While the Illinois Department of Natural Resources declared it first bobcat hunting season a success after 141 animals were taken from the lower third of the state last fall, groups that oppose the hunt plan to keep the pressure on.
These are the same groups that tried to get non-hunters to enter the hunting lottery for permits so they could reduce the number of hunters in the field, but the IDNR noted that the vast majority of those that applied had already been a previous user of IDNR licenses.
“Ninety-eight percent of them were current IDNR customers, and only two percent got permits in the lottery,” said Rockford resident Jennifer Kuroda, 45, who helped form the Illinois Bobcat Foundation, which now has a Facebook page for more than 300 followers.
The state had more than 6,400 people join the lottery, and 500 hunting and trapping permits were awarded, according to the IDNR. Approximately 98 percent of the 6,416 applications and 96 percent of the 500 permits issued were from existing DNR customers, according to the IDNR..
But Kuroda added that she feels “when all the news articles started coming out, it brought a lot more awareness to the issue. There are some people who didn’t even know we had bobcats.”
According to Kuroda, the foundation has networked with the Illinois Ornithology Society, Illinois Environmental Council, Sierra Club and the Humane Society. She is part of her local Audubon group and a volunteer at the Sand Bluff Bird Observatory near Rockford.
This battle against state-sanctioned bobcat hunts actually began about three years ago when the legislation was introduced, but it was eventually vetoed by Gov. Pat Quinn. But Gov. Bruce Rauner came into office and put the hunt back on for last fall.
“I have a cousin who is a deer hunter, and he put six trail cameras out, and he has never seen one in our area,” Kuroda said, adding that she meet another hunter who never saw one until he was ice fishing.
“A bobcat could be two feet away and you might not know it is there as you go down the path,” she said. “I wish more hunters would speak out. I’ve talked to some deer hunters who said they’d never go after a bobcat. It’s more of a trophy hunt.”
Kuroda said she was surprised to learn an estate sale had a mounted bobcat priced at $1,850. She added that the foundation asked if the owners would donate it, but they declined and sold it.
“I understand it would cost about $600 to mount, and the $5 bobcat permit means there is a pretty good profit, so it’s kind of disheartening,” she said. “I was surprised more were hunted than were trapped. I thought it would be easier to trap them because of the bait.”
According to the IDNR, 69 bobcats were taken by hunting, 49 by trapping, 12 by archery, and 11 from salvaging on roads. Bobcats were harvested in 44 counties in the open zone, which included the western and southern parts of the state. Top counties were Pike (11), Jackson (10), Jefferson (7), Carroll (6) and Randolph (6). The hunting area is described as the area of Illinois that is east of Interstate 39 and north of U.S. Route 36.
“We are very pleased with the response to Illinois’ new hunting and trapping season for bobcats,” IDNR Director Wayne Rosenthal said in a statement at the close of the season.
“The recovery of the bobcat is a conservation success story in Illinois,” Rosenthal added. “We were pleased with the response of hunters and trappers that applied for permits, and we will continue to evaluate the program.”
Prairie State cats
According to the Illinois Natural History Survey, bobcats were nearly wiped out from the state in the mid 1900s, and they were protected as a threatened species in Illinois from 1977-1999. They can be found throughout Illinois, but are more common in the southern third of the state, according to the survey.
The survey added that bobcats were thriving in Southern Illinois, and a study by Southern Illinois University pegged the population at about 2,200 south of Interstate 64 in 2000. That grew to about 3,200 bobcats in 2009, and they continue to grow in the state, especially along major rivers, according to the survey.
Another SIU study noted that the solitary bobcat needs a large range. Males need just over seven to 20 square miles, and females need more than three to six square miles.
Adult males can weigh up to 40 pounds, but the average is 22 pounds, while the females are smaller and weigh less. Males and females breed during the spring, and they may vocalize using squalls, howls, meows and yowls, according to the survey.
They prefer forest with a thick understory for cover and denning sites, and then they use the forest edges and fields for hunting. The cats eat rabbits, mice, voles and squirrels, but will also eat larger animals like muskrat and opossum. Bobcats will also dine on birds, frogs, insects, fish and snakes, according to the survey.
The survey noted that bobcats will also kill fawns or injured or sick deer, and they are capable of killing an adult deer when it’s bedded down or during periods of deep snow.
Kuroda said the foundation is presently pushing legislation in Springfield, specifically Senate Bill 1981, which passed through the Commerce and Economic Development Committee on March 17. The bill will amend the Illinois Wildlife Code to prohibit the sale of bobcat pelts and make it unlawful for any person to trap bobcat at any time.
Kuroda added the foundation would still like to see a moratorium on bobcat hunting, but the proposed legislation would be a step in the right direction. She sees the foundation providing education about bobcats and funding research. It is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization, so contributions are tax deductible.
“Our goal is a moratorium on hunting until there is sufficient evidence to support hunting,” she said, “The IDNR said they had four nuisance reports (on bobcats) since 2015, so they really aren’t a nuisance at this point.’
Lake Forest resident
Steve Ballen, 66, of Lake Bluff, can’t get enough of his encounters with a bobcat named Boris in Lake Forest at the Wildlife Discovery Center. Besides the center, there is a Lake Forest Open Lands section of woods in Lake Forest and the Middlefork Savanna Forest Preserve just off Route 43 south of Route 176. This is also the site of the city’s Elawa Farm, which offers a farmer’s market, meeting rooms, programming and events.
Almost two hours a day, seven days a week, Ballen goes into Boris’ enclosure around 1 p.m. to feed him and play with him, and people are encouraged to watch. Ballen has been the bobcat’s caretaker for close to five years, and the bobcat has called Lake Forest home for eight years.
“People joke that I am a zookeeper and I moonlight as a CPA,” he said as he showed a visitor a pair of long, thick welder’s gloves, “I go through about five pairs a year. Sometimes Boris just gets into the seam and tears it.”
Boris was being raised by a couple who had dogs that were part of a circus routine and they purchased the kitten. After just a year, they decided they couldn’t keep the animal, and the Wildlife Discovery Center became his new home. Boris is 40 pounds, much bigger than his wild brethren, but then again he doesn’t miss any meals.
“When I first started, he was quite food aggressive, trying to take it away from me, and that was kind of dangerous,” Ballen said, adding that eventually they bonded. But he said you can see the wildness in Boris’ gaze and some of his actions.
“The bobcat loves to hunt. It’s in their DNA,” he said. “They will hunt even if they are not hungry.
“But I’ll ask people, ‘Why does the bobcat hunt?’ and people say ‘hungry’ or ‘instinct.’ The reason bobcats hunt is because they love to hunt — it’s something inside them, like I like to fish.”
According to Ballen, Boris is no exception to that rule.
“Bobcats have an essential investment in hunting to eventually pass on their DNA,” Ballen said. “He takes pride in hunting. He’ll stalk me, and I’ll play that game, and he can be real quick.
“When he surprises me with a false attack, you can see it in his eyes. He’s almost smiling, saying, ‘Point, Boris.’ He won the game. But I surprise him, he doesn’t get the joke and doesn’t like it.”
Ballen, who is also a member of the Illinois Bobcat Foundation, also voiced criticism of the state’s bobcat hunt.
“I don’t have a problem hunting deer or pheasants. I have a problem with hunting predators,” Ballen said. “I have a strong attachment to these animals because I have a relationship with one. They are so extraordinarily beautiful.
“I’d like to see a native population that’s indigenous again in Lake County and the rest of the state.”
Kuroda agrees, and she is sure it could happen if bobcats are given a chance to keep spreading north. The forest preserves offer some habitat, but there’s only been an occasional sighting, probably of a Southern Wisconsin bobcat, and there were reports of one near Wauconda a few years ago and a more recent one in Lincolnshire that Kuroda is investigating.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to see a bobcat in the wild?” she said.