Wildlife officials urge caution after bobcat attack
Posted: 2009 Feb 05 - 23:49
By Samantha Joseph
MARTIN COUNTY - Health Department officials are warning residents to exercise caution, after a bobcat that attacked an Indiantown man tested positive for rabies.
Bobcats, whose scientific name is lynx rufus, are named for their short stubby tails. They typically live in swamp or forested areas, and feed on rabbits, rats and birds, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials say.
"Bobcats are shy and reserved, and typically stay away from humans," said Gabriella Ferraro, the commission's spokesman.
But on Jan. 22, a 30-pound cat did not avoid an Indiantown man who crossed its path.
The man, Romeo Gomez, was working on a fence near the intersection of Kanner Highway and Warfield Boulevard in Indiantown when he saw the cat.
He told officials from the Okeechobee County Animal Control that he noticed the feline moving toward him, and tried to chase it away.
He said he waved his arms to shoo it away, but the cat sprang onto him, beginning an attack that would last for several minutes.
It took two men to fight of the cat, and one eventually killed it with a hammer, officials said.
"It's unusual to have this kind of attack," said Ms. Ferraro. Bobcats that attack humans are typically sick with rabies or distemper, she added.
In the days following the attack, the Martin County Health Department confirmed that the animal tested positive for rabies, a virus transmitted from the bite or scratch of an infected animal. The disease attacks the nervous system and causes pain and difficulty swallowing.
Mr. Gomez said he has since undergone anti-rabies treatments, including a series of vaccinations.
In recent months, residents in some parts of Martin County have increasingly reported sightings of the wild cats, which are typically most active at night and sunrise.
The feline species is not endangered. Late last year, residents reported about 10 sightings in Sewall's Point.
But Ms. Ferraro stressed that the cats were not typically a threat to humans.
Officials urged residents to avoid leaving food around their properties, as this might attract the cats. And in the event of an attack, they advise to wash wounds with soap and water for at least five minutes.
"If you see a bobcat in a suburban setting, just leave it alone," Ms. Ferraro said. "Admire it from afar."f
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org