Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fall is prime time for bobcat sightings

By T.J. Aulds
The Daily News

Published November 18, 2009
SANTA FE — Last month, residents of one neighborhood formed a posse to hunt down a bobcat that killed a woman’s geese and chickens, and on Tuesday there was a report of a bobcat found dead on the road.

Wildlife experts said residents shouldn’t be surprised — bobcats are abundant in Galveston County, and this is the time of year when encounters with people increase.

“We have them all over the county, especially in Santa Fe and Hitchcock and the areas between Dickinson and Kemah,” Capt. Eddie Tanuz, who supervises the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department field office in La Marque. “Coyotes and bobcats we have a lot of.”

Encounters with people are rare Tanuz said, but “every now and then people moving to the county from Houston they will see a wild animal and call us.”

It was no out-of-towner who called wildlife officials last month, though. A Santa Fe woman who saw a bobcat kill a pet goose and come back for some of her chickens organized a neighborhood posse to hunt the cat after others in the area reported run ins with a bobcat.

Mike Bodenchuk, the director of the Texas Agricultural Services Wildlife Services program, said this time of year those encounters are to be expected as the bobcats experience “the fall shuffle.”

He explained that bobcat kittens born in the spring are kicked out of the mother’s den in October, November and December and have to fend for themselves. Bobcats are extremely territorial and so the younger bobcats seek out areas where there aren’t other bobcats, which means they usually wind up in populated areas.

“Bobcats usually don’t want to have anything to do with people,” Bodenchuk said. “Those encounters taper off because they get killed, usually hit by cars or they just run off.”

Older bobcats, though, may be a bigger problem.

“They have been living on the fringe of neighborhoods for a long time,” Bodenchuk said. “Since nothing bad has happened to them they are habitualized to people. They have lost their fear of people.”

Those habitualized bobcats will venture into neighborhoods and yards because they no longer fear the human population. That’s when smaller pets, especially cats, become victims.

Bodenchuk said also that there is likely an increase in the bobcat population in this region in part because of Hurricane Ike.

While the storm killed a lot of trees, heavy grasses have taken root. Grasslands are prime breeding grounds and home for more rabbits.

Bobcats are “obligatory carnivores” which means they must eat meat, Bodenchuk said and their meat of choice is rabbit meat.

“The bobcat population is tied directly to the rabbit population,” he said.

Because the rabbit population was probably increased in the spring, the survivability rate of the bobcat kittens was also higher, meaning as the fall shuffle comes around, more bobcats are on the prowl.

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Bobcat Tips

• Bobcats are almost 100 percent nocturnal, so secure your pets inside or in a pen at night.

• Bobcats do get rabies, but along the Texas coast it is rare. A rabid bobcat is more aggressive to people.

• Even the smallest of dogs likely will scare away a bobcat.

• Cats are looked upon by bobcats as competition and are often victims of a territorial bobcat.

• If you see a bobcat leave it alone. It will do the same with you.

• The bobcats’ “fall shuffle” will usually be followed by a similar pattern by coyotes within a few weeks.

Source: Texas Wildlife Services Program

http://galvestondailynews.com/story.lasso?ewcd=0da7a46bb8d5b778

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Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org

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