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‘Living With Bobcats’ research, education ongoing at SCCF

By Staff | Apr 5, 2011

Dee Serage-Century, Amanda Bryant, and volunteer Gary Biltgen who saw his first bobcat while picking up scat.

Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation staff used to sit around the lunchroom table and wonder how many island residents knew about those small, elusive bobcats that lived so peacefully in their neighborhoods as well as the preserved lands of Sanibel and Captiva.

Following the alligator attack in 2004 resulting in 142 gators killed and removed from Sanibel in a year, it became clear that it was time to gear up public education about living with island predators. Almost to 3,000 people have attended the “Bobcat Tales” program at SCCF since then, with a mixed audience of residents and visitors. Learning about animal behavior helps us know what to do and what not to do.

So what good are those bobcats and gators anyway? Without them, raccoons would move to the top of the island food chain. Raccoons eat turtle and bird eggs. Bobcats and gators both eat raccoons. Much of the bobcat diet is made up of rats and rabbits. The non-native green iguanas that the city pays a trapper to remove for us are also on their menu. Bobcats and gators also might catch a Nile monitor lizard if another one of these egg eating, tree climbing invasive reptiles ever shows up again on the islands… and they work for free!

Living safely with bobcats is simple:

• Don’t get to close, certainly don’t chase one… you will scare it.

Steve Marshall photographed this bobcat at the Bailey Tract. This is what a scared bobcat looks like when approached chased by a bicycle.

• Leaving dog or cat food outside is inviting trouble especially overnight.

• Secure all garbage cans from those dumpster diving raccoons especially.

• Most importantly: house cats need to stay inside for their sake and to protect the birds they kill. Your housecat can be viewed as an intruder in your local bobcat’s territory. Dogs on a leash are not a problem for bobcats or for you on your daily walks. Maybe you will get lucky and see one.

There has never been a negative human/bobcat encounter on Sanibel. The alligator involved in the 2004 attack was a gator observed to be fed by humans.

SCCF’s focus has expanded from preserving and managing quality bobcat habitat into “Living With Bobcats” education and now bobcat research has begun. In February, biologist Amanda Bryant began her bobcat research project for SCCF.

While Bryant is known around the islands for coordinating the SCCF Sea Turtle Research & Monitoring Program, her interests include understanding how certain species survive and thrive where humans and wildlife areas overlap. Her experiences prior to coming to Southwest Florida involved working with small mammals and mid-level mammalian predators.

The first stage of the research project will be to look at the diet of the bobcat population on Sanibel and Captiva. To do so, Bryant and volunteers are walking specific routes each week and collecting all of the scat (that wood be bobcat poop) they find along the way. She is also interested in bobcat scat not on the designated routes.

If you have a resident bobcat that likes to mark its territory in your backyard, please contact Amanda at 472-3984 for a scat pickup.

What happens with all of that scat you might ask? A washing machine set to gentle and some pantyhose are all it takes to get scat down to the bones and hair that remain of a bobcat’s prey. Analysis of the scat will allow Bryant to identify the undigested prey remains. It will then be possible to identify which species are the most important food items to bobcats.

The second stage of the project will involve estimating the population of bobcats on Sanibel & Captiva. To accomplish this, cameras with a motion-activated sensor will be placed throughout the islands to photograph bobcats. Since bobcats have unique markings, this will enable Bryant to “trap” bobcats without actually catching or handling them in any way. Using the bobcats photographed she will be able to produce an estimate of the population’s size.

Thanks to all SCCF supporters for helping us protect and manage habitat for the wild ones. The next “Bobcat Tales” program at SCCF will be on Wednesday, April 13. Please call either Dee Serage-Century at 472-2329 or Amanda Bryant at 472-3984 if you have any questions. Please e-mail bobcat photos to dserage@sccf.org so we can use them in our education programs.