Illinois Department of Natural Resources

CONTACT: Bob Bluett, 217-782-6384

Trappers and Hunters Help in Recovery

SPRINGFIELD, ILL. -- For more than a century, bobcats were a rare sight in Illinois, but that's quickly changing. Thanks to conservation tactics by Illinois Department of Natural Resources, along with the help of trappers and hunters, bobcats are staging a big comeback.

Today, bobcats are found statewide. "Bobcats once were common in Illinois," says Bob Bluett, a wildlife diversity biologist at Illinois DNR. "Habitat changes and unregulated harvests, before the birth of our state fish and wildlife agency, caused numbers to decline by the late 1800s. But now, we're happy to say, they're doing great."

In 1999, bobcats were removed from Illinois' list of state threatened species because scientific studies confirmed their wide distribution and growing numbers.

Bluett says, "The positive outcome for bobcats shows the critical role that agencies play in controlling harvests through strict, scientifically based regulations. Now that hunters and trappers grasp what happened generations ago, they support efforts to help such critters.

"Also, private landowners are more aware of how habitat destruction impacts species. Agencies work with landowners to provide incentives that encourage them to manage lands in more wildlife-friendly ways. The result is that bobcats are guaranteed survival. We are thrilled with their recovery."

The secretive bobcat
With reliable sightings in 99 of 102 Illinois counties, it is safe to say that bobcats are adaptable and distributed widely. Bobcats are moderately abundant throughout about half of Illinois, and research conducted at the Southern Illinois University Carbondale estimates that more than 2,220 bobcats are in the 13 southern-most counties. This is the highest concentration of bobcats in the state.

"That's a lot of cats. A healthy bobcat population exists in Illinois, most notably south of Interstate 64 and associated primarily with the Shawnee National Forest," says Dr. Clayton Nielsen, a wildlife biologist at SIUC who helped conduct the studies. The 8-year research project, spearheaded by biologist Dr. Alan Woolf in 1995, was partly to see whether bobcats should be removed from the state threatened species list.

While over-harvesting cats once was an issue, bobcats also suffered from habitat loss in central and northern parts of the state. Prairies were turned into farmland, and bobcats don't live in cornrows and soybean fields. Cities have also taken their toll. Vehicles and trains cause most bobcat deaths today in Illinois.

Bobcats live throughout the state but prefer large forested tracts in the southern region. Forest lands with immature trees, thick underbrush, clearings, cliffs and timbered swamps are best. Common homes include fallen trees, hollow logs or trees, thickets, caves and rock piles. Some bobcats make their dens in abandoned or little-used barns and buildings, where they prey on rodents. Their main diet consists of mice, voles, rabbits and squirrels.

"People consider bobcats a wilderness creature, but their shy nature allows them to live close to people," Nielsen says. "People have nothing to fear from bobcats or living near them. Bobcats are active mainly at dawn and dusk, and have no desire for a fight. The bobcat's story is the same as for most wildlife: if they can flee, they will."

Bobcats live on both public and private ground, and landowners are encouraged to maintain habitat that supports bobcats and their food species, such as rabbits and squirrels.

How hunters and trappers help
Bobcat studies at SIUC received funding through Federal Aid for Wildlife Restoration Act, which is funded through an excise tax that hunters, trappers and other outdoorsmen pay on sporting arms, ammunition and archery equipment. The act provides monies for wildlife conservation and research.

Bluett praises several Illinois trappers who helped in SIUC's bobcat studies. Trappers captured bobcats using foothold and cage-type traps; after recording data, trappers and biologists released the bobcats unharmed.

"State laws limit sizes and types of traps, and new technology is used to design traps that improve animal welfare. Modern foothold traps are a far cry from the giant bear traps that people see in movies," Bluett says. "Trappers care about animal welfare and have proven themselves again and again as true allies of conservation. They help us monitor, restore and study wildlife populations. They also help us maintain a balance between the needs of people and wildlife by harvesting abundant species that cause damage and other problems."

Nearly 2,000 hunters track their time in the woods and types of wildlife they observe each season. This is a reliable way for biologists to monitor species such as bobcats.

Bluett notes trappers and hunters helped fund reintroduction efforts by buying conservation stamps. Through licenses, fees, stamps and special taxes, hunters and trappers contribute more than $16 million every year for conservation efforts. This money helps conserve all Illinois wildlife, including species like the bobcat that aren't hunted or trapped.

Visit the Fur Hunting and Trapping in Illinois website
Learn more by visiting the Illinois DNR's new website, "Fur Hunting and Trapping in Illinois," at, or contact the Illinois DNR at 217-782-6384.