Bobcats part of Alpine nightlife
March 30, 2019
Steam rose from the bloody entrails. I took a step back and quickly scanned the area, moving to calmly round up all the children and dogs. I found the carcass at the top of the ridge of our sledding hill, ripped open in traditional mountain lion fashion. The stomach was gone, but it was not yet covered by sticks or forest debris.
It was a substantial hike into this place and it had been worth it before this. Just the right angle and length creating a long pristine sled ride in the untracked backcountry snow.
Gathering together, we walked back home. We did not run, since that would ignite the natural instincts of the mountain lion. If awake and watching, that might cause it to want to chase.
My family and I did not return for many months, and we made sure it was in the bright sunshine. There was little left of the deer. This was a very long time ago, and since then we have seen only the signs: tracks, scat, and possible shelter areas. Once, when driving a backroad late at night, I saw the distinctive swish of a shadowy tail in the headlights. Our idea of a neighborhood watch here in Alpine County means calling the nearest house if you see a lion while out hiking: giving the details of where it was hiding, color, and size.
A local camping area we go to every spring is literally "at the edge of civilization." We have been privileged to observe (from a vantage point a reasonable distance away) a mother bobcat come and sit on a rock overlooking the nearest homes. Ensuring the safety of her babies, she stood watch while the cubs played and frolicked behind her. We have seen this happen in the same spot for so many different years, it seems this is a multi-generational ritual. From my human perspective, it looks like the mother is instructing her little ones not to go any further than this boundary, and to keep back from the roads and buildings that define our modern world.
We were having a pretty loud campsite gathering one evening around this same general area. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a slight movement under one of the larger white firs. It was a full grown bobcat, seemingly unperturbed by the noise and activity. In fact, it looked like it was enjoying watching all the people: clever enough to know how difficult it was for us to see it. Going back to that spot much later I found a big pile of bird feathers and carcasses. It turned out to be that particular cat's favorite place for supper.
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I cannot count the number of times when hiking in the wilderness I have caught sight of a bobcat tucked away in the thick of the forest just sitting and studying us (particularly the smaller of our dogs). We always keep them on leash, and whenever any wild animal is in view, we change our course: respecting their territory and heading out in an entirely different direction.
It is important to have a heightened awareness of the "wilds." Those creatures that have managed to retain their true nature as people have encroached further and further into their lands deserve to be acknowledged with respect and understanding. I have watched people feed bears and other animals: effectively signing their death warrant. It is enchanting and magical to be surrounded by the primal world here in the mountains of Alpine. But the more we inflict our human values onto wild creatures, the more they suffer.
Most of the bears I have seen are just "passing through." There was one we saw consistently that was exceptionally large with rough teeth overcrowded in its mouth. We called him "Snaggletooth," and were sad when he was hit by a car and killed on the highway. Other bears have climbed up trees to look in the second story window of my house, and rambled by with their babies in tow. It is imperative that no food, composting material, or garbage ever be left outside or the bears will be attracted by the new smells. At one Alpine lake we spotted a mother with triplets: a rare occurrence. I know people who have had bears enter through their glass front doors. I always keep the blinds closed in the twilight hours so these creatures do not confuse the outside and inside worlds.
Our local expert on "all things Alpine" Judy Wickwire was Stream Keeper for many years. My sons and I used to help with stream counts and fish stocking. One year at Heenan a huge black bear came bounding down right after the fish had entered the lake. Sitting down in the middle of the chute, he grabbed fish after fish, biting out the middle. He gorged himself joyfully. Something like that is a veritable miracle in his world.
We have been fortunate, save for the one time I forgot to close the garage window all the way. A bear crawled in, crushing the screen. It grabbed an old honey tin that was now filled with modeling clay, and after taking a bite (you could see the teeth marks in the moist clay), tossed it aside. He grabbed the boxes of "fat free" crackers that I had ready to return to the market, ripped them open, and sharing my opinion of their cardboard like flavor, left them in a big heap. This was my own fault, and could have ended with a lot more damage. We have always checked and double checked the windows since then.
It is why you never neglect to notice your environment and the signs, movements, and differences around you when you live in the mountains. I have a tougher time in the city, finding for example, the random robberies and killings a lot more difficult to handle than the admittedly harsh nature of the world of a predatory animal.
While a bobcat may be strikingly beautiful, I can never lose sight of the fact that it could attack my small chihuahua at any time (even though its preferred diet choices are bunnies and squirrels).
This is not because of a lack of morals, mental imbalance, or evil. It is because it is hungry. The natural motivations behind a wild creatures actions are clear and make sense.
Consult Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care (ltwc.org) for tips on avoiding common problems, protecting our wildlife, and keeping yourself, your family, and your pets safe while living in or visiting our mountain wilderness. For me, it is the most peaceful place on earth, but it demands that you pay attention and are connected to your surroundings.