Most of the Allegheny Plateau in West Virginia has been abandoned. Where once homesteaders grazed herds of cattle and flocks of sheep steep ridgetop pastures and grew corn and oats in rocky river bottom fields, the forest has returned. It is not the forest primeval that stood here when the first European came. Instead, it is the forest of relatively young trees that allow quite a bit of undergrowth to flourish. Everywhere there are edifices of autumn olive and strands of the multiflora rose that stretch out their thorny branches in wads and entanglements of organic barbed wire.
It is the closest thing to a temperate jungle that I can imagine. Even if the hills were cleared of brush, the land would be hard to traverse. Steep hillsides and narrow ravines dominate the topography, and if you have to negotiate the thorny bushes as well as watch where you put your feet, it is impossible to move easily through the country. The only respite are are these flattened out areas that are known as benches, where the oak trees grow tall and you can stand up without being totally lopsided.
But in these often impenetrable temperate jungles, there are plenty of wild beasts. When the land was intensively farmed and grazed, the main wildlife were bobwhites, rabbits, and red foxes. But as restored woodland, they are home to a growing populations of black bears, Eastern coyotes, wild turkeys, and white-tailed deer.
These animals are better hidden in the thickets, and the bears, deer, and turkeys are better fed with the acorns from red and white oaks.
A jungle can be fine with all these creatures roaming it, but what it really needs is a tiger.
Of course, the Americas have only one pantherine, and jaguars don’t live here.
There were once many cougars roaming this land, but they were soon killed off in the name of progress and civilization.
One cat remained, a diminutive lynx that we call the bobcat, but those in the true Southern Appalachians call “wildcats,” perhaps in confusion with the Scottish feline that is actually part of the same species as the domestic moggie.
Bobcats, like all other Lynx, descend from the Issoire lynx of Eurasia. This cat was large and robust, and it was more than capable of bringing down deer-sized prey. The modern Eurasian lynx is still a fairly large cat that hunts a lot of deer, and when the ancestral lynx came into North America, it was forced to become smaller in order to fit a new niche as a somewhat lesser cat.
The bobcat lineage has been in North America for around 2.6 million years. They’ve been the little cats that lived among the Smilodons, jaguars, and American lions. They lived as the secondary cat to the cougar when Europeans arrived.
They are survivors, and they do so because they are so elusive. I know some of my readers in the West see bobcats fairly regularly, but I have never seen one on the wild. The closest I ever came to one is when my dad hit one with a car while I was sitting in the backseat.
I see their tracks and bleached white scat in the woods, and I’ve been able to get bobcats on trail camera a few times.
But this week, I tried out a new camera that has low glow technology, and I got this photo of a bobcat standing right in front of the device. It just sits there while the camera takes photos, and the last photo on the set is the cat turning to go back into the woods.
I’ve not been able to get anything like this with the older cameras. They make too much noise, and the red lights scare off the predators. Setting up flashing red lights that go all night are a common tool that is used to protect poultry from bobcats and foxes, so it makes sense that switching the technology would have a much better result.
This camera has been able to photograph an animal as elusive as a bobcat. This impresses me very much. It’s a Moultrie 1100i, a bit pricier than the models I’ve used before.
But if the results are this good, I wonder what else I’ll capture with it.
It finally got me a good image of this beast, the tiger of the Allegheny jungle. It returned to its lair in the thorny thickets and steep ravines.
Hooked claws and springing muscles and piercing canines are its living. Its squalls in the night air announce its savagery and its simple independence. It lives according to the edicts of meat and the edicts of bobcat behavior. It stands up to coyotes that dare to take its kills and bluffs off stupid dogs who think they’ve just encountered an overgrown barn cat.
It lives hissing and spitting and squalling.
Yet it does so with an elegance that can be seen only in the cat family.
If any beast met the West Virginia slogan of “wild and wonderful,” it is the bobcat.
The wild and wonderful tiger of the Allegheny jungles.