Look Both Ways-The Bobcat
My wife had this terrible fear that the cargo in the back of my vehicle was not dead. What if it was just stunned? What if somewhere along the desolate, poorly lit road I traveled it roused itself and attacked me as I drove.
Sadly, the Bobcat (Lynx rufus) that had been struck by a vehicle in front of me just moments before had lost the light in her eyes as I pulled her off the busy highway. With the exception of being dead, she was in good condition and worthy of a trip to the taxidermist.
Of the 36 species of cats found worldwide, there are two native to Florida, including the Bobcat and the Florida Panther (Puma concolor coryi), aka Cougar, Puma, Mountain Lion, etc. They are often confused for one another, yet are remarkably disparate. Panthers are noticeably larger and can weigh more than 125 lbs. Florida bobcats top out around 33 lbs. Bobcats are spotted with a short tail. Panthers are solid tan with a long, heavy tail.
People often assume we have a black panther that roams the swamps of south Florida. Considering both cats are active around dusk and into the night, poor lighting may be to blame for the unsubstantiated reports. Although rare, melanistic bobcats (cats with black pelage) have been spotted and captured.
Bobcats sightings in general are rare but the cat itself is common. Panthers on the other hand are extremely rare with a population around one hundred individuals. Both stalk their prey and attack with quick bursts of speed. Panthers feed on deer, pigs, rabbits and other small prey. Bobcats prefer rabbits, birds and deer fawns. They require large territories and where roads slice through their habitat, crossings are often fatal.
As I stood on the side of the road with a dead cat at my feet, I noticed an elevated walkway over the road and a sign on it that read “Panther Pass”. The crossover allows for safe passage for students walking from their homes to the elementary school.
A few miles south, a pair of wildlife crossings serve the same purpose for deer, bear, turkey, raccoons, panthers, bobcats and other animals. Fences keep much of the wildlife off the road, while crossings prevent them from being struck by motorists.
Unfortunately, not all wildlife gets the benefit of the crossings and not all wildlife looks both ways before crossing.