Sudden surge in bobcat sightings has some fearing for their pets
CALGARY — A stop at my street’s communal mailbox earlier this week revealed an unnerving delivery.
Sprawled on a bloody patch of snow a few steps away was the partly-eaten carcass of a jackrabbit, one of many that populate my northwest community.
Judging from what little was missing from the rabbit, it appeared someone had interrupted a meal.
Two hours later while walking on a nearby paved pathway in Rocky Ridge, a friend and I came face-to-face with the hare’s possible killer.
A bobcat in its orange and brown-spotted fur uttered a low moan and advanced slowly towards us before bounding effortlessly over a chain-link back yard fence.
It instantly left me questioning the safety of my small dog in our own back yard enclosure.
It’s a fear felt by more than a few other Calgarians who’ve been viewing and sharing a mounting number of social media pictures and videos of the cats roaming their neighbourhoods.
One video captures a bobcat with what appears to be a domestic feline clamped in its teeth as it strides along a fence and drops into a yard with its prey in Canyon Meadows.
Other recent images show whole bobcat families, including kittens, in various parts of Calgary, including inner-city areas like Mount Royal.
That flood of imagery is consistent with a ballooning number of bobcat sightings in Calgary, which jumped from 599 in 2017 to 1,021 last year.
“The earliest reporting in Calgary was 25 to 30 years ago,” said Chris Manderson, the city’s urban conservation lead.
“Years ago, the Elbow River was the corridor, they’re expanding into the southeast and they seem to be moving into the northwest.”
Most of the sightings, according to a city incident map, have overflowed from the Weaselhead and Fish Creek Park areas.
A heightened awareness and willingness to report the animals are factors in those rising numbers, but so is the bobcats’ increasing urban population, said Manderson, adding bobcats have been spotted in his West Hillhurst neighbourhood.
The city doesn’t keep track of the number of pets killed by the big cats but Manderson said the risk appears to be low.
“They mostly stick to species they’re adapted to hunt but you want to keep your cat indoors — they take advantage of any situation they can,” he said.
Attacks by the animals on humans are extremely rare and none have been recorded in the city, said Manderson and provincial fish and wildlife officer Sgt. Scott Kallweit.
“The number of human-bobcat conflicts are so few, we still don’t consider them a public safety risk,” said Kallweit.
Since last spring, Kallweit said he’s aware of two house cats being killed by bobcats in Calgary and another instance of a small dog owner warding off a threatening one.
Bobcats are attracted to the city by its abundance of wild prey, primarily the white-tailed jackrabbits that proliferate in most parts of Calgary, said Manderson.
“It’s predatory, it’s evolution in action and they have it figured out,” he said.
“Between the bobcats and the great horned owl, they’re making a good living in the city.”
The coming winter won’t mean the cats will be slinking away into the wild, said Manderson.
“They’re here yearround,” he said.
City officials advise against feeding the animals and to ensure pet food or waste is cleaned up.
The province’s Kallweit said his team helped one southeast homeowner evict bobcats from under their deck earlier this year.
“If they become a nuisance, make them uncomfortable to be there by using non-lethal techniques like throwing sticks and rocks at them — people have used a garden hose,” he said.
One of three bobcats that were spotted frolicking in the Brentwood area in northwest Calgary at the end of August 2019.