History and Status
Throughout the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries, bobcats were thought to be a threat to livestock and game animals. During that period bounties were widespread in the United States and bobcat pelts were worth little in the fur industry. During the 1970’s, when large spotted cats became protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act and The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the value of bobcat pelts dramatically increased.
The American bobcat (Lynx rufus), which is the only native wild cat in Illinois, was once listed as a threatened species. It was first protected in 1972, but the designation was removed in 1999. The estimated population is thought to be approx. 5000.
Bobcat hunting/trapping legislation allowed the first season in over 40 years to begin in 2016.
It is estimated that there are as many as 5,000 bobcats in the State of Illinois.
The Role of Predators
Bobcats are important apex predators and play an ecological role in controlling rodents and other prey. Ecosystems work best and stay in balance when they have all of their functional roles, including predators.
Predators of the bobcat include owls, eagles, coyotes, foxes, as well as other adult male bobcats, which prey on kittens. Diseases, accidents, hunting, automobiles, and starvation also contribute to their mortality rate.
Hunters, farmers, politicians, and conservationists have differing opinions on the role predators should be allowed to play, which is why it is important to gain an understanding of their abundance, behavior, and role in our habitat and communities.
There is a great deal of misunderstanding about carnivores, their impacts, and their ecological role.
Having bobcat populations across the state is a good thing, but it can generate questions about livestock predation, safety of pets and impacts on game birds. Conflicts between bobcats and livestock are rare. A report on the diet of bobcats in Illinois found they preferred prey such as rabbits and small mammals, rather than birds. The research on their diet noted the following stomach content of 91 bobcats in Illinois – small rodents (32.8%), rabbits (22.7%), squirrels (19.3%), and birds 10.1%). (Woolf and Nielsen 2002)
WOOLF, A. and C. NIELSEN. 2002. The bobcat in Illinois. Special Report Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois
Research can help us better understand bobcats as they expand into urban areas due to lack of habitat and as their population grows.
There have been studies on bobcat abundance in Illinois, but not since the early 2000’s. That research was limited to the southern region of the state. A population study is underway at Western Illinois University (WIU), which is monitoring bobcats in west-central Illinois.
People & Pet Interactions
Bobcats pose little risk to humans. The natural response of a bobcat is to flee from humans. Small dogs or cats could be at risk, but bobcats are not likely to go after pets. The best thing you can do is to not leave your dogs unattended outdoors or let your dogs roam indepently. Domestic cats should always be kept inside.
If you come across a bobcat in your yard or elsewhere, give it space. Yelling and making noise will generally chase it away. Problems with poultry that cannot be resolved by improving fencing or implementing recommendations from a biologist could require a nuisance animal permit. CONTACT your local district biologist to discuss options.
If you see a bobcat, consider yourself among the privileged few to see Illinois’ only wild cat.
Bobcats are territorial and generally solitary animals. A member of the Lynx taxon, which is characterized by tufted ears and short tails, they are found throughout North America.
Adult bobcats are about twice as large as a domestic cat, standing 20 inches to 30 inches at the shoulder. Adult weights range from 10 to 40 pounds, with males being about one third larger than females. They live an average of 12 years in the wild and begin reproducing at about two years of age.
Breeding takes place in January through June, with the peak in February and March. Gestation is approximately 60 days. An average of 2 to 3 kittens per litter. Bobcat dens tend to be located in places like rock crevices, caves, brush piles, hollow trees, or logs. Kittens will remain with their mother for 9 to 12 months.
Bobcat scat may contain fur; the scat tends to be highly segmented. It is common for bobcats to cover their scat. They also make scrapes near dens or along trails where scat is left uncovered to help mark their territory. Bobcat tracks are round and do not have claw marks. Front prints average 1 ¾ to 2 ¼ inches long, with rear prints slightly smaller.
If you find wildlife, often the best thing to do is to leave it alone. In some cases, a wildlife rehabilitor is needed though.
A printable list of licensed Illinois rebilitators is available here: IllinoisWildliferehabilitationList
Cougar, Wolf, or Bear Sightings
If you have recently seen a cougar, black bear or gray wolf in Illinois, please report the sighting to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
SB3049, which took effect January 1, 2015, amended the Illinois Wildlife Code by adding black bears, cougars and gray wolves to the list of protected species. Gray wolves are listed as a State Threatened Species and as Federally Endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service throughout Illinois.
Black bears and cougars may not be hunted, killed or harassed unless there is an imminent threat to person or property. Gray wolves may not be hunted, killed or harassed for any reason.
If you feel you or your property is being threatened by black bear, cougar or gray wolf, contact the IDNR to learn about options available to address potential threats. The IDNR may issue a nuisance animal permit and assist you with control measures.