Bobcats: From endangered species to open season?

Zoe Greszler • Jun 16, 2018 at 2:00 PM

Bobcats, once an endangered species, have increased their numbers — not only in population, but in popularity among hunters and pet owners. 

According to Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) communications manager John Windau, the small wild cats, which are typically smaller than a medium-sized dog at 18 to 35 pounds, were put on Ohio’s endangered species list in 2011. Since then, though, things have been on the up and up for the native cats, which are no longer on the list as population sizes continue to increase.

“Really, like most native animals, it was habitat loss (that caused the endangerment),” Windau said.

“Like a lot of species, in the late 1800s early 1900s, they started to lose their natural habitats and they had to move or they died,” he added. “As their populations grew in other states though, the cats have moved back to the area. Obviously it’s a good thing to have them back in their natural habitat and part of their natural ecosystem.

“The population has been recovering. It’s been doing really well.” 

Windau said bobcats are “more of a forested kind of species,” and so most of the population increase has taken place in the southern part of Ohio, but occasionally sightings have been reported in the area.

“We don’t really see much in this area,” said Heather Tuttle, Back to the Wild education and rehab coordinator.

Back to the Wild is a licensed wildlife rescue, rehabilitation and education center in Castalia. It has had two bobcats in its care recently — a female, which died two years ago, and a male, which still participates in educational programs put on by the center.

“Here at Back to the Wild, we’ve never taken in an orphaned, wild bobcat,” Tuttle said, adding they’ve always been owned by people who tried to domesticate the animals.

“Lots of people claim to see them, but almost always it’s actually a feral cat. Bobcats don’t get very big,” she said. “Their identifying feature is the bobbed tail. Feral cats can have their tails bobbed by getting in fights. They can lose it getting in fights with raccoons or a dog. Bobcats have naturally bobbed tails; they’re born like that.”

Open season?

The state’s overall increase in bobcat population has gotten some hunters excited at the prospect of adding the animal to their list of prey.

“They looked at the population and the numbers we’ve been having and they decided that the portion of state where they were going to could have trapping harvest,” Windau said.

That possibility was shot down this year at least when the ODNR Wildlife Council tabled recommendations that would have created a fall bobcat trapping season. The season would have started in November. It is possible the issue could be considered later for future fall hunting seasons.

Windau said for the most part the cats don’t pose a threat to humans because their nocturnal, “very secretive” and shy nature causes them to avoid people.

“Typically if you make noise, they’ll go away,” he said.

‘Cute and adorable’ pets?

Tuttle said the problem comes when people notice how “cute and adorable” the creatures ate and instead of being concerned with getting away, they’re concerned with having their very own bobcat pet.

“We run into that a lot,” she said. “They purr and people fall in love with them, but they’re still wild animals. ... When we have (our bobcats) out for the educational programs, people always say ‘Oh I’d love to have one of those as a pet.’ We always say ‘Actually, you definitely would not love to have one of those.’”

She said it is now illegal to take a bobcat out of the wild in an attempt to domesticate it and it is even dangerous to legally purchase one that has been removed from the wild.

“Bobcats are not domesticated animals — it doesn’t matter how many generations removed from the wild they are,” she said. “You can love, hug and cuddle them as much as you want, but they’re still going to grow up to be a bobcat.”

Tuttle said that means the instinct to protect food and habitat takes first priority.

“Once they reach sexual maturity in the wild, they’re not social, not hanging out in packs,” she said. “If they’re raised around people, they start to view human as one of their own species. Well, they fight each other over territory and food sources.”

Tuttle said while there are stories where nothing bad has happened, there “are way way more stories” where owners have been harmed. In one Back to the Wild case, owners were run out of their own house.

“They were literally driven out of their own home,” Tuttle said. “We had to help them set up a live trap to bring (the bobcat) out of there. They never abused her or anything. They even had pictures where she was dressed up in doll clothes. But once she reached that sexual maturity, she began exhibiting qualities of wanting to protect her food and home.”

Tuttle said it’s recommended that everyone allow bobcats to enjoy their natural habitat.

“We always tell kids, even if you think wild animals are cute and adorable they deserve to be free,” she said.

“It is easier to see (bobcats) in the wild now too. ... We encourage people to appreciate and respect these animals, and take opportunities to see them out in the natural habitat with tours and things, from a safe distance of course.”

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