Surprising call, detective work save sick bobcat found on Jekyll Island

Jekyll Island Authority, Jacksonville Zoo work together to rescue animal

Provided by Jekyll Island Authority
Provided by Jekyll Island Authority

JEKYLL ISLAND, Ga. – A surprising call on the Jekyll Island Wildlife Hotline last month led to the rescue of an injured bobcat whose mystery illness was later diagnosed with some detective work by a Jacksonville Zoo veterinarian.

Jekyll Island Authority wildlife manager Joseph Colbert said the call on the guest information center line Sept. 24 was unusual because not much is known about the rarely seen bobcats. 

“We have only recently learned that they’ve established a small population on Jekyll,” Colbert said.

He called in his colleagues, JIA conservation land manager Yank Moore and JIA conservation director Ben Carswell, and the three followed a little-used trail to find the cat. 

“We quickly made the decision to give it space,” Carswell said. “It was obviously in trouble, but still too active to safely capture.”

Moore and Colbert, along with veterinary staff from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center returned to the site the next morning to find the bobcat had moved itself a few feet away, but still could not move its hind legs.

“The GSTC has a great treatment facility for reptiles and birds, but not mammals,” Moore said. “Thankfully, our wildlife veterinarian, Dr. Terry Norton, has an extensive network that includes the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. So he was able to reach out to their veterinary team and ask for assistance.”

When the bobcat arrived at Jacksonville Zoo's Animal Health Center, he was unable to stand or walk. He was also covered with numerous ticks. The ticks were removed and medical tests were conducted, including x-rays. 

When no apparent breaks or injuries were discovered on the cat, Dr. Meredith Persky made a long-shot diagnosis of a condition she had never directly observed: tick paralysis. 

Treatment and supportive care was administered and the bobcat began to significantly improve within 48 hours. By the end of the week the cat was walking and eating, a huge relief to both zoo and JIA staff. Blood tests later confirmed Persky’s diagnosis.

"Dr. Persky’s diagnosis of tick paralysis is one of the finest examples of veterinary detective work I’ve ever witnessed in more than three decades of zoo experience," said Zoo Deputy Director Dan Maloney.

The Jekyll Island Authority and Jacksonville Zoo collaborated on diagnosis and treatment decisions throughout the animal’s stay in Jacksonville. The zoo and Jekyll teams held daily check-ins to discuss the animal’s condition and the treatment plan. 

“The collaboration between the zoo and JIA team, led by Dr. Norton, was phenomenal,” Carswell said. “Working together, we were able to navigate a successful course of treatment. We also documented the first known case of tick paralysis in a bobcat.”

The bobcat -- affectionately named Bullwinkle by the JIA staff (his parents are Boris and Natasha) -- was fitted Friday with a radio collar. The collar, sourced from Kiawah Island’s bobcat research program, will allow the Jekyll Island Conservation staff to track Bullwinkle's movements. 

He was then transported back to Jekyll Island and released near where he was found. 

Tracking the bobcat will be essential to ensure his health and survival since the after-effects of tick paralysis in bobcats are unknown. Through tracking, JIA Conservation staff will also gain valuable insights into bobcat behavior, movements and viability on Jekyll Island. 

“We’re excited to learn more about the bobcats here on Jekyll,” Carswell said. “Hopefully, this will help us understand how these animals move around the island and interact with developed and undeveloped land.”