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Bobcat Spotted, Photographed By Wildlife Ecologist At Will County Nature Preserve

WILMINGTON, Ill. (CBS) -- In a rare sighting in the suburbs, a bobcat was recently caught on camera – taking a walk at the Sand Ridge Savanna Nature Preserve in Will County.

As CBS 2's Marissa Parra reported, we all know they say a picture is worth a thousand words. But for the wildlife ecologist who snapped a picture of that bobcat, it might be worth even more.

Becky Blankenship, a wildlife ecologist at the Forest Preserve District of Will County, recounted her reaction upon seeing the bobcat.

"Oh my gosh - is this happening? Is this the species I think it is? Yes! It's a bobcat!" she said.

Bobcat sightings typically come to an area maybe once every few years. Blankenship has now spotted three – the most recent one within the last few weeks at one Will County forest preserve.

Blankenship spotted and photographed another bobcat family in September.

"I had those kittens playing with thistle and pouncing on each other," she said. "I ended up getting two weeks' worth of photos of the mother and her kittens, and it was so adorable."

Getting the photo is an art. Blankenship attaches a camouflage camera to a tree.

The cameras are designed to blend in, so that elusive creatures like the bobcat don't even know they are there.

The only native wildcat of Illinois, Bobcats get their name from their very obvious bobbed tails. Once considered a threatened species, their populations have since rebounded.

But don't get your hopes up on seeing more of them. Unless they're sick, it's really rare to spot them - partially because they're typically awake when you're not.

It's hard to get an exact population count of bobcats because they're so difficult to track – which is what makes Blankenship's photos so exciting.

The photos aren't just cute. They are the first pieces of evidence that bobcats are among us in the preserves Will County.

"It could have to do more with the amount of trail cameras out, but I'd like to think that our bobcat populations are gaining in size," Blankenship said.

Aside from basking in her triumph, Blankenship hopes there are more sightings to come.

"It's a good sign for us. It tells us that what we're doing for habitat management is working," she said. "If it's a low-quality preserve, perhaps we'd start doing some management towards it, but the sites that they were at are pretty high-quality and are already undergoing restoration."

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources said there could be up to 5,000 bobcats in Illinois, but most sightings are in the southern part of the state.

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