Friday, April 19, 2024

NJ’s Only Wildcats, Elusive Bobcats (Lynx rufus) Abound in “Bobcat Alley”

Jennifer Correa-Kruegel holds a bobcat that had been drugged in order to take samples to determine DNA and was radio-collared to track how far he traveled. The bobcat was released the following day after the effects of the drugs wore off.

I’m always a little jealous when I hear reports of people having spied a bobcat in their yard or out in the wild. My limited interaction with these usually elusive animals has been seeing them leap across the road while driving in my car. They quickly disappear in the brush or possibly camouflage so well that I can’t see them.

Being able to assist biologists a few years back and actually hold one of these creatures was a career highlight.

In New Jersey, bobcats are an endangered species. This often comes as a surprise to northwestern New Jersey residents who seem to observe more and more bobcats in their area with each passing year.

It’s important to remember that “endangered” does not mean “extinct” but more accurately, the animal or plant is “at risk of becoming extinct.” The fact that we have so many sightings of bobcats in our area is a good thing and shows that efforts to aid in reestablishing the population, similar to the protections enforced for bald eagles, are working.

A map depicted in The Nature Conservancy’s fall/winter 2016 publication, “New Jersey Oak Leaf,” shows a newly designated area called “Bobcat Alley” encompassing nearly all of Hardwick, much of Frelinghuysen and one quarter of the land base in western Sussex County. See below, to learn more.

Building Bobcat Alley (nj.gov)

Saving Endangered Bobcats in New Jersey | The Nature Conservancy

There are multiple reasons for a species to be listed as threatened or endangered. The most common reasons are habitat degradation and lack of genetic diversity.

As the most densely populated state, New Jersey’s infrastructure does not yield well to wildlife and fragments the populations. This poses risks for the animals by having to cross roads to get to suitable habitats for their resources of food, water and shelter which are now limited by development. This also limits the variety of the genes within that population and can hinder the animal’s ability to adapt or lead to diseases in that gene pool.

The only wildcats in New Jersey, bobcats will reside in mixed deciduous forests, often near wetlands, farm fields or areas with rock outcroppings for shelter. This is also near their main food sources of mice, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons and other small prey. Bobcats will pursue larger food, such as deer, and cache what they don’t eat entirely.

Although typically nocturnal (roaming around at night), they will adapt their routine to avoid people. Bobcats are solitary until mating season, around February and March. The young are born in the spring or summer and stay with mom for about six months until they need to find their own territory in the fall.

Bobcats are named for their stout tail that curls a little at the end. The color of their coats can vary greatly depending on the time of year and location. Even throughout New Jersey, the color of their coats can range from grey to tawny to spotted.

They have distinct “eye spots” on the back of each ear. This gives the impression that a predator trying to attack a bobcat from behind is dealing with a much larger animal than originally suspected.

Bobcats can swim easily and climb trees to escape predators. Bobcat kittens are most at risk from predation from animals such as birds of prey or canines. Adult bobcats’ biggest threat involve vehicles.

In an effort to aid in safer migrations for all wildlife, NJ Fish and Wildlife has been working on a project called CHANJ – Connecting Habitats Across New Jersey.

The bobcat I am holding in the picture above was fitted with a tracking device that allowed biologists to see how far and how often he traveled across roadways. This information can lead to valuable opportunities to create safe wildlife corridors.

Biologists are also looking to the public for help. They have created an app that easily allows you to report sightings of these threatened or endangered species here:

NJDEP | Fish & Wildlife | Reporting Wildlife Sightings
To learn more about the different ways research is conducted, please visit:

NJDEP| Fish & Wildlife | Connecting Habitat Across New Jersey (CHANJ).

Jennifer Correa-Kruegel, Warren County Naturalist
Jennifer Correa-Kruegel, Warren County Naturalist

Jennifer has a Masters in Parks and Resource Management from Slippery Rock University. She worked as a Park Naturalist for Hunterdon County Park System from 2003-2006 and then at the NJSOC full-time from 2006 - 2020, starting as the Program Coordinator and evolving to an Environmental Educator. Jen is a New Jersey native and has lived in Warren County with her family since 2004. She is excited to be offering programs to this community she has grown to love.