Saturday, March 21, 2009


From San Jose, CA to Boulder, CO to Plano, TX to Atlanta, GA to Sarasota, FL to Bradford, PA and all of New England the sightings of wild animals to especially include deer, raccoons, opossums, wiley coyotes, snakes, alligators, squirrels, rabbits, birds of all varieties and other fauna remain the norm. As of late, however, the bobcat, black bear, javelina and the mountain lion (with all its myriad names) have become more common and a reminder that not only are we not alone - we are, in fact, the interlopers. For the purposes of this piece we are going to concentrate on the Bobcat (Lynx rufus).

Recent local sightings of bobcats have stirred apprehension and fear in some while others revel that these animals have been able to continue to find a good homecoming despite our trespass. So, what’s the big deal? Really nothing is the answer. They are doing their thing and we are doing ours and hopefully never the twain shall meet.

The Castle Pines community south of Denver and north of Castle Rock, Colorado was recently rousted when some bobcats were seen in their neighborhood. Instead of forming drooling Neanderthal vigilante posses intent on hunting down and killing our furry friends, they issued the following proclamation.
Bobcats have been seen in the neighborhood recently, so PLEASE watch your small dogs, cats and children and DO NOT leave them outside unattended. We have had coyotes in the neighborhood forever, but now the bobcats are here also. Remember, we live among the wildlife and they were here before us! So, we need to respect the situation and watch our animals and children at all times.
Whoa, understanding and compassion in our economically-wracked, environmentally insensitive manic times? Thank God. Unfortunately that’s balanced by the obsessed reaction of a Bradford, PA citizen who despite evidence that his “cat” sighting was a bobcat, continues to insist that it was a hybrid of a mountain lion and a bobcat? I have a tough time trying to reconcile even that concept since both have an incredible territorial imperative. Can’t you just picture a 150 pound mountain lion trying to have its way with a 35 pound bobcat? Not likely. Here comes Sasquatch and Nessie holding hands…

The reaction to the realization of the presence of wild animals in our midst and the tendency to exaggerate and leap to unfathomable conclusions continues to amaze and entertain this writer. The mountain lion (besides Humans and Gray Wolves) is the only natural predator of the bobcat which would more than likely end up on the mountain lion’s buffet table.

A bobcat sighting in nearby Frisco, Texas was appropriately handled. Local officials stated that unless there was a threat to residents they, “Wouldn’t do anything.” Frisco's senior animal control officer, Mike Hansen, reflected that wild animals such as the bobcat have adapted well to urban environments and unless they become aggressive, he sees no reason to remove them. Hansen continued, "People see something like that and think, 'That doesn't look right. They shouldn't be here’, but they're out there; they're part of the ecosystem. Most people just don't see them." Well done, Mike!

We need to note that bobcats have elevated themselves from endangered status in many areas with their sightings no longer rare. They have recovered their populations to the degree that many US states now have bobcat hunting seasons. I find that activity repugnant, problematic and wonder why in the 21st century we have a need to go out and kill these beautiful animals for sport or the ludicrous justification to engage some ill conceived, non existent threat to Man.

Our bobcat is a reclusive, solitary animal that mostly tends to stay out of developed areas though they, admittedly, aren’t very far away. They are generally only on the prowl in the hours around dawn, dusk and the evening hours and their diet includes rabbits, shrews, squirrels, opossums, rats, mice and other small mammals and birds. Apparently at least one small pet has also been targeted witness a recent isolated attack on a small dog in Plano, Texas. Reposing in his large fenced backyard the dog must have appeared to the bobcat as a filet mignon in a supermarket meat case - easy pickings. Wildlife officials reflect that these attacks are very, very rare.

Plano Animal Services Manager Jamey Cantrell has indicated that it's impossible to estimate how many bobcats live in Plano, but noted that, "They're quite crafty and smart. If they were easy to catch there wouldn't be that many of them out there." They do adapt well to most Human environments and apparently there are several bobcats that have territories up and down Legacy Drive west.

I am well familiar with one Plano, Texas company that has property near the intersection of Preston Road and Legacy Drive. That property includes a credible river, creek, scrub, trees and sufficient thick cover for many critters. That property is home to scores of ducks, geese, egrets, herons, rabbits, squirrels and some grounded birds that look like guinea fowl from afar.

I have noted after almost two seasons at this locale that the spring populations of rabbits appear plenteous while by autumn their numbers appear greatly diminished. I suspect that the rat and mice populations are likewise reduced. Yes, that property is also home to one or more well-fed bobcats who appear to be thriving despite the fact that the company trapped and relocated two bobcats prior to the construction of their headquarters. Sightings still occur at least monthly with one member of that company’s staff designated as the “Indigenous Kitty Monitor” generating all the appropriate spread sheets documenting sightings.

Lest some of us get too upset with this latest revelation that Mother Nature is still with us, Texan Wendee Holtcamp, freelance writer, photographer, scientist, educator and self proclaimed Bohemian and “mover-n-shaker” put it all in perspective in her recent article Cat of All Trades in Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine. Holtcamp hit the nail on the head by noting that “Bobcats are adapting well to life in suburbia, where they mostly eat rats and squirrels - not cats and dogs.”

In her well written article Wendee collaborated with Ellen Stringer-Browning, a Ph.D. student at University of Texas–Arlington who has spent the past three years researching bobcats in Big Bend National Park and at River Legacy Parks, a 1,300-acre forested preserve along the formerly sweet smelling Trinity River in Arlington, Texas which borders a residential neighborhood where as she tongue-in-cheek reflects, “the bobcats have, um, invaded."

Stringer-Browning commented in the article, "Of all North American cats, they've become the only one that can handle high-level disturbance. Because of that, biologists study bobcats as a sort of model organism. "It's a way to get answers about other species. How do they survive when ocelots or margays can't?" Throughout North America – and around the world – most wild feline species have declined as human populations have grown and encroached on their habitat. The bobcat stands in a class apart, having been able to survive and even thrive near human development.”

So, we are dealing with a benchmark species, our canary in the coal mine and harbinger of the future that’s reflecting we just might be able to co-exist with our native wildlife. Despite the current economic downturn, we continue our march towards extinction while the bobcats and other native species are doing most of the accommodating. They are expanding and prowling their natural range - our woodlands and neighborhoods - and play an important role in our natural world. These skilled predators help keep rabbit and rodent populations in check and promote the eureka validation that the environment will allow for a natural system of checks and balances. Bottom line: The bobcats have their place in our world and we need to respect their space and their contributions to our environment.

By the way, Trevor Tanner, wildlife biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife recently confirmed a mountain lion (ghosts with long tails) sighting in Collin County (Plano) within the past year further confirming that other wildlife species are expanding.

And who’s that nut at that Plano company who’s monitoring their bobcat population? Yep, it’s me.


Ned Buxton

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am a rural mail carrier in Eastern Arkansas and saw a critter last week that has me puzzled. I am very familiar with bobcats, usually seeing several per year on my route. I also recognize cougars, having grown up in the Pacific Northwest. Last week I saw some sort of cat that has me puzzled. I know the possibility of a cougar/bobcat cross is remote, however I can't come up with any other explanation. This cat was about 2.5' at the shoulde with a long lean profile and a tail about 18" long with a white tip. The body was tawny gold in color with a few dark spots. The face was broad and flat with rather pointed ears, but no tuffs of hair. It was in no way alarmed by my vehicle, when I stopped to get a better look, but in fact stared back at me before taking a few steps closer to the woods, then casually looking back and pausing once again to look at me. I got a VERY good look at this cat and have no idea what it was.