Bobcat Raises Kittens in Hollow Tree After Devastating California Wildfires

Wildlife officials have discovered that a bobcat has given birth to kittens inside a tree in an area that had been intensely burnt out by forest fires more than two years ago.

U.S. National Park Service (NPS) biologists began tracking the female bobcat more than a year after the Woolsey wildfire that devastated the Santa Monica Mountains in November 2018, burning tens of thousands of acres of land.

In April this year, the biologists began suspecting that the bobcat, labeled B-370 due to her tracking collar, had made a den in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) because they noticed she had been repeatedly returning to the same spot. The behavior was also an indication that she may have given birth.

The SMMNRA is the largest urban national park in the U.S., containing more than 450 species of animal and 26 distinct plant communities.

Researchers tracked the bobcat to its location using radio signals and GPS points from her collar. She was eventually found by biologist Joanne Moriarty who spotted the animal staring at her from a hole in a tree.

Using a camera to peer inside, Moriarty found not only the bobcat but also three kittens.

The researchers returned the next day when the bobcat was away and captured the kittens in order to study their health, size, and weight. They were then given ear tags and returned to the tree.

The kittens, two males and one female, were found to weigh between 1.1 and 1.3lbs and were around 30 days old.

The NPS states bobcat kittens will usually be kept inside dens by their mother until they are around three months old. After that, they may follow her around on hunts.

Kittens then start to become independent between the ages of nine to 11 months, but will still occasionally check back on her.

Bobcats are a type of cat that live in much of North America including the U.S., sometimes along the edges of human development.

The NPS notes this poses a risk of bobcats being hit by cars, catching diseases from domesticated animals, or being exposed to poisons intended to kill rodents.

SMMNRA biologists have been studying bobcats in the area for around 25 years, starting in 1996, to learn more about how they survive in an urban landscape.

In a statement, the NPS said the den of this particular bobcat "wasn't in a typical location." Bobcat dens are often found in hollow areas of thick bush or in woodrat nests.

Researchers think the mother bobcat had decided to use a tree to house her kittens because of the damage caused to the surrounding environment by the 2018 fire. Very little vegetation has grown back since then.

A stock image shows a bobcat perched on a rock. The animals are tracked by NPS biologists so they can study how they live in urban environments. Anita Elder Design/Getty