This startled-looking bobcat was snapped by a trail camera in January 2015.

Photos helping in wildlife study

Pictures submitted by outdoor enthusiasts are shining new light on bobcat and lynx habitats in the province.

Graduate student TJ Gooliaff, whose research into lynx and bobcat habitats was reported on in The Journal on February 23 (“Photo evidence wanted for wildlife study”), reports that his request for photographs has yielded 3,000 pictures from all over the province.

The photos are allowing Gooliaff, who is an MSc candidate and biologist in training at the University of B.C. Okanagan in Kelowna, to try to determine if the habitats of both species are shifting due to climate change.

Lynx, with their long legs and large, snowshoe-like paws, have traditionally been found throughout the province and at higher elevations, while bobcats—which have smaller feet and sink into the snow—are more typically found at lower elevations and in southern B.C. Gooliaff says that some of the photographs he has received have produced some surprises.

“We’re getting photos of bobcats further north than I expected at the beginning of the project. We’re seeing them around Quesnel and Prince George, and around Houston, which is even more of a surprise. Bobcats are usually seen following the Fraser River, and sticking to the valleys. It’s a higher elevation in Houston, and it’s more heavy timber, not shrub country. Bobcats are more a desert animal; they’re not in the higher elevations.”

Although they can be difficult to tell apart, there are distinct differences between lynx and bobcats. A study is attempting to show whether bobcats are moving into traditional lynx territory in the province. Photo courtesy TJ Gooliaff

He adds that while these preliminary findings seem to show bobcats much further north than has previously been thought, it’s too soon to tell whether they have always been there, or have recently moved northward.

One of Gooliaff’s next steps will be to look at the track data for the province, which records animal footprints. Another research tool is the harvest records, which go back to the 1920s. “These are trapping records, and from them we can tell if bobcat were trapped in northern areas in the past. We can then compare historical distribution with the current distribution.”

One drawback is that the harvest records cover a large area, and are not specific. The pictures he has received from hunters, hikers, and outdoor enthusiasts, however, show “where the animals are right now, and are very specific.”

Gooliaff says he will be collecting photos for at least the next six months, and asks that anyone who has taken a picture of a lynx or bobcat anywhere in B.C. please send him the photos. “They can be taken with a trail camera or a conventional camera, from all corners of the province and from all time periods. The photos don’t have to be great photography; they just have to show a bobcat or a lynx, or even just a part of one. They can be blurry or dark, and don’t even have to clearly show which cat species is present.”

The pictures will not be published or shared with anyone without permission, and photographers will retain ownership of their photos. Gooliaff adds that he will gladly share the results of his study with anyone who is interested. Photos, along with the date and location of each, can be sent to Gooliaff at tj.gooliaff@ubc.ca.