Hunters and farmers in rural areas may be spotting bobcats more frequently, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Standing about twice the size of a normal house cat, the predators were long a part of the Illinois’ list of official threatened species. However, due to protections brought about by the Department of Natural Resources, the bobcat was removed from the list in 1999. Their population is cited to have grown by ten times from 1992-2012 Today, an estimated 5000 bobcats roam the state, which led to the Department of Natural Resources bringing back a hunting and trapping season for the animal.
IDNR Wildlife Diversity Program Manager Stan McTaggart says that they are usually not a threat to people.
“People that see them the most are deer and turkey hunters. They are out in the woods being quiet and wearing camouflage clothing and they are sitting still. Folks that are out and about, walking and hiking occasionally get a glimpse of one, but they rarely have close encounters with them.”
McTaggart said that the slow abandonment of small family farms has helped the population make a resurgence.
“Southern Illinois has traditionally been kind of the stronghold for bobcats, it was one of the places they held on, event during the lowest years, even in the early part of the 1900’s. A lot of people back in those days, anything that would eat their chickens, they went after them. Whether it be hawks or owls or bobcats, whatever was there that was going to go after their chickens. They lived on the farm and they depended on those animals for their living, so a lot of the predators during those times were not looked upon favorably by farmers and land owners. Then once people started moving off of those little farms, a lot of those areas were left to grow back up into early succession habitat.”
He says that the bobcat is a great example of how animal protection and conservation can work to help a species in a natural habitat. McTaggart says that observations of bobcats are just as prevalent in West Central Illinois now as they are in Southern Illinois.
McTaggart says that people shouldn’t be too concerned with bobcats unless they have really small pets or free range chickens. He said the best way to keep the animal out is to put up a pen or fence and put netting over the fence to keep them out.
McTaggart says that they issue a small number of permits for a short hunting and trapping season and that is one way that a landowner can rid themselves of a possible bobcat problem. McTaggart says the hunting and trapping community pay for the conservation of species and habitat.
“All along, these folks have paid into this system through an excise tax, called the Pittman Robertson Act, and that money goes directly to fund the research, the wildlife biologists that make the decisions. It goes into protecting the habitat, and purchasing habitat. So some of our state parks and the areas that provide habitat for these species to recover in, a lot of the time is paid for by the hunting and trapping community.”
McTaggart said that because of the hunting community, his research along with IDNR’s research partnerships with state schools can continue so that other species like the bobcat can continue to regulate Illinois’ environment as a part of the natural food chain.