LITTLETON -- For four days last week, Angela Wilde and her husband kept quiet, shutting cabinets gently and staying off their screened porch, anything to avoid disturbing their feline visitors.
"The whole time they were there, we stayed inside and talked in hushed voices," Wilde said. "We didn't want them to leave. We wanted them to stay."
The aptly-named Wilde family found their yard a temporary home for a family of the state's only native wildcat. A mother bobcat and her four kittens camped out in a patch of bark mulch near an old stone wall.
The usually mysterious bobcat is shy around humans, so sightings are rare, making Wilde "a very lucky person," according to Marion Larson, information and education chief at the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
"There are lots of outdoorspeople who don't see a bobcat," Larson said. "I'm jealous, and I think other people would be too."
Because bobcats are not commonly seen, people don't realize how common they are, Larson said.
MassWildlife doesn't have population numbers for the species because the state has a ban on the specific kind of traps that are most likely to catch bobcats so researchers can tag and release them. However, Larson said, based anecdotally on emails her agency receives and reports from other states, it seems like people are encountering more than usual.
The cats' range is expanding, too, especially to the south. Until recently, the southernmost definitive bobcat sighting was in Carver, but a Falmouth man recorded a video of one in his yard earlier this month.
Also this month, a bobcat was hit by a car in Westford while trying to cross a street. The pregnant cat was treated in the emergency center at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine of Tufts University, in Grafton, but ultimately died.
"They may be becoming a little bit more accustomed to being in residential areas because when there's birdfeeders, there's a potential meal in the squirrels and the like that are attracted to birdfeeders also,"Larson said.
Wilde got to observe the kittens practicing their hunting skills, stalking each other and play-fighting as their mother looked on.
"They played all the time," Wilde said. "They came out in the yard like late afternoon. You would see them around 4:00. It was like they were busy working or something all day, and then she let them play for a couple hours."
Bobcats don't generally pose a danger to humans, Larson said. But the ones in Littleton proved hazardous to Wilde's azalea plants and ornamental grass bushes.
"They wrecked everything, but we didn't care," Wilde said, laughing. "We were like, 'Oh, no let them do whatever they want!'"
Wilde enjoyed the mischievous presence of what Larson called "probably the most elusive of the larger animals" so much that it was a disappointment to see them go.
The homeowner said she'll keep an eye out in case the mother returns with another litter after the next breeding season. Female bobcats sometimes revisit favorite dens.
"We're going to look down at that spot everyday for the next five years, looking for them," Wilde said. "She might come back next year -- who knows?"
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