"Duke" the Bobcat Leaps to Freedom in San Diego

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Duke the college basketball team may have stumbled out of the gate this March, but Duke the bobcat was able to defeat malnourishment and mange and bounce back to the victory of health and freedom.

Bobcats (Lynx rufus) are a common carnivore denizen of suburban southern California, and USGS Western Ecological Research Center biologists collaborate with many local partners and agencies to study the health of bobcat populations. As one of the top predators in the local food web and a highly mobile one at that, bobcat populations can serve as indicators on the health and status of the local landscape.

Along the way, there's usually a rewarding story or two.

Malnourished bobcat with mange

Duke, suffering from severe mange in March. The feathers on the bottom of the trap served as "curiosity bait" to attract bobcats (yes, curiosity does trap the cat...) (Used with permission from Megan Jennings/San Diego State University.)

Back on March 12, 2012, a project led by Megan Jennings and Rebecca Lewison of San Diego State University found Duke in a research trap in eastern San Diego. Jenning's research collaborators are Erin Boydston and Lisa Lyren, who lead WERC research projects on urban carnivore ecology throughout southern California.

Duke was emaciated and had severe mange, weighing only 12 pounds. Typically, researchers sedate, examine and attach a tracking collar on bobcats before immediately releasing them to the wild. But Duke was too frail, and Jennings and colleagues decided to send him to the Fund For Animals Wildlife Center for rehabilitation.

Fast forward to April 2, 2012: Duke is free of mange. His fur is dense and healthy, and he's beefed up to a sturdy 17 pounds. Time to head home.

Local news crews were on hand as Jennings, Lyren and staff from Fund for Animals gave Duke one last check up and a tracking collar, before sending home in the hills of Ramona:

Lyren and Boydston will continue to work with Jennings and other local researchers to understand how bobcats and other carnivores are responding to ecological changes. Factors like housing developments, roadways, diseases, and climate change can affect bobcat behavior and survival, so bobcat tracking studies offer researchers a glimpse into how the natural landscape of southern California are being fragmented or influenced by natural and man-made factors.

Among their focus is evaluating the connectivity of landscapes in key areas of San Diego's open space network, and determining whether corridors exist for bobcats and other wildlife to move around naturally. If there is poor connectivity, it could be a sign that habitats are too fragmented and may restrict the genetic health of various wildlife species.

And Duke will help us answer these questions.

-- Ben Young Landis

All images courtesy of Megan Jennings/San Diego State University.

One last health checkup for Duke the bobcat before release

Duke getting one last checkup before being released to the wild. (Used with permission from Megan Jennings/San Diego State University.)

Duke the Bobcat after rehabilitation

Duke the bobcat leaps to freedom after being rehabilited by Fund for Animals Wildlife Center as part of a USGS/SDSU project. (Used with permission from Megan Jennings/San Diego State University. )