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The Bobcat Lynx rufus is a North American cat, and more easily recognized than many other small wild cats because of the short, bobbed tail. At the northern limit of its range in Canada however, it can be confused with the similar Canada Lynx Lynx candensis.
Bobcats are found from southern Canada, down through the USA to northern Mexico. As habitat generalists, they live in a wide variety of areas, including all types of forest, coastal swamp, desert and scrubland. Only large, intensively cultivated areas appear to be unsuitable habitat. Their range in Canada has been expanding northward with forest clearance and warmer winters.
Bobcat home range sizes vary widely, from 6 km² in southern California to 325 km² in New York. Although there are no exact figures, population density estimates range from 48 cats per 100 km² in Texas to 11 per 100 km² in Virginia.
The male has an established range which includes the smaller ranges of several females, and often overlaps partially with other males’ territories. Female ranges are more exclusive. It is reasonably tolerant of human disturbance, adapting well to altered habitat. Areas with dense understory vegetation, abundant rabbit and rodent populations and shelters that function as escape cover or den sites are preferred.
This tough little cat survives because it is secretive, cantankerous and eats almost any type of prey. Like its close relative the Canada Lynx, the Bobcat preys mainly on rabbits and hares, but is less of a specialist and eats whatever is most abundant. It hunts by day or night, and despite its small size, is capable of taking deer weighing 10 times its own body weight.
A recent population analysis (2009) found that Bobcat numbers have increased throughout the majority of its range since the 1990’s. Forty-eight US states, seven Canadian provinces and Mexico were surveyed, with all locations except Florida reporting increased populations. The Bobcat is found in each of the contiguous states except Delaware. Its US population was estimated to be from 2,353,276 – 3,571,681 individuals. The population in Mexico is not well known, and it appears to be very rare in some central areas.
Bobcats are legally harvested for the fur trade in 38 US states, and in seven Canadian provinces. In Mexico, the Bobcat is legally hunted in small numbers as a trophy animal. There appears to be little illegal international trade, although within the US, molecular forensics techniques have determined that skins reported as originating from an area with a high bag limit were probably illegally taken from an area with a lower limit.
The Bobcat is now the leading wild cat species in the skin trade, with most exports coming from the US. In 2000-2006 the average annual export of skins was 29,772, with an all-time high of 51,419 skins exported in 2006.
The US government feels that the fur trade is not detrimental to Bobcat survival, and that it is well-managed by state authorities. They have petitioned CITES numerous times, most recently in 2007, to remove the Bobcat from the listings governing trade in wild animal species. However, the proposal was again rejected by majority vote.
Habitat loss is viewed as the primary threat to this cat in all three range countries, but there is also concern in the northeastern US about competition with expanding coyote populations. In Florida, where coyotes have also increased, Bobcats and coyotes apparently favour different prey species, with coyotes taking larger ungulates and Bobcats eating rodents and smaller mammals. However, coyotes also prey on Bobcats.
Bobcats also take domestic livestock and are persecuted as pests in many areas. Their generalist choices of both habitat and prey species ensure these little cats are adaptable, and so far, seem able to take whatever mankind throws at them.
Citation: Roberts NM, Crimmins SM. 2010. An update of bobcat Lynx rufus population status and management in North America: Evidence of large-scale population increase. Journal of Fish & Wildlife Manaagement June 10, 2010
Citation: Kelly, M., Caso, A. & Lopez Gonzalez, C. 2008. Lynx rufus. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.2.
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