Collared bobcats and lynx are the subject of a search

Search for missing big cats

The search is on for four missing bobcats and lynx in the South Okanagan, which are part of an ongoing study on the big cats' behaviour. 

"This is the final field season for the study," said Al Peatt of the Southern Interior Land Trust. "Right now there are four collars that are out there and have not been recovered. They are a combination of collars that have failed, potentially, or the cats have left the area."

The year-long research project, led by a Ph.D. student from Trent University, collared 15 cats this winter, a roughly even mix of bobcat and lynx. The radio collars are supposed to drop off automatically in the fall, pinging their location for researchers to pick them up and learn about the cats' activities, but some have not. 

On Tuesday, Peatt took to the skies in volunteer pilot Dave Riffle's plane, searching the area from Okanagan Mountain Park down to the border for signals. Riffle works with Lighthawk, a volunteer organization that donates airplane time to conservation organizations. 

"We fly in a grid pattern, or sometimes a pattern that Al with his experience suggests," Riffle said. "Think of a paintbrush under the airplane painting with antennae, looking for the signal that the cats are emitting from their collars depending on what mode they are in, dropped or still active."

The mission found one cat, still active in the Skaha Bluffs area. Now that the team knows the approximate area where it is, they will lay some humane traps to hopefully catch the cat and remove the collar before setting it free again. 

Riffle was disappointed to find only one collar on Tuesday's mission, but Peatt said one is better than none.

But Peatt had been hoping to spot evidence of one cat, in particular, a rehabilitated female bobcat who was released near Oliver in June after being hit by a car earlier in the year. 

She was nicknamed Gallagher, and unfortunately, no sign of her has been found. 

"One of the things we wanted to do was see how well that cat did after it had been rehabbed and released back into the wild," Peatt said. "It went off the grid back in June. I was really hoping to find her today, and it was disappointing that we didn't."

Possibly Gallagher has left the area entirely or crossed the border. It's unusual for the cats to roam so far, Peatt said, but not unheard of. 

"We had two bobcats that we collared three years ago in the Keremeos area, and both of those cats ended up across the border," Peatt explained. 

Tuesday's flight will likely be their last for the season. Peatt says they did a thorough job of searching from the air, and now they can only hope on-the-ground tips might lead them to their last four collared cats if they are still out there. 

He urges the public to report any bobcat, especially one tagged or collared, to their team. 

"If you see a tagged cat, it's valuable information, especially if people get a close enough look to see the colour, the combination of colours will tell us what cat that is," Peatt said. 

"And if anyone sees a collared cat it would be great to know where that is so we can concentrate our capture efforts."

If you have information about a bobcat or lynx in the South Okanagan, call or text Ross Everatt, president of the Southern Interior Land Trust, at 250-499-9840. 

For more on SILT or to donate to their conservation work, click here

Chelsea Powrie

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