WELLFLEET — Provincetown has bears, Truro has its puma, and now Wellfleet has bobcats — or rather, a bobcat. Or at least it did have one.
A lone bobcat was found by the Wellfleet Police Dept. on Feb. 13. The fact that it had met its demise, apparently having been struck by a vehicle on the Chequessett Neck Road dike, is a disappointment to some because this may have been the first bobcat to venture this far out on Cape Cod.
“This is the first time we’ve been able to 100 percent confirm it,” said Wellfleet Animal Control Officer Jacob Berrick.
The Wellfleet police officer who responded to the scene removed the cat from the road and stored it in a freezer where the town keeps animals awaiting identification. The next day, Berrick, with the help of Mass Audubon Cape Cod Director Melissa Lowe, identified the animal as a bobcat. “It was pretty clear that it wasn’t a house cat,” Berrick said.
Bobcats are about twice the size of domestic cats and are identifiable by their tufted ears, face ruff, and their short 6- to 12-inch tails. Berrick said this distinctive feature is how the cats got their name. “It’s not short for ‘Robert,’ ” Berrick said.
The sex of the animal has not been confirmed yet. Because it was frozen solid for sampling, “We couldn’t see between the legs,” Berrick said. And without taking this scientific approach, “bobcats are reasonably difficult to sex superficially,” said Dave Wattles, a black bear and furbearer specialist for the Mass. Div. of Fisheries and Wildlife.
But, Wattles continued, “We are assuming that it is a young male.” That’s because young males tend to wander farther to establish new, unclaimed territories, according to Wattles. After being cast away by older, dominant males, these crepuscular creatures travel at a pace of four miles a day “to less desirable areas,” such as Wellfleet (for a bobcat, one presumes), trying to find a mate.
Since there is not an established population of bobcats on the Cape, Wattles surmised the bobcat wandered without success.
According to the Div. of Fisheries and Wildlife’s website, bobcats are most common in central and western Massachusetts but are present in the northeast and are expanding into the southeast. They are the only wild cat species in the state.
Wattles thinks it’s unlikely there are other bobcats on the Outer Cape. “There’s not really any evidence for it at this point,” he said.
But Berrick would not discount the possibility. These cats, he said, “are so elusive, it’s rare when you get a sighting. My guess is that there may be more out there.”
The next and perhaps final leg of this cat’s long journey is in Riverdale, Md., where it will be tested for rabies by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. Cape Cod is part of a rabies management program of the USDA’s Animal and Health Inspection Service. Its aim is to sample deceased animals in order to know when steps need to be taken to prevent further wildlife contagion.
Berrick noted that the USDA’s Cape Cod Rabies Program Coordinator Brian Bjorklund has been sampling animals for about 18 years but had until now never received a bobcat for sampling.
The Wellfleet bobcat is the first confirmed sighting on the Cape since 2013, when a Falmouth man spotted one in his back yard. Before that, bobcats hadn’t been present here since pre-colonial times, said Wattles.
“Before European colonization, Massachusetts was almost all forested, so wildlife was everywhere,” Wattles said. When colonists arrived, forests were cut for farmland and animals were hunted or trapped for food or fur or to protect livestock.
With the arrival of the Europeans, “Many of our larger mammal species were either eliminated from the state or had populations that were greatly reduced,” Wattles said. With much habitat now regrown and hunting and trapping regulated, the bobcat population is growing, he said.
We can expect that population growth to be slow on Cape Cod, though, Wattles said, because the canal creates a bottleneck for the cats. He conjectured that bobcats that do make it out here take the bridge, since cats don’t like to swim. But when the bridge reconstruction project begins, felines looking for more beachy territory may have to face their fears.
The great Wellfleet bobcat sighting of 2023 conjured memories for Curtis Hartman, who lives in Truro and New York City, of the legend of the Pamet Puma. In a 1982 New York Times article, the puma was called “Cape Cod’s answer to Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster.”
“For many of us,” Hartman wrote to the Independent last week, the news of the Wellfleet bobcat was “a vindication.”
Hartman also forwarded a remembrance written by his friend Tony Kahn, a former editor of the Provincetown Banner, whose father, New Yorker writer E.J. Kahn, may have been one of the first to write about Truro’s supposedly vicious big cat.
“I decided to cash in with a bumper sticker reading ‘I stalked the Pamet Puma,’ ” Tony Kahn wrote. He was working at the Cape Codder at the time and got help from the newspaper’s printery boss, Ralph Richardson. “No sooner did I get some of these in local stores than a photo we published of a puma knocking over a trash can turned out to be a hoax … it was a stuffed puma,” Kahn wrote. “The story quickly fizzled and so did sticker sales.”
Nonetheless, the Times described an incident involving a 175-pound hog that was “so badly mauled, its flanks ripped by deep claw marks and a chunk of flesh ripped out of its neck, that it had to be killed.” A dozen dead cats were found around that same time, and two more pigs were clawed to death in their pens. Then-Truro select board member Edward Oswalt received a call from a worried Truro resident that “something resembling a mountain lion” was on the loose in North Truro.
The mystery of the Pamet Puma has never been solved. Could the Pamet Puma have been a Wellfleet bobcat? Or, maybe, was the Wellfleet bobcat actually the Pamet Puma?
“It was a bobcat,” Berrick said.