Help us identify our campsite intruder!
April 11, 2010 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Help us identify our campsite intruder! Possibly a bobcat or Florida panther?

My girlfriend and I went camping last night in the Ocala National Forest here in Florida. Specifically, we were on the St. Francis Trail, just south of the Alexander Springs Wilderness Area, near the St. John's River.

I was awake at 4 am last night and noticed some noises that definitely sounded like some sort of cat. It was sort of like a purr, but pretty loud, trending toward a growl. It didn't sound like it was being aggressive or defensive. In fact, I thought it was more just sort of breathing, or maybe making a contact call – we determined that there were in fact 2 of them. One snooped very close to our tent, probably checking out our bags, which were immediately adjacent.

We would hear the sound for about 1 second, and then there would be about 5 seconds until the next one. This continued for about 2 minutes each time they came near, about 4 times total.

I'm a biologist, so I was as much intrigued as I was frightened. My first thought was Florida Panther, but knowing how rare they are I settled on Bobcat. The trouble is, I really have no idea. Can you suggest a solution? Some sound files of these species growling, purring, or making whatever contact call they have would be much appreciated.

(And yes, the food bag with the empty chicken can was hung at an appropriate distance from our campsite!)
posted by dondiego87 to Science & Nature (12 answers total)
Their website lists black bears. Did it sound like any of these?
posted by Houstonian at 10:29 AM on April 11, 2010

Maybe an ocelot. Florida has a non-native population of abandoned/escaped pet ocelots (there are also ocecats -- a hybrid ocelot and housecat). National Geographic has an ocelot audio clip on this page.
posted by amyms at 10:37 AM on April 11, 2010

Not nearly as exciting, but could it have been a raccoon? They purr.
posted by Tsuga at 10:38 AM on April 11, 2010

I vote raccoon, too. Particularly since they were so bold. Bobcats are certainly out there, but they're normally extremely shy of humans.

Raccoons, however, will happily rummage around a campsite with people sleeping smack in the middle of it.

Bears in my experience make more of a low rumbling "hurf hurf" snorting sort of whoofling kind of sound. Like a really big dog. It has a definite bass note to it. But I'm not familiar with Florida bears, only the Alaska kind.
posted by ErikaB at 12:09 PM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lucky you! Tracks is what you want for an ID, unless you can find hair or scat, or a definitive answer to your sound question. If you go back, pack in a kids plastic garden rake, grab some sand if you're not on a sandy base, and rake out a clear few feet around the tent and your pack pile. Maybe even moisten it if you can to get a flat surface.
posted by cromagnon at 1:57 PM on April 11, 2010

I vote for racking too, especially as there were two of them and they were riflong through your stuff. Never seem a bobcat or lion do either of those things
posted by fshgrl at 2:20 PM on April 11, 2010

Just wanted to pop back in and say that I was wrong about ocecats being a hybrid of ocelots and housecats.
posted by amyms at 2:55 PM on April 11, 2010

I vote for raccoons too. They often make growly/purr sounds as they rummage our garbage.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:32 PM on April 11, 2010

In Ocala, that close to your stuff? Raccoons.

They associate people scent with midnight snack because so many campers leave food out. And a lot of campers feed the little bastards out of hand.
posted by bilabial at 5:00 PM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

While it is incredibly rare for the Florida Panther to be found that far north, I had one bound across the trail in front of me on a trail a bit north of there in the Ocala National Forest. Mind you, this was a good 15 years ago, and yes I am quite certain it was a panther.
posted by nulledge at 6:01 PM on April 12, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks all for the replies, even if you introduced more confusion with the addition of another species :-).

Raccoon could be a possibility, but my girlfriend is convinced that what we heard was making a noise loud enough to be heard at a non-trivial distance away. The noise certainly sounded loud enough that it would hard to picture "raccoon," but of course we had our ears super-tuned for this thing and so it might have sounded louder than it actually was.

The idea of clearing some space for prints is a very good one; we'll make sure to do that next time.

Thanks again, folks!
posted by dondiego87 at 5:38 PM on April 13, 2010

The biggest cat that purrs is a cheetah. Panthers are larger.
posted by Goofyy at 2:00 AM on April 14, 2010

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