Erik Anderson, wildlife Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, has been a busy man this past season--a very busy man. Anderson, his graduate student and a team of undergraduates are working to assess bobcat populations and the presence of mountain lions in Wisconsin.
Currently, bobcats can only be harvested North of Highway 64. In order to make any decisions regarding the bobcat, the Department of Natural Resources must know what the population and distribution of bobcats actually is.
"What we are trying to do is figure out a way to count bobcats, which has never been done on a large scale before ... We are trying to figure out how many bobcats are actually south of Highway 64 in the state," Anderson said.
2011 was the first year of the three-year study. The year was spent performing and analyzing a pilot study to determine the sampling techniques to be applied at a larger scale in years two and three.
"We are using trail cameras in gridded systems that estimate what the density of bobcats is. And then in the same grid we are running scat-detecting dogs that can deduct scat from bobcat. We then look into the DNA within those scats, and then we can say if this scat is the same as this one, the same as this one – it’s like capturing those animals multiple times. And so, based on how many are new samples that we collected and how many we get multiple samples of, we get this estimator of what the population size is in the area," Anderson said.
Anderson’s graduate student, John Clare, is heading up the project. "He’s got several undergraduates that are working with him. He’s got one that has worked with us all summer long," Clare said.
That’s not the only way students are involved. The Wildlife Society of UWSP is monitoring a radio-collared bobcat assessing the accuracy of the habitat model. Using this information, it may be possible to predict environments where a bobcat very likely could be, the kind of habitat worth evaluating.
For approximately 100 years there has not been a mountain lion in the state of Wisconsin. However, since 2008 there have been seven verified sightings of mountain lions moving through the state. The most recent was Nov. 8 in Price County; the large cat had moved in from the southern part of the state.
"None of the big cats that have come through are staying yet. And they’re not going to probably until we get some females into the state. It’s the males that disperse the long distances and they are looking not for food, but for females, and from here until the East Coast there probably aren’t any females," Anderson said.
One individual mountain lion passed through Wisconsin in 2009. DNA was collected from the animal. In Connecticut this past June, a car hit a mountain lion. The DNA of that mountain lion matched that of the one that passed through WI in 2009.
How to adapt to carnivores in the neighborhood
Calming words from Dr. Anderson:
"More people die every year from being killed by black bears than get killed by mountain lions by a factor of four or five."
"There has never, ever been anybody pulled out of their sleeping bag at night by mountain lions. Bears, yes, but mountain lions, no. Once you’re in the bag you’re safe."
Bobcats and mountain lions are "solitary, they are nocturnal and are very secretive so you rarely get to see them, and they usually prefer to avoid you."
If in contact with a mountain lion:
(Preventative) Keep an eye on small children and pets (bobcats love to eat domesticated cats). They are small, cute and often packaged like a piece of candy.
Do not turn and run--that just excites it.
Never play dead. If it is attacking you, it’s hungry.
If necessary, defend yourself. Sticks and stones break cat bones, and pepper-spray may temporarily blind them.
Make yourself as big as possible and make lots of noises. The bigger and more ridiculous, the better. Well... don’t get carried away.