Mark Krepps: Idaho's wild cats are elusive and secretive

Bobcats and lynx call the Gem State home.

June 27, 2013 

It’s a shame a cat as beautiful as a lynx is seldom seen.

GARY WILL — Courtesy Idaho Fish and Game

Mountain lions may be the king of Idaho cats, but they're not the only feline prowling the woods.

Bobcats and lynx are the lion's cousins, and while they look similar, they're different breeds of cat.

Lynx are the rarest, and they're currently listed as "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The cats prefer high altitude and heavy timber, much like mountains in the Salmon River country that has the brush and evergreen stands they seek.

Their counterparts, bobcats, are plentiful by comparison, and while also elusive, they are common in Idaho.

Bobcats occupy nearly any terrain, and can even be occasionally spotted in the Foothills.

They prefer rock ridges and trees in semi-open country near open meadows, pastures, and overgrown or abandoned fields, especially ones thick with rabbits and mice.

According to Craig White, a biologist for the Idaho Fish and Game and head of the furbearer program, the cats hunt ambush style, finding and stalking their prey that consists of rodents, marmots, birds, and cottontail rabbits.

Bobcats are quick to ambush and have been known to leap up to 10-feet to nab unsuspecting prey. They have even been known to catch fish.

Lynx prefer snowshoe hares for food and their population is often directly tied to hare population. When lots of hares are available, lynx thrive, and when hares decline, lynx numbers follow.

Lynx have extraordinary eyesight and can spot a mouse from 250 feet away. The large black hair tufts on the tips of their ears act as hearing aids, allowing the cat to hear barely perceptible sounds.

Lynx have physically adapted to their mountain environment.

Despite being similar in size, lynx have paws nearly 5 inches wide, while a bobcat paw is generally about half that size. The larger paw allows lynx to hunt in deep snow.

As with any wild cat, both are very secretive and mostly nocturnal. They hunt during the nights or early mornings, which is one reason they are rarely seen.

Mark Krepps is a freelance writer, author and blogger.

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