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The Wild Cats in our Backyard

The University of Arizona mascot is the Wild Cat, or bobcat, so it is only fitting that the university is involved in research and conservation initiatives for the benefit of wild cats all over the world. “Our mission is to conserve and research all 36 species of wild cats worldwide,” Lisa Haynes, of the University of Arizona Wild Cat Research & Conservation, told me at the recent BioBlitz in Saguaro National Park.

Naturally, the university then also focuses on the wild cats in or near Arizona, including the bobcat, mountain lion  and jaguar.

Habitat loss and poaching are among the threats to all the world’s wild cats, Haynes explained in the video interview above. People obviously know about tigers, leopards, and lions, but there are also many small wild cats that are largely unknown to the general public, and we’re in danger of losing without most people being aware of them, she said.

I was intrigued to learn that bobcats are moving into Tucson. “They’re adapting to people’s backyards,” Haynes told me. Apparently the cats find an abundance of food in the form of garden birds and rabbits, and water can be found in ponds and fountains. “Most people just love them,” Haynes said. The university is mapping the distribution of bobcats across town through the photos that people make of their wild feline guests.

Is it a good thing that wild cats are adapting to city life? “It can be mixed,” Haynes said. “This is one of species that adapts fairly well to humans, and they get along with humans, and so far most of the humans love their cats.” But there are also urban-related threats to cats, like poisoning, when people put out rat bait, as well as road kill and electrocution on power lines.

What about the cats in Saguaro National Park, location of this year’s BioBlitz? The university operates camera traps to assess the status of mountain lions in the park and throughout the Tucson mountains, Haynes told me. Jaguars have been photographed in a nearby mountain area. It’s still pretty wild out here in the desert mountains.