MOUNT VERNON — A growing black bear population is pushing into Ohio, while bobcats, coyotes and other populations are already on the rise. Their small, but growing numbers require a larger piece of the region’s shrinking habitat. Hunters and campers in the Buckeye State have had little to think about from bears, coyotes and bobcats, but that, however, may gradually be changing.
“You’ll find a decent population of coyotes in Knox County, but most people, including myself, have very few encounters with those animals,” explained Ohio Department of Natural Resources area officer Austin Levering. “They’re there, but they’re a lot more afraid of us than we are of them.”
While the beautiful rolling woods and fields of Knox County would appear to make an inviting home for the black bear, sightings have been mostly limited to northeast Ohio. Generally, they roam into the Buckeye State from Pennsylvania, which also boasts a growing bear population.
“The officers that deal with bears are up in northeastern Ohio, like Ashtubula County,” Levering said. “Typically, those bears are coming into urban areas and getting into trash or places where people have food out in their back yards. They’re just there looking for food. Every once in a while, you might see one wandering through looking for a mate. They can travel very long distances. Now, as far as me having an encounter with them, I can’t tell you where I have even seen them. I don’t have any confirmed sightings in Knox County or any photos, but one would not surprise me.”
The bobcat in Ohio, once an endangered species, is a success story of conservation and population management. The population has grown to levels that allow the species to sustain itself — especially in eastern Ohio. Sightings of healthy specimens are more likely to happen from a distance or through the use of technology.
“Maybe you might see one from a tree stand, where they don’t realize you’re there and walk under you unknowingly,” Levering said. “Coyotes and bobcats may linger around someone’s house if they have small pets, but that’s very uncommon. There are bobcats in eastern Knox County. They are showing up on people’s trail cameras pretty frequently now. Most people have not seen a bobcat in person. (Bobcats) are just so in touch with their surroundings. If they see people tromping through the woods, they’re going to leave quickly. Bobcats aren’t very large animals. They prey mostly on small mammals. When they see us, they get out of there.”
Art Bowersmith, a 27-year-old grain farmer who lives and bow hunts near Chesterville on the western edge of Knox County, has seen one bobcat that may have topped 30 pounds.
“I got a trail camera picture of (a bobcat) on Oct. 11 at 6:43 in the morning,” said Bowersmith. “I showed a lot of guys the picture, including some of the old-timers around here, and they were saying that’s the biggest bobcat they’ve ever seen. I’ve only seen one bobcat track in my whole life, but I’ve never seen one in person. I was back behind my barn one time, and I heard a bobcat make a sound, but I didn’t see that one. I’ve been talking with people on Facebook and they have seen them all the way from Centerburg to Marengo, so they’re kind of coming back.”
The chances of being attacked by a bear, bobcat or other creature are extremely remote, but there are other things to be aware of. Normally, these type of creatures shy away when people intrude. In the rare instance that a bear, a coyote or any wild animal allows a human to venture near, it is likely that there is something wrong with the animal.
“Any wild animal can pose a threat if you try to handle it,” Levering said. “If a wild animal lets you close enough to handle it, that animal may have some kind of illness. In that case, it probably doesn’t have good judgement. It could have rabies. It could have a virus. A decent percentage of bats carry rabies, and that’s not something to tamper with.”
If you see a wild animal that appears sick or is acting strangely, contact your local wildlife district office. Call 1-800-WILDLIFE (945-3543) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or online at firstname.lastname@example.org.