We had just turned the corner onto one of the many oil well pads at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge when Marolyn said "stop", as she often does when we are searching for wildlife to photograph. I immediately saw a beautiful bobcat moving among the oil field equipment. We moved our vehicle slowly into photo range trying not to disturb the cat. It was not alarmed as it moved slowly across the pad into the tall grass and woods giving me plenty of time to capture some images. After the excitement of our sighting calms, Marolyn and I usually sit and discuss our good fortune and relive an event like this with smiles and laughter.
The bobcat had acted a little strange, looking over its shoulder as it walked across the ground, so we decided not to move, but sit and wait to see if the cat might return. Sure enough, after about 20 minutes, out of the tall grass it came, moving into the open area.
As the bobcat made her way back toward the equipment, out from its hiding place bounded a tiny bobcat kitten to greet its mother. We were amazed, not only for our good fortune, but because most bobcats are born in April -- this was December. Our joy quickly turned to concern for the little cat. Will he make it through the winter? So far this year, we have not had a harsh winter -- good for the baby kitten.
Bobcats will typically breed from late January through March. The average gestation period for a bobcat is 62 days resulting in the kittens being born in April or May. The litter size can be up to four, with the average size being two. The kittens are born in a den located in brush piles, hollow trees, stumps, logs, or rock crevices. The dens are usually lined with grass, leaves and other soft vegetation.
Like most cats, bobcat kittens are born blind and very helpless. The kittens will nurse until they are a couple of months old, but will start eating solid food at one month old. They will also begin leaving the den at one month. Bobcat kittens will stay with their mother until they are approximately 8 months old and will have an average life span in the wild of 10 to 12 years. The most important determining factor of whether a bobcat kitten survives its early months is food availability. Another danger for the young kittens is that they are preyed upon by owls, coyotes and male bobcats.
We made certain we did not approach the mom and baby too close as to alarm them, hoping they would sense we meant them no harm and that they would relax. That's exactly what happened. After a short while, the mother relaxed and she and her kitten began to play. The kitten would run and jump on mom as mom would play swat and bite at her baby. At one point, the mother rolled over on her back as the kitten jumped on top of her. This behavior is a real sign of trust that the cats felt safe with Marolyn and me looking on.
Then, to our surprise, the kitten strolled over toward us to get a closer view of us from behind a pipe. The mother laid down and watched - totally unalarmed. It made us feel great to get this kind of trust from a wild animal with a baby.
Over the next four days we observed and photographed the bobcat family at three different locations within 300 yards of the original site and then they were gone. Bobcats have multiple dens, one main site and a number of secondary sites throughout their territory. She must have moved on to another site. Since this event in December, we have photographed two other bobcats, but have not seen this mother bobcat and her little kitten. We do hope our paths will cross again.
Another unforgetable experience for Marolyn and me in the wilds of Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.
Written By: Skeeter & Marolyn Lasuzzo
Photography By: Anthony "Skeeter" Lasuzzo