NEWPORT BEACH — The Back Bay's unlikely celebrity, a 5-year-old female bobcat named Babe, will be the star of an upcoming informational event at the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center celebrating the close of her year-long sojourn.
Weighing an estimated 17 pounds, Babe doesn't seem like she would cause much of a stir.
Yet, to look at her near cult-like following on a webpage created by fans — or the volume of animal control complaints — it's clear that her small profile gets noticed.
Orange County Trackers a volunteer coalition of wildlife experts, will host an informational meeting Sept. 9 to discuss its annual observations of the local bobcat population and other wildlife.
Photos of Babe, which flooded in by the hundreds, will also be displayed.
After several months of roaming around Dover Shores, Babe and her litter, which she gave birth to in March, have returned to the Back Bay nature preserve, said biologist Dick Newell.
"They were last seen walking [Wednesday] along the side of Back Bay Drive, probably looking for a rabbit dinner," Newell said in an e-mail Friday. "Her kittens will stay with her until she gets ready to breed again in early spring. At that time, they will have to disperse and find their own territories, and she will have to find a mate for her next litter."
Newell, who has been studying Babe since 2006, said it has become common practice for her to leave the preserve each spring to find a safe spot in one of the many surrounding residential neighborhoods to give birth.
While bobcats generally avoid humans, Babe's proximity to humans dissuades predators from attacking her young, Newell said after concerned residents began placing calls to animal control back in May.
The calls dwindled to about one per week, after the Daily Pilot began covering Babe's activity in early May, Newport Beach Police Sgt. Steve Burdette said on behalf of animal control.
Her spring and summer antics included snatching the occasional pet rabbit and being chased up a tree by a dog — a three-hour incident that brought out animal control and amateur photographers. Her profile increased dramatically after the birth of three healthy offspring.
"Bobcats prefer to eat rabbits, squirrels and other small rodents and usually only interact with domestic animals in an occasional territorial dispute or in defense of their kittens," Newell said. "Babe is so unconcerned about people that she is frequently seen casually walking the trails within a few yards of equestrians, bikers and folks walking their dogs. It is always the humans who act surprised."
There are no known incidents of bobcats attacking people in Newport. However, one of the largest causes of unnatural death for bobcats are run-ins with motor vehicles, Newell said.
Three bobcats were killed recently along Coast Highway, with the most recent being on Aug. 16, Newell said.
Babe's first known mate, Buck, was killed while crossing Jamboree Road last year.
While not as famous as Babe, several of her earlier young — dubbed Galaxy, Salsa and Tabasco — are still around and are often spotted by the wildlife cameras Newell has set up throughout the bay area.
It is not clear if Babe's most recent young have earned any monikers yet, but if they share the same "paparazzi" appeal as their mother, Newell will have his hands full with a whole new slew of images and comments.
"Babe is more famous than some rockstars … hundreds of reports and photographs come in to [O.C. Trackers] each season regarding this marvelous animal," he said.
If You Go
What: A presentation by members of Orange County Trackers
When: 6:45 p.m., Sept. 9,
Where: 2301 University Drive.