Busy Busy Busy... and a Bobcat Kitten

Unfortunately, my journey in graduate school has involved a steady decline in the content of this site. I intend to pick up the pace a bit, as I've had a lot of fun the last few months and not shared it. As January is already 2/3 of the way through, my research is over halfway complete and I anticipate completing my master's at the end of 2014!

The last few weeks I have been working long hours in the genetics laboratory to prepare for a talk on bobcat genetic structure. I'm very excited to complete the analysis on this portion of my thesis! To recap, I am examining the genetic structure of carnivores in the Texas Panhandle to determine if the landscape mediates gene flow. I am examining bobcats, coyotes, and gray foxes, but as I have a lot of data, I am only discussing bobcats for this talk. I will hold off on offering my expectations for this data, as I am still in the lab. In the next two weeks, however, I expect t know a little more about ho the landscape structures these populations.

What's the justification or observations for this research? I am studying wide-spread, generalist species- this means that, although these carnivore species exist in lower densities than, say, and ungulate or songbird species, their ability to adapt across habitats combined with their high movements generally means that the population will exhibit a panmictic genetic structure. This simply means that everyone travels far distances and as a result a lot of animals are related despite these distances. However, certain anthropogenic and landscape factors can drive gene flow (movements), and with data to support this, I'm investigating if the geographic features unique to the Texas Panhandle, which is the southern extent of the Great Plains, mediate the movements of these carnivore species. So there ya go! Science!

Life as a graduate student isn't always glamorous, but it is rewarding. Case in point this summer when I and a fellow grad student got a call about a BOBCAT KITTEN. A concerned landowner called the sheriff's station when his dog found a little bobcat kitten wandering around in a field, so I loaded up my supplies at 11:30 at night to go tend to this little guy. We arrived downtown to a very unhappy five-week old bobcat kitten. It's a good thing we were called, because animal control was going to take the cat and most likely the animal would have ended up in captivity (if it survived). Lena is another grad student at West Texas A&M studying bobcat habitat selection and movement of a specific bobcat population, so she was, as always, a dream to share this opportunity with. When we realized that this kitten was in good health, we knew that the landowner had merely discovered an impatient kitten waiting for mom to come home. Oftentimes, what we believe to be abandoned or lost wildlife are simply cases where a parent has "parked" it's young, and our good intentions are actually disrupting a perfectly normal and safe natural process for wildlife. A lot of animals that end up in rehab facilities are cases of unnecessary rescue. For this bobcat kitten, we knew we could get him back home to his mother based on the description the landowner provided; we believed he had merely wandered from his den.

Before we returned him to the site of discovery, we collected some data for my thesis. Because of his small size, anesthetization was not possible, so we wore Kevlar gloves to protect our arms and hands and relied upon animal handling training to safely restrain the little guy. At five weeks, he was tiny but feisty! Here are a few pics of the little fella:

These gloves protected us from those claws! You can see how unhappy he is to interact with humans. We didn't handle him long.

Latex gloves protect both human and animal from disease. In this photo I was determining the sex of the kitten while Lena restrained him at the scruff, as a parent would to it's young. We are trained to handle wildlife, and we both have our rabies vaccination. 

Very fortunate to have interacted with a bobcat kitten, and even better that we were able to safely return him to his den.

The evening ended with Lena and I driving the kitten back to the property where he was found. The landowner hiked out with us and directed us to the location he was found. After some investigating, Lena and I found what we thought to be his den and safely released him. The kitten seemed to know where he was and scuttled out of sight. Assuming all was well, the bobcat kitten was likely reunited with his mother when she returned to care for him later in the evening.

I am very lucky to have had this experience... I mean seriously, how cute was this little guy?! He should now be almost seven months old, dispersed and in search of or settling into his own territory. In the next two years he should successfully breed and produce kittens of his own... kittens who hopefully aren't keen on exploring an open field at just over a month old (he could have been eaten by a fox, coyotes, or even an owl!). It is always a good idea to research the wildlife in your area so you are able to properly help an animal without hurting the animal or yourself. Familiarizing yourself with the individuals and agencies in your area that are equipped to help wildlife will also ensure that your wildlife stay healthy and free.

For questions on mesocarnivores like bobcats, coyotes, and gray foxes, you can contact me here!