Tufts of fur between their toes and retracted claws allow them to move soundlessly through the woods. Their mottled coats are an abstract blend of browns, blacks, and whites—perfect camouflage in sun-dappled forests.
Bobcats mostly prowl at night. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of one around dusk or dawn. Because of the cat’s secretive nature, most people don’t realize that bobcats reside in every county of the state.
“Bobcats are some of the wariest animals around. That’s why people rarely see them,” says wildlife biologist Steven Dobey of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
Often referred to as wildcats, these animals were actually rare in Kentucky as late as 1974. Their persistence and adaptability, combined with better habitat and laws regulating their harvest, have Kentucky’s bobcat population soaring.
Bobcats live in nearly every state in America; their national population estimate ranges between 2.4 to 3.6 million.
However, there’s still much to learn about these animals. A study that began this year will help researchers obtain a better estimate of Kentucky’s bobcat population and the movement of these animals.
Researchers have set up remote cameras in the Green River region to obtain estimates of bobcat numbers in that area.
But the study will require more than cameras. “Bobcats are so wary and hard to track that it’s next to impossible to study them without getting your hands on them,” Dobey says.
The study will enter a new phase this fall. Researchers will capture bobcats in live traps and then attach radio and GPS-enabled collars to some 25-30 bobcats. Biologists want to unlock the secrets of where bobcats go during the day and where they move at night. The collars will also give researchers insight into habitat use by bobcats.
Researchers do know that bobcats rest in rock crevices, brush piles, uprooted trees, or hollow logs during the day. They may have multiple dens throughout their home ranges. In Kentucky, the highest concentrations of bobcats are located in eastern, western, and south-central Kentucky.
Look for bobcats around forest edges at dusk or dawn. Watch for bobcats in January and February, too. This is when male bobcats in search of mates roam more widely.
If you do see a large cat-like animal prowling the woods near you, consider yourself lucky. You’ve probably just seen a bobcat, the ghost of the forest.
APPLY FOR QUOTA HUNTS on state public lands this month. Go online to the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Web site at www.fw.ky.gov for more information.