When Josh Carver shot video of a snarling bobcat last month as he was releasing it from a cage, the Utah conservation officer just wanted to show his kid the fun stuff he does at work.
But the juvenile bobcat, dubbed Mr. Murderbritches, became an instant internet celebrity after the Center for Biological Diversity, a group active in protecting wildlife, reposted Carver’s video. The cat’s release, after it was caught with a dead chicken, has sparked a spirited discussion about society’s response to “nuisance wildlife.”
Some wonder why this animal was spared while thousands of others that threaten livestock and agriculture are poisoned, trapped, snared or shot.
“This guy is fighting to live. You root for him. You want him to be free,” said Collette Adkins, a senior attorney with the center. “For so many animals, whenever there is a conflict, the first thing the government does is kill the animal as the solution, but it’s so shortsighted. There are so many nonlethal measures, such as relocating, better fencing, devices that scare predators away.”
Bobcats might be rare, but their populations are strong in Utah, according to the Division of Wildlife Resources.
Hunters and trappers annually take, on average, nearly 2,000 bobcats a year in Utah without undermining the state’s population. These animals are killed for sport or for their furs; it is a rare bobcat that is killed because it poses a nuisance, according to DWR data. For example, federal Wildlife Services, the agency that takes out animals to protect farms and ranches, averages less than two bobcat kills a year in Utah.
If the animal caught in the chicken coop had been a raccoon, red fox or coyote, it likely would not have been put down, Carver said. As a bobcat, however, Mr. Murderbritches, whose sex has never been confirmed, had many factors working in its favor, not least of which were the cat’s surly demeanor that led to its nickname and the homeowner’s reverence for wildlife.
“That guy was a total gentleman,” Carver said. “He wanted that bobcat to live and have a fighting chance.”
Shy and elusive, bobcats may cause few conflicts with humans, but Carver’s cat reappeared at the same coop the next day in a live trap, this time after killing a chicken.
Rather than a random act of kindness, the decision to relocate the cat was based on state policies that favor returning problem animals to the wild — but under certain circumstances.
Red foxes and raccoons are not native to Utah and are hard on native wildlife, while coyotes are considered a menace to deer and livestock, so these critters, once trapped, typically get a bullet. For endangered species, such as prairie dogs and wolves, officers are prohibited from killing the animals absent some compelling need.
For other species of problem-causing wildlife, the responding officer considers the animal’s chances of survival in the wild and any threat to public safety it might pose.
Captured animals will likely be euthanized if they have suffered an injury that would make survival unlikely absent human intervention.
With the uninjured Mr. Murderbritches, the question was its youth. Carver estimated its age between 4 and 6 months, a bit younger than the 8 months bobcats need to reach before they can survive in the wild without their mothers. Carver suspects this cat was an orphan.
“That little guy is on the line of being too young [to survive]," Carver said, “or he’s not going to make it.”
In the viral video, Carver releases the cat west of Kanarraville. Four days later, it wound up 8 miles away, stuck in a kennel at a remote home near Newcastle. Despite the repeat offense, Carver took mercy on Mr. Murderbritches.
“It’s a good sign because it’s telling me he is hunting and can move,” Carver said. “That’s another reason to not put him down.”
After its last relocation, Mr. Murderbritches was last seen — Carver hopes for the last time — roaming Chloride Canyon west of Cedar City.