Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The Bobcat...

'Bobcat' photograph by Joe Sulik (USA)
The above image shows the typical behaviour of a bobcat. They are very patient cats, known to wait for hours for an opportunity to pounce. "Constantly on the alert for a sound or movement, a bobcat would often stop and sit on the road, peering intently into the roadside vegetation. Sometimes this position would be held for five to ten minutes, before the animal moved. If the object of investigation seemed to be a potential food item, a sitting bobcat would assume a crouched position, often followed by a pounce into the roadside cover... " (1)
 I am delighted to inform you that The bobcat is a successful cat. Its current conservation status is of least concern. Personally, I believe that this is down to acute senses, such as hearing and sight. Also, the cat benefits from unusual feline skills (shared with the lynx) jumping and (shared with the tiger) swimming. And... although the bobcat is seasonally hunted, it has adapted well to living along side humans.
 This remarkable cat is widely distributed across The United States and has been around since the Pleistocene period (circa 2 million years). They prefer to inhabit wooded areas, semi - desert, urban edge, forest edges and swampland environments. They thrive in much of their original range, showing healthy populations.
 The bobcat has a distinctive whiskered face and black tufts on the ears. There is a 'ruff' of fur, flaring from the cheeks and neck. It has grey/brown colour and large eyes... ringed with white. Not forgetting the defining 'stubby' tail. They are similar to a spaniel in height, but with longer legs and slightly stockier. Usually the cat is larger in its northern range and in open habitats. The largest bobcat recorded was 22.2 kilos - that is four times larger than your average moggy... you would certainly know if he was on your bed at night.
 The bobcat, like the lynx, favours a rabbit or hare to eat. Although, this depends on geographic location and season, their intake of prey does vary. Incredibly, The bobcat can single - handedly take down prey ten times their own body weight. My guess is, that this is another reason for their success. Strong, feisty little fellas. So... a lethal bite to the neck, can bring down a succulent adult deer. This meal would last over some time. Often when they are full, they will hide the kill under cover of twigs, leaves or even snow - until it is time for another munch. Smaller cats generally prefer to eat little and often... resting and grooming in between.
 Again, another factor to the bobcats success story is their ability to wait. Patience is most definitely a virtue. Being patient has most likely been a major factor in their abundant survival. Like most kittys, they are interested in anything that moves. The mere flicker of a feather, refection or movement of grass. Sadly, hunters are aware of this behaviour and tie objects and create traps to lure the cat...
 The longest bobcats have been known to live in the wild is sixteen years. But that amount can be doubled in captivity. Generally, though, they survive for six to eight years in natural range. Bobcats as a rule, begin breeding during their second summer, however, some females can start breeding in their first year. Dominant males will travel with the female and they will mate several times, usually from winter through to early spring. During this period, they bump, chase and ambush, until the female becomes receptive. During courtship, bobcats will hiss and scream... not unlike other beings. The female can have two or three kittens (very cute) and she raises them alone. This can be a time of vulnerability, so she will hide the kittens in a den, cave or hollow log. The young open their eyes by the tenth day and are weaned at about two months. Mum teaches her young within three to four months. Usually they hunt on their own by their first fall, but travel as a family for about a year.  However, there after, they are solitary animals.
 Of course, there can never be a wild animal, with such good looks and grace, that does not meet challenges. The bobcat has long been valued both for fur and sport... it has been hunted and trapped by humans, but has maintained a high population. Sadly, more extensively hunted in the Southern part of America. Kittens are the most vulnerable to hunting because they depend on their mother for the first few months of life. The seventies and eighties saw a rise in price for bobcat fur, but, to that end, by the nineties the prices had dropped considerably. Regulated hunting still continues in the winter. The numbers are monitered as much as possible and efforts to preserve the species in New Jersey (by reintroducing the cats), has proved successful. This has also promoted the expansion of bobcat range. (2)
 In Native American mythology, the bobcat has often been twinned with the figure of the coyote, in a theme of duality. Lynx and coyote are associated with the fog and the wind - two elements representing opposites in American folklore. In the 'new - world' mythology, it is that of twins representing opposites but not equally balanced figures - showing an open ended dualism. In a Shawnee tale, the bobcat is outwitted by a rabbit, which gives rise to its spots... after trapping the rabbit in a tree, the bobcat is persuaded to build a fire,only to have the embers scattered on its fur, leaving the cat singed with dark brown spots...And...According to the Mohave (Mojave) Tribe (people indigenous to the Colorado River), dreaming habitually of beings or objects, would afford them their characteristics of supernatural powers. But, to dream of the cougar or lynx (bobcat), would grant them the superior hunting skills of other tribes. In The United States the bobcat resides prominently in the anthology of national folklore.(3)
 So... The bobcat... resilient, and, further more, respected and admired by humans. This is music to my ears. But, let us not be too complacent. For now, the bobcat has evolved to survive well alongside of us. Perhaps this is due to its behaviour, described as crepuscular, it keeps moving and roaming. Also, the bobcat enjoys a varied diet, therefore not restricted by prey or lack of it. Although there have been reports of livestock being killed in certain farming ranges, this cannot be souly blamed on bobcats. Foxes, cougars and coyotes also roam within some of these environments.
 There is still an edge of uncertainty to the future of these 'super - lynxes'. Humans need to uphold their respect for them and keep closely monitering the hunting events. We do not need the bobcat fur, and as far as I am concerned, there is a question mark around the topic of sport and hunting. I struggle with this issue. I still believe that we can cohabitat with wild animals, and if we were to become less selfish, power - hungry and to let go of our egotistical attitudes, then, more wild animals would thrive. The universe takes care of the planet naturally. Bush fires encourage new life and kill off disease, drouts push us to our limits, floods will happen. Natural disasters will forever be bestowed upon us. This, then, begs the question.. Why do we feel the need to keep killing? Let us be guided by the wise instincts of these remarkable animals. The bobcat is not endangered right now. Let us keep it that way. Learn from other species which use to thrive but are endangered, some critically... The tiger,  amur leopard, jaguar, iberian lynx, lion, cheetah, clouded leopard, leopard, snow leopard,,, Think about this... Actions definitely have consequences. Let us preserve all that is wild and beautiful.
1 - Hall, H.T. and J.D. Newsom 1978. Summer home ranges and movements of Bobcats in bottomland hardwoods of Southern Louisiana
2 - Warren, R.J., M. J. Conroy, W.E. James, L.A. Baker and D.R. Diefenbach, 1990. Reintroduction of Bobcats. And Turbak.G. 1994. Bounce Back Bobcats, Wildl.
3 - Temple, Kerry. 1996. "Wood Ghost".

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