By Dylan J. Darling
The sight was a sure shock to Pacific Crest Trail hiker David Osborn. Walking the trail through Northern California in 2005, he saw a wildcat huddled on a sandbar along a creek near Castle Crags State Park.
His chance discovery of the once-captive male lynx led the cat to Bend, where it lived for nearly a decade as a popular animal at the High Desert Museum. Snowshoe, as he was known here, died late Tuesday of kidney failure. Museum officials say he was more than 20 years old.
“I’m glad everything worked out,” said Marianne Dickison, center manager for Shasta Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation in Anderson, California, who cared for the cat shortly after it was found. “He couldn’t have gotten better care. … I don’t think the first part of his life was very good,” she said Wednesday.
Snowshoe likely was born into captivity and someone tried to keep him as a pet. A veterinarian who examined the lynx after Osborn found him in August 2005 discovered that someone had neutered him, removed his claws and pulled out his canine teeth. The vet also found the cat lacked muscle, a clue that it had been kept in small quarters for a long time.
Osborn’s presence didn’t startle the lynx when he discovered him along the east fork of Sulphur Creek in the mountains north of Redding, California.
“He was lying in a sphinx position,” Osborn told the museum about three weeks ago.
Following the advice given to people in the backcountry who encounter a wildcat, Osborn tried to make himself seem large and made noise. The cat didn’t care.
“(He) looked at me curiously and yawned, then stretched like a dog and started walking straight toward me,” Osborn told the museum.
The snap of a branch, possibly from a deer, startled the lynx as it approached Osborn. He ran for it and a couple of miles away met Brett Mizeur, an off-duty ranger from Castle Crags State Park, according to the museum. Mizeur happened to have a large dog trap and roast beef in his truck. He gathered the trap and bait and went to where Osborn spotted the cat.
A trail of roast beef led the lynx into the trap. Once captured, he was transferred to the care of Dickison and other animal rescuers.
The cat was very hungry and partially tamed, Dickison recalled. It wasn’t fit to be in the wild nor did it turn out to be a native animal.
“It was pretty much starving because it didn’t know how to hunt,' said Karlene Stoker, spokeswoman for Shasta Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation.
Tests revealed the cat was the result of a Canadian lynx being bred with another wildcat. Dickison said he has the longest legs she has ever seen on a lynx.
A lynx is a wildcat that is slightly larger than a bobcat, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. In Oregon, lynx have been found in the Willamette Valley, Cascade Range, Steens Mountain, Stinkingwater Mountains, Blue Mountains and Wallowa Mountains.
For the cat to live, Dickison had to find an organization, probably a museum, to take it in. She found a home for it at the High Desert Museum. The museum adopted the lynx and he was first on public display in November 2005.
While in Dickison’s care she called the cat “Grinch,' because his droopy right ear made him look like the Dr. Seuss character. Once he was in Bend, the High Desert Museum held a contest to name him. “Snowshoe' beat out “Grinch.'
Since then, Snowshoe had been a mainstay at the museum, prowling the exhibit, which is just to the right after passing through admission.
“He was one of the most popular animals, especially for kids,' said John Goodell, wildlife curator at the museum.
The museum does not have plans to replace Snowshoe’s exhibit with another lynx, he said, although it does still have Vivi, a 15-year-old female bobcat, on display. Snowshoe’s old spot probably will be filled someday by smaller animals, perhaps porcupines. The lynx’s background and age made him comfortable with plenty of attention from people and a confined space.
“It was just a very unique individual,' Goodell said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7812,