Betsy S. Franz
Photos always free for use by nature writers, science teachers, etc. if attribution provided.
The Florida Bobcat (Lynx rufus floridanus) is one of only two species of wild feline in Florida. The other species is the Florida panther (Felis concolor coryi). Not as big as a panther, bobcats average about 36 inches in length, and weigh between 15 – 35 lbs. They are rarely a danger to humans or domestic pets.
Bobcats in Florida are not currently considered rare or endangered. In fact, a limited bobcat hunting season exists statewide. However, as natural landscapes in Florida continue to disappear or become fragmented, bobcat populations will probably gradually shrink in numbers and could eventually completely disappear.
Not only are bobcats one of Florida’s most beautiful natural species, but as predators, they help maintain the balance of our natural eco-system. In other words, if bobcats disappear, the populations of some of the smaller species which they keep in check, such as rabbits and rodents, will increase. What will this mean to our eco-system? Reduction in numbers of other large species, such as the panther, red wolf, and black bear from east central Florida, have led to an increase in raccoon populations. Raccoons feed on sea turtle eggs which is likely one of the reasons that sea turtles are now endangered. Continued reduction in Florida’s bobcat population could lead to similar problems.
Removing even one bobcat from its current location could impact the species. That is because populations of bobcats are already fragmented and taking away any viable mates could increase the rates of inbreeding which would lead to further degradation of the species.
So what should you do if you see a bobcat in your yard? First, bring in all small pets or children that might try to approach the bobcat. Although bobcats rarely attack humans or domesticate pets, they may do so if they are rabid. And ironically, bobcats can catch diseases from free-roaming or feral cats, including rabies and feline panleukopenia.
Next, appreciate your good fortune. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) regional public information director Joy Hill, “Most people living in Florida will never see one.”
You may want to grab a camera and take some photos if you have time – from a distance, of course.
If a bobcat is too close for your comfort you can try to scare them off with loud noises or a hard spray from a garden hose.
Chances are that the bobcat is just passing through your property. Bobcats spend about 75-85% of their time moving. When they do rest, they only spend an average of two to three hours at any one site. They can move as fast as 6.2 mi. in 24 hours. However, small pets should be kept indoors until you are sure the bobcat has left the area.
NEVER feed a bobcat. Like most wildlife species, bobcats have a natural fear of humans. However, they may lose this fear if they are taught to associate people with food. FWC recommends that all food and garbage be secured so as not to unnaturally attract bobcats or other wildlife.
Bobcats may be attracted to a yard that has abundant wildlife, domestic birds, small pets, water, and shade or other shelter. So if you garden to attract small wildlife, you may also see a bobcat from time to time. Although you may feel privileged by the visit, remember, your neighbors may feel differently.
If a bobcat becomes a regular visitor to your property and you feel like their presence may cause a problem, contact your local office of FWC to discuss the matter. www.myfwc.com
Written by Betsy S. Franz