FAIRFAX, Calif. (KTVU) - A small bobcat is in quarantine in Marin County, after hikers reported it had followed them, nipped at their feet, and rubbed against them, all in a quest for food.
"These were not attacks, this was not aggression," said Alison Hermance of Wildcare, the San Rafael rehabilitation facility where the bobcat is being cared for.
Instead, Hermance described the starving cat as close to death.
"This was one of the most pathetic cats I've ever seen in my entire life."
The young female bobcat had been approaching people at the Cascade Canyons Open Space in Fairfax.
"I was kicking it, I was clapping and I was screaming really loudly," Alicia Mora told KTVU, of her encounter with the cat last Thursday.
"I definitely swatted it and it was trying to bite me," said Mora, describing how the cat appeared on the trail, then charged at her, growling.
"It instantly started trying to bite my legs, and I just made loud noises, clapped and kicked it a little."
The cat finally fled, and Mora ran all the way back to the trailhead and alerted a ranger.
As it turned out, other hikers had a brush with the bobcat the same day, and it had lunged and bit someone on the heel, breaking the skin.
The Saturday before, June 8, it also also bit and scratched a woman's ankle and leg, as she used a walking stick to fend it off.
"It was actually urged away with a stick, but it bit the end of the stick off," said Cindy Machado, Director of Animal Services for the Marin Humane Society.
"It's startling, it's shocking, because you don't expect to have physical contact with a wild animal," said Machado, "so for these hikers, besides the surprise, they're a little upset the cat did that."
The Humane Society partnered with Marin County Parks rangers to locate and capture the cat, which turned out to be very easy.
"It was on the trail and came right up to them," said Machado, "close enough to use a capture stick."
The cat arrived at Wildcare emaciated, covered in fleas and ticks, very weak and very ill.
"What might have been perceived as an attack by some people was just total desperation on the part of this cat," said Hermance, Communications Director for WIldcare.
It is likely the cat was seeking a hand-out of food from the hikers.
"If a human gives them food, a light goes on in them, and they make that association," noted Hermance.
Wildcare treats 4,000 animals a year, releasing most back to nature.
For many of the animals that need rehabilitation, contact with humans and food, have created problems.
Young bobcats leave their mothers to go on their own within a year.
Only half will survive, struggling to establish territory and find prey.
Hermance says if the young bobcat wasn't going to make it, feeding her, no matter how well-meaning, did not do her any favors.
"Anytime a wild animal gets the idea that humans are their friends or a source of food that's an animal that's going to be in trouble, or is already in trouble," said Hermance.
Rescuers also urge the public to let them know at the first sign of distress, illness, or odd behavior from a wild animal.
Don't wait until its desperation becomes worse.
"It starts to growl and then you realize it's a wild animal that could definitely bite you and hurt you," said Alicia Mora, "so that was really scary."
The bobcat is in receiving food and fluids and in quarantine for ten days as a safeguard against rabies.
It's rabies risk is extremely low, but one of the bitten hikers elected to get a rabies shot as a precaution.
The bobcat's condition is "guarded", but if it is nursed back to health, it could be released to the wild.
As odd as this circumstance is, something similar happened a few years ago in Mill Valley.
A starving bobcat figured out there was food in the back of baby strollers and started jumping into them.
It too was caught, healed, and later released.