You’ve probably never seen a bobcat.

It’s an elusive creature that’s about two to three times the size of a house cat – a feline with distinctive spotted fur that’s coveted around the world.

In many states in the U.S., it’s legal to trap and kill bobcats, a native and abundant wild feline. It’s also legal to capture the cats with steel-jaw traps – tools so hazardous and indiscriminate that they’ve been banned in more than 80 countries. And it’s not just how bobcats are caught that’s controversial – it’s the gruesome way many are killed to protect their pelts: strangulation.

By using what are called choke poles, trappers prevent blood from staining the bobcat’s fur, which makes the pelts more valuable.

The number of bobcat pelts exported from the U.S. has quadrupled in recent years, climbing to more than 65,000 in 2013. And so far, fur trapping is not threatening the bobcat population.

It’s with this in mind that reporter Tom Knudson and producer Ike Sriskandarajah examine what’s really at stake when trapping bobcats: how we define cruelty.

DIG DEEPER

  • Read: America’s trapping boom relies on cruel and grisly tools
  • Watch: Tom Knudson tests just how strong these steel jaws can be.

Julia B. Chan worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until June, 2017. Julia B. Chan is a producer and the digital editor for Reveal's national public radio program. She’s the voice of Reveal online and manages the production and curation of digital story assets that are sent to more than 200 stations across the country. Previously, Chan helped The Center for Investigative Reporting launch YouTube’s first investigative news channel, The I Files, and led engagement strategies – online and off – for multimedia projects. She oversaw communications, worked to better connect CIR’s work with a bigger audience and developed creative content and collaborations to garner conversation and impact.

Before joining CIR, Chan worked as a Web editor and reporter at the San Francisco Examiner. She managed the newspaper’s digital strategy and orchestrated its first foray into social media and online engagement. A rare San Francisco native, she studied broadcasting at San Francisco State University, focusing on audio production and recording. Chan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.