MERIDEN, Conn. — Hanging a pair of skunk-scented goose wings from a branch and tying a dead duck in the metal cage he hid under some discarded wood planks, a local trapper put out bait for the bobcats that live in the nearby woods.
“A little goes a long way, and you don’t want to get any on yourself,” said Don Dandelski, of Meriden, as he applied the liquid he extracted from skunks.
One of dozens of trappers around the state collaborating with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection on research with bobcats, Dandelski helps track and capture bobcats so they can be examined and outfitted with radio tracking collars. He said DEEP is looking for “things like populations, litter sizes, where they’re breeding. Are they breeding better in a city environment, are they breeding better in a wooded area?”’
Meriden resident Mike Roberts, a Record-Journal outdoors writer and hunter, said he’s noticed more sightings lately.
“We have them, (in) big numbers,” Roberts said. “(The) reports are way up. We have a lot of bobcats, but we don’t have mountain lions.”
Of particular interest to the biologists on the project is how the animals are adjusting and integrating into suburban and urban environments.
“They’re just a beautiful animal trying to survive in an environment that they have learned to adapt to,” Dandelski said.
Having trapped the same two bobcats five times in recent months, Dandelski has begun to grow attached to the cats, naming a 3-year-old, 20-pound male “George” and a much younger eight-pound male “Fred.” DEEP biologists estimate that Fred was born less than a year ago.
While Fred was too young for a collar, the collar biologists put on George revealed a wide terrain. They were able to track him crossing Hanover Pond while it was frozen and walking as far as Yalesville, Cheshire and Southington.
When he finds one of the cats caught in his traps, biologists come and sedate it so they can collect DNA, fur, whisker and blood samples, as well as weight and general health information.
The cats play a positive role in the ecosystem, Dandelski said.
“Our Connecticut bobcats, one of their favorite foods to chase and eat is the gray squirrel,” he said. “We all know how many zillions of squirrels are out there. So if they can take a few hundred a year out of the equation, that helps the next generation of gray squirrels stay healthier.”
Dandelski has been trapping since he was 9.
“We’re out in the field, we know these animals and when a state or federal organization comes to us … and says we need your knowledge . I’ll jump all over it,” he said. “It’s the neatest thing I’ve ever done.”