The Bayou State is home to a bunch of wild critters. The wetlands host typical swamp-dwelling creatures such as the alligator, but you might even spot exotic species such as the West Indian Manatee near Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans. Despite the abundance of wildlife, Louisiana actually doesn’t have many wild cats. Although cougars once roamed the state, bobcats and feral cats are the only non-domestic felines that currently reside within its borders.
Bobcat Characteristics & Facts
|Scientific Name:||Lynx rufus|
|Average Lifespan in The Wild:||10 to 12 years|
|Weight:||11 to 30 pounds|
About twice the size of the average house cat, bobcats are the smallest type of lynx. Despite their size, it’s difficult to spot a bobcat since they’re quiet and fast. They like to creep in pine forests hunting small prey such as birds and quail.
Unlike domestic kittens who are ready to part with their mother within 8-12 weeks, bobcat kittens stay with their mom for nearly a year as she teaches them crucial survival skills. Even so, baby bobcats are adept at hunting from a young age and can easily kill a bird within their first few months of life.
Bobcat, Feral Cat, Domestic Cat: How to Tell the Difference?
You can easily recognize a bobcat by their ear tufts, short tail, and relatively large size. They resemble other wild cats such as the Canadian lynx, but the Canadian lynx doesn’t live in Louisiana so you don’t have to worry about telling them apart.
The only two common types of cats in Louisiana who might be mistaken for a bobcat are the domestic cat and the feral cat. Domestic cats are accustomed to human interaction. Even if they’re not always the friendliest, they do have close human ties and they’re also smaller than bobcats and some feral cats.
Feral cats are usually the same species as the domestic cat (Felis catus), but may behave like a wild cat. These felines detest human companionship, but often their recent ancestors were household pets who were abandoned or escaped. Some feral cats might breed with outdoor domestic cats, and even wild cats, creating offspring that aren’t quite domesticated but also aren’t considered wild.
What To Do If You Think You’ve Found a Wild Cat?
If you suspect that you’ve found a bobcat, you can either leave it alone, or call a local wildlife refuge to let them handle it if it’s in an urban area where they don’t usually live. It’s actually illegal to keep a bobcat as a pet in Louisiana, and they’ll likely run away if you try to chase it. Feral cats might also run away, but they’re more likely to get aggressive if they’re afraid than bobcats or domestic cats, who tend to shy away and not start a fight.
Bobcats have a bad reputation for eating deer and small pets, so people often try to shoot them. While they are capable of killing deer and small domestic pets such as kittens and small breed dogs, those creatures are typically not their meal of choice unless they’re starving. Bobcats mostly eat rodents, birds, and snakes, so they actually help out our ecosystem by relieving us of pests and controlling the rabbit population.
What Happened to the Cougar?
Bigger wild cats such as the cougar did live in Louisiana more than one hundred years ago. However, it’s estimated that they were hunted to extinction by the early 1900’s.
In the past twenty years, there have been several cougar sightings confirmed by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. While it remains a mystery, these sightings have sparked rumors that the cougars may have returned to parts of the state as temporary travelers from Texas. There are no known established cougar colonies in the state, so officials suspect that these large cats might have been passing through the state during the non-breeding season.
If you believe you’ve spotted a cougar, please call the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries at 337-262-2080. Any information and pictures you can provide can help determine the species of your cat visitor.
What About the LSU Tigers?
Since LSU is a major football team in Louisiana, you may be wondering why their mascot is a tiger since big wild cats don’t live in the state. As it turns out, LSU received their name not from the animal itself, but from a troop of Confederate soldiers in the Civil War. They were a fearsome fighting group from New Orleans who fought at Gettysburg.
Even so, LSU has kept a real live tiger on campus since 1936. The tigers are always named Mike. Currently, they’re on their seventh generation of tigers.
The bobcat is the only wild cat remaining in Louisiana today. Recent cougar sightings lead officials to speculate that a small number may migrate to the state from Texas during on-breeding season, but no permanent colonies have been established in over a century. If you see a big cat, it’s probably a bobcat or a large domestic cat breed such as the Maine Coon. Domestic and feral cats are considerably smaller than bobcats, and they may or may not tolerate humans. Bobcats are afraid of humans and should be left alone unless they’re in a dangerous area such as an urban area where they may eat pets if they get hungry enough.
Featured Image Credit: patrice-schoefolt, Pexels