How about those bobcats?
Friday, July 16th, 2010
Issue 28, Volume 14.
The nocturnal beasts stalk chickens on farms, creep through brush bordering open fields, spring across mountainside boulders and roam elsewhere in their home range.
Bobcats are said to symbolize "sight" among the Irish. And, in middle-age folklore, it was believed bobcats could see through walls.
The native North American mammal’s scientific name is Lynx rufus.
As of late, these popular felines have been stirring up some excitement around the hill.
Rest assured though, they have never been blamed in any fatal human attacks. Bobcats prefer small animals and reptiles like field mice, rats, gophers and snakes.
Due to the creature’s tendency to hunt alone, it’s rare for anyone to encounter a bobcat. But such a confrontation occurred not long ago on an Aguanga farm.
A visit to remember
It was in the early morning darkness that a lone bobcat was searching for prey, an approach that caused a flock of about 50 chickens to clamor and cluck in their enclosed coop. A stable of horses neighed as a cluster of dogs barked anxiously.
A bobcat had entered Sage Mountain Farms – a certified organic plant grower located on 20 acres along Sage Road in Aguanga.
On this night, the symphony of noise woke farmer Phil Noble and prompted him to climb out of bed about 2 a.m.
Noble said he felt a thrilling rush as he headed outside with a flashlight to investigate the commotion.
He checked on his four dogs – an Australian shepherd Queensland heeler mix, pit bull, Chihuahua poodle, and Catahoula leopard – that sleep around his house at night.
"I heard a major disturbance," Noble said in a recent phone interview. "I went down the hill with a flashlight and didn’t see anything. I headed back to the house, but I knew something was wrong. Something was not right."
Noble then decided to shine his flashlight on a group of pepper trees growing inside his chicken coop.
There it was – a bobcat – in one of the trees.
"I saw its big, bright eyes," he continued. "When you hit an animal with a light, you know that’s what it is."
At that point, Noble was about 30 feet from the treed bobcat.
"I thought, gosh, do I really want to walk down near the chicken coop," he said. "I decided, yes, because I had my dogs with me."
The chicken coop is completely enclosed with the pepper trees growing through the metal corrugated roof in the middle of the structure.
Noble suspected the bobcat had been watching him from the moment he left his house.
Noble entered the chicken coop expecting the bobcat to flee from the tree. It didn’t move.
"It obviously knew I was there," he said. "I don’t think it was deaf or blind."
Noble said he moved within three feet of the bobcat, and was face-to-face with it for about five minutes. Yet the elapsed time seemed like an eternity, he said.
Noble then tapped the flashlight on the metal roof of the coop, and the bobcat jumped out of the tree and over the fence of the enclosure.
"I wish I had a camera and a gun," he said. "It crossed my mind. I almost went back to the house to get a camera. I almost got the gun before I first went out. I don’t like to kill animals. I’ve killed gophers and squirrels before, but we usually like to trap and release them. You can’t trap a bobcat."
Noble is pretty sure the bobcat didn’t snatch up any of his chickens for dinner that morning. He estimated the bobcat’s weight at about 20 pounds. And that was not the last time he has heard his chickens squawk in the dark of the night, he said.
"I asked my friend why the bobcat didn’t move right away," Noble recalled. "He said the bobcat must’ve felt safe."
Meeting the bobcat that morning was a little scary, he said, but it was more exciting than frightening.
"I catch rattlesnakes with my bare hands," he boosted.
"For the last week, the bobcat has been coming on the property around 5 a.m.," he said.
Noble said he asks his hired hands to periodically count the chickens to determine if any of them are missing. He is still not quite sure if any chickens have been taken. Noble has little doubt that the bobcat has grabbed at least a couple of them by this point.
"I bet he’s gotten a few of them for sure," he said. "My neighbor’s dog was taken recently by a bobcat right in front of her yard. A bobcat took her little Chihuahua as she watched the whole thing."
This wasn’t the first time Noble has seen a bobcat. That incident will stick in his mind, though, he said.
"This was a once-in-a-lifetime encounter," Noble said. "I will remember this for the rest of my life."
A California Department of Fish and Game report released in April stated that 46,004 bobcat hunting tags were sold statewide in 2009. There were also 915 separate international shipping tags sold last year, with a total of 46,919 tags sold. The hunting tags cost $13 each.
Bobcats are tagged in order to record hunting and trapping data and to track exports and for other purposes.
A Fish and Game on bobcat harvesting reported that nearly 1,000 bobcats were taken during the 2008-09 hunting year and trapping season. Most of the bobcats were taken by trappers and sport hunters, and fewer than 100 were captured by the government agencies.
That take reflected a 13 percent drop from the previous year. The average pelt price went down from $134.57 to $78, according to the state agency. The number of successful bobcat trappers increased by about 10 percent, the report said.
The Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – known by the acronym CITES – is a group of international government entities that determines whether the trade of animal skins or other products may threaten or cause the extinction of wild animals or plants.
CITES protects roughly 5,000 species of animals and 28,000 species of plants against over-exploitation as a result of international trade. The United States asked a CITES committee to eliminate the current restrictions that limit the trade of bobcat hides.
The March request by the United States was rejected by CITES members in an initial decision. A debate surfaced on various points of view on the proposal, including a strong showing of support by Canada, which shares management of bobcats with the United States.
Opposition to the United States’ proposal centered on concerns that easing restrictions could fuel the illegal trade of other spotted cats that are protected by the international group.
The final vote in the committee was 53 in support, 46 opposed and 15 abstentions.
The U.S. held a workshop in Brussels to work with the European Union to resolve concerns about the similarity of appearance issues concerning the bobcat and endangered spotted cats.
The U.S. drafted an identification guide to assist enforcement officers in differentiating bobcats from endangered spotted cats.
Change advocates argued that North American bobcat populations remain strong and have been managed effectively for 30 years by wildlife agencies. As a result, trading advocates argued that bobcat populations would not be adversely affected by commerce.
In fact, bobcat populations are increasing and recent surveys estimate that there are 1.7 million to 2.6 million in the United States today, according to figures provided by the international group.
The conference committee recognized that the periodic review of bobcats was progressing and valuable, but not yet concluded.
The committee recommended prolonging the decision, and to continue the matter at future meetings. As of now, no final decision has been made on the U.S. proposal.
It was after 5 p.m., on a Thursday afternoon last month when a pair of hikers opted to search for bobcat in the rural De Luz area. There were no other cars parked in a dirt lot of an ecological reserve. Stillness blanketed the thick vegetation near the pristine Santa Margarita River.
This outing wasn’t expected to entail an actual bobcat sighting. Instead, the couple hoped to find and photograph some bobcat tracks. The hikers looked upon the outing as a way to enjoy the outdoors and get out of the house and office.
Bobcat tracks were found hardened in the dirt not long after a storm had pounded the area. A group that holds such tracking outings in San Diego County relies on a team of trained volunteers.
About 60 volunteers monitor wildlife in northern San Diego County. They crisscross areas that include the sprawling Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve, which spills into the Fallbrook area.
The 10-year-old San Diego Tracking Team is dedicated to promoting the preservation of habitats through citizen-based wildlife monitoring coupled with environmental education programs.
The team will hold a beginner wildlife tracking class from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Saturday at the Adobe Ranch House in Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve on Canyonside Park Driveway in San Diego.
This class enlists its participants in surveys that monitor wildlife numbers and movements in open space reserves and other critical areas.
Topics include basic recognition and identification of animal tracks and other signs, introduction to track patterns and gaits, wildlife journaling and survey protocol.
Classroom time is supplemented with plenty of time in the field. This training is required for survey volunteers and also serves as a prerequisite for the team’s intermediate tracker/naturalist class.
One of the goals of tracking bobcats is to establish more drainage culverts and other so-called "critter tunnels" that allow animals to pass under, rather than over, busy roads or freeways, according to group members.
The cost is $25 per person. Individuals or groups must register in advance. Participants are encouraged to dress for the outdoors and bring a sack lunch, sunscreen and water.
Call (760) 715-4102 or visit www.sdtt.org for more information on the class or the group.
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