TRENTON – The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife today released into the wild a young bobcat that had been rehabilitated from a serious leg injury after being struck by a car late last year in Passaic County.
The release of the bobcat took place at Waywayanda State Park in Passaic County following months of rehabilitation at the Woodlands Wildlife Refuge in Hunterdon County.
“This success story is a testament to the important work the Division of Fish and Wildlife does every day to conserve and protect our remarkably diverse populations of wildlife,” Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said. “The division would not be able to do this type of work if not for the strong partnerships it has built with groups such as the Woodlands Wildlife Refuge and the generous support from those who donate a portion of their state income-tax returns to wildlife conservation.”
The bobcat sustained multiple femur and joint fractures to its right hind leg that required pins, wires, screws and plates to repair. Its age at the time of the injury in November was estimated at 6 months to 7 months. It is now close to a year old. The surgery was performed by an orthopedic specialist at Crown Veterinary Specialists in Lebanon after an initial evaluation at the Voorhees Veterinary Clinic in Flemington. The animal was rehabilitated from its injuries at the nonprofit Woodlands Wildlife Refuge in Pittstown.
The bobcat is New Jersey’s only species of wild cat, and is listed as endangered in New Jersey. It was once nearly extirpated from the state but has been making a slow recovery following introduction of bobcats from Maine in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Population estimates are difficult because bobcats are wide-ranging and elusive. Biologists have been using a combination of radio-collar tracking, tracking of scat (or droppings) by a specially trained dog, carcasses of animals killed by vehicles, and reports of sightings by the public to better understand the status of the population.
The core of the population is in the northwestern part of the state, and data collected there has been encouraging. Bobcats historically were found across the state but there have been only a few reports of bobcats in the central and southern parts of the state.
Today, the biggest threats to the species are vehicle strikes and habitat fragmentation. Each year, seven to eight bobcats are reported killed by vehicles. The Woodlands Wildlife Refuge held a special donation drive to help defray surgery and rehabilitation costs for the bobcat.
“Releasing is always bittersweet, but giving our wild patients a second chance is the sweet part,” said Tracy Leaver, the refuge’s executive director. “We are forever grateful to all who assisted in any way to the successful recovery, rehabilitation and release of this bobcat. While we still have incredible habitat in New Jersey that supports a wide diversity of species, the bobcat population has been severely affected by habitat fragmentation. It is our hope that his story will help inspire a greater understanding of the importance of precious wild habitat – not only for them but for us as well.”
Over the years, the Woodlands Wildlife Refuge has assisted the Division in rehabilitating bobcats that were injured in vehicle strikes. The first was in 1997, an adult male that was in serious condition and underwent major surgery. It was released six months later. Others have been treated with various fractures, facial injuries and lacerations.
Data collected by the Endangered and Nongame Species Program indicates that 72 percent of bobcats hit by vehicles are less than two years old, likely because they have not yet learned to be wary of roadways and need to cross them to establish their own territories.
“This bobcat was very lucky to have survived being hit by a vehicle,” said Division of Fish and Wildlife Acting Director Larry Herrighty. “It was able to pull through the surgery and rehabilitation successfully because it was so young when it was hit. We are very hopeful that it will succeed in the wild and be yet another success story made possible by the work of the division’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program.”
Through its Connecting Habitat Across New Jersey (CHANJ) program, launched in 2012, the Division of Fish and Wildlife has been working to identify and preserve connected lands that provide habitat that is not fragmented by development and roads. This program also has been working to retrofit or install structures such as tunnels under roadways to provide safe passages between areas with good habitat.
The Endangered and Nongame Species Program’s efforts protecting a wide variety of species such as bobcats depend in large part on funds provided by the Endangered Wildlife Fund state income-tax check-off, which allows taxpayers to donate a portion of their state refunds for wildlife conservation, or to donate even if they are not getting a refund. These funds allow the program to leverage important wildlife conservation funds from other sources, including the federal government.
The Endangered and Nongame Species Program also depends on strong partnerships with local conservation groups, and recently awarded Conserve Wildlife Matching Grants – funded by sales of Conserve Wildlife license plates – to help nonprofit conservation organizations enhance public education, research and habitat management projects.
The Endangered and Nongame Species Program is just one component of the DEP’s multi-faceted Division of Fish and Wildlife, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary. The division traces its formation to legislation adopted on March 8, 1892, that called for the naming of three commissioners and a “game protector” to oversee and manage the state’s fish and wildlife resources. The division became part of the DEP when the department was formed on the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970.
The division’s relocations of 24 bobcats from Maine to northern New Jersey from 1978 to 1982 planted the seeds of recovery for the species. The recovery has been difficult to gauge, however, because bobcats require large tracts of land for their home ranges and are difficult to track in the wild because they are extremely reclusive and seldom seen.
The division launched a radio-collar tracking project in 1997 to help better understand the dispersal and range patterns of bobcat. In 2005, the Endangered and Nongame Species Program contracted with Working Dogs for Conservation to acquire a dog trained to locate bobcat scat to help better understand the species’ habitat needs and dispersal patterns, a program that evolved into the creation of a specialized dog team to aid in studying bobcat recovery.
The Endangered and Nongame Species Program is working with Rutgers University to estimate population size, density and trends using genetic data collected from scat over the past several years. The program is also working with the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station to evaluate the genetic health of bobcats in New Jersey and adjacent states.
The division has also been working with The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit that is working on preserving tracts of connected land in Sussex and Warren counties that it is calling its Bobcat Alley project.
An adult bobcat is larger than a typical housecat. The grow to about two feet tall. Females weigh between 18 and 25 pounds; males can weigh as much as 35 pounds. Because they are extremely shy, they are seldom seen, though sightings are increasing in the northern part of the state as the population grows.
Bobcats den in rock crevices, under fallen logs, in thick tangles of vegetation or under the root mass of a fallen tree. They generally breed between February and June, and have litters ranging from one to six kittens, with two to three being most typical. They prey on small animals such as rabbits, mice, squirrels, small birds and wild turkeys. They will occasionally prey on a sick deer. Bobcats can live to be about 13 years old in the wild.
The state’s once-abundant bobcat population began to show signs of stress during the Colonial period. They were hunted for fur and lost forest habitat to logging and farming. Largescale deforestation around the start of the 20th century and urbanization further eroded their habitat, until only scattered, isolated populations remained by the 1960s and 1970s.