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Bobcats are back

It is a rare and special opportunity to see a bobcat in Ohio, just ask the neighbors at the north end of Germantown MetroPark. Although officially classified as an Ohio endangered species, bobcats have been both spotted and heard by this group of residents since January, 2005.

In order to validate the reports, park officials needed physical proof that the animal had taken up residence. Here lies the challenge. You see, the bobcat is a secretive and elusive little creature, and the Germantown MetroPark landscape offers the dense cover that bobcats love to hide in.

Bobcats were found throughout the Ohio country in early settlement times. As swamps and lowlands were drained and forests cleared to make way for settlements and cropland, the bobcat population declined. By 1850, they were considered extirpated in the state. In 1976, the bobcat was officially classified as an Ohio endangered species and has since been provided full protection under the law. In 1997, a project was initiated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resource Division of Wildlife to monitor the status of bobcats in Ohio. The good news is, the bobcat population in Ohio is on the rise: there were 37 verified bobcat reports in 2006, compared to 20 in 2005.

After receiving local sighting reports, MetroParks staff set up surveys in Germantown MetroPark. They set up two methods: hair snares and remote cameras, to try to prove bobcats were in the park. The hair snares were laced with catnip oil to attract bobcats and encourage them to rub against them, leaving enough hair behind to perform DNA screening for verification. Remote cameras were placed in several locations near the reported sightings in hopes of capturing images of the elusive creature.

Several hairs with the right color patterns were taken from the snares, but did not offer enough DNA to verify they were from a bobcat. The remote cameras captured an abundance of pictures – but they were of deer, turkeys, coyotes, and people. Still, park staff continued their pursuit for evidence.

Finally, on an afternoon walk in the park in late October, a naturalist from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, in town doing an unrelated survey for MetroParks, happened upon bobcat tracks on a muddy spot in the trail north of the Nature Center. He grabbed his camera and captured the evidence folks from Germantown had been waiting over two years to capture. The tracks were then verified by bobcat and animal tracking experts.

Naturalists are not surprised that the bobcat picked Germantown MetroPark as his home; it has all the makings of a healthy natural habitat for the animal. The park offers remote, well-forested areas of rugged topography, a creek for the bobcat to drink from, and plenty of spots on which to sun himself after a hard night’s work of hunting rabbits, moles and other small mammals.

“There’s no need for visitors to fear the bobcat,” says Michael Enright, Five Rivers MetroParks Conservation Biologist, “Their secretive, nocturnal behavior and preference for remote areas make interactions between humans and bobcats rare. So rare that it took us more than two years just to prove the little guy was living among us.”

Park officials will continue to manage Germantown MetroPark for its healthy habitat through preservation and continued land acquisition, and are hopeful that more bobcats will find it a comfortable home.


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