Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Bobcat, almost certainly former "pet," wanders through Texas museum

Sara Perkins
Monitor Staff Writer
February 06,2007

EDINBURG — An unexpected visitor slipped silently through the front door and wandered 10 yards across the tiled foyer into the Museum of South Texas History’s gift shop.

Is he part of the exhibit? another visitor asked the woman behind the counter.

The answer was a quick evacuation to an office behind the shop while Edinburg animal control was called.

The guest, a bobcat the size of a Labrador, made a 7-foot leap to the top of a bookcase and, after stalking back and forth along the top, settled next to a basket.

"Everyone was out and we dimmed the lights and he just sat there like he owned the place," said Sandra Luna, the manager on duty at the museum that day. "And for a while there, he did."

About 15 visitors to the Closner Boulevard museum on Saturday were given free passes and asked to come back another time, while staff took photos of their new exhibit with camera phones through the glass front window of the shop.

"He was beautiful," Luna said. "I’ve never seen a wild animal that close."

Two animal control officers, with the help of museum board member Jim McAllen, eventually pulled the cat off the shelf and into a cage without harming it. It was released at McAllen’s ranch, according to museum employees.

The only casualty was a copy of Todd Hansen’s "The Alamo Reader," of which its cover was torn during the bobcat’s descent, said Executive Director Shan Rankin.

The bobcat was almost certainly an escaped or released pet.

"A wild bobcat would not come inside," said John Young, a mammologist with the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife in Austin. A wild one "would be going frantic to get back out."

However, the animal had apparently been fending for itself for a while. His droppings showed the remains of rodents and birds, the typical prey of bobcats in the wild, according to museum staff.

Bobcats can be legally kept as pets in Texas. They are occasionally picked up by animal control, and owners sometimes bring them in for rabies shots, said Assistant Chief Peter de la Garza of the Edinburg Police Department.

The museum sees around 35,000 visitors a year, 16,000 of whom are schoolchildren.

The bobcat picked a good weekend, Luna said with a laugh.

Had it waited two weeks to visit, it would have encountered a much bigger crowd at the museum’s annual pioneer and ranching craft day.

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Sara Perkins covers Starr County and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach her at (956) 683-4472.

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