The elusive and once-extirpated bobcat is on the comeback trail in Ohio — making an appearance in places close to Madison County.
Anyone who spots one should report the sighting to the Ohio Department of Natural Resource’s (DNR) wildlife division at ohiodnr.gov/wildlife/speciessighting/ Trail camera footage and photos can be posted on the site.
So far in 2017, the state has recorded more than 500 verified bobcat sightings in 46 counties, including some predominantly agricultural counties.
“And we’re still counting,” said DNR biologist Mike Reynolds.
A trail camera in Prairie Oaks Metro Park, near the Madison-Franklin county line, caught the image of one in July. Another was sighted in Clark County’s Harmony Township in September. Fayette and Pickaway counties each recorded one verified bobcat sighting this year. Fairfield County had nine, he noted.
“It’s incredible throughout Ohio,” Reynolds said.
Karen Norris, public information officer for the DNR’s central Ohio district, said Big Darby Creek appears to be an access route for bobcats into the area. In addition to the Prairie Oaks sighting, a bobcat was roadkilled near U.S. Route 62 and Interstate 71 south of Columbus. Another was killed near Big Darby’s headwaters in Union County.
Bobcats are traditional woodland dwellers and are probably drawn to the creek’s forest canopy, Reynolds noted.
Not surprising, most of the verified sightings came from trail cameras. Since bobcats are nocturnal and secretive, they are rarely seen in daylight.
Reynolds said local residents need not fear the critter. He has no reports of bobcats taking domestic dogs or cats. However, backyard poultry have fallen victim. Their favorite dinner: squirrels and small rodents.
Since there’s no season on bobcats in Ohio, trappers who catch one incidentally in a foothold are required to release the wild feline. Advice and videos on how to handle a trapped bobcat are available on the Internet.
“It can be a dicey situation,” Reynolds admitted.
He said dead bobcats should be turned over to state wildlife officials for research purposes.
Bobcats virtually disappeared from the state about 1850 as their forest habitat disappeared. They began to reappear in the mid 1900s. The DNR began tracking their reappearance in the late 1990s.
It’s likely the first invaders came from West Virginia and Pennsylvania. They found eastern Ohio’s reclaimed strip mines ideal places to build dens and raise young, Reynolds noted.
The more recent gas and oil drilling boom in eastern and southern Ohio also proved beneficial to the species. Brush piles that surround land cleared for drilling pads and pumps became favorite denning sites.
Reynolds said Guernsey and Noble counties, in East Central Ohio, are the current “epicenter” of bobcat activity in the state.
“Like the reappearance of black bear, river otter, badgers and other native wildlife species, the resurgence of bobcats in Ohio is a cause for celebration,” Reynolds said.
“It’s something to enhance the landscape,” he added.