People have too oft neglected or persecuted cats. When early human colonizers arrived in North America millennia ago, this great land was graced with many cat species, including American Lion, American Cheetah (why Pronghorn “antelope” in American West can run 60 mph), Saber-tooth Cats (perhaps several species), Jaguar, Cougar, Jaguarundi, Ocelot, Margay Cat, Lynx, and Bobcat. Grab your favorite paleo-biology text, and look up these long-time North American denizens. You will be inspired by their beauty and chagrined that our forebears killed off most of them (in numbers, if not species).
American Lion and Cheetah and Sabre-tooth Cats fell victim to human overkill, at least indirectly, as early human colonizers used new weapons to rapidly kill mega-herbivores, like Woolly Mammoth and Mastodon, for food and fiber, leaving native predators much less food. Two big cats in North America, Puma (Cougar) and Jaguar, survived in the West, and most of the small cats survived in diminished ranges and numbers.
Lynx rufus in Our Region
Imagine your housecat at her finest, add fifteen pounds of muscle and brain, make her even more symmetrical and athletic, shorten her tail, enhance her beauty, and you have the basic image of a Bobcat.
The North American wild cat who has proven most tolerant of human interlopers is Lynx rufus (Bobcat), whose range still includes most of North America south of the Arctic. Bobcats can thrive in habitats as varied as Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp (where I saw my first Bobcat, decades ago), northern Minnesota’s sub-boreal forests, and central California’s chaparral and grasslands (where I used to see them commonly in Golden Gate National Recreation Area, where wildlife is fully protected thus not so fearful of people).
Bobcats in our area like rocky hills for dens and sunning places, woods and meadows for hunting rodents and rabbits, swamps for hunting Muskrats, and frozen ponds, for patrolling edges where small rodents may appear. They can live fairly near people but generally avoid getting too close to us. Perhaps because they’ve evolved a fear of tool-wielding bipedal mammals, they are most active at night and dawn and dusk (though I’ve been lucky to see them in broad daylight several times on lands protected by Northeast Wilderness Trust, Eddy Foundation, Champlain Area Trails, and Adirondack Land Trust here in Split Rock Wildway).
Hunting Lynx rufus
Imagine your housecat at her finest, add fifteen pounds of muscle and brain, make her even more symmetrical and athletic, shorten her tail, enhance her beauty, and you have the basic image of a Bobcat. Do you wish to shoot her, or entrap her in steel jaws? You do not, thank goodness, but your tax-payer-funded wildlife officials don’t mind if you do.
Despite strong public sentiment in favor of protecting Bobcats, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation a few years ago expanded the killing season on Bobcats, apparently under pressure from a small number of sport-hunters and trappers who wanted to take more wildcat pelts. Most other states in the Northeast also have killing seasons on Bobcats, notwithstanding the growing body of science showing the ecological importance of predators and how vulnerable they are to social or population disruption if heavily shot or trapped.
New Hampshire has lately been protecting its Bobcats, and the Granite State is the richer for it. Current efforts by sports to open a killing season on Bobcats there, as well as ongoing killing seasons on Bobcats in New York and other states, are unfortunate, for ecological, aesthetic, ethical, and recreational reasons.
Continue reading this series in: “Why Bobcats Should Be Protected.”
[Special thanks to Lake Placid based nature conservation photographer Larry Master (www.masterimages.org) for permission to feature several of his photographs in this post.]
Note: The content in this blog post was repurposed and a revised version is included in John Davis’s book Split Rock Wildway: Scouting the Adirondack Park’s Most Diverse Wildlife Corridor published by Essex Editions on Nov. 21, 2017. Learn more about the book and where to buy it at essexeditions.com. Watch the book trailer below.
- Missing Cats of Our Home (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Split Rock Wildway: Protecting Biological Riches (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- El Niño Wildlife Sightings: Adirondack Coast (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Bobcat Sighting (rosslynredux.com)
- Chimney Point Bobcat (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Wrong to Kill Coyotes, Wolves and CoyWolves (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)