HELENA — Montanans know there is quite a rivalry between bobcats and grizzlies on the gridiron, and the two schools have big fans in Champ and Monte. The animals the mascots are based on play different but similar roles in the ecosystem.
Bobcats and grizzly bears have historically lived all across Montana.
“I think they are absolutely good representatives for the two universities. You know they’ve both incredibly well-adapted to Montana, they serve slightly different roles,” explained Montana Fish,Wildlife and Park Game Management Bureau Chief Brian Wakeling. “And very good at what they do, so you don’t survive unless you’re good at what you do.”
According to FWP, there are an estimated 1,800 to 2,100 grizzlies in Big Sky Country at any given time. Animals tend to not pay much attention to borders drawn on maps so the estimates can fluctuate.
Bobcats have a healthy population in Montana and a lot of the United States. Wakeling says the species is harder to track due to their stealthy nature.
“Bobcats are just what their name sounds like, they’re cats. They’re wild cats and they’re typically between 18 and 35 pounds. Their role is predominately predator,” he explained.
The cats often make their homes in areas with rocky outcroppings or forested areas.
“They’re an animal that stalks and ambushes their prey and so they’re going to be in places where they’ve got access to that kind of a situation,” Wakeling noted.
They are capable of hunting animals larger than themselves like fawns, but it becomes a risk analysis for the cat depending on the size of the animal they are hunting.
Grizzly bears tend to be a little more obvious in their eating habits. While grizzlies are apex predators, he bears have a much broader diet unlike bobcats who pretty much solely eat meat.
“The thing about it though, is they are not an exclusive carnivore. They eat a lot of grass, forbes, acorns, roots berries so their diet is actually predominately vegetation,” explained Wakeling. “They also eat a lot of insects. So they can make their living off a lot of different things.”
Grizzly bears also have some unique traits compared to other Montana animals.
“They go through not a true hibernation by the clear definition, but by all intensive purposes does the same thing. Their body temperature drops, their heart rate drops,” Wakeling explained.
To make it through the winter months they pack on the pounds leading up to their deep sleep.
“That period of time they call hyperphagia,” Wakeling said. “They are eating a lot. Think a teenage kid times twelve. I mean 30,000 calories a day is not uncommon.”
Bobcats do not hibernate and remain active year-round, although when food gets scarce in winter they may become more bold in what prey the go after.
Conflicts happen between both animal species and humans. Predation of livestock and pets is one of the most common conflicts.
FWP strongly advises against confronting either animal in the wild.
“While bobcats are certainly capable of inflicting damage to humans and you certainly don’t want to corner them or create a situation where they feel like they are. The interaction you might have with especially a grizzly bear is very much different… They’ve kind of evolved an attitude of you know if you challenge me we’re going to take care of things right now,” Wakeling explained.
Wakeling strongly encourages people to carry bear spray on their hip while recreating in bear country.