Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Native American Cats
Nature Bulletin No. 285-A   December 2, 1967
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Richard B. Ogilvie, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

The early colonists and pioneers feared and hated the wild native cats. Actually, these sly cunning animals avoid people, hunt mostly at night, and are so silent and secretive that they are rarely seen, There are very few proven instances of them ever attacking a human being but our forefathers waged relentless war upon these "varmints" because they killed some domestic animals and preyed upon the game which furnished the early settlers with some of their meat. Recently, conservationists have realized that the native cats have a vital, useful place in nature.

These members of the cat family have much in common with your pet pussycat. They purr when contented. They growl or hiss and spit when angry, and caterwaul or yell and scream at mating time. They have long sensitive whiskers. All cats, except the cheetah of Africa and Asia, have long claws which they keep sharpened and can be sheathed inside the toes. The rounded skull contains a keen brain. They have no grinding molars but behind the long canine teeth, or fangs, are special cheek teeth for slicing the flesh upon which they feed almost exclusively. They see well in anything short of total darkness, have an extraordinary sense of balance, and have an unusual muscular development which gives them great strength and agility. The cat is a perfect predator.

The Cougar or Mountain Lion -- also called panther, puma, "painter" or "catamount" -- is the largest American cat except the Jaguar. Other than man, it has the widest natural distribution of any species of mammal; from Canada to Patagonia In the United States it was originally found from coast to coast -- in dense forests, tall-grass prairies, the Great Plains, pathless swamps, rugged mountains, and even in the burning deserts. Today it persists only in almost inaccessible wilderness areas of Florida, the Rockies, and the Pacific Coast, but only where there are deer. The cougar has a long slender body, yellowish-brown or tawny, with a long brown-tipped tail. A big male may measure 8 feet, tip to tip, and weigh 150 pounds. Females are smaller and the young, like those of all our American cats, are spotted. Although their chief prey is deer, they also kill elk, livestock, and some rodents such as beaver, skunks and porcupines.

The Canada Lynx is a shy wary creature of the deep forests in Canada. There are probably none left in this country except a few in some of our northeastern states. It is a long-legged animal with big hairy feet, fluffy gray fur, erect tufted ears, a ruff around its face, and a ridiculously short black-tipped tail. It is rather chunky, being about 3 feet long, 2 feet high at the shoulder, and weighing from 15 to 40 pounds. It is a relentless enemy of the fox and eats many ground-nesting birds, such as the grouse and ptarmigan, but its chief prey is the varying hare or snowshoe rabbit.

The Bobcat or Bay Lynx is similar but smaller, its fur is reddish and more spotted, it lacks the ruff and conspicuous ear tufts, and the short tail is white on the under side. Its legs are much shorter and the feet are smaller. The average bobcat stands about 15 inches high at the shoulder, with an overall length of 32 to 42 inches, and weighs from 15 to 25 pounds. Although a good climber, most of its food is taken on the ground: rabbits, squirrels and other rodents; ground-nesting birds and poultry; sometimes sheep, calves and deer. Of all the native cats, it is the only one that has been able to cope with our civilization and it is likely that the "wildcat" -- as it is called -- occurs in every state in the Union.

We humans ! We make the wildcat wild.

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