November 14, 2007

Officials say bobcat sightings not a cause for concern

By JASON SMITH, staff writer
Desert Dispatch

BARSTOW — Wildlife biologist Neal Darby was walking his black lab on desert lands close to his Barstow apartment several weeks ago when his dog started barking wildly at a nearby bush.

He thought that his dog detected a snake, fox or squirrel and was a little surprised when a bobcat darted out from under the bush and ran away into the desert.

“It’s just another example of
a healthy local ecosystem”

“They’re more common than people believe,” he said

In recent weeks, people living close to the Robert A. Sessions Sports Park and the Veterans Home of California in Barstow have reported seeing the 20-pound wildcats close to human habitats, worrying some residents.

Darby, a biologist with the Mojave National Preserve, said that bobcats are nocturnal animals that dislike interacting with humans.

“Overall, it’s not a big concern. They’re very shy creatures. As long as people don’t harass the animals, they’ll hardly know they are there,” he said.

Darby said that though sightings of the animals in the wild are not a cause for concern, residents who see bobcats near human habitats should call the county animal control office because the animals may be rabid.

He said that the cats are attracted to the sports park because the lush grass provides habitats for rabbits and squirrels, the bobcats’ main source of food.

City Council member Joe Gomez said that he’s heard several complaints from residents worried that the cats might attack children or pets.

“I’m very concerned about it. The sports park has become an oasis for reptiles, rodents and animals in the area,” he said.

Gomez said that with houses being built in the area, he fears that confrontations between humans and animals will become more common.

Patricia Morris, assistant to the city manager, said that several city staff members and sports park neighbors have seen the animals, and the city is monitoring the situation. She said that staff contacted wildlife biologist Kevin Brennan from the state Fish and Game office. He advises residents to leave the cats alone.

“He assured us they do not attack people, but like any cat if you antagonize them, they will scratch and defend themselves,” Morris said.

Judy Carmon, who lives close to the area, said she that she notices that the cat food she leaves outside is disappearing overnight, something she blames on the bobcats. Although she hasn’t seen any recently, she said that early this year residents often witnessed a bobcat lurking in the early morning.

The sports park isn’t the only place where bobcats have been seen. Jack Stormo, director of environmental programs for the Marine Corps Logistics Base, Barstow, said that several bobcats have been seen near the bases’ Nebo annex.

He said that this year has been a good year for the animals because of a relative abundance of their food sources.

“It’s just another example of a healthy local ecosystem,” he said.

Stormo said that he’s been told of animals approaching housing units on the base, but he generally doesn’t consider the animals to be a nuisance. He said that residents shouldn’t be concerned, but acknowledged that some people are taken aback when seeing the cats for the first time.

“It is a little startling sometimes to see them sitting on your back step,” he said.