Bobcat responsible for three attacks confirmed rabid: says VTF&W

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A bobcat that went on a two-day rampage in the Upper Valley region of Vermont was rabid. Vermont Fish & Wildlife confirmed the testing of the animal’s remains on Thursday came back positive for the rabies virus.

On Tuesday, a man attempting to take a photograph of the bobcat was attacked in his vehicle. The next day, Jenn Gaudette was attacked while sitting on her porch in Wilder, Vermont. Shortly after, another woman was attacked in nearby White River Junction. Vermont State Game Wardens shot the bobcat after it charged at officers from under a parked car in an industrial area of White River Junction. In a press release issued Thursday, VT Fish & Wildlife confirmed the animal was dispatched and transported to the Department of Health Laboratory where it was tested.

Wilder and White River Junction are among five unincorporated villages all within the town of Hartford, Vermont; which borders New Hampshire along the Connecticut River and includes the popular tourist area of Quechee.

Photos of the melee as it unfolded can be viewed here.

Vermont currently permits a 29-day hunting season and conservative 16-day trapping season for bobcats. New Hampshire has no management plan or open season, despite noticeable expansion in the local bobcat population over the last several years.

Wednesday’s events come only a few days after we reported on USDA’s continued rabies surveillance and vaccination program taking place in the same region. You can read the full report here.

While some people were thankful for the quick response of local authorities, others voiced opposition in the comment sections of local media outlets. Comments ranged from some questioning why the animal couldn’t “just be tranquilized” and tested alive, to some voicing outrage that news articles were referring to the bobcat as “savage” or “vicious” - as if a sick, rabid wild feline isn’t either of those adjectives (insert eye-roll here).

The most effective way to test for rabies is by extracting samples from the animal’s brain tissue; which I don’t recommend be attempted on a living, conscious subject. Add to that, not every wildlife encounter can be solved with a tranquilizer dart - especially when the crazed ‘cat is headed in your direction!

The attacks come in the wake of several bobcat/human attacks taking place in the New England region recently.

A rabid bobcat attacked three people in Colchester, Connecticut last January. A Maine father and son were attacked at their home this past spring. And who could forget the 80-year-old Sunapee, New Hampshire woman who fended off a rabid bobcat with a sickle while in her garden last summer.

Now before someone accuses me of sensationalizing these attacks, allow me to state for the record that bobcat “attacks” are, in fact, few and far between. Vermont Fish & Wildlife would tend to agree, as they stated “Cases of rabies are reported annually from across the state in a variety of animals most commonly in bats, fox, raccoon, and skunk. Of the 70 bobcats tested for rabies between 2005 and 2017, five were found to have the virus. This is the first bobcat to test positive for rabies in 2018.”

Increased Presence

A radio-collared bobcat is captured investigating a deer carcass during the UNH Bobcat study in New Hampshire (Photo | Furbearer Conservation)

A radio-collared bobcat is captured investigating a deer carcass during the UNH Bobcat study in New Hampshire (Photo | Furbearer Conservation)

It is important to note, however, that the rabies virus is a density dependent disease - meaning, the more furbearers on a given landscape, the greater the odds for potential transmission.

Bobcats have carved out quite a presence in the New England area in recent years, to the delight of wildlife managers and conservationists alike.

The wildcat was once perceived as an agricultural pest, and states like New Hampshire didn’t lift bounties until 1973. Expansive tracts of New England forests were leveled to clear for agriculture and a need for lumber. Through the 1800’s, almost 80% of Vermont’s countryside was cleared of trees. By the 1960’s, the Eastern Coyote also arrived. These adaptable canines dominated the predatory landscape and made short work of small game populations. Even larger fare, such as a deer carcass, which could sustain a bobcat for several weeks, was now reduced to nothing but bones by coyotes overnight. Add brutal winters with heavy snows through the late 1970’s and one can imagine the bobcat didn’t have much fight left.

Flash forward to today, the bobcat has rebounded. Much of that forested terrain has been reverted. Small game species seem to be on the rebound - especially the wild turkey. And predatory species have adapted well to urban coexistence with man. Today, social media platforms and news outlets throughout the region are routinely flooded with images of bobcats captured by citizen trail cameras, or captured on cellphone video. Witness imagery ranges from seasoned hunters capturing videos of the ‘cats running down squirrels in dense timber, to suburban residents filming bobcats stalking songbirds under urban backyard bird feeders. States like Connecticut, which we recently reported on, have increased interest in Bobcat population densities.

A sedated bobcat is removed from a cage trap during the UNH bobcat study in New Hampshire (Photo | Furbearer Conservation)

New Hampshire has reported on extensive studies in recent years. Who could forget our “wildly” popular report on New Hampshire’s controversial bobcat season proposal?

Ironically enough, the increased presence of ‘cats is coupled with a wave of environmental and animal rights organizations seeking to bolster full protections on predatory mammals such as coyote, wolves, bears and bobcats. The movement is fueled by the ideology of a hands-off approach to managing wildlife.

Needless to say the bobcat has officially returned to New England, and with the beauty and inspiration such a comeback evokes, one must also be prepared for the unintended side effects of such a successful rebound.