What is a bobcat worth? There’s a few ways of thinking about that question. One answer, of course, is that a bobcat’s value is intrinsic, their lives not something to signify with a price tag. Fair enough. But for the sake of discussion, and because there’s already a market for their hides, let’s run the math: in the state of Wyoming, a bobcat is worth roughly $300 dead and up to $308,000 alive. And in that vast difference is a tension — some would call it a flaw — in the way these marvelous cats, and many other species too, are presently managed in North America.
The calculations come from a study recently published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation. Led by Mark Elbroch, a biologist with Panthera, the wild cat conservation organization, and also featuring researchers from wildlife advocacy group Wyoming Untrapped, the researchers totaled the revenues generated in 2015-2016 from selling trapping licenses in that state — $152,000 — and divided them by 1,160 bobcats killed, then added the average sale value of pelts. The final per-bobcat value came to $315.17.
Then Elbroch’s team turned to the example of a bobcat living along the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park, where his predilection for hunting waterfowl made him popular among wildlife lovers. They surveyed 46 photographers who traveled to Wyoming in winter 2015-2016 and the outfitters who guided them. Between outfitters’ fees, money spent on food, lodging and travel, and revenues from selling pictures, the bobcat generated $308,105, or a thousand-fold increase from his worth as a source of fur alone.
The researchers don’t argue that every living bobcat in Wyoming is worth more than $300,000.