The bobcat’s carcass was transported by Game Commission Southcentral Region Wildlife Management Supervisor Justin Vreeland to Penn State University’s Animal Diagnostics Lab, where Dr. Cottrell’s office is located. Dr. Cottrell conducted a necropsy and removed the animal’s brain for testing at the state Department of Health’s Bureau of Laboratories in Lionville, Chester County.
The bicyclist, traveling on the “Lower Trail,” was about four miles from the town of Williamsburg when he stopped to rest at a park bench along the trail. Game Commission Southcentral Region Information and Education Supervisor Don Garner said the bicyclist heard rustling in the weeds and spotted the bobcat, which he first thought was a housecat. As a precaution, the cyclist began a series of rabies post-exposure vaccinations the night he was attacked.
“As the animal approached, it sprang at the rider who brought up his arms to fend off the animal, receiving a bite in the right arm and several scratches,” Garner said. “After using his bicycle to again fend off the animal, the rider proceeded to Williamsburg and contacted the Game Commission and an off-duty police officer. The police officer, who was the first to arrive at the scene, found the animal still in the area and killed it.”
Dr. Walter Cottrell, the Game Commission’s wildlife veterinarian said rabies can be carried by any mammal, especially bats, raccoons and foxes. However, it is rare in large carnivores; only a small number of bobcats have tested positive for rabies in Pennsylvania. Prior to this case, there were eight bobcats confirmed to have rabies in Pennsylvania; one each in 1987, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1997, 2003, 2004 and 2005.
“There is a reservoir of the rabies virus in wildlife species,” Dr. Cottrell said. “It is a disease to be aware of, yet not paranoid about. It is relatively rare, but will likely always be a part of the world of wildlife. Animals who behave abnormally are automatically suspect for rabies; the abnormal is normal for rabid mammals.
“There is no reason not to enjoy the ‘Lower Trail’ or anywhere else in Penn’s Woods for that matter, due to this one incident. If there is one species of animal in our state that does not desire human contact, it is a bobcat. Most people living in bobcat habitat will never see one.”
The last human rabies fatality in Pennsylvania was a 12-year-old Lycoming County boy who died in 1984 after being exposed to the bat-strain of the rabies virus.
Created in 1895 as an independent state agency, the Game Commission is responsible for conserving and managing all wild birds and mammals in the Commonwealth, establishing hunting seasons and bag limits, enforcing hunting and trapping laws, and managing habitat on the 1.4 million acres of State Game Lands it has purchased over the years with hunting and furtaking license dollars to safeguard wildlife habitat. The agency also conducts numerous wildlife conservation programs for schools, civic organizations and sportsmen’s clubs.
The Game Commission does not receive any general state taxpayer dollars for its annual operating budget. The agency is funded by license sales revenues; the state’s share of the federal Pittman-Robertson program, which is an excise tax collected through the sale of sporting arms and ammunition; and monies from the sale of oil, gas, coal, timber and minerals derived from State Game Lands.