bobcat sighting....and now a deer autopsy

dirtgirl(So. Illinois)June 14, 2007

I don't have much time this morning but I have to tell you all about the events of the last several days.

Saturday (5 days ago), about 7 pm, I was coming back to the house on one of our tractors and saw my husband standing off the side of the road in the brush. He turned to me and began frantically waving his arms to get me to stop, which I did. As soon as I shut the tractor off I could hear a fawn wailing. My husband explained that he had been in the shed just across the drive and heard the wailing and realized something was up and went to investigate. He said there was a fawn just inside the treeline acting strangely. We both then cautiously walked in to where the fawn was. We could see and hear the doe, snorting and stomping frantically, and we knew she could do us some harm if she overcame her fear of us. As soon as I knelt beside the fawn I suspected it would not live. It was thrashing and kicking at its head, and one eye was slightly bulging from the skull and glazed over. There was blood, just a bit, coming from one ear and there appeared to be a head injury to the back of the skull. Other than this injury, I could see nothing else wrong...the legs were not broken. Its breathing was sporadic and labored. The two of us discussed it and decided that the best thing to do was to put it out of its misery. I have had to do this with severely injured animals before and it is never easy, but I find it equally difficult to let something suffer. I was spared the task...the fawn died in my arms.

I looked it over more carefully then. It could not have been more than a few days old-the cord was dried up but had not fallen off yet. I assumed at the time that a car might have hit it--as small as it was the driver might never have even seen it. Or maybe a limb had fallen and struck it in the head. We didn't know, but it was definitely a head trauma. We carried the now quiet body back to where we initially found it and left it there. The doe had been pacing back and forth, blowing and making half-hearted charges in our direction off and on and we then left her to her confusion as quickly as we could.

Days passed and we carried on the farmwork, the only reminder being the smell that we noticed around sunset when the winds went calm.

Then came last night. I was clear across the farmlot from where my husband was working on a piece of machinery. We were both busy on separate tasks. He was next to the shed which sits across from where the fawn died. I heard a deer snort, which around here is an everyday thing. I didn't pay much notice. Then the snorting increased, and I heard other deer join in. I glanced up and casually wondered what might be upsetting the deer...the do not generally worry much about people as long as they can watch us. My husband kept working, then put down his tools and strolled around to the side of the shed overlooking the little valley. I thought I heard him say something, but I didn't respond right away. Then I heard him say my name and the word "RUN" and I was off. I sprinted across the yard and past the shed to where he was standing. He was frozen in place. THere were three does below us, still leaping back and forth through the high weeds and snorting. They looked at us and then across the road. I said, "what...skunks?" there is a family of skunks uder the shed and I thought for a sec he had been very unlucky...I couldn't understand why the deer would be so upset over his presence, but there wasn't anything else apparently going on. He was visibly excited. He simply shook his head and replied "bobcat". He quietly explained that the deer had been circling something in the grass and nervously stomping and snorting and he suspected a coyote was after another fawn then it just stood up and strolled out into the road just below him. He was totally stupified. And lucky. THe only time I have seen what I am 99% sure was a bobcat was this spring when one ran in front of may car. I had about 15 seconds to try to absorb markings, gait, color, shape, and it wasn't enough to satisfy me. He got to stand there and quietly watch these deer try to drive it away, and it didn't even notice him until the last, when he raised his voice to get my attention. THen it stretched itself and sauntered into the grass. Not 5 minutes later we heard turkeys giving the alarm over the ridge,s o we had to smile and picture a bobcat spreading panic as it made its way away from these two pesky humans. I AM KICKING MYSELF FOR NOT GOING SOONER!!

Now I am wondering whether the fawn that was killed Saturday was the work of this bobcat. The cat was not 100 yards from the carcass. I know by now that foxes and coyotes and yes, even a bobcat, will have been at the carcass, but hopefully the head will still be there. I am packing rubber gloves, a good knife, and a few garbage bags and plan to go back there this afternoon and see if I can get it and check that head injury more closely. I have read that a bobcat can kill a grown deer with a bite to the head, although I would suspect a throat bite would be the easiest on such a small fawn. I want to see whether the head injury is indeed a crushing type trauma as you might expect with a car collision or whether there are holes as you might expect to find from cat canines. It's all just personal curiosity...the need to know. The two of us know of only three maybe 4 confirmed bobcat sightings and all within a ten mile area and in the last four years. Given the huge deer population and the dwindling number of human hunters, this really gives me hope that a natural balance is again taking shape.

Now, I only hope this cat keeps itself better hidden from my mother-in-law. With all due respect, her general attitude toward nature is one of ignorance ,intolerance, and fear, and it would not bode well for this cat if she realizes it's been within 300 feet from her house.

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catherinet(5 IN)

Wow Dirtgirl.....that's wild. I'm not sure if I'd be happy or disconcerted! ....especially when it might come to my pets or chickens. Were the fawns by themselves, or was it the mothers who were snorting at the bobcat?
You live in such a cool area. I hope it never changes.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2007 at 6:58PM
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Elly_NJ(NJ z6)

Very good read, DG.

I am sorry, if it was a Bobcat kill, that the Boccat did not make a meal of it. Seems a waste. I don't mean to be hard, but what is the point of a kill?

    Bookmark   June 14, 2007 at 8:59PM
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dirtgirl(So. Illinois)

Well, the rubber gloves are off and the results are results. I was afraid of one thing: it's been in the 90s every day, the fawn was extremely young and therefore the bones so VERY thin and supple. Nothing had touched the carcass, it was exactly where I had left it and in the same position, but it was as if the flesh and bone had evaporated. The burying beetles and other "janitor" insects had reduced the body to just the thin leg bones and the hide. The ribs were even not to be seen under the covering of skin. I gently picked up the skull and it simply deteriorated in my hands, leaving only the teeth and a small part of the back of the skull. This bit was the most intriguing, as there was a small entry hole that did in fact show force from the outside , but I noticed several others in the fragments that were similar but were simply from where beetles had chewed through. The bones were so soft that they were eaten along with everything else.
So, now I am kicking myself for not hustling over and maybe seeing a bobcat up close and personal, and also for not getting to the body any sooner. COurse, had the bobcat incident not happened I would have had no need to get a second look at the little fawn.

I am sad too, Elly, that the fawn wasn't 'utilized', if you will. And I don't think you're hard for saying that. I agree completely. In fact, that is a big fear for me...coming across a scene of natural predation and my presence screwing things up and the prey dying for nothing.THe first time I heard baby rabbits being eaten by a rat snake I did not know what was making the noise so I followed the squeals until I practically tripped over the snake. It left at my intrusion, leaving a strangled young rabbit behind, and it was totally a fault of mine that the meal was interrupted.
These things happen.

Cathy, when all the snorting and leaping was going on, we never did see any additional fawns, just the does. They have been dropping fawns left and right so there were surely some close. In fact, I would think it almost a certainty that the doe who lost the first fawn was among the group.
Interesting to note... a regular housecat is not viewed as such a threat and gets no such response --in fact, my parents watched a doe actually walk up and LICK their cat-- but these deer either knew from experience or instinct that THIS was a different animal.
BTW, this particular cat was rather small, less than knee high by estimates. My husband confessed his surprise, as he had mental pictures of large imposing creatures, the kind in stories that drop from treetops onto unsuspecting hikers. Or mothers-in-law.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2007 at 2:42AM
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Elly_NJ(NJ z6)

Well, most likely hit by a car, then?

Sad, always sad to lose a baby animal in an untimely way.

But still a good read.

It does make me sad when an critter dies and does not get "utilized," as you said. I read on other forums where misguided people intentionally chase hawks off kills, leaving behind dead birds or rodents and a still-hungry hawk that will kill again. It's as if the human tendancy towards waste gets shifted into whatever we touch.

On another note, here in NJ, White tailed deer are over abundant because of the over development in this state, and so these herbivores are destroying forest understories by overgrazing. They reduce cover for small mammals and birds in forests, eat up lower story brush and trees, and basically knock out ecosystems. This, of course, because of our hand in overdevelopment and destroying their natural predators (wolves and cougars from centuries ago).

    Bookmark   June 15, 2007 at 6:38AM
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dirtgirl(So. Illinois)

I'd say maybe car, maybe a falling treelimb. We had two days just ahead of this with very strong winds, and I took a small branch in the noggin myself.

The deer here are really becoming as issue as well. No predators other than men, cars, fawns/sick deer to coyotes/dogs, and disease/old age. And food? Mile after carefully manicured mile of nice tender row crops. What a perfect can lay out in a bean field during the day hours, and if you get peckish just stretch your head up for a bite.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2007 at 1:42PM
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