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New Study Says Bobcats More Valuable Alive Than As Pelts

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A new study shows tourism dollars generated by a single bobcat are greater than if the same animal is killed for its fur pelt.

Because of tighter international laws banning trapping of other spotted cats, the number of bobcats hunted or trapped for their pelts has quadrupled in recent years.

Mark Elbroch is Puma Program Lead Scientist for Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organization, and one of the authors of the study. He said hunting and trapping licenses, gasoline and other costs only generate about $400 for the local economy compared to over $300,000 in eco-tourism for a living bobcat.

He said the individual bobcat they studied is especially easy to spot in the winter.

“They work the Madison River where thermal features keep water from freezing and all these wild ducks are sort of aggregated and easier to hunt,” Elbroch said. “And so people just watch this bobcat working the edge of the river: hunting, crouching, sleeping, napping, doing all bobcat things but all in close proximity to the river.

The study looked at the revenue generated by 33 photographers.

“So a photographer, it’s a pretty sure thing when it comes to an investment. You can spend that money on the plane ticket, hire an outfitter to go out to the Madison River, and you can drive out on your snow machine and boom, there's a bobcat you can take pictures of.”

Elbroch said that the new study published this month in collaboration with Wyoming Untrapped in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation says states should update their regulations in response to the bobcat pelt market boom. He said the two groups recommend states reclassify bobcats as a furbearing species instead of as vermin, that they require mandatory reporting of all bobcats killed and a limit on the number that can be killed.

Wyoming is among the few states that do have a mandatory reporting system for the species but still doesn’t enforce a bag limit. 

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.
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