Canadian Cats – International Society For Endangered Cats
Canada has three wild cat species: Bobcat Lynx rufus, Canada Lynx Lynx canadensis and Cougar or Mountain Lion Puma concolor. None of these cats are listed as endangered or threatened at a species level in Canada, and their status varies in each province.The Eastern Cougar subspecies Puma concolor couguar was designated Endangered in April 1978, but the species was reconsidered in April 1998 and placed in the Data Deficient category.
Bobcat Lynx rufus
- HB Length: 65-105 cm (25.5-41″)
- Tail Length: 9-11 cm (3.5-4.3″)
- Height: Appr. 21 cm (53″)
- Weight: 6-13 kg (13-29″)
Range: Central & North America
Habitat: All habitats
The Bobcat is the most successful wild cat species in North America, and more easily recognized than many other small wild cats. Their soft, dense coat is light grey to reddish brown, and they are randomly barred and spotted with black or dark reddish brown. The fur along the middle of the back is usually darker, while the underparts are whitish, and also spotted.
In 2007, a rare melanistic Bobcat was captured in Florida. Less than a dozen black Bobcats have ever been reported, so officials took DNA samples and blood tests, then released the cat back into the wild.
The short ‘bobbed’ tail, approximately 7.5 – 15 cm long, is marked with several indistinct dark bands, and black tipped only on the topside. The bob tail is possibly a past adaptation to cold conditions. Bobcats are short stocky cats with muscular legs, their hind legs being slightly longer than their forelegs. Their relatively high shoulder height and thick fur make them appear much larger than they really are. The large ears are black on the outside, with a white central spot, and their eyes are a yellowish brown. Their ear tufts, if present, are much smaller than those of the Canada lynx Lynx canadensis, as is the ruff framing their face. The largest Bobcats are found in Canada and the western USA, while the smallest are found in Mexico.
Bobcats are found from southern Canada, down through the USA to northern Mexico. As habitat generalists, they live in a wide variety of areas, including all types of forest, coastal swamp, desert and scrubland. Only large, intensively cultivated areas without adequate surface cover appear to be unsuitable habitat. Their range in Canada has been expanding northward with forest clearance and warmer winters.
Unlike the Canada lynx, they are not found in the northern latitudes where deep snow restricts their movements. They generally favour low and mid elevations, but have been found at 3,500 metres in Mexico.
Males have an established range which includes the smaller ranges of several females, and often overlaps partially with other males’ territories. Female ranges are more exclusive. Young males disperse and travel long distances in search of an unoccupied territory, while females often settle near or partially within the range of their mother.
Bobcat home range sizes vary widely, from 6 km² in southern California to 325 km² in New York. Although there are no exact figures, population density estimates range from 48 cats per 100 km² in Texas to 11 per 100 km² in Virginia.
A recent population analysis (1) found that Bobcat numbers have increased throughout the majority of its range since the 1990’s. Forty-eight US states, seven Canadian provinces and Mexico were surveyed, with all locations except Florida reporting increased populations. The Bobcat is found in each of the contiguous states except Delaware. Its US population was estimated to be from 2,353,276 – 3,571,681 individuals. The population in Mexico is not well known, and it appears to be very rare in some central areas.
These tough little cats survive mainly because they are secretive, cantankerous, will eat almost any type of prey and can live in almost any kind of habitat. Like their close relatives the Canada Lynx, they prey primarily on rabbits, but are less of a specialist.
They are reasonably tolerant of human disturbance, adapting well to altered habitat. They hunt by day or night, and as opportunistic feeders, prey on whatever is most abundant. Although they are heavily persecuted as livestock killers, the majority of their prey species are destructive agricultural pests. Despite their small size, Bobcats can also be effective predators of deer, taking animals weighting up to tentimes their own body weight which are generally killed when resting. They are mainly ground dwellers, but can climb trees with ease and are excellent swimmers.
Bobcats are solitary animals, and the males and females associate only during the breeding season, which runs from December to April, with the earliest breeding occurring at the lower latitudes. Only resident cats with established territories raise litters. While males may breed with several females, the females typically mate with only one male
Gestation is 50 – 70 days, with one to six, usually two to four, kittens being born in a den, hollow log, under a rock ledge or in dense thickets. The kittens are born with faint marks on their back and sides, and dark streaks on their faces that fade as they grow. They open their eyes after about nine days. They nurse for about three to four months, and at five months of age the mother takes them out hunting. They stay with her until the next breeding season. Bobcats are sexually mature at about one year for the females, and two years for the males.. They have been known to live over 33 years in captivity, and 12 – 13 years in the wild.
Bobcats are legally harvested for the fur trade in 38 US states, and in seven Canadian provinces. In Mexico, the Bobcat is legally hunted in small numbers as a trophy animal. There appears to be little illegal international trade, although within the US, molecular forensics techniques have determined that skins reported as originating from an area with a high bag limit were probably illegally taken from an area with a lower limit.
The Bobcat is now the leading wild cat species in the skin trade, with most exports coming from the US. In 2000-2006 the average annual export of skins was 29,772, with an all-time high of 51,419 skins exported in 2006.Demand for Bobcat pelts is being driven by Asian countries with growing economies, such as China. Although this harvest seems likely to continue, it is regulated. The far more serious threat to these cats is the continuing habitat fragmentation, loss of habitat, and persecution by farmers and ranchers.
On a regional level, the Bobcat is totally protected in ten USA states; in Canada hunting and trade is regulated; and in Mexico hunting is regulated in five states and shooting of suspected livestock predators is permitted. The degree to which these little cats have been studied and managed in North America makes them probably the most thoroughly examined species in international trade today. They are classed as Least Concern (2008).
Photo copyright Dr. Alex Sliwa
Range map IUCN Red Data List (2008)
(1) Citation: Roberts NM, Crimmins SM. 2010. An update of bobcat Lynx rufus population status and management in North America: Evidence of large-scale population increase. Journal of Fish & Wildlife Manaagement June 10, 2010
Canada Lynx Lynx canadensis
- HB Length: 76-106 cm (30-42″)
- Tail Length: 5-12 cm (2-5″)
- Height: 60-65 cm (24-26″)
- Weight: 5-17 kg (13-29 lbs)
Range: North America
Canada Lynx are the most common and widespread feline in Canada. They are easily recognizable cats with their black ear tufts, flared facial ruff, and very short tail. They can only be confused with the closely related Bobcat Lynx rufus in the southern part of their range. A closer look, however, reveals a number of differences. The Lynx has longer legs and broader footpads for walking in deep snow. Their ear tufts are longer, and the facial ruff is more developed. Their tail has a black tip, while the Bobcat’s is more striped and white underneath. These two cat species seem to have divided the continent up between them, with the Bobcat being limited by snow depth to southern Canada through to Central Mexico, and the Canada Lynx in the northern forests.
The usual background colour of the fur is a silvery grey or grey brown, but can vary to yellowish‑grey and rusty or reddish‑brown. The fur is usually white tipped, giving the animal a frosted appearance. Their thick, soft pelt can be variably marked with more or less distinct dark spots, and sometimes small stripes. A rare pallid colour phase suggesting partial albinism is known as the ‘Blue Lynx’. There is a distinct ruff of long hairs framing the face; the ears are large and pointed with irises of a yellow brown to a light yellowish‑green. The legs are long, with the rear limbs longer than the front ones, giving the body a tilted forward or slightly stooped appearance. The footpads are broad and well furred, and the tail is very short and black tipped.
The ears have long, erect tufts of dark hairs, and black backsides towards the tip. These tufts are just as sensitive as their whiskers, and the slightest breath of wind can be detected by the cat.
Canada Lynx live mainly in boreal forests or in mixed deciduous/boreal woodlands, but can live in farmlands if they are interspersed with wooded areas. They favour forests with dense undercover vegetation such as thickets and deadfalls, with marshy areas and rocky outcrops.
Their total range in North America is 7.7 million km2, and their historic range is largely intact, although it has shrunk in the south due to human settlement and forest clearance.
Their range follows that of their main prey species, the snowshoe hare. The Canada Lynx is the only known felid to undergo prey-driven cyclic population declines. Densities peak at 17-45/100 km2, falling to 2-3/100 km2 during the low cycle.
Lynx have been recorded travelling long distances, up to 1,200 km, seeking out patches of hare abundance. A study in the Yukon found home ranges increased from 13.2 km2 to 39 km2 when the hare population was low. Several cats abandoned their home ranges during this period, and many dispersed 250 km or more.
Over two hundred years of records from the Hudson’s Bay fur company show that the Lynx population fluctuates in an eight to 11 year cycle, in response to fluctuations in the numbers of the snowshoe hare. Hares breed profusely through several summers when food is plentiful, and may reach 1,800/km2 at the peak of the cycle. Overpopulation means they eventually wipe out their food supply and their numbers plummet. Lynx populations follow the hare cycle with a lag of one or two years.
Lynx favour mid-sized prey in order to compensate for the immense amount of energy expended to catch it. Other prey species may be taken opportunistically, or when hare numbers are low. It takes 50 voles to equal the food energy from one snowshoe hare, however, and the voles live beneath the snow cover in the winter. Hares are active year round.
Lynx are mainly terrestrial and nocturnal, although they may also hunt during the day if prey is scarce. Lynx are thought to hunt mainly by sight and hearing, relying on smell to a lesser extent. They usually stalk their prey to within a few bounds before pouncing, but they are also known to wait in ambush for hours.
Although classed as solitary animals, researchers often see groups of paired females. Female kittens establish home ranges close to that of their mothers, and travel and hunt co‑operatively.
Mating occurs in late winter to early spring in most areas (March ‑ April in Alaska, April ‑ May in Alberta). The female mates with only one male, and the receptive period can last from one to ten days. Mating usually takes place at night, and the males are especially vocal at this time. Dens can be made in hollow logs, at the base of trees, in rocky areas or in dense vegetation. One to six kittens are born after a gestation period of 63 ‑70 days. In years of low prey availability, females may not conceive at all, or may spontaneously abort in response to the body’s poor nutritional condition. Lynx kittens average 197 ‑211 grams at birth. Their eyes open between ten and 17 days, and they begin to walk at 24 ‑30 days. The kittens nurse for three to five months, but begin to eat some solid food at one month of age. The young remain with the adult female until the following winter mating season. Young lynx may remain together for some weeks or months after separating from the female, travelling and hunting co‑operatively. Sexual maturity is reached around 23 months, although in periods of prey abundance, sexual maturity at ten months has been recorded. Captive Canada Lynx have lived up to 21 years, and life expectancy for wild animals has been recorded at 15 years.
Throughout Alaska and most of Canada, the Lynx is managed for the fur trade. During the cyclic low in the 1980’s most areas reduced harvests. From 1980-1984 an average of 35,669 pelts were exported from Canada and Alaska. That number fell to 7,360between 1986-1989. The population is considered stable in the northern portion of their range.
Canada Lynx are rare and protected where they occur in south-eastern Canada. They are classed as regionally endangered in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, where researchers have reported fertile hybrids between Canada Lynx and the Bobcat. The primary threat to the cats in these areas is the expanding population of the eastern coyote.
A project in the Adirondack Mountains of New York in 1989-1992 saw the reintroduction of 83 Lynx, but the population did not prove to be self sustaining. Thirty-six of the Lynx were killed by automobiles, and it is doubtful any of the cats survived
From 1999 onwards, 204 Lynx from Canada and Alaska were relocated into the southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado. This population has become well established, and researchers are reporting increasing numbers of kittens born each year.
In the United States, Canada Lynx were historically found in 25 states, but now just 111,730 km2 of critical Lynx habitat has been proposed for designation in Maine, Minnesota, Washington and the Rocky Mountains. The main threat to these cats in the USA is habitat fragmentation.
Canada Lynx are classified as Least Concern (2008).
Photo copyright Michael Zahra
Range map IUCN Red Data List (2008)
Cougar Puma concolor
The Cougar probably has as many different common names as they do geographical races: Puma, Mountain Lion, Florida Panther, Painter, Mexican Lion, Catamount and Red Tiger to mention a few. There have been over 30 subspecies of Cougar described by various authorities, but these are mostly local variations or races that gradually blend into one another over their range. Recent genetic studies have indicated that the current subspecies should be reduced to six.
These cats are commonly called Puma in Latin America, and either Cougar or Mountain Lion in the north.The term Panther is used for any cat of uniform colour and was the name given to these big cats by early settlers in Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Because of their immense range, there is a wide variation in coat colour, from a buff or sandy brown to reddish brown, through to a light silver and slate grey. There have never been any authenticated reports of melanistic Cougars. The coat is fairly short and coarse, being somewhat darker on the back, and a pale buff on the chest, belly, and inner sides of the legs. Overall, the coat is fairly uniform in colour and is essentially unmarked. Their head is fairly small, with dark brown to black patches on the muzzle, and irises of green gold to yellow brown. The ears are short and rounded, and grey to black on the backs. The forelegs are shorter than the hind legs, and the footpads are relatively large. Their tail is fairly long and slim, gradually darkening towards the tip. The cats found in Central and South America are smaller than those in North America.
The Cougar has the largest range of any New World cat, larger than any other terrestrial mammal in the western hemisphere. They roam from the Yukon in Canada to the extreme southern tip of South America. These big cats range through a wide variety of habitats, from coniferous, deciduous and tropical forest, through swamps, grasslands, and semi-deserts, from sea level to altitudes of 4,500 metres.
Their varied habitats suggest a tolerance of environmental conditions rare among mammals. Habitat use can be highly seasonal, following prey migrations to higher or lower elevations.
In much of their Latin American range, they share many habitats with the Jaguar Panthera onca, and may favour more open habitat than the larger cat. Both species however, have been found in dense forest.
Radio telemetry studies in Chile found their home ranges to be up 100 km2, with the cats often covering up to 16 km in a few hours.
Population densities have been estimated at no more than 4 adults per 100 km2 in North America. In South America, densities range from 0.5-8 adults/100 km2.
|HB Length: 86-155 cm (34-61″)Tail Length: 60-97 cm (24-38″)Height: 60-76 cm (24-30″)Weight: 34-72 kg (75-159 lbs)|
Incredibly adaptable and very athletic, Cougars have great leaping ability and are good climbers. They swim well but prefer not to enter the water unless it is necessary. Sight is their most acute sense, hearing is well developed, but their sense of smell is not particularly acute.
Primarily nocturnal and crepuscular, activity peaks at dusk and dawn. The bulk of their travelling and hunting is done at night, and their activity patterns are related to the activity of their prey and the concealment offered by the darkness.They hunt over a wide area, carefully stalking their prey and leaping on its back, or seizing it after a short, swift dash. Large kills are often covered with scraped over vegetation and dirt, and the cats remain in the vicinity, returning frequently to feed. However, they seldom eat carcasses killed by other animals.
Small to medium sized prey are more important in their diet in tropical portions of their range. In North America, deer make up 60%-80% of their diet, but in Florida where deer numbers are low, they eat smaller prey.
In a shrub ecosystem in Chile, hares made up 96% of their prey. Like all generalist feeders, the Cougar will eat whatever is most abundant in any given ecosystem.
Females are seasonally polyestrous, and there are no sharply defined breeding seasons in most of their range. Most births in North America occur from late winter to spring. The receptive period can last up to nine days, and male-female associations occur only during this time. Females usually give birth every other year. One to six, usually two to four, cubs are born in a cave, rock crevice, hollow log, under an overturned tree, or in thick vegetation. The gestation period is 80 – 96 days. Cubs weigh 226 – 453 grams at birth and are spotted with dark brown spots over a brown buff coat. The spots gradually fade as they grow. Their blue eyes change to the greenish yellow or yellowish brown of the adults by 16 months of age. The eyes open at nine to ten days, they begin walking around 14 days, and nurse for three months or more, but begin to take some meat at six weeks of age.The young cats will remain with the adult female at least through their first winter, and often up to 18 – 24 months. Litter mates may travel and hunt together for a few months after leaving the female. Sexual maturity is attained at around two and a half years of age for females, but males take at least three years. They have lived to 20 years.
Cougars were extirpated from the eastern half of their historic range in the US and Canada over 100 years ago. Numerous recent sightings in the Midwest and eastern half of the continent suggest they may be re-colonizing some of their former range. In 2009, the government of the province of Ontario officially declared the eastern Cougar now living in that province. In 2010, however, the US government declared the eastern Cougar subspecies officially extinct in the northeastern states.Their research showed that the Cougars in that area are not genetically different from those found in the west, and therefore did not deserve separate status.
The only area where Cougars survived historical extirpation is in a single population in the Everglades forests of southern Florida. In an effort to help restore the depleted genetic make-up of the Florida Panther, officials released a few Texas cats into south Florida to strengthen the gene pool. The main threats to these cats today is being killed on the many highways and roads in the area, and extreme loss of habitat.
Cougars are increasingly found in habitat patches that have been fragmented by human activities such as highways, ranches and farms. Restored habitat corridors are vital to link these isolated populations..
As one of the top predators in the food chain, the Cougar has been persecuted unmercifully by man. A combination of guns, poisons, snares, traps, and hunting dogs have been used in this persecution, often under the guise of government sanctioned predator control (bounty) programs. Farmers and ranchers have had a running feud with these cats for decades, and land use and stock management practices must be changed before this situation can be improved.
In many Latin American countries, Cougars are shot on sight or subject to bounty control programs even though the size of their population there is unknown.
Various native peoples in North and South America have revered the Cougar as they have the Jaguar Panthera onca. The ancient Peruvian city of Cuzco was laid out in the shape of a Cougar. The Cochiti Indians of New Mexico carved life sized statues of this cat out of stone and created a mesa top shrine in their honour. Great Lakes tribes believed their tail whipped up waves and storms, and Christian missionaries in southern California found the Cougar to be a significant obstacle in the establishment of missions. Natives so respected the big cat that they refused to hunt it or protect livestock herds from its predations.
The explorer Columbus was one of the first to call them lions because of their resemblance to female African lions, which he had seen before. Males were assumed to be fierce, elusive creatures because explorers saw only “maneless” female lions.
The species Puma concolor is classified as Least Concern (2008).
Range map IUCN Red Data List (2008)