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Study to track Virginia's bobcats

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Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
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A bobcat is known as such because of its bobbed tail.

Residents of Albemarle County may not have seen a bobcat, but they might have heard one – sounding as harmless as a puppy or as fearsome as a lion. These animals are larger than a housecat but smaller than a coyote, weighing up to 33 pounds. Master naturals Leah Jung is not surprised that so few people have spotted them.

“They’re nocturnal, which means they hang out more a t night, and they are secretive. They don’t like to be around people. They don’t want to be seen.“

But to support bobcat populations, she adds, we need to know more about where they live.

“Animals in general need access to different lands so they can find food and water, shelter from the elements and also to find mates. We have to have not only the lands but the pathways for them to get from one place to another.”

So Jung is raising money for a study to begin this summer, using cameras and live traps to catch and collar bobcats – then track them using GPS.

“Long-term the idea is to identify where animals are moving, which roads they’re wanting to cross, and then put in some kind of infrastructure to allow them to cross those roads safely," she explains.

Already, the state has many culverts that are used by animals to pass under highways without being hit, but Jung hopes planners might ensure that paths leading to those crossing points are left wild.

“A bobcat that is elusive is not going to want to walk along a big open stream with lots of open farmland on each side of it where there is no cover or shelter," Jung argues. "It would make sense to enhance the crossings underneath roads so that wildlife are more likely to use them.”

The study area – northwest Albemarle County – contains commercial and residential development, farms and woodlands, so findings may be useful to planners all over the state. Maps will be shared with universities, cities, counties and residents who might be willing to leave wooded or grassy buffers around their property so cats can move safely – some traveling as much as 50 miles to find food, water and mates.

Sandy Hausman joined our news team in 2008 after honing her radio skills in Chicago. Since then, she's won several national awards for her reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Radio, Television and Digital News Association and the Public Radio News Directors' Association.