Bobcats baptize themselves at Cameron Boys Camp

Cameron Boys Camp’s students learned on April 3 that bobcats swim and barred owls will not fly — in the direction they are released.

Rehabilitation and release brought the Cameron Boys Camp and Holly’s Nest Animal Rescue together, pairing for a lesson on teamwork.

Holly’s Nest Animal Rescue receives animals going through tragedies, helps them survive, thrive, and locates environments suitable for their success when they are ready for release.

Four counties were connected in the animal rescue and release event. The bobcats were from Chatham County. The barred owl was from Harnett County, and the camp property was in Moore County. Regularly, animal control officers from across North Carolina work with Holly’s Nest Animal Rescue in Lee County to help animals needing rescue.

The students lined up to learn about bobcats at the edge of Big Sam’s Pond at Cameron Boys Camp on 900 acres. Students had hiked from their living quarters in the forest where they live in tents and manage their daily lives under the direction of camp chiefs and directors.

The students eat at the camp’s dining hall five times a week, and twice a week they prepare their own meals. The independence training serves as a rehabilitation exercise.

Bobcats baptize themselves at Cameron Camp

The dining hall at Cameron Boys Camp rests on a hill and is surrounded by woods. Photo taken April 3, 2022.

Boys choose the wilderness camp to learn how to deal with life’s obstacles in a group setting. The camp usually has about 10 boys at a time and a waiting list.

Only one student raised his hand when Byron Wortham, of Holly’s Nest Animal Rescue, asked who had seen a bobcat in the wild.

“It’s rare,” Wortham said. “When I got the call about these two bobcat kittens, I asked where’s the mother, and after more questions, the man told me he was hunting, and ‘his friend’ shot the mother, and they saw the kittens when they came out of the woods to suckle on the dead mother.” 

The male and female bobcat kittens were bottle-fed kitten replacement milk every four hours, around the clock. In a month, they were ready for real food.

“Some people feed them dog food, but that teaches them to hunt for what?” Wortham asked.

“Dog food!” the students answered.

Bobcats baptize themselves at Boys Camp

Cameron Boys Camp students, camp chiefs, directors, and a recording assistant wait for the rescued animal releases April 3, 2022, at Big Sam’s Pond.

“Right. We don’t want them to come into people’s habitats,” Wortham said. “We have good hunters out there, and they bring us frozen squirrels and rabbits. The bobcats eat the skull and all. The only thing they leave is the squirrel’s tail, and they don’t eat the rabbit’s hind feet or all of its skin. The rest is gone.” 

Wortham and Lee County Animal Control Sheriff Deputy Cupps released the bobcats on an earthen tongue, so photographers and the students could witness their run into the wilderness — their new home.

But the bobcats did not follow the plan. Both jumped into the pond. The big male swam to the other side, and the female opted to hide in tall, thick clumps of sand grass at the end of the earthen tongue.

Byron Wortham and Lee County Animal Control Sheriff Deputy Cupps release rehabilitated bobcats April 3, 2022 at Cameron Boys Camp.

The female bobcat did not come out of hiding during the release event. Because bobcats are nocturnal, Wortham said she would come out when it was dark.

“Notice the white circles on the back of the male bobcat’s ears?” Wortham asked. “All bobcats have the white circles.” Wortham said the circles make the bobcat’s heads look larger and more intimidating to their predators, and when bobcats are searching for one another in the dark, the white circles help.

Bobcats baptize at Cameron Boys Camp

The male rehabilitated bobcat swims across Big Sam’s Pond April 3, 2022 at Cameron Boys Camp.

When Wortham raised the five-year-old rehabilitated barred owl toward the direction of a pine tree near the water’s edge, the owl threw the students a curve when it flew into the woods.

Bobcats baptize themselves Cameron Boys Camp

Byron Wortham, of Holly’s Nest Animal Rescue, prepares to release a five-year-old rehabilitated barred owl April 3, 2022, at Big Sam’s Pond at Cameron Boys Camp as the Lee County Animal Control Sheriff Deputy Cupps observes.

Students followed into the woods.

“One could be in here, and we’d never see it,” a student said about how well the owl blended in with the tree bark and natural colors.

By the time the owl flew from its original landing spot, it was only a shadow.

Bobcats baptize themselves at Cameron Boys Camp 2

See if you can spot the rehabilitated barred owl as he rests in a tree April 3, 2022 at Cameron Boys Camp.

“The majority of animals we help need help because of people,” Wortham said.

Cameron Boys Camp is a ministry of Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina. Students typically spend fourteen months in rehabilitation and learn leadership skills while continuing their academics in the camp’s private and accredited school before returning to family.

Contact Holly’s Nest Animal Rescue at 919-499-7776 or [email protected].

Feature photo: A pair of four-month-old rehabilitating bobcats wait for their squirrel supper in February at Holly’s Nest Animal Rescue.

~Article, photos and video by Sandhills Sentinel Journalist Stephanie M. Sellers. Contact her at [email protected].

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