Tracking bobcats: Researchers need help finding GPS collars
HARTFORD — In a couple of weeks, collars on cats across the state will be falling off.
But it’s not some prank or devious experiment — it’s one of the largest studies of its kind on bobcats.
The GPS collars were placed on 50 bobcats last fall as part of research by wildlife biologists at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to track the movements of one of the Northeast’s most ferocious predators.
The agency is asking for the public’s help in finding the collars on and after Aug. 1, when they are programmed to fall off. The goal is to find all the collars, recharge their batteries and place them back on another 50 bobcats in the fall to continue the study.
The research is important for conservation efforts because bobcats have more of an effect on animal species than any other predators in the region, consuming mice, chipmunks, rabbits, squirrels, skunks, raccoons and even deer, said Jason Hawley, a DEEP wildlife biologist. The bobcats also eat small livestock such as chickens and, sometimes, small pets.
“In Connecticut, they’re probably our apex predator,” Hawley said. “It’s pretty amazing actually. They don’t get over 30 to 35 pounds (14 to 16 kilograms), and they can take down deer. The status of our bobcat population in the state can tell us a lot about other animals.”
The study may end up showing a need to reduce the bobcat population to conserve other species, he said.
Bobcats are found all over North America. In Connecticut, they nearly vanished because of a $5 bounty offered by the state for decades and massive deforesting due to farming. The population has rebounded after the state reclassified bobcats as protected furbearers in the early 1970s and eliminated hunting and trapping seasons and forests grew back to cover about 60 percent of the state, up from 25 percent in 1825.
Hawley estimated there are about 1,000 bobcats in the state, give or take a few hundred.
“As we continue to develop and the landscape continues to change all across North America, it’s important to understand what kind of resources they’re using,” he said.
The data collection is expected to be completed by the fall of 2020, and the findings will be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal about a year later. Researchers also plan to redeploy about 20 collars next year, after the second 50 fall off.
The study includes examining the stomach contents of bobcats killed by cars to see what they’re eating. Necropsies performed last week on about 20 bobcats found their primary food sources appeared to be gray squirrels and cottontail rabbits. The DEEP also is urging the public to report the locations of road-killed bobcats.
The DEEP is working with the University of Connecticut, which has set up cameras across the state in an effort to get video of bobcats.
The collars have been transmitting data back to researchers. A surprising finding, Hawley said, is many of the bobcats are selecting suburban neighborhoods as their home, probably because of abundant squirrel populations thriving on seed from bird feeders.