I am sending this information because I want those that read this and agree with my findings to contact Bobcats of Tucson and ask them to remove the collar on Graybeard.

This is a bit long but I believe it is important for a full understanding of the situation. I will begin with some history before sharing my information. On January 12, 2022 the Bobcats of Tucson Project collared the male bobcat known by several locals as Graybeard. The Bobcats of Tucson Project named him Wyatt. His weight was 25.2 pounds at the time of capture, which is quite large for a Tucson bobcat. Based on tooth wear they estimated his age at over five years old, which is old for a Tucson cat. Graybeard is a regular visitor to a public area I will refer to as the Preserve in Tucson. When the (BTP) project was getting set-up a Tucson resident (I will call him Bob, not his real name) asked that they not collar the cats that visit this area that I will call the Preserve. Bob is a local naturalist that has been making regular observations of these cats for 5 years. Bob also gave feedback on the boundaries of the study site to avoid the cats from this area. Bob also supplied photographs of the two adult females and one adult male so the project biologists would be able to identify them. After talking to the lead biologist on the project, Bob was under the impression that the Project would not collar these cats. When Bob heard that the Project had collared the male known as Graybeard, he contacted them. Cheryl Mollohan’s response was “we didn’t trap him in that area, he was trapped more than a mile to the west.” They claimed they didn’t know it was one of the cats.

A male bobcat’s range can be up to 15 square miles. They know that a male just over a mile from this area would not just possibly, but would probably be Graybeard. They should have presumed it was him and indeed could have verified it was him with the identifying photographs previously provided.

As a frequent visitor to the preserve, I see Graybeard maybe once a week. I saw Graybeard with the collar on January 17. Two days later I sent an email to bobcatsintucson@gmail.com I received a reply from Cheryl Mollohan. Here is the entire email between the two of us. The text below the photos is for reference and was not part of the emails.

The email I sent on January 19, 2022

Dear Cheryl,

I have been following your Bobcats of Tucson Project. I think it is an outstanding project and will yield some great information about bobcats in the Tucson area. I have also been observing the bobcats at the Preserve for the past 6 years. Over the years at the Preserve the pressure from photographers and the public has steadily increased. That said the cats have continued using the area with good success. Every year they have produced 1 to 3 kittens from at least two different females. The pressure from the increased visitation makes easy escape routes for these cats of critical importance. When pressured they move into the dense vegetation or move through the perimeter fences. I have observed both male and female cats move through the fences where the opening is only about 6 inches square. I have attached a photo of one of the females moving through one of these openings. As you know males are larger than females. The Preserve is large for a male, yet he can also make it through these openings. I have a concern that this Preserve collared male is a risk of injury. The collar could easily become caught in the fences surrounding the Preserve. I am aware that you have collared numerous cats in the Tucson area with similar collars without issues. But I doubt the other cats are pressured the way the Preserve cats are, and don’t require regular escape routes through these types of fences. I feel for this reason this male is not a good candidate for a collar. I know he can yield some valuable information but feel that his continued safety outweighs any data that could be collected from monitoring his movements.

I appreciate your consideration.

Sincerely,

Steve Vaughan

719-649-8741

My photo of Bobcat adult female attached to my first email

Received from Cheryl on January 20, 2022

Hi Stephen.   Thanks for reaching out.  BC Wyatt Greybeard has the broadest head I have seen on a male.  Most of our bobcats captured (we are at 31 different bobcats in Tucson) are relatively young in age (likely less than 3).  I have one older female, based on tooth wear and what we know of her history, I aged her at >5.  Your Preserve male is the only other cat we have handled that I put as 5 or greater.  While he did not have as significant of tooth wear as the female, he did show wear and rounding on his canines.  I am guessing that as long as he has been at Preserve he has already “measured” the fence, and would not try to go through it, regardless of the radio collar.

One of the best things about working with bobcats and radio collars is that they have very wide zygomatic arches (cheek bones).  We fit the collar fairly tight, and the zygomatic arches are always the widest part of the head.  If the zygomatic arches fit through an opening, so would the collar.  I am also at a loss to think of what might “hang up” on a fence with this collar.  The actual “can” that holds the electronics and battery sits below his chin and is square.  The collar itself fits fairly tightly, and the external antenna is very thin and flexible.  I have attached a picture of the collar we use.  Based on the state of the external antenna when we retrieve a collar, it seems to “give” fairly easily.

I also attached a photo of BC Dave whom we captured in the fall of 2020.  He is the biggest male next to Wyatt, although a much younger cat. Unfortunately we retrieved his collar from a trash can in an alley in a very dense housing area. We never retrieved his body, but based on location evidence and discussions with neighbors, we believe he was shot by a homeowner because he was likely hunting his chickens.  You can see how “closely” the collar fits on his neck.  His head is clearly much larger than the collar.

But, that fence is a hazard for many species, not just bobcats!  And if that is the best escape route, they will hit it hard and fast if they are pressured, rather it is a bobcat, javelina, or deer.  I think it is a worthwhile effort to try and work with the Preserve to remove or at the very least alter the fence.  The other piece of that puzzle is that animals should not be “pushed” by humans approaching too closely.

BC Wyatt has used about 1.5 square miles to date.  His capture location is about a half mile west of the rest of the locations to date.  He has used the river bottom a lot (5 locations versus 2 at the Preserve), has been north of Camino del Cerro, south to Goret Road, and west to El Morago. He visits a number of houses, including the one where we captured him.  I expect his range to get much larger, especially with the beginning of the breeding season. This is all important information.  We know there are cats who live along the Santa Cruz.   We captured Wyatt well within our study area boundaries that we set in the fall of 2020 that purposely excluded the Wetlands as part of our capture area. That said, we have a number of other bobcats who range much farther than just the capture area.  Wyatt and other radioed bobcats use of the River provides valuable information to support further protection and natural development of drainages like the Santa Cruz.

He is also the only bobcat we have captured that I would classify as “fat”.  Usually there is not a spare ounce.  Clearly he eats well.  It will be interesting to see how he uses the Wetlands.  His hair sample we obtained when we captured him will also tell us his diet since the last shed.  I believe that having a radio collared cat at the Wetlands with actual movements data, will only further the cause of protecting the Preserve cats. Cheryl

Image sent by Cheryl

My reply to Cheryl on January 20, 2022

Thanks for the info. Your reply, ” I am guessing that as long as he has been at the Preserve he has already “measured” the fence, and would not try to go through it, regardless of the radio collar.” is incorrect. I mentioned in my email that he does go through the fence. That is why I am concerned with the collar catching on the fence. I have worked with radio transmitters on several bird species, and once with collars on Bighorn Sheep. I am aware of how they fit. My watch fits tight on my wrist but I catch it on things regularly. Which is what I foresee happening with the collar on this large male. I have attached another photo of the Preserve male with the collar. As you can see although it may be tight it hangs below the chin. Which means as he squeezes through the fence the odds are good that it will get hung up on the fence.

Taking the fence down isn’t going to happen. The visitors in the preserve, unless excluded from the preserve, will continue to cause the cats to make their hasty retreats through the fences.

I understand the value of your research, and I have no issues with the project. But I do have an issue with this particular cat being collared. I feel the information acquired from this one individual is not worth the risk. As you mentioned you are getting data from 31 other cats. Why can’t this one individual have its collar remover? Why take the risk?

Sincerely,

Steve Vaughan

My photo of Bobcat adult male with a radio collar sent with my response

Received from Cheryl on January 21, 2022

Hi Stephen.  I appreciate your reply.  It doesn’t sound like you and I will make any progress on this. Bob and I are working to set up a Zoom presentation for your group.

We have captured 31 different bobcats as part of the study, but only 23 have or are wearing radio collars.  We currently have 16 bobcats radio collared, our highest number to date.  We have three more collars to put out in the next couple of months for a total of 19 radio collars. Cheryl

End of email exchanges.

So now what? Let me share my concerns. My main concern is for the safety of Graybeard. He is a big cat and moves through the 6 inch opening of the perimeter fences at the preserve. Which I stated in my initial email the Cheryl. Her response was, “I am guessing that as long as he has been at Preserve he has already “measured” the fence, and would not try to go through it, regardless of the radio collar.” If she had actually read my email, she would know that I stated both the male and female cats go through the fence, I have seen them do it.

Cheryl Mollohan states that he has the broadest head she has seen. This fact is another reason to question the use of a collar on this individual. The broad and large neck require an expanded collar. His weight was recorded at 25.2 pounds which is quite large for a Tucson cat. The photo I sent of the cat going through the fence was a small female (my guess is about 17 pounds.)

Cheryl states, “We fit the collar fairly tight, and the zygomatic arches are always the widest part of the head.  If the zygomatic arches fit through an opening, so would the collar.  I am also at a loss to think of what might “hang up” on a fence with this collar. The actual “can” that holds the electronics and battery sits below his chin and is square. Cats have mechanoreceptors (pressure sensors) in the face, neck, and body. The facial and neck sensors help them determine whether they can fit through on opening. He has already tested the opening in the fence and knows he can fit through. The collar hangs below the chin. He would not be aware that the collar may get caught in the opening. My watch fits tight but gets hung up occasionally.

Cheryl states, He has used the river bottom a lot (5 locations versus 2 at the Preserve), has been north of Camino del Cerro, south to Goret Road, and west to El Morago. He visits a number of houses, including the one where we captured him. He was observed at the preserve at least 4 consecutive days after the collar versus their two records. It’s interesting that we know of more about the visits to the preserve than she does from her tracking.

Cheryl states, He is the only bobcat they have captured that they would classify as fat.

But, that fence is a hazard for many species, not just bobcats! And if that is the best escape route, they will hit it hard and fast if they are pressured, rather it is a bobcat, javelina, or deer.  I think it is a worthwhile effort to try and work with the Preserve to remove or at the very least alter the fence. I agree but that is not going to happen, the fence isn’t coming down, at least not in the near future.

Cheryl states, The other piece of that puzzle is that animals should not be “pushed” by humans approaching too closely. I agree but that is not going to happen either. On numerous occasion we have asked people to give the cats space. Sometime they listen but often times they don’t. We have had dog walkers there that have refused to leave even though “No Dogs” is posted on the signs at the entrance. This is why it is critical to have easy unencumbered escape routes from the public. As of now the only exit from the preserve without these fences is on the west end.

This male has always been more cautious around people than the other cats (females and kittens) at the preserve. After the collar placement he is even more cautious, not that that is a bad thing. It is just a note that the process he went through changed his behavior. Being less tolerant of people may make it more difficult for him to hunt in the preserve due to the number of visitors there. With recent observations he appears to be avoiding detection. When spotted he usually moves immediately to dense cover and frequently works his way back to the river. Which means he is hunting less in the preserve.

I am the only person that has seen him have an unsuccessful hunt and that was only once. Every other time I have watched him he would sit and wait. When he would hear something, he would stalk towards the prey and in less than a minute, he would have captured it. Everyone else has seen him with quick, efficient kills and no misses. Since the collar only unsuccessful attempts have been witnessed. This could be total coincidence since the sample size is small with fewer visible hunt.

The Preserve bobcats are just celebrities, they are bobcat ambassadors. People come from all over the state and even outside of the state to see them. I believe that most people probably support the Bobcats of Tucson Project. I have not heard a single person that supports this individual being collared, outside of the project. Most are angry and can’t understand why it is necessary to collar this individual. I know this isn’t a valid reason to remove the collar but it is something to consider.

Graybeard’s fitness is something to think about. He is an extraordinary male, the perfect specimen for producing strong, fit and healthy offspring. What better individual to pass on his genes? He should be able to do this without the added risks created by the collar.

So, what’s next? Let me repeat, I am not against the Bobcats of Tucson Project. I am against this particular cat being collared for the reasons states above. If you agree with my assessment, send an email to bobcatsintucson@gmail.com asking them to remove the collar. Share this with your friends and have them send emails as well, Let’s get the word out, and let’s be heard! #freegraybeard Thank you for your time and support.

Update 1/27/2022 A couple folks from the Bobcats of Tucson Project and Tucson Water did a walk-through Sweetwater yesterday (1/26/2022) with Bob. They refused to remove the collar. They do not believe there is a risk of Graybeards collar getting caught in the fence. Tucson water has agreed to make some larger openings in strategic locations along the fence. Which will help but, the cats will still need to make it to these openings. I watched the female catch a coot yesterday. She couldn’t get it through the fence so she walked to a tree and climbed it up and over the fence instead of hopping over it.

My biggest concern is the cat’s passage through the fence. My secondary concern is that these cats are local celebrities. They are bobcat ambassadors for the hundreds of visitors that observe them at Sweetwater. For many visitors these are the first and only bobcats they have ever seen in the wild. I have yet to speak to anyone outside of the project that agrees with this male being collared. Less than half of the people feel like any bobcats should be collared. And few believe that the data from this study will have any kind of impact on any policies.

Steve Vaughan stephenhvaughan@gmail.com 719-649-8741

I would like to share a few more images of Graybeard

Graybeard with his son  from 2021

Graybeard strutting his stuff before the collar

Graybeard before the collar

Graybeard after the collar