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Safe and Selective Capture of Bobcats (Lynx rufus) Using Trained Hounds in the Absence of Snow
Roy McBride, Cougar McBride, and Caleb McBride

Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 15, Issue 2 (2016): 291–298

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Southeastern Naturalist 291 R. McBride, C. McBride, and C. McBride 22001166 SOUTHEASTERN NATURALIST 1V5o(2l.) :1259,1 N–2o9. 82 Safe and Selective Capture of Bobcats (Lynx rufus) Using Trained Hounds in the Absence of Snow Roy McBride1,*, Cougar McBride1, and Caleb McBride1 Abstract - In January 2010, we were contracted to collect biological samples from 25 wild Lynx rufus (Bobcat) for felid disease studies. We collected all samples in compliance with state and federal research guidelines on public land within the Puma concolor coryi (Florida Panther) primary range. This area extends south of the Caloosahatchee River to the tip of peninsular Florida. To maximize selectivity and minimize the risk of injury to target and non-target species, we chose hounds trained according to our specific regimen to capture felines and ignore non-target species. We conducted fieldwork from 23 February 2010 to 5 May 2010. During this period, we safely captured 25 Bobcats in 36 d of effort. After we collected biological samples, we marked each Bobcat with a yellow ear-tag to prevent redundant immobilizations. The results of this project demonstrate that specially trained hounds are a safe and selective alternative for the capture of small cats, even in the absence of snow. Introduction Since 1981, we have captured Puma concolor coryi Bangs (Florida Panther) by using hounds specifically trained to hunt felines (McBride 1985, McBride and Sensor 2014). During the past 34 years, the only non-target species we treed using this method is Lynx rufus Schreber (Bobcat). In January 2010, in support of feliddisease ecology studies (Lagana et al. 2013, Lee et al. 2014, Troyer et al. 2014), we were contracted to collect biological samples from 25 Bobcats. We chose a capture method compliant with established animal-use handling guidelines (Sikes et al. 2011) as well as state and federal regulations because we planned to collect our samples within conservation lands containing threatened and endangered species. Leg-hold traps, snares, and cage traps are widely used to capture felids (Iossa et al. 2007, Silvy 2012) and we have a lifetime of experience using these tools. Our company (Livestock Protection Co., Alpine, TX) developed and manufactures padded leg-hold traps that the US government and university research programs worldwide employ to capture wolves (http://www.livestockprotection.net). However, we recognize that even in the hands of professionals, leg-hold traps, snares, and cage traps are not selective and may pose a risk of injury to both target and nontarget species (Iossa et al. 2007, Sahr and Knowlton 2000). Therefore, to minimize risk and maximize selectivity, we chose to capture Bobcats with the same trained hounds we used on the Florida Panther Project (McBride and Sensor 2014). 1Rancher’s Supply, Inc.-Livestock Protection Company, 26690 Pine Oaks Road, Ochopee, FL 34141. *Corresponding author - livestockprotection@gmail.com. Manuscript Editor: John Cox Southeastern Naturalist R. McBride, C. McBride, and C. McBride 2016 Vol. 15, No. 2 292 Study Area We collected biological samples from Bobcats in the Okaloacoochee Slough Wildlife Management Area, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Big Cypress National Preserve, and the Picayune Strand State Forest, all of which are within the breeding range of the Florida Panther (Kautz et al. 2006, McBride and Sensor 2014). These state and federal conservation lands are characterized by a mosaic of land-cover types including: cypress swamps, pine forests, hardwood hammocks, freshwater marshes, and seasonally flooded prairies (Myers and Ewel 1990). Bobcats occur throughout the entire South Florida region and are sympatric with the federally endangered Florida Panther (Brown 1997, Kautz et al. 2006, Layne 1974). Methods We chose trained hounds as a humane and selective method for the capture of Bobcats (McBride and McBride 2007). These hounds were taught specifically to trail felines on bare ground and ignore other species. We commenced hunting shortly before dawn when the temperature was at its lowest point and the lingering scent trails of foraging Bobcats were still fresh enough for the hounds to detect. We released 7 hounds to spread out and hunt independently in areas where we had observed reoccurring Bobcat sign, e.g., tracks, urine markers, scats, and claw-marked logs (Fig. 1; McBride and McBride 2011). We followed the hounds on a slow-moving “swamp buggy”—a vehicle specifically designed to navigate flooded areas, i.e., submerged roads, abandoned logging trams, and muddy trails that are prevalent throughout south Florida (Fig. 2; Stone 1990). Figure 1. We hunted in areas where we had observed reoccurring Bobcat sign, e.g., tracks, urine markers, scats, and claw-marked logs. Southeastern Naturalist 293 R. McBride, C. McBride, and C. McBride 2016 Vol. 15, No. 2 The method trained hounds use to trail Bobcats is as follows. When a solitary hound “strikes” the unique scent of a Bobcat trail fresh enough to follow, it alerts the other hounds with a “trail bark”. Each hound responds by immediately converging on the area where the strike was made. Thereafter, working as a team, the hounds unravel the meandering trail by discovering faint traces of residual scent left by the foraging Bobcat. These invisible and fragmented discoveries might be found on the edge of an overhanging fern, the tip of a branch or on the trunk of a partially submerged log. This progression of clues must be found quickly because this broken ribbon of scent steadily dissipates. Some hounds specialize in closely following these difficult trails, while others spread out or run ahead, attempting to find where the Bobcat has been startled from its daytime resting site. When the Bobcat begins to run, the hounds are able to gain speed by coursing the narrow swath of fresh scent, which is momentarily suspended in the air. This is the start of the actual chase that might last anywhere from <5 min to >1 h. In Florida, Bobcats choose to run in dense cover, i.e., Serenoa repens Bartram (Saw Palmetto), Ilex coriacea (Pursh) Chapm. (Large Gallberry), and briar thickets. Bobcats do not try to outdistance the hounds by using sustained speed; instead they prefer to elude them by constantly changing direction, hiding, and abruptly retracing their steps. A long chase can take place within a 1-ha area if the groundcover is dense enough to hide the Bobcat and impede hound movement. When a Bobcat is unable to elude the hounds, it will seek refuge in a tree or may choose to back under thick vegetation and “bay”. In anticipation of a Bobcat refusing to tree, we selected female hounds, rather than males, because they are generally smaller, less aggressive, and are more inclined to hold the cat at bay rather than attack it. When a Bobcat bayed or was treed, we left 1 hound loose to “hold” the cat while we darted it; the remainder of the hounds were leashed. We fitted each hound with a Telonics MOD-300 VHF telemetry collar (Telonics, Inc., Mesa, AZ), which enabled us to follow them using a Telonics TR2 receiver when windy conditions limited our ability to hear the hounds. To avoid a biased sample and minimize the possibility of re-capturing the same cat, we marked each Bobcat with a yellow ear-tag and then moved 5–6 km away before resuming the hunt for new samples. This approach increased the scope of the total area sampled and enhanced our opportunity to discover any viruses present in the Bobcat population of south Florida. We used a DanInject 0939–MODEL JM CO2 gas-powered dart rifle (Wildlife Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Fort Collins, CO) equipped with a Zeiss 3 x 9 telescopic sight (Carl Zeiss SBE, LLC, North Chesterfield, VA) and 3-cc DanInject darts with a mixture of Ketamine (Ketaset: Bristol Laboratories, Syracuse, NY) and Xylazine (Rompun: Haver Lockhart Laboratories, Shawnee Mission, KS) at a 10:1 ratio to immobilize the Bobcats. Climbing gear and a skilled tree climber were present in the event a Bobcat became entrapped in vines or limbs after immobilization (Fig. 3). We used a repurposed vehicle-cargo net to catch any Bobcat that fell from a tree. We visually monitored Bobcats until the anesthetics were metabolized to a point where the animals were ambulatory (Fig. 4). Southeastern Naturalist R. McBride, C. McBride, and C. McBride 2016 Vol. 15, No. 2 294 Figure 3. Bobcats frequently sought refuge from the hounds in the canopy of Sabal Palm, Slash Pine, and Live Oak trees. A skilled tree climber retrieved some Bobcats after darting. Figure 2. We followed the hounds on a slow-moving “swamp buggy”, a vehicle specifically designed to navigate flooded areas. Southeastern Naturalist 295 R. McBride, C. McBride, and C. McBride 2016 Vol. 15, No. 2 Figure 4. After processing, we visually monitored Bobcats until they were ambulatory. We allowed the hounds to work uninterrupted until the ambient temperature reached an unsafe level (>26.7 °C). We consider this temperature to be the threshold at which hounds and Bobcats can become overheated. On days that remained cool due to overcast conditions or cold fronts, we allowed the hounds to hunt until the onset of darkness. Our capture team consisted of 3 houndsmen, 1 of whom was an experienced tree climber. We considered situations in which the houndsmen and the hounds hunted in 1 group as 1 capture day, and occasions when the houndsmen divided the hounds into 2 groups and hunted adjacent areas simultaneously as 2 capture days. We conducted our sampling in the Florida Panther Primary Zone (Kautz et al. 2006, McBride and Sensor 2014); thus, we were prepared to collect the data necessary to add any Florida Panthers that were treed during our study into the annual count (McBride and Sensor 2014). These data included: diagnostic photographs, gender identification, and GPS location. We treed a total of 4 Florida Panthers while collecting the biological samples from Bobcats. To minimize these distractions, we quickly led the hounds away from the tree and resumed the hunt for Bobcats. On 2 occasions, we captured Bobcats in spite of these brief interruptions. Our salaries, vehicles, and fuel were paid for by Florida residents’ voluntary purchase of license tags for the Florida Panther Trust Fund. The tree climber was the only outside cost, and he was paid $138 per day for 72 days . Southeastern Naturalist R. McBride, C. McBride, and C. McBride 2016 Vol. 15, No. 2 296 Results Our capture efforts began 23 February 2010 and ended 5 May 2010, which encompassed a period of 72 d. However, due to work associated with the Florida Panther Project, only 36 of these days were dedicated solely to hunting Bobcats. The estimated height to which Bobcats climbed trees was 6–18 m. On 5 occasions, it was necessary to send a tree climber up a tree to retrieve a Bobcat that had become lodged in branches after darting. The types of trees Bobcats climbed included Taxodium distichum (L.) Rich. (Bald Cypress), Sabal palmetto (Walt.) Lodd. (Sabal Palm), Pinus ellitotti Engelm. (Slash Pine), and Quercus virginiana (Live Oak). On 6 occasions, Bobcats bayed on the ground. We sampled 16 male and 9 female Bobcats, 2 of which were juveniles. Adult Bobcat weights ranged from 8.6 kg to14.5 kg for males and 7.7 kg to 10 kg for females. We visually monitored all Bobcats for choking and vomiting until they left the capture scene. We captured a total of 25 Bobcats during 36 d of effort for a catch per unit effort of 1 Bobcat/1.25 d. No Bobcats, hounds, or humans were injured during this project. Discussion Using one animal species to capture another may be one of the most primitive of all capture methods, and using hounds to pursue cats exploits the inherent rivalry between predators e.g., canids vs. felids, wolves vs. pumas (Feldhamer et al. 2003). The efficacy of trained hounds to capture Panthers in South Florida is well documented, and the method has a proven record of safety and success over the past 34 y (McBride 1985, McBride and Sensor 2014). We have also used these same hounds and their ancestors to capture other species of felines including Bobcats, Caracal caracal Schreber (Caracal), Panthera pardus L. (Leopard), Panthera uncial Schreber (Snow Leopard), Panthera onca L. (Jaguar), Leopardus pardalis L. (Ocelot), Lynx lynx L. (Eurasian lynx), Leopardus geoffroyi d’Orbigny & Gervais (Geoffrey’s Cat), and Puma yagouarundi É. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (Jaguarundi). As a cautionary note, before hounds are chosen as a capture method, it should be recognized that training them is difficult, expensive, and requires skill and a major time commitment. The only proven method of training cat hounds, and keeping them trained, is by trailing, chasing, and treeing cats. In order to maintain a predictable level of performance, this exercise must be repeated again and again. This regimen also requires large areas that are accessible year-round for this purpose and must contain a viable feline population. Fortunately, it is not necessary to harm the cats while training hounds. The hounds can be led from the tree and will enthusiastically chase cats again as soon as the opportunity is available. In our experience, the best hounds for trailing small cats are found in the running hound breeds (Smith 1999). These hounds are smaller and faster than the larger tree-hound types commonly used to hunt pumas in the western US (Smith 1999). These smaller hounds are also better suited for penetrating dense vegetation and coping with tropical climates (Fig. 4; Hela 1952, Myers and Ewel 1990). Southeastern Naturalist 297 R. McBride, C. McBride, and C. McBride 2016 Vol. 15, No. 2 Irrespective of the type of hound used, only a small percentage will ever become masters of their craft and all of them are at constant risk of injury and death from Alligator mississippiensis (Daudin) (American Alligator), venomous snakes, vehicles, and even the cats themselves, especially Jaguars. These risks accentuate the necessity for perpetually training young hounds whose skills can only be advanced by accompanying the veteran hounds on actual hunts. On this project, we hunted with 7 hounds even though only 2–3 were necessary to catch Bobcats; 2 of the hounds were passing their prime, 2 were at their peak, and 3 were young novices in training. The most common method of capturing felids with hounds is associated with the presence of snow (Andrén and Liberg 2015, Elbroch et al. 2013, Russell et al. 2012, Silvy 2012). Snow cover enables houndsmen to easily find tracks, determine direction of travel, and assist the hounds if the trail is lost. Snow cover also retains scent longer than bare ground; thus, hunting in the absence of snow is challenging. When hunting on bare ground, hounds must be able to locate Bobcat scent trails and determine direction of travel without the assistance of the houndsman. Using specially trained hounds, we captured 25 Bobcats without injury. Our results indicate that trained hounds can be used to effectively capture small cats, and do so in the absence of snow. Our success with this approach also demonstrates that under certain conditions, use of hounds may be a safe, selective, and minimally invasive alternative capture method. Acknowledgments We thank the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Park Service (NPS), and the Florida State Division of Forestry for access to public land where the Bobcats were captured. We also thank the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for providing equipment used during the captures. This project was funded by NSF-NIH Ecology of Infectious Disease Program (EF 0723676). We thank Dr. Sue VandeWoude for selecting Livestock Protection Company to furnish the hounds and houndsmen. Special thanks to NPS staff member John Kellam for assistance with manuscript and figure e dits. Literature Cited Andrén, H., and O. Liberg. 2015. Large impact of Eurasian Lynx predation on Roe Deer population dynamics. PLoS ONE 10(3):e0120570. Brown, L.N. 1997. Mammals of Florida. Windward Publishing Company, Minneapolis, MN. 224 pp. Elbroch, M., B.D. Jansen, M.M. Grigione, R.J. Sarno, and H.U. Wittmer. 2013. 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