Bobcats on the rise in New Hampshire
But when they got a closer look, they realized it was a bobcat - nearly 4 feet long and weighing several dozen pounds.
For two consecutive days in late July, the big cat napped on a stump in their yard. It was the first time they had seen a bobcat in their seven years living on Lady Slipper Lane.
Tate and University of New Hampshire wildlife professor John Litvaitis are spearheading a four-year study of the animal's population and habitat, due to be completed next year.
The study revealed that thanks to warmer winters, the bobcat population has steadily increased since declining in the 1970s and 1980s, when harsher weather reduced the numbers and prey, Tate said. Hunting and trapping of the species was allowed in New Hampshire until it was banned in 1989, he said.
More bobcats are being spotted throughout the Northeast, he said. That includes Southern New Hampshire, where the big cats have been seen in East Derry in the past few weeks.
Bobcat sightings have been a hot topic of conversation in Jennifer O'Neill's Damren Road neighborhood, where she said a neighbor saw an adult and three babies near rabbit carcasses in his yard.
"We're just all being cautious and spreading it around our neighborhood," O'Neill said.
"I know we have coyotes, I know we have fisher cats, but I didn't know we had bobcats," Nourse said.
Tate said while most bobcats typically avoid humans, a rabid cat could attack a person.
"Bobcats with rabies can be aggressive," he said. "They generally fight to their death."
Their only natural predators are fishers, which attack young bobcats, Tate said.
Increased development throughout New Hampshire has forced the animals to wander greater distances to find food and cross busy roads, Tate said.
"They feed on everything from a mouse to a deer," he said.
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