Chips the bobcat gets a new home for the winter

Chips, the bobcat rescued during mop-up operations for the Chips Fire, has fully recovered from her journey out of the scorched Plumas County forest. She will be released back into the wild in spring. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service
Samantha P. Hawthorne

  Chips, the baby bobcat that was rescued Aug. 25 from an area devastated by Chips Fire, has become a countrywide celebrity thanks to her warm and inspiring journey through the charred remains of her home.

  When she was rescued, the kit’s eyes were full of ash and smoke, and she had second-degree burns on her paws. Now, at 5 months old, she is living the high life in Placerville along with two other bobcats her own age.

  Chips spent the last few months recovering at the Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care center, where she received specialized treatment to heal her infected eyes and blistered paws.

  With the winter season settling in the mountains and the resulting decline in temperature, Chips, along with her male bobcat companion, Sierra, were transferred to Sierra Wildlife Rescue. In early November, the two were sent to the main facility where they both received further treatment for their injuries.

  Upon arrival at their new temporary home, Chips’ eyes were fully healed, but her paws were still faring badly. Within a couple weeks, veterinarians were able to treat and heal her second-degree burns, and she is now fully recovered.

  In order to provide the most comfortable environment, staffers moved the two bobcats to a new location where they would be in the company of Tuffy, another young bobcat, and cared for by one of SWR’s experienced bobcat home rehabilitators.

  “The kits need to learn about and play with their own species; it is really good for them. They learn hunting behaviors, wrestle and play together,” said SWR Publicity Chairwoman Nancy Powers.

  Together, the three companions are learning the ropes of how to be proper bobcats.

  The kits will remain at their new home throughout the winter and have minimal human contact until they are released in the spring. “They are too young to be released right now and wouldn’t be able to fend for themselves,” said Powers. “We don’t release any wild animal until they are old enough to fend for themselves and free of any injuries.”

  The wild animals are living off a diet of frozen mice, chicken and good quality kitten chow. “Our animals are spoiled,” said Powers.

  According to Powers, bobcats are very carnivorous. “As they get older, they will be given road kill and live mice to hunt.” This will give them the experience they need to live in the wild.

  The kits have a large, wooden den to sleep in, or on. “They are very shy and like to hide a lot,” said Powers. Since the animals have already been weaned, they have very little interaction with humans. “We try to keep them wild and so far, they are thriving and growing.

  “By the time they go back into the forest, they will be about 8 to 9 months old and will be able to cope and defend themselves,” she said.

  Videos and photos of Chips’ recovery at LTWC are available at the Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care web site.

Chips recovery

  While conducting mop-up operations on the north end of the Chips Fire, the Mad River Hand Crew spotted the kitten-like bobcat hobbling alongside the road, confused and alone.

  According to Tad Hair, the hand crew’s superintendent who initially spotted the kit, it appeared her vision was impaired, possibly due to smoke and ash in her eyes.

  After checking the kit for obvious physical injuries, the crew started walking away from the animal. Following the sound of the crew’s movements, however, she tagged along behind them.

  Since the kit wouldn’t leave their side, the crew members attempted to search the area for signs of other bobcats, but there were “no tracks, whatsoever, in the ash except for this little gal’s,” said Hair.

  Not wanting to leave her behind, the crew members took Chips to the incident command post, located in West Lake Almanor, where they contacted the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office and the California Department of Fish and Game, which recommended they contact Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care.

  It was decided that Chips would be transported to LTWC where experienced professionals would examine and treat her for injuries.

  The tiny bobcat spent the good part of two months at the Tahoe facility where she earned the love and adoration of people throughout the United States. “We are getting calls from all over the country; the phone won’t stop ringing,” said Cheryl Millham, Chips’ caretaker.

  The veterinarian who examined Chips explained that aside from the partial blindness the kit suffered from, she also had second-degree burns on her paws.

  During her mountain retreat, Chips’ eyes were flushed three times a day, and she slept on a soft bed while her paws recovered.

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