Wildlife enthusiasts can count a small victory now that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife announced that biologists verified 200 bobcat sightings in Ohio in 2013, the first time sightings have reached 200 in the past several years.
Biologists say the nocturnal cats are returning in heavier numbers to Noble County as well as Washington, Morgan, Muskingum, Monroe, Belmont and Guernsey counties, as the past four years have had more than 100 sightings annually.
Wildlife experts say people have nothing to fear, as the carnivorous and predatory bobcats are very shy and prefer to stay clear of humans, and that the increase should be celebrated.
“They’ve been increasing for a while since the turn of the century and they’ve been coming back, and increasing annually,” said Suzie Prange, wildlife research biologist for ODNR. “There’s been several sightings in Washington County where they’ve re-established, and a lot more in Noble.”
Prange said bobcats are typically found in any wooded area in the county where human population is low, and their return could be explained by the restoration of wooded areas that were threatened decades ago.
Regardless of how many have returned, Prange said not to hold your breath trying to find one.
“Bobcats are very, very shy, so you’re not very likely to see one, and they’re not a danger to small pets like coyotes,” she said. “And you don’t need to take any special precautions.”
Calum McGuinness, 12, spotted a bobcat just over a year ago with his mother near their house on Glendale Road in Marietta.
“It was brown and looked a lot like a cat, but with bigger ears and a shorter tail,” he said. “But I didn’t think it was scary, I just thought it was cool.”
McGuinness said they got home one night and spotted it from their driveway.
“Right after he saw us, he took off running,” he said.
Prange said a misconception of bobcats is that people group them with bears or mountain lions when it comes to danger.
“Females are 20 pounds or less and males are less than 30, so they’re much smaller than people think they are,” she said. “And they’re just very allusive. There’s an old saying that the mark of a true woodsmen is how many bobcats they’ve seen.”
Marietta College biology professor Dave McShaffrey said the sub-populations, which Prange reported two of in eastern and southern Ohio that she said will eventually grow and link together, are most likely filtering through specific channels.
“My understanding is that they’re filtering in from Pennsylvania and West Virginia and maybe even Kentucky, though I don’t know for sure,” he said. “They come in along river valleys where there might be lots of parks, and that’s happening here, only we also have a lot of forests.”
McShaffrey also said increased awareness from people might speak to an increase in sightings.
“Some people will set up game cameras overnight and catch them that way, and that might speak to why there has been more sightings,” he said.
Bobcats were recently removed from endangered and threatened species lists, but the predators, which feed on small rodents, mammals like rabbits and birds, are still heavily protected in Ohio.
“Washington County really is the perfect habitat,” Prange said. “They’re a nice species to work with and we’re happy to see them back.”
Prange said she and fellow researchers record reported sightings and track both verified and unverified accounts to study how populations are moving, thriving and adapting.
According to the ODNR report, 113 sightings were recognized from photographs or videos, and an additional 54 were from road kill and 21 were from accidental trappings.
Campus Martius Education Director Glenna Hoff said as the museum holds several local wildlife programs, she has heard reports of people seeing them throughout the county.
“From what I’ve heard it sounds like they’ve gotten bigger, but some of the ones you can see are just beautiful,” she said. “But they are definitely coming back.”
Noble County leads the sightings with 32, and 106 were in the other surrounding Southeast Ohio counties.