We live in the woods in an area that’s close enough to town that it doesn’t get hunted much. There are a lot of deer, rabbits, and smaller critters roaming these hills, and it’s a well known fact that there is quite a robust population of bobcats around, too. There have even been a few cougar sightings by neighbors, and several deer have been killed by cougars within a mile of our house, one just off to the side of our driveway.
We’ve been pretty lucky over the years in terms of losses to predators. The goats are big enough and close enough to the house that I don’t worry too much about them, though maybe with cougars around I should. The chickens, on the other hand, are significantly more vulnerable. Most of them stay within a fenced enclosure, but we don’t lock them up at night, and fences are really no match for good climbers like bobcats. Two years ago, we lost a few chickens and a whole family of ducks and ducklings over a few week period. A bobcat was the primary suspect, but eventually it moved on, and things have been pretty peaceful since.
Driving home last Friday night, Henry caught a glimpse of a cat bounding across the road. Late Saturday, he heard a commotion in the dark, and ran out to find a big pile of feathers. An animal had hauled off at least three young laying hens.
On Sunday morning, Henry set a live trap. Bobcats are notoriously difficult to catch in live traps. They have particular habits, and they are much more sight oriented than smell oriented, so baiting traps doesn’t often yield successful results. Our live trap is kinda small for a bobcat, but Henry staked out the chicken yard and found the cat’s entrence and exit trails. He created a little tunnel-like shelter with thistle plants to entice the intruder, and then he baited the trap with a single rooster tail feather hanging from the roof of the cage.
On Tuesday morning when Henry went down to feed the chickens, the trap was sprung, there was a very ticked off bobcat stuck inside.
The cat was pretty big, maybe 2/3 the size of our heeler dog. It looked almost exactly like our wild little pet cat, Excavatoranddumptruck (aka Exy), but it’s paws were disproportionately huge. As people circled around, it gave out a constant low growl and never let it’s eyes off possible threats. Because it didn’t have much of a choice, I was able to get up close to take a few photos, but every once in a while it would give a big hiss and lunge, which made everyone jump back.
When Henry was ready to leave for work, he donned heavy gloves and carried the trap up the stairs to his truck. He drove it out to an uninhabited forest toward the coast range and released it. Though this action may have been disorienting and traumatizing for the bobcat, it seemed a lot more humane than shooting it on the spot.
Living out in the country regularly challenges us to decide between incorporating our actions and operations into an ecosystem that already exists here or doing the things we want to do with the animals and plants that we’d like to have around here. These dilemas are complicated and require both a pragmatic view of the situation as well as moral judgement. It’s not always easy to decide what course of action is needed or best. I’m glad to know that we solved this one problem without destroying a powerful animal.