Bobcat population in these parts up slightly
By Melissa Regennitter
MUSCATINE, Iowa — The bobcat population in Muscatine County is growing slightly every year, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Steve and Judi Christianson of Muscatine have firsthand proof.
Steve was surprised two weeks ago to see two bobcats mingling in the couple’s backyard at 2233 Hickory Hills Road, about two miles west of town off of Muscatine County Highway G28.
“They came out of the cornfield and stopped in the backyard. One laid down and took a rest about 50 feet
from the house,” he said. His neighbor, Dave Fowler, took some photos and watched the animals from his yard. The houses are close together and surrounded by cornfields and the corn was recently harvested.
Ron Andrews, a furbearer research biologist with the DNR, said bobcats have maintained a notable increase in population across the southern portion of the state since 1977 when they were listed as an endangered species.
But by 2001, the trend was reversing and the Natural Resource Commission downlisted the bobcat from endangered to threatened.
By 2003, DNR staff tallied sightings, road kills, and incidental captures of bobcats statewide and found the animals to be common in southern Iowa.
Legal seasons have been established for harvesting bobcats in Iowa’s two tiers of most-southern counties. There is not a bobcat trapping season in Muscatine County.
Poaching a bobcat is a simple misdemeanor, said Tom Campbell, conservation officer for the Iowa DNR in Muscatine County. He has never charged — or heard of — someone with poaching bobcats in Muscatine County.
According to bowhunter surveys that have taken place over the past four years, Andrews said, no bobcats were reported in the first two years of the surveys in the 10-county area that includes Muscatine County.
That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, there were no bobcats in the region at that time, Andrews said.
In 2008, the third year of the surveys, there were 100 sightings per 1,000 hunting hours recorded. Andrews said after 10 years the survey will be more reliable in telling the story of how the bobcat population is spreading from northern Missouri and southern Iowa.
The DNR estimates there are 1,500-2,000 bobcats statewide.
Andrews said the habitat in Iowa, including the increase of grasslands and bush-filled reserves created by conservation programs, will allow for continued growth.
“There is an increase ever so small into northeast Iowa. There is no reason to think that in 10 years there won’t be sizeable numbers unless there is some disease, such as distemper, which is common in felines, that wipes out the population.”
There was a time when Iowans, especially farmers, would kill bobcats before the cats could kill their chickens, hogs or young calves. Today the threat to farm animals is significantly less because of hog and chicken confinements, Andrews said.
The modern-day biologist recognizes there is a role for predators and hopes to see the number of bobcats increase, Andrews added.
And if you have heard the rumor that the DNR released bobcats into the wild to control the deer population, you are not alone. But don’t believe the buzz, Andrews said.
“That is completely unfounded,” he said, adding that bobcats usually hunt for smaller animals as meals.
“It’s not very often that bobcat would take down a full-grown deer, but not impossible,” he said.
Small domestic animals such as dogs or cats may be a different story, said Andrews, and that is one thing the Christiansons said concerned their neighbors.
Other government agencies suggest that you not panic if you see a bobcat since they rarely attack people. When they do, they usually have rabies.
Bobcats may be attracted to yards with abundant wildlife, small pets, shade, or water. Small pets need to be protected from bobcats and other predators in an enclosed area.
Do not spread seed that attracts other wildlife and do not feed not feed bobcats.
If you see a bobcat, enjoy the view, said Campbell, who has never seen one alive in the wild but picked one up recently that had been killed by a vehicle on U.S. Highway 61 north of Muscatine near Sweetland Road.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org