Wolves, cougars and bears are a few examples of apex predators that used to reside in Illinois, but after overhunting and habitat loss led to their demise, they’re now almost entirely absent from Illinois’ forests. If we’re not careful, bobcats may be the next to go.
After their populations dwindled to dangerously low levels, bobcats were designated as a threatened species in 1972. Although their populations have been steadily recovering, they’re nowhere near their historic levels.
Despite this, there are some lawmakers who think that because bobcats are no longer hovering on the verge of extinction that the next logical step is to open a hunting and trapping season on them. This misguided proposal – House Bill 352 and Senate Bill 106 – flies in the face of sound wildlife management. The Department of Natural Resources hasn’t even conducted a study to determine what the actual bobcat population in the state is, and instead has been relying on anecdotal observations from hunters to estimate population levels.
If HB 352 or SB 106 pass and are signed into law, bobcats will be subjected to incredibly cruel and unsporting practices, such as hounding and steel-jawed leghold traps. Far from an ethical pursuit, hounding pits packs of dogs against the bobcat as the pack chases the wildlife through the woods. While the pack does all the work, the houndsman can simply follow the radio signal on the dogs’ collars, stroll up to a tree where the animal has sought refuge and blast the terrified and exhausted bobcat off of the tree branch. Unfortunately the bobcat doesn’t always make it up the tree in time, and if she’s caught on the ground, she may turn and fight the pack. A bobcat’s sharp teeth and claws can seriously injure a dog, and the pack may even rip apart the bobcat while she’s still alive.
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Leghold traps are equally unsporting and cruel. Victims caught in these painful traps can suffer from broken bones and torn flesh. In their desperate attempts to free themselves, they may try to chew or twist off the limb caught in the trap. Because traps only need to be checked every 24 hours, the bobcat could be left languishing in pain for hours.
The typical justifications for hunting or trapping a species fall flat when it comes to bobcats – they’re not overpopulating the state, placing other wildlife species’ populations in peril or causing conflicts with humans. Bobcat sightings are so scarce that the experience is a rare and treasured event rather than a nuisance.
Unlike with most other species, this proposed hunt isn’t about sustenance. Nobody wants to kill bobcats to put food on the table. Rather, their skins are sold to fuel a global fur trade. Commercializing bobcats to sell their pelts flies in the face of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and deprives the greater public from enjoying that animal.
Wildlife should be managed in a scientific way that seeks the optimal health of the ecosystem, and not exploited so that trappers can make a quick buck. Please contact your state senators today and urge them to vote no on HB 352 and SB 106 to keep essential protections in place for bobcats.
Samantha Hagio is an Illinois native and wildlife abuse campaign manager for The Humane Society of the United States.