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The Watcher In The Woods

You may never see one unless you're very lucky, but the reclusive bobcat (Lynx rufus) is a highly adaptable Lowcountry resident. Named for its truncated tail, the bobcat is most active from twilight to about midnight, and again from just before dawn until a few hours after sunrise, spending the rest of its time hidden away in a main den or in secondary lairs in hollow logs or dense thickets. It scent-marks its territory, which can vary from less than a square mile to over a hundred square miles, and will leave claw marks on prominent trees throughout its home area. Here on Seabrook, territories are toward the smaller end of the scale due to the island's human and residential density.

The bobcat's solitary nature adds to its aura of mystery, although males may tolerate other cats along the fringes of adjoining territories, and females may sometimes share a territory. The cats are opportunistic hunters, but here on the barrier islands the most common prey are rats and mice, rabbits and small birds. It will also attack snakes of all sizes, and even smaller deer. Like most cats, it hunts by stalking in deep cover, crouching motionless, then springing when the prey wanders closer.

Mating takes place during late winter and early spring, with litters of two to four kittens born in April and May, which the mother raises alone. The youngsters are weaned within five weeks and learn to hunt by following and watching Mom, usually striking off on their own by the time they're a year old. Bobcats can live up to ten years, although the oldest known wild bobcat survived to sixteen.

Unfortunately, the bobcat population on Seabrook and Kiawah plummeted due to the once widespread use of pesticides known as second generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGAs), which proved fatal when bobcats consumed mice and rats that were infected with the chemicals. The town governments of both Seabrook and Kiawah have joined the Bobcat Guardian Program, intended to raise awareness among residents and business owners about the effects of SGAs on wildlife. Happily, most pest control companies that service both islands have subscribed to the "Save Our Bobcats Pledge" to use alternative, less toxic chemicals. You can learn more about the Bobcat Guardian Program, and which companies have signed the pledge, here.

Although you might not see a bobcat, you will often see their tracks and scat while walking SINHG's Bobcat Trail. Look out for the claw marks on larger trees adjacent to the trail, and know that out there somewhere, a bobcat may be watching.

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