BOBCAT (Felis Rufus)

~Contributed by Kathy Milacek

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Part of the lynx family, the bobcat typically weighs between fifteen and forty pounds, and is common across the entire United States. Although this cat is rarely seen in our cities because of its shy, solitary, and reclusive nature, the urban population has been increasing in the DFW Metroplex for many years. Local bobcats tend to breed in February, bearing litters of two or three kittens in April. The kittens’ eyes open at around ten days, and the mother bears sole responsibility for their care.

Although people often mistake the bobcat for either a domestic cat or a mountain lion, it actually looks quite distinct. Bobcats are two or three times larger a typical domestic cat, but smaller than a mountain lion. Another important difference is the mountain lion’s long (not bobbed) tail. The bobcat’s coat tends to be a light brownish-blonde, with dark spots on the flanks, legs and sides. Other distinguishing features include tufted, pointed ears with large, black spots on the backsides; a short, bobbed tail (4-6 inches in length); and rear legs which are disproportionately longer than front legs.

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What do bobcats eat?  Bobcats eat a variety of animal species, including mice, rats, squirrels, chickens, small fawns, wild birds, feral cats, cottontail and rabbits.  It’s very unlikely, but possible, that free-roaming cats or small dogs left outside unattended might be taken as well.    

Many people accidentally and unknowingly encourage bobcats and other wild animals to live near their homes by leaving pet food outside, failing to pick up fallen fruit from trees, leaving pets to roam outdoors unattended, leaving bird seed on the ground, and leaving wood piles or dense vegetation to provide hiding places for wildlife. Most urban wildlife is “opportunistic” and “omnivorous,” meaning the animals will eat about anything (animal or vegetable matter), and will take the food that is easiest to get. If pet food is left outside, or even in a garage with a pet door entrance, wild animals may find it easier to help themselves to pet food every night than to hunt down rodents. 

What function do bobcats serve in our cities?  Many ecological studies show that predatory wildlife, including bobcats, exists to preserve the balance of nature.  Wild animals help to keep rodent populations in check. In the past, some cities have attempted to eradicate predators, but as a result have seen an increase in rodent population, as well as rodent-borne diseases.  The ways of nature can sometimes seem cruel to us, but many prey and rodent species would overrun both rural and urban areas, damaging crops and vegetation, if their natural predators did not keep them in check.  Bobcats and other predators also consume carrion (dead animals), and so provide us with free waste removal services.

Why not trap and  relocate bobcats to the country?  There are many reasons why trapping and removal is not a long-term, viable solution. For instance:   

  • If there is a litter of kittens, it’s difficult to trap and relocate the entire family. If only the mother is trapped and removed, the young are left behind to die of dehydration and starvation. If the entire bobcat family is trapped, often the young are too small to travel with the mother and are left behind when the mother is released at a new location. When this happens, the young will either die or have to be taken to a wildlife rehabilitator. Although a rehabilitator would care for the kittens for upwards of six months, it should be noted that professional wildlife rehabilitation cannot replace the skills the natural mother would teach her young.  

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  • Most DFW Metroplex animal control agencies were originally created to deal with problems arising from stray dogs and cats, and to enforce laws pertaining to pets.  Wildlife is often only included in their scope of services to a very small degree. 

  • Predator species, such as the bobcat, establish and defend a territory. When such an animal is relocated to an established territory, the defending (established) animal will attack - potentially killing, injuring, or driving the relocated bobcat from its new territory. An injured bobcat may not survive, since survival depends upon the ability to hunt, capture and kill prey.

  • A wild animal that lives within the boundaries of a city and has lived its life as a scavenger may not have adequate hunting skills, and therefore may not be able to survive without the opportunistic foraging of outdoor pet food, plentiful rodents, backyard fruit, vegetables, and trash of its urban upbringing.  Wildlife studies show that urban wildlife learn survival skills for urban living, and country wildlife learn survival skills for country living; they do best when left in the environment for which they have developed survival skills.    

  • Wildlife disease is another factor. Wild predators in urban settings may have been exposed to diseases associated with domestic pets, which could be transmitted to other wildlife not normally exposed to these threats.

  • Trapping and removing animals has done nothing to correct the human equation. The cycle of imbalance will continually repeat itself, at great cost to the community, if people fail to change their own habits and environments.  

  • Recommended long term solutions for homeowners involve modification of the premises. Address the factors that attract wild animals, such as gaps in construction that allow access to the attic or under the deck; eliminate thick undergrowth in landscaped areas. Modification to the environment creates an inhospitable atmosphere, and will encourages wild animals to relocate. Such changes will prevent roaming wildlife from showing an interest in staying on your property.  Relocating animals, on the other hand, simply leaves a "vacancy sign," inviting other wild animals to move in. The belief that the solution is to remove and relocate animals is like assuming that if you moved out of your home, no one would move in.

  • Some laws (depending on species and/or city) require that trapped animals be euthanized.

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I'm worried about my children . . .  Perhaps you have seen a bobcat in your neighborhood. Rest assured, bobcats do not attack people. In fact, bobcat attacks are virtually unknown; however, no one should ever attempt to touch or handle a wild bobcat or her kittens.  Bobcats weigh between 15-40 pounds, which makes them small-to-medium sized carnivores.  Coyotes weigh slightly more, but also stay under 40 pounds in the DFW Metroplex area.  Carnivore biology studies show that carnivores in this weight range take prey that is “much smaller” then themselves.   

In the U.S. there are approximately 3-5 million people attacked by domestic dogs every year, averaging 20 deaths per year.  A child is much more likely to be hurt by a domestic dog then a bobcat – or a coyote.  In fact, statistics prove that your family dog or your neighbor’s dog is a hundred times more likely to kill someone then a coyote or bobcat.       

I'm worried about my pets . . .  Here's how you can protect your pets from bobcats and other wild animals:

  • Always walk your dog on a leash.

  • Always keep pets vaccinated as some wildlife are susceptible to diseases transmissible to dogs and cats, i.e. feline panleukopenia (feline parvo), canine distemper, and rabies.

  • Take steps to ensure you are not attracting predators to your yard – clean up brushy areas or woodpiles, and remove any food sources.

  • Do not allow cats to roam free outdoors.  Some cities have laws against free-roaming cats.  Cats prey on many wildlife species, i.e. songbirds, face many dangers outside, and can attract predatory wildlife to your yard, as well.

  • Avoid bushy areas or paths near abandoned properties.

  • If you notice a coyote or bobcat in your area, never let it go by without scaring it.  Yell or clap loudly to scare wildlife away; carry something with you to make noise, i.e. an air horn, or something to throw, like a rock or baseball. In the long run it’s much safer for us, our pets, and the wildlife as well – if they remain fearful of humans.

  • Never encourage or allow your pet to interact or “play” with wildlife.

  • Make sure your fence is in good repair.

  • Do not leave pets unattended outdoors.

  • Remove food sources, i.e. fallen fruit, food refuse, pet food.

  • Small mammals such as opossums, raccoons, and skunks, are not a threat to domestic pets. In fact, it is usually the other way around, as such animals are often the victims of dog attacks.

Is it okay to put out food for wildlife? 

Do not put out food for wild animals, except for birds and squirrels. Deliberate feeding of wildlife puts you, your pets, your neighbors, and even the wildlife at risk.  Observing wildlife is a wonderful way to interact with nature; however, the experience can turn unpleasant or dangerous when well-meaning people feed wildlife. Intentional feeding can make wildlife unnaturally bold, and will lead to conflicts. It is necessary for wild animals to remain fearful of humans.  Feeding of wildlife may seem like a positive way to interact, but what may start out as three cute, juvenile opossums can turn into twenty raccoons, ten opossums, and five feral cats.  This creates an unnatural situation in which wildlife become less fearful of humans, become habituated to a free handout, can spread disease to each other as they eat in close contact, can attract other predatory wildlife to the feeding location, and can cause conflict with neighbors who do not appreciate the nightly wildlife buffet line going through their yards. Feeding wild animals does much more harm than good. 

Feeding wildlife is not only highly discouraged, but is also illegal in some cities.  Wildlife can become too comfortable and lose fear of humans if food is intentionally provided for them.  Wildlife that lose their fear of humans can become dangerous to the feeder, as well as to the surrounding residents.  This can result in conflict that ends with the wildlife being trapped and euthanized because of the perceived threat to the community once they lose their fear of humans or begin to feed in large numbers.  In addition, feeding wildlife encourages them to reproduce in greater numbers than the habitat can support.  For all these reasons, and for the public and wildlife’s long-term safety, no one should intentionally feed wild animals.  If you have been feeding and need to stop, it’s best to gradually reduce the amount of feeding over a period of a month.  In this way, wildlife that have become accustomed to an unlimited, easy food source can gradually disperse and locate naturally occurring food sources.       

How can I discourage bobcats from coming into my yard?  

Bobcats are quiet, shy and reclusive – usually seen by themselves or a female with kittens.  Typically, it is easy to persuade them to leave.  We recommend the use of deterrents and adjustments around the exterior of your home (all endorsed by the Humane Society of the United States) for making your yard and home less inviting to wildlife.

Try these tactics:  

  • Use noise and/or motion-activated deterrents to make a bobcat uncomfortable. 

  • Try an air horn or motion-activated sprinkler; bang pot lids together, or put a radio outside set to a news or talk channel.

  • Clear any excess vegetation to remove secluded hiding spots.

  • Do not leave pet food or water outside when your pet is indoors.

  • Pick fruit from trees as soon as it ripens and pick up all fallen fruit.

  • If you feed the birds or squirrels, ensure there is no overflowing bird seed on the ground to attract rodents at night, or restrict feeding.  Bobcats can be attracted to the squirrels and birds that come to our yards to feed.

  • Use fencing to deter bobcats.  Fencing must be at least six feet high with the bottom extending 6-12 inches below ground level.  Add an angle at the top facing outward at 45 degrees, and 16 inches in width. 

  • Do not leave small pets outdoors unattended or in a poorly-enclosed yard.

  • If you have chickens or fowl, ensure they are put up at night.

In conclusion, urban sprawl in the DFW Metroplex continues, and our presence provides wild animals with all they need in order to survive and thrive:  an urban ecosystem with plenty of food, water, and shelter.  We need to be responsible for our behavior. We’re here to stay, and so is the wildlife!  Conflicts will continue, but you can do a lot to reduce them. 

Changing the behavior of wildlife requires changing our own behavior. Use deterrents, scare tactics, exclusion methods, and other negative conditioning to change the environment, and you'll force wild animals to change their behavior as well. By reducing factors that attract wild animals to your yard, you will soon train area wildlife to avoid humans - and that will be safer for all of us in the long run. 

Bobcat sightings may be reported by calling 972-370-9250.  The Colony Animal Control also encourages bobcat sightings be reported to the DFW Wildlife Coalition at 972-234-WILD, for statistical purposes.

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