On February 19, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife captured and released two male bobcats in Sussex County as part of a radio telemetry study developed by the agency’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP). The study was developed to identify and protect habitats critical to the survival of endangered bobcats in New Jersey.
The effort to live trap bobcats began in 1996 when division ENSP biologists and wildlife control representatives put out cage traps from late March through late April in nine areas where bobcat footprints were observed during a survey in 1995. Though no bobcats were captured that year, trapping resumed in early February with much more impressive results.
Though the average bobcat trapping success is one to two captures for every 100 nights a trap is set, the two bobcats were captured within only eight nights. Of equal interest is the fact that the cats were caught in the same trap on consecutive nights. The 25 and 29 pound males may have been traveling the area together, which is not uncommon outside of the breeding season. In fact, claw marks on a tree next to the trap were observed after the first capture which may have been made by the second bobcat while the other was still in the trap.
Both bobcats were tranquilized, weighed, measured and fitted with a collar containing a radio transmitter and immediately released at the point of capture. The radio collars will allow biologists to track the bobcats over a one to two year period providing a clear picture of habitat preferences and home range sizes. As the number of bobcats captured, collared and tracked increases, so will the accuracy of the estimates generated from the information.
Between 1978 and 1982, the division released a total of 24 bobcats in the northern portion of the state. The bobcats, captured from Massachusetts and Maine, were released as part of a division project to help restore the species to the Garden State.
Concern for the relatively small population and future of its remaining habitat placed the bobcat on New Jersey’s endangered species list in 1991. Since then, 8 to 10 bobcat sightings have been recorded each year and their geographical range continues to grow.
Most sightings occur in Warren, Sussex, Passaic and Morris counties, however, bobcats have been reported recently in Bergen, Hunterdon, Ocean, Cape May and Cumberland counties. Although it is still too early to tell whether the sighting increase is due to more and more people encroaching upon areas where bobcats live, it is possible that the increase may be an indication that the once nearly extinct population is growing.
The division had planned to expand the bobcat radio telemetry project to the Pinelands and the Delaware Bay region where there has been recent evidence of bobcat presence. However, concern over declining revenue from the program’s main funding source, the Wildlife Tax Check-off on the New Jersey state tax form, may hinder the expansion or even jeopardize this and other Endangered and Nongame Species Program projects. The number of taxpayers that fund work like the bobcat project declined from a high of 111,000 in 1983 to an all-time low of 44,000 in 1995. Wildlife officials are concerned that contributions could decline even further since the Wildlife Check-off is competing with two additional check-offs on the 1996 New Jersey tax form.
According to division Director Bob McDowell, the Wildlife Tax Check-off has allowed the agency’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program to return species to New Jersey like the bald eagle and bobcat. “Most taxpayers do not realize that the work necessary to save endangered species in the Garden State is funded by contributions rather than tax dollars,” he said.