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The House Cat’s Cousin; The Bobcat

Most cat lovers know that their furry feline friends are still, after thousands of years of domestication, mostly wild animals, who exhibit many fierce hunting skills and untamed daily behaviors, so it’s no surprise that the house cat’s cousin, the bobcat, is as wild, untamed and fierce as ever.

In an effort to gather information about the native Nutmeg state feline, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) started a special bobcat project, in the state in 2017. Since then, experts in the field have been trapping, collaring, ear tagging and tracking these elusive, secretive wild creatures to investigate their habitats and determine how these animals meet their needs in both rural and suburban areas throughout the state, as well as how successful they are at reproduction and survival.

Right now, in Connecticut, there are bobcats in living in all 169 towns throughout the state.

According to Melissa Ruszczyk, a seasonal resource assistant for the DEEP bobcat project, there is a bobcat collared that lives in Hartford and one that lives in Bridgeport, so they can even survive in acute city settings, going unnoticed for the most part, due to their stealthy habits and unique ability to live in the shadows.

“These are beautiful animals,” said Ruszczyk. “And when and if people get a chance to see them, they shouldn’t be so fearful, instead they should enjoy the experience and feel lucky, because bobcat sightings are very rare.”

She added that it is very unusual that bobcats interact with people and are sick, however, there is always that atypical chance that these animals could be rabid, so people should be cautious, as with all wild animals, and not try and get to close to them.

Born into litters that can range in size from one kitten up to four kittens, bobcats are hardy little felines, who typically weigh in between 18 and 35 pounds, with males being larger than females. They only join up with other bobcats briefly, during courtship, which usually happens during January and February. They then begin denning (dens are usually made beneath windfall, in caves, rock crevices, ledges and hollow logs) and giving birth in late April into May although some litters are born as late as July. Although they are solitary animals, bobcat kittens usually remain with their mothers for nine to 12 months, learning to hunt and fend for themselves, from watching her.

Named for their recognizable tail, which is much shorter than most other feline tails, the bobcat or lynx rufus, has a soft thick coat of spotted brown and brownish red fur, with a white underbelly, a short black-tipped tail, prominent cheek ruffs and tuffs of black points on the tips of its pointy ears. Rarely vocal, besides the occasional growl or hiss, their range extends through the lower 48 states into southern Canada and south into central Mexico.

Capable of delivering a deadly blow, by way of their impressive pounce, which can cover 10 feet and ends in an instant, powerful bite to the back of the neck, bobcats are patient, intelligent, stealthy, nocturnal hunters, who prowl along tree lines, waiting for prey of all shapes and sizes.

“Bobcats are true carnivores,” explained Ruszczyk. “They rarely eat anything besides meat. They are also one of Connecticut’s top predators, so they are extremely important to our ecosystem.”

Bobcats eat woodchucks, rabbit, squirrels, ground-dwelling birds, chipmunks, mice, voles, other rodents, fish and to a much lesser extent, insects and reptiles.

Once facing extirpation, currently, according to the DEEP data that has been collected, the bobcat population in the state is doing well. This is in part due to the re-establishment of habitat in some areas, as well as the fact that in 1972, the bobcat was reclassified as a protected furbearer in Connecticut and unregulated exploitation and hunting the animal for its fur was halted.

From fall 2017 into early winter 2018, the cats have been being followed by state wildlife biologists and important data including weight, age, and sex of each cat has been recorded. In the first round of tracking, fifty bobcats were fitted with GPS (Global Positioning System) collars. The collars were programmed to automatically detach from the animals on August 1, 2018. Bobcat project staff then used radio telemetry equipment to locate and recover the detached collars. Efforts to live-trap a new group of bobcats were initiated in fall 2018 and are currently ongoing.

“It is important to monitor the bobcat population because the presence of these top predators affects many other species, including prey species and competing predators,” added Ruszczyk.

The DEEP is asking for the help of the public in tracking bobcat sighting with the use of iNaturalist, which is a free phone app that allows you to record observations and add them to scientific projects, share them with other users, and discuss findings with experts.

Anyone who finds a road-killed bobcat is urged to call the Wildlife Division at 860-424-3011 and provide location details.

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