Urban Bobcats – Part I

Last month, I had an amazing opportunity to spend a day in the field with a bobcat researcher in the Santa Monica mountains.  Laurel Klein is a graduate student at UCLA and is incredibly dedicated to her research.  Her research is focused on studying bobcat populations living in urban environments.  Urban environments tend to have fragmented natural habitats, which may  result in individual bobcats needing access to several fragments in order to survive or find a mate.  The National Park Service has been monitoring bobcat populations between Ventura and Los Angeles for more than 15 years; and they have recently seen a decline in bobcat survival rates.  Further research has shown that the mortality is often associated with mange infection, which has been linked to the consumption of rats poisoned with anticoagulants.  In short, when the bobcats eat poisoned rats, they become more susceptible to the mange parasite.  For those that photograph and watch wild bobcats, it is important to know that mange is very treatable, so if you see a sick bobcat, please report it to your nearest wildlife care group or appropriate government agency.

In addition to researching the extent of the mange epizootic (wildlife epidemic), Laurel is also looking at the genetic diversity of the population in her study area.  Urban development has broken up formerly contiguous areas of natural habitat, and reduced the number of territories available.  An important question is how successfully these urban bobcats are breeding and whether or not their young are able to disperse and establish their own home range.  The fragmented habitat may make it less likely that a young bobcat is able to find its own territory and establish one large enough to provide adequate prey and mating opportunities.  Two additional hazards of the urban environment include roads (vehicle-strikes are the primary cause of urban bobcat mortality) and competition with coyotes (the most common cause of kitten mortality).  While bobcats almost exclusively prey on wildlife, Coyotes are opportunistic omnivores and can make use of additional food sources found in urban areas.  This additional food can help increase the numbers of coyotes, which may be detrimental to bobcats.

Understanding urban bobcat population dynamics is important.  If the mortality rate of urban bobcats is higher than their rate of reproduction, the population could be stabilized by recruitment from a nearby nonurban population.  However, this will only work long-term if the wild population is healthy and produces enough offspring to offset the mortality rate in urban environments.  Genetic studies will enable  Laurel to determine the health of the overall population and whether or not the urban populations are adequately connected to the intact wild populations.

As a photographer, who has spent a lot of time observing bobcats living in the midst of a suburban neighborhood, I have felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to document their life.  However, as a biologist, I wonder about the local bobcat population and why they are inhabiting an area so close to people.  I’m very happy that I had the opportunity to spend a day in the field with Laurel and learn more about her research.  The following post will talk more about a typical day in the field and how much work is involved.

For more information in urban bobcats, I highly recommend the book – Urban Carnivores


7 Responses to Urban Bobcats – Part I

  1. matt knoth says:

    why people think poison is a viable approach to ANY problem (“pest” abatement or otherwise) is beyond me.

    a while ago they banned cigarette smoking in Golden Gate Park, meanwhile they were still putting out poison for the rats. Many raptors were poisoned as well. hello, if you think cigaretts are bad for people and the environment, shouldn’t you feel similarly about straight-up poison? crazy.

    love that you hanging with the researchers. i’ve been reading Kevin Hansen’s excellent “Bobcat: Master of Survival” which if you haven’t already read, I would recommend.


    • wildphotography says:

      To play Devil’s Advocate: The number of people who don’t want to live with rats, outnumbers the number of people who are concerned about the raptors. And the anti-coagulant poison is cheap and effective. Hence, the rats are poisoned and additional wildlife suffers (mostly unseen). Unless something changes, this will continue to be standard operating procedure.

      Not that I’m saying the use of poison is justified, especially where there is wildlife. Last year I found several dead rats at our local park (probably poisoned) and I sealed them in bags and discarded them so that no wildlife would eat them. I’d like to think that I saved some of the young raptors that were just learning to hunt.

  2. […] Saying that you want to do research on bobcats is easier said than done.  For one thing, cats aren’t know for being too cooperative.  In all seriousness, a research project like this requires a huge amount of planning, getting permits, finding qualified volunteers, getting access to field sites, and most importantly – finding funding.  If you haven’t read the previous post in this series, it can be found here. […]

  3. […] series about bobcat research in Southern California.  If you haven’t already, please read Part 1 and Part […]

  4. […] is the final post in a series about a bobcat research project in Southern California.  Please read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 if you haven’t […]

  5. Monica Crane says:

    I don’t know how to contact Laurel so I’m leaving this message. Today crows were making a racket I went outside & saw a bobcat walking down the middle of Sierra Creek Road walking from Kanan towards Mulholland. Manhy crows were following the Bobcat. The bobcat was moving slowly which I was surprised by since it was in the middle of the street during the day & crows appeared to be harrasing it. I decided to google bobcats tonight & thought Laurel might be interested. I suspect the bobcat was sick.

    This is not the first time I have seen bobcats near my home. The time before this I saw a Bobcat was more than a year ago. Walking on open land about 100 feet from my home.

    I used to sleep with my bedroom door open on hot nights, but I no longer do so. For awhile I heard animals in my bedroom while I slept but assumed they were rats or mice. But one night I woke up I saw a bobcat in my bedroom, I screamed & it ran out. That was the last time I slept with my bedroom door open.

  6. Wonderful Article. I have photographed Bobcats in Orange County, CA since January, 2008 and I just love observing them from a safe distance with a long lens.

    I have noticed that some of the canyon Bobcats I have seen have mange. The wildlife corridor from the beach does not connect with the canyon corridor. I am not seeing mange on the beach side. They are talking about connecting this corridor from the old El Toro Marine Base which I would think would bring the canyon Bobcats in contact with the beach Bobcats. I am concerned about this Mange spreading.

    I also don’t like the fact that the OC Parks have bait stations. They have all these beautiful raptors and right near where they hunt there are bait stations. I sure wish something could be done about that.

    Two years ago, I found a beautiful Great Horned Owl’s remains on a hill just up from a bait station. It looked like it had just sat down and died. Everything was in tact. Not one feather was out of place. There were just a few maggots left, so it was too late to do any testing on it as far as I know.

    If the parks are going to kill rodents, then I think they should be using something that is raptor friendly like an electronic trap. Of course then someone would have to remove the body and no one likes to “get their hands dirty.”

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