bobcat

An ailing bobcat was spotted in Rico last week. (Photo courtesy of Scott Poston)

Sno-Cats are ubiquitous in the Colorado high country each winter, but Rico resident Scott Poston encountered a different sort last Friday. This one was a wild animal — a bobcat.

Nor was it Poston who first spied it.

That was another cat, a house cat.

“My brother looked out the window and said he saw a fox in the driveway,” Poston recalled. “There was a bundle of fur circling my truck.”

Then he noticed something perched on top of the truck. It was Poston’s pet, a rescue from the Second Chance Humane Society named Cowboy Kitty. And Cowboy Kitty looked trapped. “I thought, ‘Whoa! This demands attention,’” Poston said.

He quickly dispatched another, larger pet to the rescue: a black lab named Georgia.

“I sent Georgia out of the house to scare it away, while I still thought it was a fox,” Poston said.

The creature — whatever it was — scuttled from the side of the truck to beneath Poston’s car. “Cowboy Kitty hightailed it back to the house once I was out there, and Georgia and I had scared the bobcat to underneath the Subaru,” Poston said.

It was then that he realized this was no fox. At first, he guessed it was a lynx. (“Although I grew up in Colorado, I’d never seen a wildcat before,” he said.) The animal wouldn’t move, even when he honked the horn.

“I finally began to drive the car really slowly — I didn’t want to hurt it — and the cat kind of crawled along with the tire,” he said.

Eventually it slunk away and dragged itself up a snowbank.

“He was really skinny, and his eyes were half-closed,” Poston said. “I could tell something was wrong with this cat.”

Even so, “It was so beautiful.”

Poston called the Colorado Department of Wildlife, and two employees soon arrived with a cage and bait. They explained what could happen, a sort of worst-case scenario: trapping the cat might traumatize this already weak animal, and there was a possibility that it might die right then and there, in the cage.

Alternatively, if it was too ill or injured, it would need to be euthanized.

But if the cat was a candidate for rehabilitation, they told Poston, it would be. And then it would be released. Once Poston showed them photos of the feline, the officials explained that this was a bobcat, not a lynx.

If the bobcat returned, “They hoped they could take it down to the southern desert, and release it where it could eat rabbits,” he said. “That was the goal.”

For two days, Poston faithfully checked the trap. “It was always an experience in mixed feelings,” he recalled “Knowing that trapping the cat might result in its death was disconcerting.” But the bobcat never came back, and on Monday, wildlife officials retrieved their empty cage.

The story has a bittersweet ending; it is very unlikely that a bobcat in that sort of shape, in this sort of winter, could have survived for very long.

“The Rico area is not very good habitat for bobcats,” said Joe Lewandowski, a spokesperson for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “They do better in lower elevations.” (CPW’s website says that bobcats, which are found throughout the state, are “most abundant in foothills, canyons, mesas and plateaus.”)

As for why this one ended up in the high alpine, no one knows. “Some wildlife just go where they go,” Lewandowski explained. “It might have found good food sources at higher elevations last summer — which was dry. If an animal finds a good spot to make a living, it’ll hang around. This cat might have hung around a bit too long.”

Poston, Lewandowski said, did everything right: He reported the injured wildlife to CPW, and didn’t try to feed it.

“We really don’t advocate that people feed wildlife, even if an animal is emaciated,” he said. “The type of food you’d give a bobcat is not likely to be what it’s eating in the wild. And an injured or sick animal” — particularly one with fangs and claws, which can dispatch much larger animals than what it generally feeds upon — “can be dangerous.”

Bobcats are highly secretive and nocturnal. The fact that Poston got to see one at all was unusual. “I felt fortunate,” he said. “It’s a rare experience — an interaction with an animal in the wild is to be valued, for sure.”

“I’ll never forget his face,” Poston added. “Like a small lion.”