A Belmont resident reported seeing a bobcat on Rutledge Road on Monday, marking the third unconfirmed bobcat sighting in a year - and leading some to think that the big cats may be moving into town.
“I’m fairly convinced. I won’t be 100 percent sure until I see one myself,” said Belmont Animal Control Officer John Maguranis.
The only wild cat found in Massachusetts, according to the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, bobcats are about twice the size of a house cat, with short bobbed tails and tufted ears. They move quickly and quietly, and usually stay out of sight.
Once rare in Eastern Massachusetts, sightings of bobcats are becoming more common.
“They’re making a comeback – you hear more and more about them lately, anyway,” said Maguranis. “They’re beautiful, beautiful animals… They’re gorgeous.”
Early this month, a rabid bobcat attacked a Brookfield man and his nephew before the man was able to pin it down and shoot it twice in the head, but wildlife officials say that healthy bobcats do not pose a threat to humans.
“They’re not dangerous for people. Everybody automatically remembers the rabid one,” said Laura Conlee, Furbearer and Black Bear Project Leader for the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. “That’s a really extremely, extremely rare thing to happen.”
In the last 20 years or so, said Conlee, there have been only two bobcat attacks on humans, including the one in Brookfield – and both of those animals tested positive for rabies. In the same time period, she said, four other bobcats tested positive for rabies, but did not attack humans.
“With rabid animals, they’re behaving completely abnormally,” said Conlee. “They’ll wander up to something and bite it. That could be a dog, it could be a car tire. Rabies completely takes normal behavior right out the window.”
There is no way to definitively count how many bobcats there are in the state, she said, but biologists estimate the number at around 1,000 to 1,200. Though the primary range of the bobcat is Worcester County westward, said Conlee, she has been hearing more and more reports of bobcats in Northeastern and Southeastern Massachusetts.
There have been confirmed sightings in Boxborough and Littleton, and photographs from the area around Interstate 495, she said.
"Belmont - that's pretty far east, but that's not surprising for a bobcat," she said. "Even near Belmont, there's some pretty large chunks of forest."
People should always keep their distance from wildlife, said Conlee, but bobcats usually make it impossible to get too close anyway. Most bobcat sightings, she said, are of the animals running away.
Maguranis said that if there are bobcats in Belmont, they could help put a dent in the town’s growing deer population, which brings with it increased risks of Lyme Disease and car accidents.
“I love wildlife. I think the predators have been hunted out so long ago, I think the ecosystem is in dire need of predators,” he said. “We are having a significant amount of calls regarding deer – a couple deer strikes with cars. Having a predator that’s big enough to take down a deer – that’s a good thing.”
In addition to the sighting Monday, Maguranis said he got a call about a bobcat near Pleasant Street over the summer. About a year ago, he said, a bobcat was reported on Concord Avenue near the Lexington border.
As for what Belmont residents should do if they see a bobcat?
“They should consider themselves lucky and get a picture of it,” said Maguranis.
Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org