On January 10, Fierce and Fragile: Big Cats in the Art of Robert Dallet will open at the Bruce Museum. This exhibit combines the stunning big cat artwork of Robert Dallet with the science of conserving these majestic beasts. While we don’t have lions or tigers roaming the town of Greenwich, many other felines make Connecticut their home.
By far, the most abundant wild Connecticut feline is the bobcat. They are named for their short tails and weigh from 14 to 29 pounds as adults. Though bobcats are fairly common they are very secretive and infrequently seen, most active in the hours surrounding dawn and dusk.
Like all felines, bobcats are carnivores. They eat a wide variety of prey, depending on local availability. Squirrels, rabbits, small rodents, and birds often end up on the menu. Occasionally they might catch insects or reptiles as well.
There is a huge size difference between a bobcat and a deer, but that doesn’t mean that deer are safe from these adept hunters. Bobcats will readily stalk young or infirm deer and have been known to hunt and kill healthy adult deer during lean times.
Much to the dismay of farmers, bobcats will also hunt livestock like chicken, sheep, and goats. Because of this, they used to be considered pest animals and were frequently killed. These days, they are protected by conservation laws, ensuring that they are not overhunted even in areas where they clash with local industries.
Unless you’re a farmer concerned for your livestock, you don’t have much to worry about from a bobcat. Though they prefer forested habitats, bobcats are adaptable enough to live in urban environments as well. Even when living close to humans, attacks on humans by bobcats are virtually nonexistent. You just may want to keep an eye on your pets if you suspect bobcats are about!
The presence of mountain lions in Connecticut is a subject of ongoing debate. Once, the Eastern Mountain Lion lived from Maine to south Georgia. Unfortunately, the subspecies was declared extinct after decades of overhunting and habitat loss. Sightings persisted, but scientists insisted that these were cases of mistaken identity rather than true indicators of mountain lion presence.
In 2011 a mountain lion was struck and killed by a car in Milford Country, Connecticut. Some hoped that this might prove that Eastern Mountain Lions still lived, but genetic testing revealed a Midwest origin for the animal. Experts agree that mountain lions like the one from Milford might occasionally pass through Connecticut, but they do not believe that Connecticut has a permanent population.
Like mountain lions, the Canada lynx has a complicated history in Connecticut. Once it was common in the Northern United States, but hunting and deforestation led to sharp reductions of populations in the Northeast United States. Lynxes disappeared from Connecticut for decades until a set of lynx tracks were discovered in 2011. It now seems likely that there is a small breeding population of lynxes in Connecticut. Perhaps in the future we could see more of these graceful cats in our state!
There is one final species of cat that lives in Connecticut, one beloved by many Connecticut residents. Pet cats can be valued members of the family, but feral cats are a growing problem across the nation. Experts estimate that there are over 70 million feral cats in the United States. They are a nuisance when they leave waste in populated areas, but their effect on the environment is much more profound.
An estimated 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds per year are killed by cats in the United States, and even higher numbers of small mammals. Around 70% of those deaths are at the claws of feral cats. We are currently in the midst of a global extinction crisis and feral cats are contributors. If we want a healthy Connecticut ecosystem in the years to come, we need to foster populations of native feline species, and find ways to keep feral cats in check.
- Kate Dzikiewicz, Paul Griswold Howes Fellow