Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

Bobcat sightings, encounters, and tracking

Residents of the greater Fallbrook area and Inland Empire regularly report sightings of bobcats. Rest assured though, to the best of this newspaper’s knowledge, they haven’t been blamed in any fatal human attacks in this area. Bobcats prefer small animals and reptiles like field mice, rats, gophers and snakes. The nocturnal felines they are, their favorite activity appears to be stalking chickens kept on properties, creeping through brush that borders open fields and springing across groups of boulders in the back country.

The native North American mammal’s scientific name is Lynx rufus.

A visit to remember

On a 20-acre organic farm in nearby Southern Riverside County recently, a lone bobcat searching for prey approached a flock of about 50 chickens, which caused them to clamor and cluck in their enclosed coop. A stable of horses neighed as a cluster of dogs barked anxiously.

The symphony of noise woke farmer Phil Noble and prompted him to climb out of bed about 2 a.m.

“I heard a major disturbance,” Noble said in a recent phone interview. “I went down the hill with a flashlight and didn’t see anything. I headed back to the house, but I knew something was wrong. Something was not right.”

Noble then decided to shine his flashlight on a group of pepper trees growing inside his chicken coop.

There it was – a bobcat – in one of the trees.

“I saw its big, bright eyes,” he continued. “When you hit an animal with a light, you know that’s what it is.”

At that point, Noble was about 30 feet from the treed bobcat.

“I thought, gosh, do I really want to walk down near the chicken coop,” he said. “I decided, yes, because I had my dogs with me.”

Noble suspected the bobcat had been watching him from the moment he left his house. Noble entered the chicken coop expecting the bobcat to flee from the tree. It didn’t move.

Noble said he moved within three feet of the bobcat, and was face-to-face with it for about five minutes. Yet the elapsed time seemed like an eternity, he said.

Noble then tapped the flashlight on the metal roof of the coop, and the bobcat jumped out of the tree and over the fence of the enclosure.

“I wish I had a camera and a gun,” he said. “It crossed my mind. I almost went back to the house to get a camera. I almost got the gun before I first went out. I don’t like to kill animals. I’ve killed gophers and squirrels before, but we usually like to trap and release them. You can’t trap a bobcat.”

He estimated the bobcat’s weight at about 20 pounds. And that was not the last time he has heard his chickens squawk in the dark of the night, he said.

“For the last week, the bobcat has been coming on the property around 5 a.m.,” he said. “My neighbor’s dog was taken recently by a bobcat right in front of her yard. A bobcat took her little Chihuahua as she watched the whole thing.”

Tracking expedition in De Luz

It was after 5 p.m., on a Thursday afternoon last month when a pair of hikers opted to search for bobcat in the rural De Luz area. There were no other cars parked in the dirt lot of an ecological reserve. Stillness blanketed the thick vegetation near the pristine Santa Margarita River.

This outing wasn’t expected to entail an actual bobcat sighting. Instead, the couple hoped to find and photograph some bobcat tracks. The hikers looked upon the outing as a way to enjoy the outdoors and get out of the house and office.

Bobcat tracks were found hardened in the dirt not long after a storm had pounded the area. A group that holds such tracking outings in San Diego County relies on a team of trained volunteers.

About 60 volunteers monitor wildlife in northern San Diego County. They crisscross areas that include the sprawling Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve, which spills into the Fallbrook area.

The 10-year-old San Diego Tracking Team is dedicated to promoting the preservation of habitats through citizen-based wildlife monitoring coupled with environmental education programs.

The team holds beginner wildlife tracking classes. Topics include basic recognition and identification of animal tracks and other signs, introduction to track patterns and gaits, wildlife journaling and survey protocol. Classroom time is supplemented with plenty of time in the field. This training is required for survey volunteers and also serves as a prerequisite for the team’s intermediate tracker/naturalist class. One of the goals of tracking bobcats is to establish more drainage culverts and other so-called “critter tunnels” that allow animals to pass under, rather than over, busy roads or freeways, according to group members.

Information on these classes is available at

Cat stats

A California Department of Fish and Game report released in April stated that 46,004 bobcat hunting tags were sold statewide in 2009. There were also 915 separate international shipping tags sold last year, with a total of 46,919 tags sold. The hunting tags cost $13 each.

Bobcats are tagged in order to record hunting and trapping data and to track exports and for other purposes.

A Fish and Game report on bobcat harvesting reported that nearly 1,000 bobcats were taken during the 2008-09 hunting year and trapping season. Most of the bobcats were taken by trappers and sport hunters, and fewer than 100 were captured by the government agencies.That take reflected a 13 percent drop from the previous year. The average pelt price went down from $134.57 to $78, according to the state agency.

The Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – known by the acronym CITES – is a group of international government entities that determines whether the trade of animal skins or other products may threaten or cause the extinction of wild animals or plants.

CITES protects roughly 5,000 species of animals and 28,000 species of plants against over-exploitation as a result of international trade. The United States asked a CITES committee to eliminate the current restrictions that limit the trade of bobcat hides.

The March request by the United States was rejected by CITES members in an initial decision. A debate surfaced on various points of view on the proposal, including a strong showing of support by Canada, which shares management of bobcats with the United States.

Opposition to the United States’ proposal centered on concerns that easing restrictions could fuel the illegal trade of other spotted cats that are protected by the international group.

The final vote in the committee was 53 in support, 46 opposed and 15 abstentions.

Change advocates argued that North American bobcat populations remain strong and have been managed effectively for 30 years by wildlife agencies. As a result, trading advocates argued that bobcat populations would not be adversely affected by commerce.

In fact, bobcat populations are increasing and recent surveys estimate that there are 1.7 million to 2.6 million in the United States today, according to figures provided by the international group.

The committee recommended prolonging the decision, and to continue the matter at future meetings. As of now, no final decision has been made on the U.S. proposal.

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