Finding a bobcat in Southern Alberta
On Friday, we teased you with a new image in announcing our latest field trip that focuses on Canada’s foothills; today, we’ll tell you the story behind our latest encounter.
In the eight years that we’ve been immersed in the Canadian Rockies, we’ve been fortunate to observe almost every mammal that calls this wilderness home. Every animal, that is, except the bobcat.
The cougar and the lynx
My first summer in the wild produced a cougar killing, eating and dragging a bighorn up the side of a cliff, helping us cross off the most elusive of the mountain cats from our list. And last winter, we finally found our lynx, even if the encounter was brief.
This winter, our resolution was to put the time into finding a bobcat – recognizing that while we’re at the northern tip of its range, it is usually the most visible of the feline trio. And by most visible, we mean that seeing one can sometimes feel about as likely as being struck by lightning (whereas finding a cougar is like being struck by lightning three times and spotting a wolverine is about as likely as being struck fifteen times). These might not be official Vegas odds, mind you, but you get the picture.
After doing our research, we began to have a better understanding of the habits and habitat of the normally nocturnal cat. We realized that it prefers the slightly lower elevation of the foothills, yet is extremely adaptable. In fact, our research highlighted numerous similarities between bobcats and coyotes (the similarities are so striking that new studies are underway to learn from the links), giving us a better sense of where and when to look for an animal we’ve never seen.
But despite scouring the foothills, we kept missing encounters by days and sometimes by minutes, hearing reports shortly after we left a location or finding fresh tracks while out hiking. Yet every near-miss provided a piece to the puzzle and quickly we felt we were zeroing in on a sighting.
Documenting stories of wild animals is a big part of our new project, Nature Labs, which seeks to tackle nature literacy in Canadian high schools by fostering a deeper connection between students, coursework and nature. However, as with any new venture, the upfront work is more about meetings and paperwork.
As such, Simon was travelling to Ottawa and Toronto to meet with the federal government and other potential partners, while I was at home developing our new web platform. In other words, neither of us had the time to chase quickly developing bobcat leads one fateful weekend in January.
This wasn’t the case for good friends Kerri Martin and Jamie Pentney, who had been equally driven to learn, find and document the bobcat. Early one morning, they went to check on a location we all felt was bound to produce a sighting and stumbled upon the cat eating a recent kill.
When they called with the news, you know what happened next. Swearing. Paper flying. Camera grabbing. Car dashing.
Often incredible moments don’t linger. Thankfully, this wasn’t one of those times. Upon arrival, the bobcat – roughly twice the size of an average house cat – was back at the kill.
Over the next several hours, we observed it coming and going, hardly registering our group of three onlookers, as we tried to remain quiet and still, so not to disturb the cat devouring critical calories. Indeed, being respectful is imperative to good storytelling, but I’d lie if I wasn’t constantly resisting the urge to yell “bobcat!” over and over and over at the top of my lungs, while dancing around with the camera raised above my head as if we had just won the Super Bowl.
Simon, upon receiving word and back-of-camera photos of the encounter, was screaming “bobcat!”, dancing around and swearing, but it was more out of agony from missing out on his own Super Bowl moment. At least he was able to pull it together before his keynote address to students studying the links between business and the environment at Queens University. Small miracles.
Yes, the encounter was incredible and, yes, it was wonderful to cross the final missing mammal off of our (my) ‘to find’ list. But what was more remarkable was the search – what we learned and how that informs the story we’re now able to share with students and teachers – and you. And none of it would have been possible without a couple of good friends who always always think of us, even during a moment of overwhelming excitement.
In the weeks and months to come, we hope to be able to learn more from this bobcat – for individuals do matter and provide critical insight into species and ecosystems. And by weaving its story together with those of the region’s other inhabitants, we hope to do our part in creating a new narrative for why we must strive to find a better balance between people and nature.
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