I was driving back to the farm yesterday when a bobcat rocketed right in front of the car. I say it was a bobcat because I rationally know it was a bobcat, but the truth is that, on arriving home and putting the groceries in the fridge, I immediately sat down at the computer and looked at pictures of mountain lions for twenty minutes. Here’s what I was sure of from the perhaps two seconds it was within my field of view:
1.) It was a very big cat.
2.) It was moving very fast.
3.) Its ears were darker than the rest of its fur.
I’ve seen a bobcat once before on our farm when it walked up on Ed and me while we were out turkey hunting. This looked bigger than that one. It looked bigger than Oban, who weighs almost 50 pounds. I really wanted it to be a mountain lion, and it honestly did strike me as larger that a bobcat in every way.
But the fact remains that it was a bobcat. I routinely see deer run in front of my car, and it was not as big as a mature whitetail. Further, it doesn’t take much reading on reputable mountain lion sites to recognize that the vast preponderance of reports from the Eastern U.S. cannot be verified on further investigation, and that there is a suspicious dearth of pictures or roadkilled corpses relative to the number of people who will swear up and down that they’ve seen a cougar. In other words, if you see a big cat, it’s a bobcat.
Certainly, it’s possible that a mountain lion could be roaming around my neck of the woods or in the nature preserve near my childhood home outside of Philadelphia (there were numerous sightings when I was in high school) - after all, a few years ago one made it all the way from South Dakota to Massachusetts before being hit by a car - but the odds are against it. The odds are, if you’re on this side of the Rocky Mountains and you see a cat that makes you do a double take, it’s a bobcat. It's just a bobcat.
I already knew there was a controversy about the continued existence of the eastern mountain lion, but it’s still amazing to read how many people are adamant that they are still around in numbers (rather than just as occasional escaped pets or wanderers from distant, established populations), and that the government is hiding this fact.
I’ve been thinking about why we see mountain lions when we're looking at bobcats, but I haven’t reached any satisfying conclusions. Do we subconsciously want the frisson of excitement brought on by knowing that an apex predator might be lurking out there? Are we trying to assuage our feelings of collective guilt for extirpating such a charismatic species from half the country? Are we just really, really bad at estimating size? All of the above?
Anyways, no matter what other people say, bobcats are awesome, and I'm happy I saw one.