The animal collective at Three Forks Nature Center in Sequoyah State Park gained two new family members recently, becoming a main hub for wildlife education in Cherokee County.
The center is now a popular place for animals in need of a good home. Last August, Bixby the beaver found refuge there after he was rescued from a construction site as a kit. Shortly after, Harry P. Otter moved in and shares a space with Bixby.
Now, the nature center has taken in a bobcat named Blue Berry and a red fox who goes by Ruby Taylor. The pair’s origin stories might differ, but they’ll receive the same care as the other animals.
Soon to be three years old, Blue Berry was a legal pet, bred and raised in captivity. After developing bladder stones and losing control of his urinary function, his owners decided he needed to live in an outdoor enclosure. After contacting Wild Heart Ranch in Claremore, from whence the nature center had received animals in the past, the owners were connected with Angelina Stancampiano, park naturalist, to find him a new home.
“He lived inside pretty much as a big house cat, because you can’t really let a bobcat out in your backyard,” said Stancampiano. “He loved watching TV and hanging out with his family, so it’s definitely different here. But he hasn’t been aggressive to any of the other animals; he’s just been really curious.”
Blue wasn’t in need of rehab; he just needed a loving home better suited for a bobcat. Although neutered, he still has his claws, but has never hunted or found a den to call home. So releasing him to the wild wasn’t an option for the family. So they sent him with his favorite toys and food to the center, where he receives plenty of attention and interaction from staff and visitors.
“It’s a really good animal for us to have, because they are quite common, but not common to see,” said Stancampiano. “I’ve seen a few here, but they’re a very elusive animal. By the time the animals come here, they’re here for life. So we don’t have to worry about imprinting on them. We can really interact with them and make them as comfortable as possible.”
To feed the animals at the nature center, the staff relies heavily on food donations. Oftentimes they’ll receive leftover meat from hunters who need to clean out their freezers. Stancampiano said Three Forks is always happy to accept donations, since animals like Blue require raw meat, such as chicken or beef.
“Today he got a rat,” she said. “If it’s raw meat, we’ll douse it with calcium bone-meal powder. In the wild, they’d be eating hair and guts and all of those things that add to the nutritional value of their food.”
Next door to Blue’s enclosure, Ruby the fox is still getting adjusted to her new home at Three Forks, as she only arrived Monday. She’s been slowly becoming acquainted with Roxie, a 7-year-old fox whom the staff hopes will be a good roommate for her once they let them meet without a fence between them for the first time this weekend.
Ruby came from the Noble, Oklahoma, WildCare Foundation,an organization that typically releases animals back into the wild. However, she had already imprinted on humans since she was sort of a neighborhood pet.
“She had no fear of humans and she was malnourished because of it,” Stancampiano said. “She was eating people food, so she wasn’t eating what she should be eating. So she was picked up by a game warden and taken to WildCare, and you can’t undo imprinting.”
The staffers believe Ruby is still fairly young because of her bright coloration. She’s since ditched the human food and taken a liking to a variety of protein and vegetables, such as carrots and freeze-dried crickets. Wednesday she tried out some wet dog food for the first time, and appeared to enjoy it, as her plate was empty.
But Ruby can be seen as an example of when to leave wildlife alone. While people may think it’s fun and harmless to approach and feed such animals, it can have adverse effects on their ability to survive. That’s often how they get hit by cars, because they’ve associated vehicles with people, and they know people have food.
“So a lot of times they’re euthanized, because they can’t be kept out and there aren’t enough facilities to re-home them all,” said Stancampiano. “So you could be contributing to that fox’s downfall. The best thing is to create a good habitat for them and be able to observe them from a distance.”
Humans should refrain from interacting with wild animals. Although an animal may appear to have been abandoned, sometimes its parents left it there with the intent of coming back. The nature center also asks that people don’t drop animals off at the park.
Check it out
Forks Nature Center is open Tuesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Saturdays, the center stays open until 6 p.m. For those interesting in learning more about the center or would like to make food donations for the animals, call 918-722-2108.