The bobcats of Swan Lake
The animals, once endangered, have staged a comeback in Iowa in recent years
November 11, 2013
Ron Juergens, of rural Carroll, snapped this cellphone shot of two young bobcats playing in his yard near Swan Lake State Park on Friday.
HOW TO HELP
Residents who see bobcats - alive or dead - can report to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources by calling (641) 203-2218. Researchers ask for a clear description of the location, using nearby street address or roadway mile marker.
Elizabeth Juergens saw the "cutest little things" bounding around her yard and wrestling on Friday.
They were two young bobcats, an animal that was once an endangered species but has made a comeback in Iowa and other Midwestern states thanks to laws that protect them from hunters and others.
"It was just after 12 o'clock, and I happened to look out the window," Juergens said. "I saw one cat and looked at it to be sure it wasn't a house cat. I saw that lynx face and the little bob tail, and I thought, 'Huh, that's a little bobcat.' "
And then she saw another. And another across the road at Swan Lake State Park. Juergens lives just west of the park south of Carroll.
Bobcats have been photographed by motion-activated cameras in the park in the past several years, said Jason Christensen, conservation director for Carroll County. But he said no one at the park has reported seeing one.
"Usually, they're pretty secretive," Christensen said. "They don't come out and cause problems with park users."
Adult bobcats - which often weight between 20 and 30 pounds - pose little risk to humans, wildlife experts agree. They are carnivores that typically hunt rabbits, squirrels and mice.
"People are freaked out by the idea" of bobcats nearby, said William Clark, an Iowa State University professor who tracked the bobcat population in Iowa from 2001 to 2009. "People have asked me if their children are safe. Yeah, it's perfectly safe for them to play in the backyard."
Iowa was nearly void of bobcats for most of the past century after farming eliminated much of their habitat, Clark said. Each cat prefers to have several square miles of wooded land to roam and hunt, which makes it unlikely that the young bobcats Juergens saw will stay in the area, he said.
Clark estimates that there are between 2,000 and 4,200 of the animals in Iowa today, mostly in southern counties that have vast pockets of woodlands.
The state Department of Natural Resources first allowed residents to hunt or trap bobcats in certain counties again in 2007 - but not in Carroll County - and this is the first year that there is no limit on how many of the animals can be killed. However, each hunter is limited to one.
The bobcat season is now open in Audubon, Crawford and Guthrie counties.
"I've never seen them before where we live now," Juergens said. "They're not supposed to be something you're afraid of. ... If it was a mountain lion, yeah, I'd be afraid."
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