Bobcats in the Inland Deserts Region

Lead CDFW biologists: Alisa Ellsworth (Supervisor) and Michael Brown

787 North Main St. Suite 220 Bishop, CA 93514
(760) 872-1171
Fax: (760) 872-1284

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Natural History

Bobcats (Lynx rufus) play an important role in maintaining healthy ecosystem function by controlling prey populations. Bobcats are a common species that can be found throughout California from the high alpine zones of all local mountain ranges to the valley floor and from thick forests to the arid deserts. The species occurs in all of its known historic range and is highly adaptable to wild and urban landscapes. Bobcats prefer to inhabit environments that include dense vegetative cover or steep rocky terrain. These areas provide protection from competing species such as mountain lions (Felis concolor), coyotes (Canis latrans), and birds of prey (e.g., great horned owl (Bubo virginianus). Rocky terrain and vegetated areas attract a bobcat’s main prey species (e.g., rabbits and rodents). Bobcats, in the IDR, have also been documented preying on upland birds, mule deer, and bighorn sheep. Learn more about the natural history of the bobcat:

Management Projects and Reports

Bobcats are a common species in North America with stable or increasing populations. Florida is the only state that reports a declining population, which is attributed to the increase in invasive Burmese pythons (Python molurus bivittatus). Bobcats are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as a species of least concern and the national population estimate is between 2.3 and 3.5 million individuals. The harvest data and observations that IDR biologists have collected on bobcats supports the assumption that bobcat populations in Inyo and Mono Counties are robust and healthy. However, with the onset of the Bobcat Protection Act (AB-1213), biologists in the IDR identified the importance of obtaining data to provide additional information regarding the status of bobcats. The Inland Desert Region Wildlife Program conducts resource assessment activities necessary to monitor the health and condition of wildlife populations, assess the anthropogenic and environmental impacts to wildlife resources, and to manage wildlife populations. In 2014, the Inland Desert Region Wildlife Program acquired funding from the federal Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program supported by Pittman-Robertson funds to begin a study entitiled the “Eastern Sierra Nevada Bobcat Study”. The goal of the study was to elucidate the health and ecology of bobcats in the IDR. The main objectives for this study were to standardize survey techniques and GPS-collar bobcats. Bobcats are extremely difficult to monitor because they are so elusive. However, advances in non-invasive survey techniques and ultralight GPS-collars allow for population monitoring. A detailed report titled the “Eastern Sierra Nevada Bobcat Study” is provided below describing the study in detail.

Preventing Conflicts

CDFW stresses that aggressive behavior by bobcats toward humans is extremely rare. Most bobcats are elusive in nature and rarely seen. CDFW urges residents to take all reasonable actions to secure their domestic pets and any potential attractants to reduce conflict with bobcats and other wildlife. Tips on preventing coyote and mountain lion conflicts that pertain to bobcats as well can be found at Keep Me Wild.

Viewing Bobcats

Bobcat populations in Inyo and Mono Counties are healthy, but it is uncommon to see a bobcat in the wild. Just because you do not see bobcats in an area does not mean they are not around. Bobcats are elusive animals that typically avoid humans. Bobcats are considered crepuscular or active primarily after dawn and immediately before dusk. Those are they best times to try and view a bobcat. They spend most of their daytime hours hidden from view while trying to stay cool and napping. The most common way to identify whether bobcats are in the area is through bobcat sign such as tracks or scat. Here are some tips to help you recognize bobcat sign:

Photo of bobcat track to demonstrate what a bobcat track looks like in the field
Figure 1. A Bobcat paw showing the lobe pattern of the heel and how a diagonal line drawn between the outer and inner toes will intersect the heel pad. 

Photo of bobcat paw to demonstrate what a bobcat track looks like in the field
Figure 2. A bobcat scrape is typically 6-10 inches long. The cats make these scrapes with their hind paws. The Inland Desert Region biologists find these scrapes near caches, prime hunting areas, and territory boundaries.


Tracks: Bobcat tracks are usually double the size of a house cats and half the size of a mountain lion’s tracks averaging 2-2 ½ inch across. All cats have four toes. You do not typically see claw marks because bobcat’s claws are retractable and remain in the paw while walking. The front of the heel pad has two lobes and the rear of the heel pad has three lobes. Unlike a canine track, you cannot draw a straight, diagonal line between the outer and inner toes to the opposite corner of the track without intersecting the heel pad (Figure 1). Great places to find good bobcat tracks in the IDR are sandy, dry creek beds. You may also find a bobcat scrape, which occurs when they use their hind paws to dig a small depression in the soil (Figure 2). Scrapes are typically uniform in shape and about 6-10 inches long. Bobcats will often urinate in the scrape. Biologists believe these scrapes are used to mark territory and the pheromones in the urine will advertise breeding status.


Be knowledgeable about all the regulations pertaining to bobcat hunting prior to going hunting.

Bobcats are considered a nongame animal and harvest is allowed by procuring a valid hunting license and bobcat hunting tags. Commercial and recreational trapping was prohibited statewide November 20, 2015.

In order to monitor bobcat populations all California bobcat hunters are required to complete trapping reports and return them to the CDFW. The data from these reports serve as an index for population trends, distribution, and sex ratios. These types of data allow biologists to monitor the state’s bobcat population. The Eastern Sierra Nevada Bobcat Study is acquiring additional information to help conserve bobcats in the IDR.

Additional Information


  • Grinnell, J., J. S. Dixon, and J. M. Linsdale. 1937. Fur-bearing mammals of California: Their natural history systematic status and relations to man. 1st Edition. Volume 2. University of California Press, Berkeley, California, U.S.A.
  • Laws, J. M. 2007. The laws field guide to the Sierra Nevada. California Academy of Sciences. Heyday Books, Berkeley, California, U.S.A.

Internet Resources:

Literature / Reports:

Bobcat walking through passage in sagebrush
Photo 11/15 J. Fusaro camera trap

Bobcat snarling in small clearing, with some snow and surrounded by sagebrush
Photo 11/15 J. Fusaro camera trap