A litter of bobcats rest and play with two kittens that belong to Zoe, left, a domestic house cat that will be nursing the bobcats for the next five weeks, at Carolina Wildlife Care, in Columbia, S.C., Thursday, April 29.
By Associated Press Writer
updated 4/30/2010 9:48:02 AM ET 2010-04-30T13:48:02

In just a few months, three baby bobcats found in South Carolina could be a danger to a gray tabby named Zoe. But these days, the fuzzy felines are just members of the family for the nursing mother. The bobcats, orphaned after the abandoned house they were living under in Newberry County was demolished, are being nursed by Zoe at Carolina Wildlife Care near the Saluda River a few miles northwest of downtown Columbia.

The nursing is expected to last about four weeks and is intended to give the bobcats a feline on which to imprint, said Joanna Weitzel, executive director of the wildlife rescue group. "It's important they get that nurturing and care from a species similar to their own."

After five weeks, though, their razor-sharp teeth and claws could hurt Zoe and Zoe's kittens — an orange tabby and a calico that now dwarf the three bobcats in their kennel. The bobcats are expected to grow over the coming months to the size of large dogs — about 22 inches tall and up to 70 pounds — while their adoptive siblings will likely max out around 10 pounds.

Once the bobcats are weaned, they will be put in a specially built habitat. The goal is to minimize their contact with humans.

"If they lose their natural fear of humans, it's almost like a death sentence," Weitzel said.

Video: Cat nurses bobcat kittens The habitat alone will cost about $2,000, not including the year's supply of live rodents the three will need to learn how to hunt and kill. Carolina Wildlife is hoping to raise enough money to provide the care the bobcats will need for up to 18 months when they should be ready to return to the wild.

The animals are being checked out by a veterinarian at nearby Riverbanks Zoo.

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