Bobcat attacks hiker, rangers near Orlando

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Bobcat attacks hiker, park rangers near Orlando

By Mark K. Matthews, S. Florida Sun-Sentinel

July 15 2002


Todd Long of Melbourne and Lt. Laura DeWald, with the Department of Environmental Protection, show signs of their tangle with a bobcat Sunday in Rock Springs Run State Reserve. (JOHN RAOUX/ORLANDO SENTINEL)

ORLANDO -- The high-pitched screech came first, then a flurry of teeth and claws.

On Sunday, a renegade bobcat injured a hiker, charged a park ranger's truck and pounced on another park ranger before it was shot and killed -- still clinging to her arm -- in Rock Springs Run State Reserve near the Orange County line.

The first of three attacks by what authorities suspect was a rabid bobcat came midmorning.

Todd Long, 37, of Melbourne, had been out for a day hike east of Lake County's Mount Plymouth, armed with only an old camera and the desire to reconnect with nature. By himself, he had been whistling for most of the trip, hoping "to scare the animals away" with the noise.

Then, about two miles into the shady trail, "a shrill meow" pierced the swampy humidity. The noise startled Long, and when he whipped his head around, he saw a bobcat as big as a medium-sized dog poised to attack.

Without thinking, Long stuck out his arms to deflect the blow he knew was coming. But rather than knock the spotted feline back, he caught the tornado of tooth and nail in midair.

"Here I am holding this thing and shaking it, and finally realizing that it's not doing any good," Long said, "so I threw it in the bushes."

Shaken up and bleeding from bite marks and scratches on both arms, Long rushed to get back to the trail

head. The 35-pound bobcat, however, continued to track Long -- pouncing a second time only minutes later.

This time, Long grabbed a stick.

"He was charging low at me, and I swung it like a baseball bat," he said. "I hit him about a dozen times with the stick, breaking the stick into pieces about four times."

The bobcat lay there, eyes fading to black.

"I mean, if I get hit like that, I'm dead," he said.

Now feeling a little guilty, Long began the hike back to the trail

head, calling a park ranger from his cell phone on the way.

When he got back to the start, he met up with one of the rangers, jumped in a pickup and headed back to where the bobcat should have been.

But the body had vanished.

Before Long and the ranger knew what was happening, the bobcat rushed out of the bushes and attacked the truck. It clawed at the grill,

circled around the back and scratched at the rear bumper.

The whole time, Long said, it was trying to get on top of the hood and at the two of them inside.

That's when they decided to run over the spotted ball of rage. But again, the bobcat escaped, fleeing through the trees.

Now it was time to radio for the heavy artillery.

Heading back to the trail head again, they met up with Lt. Laura DeWald, with the Department of Environmental Protection, and Officer John Giles with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

She had a pistol; he had a 12-gauge shotgun.

They planned to comb near the attack sites and flush out the unpredictable bobcat, keeping each other in sight in case of another attack.

"This is extremely unusual behavior. They usually flee at the sight of a person," said wildlife commission Lt. Jeff Gier, who talked with the officers after the attacks. Bobcats, he said, usually hunt at night and are especially shy during the day.

Although bobcats are not uncommon in rural areas, sightings are few and far between. What they had on their hands, authorities said, was either a very sick or very territorial animal.

Both possibilities are dangerous.

So, weapons drawn, the two officers went back into the woods to face down a bobcat that already had attacked a person and a truck, a bobcat that had avoided being roadkill and

had survived repeated clubbings.

Despite their mental preparation, the officers were taken by surprise when the bobcat shrieked again and attacked out of the brush.

DeWald got three or four shots off, but the bobcat ran straight through the gunfire and jumped on her, clawing and biting at her arms and chest, Gier said.

A bulletproof vest protected her torso, but not her arms and legs. Within seconds, Giles turned his shotgun on the bobcat, placed the barrel on its chest and fired one shot.

"It was hanging from her arm when he shot it," Gier said.

Lake County officials took the bobcat carcass away for testing, and emergency crews treated Long and DeWald, who was also cut badly on the arms.

Both refused to be taken by an ambulance to a hospital, Gier said, but in the end, they went to Central Florida Regional Hospital in Sanford for treatment and tests.

Officials said the bobcat could have rabies or some other threatening disease. Its repeated attacks suggest an illness, said Gier, and the two victims will be treated soon "just in case."

Mark K. Matthews can be reached at mmatthews@orlandosentinel.com or 352-742-5927.  

There are about a dozen subspecies of bobcats, also called wildcats, from southern Canada to Mexico, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Web site. Bobcats live throughout Florida.

Bobcats grow to about 30 inches long, not including their 5-inch tails, and, on average, weigh about 25 pounds. They have retractable claws and 28 teeth. They change color with the season -- a tawny gray in winter and a reddish brown in summer. They also have tufts of fur along their ears that help them hear.

Because of their abundance in Florida, bobcats are not listed as endangered or threatened. However, they are classified as a fur-bearing game animal by the wildlife commission and can be hunted only during certain months of the year.

End article

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I saw one of these guys on the news. He looked like he came out on the wrong end of a fight with a weed eater. His arms were pretty tore up. If them scratches are like from a regular house cat, he's going to be hurting tomorrow.
 

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