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Mid-Sized Wild Cats

Imagine your housecat at her finest, add fifteen pounds of muscle and brain, make her even more symmetrical and athletic, shorten her tail, enhance her beauty, and you have the basic image of a Bobcat. John Davis

In addition to advocating for jaguars and cougars—North America’s largest wild cats—Wildlands Network strives to protect and restore bobcats, Canada lynx, and ocelots. (We are, of course, also concerned about the future of North America’s other wild cats, jaguarundis and margays, but we are not directly involved in their conservation at this time.)

Bobcats

Bobcat populations are thought to be stable or expanding across much of their geographic range in the U.S. and southern Canada, having slowly recovered from decades of unregulated hunting and bounties in the U.S. They are still heavily exploited for the international fur trade, however—the Center for Biological Diversity reports that commercial exports from the U.S. peaked at 65,000 skins in 2013. The Mexican bobcat, the southernmost subspecies of bobcat, is listed as Endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Rear view of a large tan cat with black markings and a bobbed tail with a black tip walking in snowy riparian habitat beside a stream
Bobcat photographed by a motion-triggered camera in the Adirondacks, New York. Photo: John Davis

In 2016, we helped to fend off an attempt by New Hampshire wildlife officials to open a killing season on bobcats in that state, where they remain safe for now. New Hampshire Fish and Game banned the hunting and trapping of bobcats in 1989 due to warranted concern about their status. We’re hoping other states will follow suit, and we’ve pressured New York officials not to expand the killing season on bobcats there, with only limited success.

Canada Lynx

Canada lynx are cats of the boreal coniferous and mixed northern forests. They were historically distributed throughout much of Alaska and Canada, and south into the U.S. Rocky Mountains and Cascades, the Great Lakes states, and the Northeast. Today, lynx are protected as a Threatened species in the contiguous U.S., decimated by trapping in the past and more recently put at-risk by habitat loss and fragmentation.

A lynxs walks on the snow with a road bridge and mountains in the background
Canada lynx uses a highway underpass, Banff National Park, Alberta. Photo: Tony Clevenger

Because they subsist mainly on snowshoe hares in cold, snowy environments, lynx are considered indicators of ecosystem health and bellwethers of climate change; in some regions, lynx may be lost as the climate warms and snowpack is reduced. Biologists are also concerned about the possible effects of forest and fire management on some lynx populations, as well as the impact of human recreation and roads on lynx movements.

Still, we remain hopeful that lynx can persist and even expand in the northern reaches of the Lower 48 for some time to come. Our wildlife agencies must protect lynx and lynx habitat where these cats currently exist, and should study the biological feasibility of restoring lynx to their native range in such relatively intact landscapes as New York’s Adirondack Park.

Ocelots

In 2016, the FWS documented the first ocelot den in 20 years at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in South Texas—the only U.S. state known to currently host a breeding population. A few ocelots have also been recently documented in the Sky Islands region of southern Arizona. While ocelots are Endangered in the U.S. and remain very rare here at fewer than 100 animals, the presence of kittens in Texas provides reason for hope.

Native habitat conversion and roads remain serious threats to the tenuous U.S. population, with numerous cats in South Texas having been struck and killed by vehicles in recent years. Ocelots historically roamed as far east as Arkansas and Louisiana, and continue to inhabit Mexico and Central and South America.

Orange cat with dark spots and small head, wearing radio-collar, walking on a grassy trail at night.
Ocelot photographed by a motion-triggered camera at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Texas. Photo: USFWS

Ocelot populations in northern Mexico are the nearest source of potential immigrants to the southwestern U.S. Wildlands Network’s campaign to make the borderlands more permeable to wildlife movement is key to the recovery of ocelot and jaguar populations in the U.S., and to maintaining the ecological health of this region. Our work to establish crossing structures on Highway 2, for example, will benefit all wide-ranging wildlife. And our successful campaign to block a highway bypass through the Cocóspera River saved ocelot habitat from being lost and further fragmented.

Priorities for Mid-Sized Cats

A lynx looks back from atop a snowy hill
Canada lynx. Photo: Larry Masters

Beyond advocating for wild cats and their habitats, Wildlands Network calls for the reform of state wildlife agencies in the U.S. as an important priority for protecting bobcats, lynx, ocelots, and other carnivores. Wildlife agencies have traditionally catered to hunters and trappers, with most agencies oriented toward maximizing populations of so-called “game” animals like deer, grouse, turkey, and brown trout—not toward protecting native biodiversity.

In the long run, the successful conservation of North America’s wild cats will depend on protecting wild cores areas, re-establishing the habitat connections between them, and nurturing a peaceful coexistence between people and wildlife.