KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. (WCIV) — This week it’s all about the bobcats on Kiawah Island. It’s a chance to celebrate the species by holding several educational events open to the public, with plenty to celebrate as there have been recent positive trends for the bobcat population.
A 100% survival rate this year and catching bobcats more easily are pros for the Bobcat Guardian Program on Kiawah Island.
It began two years ago when town biologists discovered that rodenticides being used on the island negatively affected the animals.
“We came up with a strategy to address that issue, and that was to have folks voluntarily stop using these products on the island,” said Jim Jordan, wildlife biologist on Kiawah Island.
“They were fairly widespread used all across the island, so that first save Kiawah Island bobcats week kicked off our guardian program. Which was just a voluntary pledge that residents, businesses, entities...everyone on the island could take not to use these second-generation products.”
These products, known as anticoagulant rodenticides, control rat and mouse populations and are likely to move up the food chain.
More than half of the companies pledged to switch to other products since they have a large footprint on the island. Jordan said it made a huge difference overnight and among more than just the bobcats.
“We test raccoons, possums, alligators, birds of preyany animals we get our hands on, we take a sample and send that off,” said Jordan. “In those animals, pretty much across the board, we are seeing lower concentrations of SGAs, which is obviously a positive trend.”
But Jordan realizes that the SGA issue isn’t just on Kiawah. The bobcats have been tracked on Seabrook Island as well as Johns Island.
“It was eye-opening when we figured out this was the issue,” said Jordan. “Once we started looking into it, it’s like look how prevalent this is here at Kiawah and certainly just as prevalent in about every community in SC, but no one is looking at it.”
That’s where Meaghan Keating, a Ph.D. student at Clemson University, comes in.
“I’m trying to dig in and understand how these bobcats are responding to SGAs and human development and try to understand future directions for the population and what the town can do to try to mitigate some of those threats,” said Meghan Keating, Clemson University Ph.D. student.
Part of the process is tracking the bobcats every year.
“The GPS tracking collars take 5 points a day, and it shifts throughout the day so that they are getting different times, and every night it connects to the Iridium satellite and sends us those points on the web,” said Keating.
This year, there has been plenty to track, as all six bobcats are still alive and well. “We have got six different bobcats with working collars right now, so each color is an individual bobcat,” said Jordan.
Keating will continue her fieldwork until 2024 and hopes these positive trends will continue. She estimates that the number of bobcats on the island is probably in the 20s. Historically, there are usually 30 to 35, so the number has increased since the decline in 2017.
Seabrook Island has its own Bobcat Guardian Program, which has also been very successful. Beyond the islands, no other programs are in place across the state.
If you are interested in learning more about this issue or bobcats, the last event of Save the Bobcats week is an hour-long walk to discuss bobcat habitat, livability, and how the community can support the town.
Visit the Town of Kiawah Island's website for more information about bobcats.