CLEVELAND (WJW) — For the first time in more than 150 years, trail cameras deep in the woods of the 24,000-acre Cleveland Metroparks have captured the image of an animal once on Ohio’s endangered list.
The Metroparks is not divulging the location of the camera, but said twice on the same day in July — and once more in October — the cameras captured the image of a bobcat.
It is something wildlife ecologist Jonathon Cepek had been hoping to see for years.
“Through farming and settlement and building urban areas and human development and removing forest, that is a significant change. And if you think about the loss of that forest … that’s why we lost elk, we lost cougars, we lost wolves, we lost bobcat. Native species — even deer — disappeared from Ohio by 1904,” said Cepek.
“When I saw that species — knowing that it was the first record in Cuyahoga County, knowing Cleveland Metroparks history — there may have been some expletives that were said at that time in excitement, just because knowing what that species means to come back to a very urban, human-influenced county, it was really exciting,” he added.
Cleveland Metroparks has one of the largest programs of its kind in the country with trail cameras throughout the parks.
“We wanted to understand what we have and then its relationship with the habitat that we have as we make land management decisions or understand, you know, sensitive areas versus recreation areas, but also understand not just the presence of single species, but what species? What’s the ecology of the area? How many species do we have? What is the abundance? You know we have a lot of deer, we have a lot of raccoons— but what about these rare species?” said Cepek.
Although they are native to Ohio, the last recorded sighting of a bobcat here was in 1850.
Because the animal was captured on the same camera, although months apart, Cepek believes it may be the same bobcat in all of the pictures — not just one that may be passing through.
And although they have not been seen in Cuyahoga County in years, their numbers have been growing across the state, with sightings in Summit and other counties that border Cuyahoga County.
“Bobcats are doing well in Ohio. In southeast Ohio, I just talked to our state biologist and she says annually they are getting 500 observations a year for bobcats, so in some ways, for some areas of Ohio, they are fairly common. But this is the first record that we know of since 1850 in Cuyahoga County — you know, a metropolitan area that has been influenced by people. So, exciting for this county, acknowledging that other counties and other park systems in Ohio have them,” said Cepek.
Bobcats are predators, but Cepek said no one should fear an encounter because they do their best to avoid human interaction.
He said he knows of no reports of any attacks on humans by bobcats.
But he said because they are so elusive, if anyone sees one they need to take it all in while they can.
“You know, if you were to see one, take advantage of it. Get a quick look, because it’s going to be gone,” Cepek said. “That 50- to 30-pound cocker spaniel-sized, you know, wild feline doesn’t want to be seen; doesn’t want to be around people, so get a good look. Take a picture if you can, because its going to be gone, if you are lucky enough to see that rare species that’s trying to avoid us.”