"Squirrel, squirrel, squirrel, deer, bobcat!"
That's how Dan Herrera from the Humane Rescue Alliance describes watching the motion-activated camera set up on the C&O Canal. The D.C. Cat Count project does exactly that—counts cats with the hopes of pinpointing just how many wild and domestic cats roam the D.C. area, by using cameras set up in nature.
But a bobcat isn't a typical sighting for the group.
“I thought maybe I was looking at it wrong, and maybe it was just a weird-looking house cat,” Herrera admits.
Despite bobcats being native to North America, we don't typically see them, due to heavy urbanization. And according to wildlife biologist Dan Rauch, this one might be the first wild bobcat ever spotted in the city. The last time a bobcat was in the city, it was Ollie, an escapee from the National Zoo, so we are in all-new territory here.
Bobcat Ollie escaped from the National Zoo back in 2017. Courtesy of facebook.com.
So what does a bobcat want in the city?
Definitely not humans! Bobcats, though wild, are not interested in preying on us or even our pets. Turns out, they're pretty shy creatures. Most feast on rabbits, squirrels, and other small mammals. So maybe he was looking for food, but Herrera speculates that he's "looking for love." And while this bobcat might not get lucky this time around, perhaps we can expect more to follow. As humans push further into wild territory with increasing populations, a lot of once-rural creatures are starting to adapt to city life. We've seen this pattern in animals like the bald eagle and coyotes.
There's a lot of misinformation around animals such as these. Because we don't see them that often and they're typically bigger than our kitty cats at home, we can get scared of them. But there's no reason to be worried about a bobcat wandering through your backyard. If one were to even risk crossing paths with you or your child, they're actually going to be more afraid than you are and run away. In fact, D.C. and other cities should probably cross their fingers and hope some bobcats move in—they can help control rodent and pest populations! (Ahem, D.C., you might need some help with that this year.)
How to tell a bobcat from a normal house cat? (Pay attention so we don't end up with anymore Cookie scares.)
Rauch tells us to look for mutton chop-like fur on the jaw, ears with tufted fur, and a spot-and-stripe pattern on the coat. They're going to be smaller than your average dog, but bigger than your average cat—somewhere under 35 pounds.
This isn't our first report of weird animals in the area, so it seems like we should all settle in and get used to having neighbors of any and all species.
Have you ever spotted any strange animals in your neighborhood? What would you do if you crossed paths with a bobcat? Share your experience and your bobcat knowledge in the comments!