August 30, 2013
A bobcat photographed Wednesday east of Altoona could explain a rash of reported mountain lion sightings in the area, authorities said Thursday.
A resident of the 4000 block of N.E. 54th Street snapped a photo of the cat around dusk. Wildlife officials confirmed that the photograph was of a mature bobcat, probably about 20 pounds, and said the cat poses little risk to people or pets.
On Wednesday, a large cat was spotted a mile south of an Altoona’s Clay Elementary School, prompting school officials to keep students inside during recess. On Monday, several residents at a Des Moines apartment complex in the 4200 block of Hubbell Avenue said they spotted a large cat — which they described as a mountain lion — near their building, located less than five miles northwest of the Altoona school.
While occasionally mistaken for mountain lions, bobcats are significantly smaller and less dangerous. Roughly twice the size of a house cat, bobcats can grow to 20 to 30 pounds and hunt mostly rodents and other small animals.
Bobcats’ long legs sometimes fool people into thinking they are larger, said Willie Suchy, wildlife research supervisor with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
You wouldn’t want to back a bobcat into a corner, but they otherwise generally leave humans and pets alone, he said.
Mountain lions, meanwhile, grow to more than 100 pounds and often hunt deer and other large animals.
While rare in central Iowa, they are not unheard of.
In October 2012, Des Moines police shot and killed an 104-pound mountain lion in the 3900 block of Columbia Street. It was the first mountain lion ever killed by the department.
Wildlife officials said it likely wandered in from South Dakota’s Black Hills in search of new territory.
Bobcats, on the other hand, number in the thousands and are especially common in the southern and southwest part of the state, Suchy said. It’s rare to spot the usually reclusive cats. But as cities grow, it could become more common.
“One of the nice things about having greenbelts in urban areas is they attract wildlife,” Suchy said. “But if there is prey there, the bobcats will utilize those areas.”