A bobcat was spotted recently along the C&O Canal in the District, marking what biologists say is a rare sighting in the city’s wildlife landscape.

A night camera in a wooded area near the Palisades neighborhood caught images of the bobcat Nov. 9, but the photos were not discovered until earlier this month. The camera is one of several placed around the city by organizers with DC Cat Count, a $1.5 million, three-year effort to document the lives of feral cats that roam Washington.

Dan Herrera, a field technician for DC Cat Count, saw the images as he looked through hundreds of photos and posted them to the group’s Facebook page. In the posting, he called it “quite the find,” which led several other residents to chime in.

Herrera said he is used to seeing animals such as deer, fox and squirrels, or even a beaver or an otter. But this time, “all of a sudden there was a bobcat,” he said, adding that “my heart skipped a beat.”

He shared the photo with local wildlife experts.

Dan Rauch, the District’s wildlife biologist, said the image is special. At least in recent memory, he said, “we’ve never had an image of a bobcat in D.C., and there’s no reports of escapees anywhere. It’s a real wildcat in the District.”

Rauch first saw the photo Monday on social media and consulted with other biologists to confirm it depicted a bobcat. He noted the animal’s “large mutton chops … that frame its face,” its “stockiness” and its “collection of dark stripes and spots.”

“When you see that face you think lynx, not house cat,” Rauch said.

Experts said they would develop a plan to watch for and possibly study the animal to ensure it is in good health and not disturbed.

The last bobcat spotted in the wild in the Washington region was in Arlington in February 2017 near the George Washington Memorial Parkway, Rauch said. That same year, Ollie, the National Zoo’s bobcat, escaped from its enclosure. She was found about two days later near the zoo’s Bird House exhibit, not far from her home.

This bobcat, Rauch said, is probably about a year old.

Bobcats are native to North America and can range from Canada to southwestern New Mexico. In the Washington region, sightings have been reported in rural areas of Maryland and Virginia.

Rauch said the bobcat probably traveled down the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal from rural Virginia or Western Maryland. He said it could be moving through or “looking for territory, looking to hunt or looking to find a mate.”

Bobcats are reclusive, nocturnal animals about twice the size of a house cat. They eat small birds, rodents and other small mammals, along with the occasional snake. They pose no danger to people and are unlikely to be spotted during the day, Rauch said.

“They’re not going to go after a small dog,” he said. “They’re nothing to be concerned about. They’re just making D.C.'s habitat a little more wild.”

DC Cat Count has more than 1,000 cameras placed throughout the city, each taking about 4,000 photos over a two-week period. The cameras take about five photos each time they detect movement, Herrera said. The photos are then sorted, but the process takes time, officials said in explaining how an image from November was discovered only this month. The cat census is being conducted through the Humane Rescue Alliance and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

Some on social media initially wondered whether the image showed “Cookie” the house cat, which some thought to be a mountain lion after the cat was found in September on a Georgetown home security camera.

Rauch said the bobcat image is a sign that Washington’s wildlife is thriving. He noted that American coots and ravens have also been seen recently in the District, birds that are new to breeding in this area.

While spotting the bobcat in person would be highly unlikely, Rauch advised anybody who comes across one to “step back and give it some room.”

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