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.
While the science is important, the health and well-being of the animals trumps everything else. Practically speaking, this means a lot of very long days because the traps (large cages) must be checked on twice a day and new locations need to be scouted in between. While bobcats occupy their smallest sized territories in Southern California, the traps still need to be spaced quite a distance apart. So, there’s a lot of driving and walking involved. It is also important that the traps not be obvious to other people, so this means staying away from busy hiking trails and other areas with easy access. If you’ve ever tried to bushwhack through chaparral, you know what an ordeal this can be.
Laurel starts a typical day well before dawn. Many of the cages have a radio transmitter that will let her know if the cage door has closed. However, due to the mountainous landscape, she is only able to get radio reception for a few of the study sites. Also, the radio-transmitters aren’t foolproof, so she needs to check them in person anyway. If one of the traps has been triggered, the first course of action is to see what’s in it. As you can imagine, there’s lots of other wildlife around that might find their way into the trap. I, for one, am really glad we didn’t find a skunk in one of the cages! (This has happened, and getting them out of the cage without getting sprayed is quite a challenge.)
On the day we tagged along, none of the traps had triggered overnight, so we started the morning by checking on all of the nearby cages. It is important to double check that they haven’t been triggered, and that the trigger mechanism and radio transmitter are working properly. We probably spent almost three hours checking the traps near our starting point, and all of this needed to be repeated later in the afternoon.
While driving from one study site to another, we asked a lot of questions about Laurels research and shared stories of our sightings in Santa Barbara. Ironically, I had to interrupt the conversation to point out that a bobcat was sitting completely out in the open, watching us drive by. As you can imagine, this was the highlight of the day, and the above image is of that beautiful female, which had been previously captured by Laurel last Fall. This particular bobcat had a bad case of mange when originally captured, and was taken in for treatment and released about a month later. As you can see, she looks amazingly healthy and it was an incredible joy to see her out in the wild.
Once again, I’ve ended up writing far more than I expected, so the next part will talk about scouting new locations and setting up a new trap. Stay tuned!