Bobcats rebounding in Northwest Corner
KENT — There used to be a bounty on the hides of bobcats, once considered a threat to agriculture. They are now thriving in Connecticut. In a talk sponsored by the Kent Memorial Library, Master Wildlife Conservationist Paul Colburn spoke about these elusive wildcats on Saturday, April 22, at Town Hall.
Bobcats have done well considering they were aggressively hunted — until they were reclassified as a protected furbearer in 1972. Connecticut placed a bounty on bobcats from 1935 to 1971. Now, hunting and trapping are not allowed.
These stout-bodied, medium-sized cats are fearsome and formidable predators, capable of taking down prey two to three times their size. Males typically weigh between 18 and 35 pounds and females typically weigh between 15 and 30 pounds.
Their range covers much of the continental United States, with the exception of some Midwestern and mid-Atlantic states.
“This is because the bobcat’s habitat is forest and thick understory,” Colburn explained. “Midwestern and mid-Atlantic states have a lot of open land for agriculture, which is not the type of habitat bobcats prefer.”
Approximately 60 percent of Connecticut is covered in forest — prime bobcat habitat.
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) estimates that approximately 1,500 to 2,000 bobcats live in Connecticut, but that number is probably conservative. Colburn asked attendees to raise their hand if they had ever spotted a bobcat; most people’s hands went up.
Chuckling, he said, “Based on the response here and in other places where I give this lecture, I would say there are probably a lot more bobcats in the state than we know.”
Population estimates are partly determined by the number of sightings reported.
“Most people do not know they are supposed to report bobcat sightings to the DEEP,” he said.
Bobcats are accomplished and patient hunters. Their diet includes small game such as squirrels, rabbits and rodents. They have also been known to take down larger prey, however. Beaver and deer are also a source of food for these cats. “A single bobcat is capable of killing a deer by jumping onto its back and biting either the base of the skull or the neck,” Colburn said.
Bobcats are polygamous, and breed from February to March. Each litter contains one to four kittens, weighing 10 to 12 ounces at birth. Mothers are the primary caretakers; fathers can be a danger to the kittens, as bobcats have been known to exhibit cannibalistic tendencies. Kittens nurse for about 60 days before the mother slowly introduces them to small game. They remain with the mother until the following spring.
“Bobcats are Connecticut’s only breeding wildcat,” Colburn said.
There are no mountain lions
“There is no breeding population of mountain lions in the state,” he added.
While at one time the Eastern Cougar roamed the area, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded in 2011 that this subspecies of cougar had been extinct since the 1930s. In 2015, it was officially removed from the endangered species list and declared extinct.
“If people say they’ve seen a mountain lion, I don’t dispute them,” Colburn said, “But all scientific evidence points to the contrary.”
Hard evidence is necessary to verify sightings, including specimens killed by vehicles; images captured on one of the thousands of trail cameras in place; and physical evidence such as scat, tracks or bits of fur. All are used to confirm the presence of a mountain lion.
Colburn explained that the last confirmed mountain lion in Connecticut was in 2011, when a car struck dead a male cougar in Milford.
“In that instance, physical evidence was present and documented along the path the mountain lion traveled,” Colburn said.
To report a bobcat sighting, contact the DEEP by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 860-424-3011. Provide your name, and the date and location of the sighting.