Jaguarundi Kitten Learns to Hunt

22 05 2010
The Most Adorable Kitten Ever

A baby jaguarundi cub in her kennel, her new home in Boquete

About a month ago Paradise Gardens received a baby jaguarundi. He had been found by a farmer in a field. The cub’s den had been run over by a tractor and it appeared that the mother had escaped with the other cubs (there are one to four cubs in a litter) but had been unable to carry them all and left this one behind. The farmer waited, watching the baby to see if the mother might return and protecting the baby from other possible predators in the interim. The mother never returned, and the farmer collected the cub and brought him to us to care for.

He arrived so tiny he had to be bottle fed. We had to make a decision quickly though: was he going to be released or would he be staying with us at Paradise Gardens for the rest of his life? Obviously it would be best for him and us if he could be released. He had arrived to us very young and with very little human contact, no injuries and no sickness. He could be released.

For a successful release we must minimize his contact with humans. Big cats are tricky because if he will stay his human contact must be maximized but for a cat in the wild to be comfortable with humans is a death sentence. Jaguarundis are smallish versions of the well-known big cats, slightly smaller than an ocelot. Yet they are still considered a danger to humans.If a cat is released after having too much human contact he or she will approach humans for attention (think of a cat purring and weaving around your legs… now imagine a big, wild cat doing that) or food and probably be killed or injured. Cats that have to remain here and will never be released, on the other hand, have to have loads of human attention and interaction. Lottie, the margay (looks similar to an ocelot), arrived as a three-month old who had spent her whole life, after being taken from her mother, in a human home. She had been kept in a two-foot by four-foot box, not nearly big enough for her body, and without the proper space her tail had grown kinked. Because she had no muscle tone she was unable to walk on her own. These three factors led Paradise Gardens to decide that she would never be able to be released. Living in such close quarters to humans she had grown accustomed to them. With a kinked tail she would never be able to hunt properly. And she needed a lot of human contact in order to heal her atrophied muscles.

In the case of the jaguarundi, it is impossible to completely cut out human contact. He had to be bottle fed at first and even now putting food into his cage involves brief human contact. However humans do not play with him, talk to him or touch him. He is unavailable for visitors to view. But he has to learn to hunt. And jaguarundis are raised by their parents with their siblings, although they are generally solitary for the rest of their lives. So we gave him some siblings: two house kittens! They have all been eating raw meat and are learning to catch chicks and mice. The kittens trump the jaguarundi at catching the mice but they are cautious of the chicks while the jaguarundi pounces as soon as he notices them.

As for the margay who lives here, she does hunt some. Every now and then a fish from the stream that runs through her enclosure is a nice snack and sometimes even the pigeons that get in are devoured. So maybe not a good enough hunter to be released into the wild but she does better than my house cat.

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A Brief History of Paradise

19 05 2010

Entrance painted by volunteers, Paradise Gardens Wildlife Rescue, Boquete, Panama

In 2002 Paul and Jenny Saban retired to Boquete, Panama from England with their pet cockatoo, Sam, two pet green winged macaws named Dollar and Ruby, a pair of Australian leadbeaters, a pair of Hyacinth Macaws and a pair of pair of pink galahs. Paul and Jenny had been breeders of rare tropical birds in the UK so the birds they had were in breeding pairs except for Sam, the cockatoo. In order to legally import and keep these birds Paul and Jenny applied for a license from ANAM, the Panamanian agency in charge of wildlife and the environment. ANAM was one of the first agencies to agree to the international CITES agreement which control the trading of rare birds in order to prevent poaching and their decline in the wild. Once licensed and living here Paul and Jenny began to convert the orange orchard they were living on into an amazing garden sanctuary for their own birds. Paul, a master stone mason, began work on paths and fountains while Jenny, an avid gardener, brought to life a true paradise of native trees, flowers and bushes. They both had experience in creating gardens in the UK and put there expertise to use here in Boquete, Panama

At the time Panama was lacking in wildlife rescue and rehab centers. Paul and Jenny began to take in birds that had been injured and rehab them. ANAM saw the wonderful work they did and the spaces available for the birds at Paul and Jenny’s and asked them to take in a few more injured birds from the local area. They accepted and built more large cages for scarlet macaws, and hyacinth macaws and a large aviary for smaller birds.

Soon word spread that Paul and Jenny were experts at caring for injured birds and local residents began bringing in other animals… a tiny tamarind that had been separated from his mother, an injured sloth, an ocelot cub too young to survive on its own but too big to stay in their house. Soon Paul and Jenny had a whole garden filled with an ark of different species.

Unfortunately all these animals were expensive to keep. There was the bird seeds, the fruits and nuts and eggs and meat, as well as live mice and chicks for the big cats. And for the animals that arrived due to injury there were the vet bills and the medicines and bandages and syringes (have you ever tried to give a shot to a capuchin monkey? Me neither, but I can only imagine, I mean they’ll steal your glasses off your face and then pee on your head, what would it take to get a needle close to them?!). As retirees Paul and Jenny’s funds were finite and would not infinitely expand to support the influx of animals. So they opened their home to the public, asking for 5 dollars as a entrance fee and any donations that visitors could give. The beautiful grounds earned the name Paradise Gardens. The rehabilitation and release of wild animals has always been the primary goal of Paradise Gardens. We specialize in animals native to the Boquete, Panama area but also take in animals from Bocas del Toro, the Darien and all over Panama.

Two years ago in 2008 Paul and Jenny were involved in a serious car accident. They were forced to return to England with almost no notice and have been unable to return since. The animals, of course, could not leave the country with such short notice. They stayed behind in enclosures and were taken care of by friends and neighbors, volunteers.

With Paul and Jenny back in England for what looked like a permanent stay the property was on the market. The gardens continue functioning supported completely by volunteers who care for the animals and the grounds and donations which cover food and medical expenses for the animals. Several people have come to look at the property but the fact that it is set up as an animal rescue will require a very special buyer with the patience and funds to support the constant in and outflow of animals.