Don’t get him started on panthers. Iowa State University wildlife ecology professor William Clark says he thinks almost all sightings of mountain lions in the state are mistaken. Bobcats, on the other hand, do roam Iowa, and Doctor Clark is studying the numbers of the smaller wild cats. He’d guess there may be 30 or 40 in some southern counties, only ten or a dozen per county in other parts of the state. That’s why he’s studying their numbers, and their distribution across the state. His work involves a grad student, technicians, and a DNR biologist…and lots of time outdoors. They find out where the animals are in many ways — and solicit the help of the general public with a series of fall meetings, to tell trappers and “just interested citizens” about the project, trapping and marking animals. The meetings are held in towns including Chariton, Centerville, and Osceola, within the 8-county area where the study’s going on. They set up “box traps” to catch the animals alive and unharmed, and Dr. Clark says they’ll bait them and also often put some small shiny object out front to catch the animal’s attention “kinda like your kitty-cat,” saying bobcats are curious, too. Most animals the program gets have been accidentally caught by trappers hoping to catch red foxes or coyotes. A grown male bobcat weighs 20 to 25 pounds, he says, females fifteen to 18 pounds…not much bigger than a really large house cat. Each bobcat that’s trapped is given ear tags, and has a radio collar strapped around its neck which includes a GPS device. That collar’s designed eventually to fall off, he says. Other animals are given standard radio collars, which send a signal that’s tracked by researchers using antennas on the ground, on trucks, and sometimes on airplanes. Clark says the aim of the study’s to map the population of bobcats in Iowa, and answer some vital questions. Questions like how abundant and widespread they are, how the population reproduces and how long they live. Despite the state’s farming industry there’s good habitat here and there, and he says they’re trying to figure out if the bobcat population will sustain itself. Clark says their presence is often a sign of a healthy eco-system. The general public’s fascinated with animals like bobcats, and at times polarized on whether such “predator populations” should be encouraged, even though it’s not likely they’ll have much conflict with humans. By next spring Clark hopes to have put together a pretty thorough picture of the bobcat population, and will hope to continue the study to examine the population in surrounding states.
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