Saturday, October 14, 2006

Florida bobcats more common than most people think

By Karey Burek
The Observer News, Ruskin
Oct 12, 2006, 11:28

There’s a bobcat in my yard

Technically, not directly in my backyard; but I consider my neighborhood to be like my backyard. And yes, I have seen a bobcat running around. The first sighting was on a dark and stormy night—it sounds menacing and scary, but it really wasn’t. It was more like dusk and a slight drizzle, but you get the picture. My parents and I were driving down one of the roads by our house that has dense trees on either side, and a small fenced off area where we commonly see deer feeding and gopher tortoises trudging about. On this particular occasion, we saw a large dark object dart across the street and leap over the fence. My dad yelled Bobcat and my mom exclaimed that she had seen it too. I wasn’t convinced. Are you sure it wasn’t a dog? A dog, my dad went on to say, wouldn’t have been able to jump that fence. And the tail, my mom explained, was short and stubby. All indicating something other than a dog; I wasn’t yet satisfied with the idea that I may have seen a Bobcat.

Bobcats in Florida aren’t as rare as I thought they were and they aren’t on the endangered species list either. I guess I don’t know as much as I think I do. This cat species is highly reclusive but their numbers are dense and as many as 80 of these cats can be found per 100 square miles. Bobcats rarely are seen in developed areas, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. The area around our house where the bobcat was seen is a preserve, with a lot of hiding spots; feet away from civilization.

According to the experts at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, most people living in Florida will never see one. They are smaller animals, weighing between 15-35 pounds and they have great camouflage coloring. They hunt at night, making them even more difficult to spot. They eat rabbits, rats and other small mammals and have even been known to eat a bird or two. After all, they are still cats. There are 12 subspecies of bobcats found across North America and sometimes people get them confused with panthers, another big cat. However, the distinct stubby tail and coloration will determine whether it is a bobcat or panther. That is, if they are still long enough for you to adjust your eyes and take in the coloration.

Okay, I admit it. My parents have better eyesight than I do. It was a bobcat. I was driving home from work a few days after the initial “contact” with this animal and slowed down as I turned onto the long street with the preserve on either side. I noticed something up ahead in the fenced off open area. I crept along and rolled my window down. I almost drove by when a perfect shadow of a bobcat started slowly stalking something. I slammed on my breaks and threw it in reverse. The cat looked at me and I looked at it—both seeming to be in shock. I didn’t know what to do and completely forgot I had my video camera in the back seat. But by the time my brain began to function again, the bobcat had darted into the woods. I am still hoping that one day I will get another opportunity to come face to face with a bobcat, but until then, I will be driving slow and holding my camera.

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