pain and suffering for the rabbit. Since the domestic rabbit does not behave like a wild rabbit, and the rabbit has no chance to escape when placed in an enclosure with predators, their use will not teach the predator appropriate hunting skills for use in the wild.

The one “Bobcat Kittens + 2011 Rehab update” has a short scene of a Bobcat chasing and grabbing a white rabbit. The white rabbit struggles and, after several seconds is killed. “It is my opinion that the domesticated rabbits put in enclosures with Bobcats as part of attempts to develop the Bobcat’s hunting skills experience fear, pain and suffering, and that the practice of willfully putting live domesticated rabbits in enclosures with Bobcats, from which they cannot escape as a rabbit in the wild could potentially do, constitutes animal abuse.

Sharon Crowell-Davis DVM, PhD
Diplomate American College of Veterinary Behaviorists”
Professor of Veterinary Medicine
University of Georgia


4/8/2011 3:33 PM

Clinic Director
Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, Inc.

Hi Linda –

Thanks so much for caring about all the animals. I can’t speak for what works best for other facilities, and it is difficult not to place judgment, but I think this issue really is a serious one. Here is what I can tell you about how we feed rehabilitating bobcats here at CROW. We don’t use any live prey for feeding bobcats. When we feed them, the staff is diligent about making a disconnect between humans and food: hiding the food, placing in different spots in the cages, trying to introduce novel items, and making the bobcats “work” for the food by finding it, not by killing it. I feel very strongly that the vast majority of our patients are very instinctual, and don’t need the live prey stimulus to tap into their wildness or train them to be hunters. Just as we don’t need to teach baby birds to fly or otters to swim – they are incredibly instinctual.

Nearly all rehabilitating bobcats here eat well; they are fed (frozen) rats, mice, chicks, cat chow, and different kinds of fish, and we have had a number of successful releases – both following trauma and with babies that have been orphaned.

Our use of live food is extremely limited (less than 1% of our patients)…rarely a persnickety bird will get a live minnow to stimulate appetite, for example. We don’t use any live prey for raptors either, which I know many places do. I don’t feel that the white mouse or domestic rabbit as prey is a true test of hunting ability, as those aren’t the same prey that these predators will find out in the wild – and the act is far from fair to the mouse or rabbit. I feel the same way about these as the bobcats…I feel that they have the instincts to be hunters and don’t need us to teach them.

We have all made tremendous commitments to animals; at CROW we take pride in offering respect and compassionate care to all species. It breaks my heart to think of how these rabbits must feel when placed into a predator’s cage.

Hope this helps,

Amber McNamara, DVM, CVA
Clinic Director
Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, Inc.


Mystic Jungle Educational Facility

The only indigenous feline species that BCR deals with is Lynx Rufus aka Bob cat. There are many things that I could point out on this method of feeding “Live Prey” to these cats. I have vast experience in all areas of animal care/husbandry and am well versed in most of the large felidae if not all, but especially the bob cat and Leopard.
Cats are obligate carnivores meaning they MUST eat meat. That out of the way, I can tell you that the Bob cat is a survivalist in fact a down right scavenger. Dealing with these cats from kitten/cubhood to adult hood, I can testify that these cats maintain hunting skills JUST LIKE YOUR DOMESTICATED CAT DOES that is hard wired into it… Want to be sure that cat can hunt? Then DO NOT GIVE IT A LIVE DOMESTICATED RABBIT that A. Does NOT put out the same fear scent (adrenaline) that it’s wild cousin does. Years of breeding into domestication has stripped the domesticated rabbit of any sense of survival. It has no idea it is about to be eaten and often times will walk right up to the predator. How is this teaching this cat to hunt? Do you REALLY think that a wild rabbit is going to walk right up to a bob cat and say “Hey how are ya, wanna eat me?” and this in fact could be more detrimental to the cat as far as survival.  In bobcat rehab one must mask the scent of themselves, as well as any interaction with humans must be as unpleasant as possible, the rehabilitation of bob cats must be focused mostly on non habituation to humans.

Remember also that cats are also observational learners. This would only teach the cat to look for domesticated rabbits. Since they are generally found in peoples back yards in hutches, and BCR does NOT practice keeping their scent masked (with things such are herbs, vegetable scent etc) in order to not habituate the cat to the human scent, they will not have any fear of slipping into a yard and snatching someone’s pet rabbit out of it’s hutch.

I have bobcats and can tell you that their hunting instinct is alive and well and we stimulate to a degree (since these animals are actually used to help educate the public about the native wildlife in our area) the hunting instinct they have by using lures and hiding food. There is no need WHATSOEVER to feed live prey to those bobcats in rehab. And last… when you slap the phrase, “Sanctuary” or RESCUE on your facility, you are morally obligated to value ALL LIFE. No matter how big or small the animal is. And that means maybe putting a little more effort into finding ways to rehabilitate a carnivore without having to end another animals life, the use of lures with no obvious human interaction can be accomplished with success.

Working extensively, hands on, daily with all species of cats, I have watched and learned. The one lesson I learned early on is that cats are survivors (take a look at your domesticated cat that not only will kill at will and not always for food!) and the survival instinct of the bigger cats is hardwired into them.  It is up to the ethical rehabilitation centers to flush out and educate the ones that still do not know or care to know the truth.. as the general public would not know this.
When one puts the word Rescue or Sanctuary, then one has the utmost obligation to both the people and the animals.. ALL ANIMALS.. life is precious.

These captive animals ARE NOT WILD. Wild is living free and having to hunt on their own for substance. THIS IS NOT what is happening here… When WE as humans take on the responsibility of having these big cats, then we also assume moral obligations as well.  Ethical zoo’s feed meat animals that have already lost their lives for the human food chain. There is no reason whatsoever to feed domesticated PET rabbits to big cats, these are considered pets. Not to mention, that the rabbits are bred in humanely (just like puppy mills) to supply the demand for BCR.

Big cats can be cared for by use of meats that have already lost their life in the human food chain and is what we use at our facility.  Why would one want to “feed a treat of domesticated rabbit” when instead you can hide the meat of an animal that has already been dispatched HUMANELY for human consumption. We have supposedly evolved more than this barbaric practice of feeding pets to other animals and Needless and wanton killing of any animal is beyond reprehensible.

Vera Newberry Chaples
Director and Vice President at Mystic Jungle Educational Facility Inc.


University of Miami Department of Biology

Domestic rabbits do not mimic the behavior of wild prey by any stretch of the imagination.  Pictures from BCR show a sweet, naive domestic rabbit going nose to nose with a bobcat.  It doesn’t take a degree in rocket science to figure out what the next frame would be.  Do the people at BCR honestly think that contact with a domestic rabbit in any way prepares a bobcat for pursuit of a wily, speedy wild rabbit?  If so, they have no knowledge of the biology or natural history of the wildlife they purport to “rehabilitate.”

What BCR practices is wanton cruelty, pure and simple.  There is no logical or practical reason to throw live rabbits to any captive big cat.  Enrichment (and yes, even kill training) for the captive cats can be provided in hundreds of different ways that do not involve the torture of sentient, intelligent creatures.  The fact that the BCR staff does not value the lives of anything but their captive cats does not make those other species less deserving of protection under the law.

Dana Krempels, Ph.D.
Senior Lecturer, Director of Undergraduate Studies
University of Miami Department of Biology


NBRR/WCCR intakes and rehabilitates more than 15 times the number of bobcats than any other facility in the nation and teaches Ethical Rehab Courses with Alternatives to Live Feeding.

Thursday, April 7, 2011 3:23 PM


I would be happy to assist, however, I am tied up through Saturday. We do not use live prey here. Their natural instincts take care of that. We do, however, place small bowls of dog food and mouse food so that the wild rodents will enter the cages on their own and have a natural fighting chance.

We ONLY work with Bobcats and other native species. (no big cats). If you would still like our protocol, just let us know. We would be happy to help. Thanks

Valeri Marler
Chief Operating Officer
The Wildlife Center at Crosstimbers Ranch

Executive Director
National Bobcat Rescue and Research Foundation

Valeri Marler: The Executive Director of The National Bobcat Rescue and Research Foundation

“wildlife and exotic rescues are faced with challenges every day, one of which is the ethical choice to feed live food. As a wildlife rehabilitator (as opposed to an exotic cat rescue) we are guided by a code of ethics. Of these guidelines, the most important is “do no harm”. This includes prey animals. Our job is to rescue, rehabilitate, and release. We must teach our wild animals how to live in the wild, and this includes, for the predators, catching and killing live food. However, this contradicts our do no harm code. We solve this Selena by using frozen previously-live foods and use them in ways that mimic a live animal, for example, using a fishing rod to mimic a mouse or rat running, or placing frozen fish or crawdads in water where, as they thaw, they move around due to the cold & warm waters meeting. There is another important area where live foods are used. That is Enrichment.

Enrichment provides entertainment to animals in captivity so they do not become bored or unresponsive. It helps to ease stress caused by being caged. Again, however, we create ways to use previously euthanized animals to provide this type of enrichment.

It is not my place to suggest how others operate their facilities. Many rescues DO use live food and justify it by calling it natural behavior. I do not disagree, it is simply something we have chosen not to do here.

For an Exotic Rescue, where animals are not being trained to be returned to the wild but are expected to live out their entire lives in a cage due to a severe slack in laws associated with the purchase of wild cats as pets in the first place, I cannot imagine any scenario where feeding live food would be a requirement

There are nutrients in live or “whole” foods that are not in killed or processed foods, but those are easily replaced by purchasing those nutrients in powdered and/or liquid substitutes. On the occasions that we have desired “whole food” in a diet, as gross as it sounds, we use fresh road kill and the same technique as we do with frozen foods. ALL OF THAT SAID, I am not a big cat rescue, nor do I have ANY experience with big cats. I work SOLELY with native species Texas wild mammals and specialize in Bobcats.

Crosstimbers teaches rehabilitation classes here at the ranch. One of the most important things that we teach is tolerance. Everybody does things differently. We can not sit on judgment on another organization or their processes, particularly when they specialize in an animal with which we have zero experience. Anyone who works in rescue of any kind deserves respect for their work, and an opportunity to explain their reasons behind their decisions. I’m sure that they have carefully thought through the ramifications of live feeding. It is on ongoing historical debate in our field”.

Valeri Marler

Chief Operating Officer
The Wildlife Center at Crosstimbers Ranch

Executive Director
The National Bobcat Rescue and Research Foundation


Nov 18, 2011
Carson Springs Wildlife Foundation and Sanctuary

Dear Linda ,

We do not feed live animals to any of our cats.
We do not prepare any of our cats to be released in the wild but I do have personal experience with release of rehabilitated cheetah from the Trust of which I am a Trustee in S Africa and we did not do it there either. The cheetahs had no problem using their own instinct to hunt.

Christine Janks
President of Carson Springs Wildlife Foundation and Sanctuary


Diana Leggett

I want to make a statement regarding something that has been bothering me for some time now. Certain people have told me that there is no reason why a domestic animal can not be fed to a wild animal either alive or dead. This includes snakes, big cats, raptors and so forth. My friends, there are excellent reasons why, on multiple levels, it is not OK. I will be contacting a Ms. Carole Baskins concerning her stance on this subject. She does NOT speak for all rehabilitators. Not by a long shot.

Point One – they are NOT a wild animals natural food source. Point Two – the wild animal, once released, will NOT find either a frozen or whole domestic animal out in it’s natural habitat. Point Three – A domestic animal does not have the natural coat (camouflage) that a wild animal has, and therefore to teach a wild creature to hunt a domestic animal certainly does not help it’s hard wired instincts. Point Four – a domestic animal does NOT exhibit the same hard wired survival instincts that a wild creature does, and therefore will not know how to escape from it’s predator – in this case, a caged wild animal. A wild animal has, as stated, before, hard wired instincts that it carries within itself, generation after generation.

A domestic animal’s instincts are watered down due to the genetic manipulation of it’s gene pool – hence, “domesticated”. If you put a live domestic rabbit in the same pen as a tiger, you have just committed murder. That rabbit has no clue how to defend itself (and it can’t). It will have an elevated heart rate, rapid respiration, it’s adrenaline will go full tilt, and it’s lactic acid will build rapidly in it’s muscles. It will scream when attacked. The ONLY reason why many rehabbers feed up domestic rabbits is because breeders give them away free – a cost savings to the rehabber.

So here is my question – would you, as a wildlife rehabilitator and/or zookeeper, feed up your domestic cat, dog or bird to a wild creature? Because if your answer is no, then you are exhibiting an incredible hypocrisy in the way you not only live your life, but care for your wild charges. You cannot “sight” a domestic rabbit to a raptor and expect that raptor to do just fine out there in the wild. People – it’s always about a financial bottom line – it is almost never about the spirituality or consciousness or even just what’s right and what’s not.

I challenge all of you in my wonderful world of wildlife rehabilitation to raise your voice at our conferences, at the state level, and at your own facility – do not feed up domestic animals to your wild ones. We all know what the alternatives are, so utilize those. So what if it takes another minute of your time? It will stop a horrendous event from happening. And if Carole, or any other so-called wildlife rehabilitator thinks that it is OK to feed up live or deceased domestic rabbits to their rehab animals, then they have another thing coming. And no, you cannot point to what we rehabbers follow in our NWRA Basics of Wildlife Rehabilitation, nor can you point to anything in IWRC’s articles either.Pick your fights people – when you know it’s wrong, stand up and SAY so. To sit by and let the world spin on is apathy at it’s worst. Game on.

Next statement (no, I didn’t wake up on the wrong side of the bed (:) If any zookeeper, sanctuary or wildlife facility feeds up live prey (aka domestic rabbits) in front of an audience and/or films such an event, then perhaps a child psychologist would like to speak with you. You are desensitizing our children with your blatant lack of respect – both to the child and to the animal. This isn’t Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom – this is your wildlife facility. And the reason why Fish and Game doesn’t want photos published or being taken or anything done in real time is because you are completely compromising that wild animal. You are desensitizing the wild animal so that when it gets released, the likelihood of it migrating towards a human has increased multifold.

We wildlife rehabilitators know fully well the implications of too much human contact. You might as well just put a target on the wild creature’s head. It’s called “imprinting” and “habituated”. Every rehabilitator knows that “hands off” is the best policy, that the public is never allowed behind the scenes in our facilities, that the use of a two-way mirror is a great idea for people wanting to see into the nursery, and the fact that it only takes that one moment for the fawn to imprint on you and later in it’s life walk right up to that hunter. It’s all about the responsibility we have as wildlife rehabilitators TO our wildlife. We are THEIR guardians, their last chance at life, the cog in their wheel.

Our responsibility is far greater than the public could ever imagine. And we should give up our permits if we think that having a “coliseum-style predator/prey hunt in front of the public is OK to do. It is not ok. That’s when you have lost sight of what we do and why we do it. Think about it people. So no photos please. And if you want more reasons, I am happy to provide them.

Diana Leggett

Caring for abandoned rabbits and wildlife across North Texas — WildRescue, Inc./Rabbit Rescue

Kathleen Lowson

The torture and suffering that these domestic rabbits endure is utterly inhumane and egregiously cruel. Not only is this not necessary nor acceptable, it is barbaric beyond comprehension. This “practice” by wildlife “rehabilitators” is unconscionable – how can they tout animal welfare when they commit such a gruesome and abhorrently cruel act? Ethical, humane and compassionate standards should be at the top their agenda and the benchmark for the treatment of all animals in our society.

Kathleen Lowson
CRY OF THE INNOCENT: The Voices That Can’t Speak.


Executive director of Tranquility Trail animal rescue and rehab center. Arizona
Kelly Ames posted her Opinion in Respect for Rabbits Big Cat Rescue. 9:04pm Jun 11

We spoke with a founder of a very well respected wildlife rehab sanctuary today. She is well aware of BCR and their practices and is appalled by them. Her sanctuary never would use rabbits to train bobcats to hunt and said the use of domestic rabbits would never train them to hunt in the wild. Unfortunately she said BCR gets most of the money that is available to all of the wildlife sanctuaries in the US and they only take in the animals that will get them more grants or animals they can use to get donations from the public. As we all know but she confirmed they are all about the money and not about saving the animals that need it most. She confirmed they are in bed with HSUS and HSUS actually funds one of the sanctuary accreditation organizations BCR is a member of and refuses to enforce any type of standards. She withdrew her sanctuary because of this.


Thu 3/24/2011
Peace River Refuge & Ranch

The animals at our sanctuary are here for lifetime care because they are not releasable into the wild. We never feed live animals to anything at the sanctuary nor do we raise animals to be fed to the animals at our facility – that would be a conflict of interest.

The most reliable sources of information you may find would be the Florida Wildlife Rehabilitators Association as well as the National Wildlife Rehabilitators association. Although there may be certain (limited) instances where the feeding of live prey may be necessary to ensure that an animal is ready for release, I can’t think of an instance where that animal should be rabbits (since even bobcats live primarily on small rodents, not rabbits). The resources I mentioned are well-known authorities on the rehabilitation topic and should have sound advice to offer – although they are not sanctuaries, so their standards and missions will be different than that of a lifetime care sanctuary.

Regardless, any animal that is being rehabilitated for release should not be in the public view or exposed to any more humans than absolutely required in order to ensure their proper care.

Lisa Stoner, VP
Peace River Refuge & Ranch


Janet Geren: previous director and long time Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator.

In all of the years I have done rehabilitation, I have never seen live rabbits fed to bobcats, birds of prey, or coyotes. I have contacted the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council who was appalled to hear that this was even happening who referred me to rehabilitation centers that rehabbed big cats. I contacted several and not one of these centers used live domestic rabbits and were also surprised. All of the rehabilitators that I spoke with felt that this was very cruel and even made the comment that the big cats would likely torture these domestic rabbits for hours.

In addition, every single rehabilitator and Directors of the centers I contacted indicated that domestic rabbits are NOT what these cats will eat in the wild. So why is BCR still feeding docile, gentle rabbits to their big cats?

I am not sure, but last year I saw despicable videos of Big Cat Rescue feeding rabbits to their cats, literally torturing them for hours. Then another photo of 3 volunteers smiling while holding dead and 1/2 dead rabbits by the scruff of their neck driving their little cart. I assumed that the cats got bored torturing the rabbits for hours and it was time for these 4 women to go home for the day. In my opinion; this appeared to be the climax of their day, please don’t even tell me that this isn’t done for some sick sociopathic pleasure, because no person in their right mind would believe it if they saw these videos and the maker of them.

Mon 3/28/2011
Dan Martinelli, Executive Director
Treasure Coast Wildlife Center


Sorry for the delay.

First, we don’t have any big cats. We do though have a non-releasable bobcat and we have in the past raised other bobcats for release. Beyond bobcats though, there are many predatory species in rehabilitation settings, so I will speak in the most general terms.

All life is to be respected, and even animals needed as food deserve to be humanely euthanized except in the specific and limited instances where living food is necessary. One such is in order to properly prepare rehabilitating predators for their return to the wild. Live prey may also be needed, although more rarely, for certain species or certain individuals that refuse to accept pre-killed or substitute prey. (I’m thinking particularly of certain snakes that are highly prey-specific, but I am willing to accept that there might be special instances involving other species.) Normally, animals maintained in captivity do not require live prey, and may be endangered or harmed by exposure to such animals or may damage themselves in attempting to subdue live prey.

For those limited instances where live prey is appropriate and necessary, it would be wonderful if appropriate prey animals would voluntarily sacrifice themselves to this end. Since they do not, it is often necessary to live trap prey or substitute captive raised animals. If captive raised wild type prey animals are available, these are most likely to match up in size, scent, coloration and behavior with wild sourced individuals. If wild caught or captive produced wild type prey are not available, or an insufficient number of such are available, domestic animals may have to be substituted. Note that the commonest domestic substitutes are domestic rats and mice. These must be chosen to match wild type as nearly as possible in size and coloration. Scent will inevitably be somewhat different, but few predators hunt exclusively by scent, and some (like most raptors) not at all, so the visual match becomes even more important. Behaviorally, domestics almost never truly match wild animals in eluding detection or making an escape. That is an unfortunate drawback.

It seems important that a prey training scenario should be a realistic approximation of a wild scenario. A predator should be hungry and actively seeking food. The predator should actively hunt the prey animal, capture and dispatch it in whatever manner is normal to the species, then consume it. Wild predators only rarely “play with their food” and if such behavior is observed, either the predator is not ready for live prey or the prey is not being accepted as appropriate.

Hope this helps you.


Dan Martinelli, Executive Director
Treasure Coast Wildlife Center
a 501(c)(3) charity
8626 SW Citrus Boulevard
Palm City, FL 34990


Mary Cummins
CA DFG permitted Wildlife Rehabilitator

Date: Sunday, June 19, 2011, 4:26 PM
These are the minimum standards for wildlife rehabilitators. They state we must feed food that is proper for the species we are rehabilitating.

I would NEVER feed a live domestic bunny to wildlife. I realize there are rehabbers and reptile keepers who do this. They get them from the animal shelter. It would be extremely inhumane for the bunny. Plus, it is not a natural food for wildlife. Bobcats eat wild bunnies, ground squirrels, mice, rats and birds. They also eat chicken, lambs, and baby pigs if they are near ranchers.

I love bunnies. I have two dwarf bunnies that have full run of the house along with my cats and a skunk. I also rescue wild bunnies.

Mary Cummins
Animal Advocates
CA DFG permitted Wildlife Rehabilitator
Rio Hondo Police Academy
State Humane Association of California
Animal Law Enforcement Academy

Re: January 4 discussion with Carole Baskin on facebook: See Previous Post

While Quoting a “Hand Rearing Wild Bird Link” Carole Baskin stated: All of the better facilities do live feed carnivore who must be released back to the wild and the national affiliation of wildlife rehabbers condone the practice as well.
However; The National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) Code of Ethics does not reference Live Feeds and NWRA does not have any legal or regulatory authority regarding rehabilitation practices or facilities but claims NWRA maintains integrity and professionalism for all NWRA members and fellow rehabilitators.

“A wildlife rehabilitator should strive to provide professional and humane care in all phases of wildlife rehabilitation, respecting the wildness and maintaining the dignity of each animal in life and in death”.

Response from NWRA: Bobcat Feeding Protocols
Friday, February 3, 2012 7:45 AM
From: “”

Dear Linda,

This email is in response to your inquiry dated January 17, 2012, regarding the feeding of domestic rabbits to bobcats during rehabilitation.

You asked, “Can you please clarify – the NWRA condones feeding specifically live tame domestic rabbits to rehabbing bobcats or wild big cats in rehab?”

NWRA neither condones nor condemns the feeding of live domestic rabbits to bobcats undergoing rehabilitation for release into the wild.

Sandy Woltman
President, NWRA





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