In Rosamond, California, a small, unsuspecting town in the middle of the desert, we found the Exotic Feline Breeding Compound, one of the most successful feline breeding facilities in the world. I get a bit queasy around zoos, with oversized animals confined to small cages, pacing back and forth, back and forth to the delight of paying customers who knock on the glass windows before moving on to the next live exhibit.
Here’s the thing, though: The Exotic Feline Breeding Compound is definitely NOT a zoo.
Sandy, the facility’s manager, who has devoted her life to these exotic cats since retiring from a career in finance in 1992, took the time to share the story of the cats and the goals of the compound with us. The breeding facility has three goals: to breed clean bloodlines of endangered species, conduct research about breeding and sub-species, and educate the public about large cats. The 77 cats currently at the compound are wild animals and great care is taken not to imprint the animals with a human personality. They are encouraged to be wild animals—to pounce, play and be natural. In zoos, these wild cats would be forced into a public space during the day and are allowed in an enclosed and temperature-controlled space at night. There is no manipulation of natural instincts at the breeding facility, though. In the heat of the day, most of the cats are hidden from the outside, public places and tucked into inside, air-conditioned dens by their own choice.
Luckily for us, we arrived mid-morning while a volunteer staff cleaned cages and interacted with the cats from a safe distance outside of the cages. Most cats were up and moving around, purring at Sandy as she explained the habits and history of each one. “All the animals know me,” she explained as Doc, a black jaguar, rubbed up against the cage. “They recognize my voice.”
Right now the Exotic Feline Breeding Compound is focusing breeding efforts on the jaguar, fishing cat, Pallas’ cat and Amur leopard. Sandy explained that a lot of consideration goes into choosing to breed cats, such as whether there is a pure bloodline match, if a zoo is interested and has space, whether the resources exist to care for the offspring for their entire lives and what the long term plans are for the offspring. “Our primary purpose is breeding and maintaining a viable population,” Sandy explained, but they won’t breed an animal simply for the sake of breeding without thinking about the future.
We sat under an umbrella-covered table tucked into this quiet corner of California chatting about the compound after our walk past all the cats on public display. Sandy pointed out the volunteers who walked around the compound, lugging cleaning materials around and answering questions. The facility works on very minimal staff and relies heavily on volunteers and donors. I admit that I’m a sucker for animals and if I had the extra time, I would have signed up right then and there to clean cages. Maya and Aztec, the jaguarondis, who looked like a mix of weasel and cat, and Tao and Ran, a pair of Northern Chinese leopards who adore each other but are unsuccessful at breeding, were clearly content. Frisbee, the fishing cat, watched his toys floating in his pond, relaxed as could be. These cats are happy. There is no stress here. For this diverse array of cats from around the world, this little piece of Rosamond, California, is the life.
Personal note: Please support the Exotic Feline Breeding Compound by visiting their website, donating time or resources, and sharing the goals of the facility with others. Education about these endangered species is paramount to their survival.
My entrance fee to the Exotic Feline Breeding Compound was comped but all opinions are my own.