Hunting Bobcats for Fur and Profit

In California’s desert, bobcat sightings drop off after a reported increase in illegal hunting.

bobcat
A California bobcat in the wild. (Michael Sewell Visual Pursuit/Getty Images)
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

I was recently at a house near Palm Springs when I saw a rather large house cat glide past the glass doors in a particularly elegant manner. And then I realized—that’s no ordinary cat, it’s a bobcat kitten.

Bobcat sightings are not uncommon in the nearby Joshua Tree National Park and its surrounding communities. The animals are the park’s top predators, preying on rabbits and helping to make a significant contribution to rodent control.

But according to the Los Angeles Times, residents of the local community report that bobcats are disappearing. They believe the animals are being killed by trappers who often trespass on private property.

The Times noted that, “Bobcats are being targeted for the value of their pelts in top-dollar markets such as China, Russia and Greece. A premium pelt of heavily spotted white belly fur can earn a trapper more than $600, according to hunter Nathan Brock, who skinned 10 bobcats that he captured in the Joshua Tree area during the hunting season that ended January 31.”

While hunting bobcats is legal outside the park during hunting season, locals are upset that the hunters, who seem to have little regard for the animals and the part they play in the local ecosystem, are illegally placing traps on private land.

Nancy Karl is the executive director of the Mojave Desert Land Trust, an organization that protects the California desert ecosystem through land acquisition, restoration and stewardship. She tells TakePart, “Many trappers do not know where the boundaries of public versus private lands exist and may place traps on private land.”

But without detailed knowledge of the bobcat population, it’s difficult to assess the impact of illegal hunting. That’s why state and federal wildlife agencies and national parks need to undertake new surveys to quantify the bobcat populations in California. Karl says, “The lack of protection for these animals is based on counts of populations that are decades old. No studies in the Joshua Tree area have been completed since 1979.”

The Land Trust is also working to create wildlife linkages that can provide connectivity between large natural areas—such as a national park—and a military installation or another largely conserved area. Karl adds that, “Linkages are a vital element to maintain populations of threatened species in the face of habitat fragmentation due to urbanization and other factors. These linkages allow animals such as a bobcat or mountain lion to roam 20 to 50 miles per day, which they require to survive, moving in and out of protected areas to feed and disperse offspring.”

In the meantime, community residents are rallying together to petition for a ban on bobcat trapping, in addition to more stringent permit requirements and training for hunters.

Do you think state and federal wildlife agencies should be doing more to protect the bobcat population?

Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence | TakePart.com

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