Internationally accredited wildlife sanctuary offers 'forever home' for seized pet bobcat

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife officers took custody of 'Bane' two months ago
Leyah Pilkington with her pet bobcat Bane
Posted at 10:32 PM, Apr 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-27 22:32:41-04

WILLIAMSTOWN, Ky. — An internationally accredited animal sanctuary in Indiana could be the new home for a Grant County family's pet bobcat seized two months ago by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife officers, according to the sanctuary's executive director.

"We would be happy to accept this cat as his forever home," Black Pine Animal Sanctuary Executive Director Trish Nichols told the WCPO 9 I-Team.

Nichols said Kentucky's state veterinarian contacted her to see if the sanctuary had room for the bobcat.

The animal sanctuary is an 18-acre "refuge" in northern Indiana to more than 100 exotic animals that were raised in captivity, according to the Black Pine's website.

Nichols said Black Pine has four tigers raised in captivity by 'Joe Exotic,' the inspiration for the Netflix series Tiger King.

"He (the bobcat) would get the highest level of care if he was placed at our facility," Nichols said.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife officers seized 'Bane' a potty-trained pet bobcat from a Grant County home in February
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife officers seized 'Bane' a potty-trained pet bobcat from a Grant County home in February

Black Pine is located about 250 miles northwest of the bobcat's former home in Grant County, Kentucky.

Leyah and Arthur Pilkington said they legally purchased their bobcat 'Bane' from an Arkansas breeder in 2021. In February, acting on a citizen complaint about the family's bobcat, state Fish and Wildlife officers visited the Pilkington's home in Grant County, according to court records.

The officers took Bane into custody and charged Leyah Pilkington with illegal possession of wildlife, according to her citation.

Nichols said Black Pine has allowed some former owners to visit their pets at the sanctuary.

The Pilkingtons were unaware that Black Pine was a possible home for Bane until the I-Team told them on Thursday night. Leyah Pilkington hopes it works out.

"It's amazing," she wrote in a text message to the I-Team.

Leyah Pilkington with her pet bobcat Bane
Leyah Pilkington with her pet bobcat Bane

Since the I-Team first reported on the bobcat's plight, about 500,000 people have watched or read the story, according to a WCPO data analysis. The story has been viewed in more than 60 countries, including Russia, Germany, China, Serbia and Pakistan.

Operators of nonprofit state and federally licensed wildlife sanctuaries in Kentucky and Texas saw the I-Team's story and offered to be Bane's permanent home.

"My wildlife sanctuary can adopt him," Moon Taylor said. "We specialize in bobcats."

Taylor — the CEO of Spiritual Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation Sanctuary in Arlington, Texas — said her bobcats receive veterinary care and the ones raised as pets live inside the facility with her.

The facility is licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and state of Texas, according to state and federal records.

"Bane has to be located and placed with a facility that can accommodate the needs that he's accustomed to," Taylor said.

The Kentucky state veterinarian contacted the Louisville Zoo in mid-March to see if it would be able to take the bobcat, according to Louisville Zoo Director of Marketing Robert Kemnitz.

"After discussions with the State Vet, we determined that we would not be able to accept the bobcat due to limited space and staffing," Kemnitz wrote in an email response to the I-Team's questions. "The Zoo does not currently have any bobcats in the collection. We feel confident that Fish and Wildlife will find a suitable accredited facility for the bobcat."

The Cincinnati Zoo was not contacted about providing a permanent home for Bane, according to Cincinnati Zoo Communications Director Michelle Curley.

Bane's care in state custody

Leyah Pilkington said before Bane was seized, he ate a blend of exotic feline canned food and kibbles because he refused to eat meat.

State records show within a few weeks in state custody, the bobcat was on an all-meat diet.

Sometimes, he ate all of it. Some days, Bane didn't eat any of it.

On March 18, he was "highly dissatisfied," according to the state's log of his care and feeding.

Bane was potty-trained on a toilet
Bane was potty-trained on a toilet

He was seen by a veterinarian 18 times during his first month in custody, according to the state's summary of his hands-on care.

On Thursday, a Kentucky Fish and Wildlife spokesman clarified the state's effort to find a permanent home for the bobcat that's licensed and accredited.

"Cases are assessed on an individual basis depending on the circumstances and specific needs of the confiscated animal," Kevin Kelly wrote in an email response to the I-Team's questions. "The goal is finding a quality facility that can care for the animal for the rest of its life while not perpetuating the ill-advised practice of keeping wildlife as pets."

Initially, the Pilkingtons hoped that their daughter in Florida would be able to get a state permit to keep the bobcat as a pet. But she's still waiting for the permit, which may not be approved for another four to six weeks, according to Leyah Pilkington.

The Pilkingtons said they were concerned that the state would euthanize Bane. Now, they're confident their beloved pet will find a good home with people who can provide quality care.

"It definitely puts my mind at ease," said Leyah Pilkington. "He'll be able to live out his days happy."