Pancho and Pasqual
The birth of two male jaguar cubs put smiles on all the Zoo staff faces in 1944. All went well for the first six weeks, but then for reasons unknown, the female simply stopped caring for her cubs. Hungry and dirty, the brothers were taken to the Zoo’s hospital for immediate care. After a gentle but thorough scrubbing, soothing oil was rubbed on their encrusted little ears. Their first meal of ground meat, egg, and milk was gobbled with abandon. But with a full tummy at last, their natural instincts kicked in, and they became quite a handful!
Because they had been with their mother for a considerable length of time, they had almost no exposure to humans and didn’t trust the people trying to care for them. They were ready and willing to fight anyone or anything that came near. It took weeks of constant contact in order to gain their confidence.
Emily Burlingame, the veterinary hospital keeper who provided most of their care, spent long periods of time standing silent and motionless beside their hospital “room.” When they seemed to accept that, she began to whisper and even coo at them, getting them used to the human voice. At first, they would snarl, hiss, and crawl as far away as possible. But gradually, they learned that Emily meant no harm, and that she was the gateway to food—the great motivator! The first time they answered Emily’s call by coming forward instead of retreating, she considered it a personal triumph.
Although the cubs got along well most of the time, when food was involved, their demeanor changed in a flash. In her book, My Animal Babies, Belle Benchley shared her astonishment at seeing “… these kittens, rolling and playing in friendly, happy, affectionate abandon, suddenly become spitting, growling, fighting balls of infant fury the minute their dinner approaches.”
Pancho would pounce on the food first—Emily dubbed him “the greediest little cat I’ve ever seen.” Emily noticed Pasqual was forced to wait until his brother finished eating and only got what crumbs remained. From that moment on, the two were separated at feeding time.
All the effort put forth to save and raise the young cats was more than worth it, however. They thrived, becoming sleek, graceful adults. Emily described them “…as tough as two boots, probably as fine a pair of cats as there is in the world!”