The Associated Press
ATHENS, Ohio - Increased reports of bobcat sightings in Ohio are giving state wildlife officials hope that the population of the animal is rebounding after nearly being wiped out.
While bobcats are abundant in other states, including neighbors West Virginia and Pennsylvania, bobcats had been decimated in Ohio by 1850 by hunting and the growth of cities and farms, said state Division of Wildlife biologist Dave Swanson.
But in the last 50 years, a combination of forests reclaiming farmland and laws against hunting the animal have allowed the populations to rebound, Swanson said.
"It should make people feel very good and proud that the forests are coming back and we can support a native forest critter like the bobcat once again," he said.
There were 48 unconfirmed sightings in Ohio in 2002 and 10 verified sightings. The verified sightings were the result of bobcats being caught in traps, killed on highways or photographed.
Swanson, who works at the Waterloo Wildlife Research Station near New Marshfield in Southeast Ohio, said last year's numbers are up from 2001, when there were 28 unconfirmed sightings in Ohio and five verified sightings.
Sightings this year are on pace to beat 2002's results, Swanson said.
Biologists consider the increase of sightings a strong indicator that bobcats are returning and hope to begin using radio collars to track the population in the next few years. There currently isn't enough information on bobcats in Ohio to estimate the state's population.
While wildlife experts are hopeful that further research will bear out the apparent resurgence, Swanson concedes that the increase in sightings could merely be the result of increased awareness. The agency began actively soliciting and compiling information about bobcats from hunters, hikers and campers in 1996, he said.
"People just may be finally reporting their observations because they know we are interested," he said.
The Division of Wildlife also is encouraged by sightings of kittens.
Swanson said bobcats generally pose no threat and avoid areas developed by humans.
Lloyd Culbertson, a research technician at the Waterloo station, said bobcat attacks are rare.
"There have been incidents of joggers in back-country areas attacked, but I have never heard of it happening in Ohio," he said.
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