The Bobcat- Indiana’s secretive feline

bobcat
ndiana conservation officer and Kokomo native Ryan McCauley holds a recently road killed bobcat from Montgomery County. Photo by author

The bobcat, our only resident wildcat, has always been a species of great interest and curiosity. Their secretive nature leaves many Hoosiers wanting to know more.

Their low population landed them on the state’s endangered species list back in 1969 where they stayed until 2005. With each passing year their numbers continue to increase. Even so they are still protected meaning they cannot be hunted or intentionally trapped.

Bobcats are one of Indiana’s most elusive animals. They prefer remote areas and are extremely stealthy and crafty at preserving its privacy, making interaction with humans rare. Those that have been fortunate in seeing one or hearing their eerie scream never forget it.

Bobcats are indeed native to the Hoosier state and although their numbers are small, they do carve out an existence which continues to grow. They are one of the wildest of wild animals native to the United States.

But, as their numbers slowly increase, so do the areas they inhabit. One of the best indicators of this has been the significant increase in road kills over the past several years. “Because of their elusiveness and nocturnal habits, we do not have population estimates,” said Scott Johnson, non-game biologist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. “It’s just too difficult to accurately estimate their numbers.

So instead, Johnson said they rely on a more indirect measure such as recording the number of road kills and incidental trappings. “There has been a definite increase in these numbers,” he added, noting 27 road kills in 2010. But in 2015 there were more than 60. “Each year we see this number increase.”

Although these wildcats do not inhabit every part of the state they have been confirmed in 63 of Indiana’s 92 counties. The best chance of seeing a bobcat is the southwestern portion of Indiana where their numbers are highest because of the perfect habitat created by mixed woodlots, hills and reclaimed mining sites. Some of the counties in this area include Pike, Greene, Warrick, Lawrence, Posey and Martin. Another popular area for these stub-tailed cats is the glacial lakes area of the northeast part of Indiana.

In case you are wondering, there has never been a confirmed sighting of a bobcat in Howard County – yet anyway. However the same cannot be said about our neighbors. They have been found in neighboring Cass, Carroll, Miami and even Tipton Counties.

Johnson attributes the increase in bobcat numbers, in part, to the lack of trapping. “In the mid 1970’s we had close to 30,000 licensed fur trappers in the state,” he explained. Now we have about 5,000 brought about by the decline in fur prices. He also noted it is illegal to intentionally trap or possess bobcats. In the event one is caught accidently the trapper must contact the DNR immediately.

Johnson also believes the increased number of reports in recent years is due to the public’s growing awareness of bobcats and the state’s interest in studying them. “We want to know as much as we can even when found dead along the road,” he said. Wildlife biologists use trail cameras in certain areas to gather additional information.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources began actively studying these elusive cats in the mid 1990’s. They focused on areas where bobcats were most frequently seen. Places like the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center in Martin and Lawrence counties. Research soon expanded to live trapping the animals where they could be fitted with radio collars so biologists could begin tracking their movement. In all, 43 bobcats were trapped and 38 fitted with the high-tech collars.

It was found a bobcat normally occupies a home range of 10 to 40 square miles, but Johnson told of several that travelled great distances. “We had one cat that was tracked to the outskirts of St. Louis,” he stated. “We had another that was hit on the road just outside of Lansing Michigan,” he continued. “That was a distance of 294 miles.” Both were young males and Johnson believes they were probably trying to find a home range they could call their own.

Prime habitat used to be remote, forested regions of the state, but anywhere there is adequate food and cover can be bobcat country. They have been found in second stage growth woods as well as areas with dense brush. Bobcats forage on small to mid-size rodents which primarily include mice, chipmunks, squirrels and rabbits. Although they hunt and travel at night, bobcats are occasionally seen during dawn and dusk.

The bob-tailed felines are fairly small, ranging in weight from 15 to 25 pounds. They vary in length from 30 to 40 inches and stand rarely more than two-feet tall. Their fur is reddish brown above and whitish below. They normally have black streaks or spots throughout their coat.

The three main identifying characteristics include tufts of fur on the cheeks and ear tips, and as their name implies, s short four to five-inch stubby tail.

Funding for bobcat research is derived primarily from contributions made to the non-game wildlife fund on Indiana’s state income tax form.bob

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John Martino
Martino is a well-known outdoor writer throughout Indiana and has served as longtime outdoor columnist for the Kokomo Tribune newspaper. Martino has won numerous awards for both his writing and his service to youth, conservation and the community. He recently retired as Superintendent of Parks and Recreation for the City of Kokomo and now works as Ivy Tech Executive Director for Facilities for the Kokomo region.

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