By Amy Burnett
There have been a number of bobcat sightings recently in the Sun Cities. You may have seen photos in your social media feed, or heard about one from a neighbor.
Although reports of bobcats in urban areas of the Valley are becoming more common, bobcats have been regular residents of the Sun Cities for years, and statistically population numbers aren’t increasing. Every week in Arizona, Game and Fish gets calls from residents who have seen a bobcat; some have lost pets when a bobcat or other predator found their jackrabbit-sized terrier or outdoor cat to be easy prey, others are calling to report a mother and kittens that won’t leave their backyard, and they no longer feel safe using their pool. Every day, I get transcripts of such calls emailed in my inbox of sightings all over the Valley, from the Sun Cities to North Scottsdale, from the Ahwatukee foothills to the streets of Tempe near the Light Rail.
You’ve likely heard people say, “Wildlife is being pushed out of the desert because of human development… that’s why we’re seeing more of it.” This is a common myth. You might be surprised at the real reason that you are seeing bobcats and other large wildlife like coyotes and javelinas more frequently on your street.
The bobcats you’re seeing on your street most likely aren’t “going back to the desert” at night. They’re urban bobcats, finding better food and shelter in our neighborhoods than “out in the desert;” roaming washes and streets and finding shelter under overgrown landscaping in backyards. In the same way that we attract birds with bird feeders, we’re attracting larger wildlife by providing food and habitat.
The urban bobcat usually doesn’t become a neighborhood concern until individuals become too comfortable around humans, which may lead to aggression. Each of us has our own threshold of how closely we want to live with wildlife, and we send mixed messages. Are you doing everything you can to discourage bobcats from your backyard, while your neighbor is putting out cat food for the neighborhood strays, that bobcats are finding after dark? Maybe you take pictures and quietly observe a family of bobcats lounging by your pool, though you or your neighbors have small dogs — similar in size to their natural prey items — running around in the walled backyard. To a bobcat, this looks like a Vegas buffet.
An eight-foot wall is no obstacle for these skilled predators. Even if you love seeing wildlife in your yard, if you are not making it uncomfortable to be there, you are inadvertently sending a message of welcome, and a bobcat that becomes too comfortable often becomes a neighborhood problem.
Arizona Game and Fish generally does not remove animals from neighborhoods unless it is a human, not pet, health or safety issue. We will refer residents to wildlife removal companies that charge a hefty fee to trap and remove animals that we have inadvertently attracted. As you can see, this can quickly become a costly and unfortunate no-win situation for both people and the wildlife we enjoy keeping “wild.”
How can you be part of the solution? If you see a bobcat in your yard, don’t condone this behavior by ignoring it. This may cause it to lose its natural fear of people, which can eventually lead to aggressive behavior or it to become considered a “nuisance animal” when it preys on pets in your neighborhood.
When you see a bobcat in your yard or on your street, Arizona Game and Fish recommends that you make loud noises, shout and bang pots and pans or rattle empty soda cans with pennies in it, wave your hands or objects like sticks and brooms, throw small stones, spray the animal with a hose or a super-soaker loaded with a 10% household ammonia solution or use pepper spray or bear spray, if necessary, on bold animals that refuse to leave.
Urban wildlife is here to stay, and it requires a community being on the same page. Start the conversation with your neighbors and come up with a plan that you can all agree on. Keeping wildlife wild starts with you. When we keep wildlife wild, everyone wins.
Editor’s Note: Ms. Burnett is AZFGD information and education program manager.