Bobcats could be a tool in fighting CWD

Published 3:05 pm Thursday, June 29, 2023

JACKSON — Stories of black panther sightings are traditionally passed around in Mississippi. While there is no confirmed sighting of panthers or cougars, Mississippi’s bobcats could be helpful to the state’s fight against CWD as could a return of any panthers. 

Most recently, an Adams County Christian School coach saw a cougar on the Natchez Trace near Port Gibson on June 14 while a man in Bogue Chitto claimed he saw one this past January. 

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks states there is no scientific evidence of black panthers in Mississippi nor confirmed sightings. MDWFP’s social media team took to Facebook Wednesday to clear the air on the rumors of black panthers as they went around asking staff on video at the central office in Jackson. A majority of staff members said no, panthers don’t live in Mississippi. Bobcats do call the state home.

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Using cats to fight CWD

Preliminary research presented at the International Chronic Wasting Disease Symposium in Colorado indicates bobcats could be a tool to fight CWD. Chronic Wasting Disease is an always fatal, infectious disease caused by prions, a misfolded protein, which affects deer and other members of the cervidae family. Research shows prions shed into the environment persists and recent studies show it could spread to raccoons and other animals and possibly humans.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Montana did a study where two mountain lions, cougars, were fed mule deer meat spiked with CWD prions. Only 2.8 to 3.9 percent of the CWD prions survived the gastrointestinal tract of the cougars and could be recovered in the cougar’s feces. This is important as they could potentially limit the amount of prions released into the environment the report states. 

University of Wyoming student Madi Davis conducted a similar study with three bobcats with ground beef spiked with CWD positive elk lymph nodes. A fourth “control group” bobcat was not fed any spiked ground beef. The three experimental bobcats had just 2 percent of CWD prions in feces meaning they eliminated or sequestered 98 percent of the prions. 

Unlike coyotes or crows, bobcats are meat obligates meaning their diet must be fully meat. While bobcats are unlikely to kill an adult deer they will take advantage of scavenging a dead deer.