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Tracking Indiana bobcats

DNR research has surprising results

One animal was recently killed
by car in Jefferson County

By Ruth Wright
Staff Writer

MADISON, Ind. (May 2004) – Ask anyone about Indiana’s wildlife population and you’ll probably hear plenty about deer, wild turkey, rabbits, raccoons and squirrels. A less common and less thought of presence among the wild animals of the state is the bobcat.
Similar in looks to and about the same size of a large house cat, bobcats weigh an average of 15 to 30 pounds, range in length from 30 to 50 inches and stand about 24 inches in height. The animal gets its name from its most distinguishing feature: a stubby tail that is usually four or five inches long. Black spots or streaks typically dot reddish-brown to grayish-brown fur on the animal’s back and sides. The underbelly is usually white.

Collaring a bobcat

Photo courtesy of the DNR

Nongame biologist Scott Johnson and assistant Cassie Conrad place a collar on a bobcat.

On March 6, Jefferson County Deputy Sheriff Larry Jones spotted what he thought to be a bobcat that had been hit by a car lying on the side of Hwy. 421 in front of Grandview Memorial Gardens in Jefferson County. Jones called Indiana Department of Natural Resources conservation officer Andy Crozier, who upon examining the animal confirmed Jones’ suspicion.
The bobcat had markings of a young male that Crozier recognized right away. The most distinguishing were a short tail and pointy tuffs of fur on the cheeks. Crozier said the bobcat weighed about 15 to 20 pounds and measured approximately 13 inches at the shoulder.
Although bobcats are native to Indiana, because of their elusive nature they are not seen often. “I personally have not seen one, but every once in a while we do get reports,” said Crozier.
Aware of a bobcat study being conducted by the DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife, Crozier contacted state wildlife biologist Scott Johnson, who since December 1998 has been involved in a study of the bobcat population in south central Indiana. Capturing bobcats in padded foothold traps, Johnson fits them with radio-collars for tracking. Also, just under the skin between the shoulder blades he inserts micro-tags, which can be detected by a special scanner, for future identification.
So far, Johnson has collared 30 bobcats. The animal found in Madison was determined not to have been one of them. Most were captured in Lawrence, Martin and Green counties. From there they have been located in other parts of Indiana and even in neighboring states. One of the bobcats collared by Johnson made it all the way into downtown Cincinnati, where it was hit by a car. The fact that many of the bobcats being tracked have traveled so far from their capture points has been one of the more interesting discoveries, according to Johnson.

Bobcat

Photo courtesy of the DNR

A sedated bobcat prior to release.

Information from the study will help determine if bobcats are still endangered, according to Johnson. “We had very few confirmed records in the ’70s and ’80s,” he said, noting in the ’90s road kills and accidental capturing of bobcats increased.
Bobcats are solitary animals and are very territorial. Rugged and remote areas with cliffs, bluffs and rocky outcrops are common habitats, but bobcats will make their homes in just about any environment.
“The only type of land cover they don’t do well in is intensive agriculture,” said Johnson. Bobcats may den in caves, hollow trees and thick brush.
An endangered species in Indiana since 1970, the bobcat has been needlessly destroyed due to the misperception that it is a dangerous and vicious predator. In reality, bobcats avoid human contact, according to Johnson. And because they prey mostly on small animals and rodents, their presence is actually quite useful.
The bobcat is currently protected under provisions of the Indiana Endangered Species Conservation act, which makes the capture and possession of the animal illegal. The accidental trapping of a bobcat should be reported to a local conservation officer. There is no penalty for the report, but if the animal is dead it must be surrendered to the officer.
To find out if bobcats live in Jefferson County, wildlife biologist Teresa Vanosdol has set up a couple of cameras at the 50,000-acre Big Oaks Wildlife Refuge with the hope of capturing the animals on video should they be in the area. The cameras, part of a cursory bobcat study, were placed near a couple of dense thickets that Vanosdol said were likely bobcat habitats.
“The goal of our study on the refuge is to document the presence of bobcats,” said Vanosdol. So far none have been seen.

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