Palo Alto's zoo bobcat dies at 22

Decades-old Rufus succumbed peacefully at city's Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo

He was a handsome, tawny and white, black-spotted critter with large green eyes. For 22 years, Rufus the bobcat gave thousands of Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo visitors a close-up view of a wild and highly elusive feline species, which roams California's forests, mountains and brush lands.

But Rufus died on Saturday, July 9, after the veterinarian and animal-care staff unanimously agreed that it was time to say goodbye. He was surrounded by all of his caretakers as he was euthanized, Junior Museum & Zoo Executive Director John Aikin said. His passing was one of the best that Aikin said he has ever seen.

Rufus was in pre-kidney failure, on pain medications for his spinal arthritis, had trouble seeing and had stopped eating two days prior, Aikin said. For the past two years, perhaps because of his arthritis, he preferred to stretch out at the front of the enclosure and watch his admiring public, rather than do what bobcats habitually do: keep a low profile.

Rufus never knew the wild life. He was born in captivity and was adopted by the Palo Alto zoo as a kitten. Many of his keepers knew him for his entire life, Aikin said. The typical wild bobcat lives 10 to 12 years and the oldest known to survive in the wild lived 16 years. Captive bobcats typically live 20 to 25 years, with the oldest estimated at 32 years, Aikin said.

Rufus had a companion, a 14-year-old female named Tule. In the wild, bobcats are solitary and are rarely seen together. But Rufus and Tule liked to lie together and lick each other, Aikin said.

"Rufus was a good cat, from a temperamental standpoint," he said, but like most felines, "You had to be able to read his moods."

Tule was sequestered while Rufus was euthanized, but after he died, staff let her back into the enclosure to view him. They were initially concerned about her, Aikin said.

"She sniffed him a couple of times," he said, noting that she then directed her attention to the humans, as if to ask "Where's the food?"

But he said she seems to be fine. "She gets all of the food and gets his portion," Aikin added.

The bobcats benefited from a new facility, which was completed in 2010 and provided two habitats that big cats favor: cover and elevation. Rufus, who had been sluggish, thrived in the new digs.

"He had a resurgence in life. It gave him more exercise options. He could watch the tropical birds next door and stalk them" from behind the enclosure, Aikin said.

The zoo has already put the word out for a rescue bobcat to keep company with Tule. But finding the right match may take some time.

"It's a waiting game and a dating game," Aikin said.

But he noted that bobcats are typically spayed or neutered and aren't bred in captivity as per the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which manages breeding for captive-breeding programs. The species is not endangered.

The Junior Museum & Zoo is undergoing a fundraising campaign for their renovation project. They are $1.2 million away from having the $10 million they need to receive $15 million in matching funds from the Peery Foundation, Aikin said. The Museum & Zoo also needs to raise $5 million for management funds.

The existing building is expected to be torn down in September 2017, with opening of the new facility scheduled for the end of 2019, he added.

Anyone who would like to donate to the fundraising campaign or in memory of Rufus can contact Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo at or call 650-329-2111.


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33 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 15, 2016 at 10:05 pm

Thank you for this wonderfully poignant article about Rufus. Since we moved to Palo Alto, we have visited the Junior Museum and Zoo a few times. Every time we have relatives or friends visit, we took the children there. Everyone enjoyed seeing Rufus.

Thankfully, his final moments saw him surrounded by people who loved him. I am glad to know that he will be remembered by generations of children who visited him.

6 people like this
Posted by Rainbow Bridge
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 18, 2016 at 8:37 am

Rainbow Bridge is a registered user.

Rest well, Rufus. You made so many children and adults happy with your antics over the years. You will me sorely missed.

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