Are Bobcats Going Extinct? (Past, Present, & Future)

North America is home to an incredibly diverse number of animals and plants that have coexisted with people for thousands of years. Yet, things have been rapidly changing for the past few centuries as more habitats are being destroyed, pushing these once-plentiful animals towards extinction.

Thankfully it doesn’t always have to end this way. One example of animals beating the odds is the bobcats, whose numbers have declined over the last century due to excessive hunting. Despite that, strong movements to protect our feline friends have also sprung up slowly but surely, these are bringing their numbers back up.

Is The Bobcat In Any Way Threatened?

At the moment, bobcats are no longer considered an endangered or threatened species by most wildlife organizations. Instead, they are listed as least concerned, which means they are not facing immediate dangers to their species’ survival, and their population is healthy.

However, even though they are not directly threatened, bobcats still face indirect issues. Things like climate change and habitat loss affect all animals, including bobcats. After all, if a forest burns down, even bobcats will end up displaced. These problems aren’t going anywhere unless we take the necessary steps to change them.

How Many Bobcats Are In The US?

Thankfully it seems like bobcats are faring quite well in the US, with a massive population of around 1.5 million to 5 million across the entire country. Studies show that you can find bobcats in almost every state, save for Delaware. 

The species is now listed as “least concern” in their conversation level, the lowest risk status for a species. This is thanks to conservation efforts and protections by the government and growing awareness of the dangers we pose to these beautiful animals.

Were There More Bobcats In The Past?

Yes and no. While it’s difficult to tell if bobcat populations were larger, local evidence points to it being the case. In several states, bobcats have faced population decline and are only now starting to rebound

For example, in several states, the populations have only recently been removed from the endangered list, such as in Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana. While this shows that the bobcat populations are growing, they are still on the road to recovery.

Have Bobcats Disappeared Or Declined In Numbers In Some Places?

Thankfully, as of 2010, only one state, Florida, reported decreasing bobcat populations. In other areas, the bobcat population remains healthy and is even increasing in a few places.

However, Delaware reports having no bobcats left in their state. The local extinction of the bobcat is thanks in no small part to the original settlers in the state. When they arrived, they cleared large swaths of forests and swamp land to make room for settlements and farmland, which proved devastating for the bobcats living in the region.

If that wasn’t bad enough, many farmers eager to protect their livestock hunted bobcats, driving them to extinction. As of now, it is the only state with no official bobcat population.

There are no official bobcat sightings in the state of Delaware, but many hikers and residents report seeing bobcats wandering around and even have pictures to back up their claims. It is difficult for scientists to estimate the population, and these sightings might indicate that bobcats are returning even to Delaware.

Is The Bobcat A Protected Animal?

One reason bobcat numbers are increasing is the increased protection these species enjoy. So far, several states have outright banned the hunting of these cats, including:

  • California
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Maryland
  • Connecticut
  • New Jersey
  • New Hampshire

Aside from hunting bans, there are other forms of protection, such as bag limits and mandatory checks for hunters looking to hunt bobcats. These can at least limit the number of bobcats they can go after. Nearly every other state has regulations like this in some shape or form.

The only state that doesn’t have these rules in place is Texas which has zero protections and monitoring by the state government regarding bobcat hunting. 

Might Humans Threaten Bobcats In A Way?

Yes, humans are one of, if not the greatest, threats to the bobcat population. Although their numbers are increasing, many threats to the bobcat’s survival are due to human action.

Today, thousands of bobcats are killed yearly due to human activities in the form of hunting and deforestation resulting in habitat loss. Yet even as we address this problem, new issues arise. 

What Might Threaten The Bobcat In The Future?

Even though the bobcat population is doing well now, our feline friends are not out of the woods yet. Some persistent issues still need to be addressed before they can truly be secure.

Is The Bobcat’s Habitat Under Threat?

Yes, perhaps the biggest threat to the bobcat population is habitat loss. Like most animals, human development displaces bobcats from their homes, whether it be through logging, agriculture, or land development. 

This has long been an issue for bobcats, dating back to the original European settlers when entire forests were cut down to make room for new settlements.

In particular, habitat fragmentation has been a persistent issue for nearly a century. This is a phenomenon when an animal’s habitat is cut off, leaving them trapped in isolated patches of land. So instead of having one large population, the bobcats are forced into several small, isolated groups.

The issue with this is that habitat fragmentation limits the available resources and food since bobcats will have a hard time migrating out. Being isolated also increases the risk of inbreeding since fewer available mates exist.

Loss of Prey

The habitat damages caused by land clearing don’t just affect the bobcats, either; many forest creatures such as rabbits also become displaced. Unfortunately, rabbits are a major part of the bobcat’s diets, meaning these cats lose a major food source.

Studies have shown that during the 1950s, rabbits made up as much as half of the bobcat diet, but just a few decades later, they amounted to less than 5% of a bobcat’s stomach contents. While the bobcats would eventually find new food sources, the change caused plenty of pressure on them.

Overhunting

Another common issue is the problem of how often bobcats are being hunted, which was one of the leading causes of their population decline in the 1900s. People hunt bobcats for various reasons, such as for their fur, to protect livestock, or simply for sport.

Originally, bobcat fur was not well-regarded, so hunting was not much of an issue. However, towards the 1970s, with the growing popularity of spotted patterns for fur, bobcats suddenly faced considerable pressure from hunting

Today, bobcats can be legally hunted in 38 states in the US, Mexico, and Canada either to protect ranches or to harvest their skin. The fur of these cats is some of the most common items in the fur trade. Even as late as 2006, tens of thousands of bobcats were hunted for their fur.

Although in recent years, tighter regulations have been set in place to limit the amount of hunting allowed. Despite that, the fur trade is still not particularly regulated, especially in some states that do not conduct bag inspections meaning there is no way to tell if someone disobeys the rules. 

Are Bobcats Affected By Climate Change?

These cats have fared better against climate change than most other animals. The reason for this is how highly adaptable bobcats are. Bobcats are capable of surviving in many different environments, which explains why bobcats have such a wide range. These tough little felines can survive in the arid provinces of Mexico, the forests and mountains of the United States, and even some parts of Canada.

That doesn’t mean that climate change hasn’t affected them. The rising temperatures have led to some bobcats now venturing to the northern parts of Canada. 

These big cats typically don’t do well with the cold, so they stick to southern Canada’s (comparatively) warmer weather. The reason that bobcats don’t thrive in the cold is that they have a hard time moving and hunting in winter because their paws aren’t built to move through the snow.

However, the northern provinces are now more hospitable with rising temperatures and less snowfall. This means that the population dynamics between bobcats in the US and Canada risk being altered in the future. Bobcats are more likely to move to Canada to find prey, such as hares and rabbits.

Are The Bobcat’s Predators Growing In Numbers?

While it might sound strange that bobcats have predators, animals can be predators and prey at the same time. And given that most bobcats are around 3 feet long, they are small enough to be hunted by many larger animals. Among their predators are coyotes, mountain lions, lynxes, and owls.

Coyotes began filtering into the American east coast during the 1980s, which helped cause the population decline for bobcats. Aside from hunting these little cats, they also hunted their typical prey, rabbits, and having to compete with another predator caused further bobcat population decline.

Are Bobcat Numbers Increasing?

Fortunately, the bobcat populations are on the rebound as recent studies report an increasing number of bobcats across North America, from Mexico to Canada. 

Of the 58 states and provinces where the study was conducted, more than 30 territories have an increasing bobcat population. In contrast, another 15 reported stable populations, meaning there was no significant decrease either.

These numbers were much higher than the estimates conservation groups gave in the past, meaning the bobcat population is booming.

Author: Quade Ong

Hello there, my name is Quade. I have been a writer for three years but an animal lover for over two decades. I grew up in one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, which has given me the blessing of seeing all sorts of beautiful animals. Now I strive to learn not just about the animals I am from, but those all over the world!

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