12/08/2014

The Bobcat Encounter

Bobcats are a ferocious little feline that inhabits wooded areas in the South.  They are found all over North America for the most part.  Like most cats, they are solitary creatures who are very territorial. Bobcats can weigh from 15 to 40lbs. As a small child living in southern Mississippi, we would hear them scream at night.  They sound eerily like a woman screaming or at least, that is the way it sounded to me. Sometimes, bobcats would come up and try to get in our chicken coop at night.  The chickens would let out a squabbling that alerted my father.  My father shot a bobcat one night that had gotten himself entangled in the chicken wire.  Before he was shot, that bobcat let out screams that could be heard for at least a couple of miles.  It was my job to take out the bobcat the next morning.  I remember how small it appeared.  It wasn't much bigger than our housecat, Midnight.  Of course, Midnight feasted off any mice he could find and the cat food he got from us.  So, he was a big, fat cat. 

About a year after the above bobcat incident, my brother and I went on our Saturday morning stroll into the woods behind our house.  It was something we did each Saturday morning after we ate breakfast.  Of course, we would each have a powerful stick we took with us for safety reasons.  So, on this one particular cool, October morning, my brother and I went about exploring the vast wilderness of pine trees, high grasslands and whatever else we could see.  We had been walking about an hour, the maximum from our house we were allowed to go or were comfortable.  I knew at an earlier age, you can get turned around in the woods and get easily lost.  My one landmark was the creek which was always to the east.  As long as it wasn't a cloud covered day, I felt at ease being in the woods.  On one of these Saturday walks, we uncounted the remains of a dead deer.  It had been dead for about three months, at least.  So, we never knew what we were going to see on this weekly walk.

I told my brother, it was time to turn back.  We had seen nothing out of the ordinary anyway.  So, as we started to turn back, we heard a low, gutteral growl come from our left.  On top of a fallen pine tree was this full adult bobcat and he was in a bad mood.  My first thought we had come between him and his meal.  I saw traces of fur in front of me.  Most likely this bobcat had just killed a rabbit. I guess the bobcat thought we wanted to steal his morning meal.  I told my brother to move slowly to the right, very slowly.  But, as we started to slowly back away, the bobcat made an aggressive move by jumping off the pine tree as if he were preparing to attack.  This was completely out of character for a bobcat.  They were shy, solitary animals who did no want human contact at all. Bobcats would usually run if they even smelled humans in the area.  But, this bobcat was not running.  He appeared to be about to attack my little brother.  "Get out of here, GO!!!!." I yelled at the bobcat. The bobcat wasn't budging.  It was a game of chicken, from which, he was showing no hints of backing down.  This bobcat was acting completely out of character for any bobcat I had ever heard about.  I had never even heard of a bobcat attacking anyone.  Of course, leave it to me and my brother to come head to head with the one bobcat who was willing to give humans a run for their money.  The bobcat started crouching down and that told me he was about to leap at either my brother or me.  In desperation, I raised the heavy stick I had and lunged at the bobcat.  This startled the bobcat and he quickly disappeared deep into the woods.  My brother and I wasted no time getting back home.

I told my father and several others this story and all were incredulous.  Mr. Horace Owens, who was owner of a local meat market, said he had lived in southern Mississippi the entirety of his 74 years and had seen only one bobcat, which quickly ran away.  My father said it was possible the bobcat had rabies or just refused to walk away from a fresh kill.  No one bought that either as bobcats were extremely fearful of humans. But, as my father stated, the bobcats instinctively knew we were "small humans" and posed no significant threat.  No one accepted that either.  The most likely reason the bobcat did not run was due to a fresh kill or it possibly had rabies.  Two days after our encounter, we got news that a bobcat had attacked a 5-year-old girl in her back yard.  The bobcat then came after the father of the child.  The father killed the bobcat with a pistol he carried with him. As it turns out, the bobcat had rabies.  The child had to go through the painful series of rabies shots.  As it turns out, our story was verified by the unfortunate incident of the little girl.

You may be wondering why I am repeating this story about a bobcat so many years ago (in 1961).  A neighbor ran over a bobcat last Saturday night as he was turning into his driveway.  The bobcat had been searching for food in his garbage can and could not escape the car in time.  The bobcat did not die instantly.  He screamed for a period of time before someone took a gun and killed it.  It made me think about two things.  One, about the story I just repeated above.  Two, bobcats, like so many predators, are running out of natural habitat.  They are getting closer and closer to homes where people dwell.  Their encroachment on civilization could eventually spell their doom.


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