Bobcats in search of water venture into urban areas

Faced with persistent dry conditions on the outskirts of the Las Vegas Valley, bobcats by the dozen have wandered into neighborhoods over a week’s span, penetrating as deep into the urban area as Mandalay Bay in search of food and water.

In one case, police shot and killed a bobcat that swallowed a pair of parakeets and a yellow-crested cockatoo after it hopped a wall in a southwest neighborhood.

In the most recent case, a 20-pound bobcat surprised a tourist walking her dog in a Mandalay Bay parking lot at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Resort security along with police and a state game warden responded to the executive parking area next to the Shark Reef facility.

Nevada Department of Wildlife game warden Victor Gamboa got within five feet of the bobcat before it bolted from the corner of a building back toward the open desert and wash area near Russell Road and Las Vegas Boulevard.

“He was just huddled down in the corner just minding his business,” Gamboa said Friday.

Gamboa said he was trying to approach the animal with a noose attached to a catch pole to see whether it was sick and needed to be captured. Instead it was a healthy bobcat.

“I never got the noose around it. The closest I got the pole was about a foot away. That’s when he took off running,” he said.

Since Oct. 25, police and wildlife officials have received about 10 calls of bobcat sightings plus a couple unconfirmed reports.

“For the past two years, we’ve had extreme drought. Water and food are really hard to find for these animals,” Nick Duhe, a spokesman for the Nevada Department of Wildlife Law Enforcement Bureau, said last week.

Housing developments in outlying areas, particularly those with golf courses, have attracted ducks, rabbits and other small animals, making it convenient for bobcats to look for water and easy prey.

“It’s been so dry, they’re looking for water. And when they find water, there’s usually food around,” he said.

On Oct. 26, police killed a bobcat that attacked 14-year-old Brenda Trevizo’s two parakeets, named Brenda and Freddie, and her cockatoo, Jose.

Trevizo, a freshman at Sierra Vista High School, had put the birds’ cage outside in the backyard because she thought they were bored and needed some fresh air.

“He broke the bottom of the cage and ate my birds. … I was in the house and the neighbor called to tell me to stay inside,” she said on Friday, a week after the early afternoon attack on Nevada Day.

“It didn’t hurt anybody. Just my birds,” she said.

The bobcat, as big as a medium-sized dog, had been seen jumping from yard to yard for four hours at homes along Poplar Tree Street, near Russell Road and the Las Vegas Beltway, where a paseo, or walking trail, in a wash area is under construction.

A Las Vegas police spokesman said the animal was shot not because it ate pet birds but because there was a possibility it could have attacked a child, or entered a house through a doggy door in pursuit of a dog. Once inside, if there’s a baby in a crib, the bobcat could pose a threat to the baby.

“We’re as much a group of animal lovers as any,” police spokesman Bill Cassell said Thursday. “We wouldn’t shoot an animal for what it does naturally.”

In this case, the Department of Wildlife had been called in, but the nearest available game warden was responding to a bobcat call in Primm on the state line.

Duhe said, “When he came back and received that call, the cat had already been dispatched.”

Because the bobcat was a potential threat to children — though attacks on humans are rare — and had a taste for domestic animals, it had to be taken out.

“If at all possible we don’t take them out,” he said.

Instead, live traps are set up and bobcats, if captured, are released in the wild.

“What people need to realize and understand is you’re looking at a cat on the average of 15 to 20 pounds” that is normally not a threat to people, Duhe said.

Cassell said police responded to four bobcat calls that day. In addition to the one that was killed, another was shocked with an electronic-control device, or Taser, and turned over to a state game warden.

Bobcat sightings have not been concentrated in any one particular area, but all around the valley, from Henderson’s Anthem community to northwest Las Vegas.

Cassell said one was seen at the hotel property on Mount Charleston.

Duhe said bobcats that venture into neighborhoods are more inclined to stay if they “find a nice backyard with a pool or waterfall.”

To make them go away, “use a loud noisemaker or spray them with water. If you make them uncomfortable, it will make them leave and not come back.”

Wildlife officials expect encounters with bobcats and other wild animals, including mountain lions, to become more common as urban sprawl continues to ram up against wild lands that rim the valley. To avoid attracting bobcats especially, Duhe’s advice is to keep pets inside at night and don’t store pet food outside or feed pets outside.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas life sciences professor Brett Riddle, a biogeographer who specializes in the distribution of animals and plants, said the bobcat encounters are the consequences of urban sprawl “that we’re going to see over and over and over again.”

There needs to be buffer zones between core wildlife areas and subdivisions.

Locally, he said, the concept of buffer areas “has not been thought about seriously. And between buffers, we need corridors” for wildlife to travel. The university along with federal lands agencies and Clark County need to work together on that, he said.

Currently, there’s only a “hard boundary” between subdivisions and core wildlife areas that needs to be accented with buffer zones.

He noted that feral cats shouldn’t be confused with bobcats, which are bigger and have hair tufts coming off their ears that makes them appear to be pointed.

Six years ago, there was a rash of coyote attacks on pets in Summerlin neighborhoods. A dog was mauled by a pair of coyotes and four pet rabbits were devoured by coyotes in separate incidents.

A Summerlin spokesman at the time said residents might think a coyote is underfed and wrongly leave food out for it. That only eliminates their fear of man and creates a situation where they are more likely to prowl residential areas.

Review-Journal writer Beth Walton contributed to this report. Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal .com or (702) 383-0308.

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