Bobcats: Protected Yet Persecuted

If you spend time in the outdoors, more than likely they've seen you, even if you haven't seen them. Ranging from Canada to Mexico, the bobcat is an elusive and secretive predator who relies on intelligence and stealth to survive in the wild. Though rarely seen by people, this species is trapped and hunted in large numbers throughout the United States and Canada. Among the wild cats of the world, no species is as persecuted or as heavily traded as the bobcat. Tens of thousands are killed each year in North America, with the majority being skinned of their pelts to be manufactured into fur coats and other products.

The bobcat was listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1977, as were other cat species, including the Canada lynx, the Eurasian lynx and the Iberian lynx, due to their similarity of appearance. This look-a-like provision is intended to provide protection from unsustainable international trade for species whose similarities make it difficult to distinguish between the species, their pelts or other parts. Though the bobcat is more numerous than any of its related lynx species, its listing was intended to afford protection from "unsustainable" trade for all lynx species, particularly the Iberian lynx, of which less than 600 are estimated to exist in the wild.

While they are listed on Appendix II, nearly 725,000 bobcats (mainly pelts) were exported from the United States between 1980 and 2004. Remarkably, few states have any valid bobcat population estimates, yet they claim that their populations are stable or increasing—despite evidence of a recent significant upswing in the number of bobcats being hunted and trapped as pelt prices have skyrocketed. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) continues to allow the annual export of nearly 38,000 bobcat pelts without any credible evidence that such exports do not harm the species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature reports, however, that the population trend for bobcats and related lynx species is in decline due to habitat degradation, a reduction in prey species, and/or persecution by humans.

The United States first attempted to remove the bobcat from Appendix II in 1983. Another attempt was made at the 2004 Conference of the Parties, but it was withdrawn after it was agreed that the CITES Animals Committee would undertake a review of all cats within the family Felidae.

The specific directive for this review, which the United States agreed to coordinate, included an assessment of whether the look-a-like concern between the fur of bobcats and other lynx species is real or merely hypothetical.

The FWS contracted with TRAFFIC North America, a division of the World Wildlife Fund, to assess the legal and illegal trade in bobcats and evaluate the look-a-like issue. The resulting report, released in February 2007, is largely worthless, due to its flawed methodologies and unsubstantiated conclusions. Remarkably, in compiling the report, TRAFFIC consulted only with the fur industry, despite its obvious conflict of interest. Most glaringly, TRAFFIC failed to examine the ability to distinguish between the pelts of bobcats and the Eurasian and Iberian lynx, even though these species are most at risk if the bobcat is removed from Appendix II.

Despite the deficiencies in the TRAFFIC report, the United States has again proposed to remove the bobcat from Appendix II. Hopefully, countries that objected to similar proposals in the past will reject this latest effort as unnecessary, premature and counterproductive to meeting the conservation needs of the bobcat and related cat species. At this summer's CITES meeting, the Animal Welfare Institute will advocate strongly for retaining the bobcat's Appendix II designation to potentially stem the tide of its escalating persecution, while ensuring continued protection for the critically imperiled Iberian lynx and other lynx species.

You Can Make A Difference
Please contact the FWS and ask that it continue to protect the bobcat on CITES Appendix II. Send letters to Roddy Gabel, Acting Chief, Office of Management Authority, US Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 North Fairfax Drive, Arlington, VA 22203.He can be reached by email at roddy_gabel@fws.gov.