Opinion: Bobcats under increased threat

Julia J. Di Sieno

May 1, 2011 10:02 AM

Dear Sen. Tony Strickland:
Please, we need your help immediately.
Bobcat fur coats have become a hot item among the fashion conscious in Russia, China, Italy and Greece, leading to a big jump in prices and exports for the soft, spotted pelts. The fur’s booming popularity has some wildlife advocates worried about the possible over-trapping of the cats, which are so reclusive that most states do not know just how many exist.
Bobcat pelts now draw some of the highest prices among trapped furs, recently commanding as much as $600 for a single hide. As the price has gone up, the number of bobcat skins exported by the U.S. has nearly tripled in six years — 50,000 in 2006.
Because most state wildlife officials do not the know the actual size of their bobcat populations, there is no way to determine if they are being over-trapped, according to wildlife advocates. Federal officials say they are not concerned about the population of bobcats, which are twice the size of a domestic house cat and prowl in every state but Alaska, Delaware and Hawaii. Fish & Wildlife Service estimates there are at least 1.4 million to 2.6 million bobcats nationwide.
Why on earth would the U.S. government try to weaken international protection for bobcats? These animals native to the U.S., Canada and Mexico already face death at the hands of hunters who sell their beautiful spotted pelts. Too many Americans are unaware that bobcats are perhaps the world’s most highly traded species. One estimate indicates that commercial hunters every year sell more than 54,000 skins on the international market. That is a five-fold increase since the mid-1990s.
The U.S. is the biggest exporter of bobcat pelts. Many pelts end up in Italy and Greece, where companies turn the spotted furs into coats and other garments. Making the situation even more distressing is that these bobcats die an inhumane death. Hunters often use leg-hold traps to capture and then kill the animals.
Bobcats, like all such apex predators, are a vital part of the web of life. They help balance the ecosystem by controlling populations of rodents and other small prey.
The bobcat is protected under the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as CITES.
We use the word “protected” loosely because loopholes, exemptions and lax enforcement have allowed a large market for the international trading of bobcats.
The Humane Society of the United States notes that the bobcat is listed on CITES Appendix II, meaning that their pelts 0x1dcan be exported only if the exporting country makes a scientifically based finding that the export will not cause a detriment to the survival of the species.
The group adds: “The most recent population estimate for the U.S. is more than 26 years old and there are no population estimates for Canada and Mexico. The wild bobcat population is considered to be decreasing.”
The Department of Interior wants to eliminate international protections so the federal government does not have to make the scientific findings now required. Bobcats already are on the decline facing sport hunting, urban sprawl, disease and poisoning. This move would mean more would die.
Recently, Animal Rescue Team Inc. has been alerted that several commercial trappers near the hills of Ojai have set nearly 170 traps intended for bobcats. These shy and elusive animals need our protection immediately.

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