News & Politics

There’s Now a Movement to Free Ollie the Bobcat From the National Zoo

And it's kind of my fault.

Photograph courtesy Grey Vector.

When the National Zoo announced last Wednesday that it had found its wayward bobcat, Ollie, I wrote that her return to captivity was a “damn shame” after two days over which her escape transfixed Washington. Nominally, it was a relief that she was found alive and sent back to her exhibit. But for an instance, it felt as though we were all being uncaged as Ollie roamed free and spooked schools into canceling outdoor activities. Nothing stirs feelings of rebellion quite like an uncaged bobcat.

Apparently, I was not alone in thinking this.

If you’re still glum about the bobcat being back in the zoo, you can now join the “Free Ollie” movement. “For 51 glorious hours Ollie roamed free while America rallied together and cheered her on,” the new group’s mission statement reads. “Finally, we were no longer divided in conversation but together in our hopes that this woodland cat might find Freedom in the woods of Rock Creek Park.”

The group appears to have been inspired by, well:

“Everything’s been so wrapped up in the presidential changing of hands,” the group’s founder, Sam Forman, says. “It’s the only thing people have been talking about for weeks. Finally there was a break in the DC news everyone could get behind. Even though it was only a 25-pound bobcat, recess was canceled and things were really escalating.”

Forman, a graphic designer who lives in Cleveland Park, says he and his brother were actively rooting for Ollie to remain in the wild for the rest of her days. “If we were to come across Ollie, we said we would not call the zoo,” he says. “Life is more interesting thinking there’s an escaped animal out in Rock Creek Park.”

To that end, Forman’s concocted a few T-shirt designs. He also posted a video early Wednesday morning of himself and his girlfriend holding a brief rally outside the zoo’s gate. (They were the only participants in the eight-second demonstration.)

The Free Ollie campaign is not opposed to the National Zoo, and Forman says he has no plans to try to spring Ollie from her exhibit. He also says that some of the money he collects from T-shirt sales will be donated to Rock Creek Park conservation efforts.

And as the, um, spiritual leader of the Free Ollie movement, I will say that I also denounce any attempts to literally free Ollie. But it’s satisfying to know that even in these unsettling times, others see the bobcat as a beacon of freedom.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.