Thursday, February 07, 2013

Bobcats, Cougars and Feral Cats…It’s a Zoo Out There

(Originally published in the Merritt Herald)

© By Othmar Vohringer

Like everyone else in Merritt I followed the almost weekly reports in this newspaper about the sightings of bobcats, cougars and other wildlife in our city. I am also aware that some national media outlets reported on it with their typical sensationalized headlines, like “dangerous wildlife invades Merritt” or “Invasion of dangerous predators has people in Merritt on high alert”. However, I almost fell of my chair when a friend of mine in Germany emailed me, inquiring; “Are you alright?” My friend related to me that a German newspaper carried a similar story about Merritt being invaded by a large numbers of dangerous wildlife. 

After I was done laughing I emailed my friend back, putting his mind at rest by letting him know that we are not in any danger here. I reminded him that I had worked half of my life with tigers, lions, leopards, and elephants and that it would take a lot more than the mere suspected sighting of a cougar to make me worried. 

Indeed, given my professional experience with cats of all sizes I think the hype we have been exposed to in the media is grossly exaggerated and may have caused unnecessary fear in our community. Let me explain. It is highly unlikely that the reported sighting of two cougars in Merritt actually were cougars. Puma concolor is an animal with an extremely solitary habit. This is true of all cat species with the exception of the African lion, however, the cougar has taken solitary living to such an extreme that a human could live an entire life in a cougar area without ever seeing one (alive). Pumas avoid contact with all other animals unless they hunt them for food and certainly avoid humans and their dwellings wherever possible. Cougar attacks on humans are extremely rare, and to my knowledge none occurred near human dwellings. In addition, many cougar sightings have been reported over the years in towns all across North America and most have been proven to be false alarms of mistaken identity.

Bobcats are another animal that is far overestimated when it comes to “endangering humans”. Like the Puma, bobcats are generally solitary living animals, but they don’t mind some proximity to humans. However, a human, even a small child, is far too big for them to take on as prey. There are no reports of bobcats attacking humans. Domestic feral cats are another story. Bobcats don’t like competition, and like any other wild cat they will chase other felines smaller than themselves in their territory away, or kill them. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen many feral cats in our back alley this winter. Maybe having a few bobcats around town is not so bad after all.

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