Every May and June, a new generation of bobcats is born on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, United States. Bobcats are the most widespread cat in the United States, but surprisingly, less is known about them than cougars, with whom they share their habitats. Through the Olympic Cougar Project, we are not only studying cougars, but bobcats as well. We hope to gain insight into their cryptic lives.
This past June, we noticed two female bobcats began to localize within a tight area for an extended period of time. We knew it could be one of two things: a baby deer they were eating, or little bobcat kittens. Either way, Panthera and our partners at the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe knew we had to find out. We gathered our fanciest trail cameras and put together a small crew so as to not disturb the bobcats. Then, we set out to investigate.
When we arrived at the site, the location intrigued us. It was 50 meters from a well-traveled forest road and right on the edge of a clear-cut area, recently felled for timber. It didn’t take long for us to see why she selected this site. Along the edge of clear-cut areas, the trees left standing often blow over from wind exposure. This creates a mess of logs and thorny plants that colonize the recently felled forest. As we clambered around looking for what we suspected was a tiny fluff ball in the tangle of logs, our experienced coworker with the Elwha Tribe, Dave said, “I don’t think we are ever going to find them in this mess.” Not two seconds later, another Elwha Natural Resource crew member named Sara exclaimed “I found them!” This will forever be a memory that will make me chuckle.
The two kittens were tiny, only a couple weeks old. They had been born under the root ball of a fallen cedar tree and were cuddling when we found them. They couldn’t run away yet and had just opened their eyes — all they could do was squall the way hungry little kittens do. We didn’t want to disturb them for long, so we worked quickly — we set cameras in the den to observe the behavior of this fuzzy little family. Once the cameras were in place, we quickly and quietly made our way out, jubilant with the find.
A few days later, Panthera Puma Program Director Dr. Mark Elbroch, his kids and I went back to retrieve the cameras. The mother’s GPS collar had new data clearly showing she had moved her kittens a short distance away. We hoped for incredible footage of the mother nursing the kittens and then carrying them to the next den. Alas, somehow, she had snuck in and picked up her kittens without being captured on camera. We did, however, get this incredible footage of two tiny bobcat kittens patiently awaiting the return of their mother. We really couldn’t ask for more. We want to share this video with you because the more we understand bobcats, the more people will appreciate them, ensuring they will continue to exist abundantly around us. We hope you enjoy this footage and think these animals are as cool as we do!
Learn more about small cats.