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Published: Friday, 12/9/2011

COMMENTARY

Northwest Ohio documents visit by bobcat

BY STEVE POLLICK
OUTDOORS

The first verified report of a bobcat in northwest Ohio has been announced by Ohio Wildlife District 2 at Findlay.

The presence of bobcats, among other wild cats, has been reported here and there for decades, but nothing beats a real specimen. And so: A male bobcat recently was snared in Williams County. Which caused the Ohio Division of Wildlife to state: "Although known to exist in Ohio's more heavily wooded southern counties, this is the first verified report of a bobcat in northwest Ohio. Until now, all other reports have been unverifiable."

The wild cat, a young male, was caught in a raccoon snare set by local fur trappers, according to Scott Butterworth, District 2 wildlife management supervisor. It later was taken from the trap by a county dog warden staffer and sedated by a local humane officer. Then it died.

"They're very sensitive to being tranquilized," noted Butterworth. He noted that young male bobcats, like young males of other species such as beavers and black bears and river otter, range widely afield in search of their own home territories. The specimen in question may have migrated from southern Michigan or northeast Indiana, Butterworth said. Road-killed bobcats have been documented in two northeast Indiana border counties.

"That young animal may have wandered several hundred miles," the supervisor noted. In any case one bobcat does not a resident population make. Yet.

Ohio biologists think bobcats are moving in from neighboring states as their populations expand. The state's southern bobcat populations have been genetically linked to neighboring states as well. The Indiana counties of Steuben and DeKalb, which neighbor Williams County, have documented reports of bobcats. In addition, Michigan has trapping and hunting seasons for bobcats in the northern portions of the state, with lower densities in the southern tier.

Suzie Prange, a biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, is to perform a necropsy of the cat to obtain further details about its life history. She said Thursday that she also will examine a road-killed female bobcat from Richland County. The biologist said that necropsies are standard on all retrieved bobcat carcasses, and now she may need to obtain comparative genetic material from Michigan and Indiana to help determine the origins of any recovered northwest region cats.

Bobcats were eliminated from Ohio by 1850, but have been making a recovery lately. Since 1970, 464 sightings have been verified, with most occurring since 2000. Prange said Ohio now may harbor up to 1,000 bobcats.

The wildlife division notes trapping is regulated and is an important wildlife management tool. Properly set snares and foothold traps do not cause captured animals to die; rather, such traps merely restrain animals until the trapper arrives. Nontarget species, such as bobcats, caught in snares and footholds can be released by knowledgeable individuals.

Bobcats are Ohio's smallest native wild cat. And supposedly only [cougars, anyone?]. Male bobcats are usually between 32 and 37 inches long and average 28 pounds. Females are usually smaller at 29 to 34 inches long, averaging 15 pounds. Regardless of size, a bobcat's tail is usually five to six inches.

Generally, bobcats are secretive and prefer to hunt in the early evening and a few hours at sunrise. But rather than chasing down prey, they tend to lie in wait for an ambush. Typical targets include rabbits and rodents, though the cats may dine on insects, fish, birds, and even occasionally deer.

The bobcat is listed as a state endangered species and is afforded full protection in Ohio. Suspected sightings should be reported to a state wildlife officer, or call Wildlife District 2, 419-424-5000, or 1-800-WILLDIFE.

Mich. U.P. cougars verified

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has confirmed the presence of a radio-collared cougar just north of the city of Hancock in northern Houghton County in the western upper peninsula. An image of a cougar was captured on a trail camera on Nov. 13, walking directly at the camera, with the noticeable presence of a radio collar.

MDNR staff visited the trail-cam site on Nov. 17 where the trail camera is mounted and verified the location of the camera.

"This is the third time this animal has been captured on trail cameras in the upper peninsula." said Adam Bump, a wildlife biologist with the MDNR's cougar team "The Wisconsin DNR earlier verified two trail camera pictures of this cat as it passed through Wisconsin on its way to the U.P."

The MDNR also verified a set of tracks from a cougar in southern Keweenaw County on Nov. 20. The cougar passed about 30 feet from a deer hunter who returned to the area with a friend to photograph the cougar's tracks. The animal is almost certainly the same, radio-collared cougar that was photographed about 15 miles south near Hancock a week earlier, the MDNR said.

The agency still is trying to determine where the cougar is from and has been checking frequencies from collars of cats from South Dakota, Utah, and Montana. Only western states currently have cougars collared for research projects, so the animal likely traveled a great distance to reach the U.P.

Cougars, also known as mountain lions, were once found in North America, including Michigan and Ohio. Habitat loss and heavy persecution led to disappearance of cougars from Michigan in the early 1900s, the last known wild cougar killed near Newberry in 1906.

Although sightings have increased and are regularly reported in the U.P., verification is often difficult, according to the MDNR. Cougar tracks and a cougar photo from in the eastern U.P. were verified in 2009. The MDNR also was able to verify several sets of cougar tracks in Marquette and Delta counties in 2008. The radio-collared cougar has been photographed in Houghton and Ontonagon counties in 2011.

Reports of cougar tracks and other evidence should be made to a local MDNR office or by calling the department's 24-hour Report All Poaching line at 800-292-7800.

Cougars, like bobcats in Ohio, are classified as an endangered species in Michigan. It is unlawful to kill, harass, or otherwise harm a cougar except in the immediate defense of human life. To learn more about cougars and how to identify their tracks, visit online at michigan.gov/cougars. Ohio does not officially recognize wild cougars a a species existing here.

Contact Steve Pollick at: spollick@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.



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