t was probably 105 degrees in the shade – a typical July
afternoon in southwestern Oklahoma. I crept closer to
the rocky outcrop where I suspected the bobcat was
trying to hide from the heat. Several months earlier,
this particular bobcat had been captured and equipped
with a radio collar. And although I had determined his
location many times since his initial capture, I hadn’t had a
chance to get a good look at him since. Within 10 yards, I got
my camera ready. But in an instant, a speckled, brown blur
disappeared over the hill.
Bobcats are dramatic, mysterious, and almost never seen
by people. For those of us lucky enough to have spotted a
bobcat in the wild, it can be a powerful reminder that not
all of nature has been tamed. In recent years, populations
of bobcats have increased throughout much of United States,
which raises the question of how these shy, secretive animals
will handle increased contact with people.
Other predators have made the best of a changing world.
Raccoons have a long history of co-existing with civilization.
More recently, coyotes have become established in such
places as metropolitan Chicago and New York City. Fishers,
once thought to be restricted to the big woods of the North
Country, are now resident in the suburbs and scattered
woodlots of such cities as Albany, New York.
Bobcats historically have had trouble in human-dominated
landscapes; there’s been documentation of their populations
dropping in areas once roads and houses become abundant.
But recently, they’ve been returning to regions they left years
ago and demonstrating a surprising degree of adaptability.
What explains the recent increase in bobcat numbers? To
appreciate their recent success, it is important to understand
the factors that reduced bobcat populations decades ago.
By John A. Litvaitis
Bobcat sightings have increased, but the animals aren’t easily seen. Here, a bobcat blends
into its surroundings in southern New Hampshire.