Just days before the Woolsey Fire started last November, a young bobcat was captured and collared so biologists could keep track of her. The fire went on to burn nearly 100,000 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
Biologists from the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area found that bobcat B-362 had relocated to an area of dense vegetation in a large backyard in Westlake Village, a city about 10 miles from Thousand Oaks. She recently gave birth in her new home to four kittens: B-364, B-365, B-366 and B-367.
After tracking the bobcat using signals from her collar, biologists got permission from the homeowner to access the new mother's den. While the cat was away, they weighed the kittens, measured them and gave them a basic health checkup. They also tagged their ears so they could identify them in the future.
B-362’s kittens are approximately 4 weeks old. There are three females and one male. The male is the smallest in size and weight in this litter. Their weights range from less than a pound to 1.5 pounds.
"This cat first had to deal with her habitat getting completely burned in the fire and then finding a new home in an unburned area," said biologist Joanne Moriarty, who has been studying bobcats in the area for more than 15 years. "She chose a den in thick brush where she could keep her kittens safe."
Moriarty said she was happy to see a bobcat have kittens, particularly after such a difficult period for the area. She said it has been a stressful time for wildlife, "but we're happy to see her thriving despite the challenges."
The mother bobcat, B-362, was originally captured for tagging in a preserve in Thousand Oaks that burned in the Woolsey Fire. She left the area during the fire and has been living in an unaffected location nearby.
The other female bobcat that researchers are following in the study has remained in the area burned by the fire and does not appear to have had kittens. Researchers say she likely won't reproduce this year, but it's too early to know for sure.
Bobcat kittens typically stay in the den where they were born for about four or five weeks, then their mother will move them to other dens for brief periods. Researchers aren't certain why they do this, but think it's probably to avoid predators.
A mother bobcat will keep kittens in the den until they are about 12 weeks old, then they will start following her as she hunts and goes about her daily activities. The kittens will stay with their mother until they are between 9 and 11 months old. Then they will gradually become more independent, but still check in with their mother from time to time.