ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
There they were, two bobcats trotting alongside the road in broad daylight by the Durham Cove wildlife area north of Marion Reservoir.
Nothing seems to excite the local wildlife enthusiast more than the occasional sightings of three of the area’s main predator animals, the bobcat, coyote and red fox.
It’s the bobcat that is most successfully forging ahead in numbers right now.
The three elusive competitors, sometimes seen clearly but more often spotted on the move at night in car headlights, dine mostly on the same prey, the mouse or other rodents.
Marvin Peterson, conservation officer for Kansas Wildlife and Parks in Marion County, said the three are opportunistic, the bobcat especially willing to take birds, too, if the chance comes along.
The bobcat will scavenge a little, but usually prefers taking live food while the coyote will take either old carrion or fresh willingly.
In terms of numbers, Peterson believes the bobcat is beginning to rival the coyote as the number one predator animal in Kansas.
It’s not that coyote numbers are down. In fact, Peterson said coyotes are looking better, coming back healthy from outbreaks of mange over the last decade.
It’s because the price of furs is down to almost nothing after years of bobcats having one of the more valuable pelts around.
He said, “Ten years ago bobcat pelts were selling for $150 to $250 each. Now they’re down to where you can hardly sell one.
“It’s true of all the furbearers, beaver, raccoon, bobcat… They’re not worth trapping. There’s no profit for the people who were doing it for money. Now the only people trapping are the enthusiasts who do it for sport.
“If you do take a bobcat pelt, it has to be taken in season, late fall or early winter, and you have to bring it to me or one of my co-workers to be tagged with a federal export tag.
“When they were high they were going to coats and things like that. What’s happened is the animal rights people have campaigned against the fur trade to where demand is quite low.
“There is a problem that when an animal overpopulates, nature takes care of it with some kind of disease outbreak. I’d like to see some harvested to avoid that.”
Peterson said licensed fur hunters do take some bobcats for taxidermie mounts.
If you want to see a bobcat, Peterson warned, “They are a secretive animal, more so than most.”
Also, contrary to what some persons believe, bobcats aren’t much of a predator of deer. “They’re too small to take deer,” Peterson said. “Oh, they might take an occasional fawn, but most often they’re after field mice or other rodents.”
He said a much more believeable story is one a farmer told about a bobcat with kittens wiping out a population of packrats along a hedgerow and adjacent shed.
Bobcats typically have two or three kittens, more often two, in the spring, Peterson said.
People often report they see more red foxes, but that’s partly an illusion caused by a habit the fox has, he explained.
“The fox is easily domesticated in the sense that it becomes comfortable living among people. So it moves to town to get away from its biggest predator, the coyote. It’s safer among people.
“They are fun to watch and easier to see.
“They seem to cycle in numbers. For a while there will be a bunch of them in a town, then they’ll go down. Peabody had quite a few for a while, but now they seem to have cycled out.”
He said Marion and Hillsboro seem to have quite a few foxes now.
Peterson said his agency surveys animal numbers according to roadkills counted, but he doesn’t have current figures.
If you want to see more easily observable wildlife, he recommended a trip to Marion Reservoir to see the great numbers of white pelicans and seagulls in residence during fall migrations.