July 16, 2007 7:58 AM   Subscribe

What type of wild cat could I have possibly seen in my driveway last night?

I live in the Mount Pleasant area of Washington, D.C., in a block nestled between two major parkground areas- Woodley Park to the south and Rock Creek Park to the north. As such, my roommates and I are used to the occasional wild animal sighting late at night- Deer, owls, rabbits, etc.

Last night, about a half hour before sunset, I saw a cat walking around in the alley behind my house, and it was definitely not a domestic cat. It looked slightly bigger than a housecat- maybe 20 pounds or so, but it had the facial structure of a female mountain lion. It was almost entirely rust-colored, and had a tail maybe 2/3 the size of a typical housecats that snubbed into sort of a pointed end.

I'm am pretty sure there are no mountain lions in Washington, D.C., but while I know there are bobcats/lynxes in forest areas like Rock Creek Park the color and facial structure can in no way be that of a bobcat. I have no idea how to find a picture because I only have the description I just entered and I couldn't find a relevant site with just that.

Does this animal sound familiar to anyone?
posted by XQUZYPHYR to Pets & Animals (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There have been foxes sighted in that neighborhood.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:12 AM on July 16, 2007

Is the local zoo missing a caracal?
posted by jamaro at 8:22 AM on July 16, 2007

I'm not seeing a huge difference in facial structure between a bobcat and a mountain lion - the lion's muzzle is somewhat wider, but they're both identifiably feline. Foxes have pointy muzzles. The tail sure makes it sound like a bobcat.
posted by rtha at 8:28 AM on July 16, 2007

Response by poster: No and no. :) It was most definitely a cat. If I had to compare to any specific animal I'd say it looked almost like a puma, except for the tail and of course the tiny size. I am most definitely sure there aren't pumas in Washington, D.C., let alone mutated midget ones.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:29 AM on July 16, 2007

(hit "post" before I meant to.)

Or, it could have been a large domestic cat (one of ours clocks in at 20 pounds), and there are breeds with bobbed tails and broader muzzles.
posted by rtha at 8:30 AM on July 16, 2007

Agree 100% with rtha. Foxes abound in this area, but I doubt that's what you saw since they're usually identifiably foxy.

I think it's quite likely that it was a bobcat, just one with a ruff such as here. Do go out and check for any footprints (you never know).
posted by anaelith at 8:30 AM on July 16, 2007

Er. With OUT a ruff such as...
posted by anaelith at 8:30 AM on July 16, 2007

Oh yeah - and what was the color, anyway?
posted by rtha at 8:38 AM on July 16, 2007

Response by poster: rtha- the cat was a solid rust color, like a dark tan. That's why I ruled out a bobcat- it had a sold color, and the fur was much shorter, the way fur is on a mountain lion or cougar as opposed to a bobcat or tiger, etc.

As for domestic cat, like I said I thought that originally but it when I saw its face it was that of a lions', not a domestic cat's. It didn't have a collar and was walking way too casually in its scavenging to give the impression it had never been outside before, so if it's a rare breed of housecat it has some really irresponsible owners.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:46 AM on July 16, 2007

It could have been a wild domestic cat. They're hardy animals and are quite capable of living in large feral groups.
posted by afx237vi at 9:00 AM on July 16, 2007

Well, I don't know what else to tell you - it wasn't a puma (same as a mountain lion), since sightings of those tend to happen out in Western MD and not Rock Creek; bobcats can be tannish, but generally have barring on their legs and blurry spotting on the body (the coloring can look solid in the right light, though).

Male cats that are unfixed tend to delevop broad, heavy muzzles, and some breeds (like Maine Coon cats, though those have longer fur than you describe) are naturally broad-muzzled. It's possible that what you saw was a larger-than-average feral male domestic cat, which lost part of its tail in an accident, or was born with a short tail. If it's been feral all its life, it will act "wild", because essentially it is.
You can always call the park service (or the National Zoo), describe what you saw, and see if they have any idea - you might not have been the only person to see it and report it.

This one looks pretty short-haired, though. Afternoon light can make IDs like this tricky - the light flattens and reddens (is that a word?) what you're looking at.

Nice mystery to try to figure out!
posted by rtha at 9:03 AM on July 16, 2007

er, late afternoon light.
posted by rtha at 9:04 AM on July 16, 2007

Sounds like a bobcat to me.

Or maybe a gone-feral domestic pixie-bob.

(Although the picture of the actual bobcat at that link looks VERY much like what you are describing...)
posted by dersins at 9:35 AM on July 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

best guess: bobcat. unless you can get a picture of it, the answer to your question will always be essentially unknowable.
posted by bruce at 9:53 AM on July 16, 2007

The "It looks like a small mountain lion" part of your post makes me want to suggest the Jaguarundi, as it's related to the mountain lion and, in its red phase, looks like a miniature one.

Although it does have a long tail, not a short one.

But they're native to South America and Mexico; I highly doubt you'd see one in your area, unless a zoo or some exotic pet owner lost one.

I think the shape of the ears is a key factor in identifying the animal. Were they pointed, or rounded? Bobcats and lynxes have pointed ears, which are usually exaggerated by tufts of fur that stick out on the ends of the ears. If they were smaller and rounder, like those of a lion, only then would I hazard a guess that what you saw could be something else besides a large domestic cat or a bobcat.
posted by Squee at 10:33 AM on July 16, 2007

See if you can spot a paw print somewhere. Mountain lions have paws similar in size to a large dog. I've only ever seen one mountain lion in the wild but there's no way it could've been mistaken for a large cat.
posted by 6550 at 3:06 PM on July 16, 2007

Red panda escapes from Zoo exhibit again

This animal has been recaptured, but the photo made me think of this AskMe question when I saw it.
posted by anastasiav at 4:17 PM on July 16, 2007

What about a young cougar? I presume they don't just pop from little kits to full-grown adults in one spring. Just asking.
posted by trinity8-director at 4:19 PM on July 16, 2007

Of course, there's the tail issue. But size-wise, is there any reason to discount the possibility of an immature cat of whatever breed?
posted by trinity8-director at 4:20 PM on July 16, 2007

Bobcats, like most cats, have a thinner coat in summer, than in winter. They are common in urban settings, these days. It's gotta be a bobcat.
posted by wsg at 4:58 PM on July 16, 2007

Bobcats usually appear to be solid tan colored in person and are around the 20lb mark so that's my guess too.

Pretty rare to see one in the city, nice spot!
posted by fshgrl at 6:06 PM on July 16, 2007

Canadian Lynx maybe?

Bobcats can be rust colored and usually are around 20lbs though can grow to 30. The short tail in your description sounds right for a bobcat - if it was a black tipped tail then maybe the canadian lynx.

Had a nice encounter with a bobcat a couple weeks ago (where I found the above link) after one jumped out in front of my motorcycle. Poor bobcat didn't survive and neither did I almost :)
posted by clanger at 6:14 PM on July 16, 2007

it sounds to me like this is a freakish, possibly wild domestic cat.

a friend of mine had a gigantic male cat with a broad muzzle, ear tufts and a short tail. he was like a miniature bobcat in every detail, right down to the badass temper. only differences were his size, his short hair and that he was coloured like a holstein. everyone swore that he must be part bobcat, as he simply sauntered out of the woods one day and made himself at home.

trouble is, there are no bobcats on vancouver island.
posted by klanawa at 9:32 PM on July 16, 2007

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