Normally, I would not write what looks like an obituary for one of my study animals. Having worked in this profession for more than 24 years I have seen study animals come and go and have worked die-offs, where victims number into the thousands. Nor do I normally name animals, unless it is a band number, or perhaps an ear tag color-combination. Like many of my colleagues, I’m more of a “populations” kind of guy, than becoming focused on individuals.
However, I am going to pay tribute to the Pantex Eastside Female bobcat for two reasons. First off, in our minds she had become the wildlife matriarch of Pantex, of sorts – our mascot. Secondly, several people have asked me to send her off in style in this public blog. So here goes…
On Sunday, January 20, a power-outage led to the discovery that our original female bobcat had been electrocuted after, evidently, climbing to the top of a power pole. There is no telling why she climbed the pole – perhaps to avoid a coyote or harassment from a male bobcat. I can only guess.
Eastside Girl showed up in 2006 as the first bobcat ever documented at Pantex. Because her home range comprised the developed area of the Plant, and she was somewhat comfortable with on-lookers, she and her annual litters became popular with Pantex employees. She was a beautiful cat and many of her litters spent considerable time just outside the backdoor of one of our main buildings. When we began our bobcat project with West Texas A&M University in 2009, we caught her on the very first night of trapping! Her red and yellow ear tags differentiated her from the dozens of other cats that we would catch and mark over the years. Once I got a feel for her home range, I coined the nickname, the Eastside Girl.
When people would call me about her, most guessed her weight to be around 40 pounds. However, having captured her three times, I know that she officially weighed in at 20, 20, and 21 pounds - a big, healthy Southern Great Plains' female bobcat!
I have two great memories of the Eastside Girl – well two that don’t involve her captures. And there were many neat observations of her with her kittens. One memory involves watching her go over a tall chain link fence. She would just jump up to the top, sometimes briefly connecting with the middle of the fence on the way up. Then, she would back down the other side like a bear backing down a tree.
The other happens to have involved kittens. I was radio-tracking Eastside Girl and when I came across her, I turned the engine off so that I could initiate a download of her GPS collar’s data. I can do that with my laptop computer.
I soon noticed that I had parked between her and her two kittens. I could tell the kittens wanted to join mama; they were coming towards me, but suddenly Eastside Girl let out a loud bird-like “coo.” This was a sound I would have never guessed to have come from a cat if I hadn’t been right there watching. Immediately, the two kittens stopped their progress and laid down flat on the ground. Mama’s words of “stay put” or “hide” meant business and the kittens complied.
According to Lena Thurmond, the West Texas A&M graduate student who is wrapping up her thesis work on the bobcats on and around Pantex, the three GPS collars that the Eastside Girl wore over the years recorded approximately 4,486 GPS locations while delineating a home range of 24 square miles. This gal rarely crossed highways so was truly, pretty much, a Pantex bobcat.
The Eastside Girl is gone, but all indications from our work point to the rapid re-occupancy of home ranges, once vacated – there will be a replacement. Will it be one of her daughters? Time will tell.