Bobcats... Our Stealthy Hunters
March 5, 2021
A local neighbor's dog had a tussle with a bobcat last week. The large shepherd survived but had deep punctures and lacerations over its head and neck and was very rattled after the encounter. It got me thinking about all the amazing wildlife here in Sussex County that lives silently in surrounding forests and woods and only occasionally makes its presence known to us.
Bobcats are native animals that, at one time, roamed over the entire state of New Jersey. During the 1800's massive deforestation of the state almost eliminated the cats completely. Now they are found only in the most northwestern counties, namely, Sussex and Warren. So, I feel privileged to live in an area where they are still able to thrive in their natural habitat. The bobcat is a relatively small feline compared to other wild cats that inhabit the United States like the cougar or panther. They are about 4 times the size of a house cat and can range in weight from 20-25 pounds (large males can reach 35 pounds). These cats are quickly recognized by their tufted ears and bobbed tail. Their tabby stripes allow them to easily camouflage into their surroundings making them stealthy hunters. They can run up to 30 miles per hour and can cover up to 7 miles in a day while hunting. They are most likely to be on the prowl at dusk and dawn, preferring to sleep through the warmer afternoon hours of the day. They are excellent climbers and can even swim when necessary, although they don't like to be immersed in water. Their diet is mostly made up of small rodents, birds and reptiles. However, they can take down larger prey when food is scarce. For example, a small deer or large dog can fall victim to a very hungry and determined bobcat. It will eat until satiated and then pull the rest of the prey to a hidden location and store it for later...similar to the way a leopard will drag a carcass up a tree for safe keeping. They are important in the food chains of forests as they help control the rodent populations. Their average lifespan is approximately 12 to 13 years and this also makes them a very stable factor in the food chain of their chosen territory. Bobcats are solitary animals, only pairing up to mate. Their stealth, silence and quick agility makes them a rare sighting. Here on the homestead, we have had a few visits by these gorgeous creatures (one stole a chicken, much to our dismay). Every once in a while, scat or prints or nighttime growls let us know one of them is about the property. Like little ghosts, they come and go without being seen. Winter can be a better time to spot one, as they are more visible against a snowy background. We feel very blessed to get to share our land with these native creatures and get excited at finding any hint of them.
The bobcat is listed in the New Jersey endangered species act and is an animal that needs our protection. The Nature Conservatory has a 60-million-dollar project that spans over 32,000 acres in New Jersey and is connecting that land to over 400,000 thousand acres of nature preserves in neighboring states. It is called “Bobcat Alley” and it is dedicated to the conservation of these fascinating cats. This refuge area is a huge forest corridor that is being added to yearly. It has created a safe zone for these shy, elusive animals so they can once again populate their native home. In New Jersey, “Bobcat Alley” cuts through a huge swath of both Sussex and Warren counties because of the perfect environment they provide. Lucky for us, we live in right in the middle of it and we love that! So, if you get a chance to donate to their preservation please do...And if you ever catch a glimpse of one in the wild, consider yourself very lucky indeed!