Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Where the wild things are

What's the story behind the increased spottings of bobcats, bears and coyotes in Rhode Island?

The bright orange tackle box in the back of Charles Brown’s state-owned pickup truck is filled with all sorts of lures, none of which have anything to do with fishing. Instead, like the shelves in a chemistry lab, it contains small, colorful bottles of murky liquids emitting unappetizing aromas. With names like Cat-man-doo, Gusto and Cat Fancy, their contents are used by trappers and hunters to attract predators. One, called Booty Call, contains a putrid mix of secretions from a bobcat’s anal gland that Brown carefully applied to a series of box traps he and University of Rhode Island researcher Amy Mayer set up in South Kingstown last winter.

Mayer and Brown, a wildlife biologist for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), used the lures almost daily for five months last fall and winter as part of a project to capture bobcats in South County. Their objective was to assess what appears to be a growing population of the state’s only wild feline. The animals have been sighted with increased frequency in almost every community in mainland Rhode Island, but little is known about how widely they travel, what they eat and other aspects of their behavior and ecology.

Growing up to thirty-five pounds, bobcats are the most widely distributed wild cat in North America, where they can be encountered in deserts, prairies, mountains and coastal regions. They have always been present in Rhode Island, though they have gone through periods when they were quite scarce. Today they are most often reported in South Kingstown, Westerly and Foster, though they are known to travel through the most densely populated areas of the state as well.

Bobcats are among a group of large predators, including black bears, fishers and coyotes, that are making some residents feel that their suburban communities have become more like the wilds of Yellowstone National Park than the safe enclave to which they had been accustomed. And although the animals’ arrival in the region has been spread out over several decades, many people perceive that the predators have recently become increasingly bold as they wander through neighborhoods and brazenly stand their ground.....

Read the full feature story in the June issue of Rhode Island Monthly.

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