Once upon a time, say in 1850, in Ohio the bobcat was just a ghost of its former self. In fact, it was a ghost.
By that time the species had disappeared from the Buckeye State, having been pressured out of existence by rapid settlement and deforestation. But all is not lost when it comes to these wild, predatory, forest felines.
Solid evidence continues to be collected that bobcats again reside in the state's eastern and southeastern counties, with 92 confirmed sightings in 16 counties in 2009, and 359 confirmed since 1970, according to the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
Most of the reports have come since 1990, and they seem to be increasing annually.
A verified sighting may include photographic evidence of the animal or its tracks, an animal that is incidentally taken in a trap and later released, or an animal carcass that is collected as a roadkill.
Such sightings have increased dramatically since 2006 because of the advent and wider use of trail cameras.
The division lists bobcats in low abundance in 31 counties, mostly along the length of the Ohio River, and inland in the more forested, hilly regions.
Unverified sightings are much higher and much more widespread, with a total of 1,100 between 1970 and 2009 from 81 counties, and 266 in 60 counties in 2009 alone.
Known as Lynx rufus to taxonomists, the bobcat was found to be common in Ohio by early settlers. But as land was converted to crops and communities the population declined and disappeared.
Then a handful of sightings were reported in the 1960s, signaling a return of the bobcat, possibly via range expansion from neighboring states.
The species is listed as endangered in Ohio and is protected by law, though it is sufficiently established in at least 38 states, including neighboring Michigan, to permit limited hunting and trapping.
In addition to Ohio the bobcat is listed as endangered in Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, threatened in New Jersey, and protected in most counties of Kentucky.
Michigan also may harbor a cousin of the bobcat, the lynx, which is larger, bulkier, and a more uniform gray. Its fur also is longer and its black ears have longer black tufts than a bobcat. Classified as an endangered species in Michigan, lynx and lynx sightings there tend to cycle with population highs or lows in neighboring Ontario and nearby Minnesota.
Overall, the bobcat is distributed widely across North America, with 12 subspecies scattered from southern Canada to northern Mexico. A million of them may reside in the lower 48 states, with the highly settled and heavily agriculutral mid-Atlantic and Midwest showing the lowest densities. It is the most common and abundant of the continent's seven wild cat species.
“If there is one word that can describe the bobcat, it is variability,” said Becky Cullen, a member of the Toledo Naturalists' Association. She described the species' wide geographical and climate range and its wide range of physical features in a well-researched, detailed monograph in the March issue of the TNA newsletter.
Accompanying maps on this page illustrate the counties and regions of Ohio where it is more likely to sight a bobcat.
But because of their low numbers and elusive nature in the wild, it may be best to view a captive bobcat.
Back to the Wild, a wildlife rehabilitation center in Erie County, currently cares for two bobcats. They can be viewed along with many other animals at the center, which is located at 4504 Bardshar Rd., south of Sandusky, and is described on-line at backtothewild.com.
Contact Steve Pollick at: