Bobcats almost certainly won't eat your children; humans, even tiny ones, are too large and awful-tasting. Bobcats probably won't eat your dog, unless your dog is a free-ranging tea-cup chihuahua that -- let's be honest -- totally had it coming. They will eat your backyard chickens in a heartbeat, so urban farmers beware.
And that pretty much sums up what the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department knew about urban bobcats circa January 2014.
"Honestly there's some very very basic questions that we're trying to address," says TPWD wildlife biologist Derek Broman. Questions "that even maybe a third-grader might ask." Where do they live? What do they eat? How far do they wander? Could one tackle Tony Romo? (At a couple of dozen pounds probably not, but it's a moot point since Romo would have already crumpled into the fetal position as soon as it slipped past Doug Free.)
To answer those questions, TPWD researchers worked with Utah State University graduate student Julia Golla to strap tracking collars to 10 wild bobcats captured between eastern Fort Worth and Irving. They have been collecting data for about a year and will continue to do so until late spring or early summer, when the collars are programmed to fall off. Broman and Golla won't start crunching the data in earnest until then, but in the meantime they've already gleaned some useful insights.
On average, the bobcats they're tracking have a range of about five square miles, which was a surprise. Going into the project, Broman had expected that the roads and subdivisions that have fragmented their natural habitat would either serve as barriers that limited the animals range or else would force them to expand their domain so they'd have enough food and resources. Five square miles, though, is on par with the typical range of bobcats in rural areas. Since bobcats are territorial creatures (males stay away from other males, just as females steer clear of other females; males do, however, tend to prefer territories that overlap with as many different females as possible), this will help them guesstimate the number of bobcats between Dallas and Fort Worth.
They have also gotten a sense of the dangers faced by the urban bobcat. One of the animals they were studying became roadkill. Another was killed by a train. A third, they suspect, was killed by a person. Its tracking collar had been fiddled with before being discarded in the creek where Broman and Golla tracked it down. "That is still very valuable information," Broman said. The fact that bobcats, which are sometimes hunted in rural parts of the state, could "potentially be persecuted in an urban landscape, that's still data."
The epicenter of the research was Euless. Several bobcats were trapped around the Texas Star golf course, where the wooded areas around the fairways served as narrow wildlife corridors. And they tracked down a particularly brazen specimen at the Westdale Hills Apartments, which also boasts a golf course. Here's a video Golla shot of him snatching a squirrel out of a tree.
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"That bobcat was very, very well known by the residents," Broman says. "The golf course folks were kind of pleased that the bobcat would keep some of the non-native domestic ducks in check." Unchecked by the bobcat, the ducks would "harass people, and they poo everywhere."
And you know that now, because science.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.