Despite a delightful diversity of ecosystems and native creatures, South Carolina is notably light on one of the more intriguing sides of American wildlife—wild cats.
Development has forced out many species over the decades, including the imposing eastern cougar, but one type of wild cat continues to thrive in the Palmetto state. Let’s learn about the elusive bobcat and its place in South Carolina.
The Only Type of Wild Cat in South Carolina
The bobcat (Lynx rufus) is South Carolina’s only native wild cat. It’s one of a handful of native wild cat species in America, spread throughout all the lower 48 states. Most of South Carolina’s bobcats appear in the coastal plains and Piedmont region.
The nocturnal feline is extremely difficult to spot. It’s most active around early morning or twilight hours, and as a shy creature, it tries to stay away from humans.
The bobcat earns its name from its distinct bobbed tail measuring only 6–8 inches long. It closely resembles its northern relative, the Canada lynx, with its black-pointed ears, although the bobcat is much smaller. They typically weigh up to 45 pounds, growing to about twice the size of a domestic housecat.
Given their relatively small size, bobcats feed opportunistically. They stick to manageable prey, primarily rabbits. They’ll hunt rats, squirrels, and small deer, while enjoying the occasional bird, fish, or even insect, depending on what’s available.
A bobcat may stretch its territory up to 40 acres in search of food. They typically travel less than 5 miles daily, but young bobcats sometimes move up to 100 miles away in search of a new territory. Despite their shy nature, they may also appear in urban areas.
Although they are not a threat to humans, bobcats can endanger livestock and potentially pets when they happen across your home. They commonly attack chickens and may kill domesticated cats or dogs under 20 pounds if they perceive them as a threat, competition, or food.
Bobcats are deemed a protected species in South Carolina. You can purchase a hunting permit for bobcats through the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Trapping season runs from December 1 to March 1, while hunting season opens on Thanksgiving Day.3
Does South Carolina Have Mountain Lions?
Every year, hundreds of South Carolinians insist that they spotted a mountain lion, but according to the official record, nobody has seen one in the state in over 100 years. Most experts dismiss supposed sightings as misidentified coyotes or bobcats.
As of now, the nearest mountain lion population lives in south Florida’s Everglades. While they were widespread at one point, agriculture and hunting decimated cougar populations in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The one potential South Carolina mountain lion, the eastern cougar, was declared extinct in 2011. Although an occasional large cat being kept as a pet may escape from captivity, there has been no evidence of a reproducing population of cougars in the state.
Staying Safe Around Wild Cats in South Carolina
The only large cats in South Carolina live in captivity, and many municipalities ban ownership of exotic creatures such as mountain lions. There’s little concern over wild cat attacks, as bobcats are too small to pose a threat.
On rare occasions, a rabid wild cat may attack a person. Regardless of whether it’s aggressive or not, it’s crucial to follow these recommended safety precautions if you happen across a bobcat in South Carolina:
Though it’s rare, bobcats can become a nuisance in residential areas. If bobcats are a concern near you, take these measures to protect your household:
If a bobcat attacks or bites you, immediately seek medical attention and contact animal control. In rare cases, animal services may have to euthanize a bobcat for safety.
Bobcats are South Carolina’s only native wild cats. They’re sly and secretive, so don’t be surprised if you never spot one during your outdoor adventures. If you happen across one, be mindful and safe, but take a moment to appreciate one of nature’s more unique sightings.
Featured Image: Chandler Cruttenden, Unsplash