If bobcats were overrunning Illinois, it might make sense to resume hunting them. But the elusive predators have only recently recovered from the overhunting and habitat loss that put them on the state’s threatened species list from 1977 to 1999. Bills advancing through the Legislature to re-create a bobcat hunting season should be hunted down and shot.
Bobcats are shy nocturnal predators that don’t threaten humans or large livestock and instead eat rabbits, hares and rats that farmers consider pests. No one hunts them for food. Instead they are killed for their valuable spotted pelts, which can be sold on the international market, or as trophies. Those aren’t compelling reasons to put the Illinois bobcat population back in jeopardy. As one wildlife advocate has argued, bobcats should not be killed so that people in other countries can have lush bedroom slippers.
Moreover, the Humane Society of the United States says inhumane methods are used to hunt the animals.
Some are trapped, which can keep them languishing in pain for up to 24 hours as they suffer from stress, pain and such debilitating injuries as broken limbs, broken teeth, dislocated shoulders or amputation of paws or legs. Others are chased by hounds through the woods, and the dogs may rip them apart on the ground. Or the dogs may tree them until a hunter comes and shoots the quarry. Fights between bobcats trapped on the ground and dogs have left both seriously injured.
If hunting drove down the bobcat population again, there would be much less chance that nature enthusiasts might see one of the cats in the wild. That must be part of the equation. Hunters are not the only folks in Illinois captivated by our state’s rich and varied wildlife. So are plenty of Saturday morning strollers in the woods.
The state estimates there are 5,000 bobcats in Illinois, with some in every county, but conservationists say no one really knows how well bobcats have rebounded because no thorough population study has been done. Allowing even a limited 3 1/2-month bobcat hunting season is premature, especially because Illinois doesn’t exactly have a surplus of apex predators, such as black bears and wolves. We ought to be protecting our bobcats.
Conservationists also say bobcats stick to wooded areas and that claims of bobcats depleting wild game populations or frequently raiding chickens and pet cats on farms are unsubstantiated.
Last year, former Gov. Pat Quinn wisely vetoed a bill to resume bobcat hunting. This year, sensible lawmakers in the General Assembly should follow his example.