From New Mexico to North Mississippi to the Memphis Zoo. Read about the journey of a ringtail cat named “Gil” and the woman who helped save him.
Melissa Gilbert and “Gil” the ringtail cat first crossed paths back in November after a truck driver found what he thought was a lemur in the freight he was hauling. The truck started in New Mexico and traveled more than 1,000 miles before it ended up in Belmont, Mississippi. After discovering “Gil’, the driver was put in touch with Melissa and North Mississippi Mammal Rehab, Inc. “A volunteer transporter with NMMR drove over 5 hours to get him safely to me in DeSoto County, Mississippi. He arrived in great health considering his disposition. He was feisty and very vocal! We immediately got his intake done and got him settled in,” said Gilbert.
Ringtail cats are omnivores and even though they sport a few feline characteristics such as pointy ears, a slender body, and a fluffy tail, the ringtail is really a member of the raccoon family. They are also excellent climbers. Ringtails use a variety of vocalizations. Adults will use an explosive bark, a piercing scream, or a long, high-pitched call. Babies chirp, squeak, and whimper. Ringtail cats are native to the southwestern part of the U.S. and are not found in our area of the country.
Since they are not native here, working with “Gil” was a new experience for Melissa.
“His time with us was both educational and amazing! I went through a crash course in Ringtail everything! From dietary needs, habitat, adaptations. Really everything I could research on how to make his stay comfortable and assure he was receiving optimal care. I learned they often dine on insects in the wild, so I offered him fresh mealworms and he loved them. I also provided him with a hideout that was shaped like a tree trunk. He spent much of his time camped out inside of it”, said Gilbert.
Memphis Zoo came into the picture after Melissa exhausted all other options. The Department of Wildlife in Jackson, Mississippi helped our teams get in touch. Melissa says she is thrilled to see “Gil” at his forever home. “This is perhaps the most amazing part of his journey. It is not every day a species such as this ends up so far away from home. Not only were we able to learn from him and experience this once in a lifetime opportunity, but we were also intimately able to save his life. That is all that our mission entails. What a blessing it is to be able to work outside of our normal bounds and it be successful with this kind of outcome! The Memphis Zoo offering him home was what saved him. Now, he will have the opportunity to educate thousands of visitors about his kind. My hope is that everyone who meets “Gil” will learn from him and appreciate him as much as we did. We are honored to be working with them here at Memphis Zoo to secure “Gilbert” a future, one that he deserves,” said Melissa. To pay tribute to all of Melissa’s hard work, the Zoo named the ringtail after her. “Gilbert” or “Gil” can be found in our Animals of The Night exhibit.
Melissa has some advice on what to do if you ever come across wildlife in an unusual predicament.
“Wildlife is subject to many dispositions in the world around us. Human interaction is inevitable, and it is up to us to assist when there is a need. Any time Wildlife is found injured, orphaned, or displaced it is extremely important to contact your local, state-permitted, wildlife rehabilitation group. Many states have laws against native wildlife being held captive by individuals who are not permitted. For the safety of everyone involved, it is best to contact a wildlife rehabber for direction before proceeding. Often, baby animals can be successfully reunited with their mother, and do not need rehabilitation,” Gilbert tells us.