Bobcats in Urban Areas

Aside from a few stray dogs and squirrels, the wildest thing in downtown Dallas at night walks on two legs and has usually had one drink too many. With all the noise and traffic, downtown it’s not exactly wildlife habitat.

Image the surprise of Dallas Police Department when their 911 dispatcher got several calls from urban dwellers (now hiding and shrieking into their iPhones) about several tigers prowling the area around the Hyatt Hotel near the Amtrak train station. Since the circus was not due for about a month and the zoo was locked up for the night with no big cat escapees reported, the Dallas PD went into full-bore, tiger rapid response mode.

Fortunately for these urban denizens on their way to the next watering hole, it was quickly determined that there were no tigers in downtown Dallas. However, these menacing creatures were not pussy cats either. They were bobcats, and someone forgot to tell them that their kind is not welcome in a major American city.

Bobcats Terrorize Dallas – Film at Eleven

Gary Reeves, a reporter for television station WFAA noted in his report, “For the second time in two days, Dallas police got the call Tuesday night: Big cats on the loose in downtown Dallas.

They did not find any, but Brian Tindle — who called 911 —said he saw three and perhaps as many as six late Tuesday night.

‘I was just driving by. The white light of my headlights hit the first bobcat, and he bolted by right here,’ Tindle said, pointing out the feline’s tracks off Riverfront Boulevard in the shadow of downtown skyscrapers.

On Monday, it was DART light rail passengers who thought they say tigers on Houston Street, near Union Station — something that had riders a bit concerned.

But experts say people have little to fear from wild bobcats, because other large animals scare them. They are hunting for small game like rats, mice and birds — the kind of wildlife that’s abundant downtown.

So why are they roaming downtown? It is possible that construction is disturbing their homes. In the same place Brian Tindle saw those big cats on Tuesday night dump trucks were seen working the next day.”

Hunting Bobcats

The state of Texas classifies bobcats (Lynx rufus) as “non game animals” as are coyotes, armadillos, mountain lions, rabbits and porcupines. Farmers and ranchers have a more picturesque term for this bunch – varmints. In most states there is no closed season for bobcats, so if the hunter has a current hunting license and permission of the landowner, they can be taken any time of the year.

Most people hunt bobcats because they believe these cats destroy game bird populations, even though many wildlife biologists disagree. The other reason for hunting bobcats is for their cool pelts. The high sheriffs at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) note that “bobcat pelts that are sold, purchased, traded, transported or shipped out of the state must have a CITES tag affixed to the hide.” Hunters can get these tags from any field office of the TPWD.

Hunters usually use a smaller caliber rifle, such as a .22 or a .410 shotgun to down a bobcat. Because they have excellent vision and sense of smell, bobcats won’t come too close to humans. So, if a rifle is used, a scope is usually suggested to ensure a clean shot. Recorded distressed rabbit calls seem to be the best strategy for encouraging bobcats to come within range.  

Another popular critter that seems to be showing up in the suburban back yards, terrifying dogs, cats and soccer moms is the coyote. Hunters who shoot a coyote in Texas and several other southern states should be aware that they are currently under rabies quarantine and their pelts cannot be transported or sold anywhere in Texas.

I Thought I Saw a Puddy Cat!

With bobcats invading urban areas, it’s probably a good idea to be aware of their appearance. Mother Nature did a great job in coloring the bobcat to survive in the wild. A bobcat’s fur resembles a very effective camouflage pattern. Wildlife reference books note that in the southwestern U.S. these cats tend to be reddish brown with darker blobs of camo spotted all over the fur. It is possible to see some bobcats with amber flecks with dark brown coloration, but the bay color is the most common.

The bobcat’s face can scare the heck out of other animals, not to mention urbanites on their way to the train station. Their eyes have been described as “ferocious, set in a witch doctor’s mask and topped by tufted ears.” The eyes on this cat are yellow with black pupils and these widen during nocturnal activity to maximize light reception. The bobcat gets its name from its stubby, “bobbed” tall which is usually 4 to 7 inches long.

Typically, bobcats weigh about 20 pounds and measure around three feet in length and stand about 20 inches at the shoulders. However, in the far West Texas area, known as the Trans Pecos region, bobcats are considerably larger, often measuring four feet.

These cats have proven adaptable. Wildlife biologists note that they prefer rocky outcrops and canyons for den areas and will also den up in brush piles and thickets. Their breeding season starts in December and continues through the spring with the normal litter size being three kittens. However, since they are bobcats, the term “kitten” seems a little too tame!

Bobcats enjoy a good meal made up of rodents, rabbits, possum and even deer. They have been accused of attacking livestock and if the wildlife pickings are slim, this seems logical. They are night stalkers (just ask those people hiding in the train station calling 911) and use their natural camo coloration to get close proximity to their prey and then make a swift kill. As with panthers and mountain lions, bobcats have been known to make a kill and then cover the dead prey with brush to keep it hidden from other animals. They can then return after a tough day in the wild and chow down on the hidden meat.

No Place for Bobcats to Roam

The urban sprawl of big cities is inexorably taking over the land where wild animals have lived since prehistoric times. Subdivisions are constantly cropping up around metropolitan areas and each time some franchise fast food restaurant or some shopping center goes up, animals such as bobcats get squeezed out.

They either migrate to new, less developed areas or find themselves scrounging around big city alleys looking for rodents and terrifying people who have never seen anything wilder than a squirrel or a shih tzu.