Sud­den surge in bob­cat sight­ings has some fear­ing for their pets

Edmonton Sun - - NEWS - Bill KAUFMANN

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.

Cour­tesy richard ERLENDSON

One of three bob­cats that were spot­ted frol­ick­ing in the Brent­wood area in northwest Cal­gary at the end of Au­gust 2019.

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