The first thing to know about the Pauline S. Schneegas Wildlife Foundation is that it’s not a petting zoo. But, upon seeing three, fat and furry bobcats housed in a roomy cage in Nanci (and husband Paul) Limbach’s backyard, it might take a lot of restraint to keep your hands to yourself.
The bobcats — two males who have lived at the foundation for six years and one female who’s been there for three years — are acclimated to humans but are not domesticated. As Nanci Limbach led a private tour of the 30-acre facility south of Silt, the cats wandered to the front of their cage, eyeing Limbach’s barn cat, Tabby, who seemed to flaunt her freedom by walking back and forth in front of the cage, just out of the bigger cats’ reach.
Finding myself face-to-face with a curious bobcat, I was awestruck until suddenly the animal reached its paw through the cage and swiftly swatted my sunglasses to the ground. Knowing that wild animals are supposed to have claws, I was greatly relieved that this one did not.
“The males, Bobby and Robbie, were taken from the wild as kittens,” explained Limbach, foundation founder and director. “They were raised in captivity and declawed.” They couldn’t be returned to the wild, so Colorado Parks and Wildlife gave them to the foundation for educational purposes.
The female, Lollie Two-Molly (pronounced like “tamale”), has a different story, albeit one that’s all too common. A family out for a hike stumbled upon a mother bobcat relocating her kittens. While the mom was away, the humans snatched one of the kittens to raise as a domesticated cat. When they took the kitten to the vet for spaying, the cat was confiscated and brought to Limbach.
The story is a real head-scratcher for Limbach, who has 30 years worth of tales of the blunders of well-meaning humans. She said things like this happen more often than she would like. “Some people do stuff like this on purpose,” she said, recalling the time she found a newborn fawn in a box in her driveway. “People abduct fawns and calves in the springtime,” she explained. This particular fawn was the victim of two amateur photographers. “They saw the baby being born and chased the mom off to take pictures,” said Limbach. “The mom never came back.”
But she added that most people mean well when confronted with what appears to be an orphaned animal in the wild, they “just don’t think it out.”
Years ago, local teens came calling with another live fawn in a box. They found the baby all alone in the mountains, picked it up and went to find help.
The kids meant no harm, said Limbach. They simply didn’t know much about deer behavior. Like, before fawns are old enough to follow their mothers around, they remain hidden in the grass while mom goes off to feed. “The mother is not around because she [has a scent] and the baby doesn’t,” explained Limbach. “Mom leaves to keep the predators away.”
Instead of taking a fawn home, she said, leave it for 24 hours. “If it’s still there when you come back, call [Colorado Parks and Wildlife] or call me.” Do not pick it up.
The foundation has been rehabilitating wildlife since 1984. The staff accepts injured or orphaned creatures from federal, state and local wildlife and animal control officers as well as the public.
Limbach is an award-winning, licensed wildlife rehabilitator and a certified veterinary technician who teaches at Colorado Mountain College. She also holds classes at the foundation for grade school students.
The walls of the foundation’s classroom are lined with animal pelts, pictures, tapestries and shelves laden with snake skins, paw imprints, shells and other treasures from the wild. “It’s all hands-on in the classroom,” said Limbach. “Kids like stuff they can pick up and hold.”
But they can’t pick up and hold the foxes, bobcats or the Mexican Gray wolf who call the foundation home.
She added that teaching youngsters about wildlife is the best way to change attitudes. “They take what they’ve learned here home to their parents.”
Jon Wilson, who helps Limbach with repairs, says the foundation leads by example. “We get the rare opportunity to teach people about wildlife in the wild,” he explained. “That doesn’t happen in a zoo.”
Both Wilson and Limbach have a passion for wild creatures. Though Limbach has grown more tolerant of people’s attitudes after three decades, she still believes in education. “With our programs, we might reach at least one kid who won’t abduct an animal from the wild or end up doing something wrong.”
For more information, visit www.schneegaswildlifefoundation.org. To report injured or orphaned wildlife, contact Limbach at 970-876-5676 or call Colorado Parks and Wildlife at 970-947-2920.