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Iowa Bobcats

February 4, 2012
Kevin Williams - Grundy County Conservation Director , Reinbeck Courier

I just returned from our annual Iowa Association of County Conservation Board Employees statewide meetings. They couldn't get much more convenient for our department - they are held in Waterloo. From Monday noon until Wednesday noon, there are keynote speakers and educational sessions. There is seldom a group of concurrent sessions where I can't find a topic that interests me. Many times it is difficult to choose between two being offered at the same time.

I attended a session dealing with the Bobcat research that was conducted here in Iowa. I wanted to share some information with you.

The study was a jointly sponsored undertaking by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa State University. It is a study that has taken place since 2003.

Article Photos

Visitors can walk right into the 1900 house and barn exhibit at the Grundy County Heritage Museum in Morrison.

I should say here that the purpose of the research was to gain a better understanding of the bobcats that call Iowa home. Bobcats were not introduced to Iowa from somewhere else like pheasants. They were not reintroduced back to Iowa like river otters. Bobcats were found in Iowa prior to pioneer settlement in what historians feel were substantial numbers. For most of the 1900s, however, bobcats were believed to exist here in very small numbers and in very few places.

As bobcat populations began to grow, in the 1980s, the Iowa DNR began to look at reclassifying the species from endangered to threatened and did so in 2001. In the next few years, the department's tallies of roadkill's and sightings increased. Trappers were increasingly picking up bobcats in traps by accident. All things were pointing to numbers that might suggest that a limited harvest of bobcats could be considered. In order to consider this, research needed to be conducted to support that change. The primary source of funding for this research was an Iowa DNR State Wildlife Grant, administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The return of bobcats to the Iowa landscape in increased numbers is apparently a result of Conservation Reserve Programs of the mid 1980's providing a sea of grassland and woody habitats that provided a tremendous food based of small mammals and rodents for the bobcats to feast upon.

The research on Iowa bobcats has involved live-captured bobcats being radio-collared and released. Cooperation from trappers was especially important to the project because they reported incidental captures and researchers then proceeded immediately to the area, briefly anesthetized the bobcat, fitted it with either a "standard" VHF radio-collar or a GPS satellite collar, and released it at the point of capture. It also included tissue sampling of bobcat carcasses killed by automobile collisions, incidental trapping, and legal harvest.

Between 2003 and 2009, the research team marked and tracked over 150 bobcats in an eight county area in south central Iowa. Collectively, they relocated these bobcats over 25,000 times. They located each animal 1-2 times per week and also selected certain animals to relocate every half hour in order to determine fine scale movements or to follow them across the landscape when they dispersed. All of the research from many counties in Iowa yielded valuable information on pregnancy rates, litter sizes, dietary preference, and age. Pelts and skulls were salvaged and distributed to county conservation nature centers and museums for educational purposes. The Grundy County Heritage Museum was the recipient of these specimens.



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