Bobcat Trapping

Julia DiSieno

March 17, 2013 6:35 AM

A bill banning commercial trapping of bobcats has been introduced in the California Legislature in an effort to halt a dramatic increase over the past year in the number of cat pelts sold to China, Russia, Greece, and Italy for hefty pr ices.

The Bobcat Protection Act of 2013 would prohibit the trapping of bobcats in California and the sale and export of their skins. It is a response to a 51 percent increase over the past year in the number of bobcats killed in the state, mostly to satisfy the demand for exotic animal pelts in China, where wholesalers are willing to pay $700 or more for a single skin, according to the bill’s author, Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica.

The bill, AB1213, would not ban recreational hunting or efforts to control problem bobcats, which sometimes kill chickens and other small farm animals.

Body-gripping traps are already illegal in California, so the bill would ban the use of wire mesh cages that trappers generally bait with cat food or carrion to lure the cats inside, causing the door to close.

The problem is that there is very little regulation of bobcat trapping in California, and nobody really knows how many bobcats there are. The state’s estimate of 70,000 bobcats is three decades old, according to Brendan Cummings, senior counsel and wildlands program director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Commercial trappers can now go virtually anywhere they want in the state — in some cases, onto private property. Under California’s antiquated trapping laws, it’s perfectly legal for trappers to line the boundary of a national park with traps, kill the park’s wildlife, and ship the animals’ pelts to Europe and China.

An estimated 1,499 bobcats were trapped in California during the 2011-12 season, which generally begins in the fall and extends through winter, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Sport hunters killed 255 and government trappers took 59. The total take increased 51 percent compared with the 2010-11 season, said the department’s bobcat ha rvest assessment.

Modoc, where 134 bobcats were trapped, and Siskiyou, where 173 were taken, had the highest toll in Northern California

As some may know, Modoc recently held a recent an open coyote slaughter. The winner with the largest kill was to receive a sterling silver belt buckle. Some 90 hunters signed up, and more than 40 coyotes were shot and dumped.

Bobcat fur coats have been 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 us wildlife rehabbers and advocates worried about the possible over trapping of the cats, which are so reclusive that most states do not know just how many do exist. Bobcat pelts now draw some of the highest prices among trapped furs, recently commanding as much as $700 for a single hide. As the price has gone up, the number of bobca t skins exported by the U.S. has nearly tripled in the last seven to eight years — 50,000 in the year 2006. Because most state wildlife officials do not 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 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, Greece and China, 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, mean ing that their pelts “can 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 most recent population estimate for the U.S. is more than 28 years old and there are no population estimates for California. The wild bobcat population is considered to be decreasing.

The Department of the Interior wants to eliminate international protections so the federal government does not have to require the scientific findings. Bobcats are already on the decline facing sport hunting, urban sprawl, disease, and poisoning. This move would mean more would die.

These shy and elusive animals need our protection immediately.

The author is executive directo r and founder of Animal Rescue, Inc.

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