When you hear of Ohio Bobcats, Ohio University’s mascot Rufus probably comes to mind. But do you know why this elusive wildcat was chosen to represent the large Athens university in 1960? In addition to their abundant populations in southeast Ohio during that time, they are one of the smallest but mightiest wildcats found in North America.

But before the 1960s, their abundancy wasn’t always the case.

Prior to settlement during the 19th century, bobcat populations thrived in Ohio. Being nocturnal creatures, these wildcats always hunt their prey at night, making human sightings a rarity. But it didn’t take long for settlers to realize the value of this creature’s soft, dense fur that ranges from light gray to reddish brown. The fur lining a bobcat’s back is also typically darker than other parts of its body, with a black tail and spotted, pointy ears.

Coming in at a mere average of two feet tall and twenty pounds, they are still nearly twice the size of any normal house cat, despite them both belonging to the same family of Felidae. Bobcats have short, bobbed tails, ranging from three to seven inches. This is how the name “Bobcat” was derived, as it distinguishes them from most other wildcats.

Bobcats began to repopulate and adapt around the turn of the twentieth century, but hunting, urban development and habitat destruction have proved to be a continuous struggle. They tend to favor forested habitats, but have been spotted in deserts, swamps and even some suburban areas.

According to the ODNR Division of Wildlife, here are the counties where you’re most likely to catch a glimpse of these elusive cats in Ohio: Belmont, Monroe, Morgan, Noble and Washington. It is in these forested areas that ODNR reported nearly 500 verified sightings of bobcats in 2017, whether entailed, trapped, or photographed.

Fear not if you do happen to come across one. While they are carnivores, they tend to keep to themselves, living solitary lives except with their litters of one to six cubs. Their prey usually consists of squirrels, rabbits, small rodents and amphibians. If they’re feeling up to the challenge, bobcats will hunt deer as well. These small but mighty cats are not much for runners, but they can leap up to 12 feet when it comes to pouncing on their unsuspecting prey.

In the 1970s, bobcats became federally protected and were put on the endangered species list across the country. Today, approximately 725,000 to 1,020,000 bobcats populate North America. Due to their nocturnal and shy behavior, it’s hard to know for sure how many reside in North America. These numbers have steadily risen, however, since they were taken off of the endangered species list in 2014, according to ODNR.

While they still face the pressures of habitat destruction, bobcat numbers are expected to rise. After several months of deliberation, a proposal to reallow the entrapment of bobcats in Ohio has been tabled —  for now.

With their ability to overcome so many obstacles, it’s no wonder Ohio University chose this stealthy cat to represent their student body. – Natalie Michalski

Photo credit: Public Domain Pictures

Despite being born and raised a city girl from Chicago, Natalie has always been a nature and animal lover at heart. As a recent graduate from the Ohio State University, she enjoys the outdoors and exploring new places around Columbus. Inside, you’ll most likely find her reading a good book or writing one of her own.