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First bobcat photographed in Miami University’s Natural Areas

This signals that these areas are of high conservation value for native wildlife, said David Gorchov, professor of Biology and chair of the Natural Areas Committee


First bobcat photographed in Miami University’s Natural Areas

Video of a bobcat in Miami University's Natural Areas in November 2022 shows the animal crossing a fallen log and pausing for a second to scan the surroundings before leaving the field of view

A trail camera placed and monitored by Miami University students captured a video of a bobcat last month, the first known image of this elusive and solitary animal taken in the Miami University Natural Areas, a 1,000-acre preserve that forms a greenbelt around campus.

Elea Cooper, a senior Biology major, working with faculty mentor David Gorchov, professor of Biology, set up 24 trail cameras as part of her Undergraduate Summer Scholars research project designed to provide baseline data on white-tailed deer abundance and the resulting damage to tree seedlings. The cameras were placed in the Natural Areas as well as the Ecology Research Center (ERC). 

The bobcat sighting was an unexpected result. The secretive animals prey on rabbits, amphibians, and other small animals and are not a danger to humans. Bobcats, which were found in Ohio before 1850, began to recolonize in the mid-1900s. Bobcat sightings, while becoming more common, are still rare in southwestern Ohio, according to Gorchov.

Over the summer, the two dozen cameras recorded 1,300 images of deer, plus many images of squirrels and raccoons, and a few of wild turkeys and coyotes. All images were downloaded and evaluated by Cooper over the summer and Chloe Hill, senior Zoology major, in the early fall. 

In mid-October, the camera settings were changed from still photographs to video by Sam Norton, sophomore Biology major, to document what deer were feeding on. Norton discovered the bobcat video Nov. 7. 

Data from the monitoring project will help assess the effectiveness of a recently approved and implemented deer management program, said Gorchov, who is chair of the Natural Areas committee and leading the monitoring project. Miami’s deer management plan aims to address the multiple impacts of over-abundant white-tailed deer on the ecosystem, including browsing of tree seedlings, which jeopardizes forest sustainability by killing or stunting young trees, Gorchov said.

Miami’s Natural Areas was designated by President Paul Pearson in 1992 “to be preserved and protected for approved uses in education, research, recreation, and observation …in perpetuity.”  The Natural Areas covers more than 1,000 acres, with hiking trails enjoyed by students and Oxford residents.

“This is the first known photograph of a bobcat within the Natural Areas. This signals that these areas are of high conservation value for native wildlife,” Gorchov said.