A bobcat in Redhawk territory? Why Miami says that's a good thing
A Miami University biology professor and his students were surprised as they played back footage from a trail camera last month. They're studying the deer population in Miami's 1,000-acre preserve system and expected to see what white-tailed deer there are eating. Instead, they watched as a bobcat tiptoed across a log, paused to glance about, then carried on its way.
"That was a real surprise because bobcats are still pretty rare in Southwest Ohio and this is the first time, to my knowledge, they've been seen at Miami's Natural Areas," says David Gorchov, professor of biology.
Bobcats are native to Ohio but were extirpated from the state by the 1850s, meaning while they weren't extinct, there weren't any here. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources reports the wild cat species began repopulating in the mid-1900s, but sightings are more frequent in the south and eastern parts of the state.
Now, the inspiration for Miami rival Ohio University's mascot is popping up more frequently in Southwest Ohio.
"It's a big deal because we haven't seen bobcat around here for a while and that's human-caused," explains biology major Elea Cooper, one of the students working on the deer project with Gorchov. "We have driven out a lot of the natural predators such as wolves — we haven't seen (them) here in forever — and that's one of the reasons that we're having problems with ecosystem balance in this area."
Cooper says the bobcat sighting could be a good sign more balance is returning. Gorchov adds this signals biological diversity and the potential for even more growth in the Natural Areas.
For now, however, this is just one sighting. It's unknown whether the animal is living here or was just passing through. They also don't know anything else, such as if it's male or female, though Gorchov notes it is an adult.
Miami University's Natural Areas constitute a greenbelt around the Oxford campus and include public trails for hiking and recreation. The researchers are keeping mum on where the bobcat was sighted, but Gorchov notes it was spotted on a camera that wasn't placed near any public trails.
Despite what Ohio U. might have their sports rivals think, there's no reason to be worried about bobcats being dangerous.
"Bobcats prey on small animals, rodents, rabbits, reptiles, amphibians, small birds — they're not a threat to humans or to pets," he says.
The cameras have been taken down for the winter but Gorchov and Cooper say they plan to put them back up next year. While the focus remains on the deer population — the purpose of the research is gathering data to create a deer management plan because their overabundance is negatively affecting Miami's forest areas — they'll be keeping an eye out for more bobcat sightings.
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, bobcats are generally solitary creatures. They breed year-round, though most usually from December to May. Offspring born in the spring and summer are usually ready to head out on their own by fall or winter.
The most recent report from the state, dated September 2021, states the "Division of Wildlife received 521 confirmed sightings of bobcats in 2020." Sightings are largely confirmed via trail cameras and, sadly, roadkill reports. The state notes while the prevalence and decreasing cost of trail cameras is partly responsible for higher numbers, confirmed sightings not involving cameras are still increasing.
Bobcats have been confirmed in 77 of Ohio's 88 counties, including in 10 Western Ohio counties which all had their first confirmed sightings within the last four years. Warren is the only Southwest Ohio county without a confirmed bobcat sighting, according to data through 2020.
The bobcat spotted by the Miami University trail cam was active during broad daylight, but you're unlikely to spot the elusive animal that time of day. The mammals are nocturnal or crepuscular, meaning active at dusk and dawn.
You can report bobcat sightings on this ODNR website.
The ODNR in 2018 considered reopening a bobcat trapping season but those plans were indefinitely put on hold after public opposition to the proposal. Bobcats were removed from Ohio's threatened species list in 2014.