The dream began long ago…

A couple of days ago I came across a project called “I am Somebody” from fourth grade.

It was an exercise in challenging us to state who we are and who we wanted to become in life.

I don’t remember this project and I have not seen it since I did it back in 1984 but what I found in it reminded me that a dream of working with wildlife that became a vision later in life started long ago.

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When asked to draw a picture or cut out and paste of picture of what I wanted to be when I grew up I chosen article from National Geographic showing a researcher with a leopard seal.

I would like to be a scientist because I would like to maybe find a way to stop water pollution or discover a new animal. I would like to be a wildlife biologist.

I ended up studying journalist in school and later zoology and have since I was in high school pursued wildlife journalism. It’s amazing a little boy with a big dream got to live it in a little different way.

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The assignment also had a section called “If I Were…”

If I were an animal I would like to be a grizzly bear so I could be the strongest animal in the forest.

Not much has changed on that front although I would probably tell you a jaguar for the answer now-the strongest cat in the forest.

The reason for this post is to inspire you to follow the vision you have for your life. My advice is to seek God, receive revelation on your life and pursue that with everything you have.

I am no one special but I have been able to do many special things in regards to wildlife. There is no reason you can’t do the same thing.

I plan on doing many more special things with wildlife in the next 25 years and beyond and want to inspire you to seek out your WILDEST dreams.

I will probably never become a grizzly but I just might get an up close and personal photo one of one of these magnificent creatures.

Yeah, that sounds fun…

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Snow leopard de-listing. What’s the real story?

Recently I received news that one of the most mysterious and beautiful creatures on the planet was being taken off the endangered species list.

I am talking about the snow leopard.

Listing and delisting a species can come with a lot of confusion as subjects like this one deal with everything from extremely difficult population analysis to its interpretation.

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Public Domain Photo

In this special case I turned to someone I trust and respect my friend from the other side of the world Dr. Natalie Schmitt who as you will see is doing some great work that will benefit snow leopards and other wild felines.

Here is the transcript of the questions I sent her and as always she answered with great detail and honesty.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 Do you feel the delisting of the snow leopard is justified?

I think the decision by the (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) IUCN assessment team to downgrade the snow leopard’s conservation status from ‘endangered’ to ‘vulnerable’ is justified as the species needed to meet very specific criteria to maintain that status.

A continuation of the ‘endangered’ classification for the snow leopard would have required two criteria to be met, 1.) a population consisting of less than 2,500 adults, and 2.) a rate of decline exceeding 20 percent over 16 years. The expert assessor team (consisting of five respected international experts), using the best information available, determined that the snow leopard currently meets neither criteria.

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Dr. Natalie Schmitt

Although recent studies suggest that snow leopard numbers are likely higher than previously thought, the assessment team took an exceptionally precautionary approach, including using the lowest widely accepted global population size (4,000) when determining if the ‘endangered’ threshold could be met.

Although we still have only very crude estimates of snow leopard abundance based on sightings, camera trap recordings and interviews with local people, more accurate estimates are likely to not have any impact on the conservation status according to the expert team. However, my personal concern is that the decision has been made prematurely before broader-scale surveys are conducted with more accurate counting methods, to know for certain. In fact, in the full report on the snow leopard, the IUCN noted that population numbers could be partly speculative, given the difficulties in collecting accurate data on the elusive species across its full range from Afghanistan through to China.

What has been the main contributing factor to an increase in population?

Conservation efforts have been pinnacle in helping to prevent snow leopard extinction, particularly efforts to stop poaching and cutting off illegal trafficking routes however, as far as we are aware, the population is still decreasing, just not as rapidly as we once thought.

What are some negatives that could come from de-listing the snow leopard?

The biggest concern about the recent downlisting is that the lower status may weaken conservation efforts in range countries and the ability of local governments to stop the major threats to their survival. Some funding sources are also restricted to Endangered or Critically Endangered species, so there may be less funding opportunities for the species.

Tell us about your invention for tracking species like the snow leopard?

This invention has become the biggest life sacrifice for me, because I believe in its value so much! With the help of biomedical experts from McMaster University, the Centre for Molecular Dynamics in Nepal and Panthera, we aim to develop a simple, inexpensive, accurate, sensitive and portable DNA detection kit that can be used by non-experts for the rapid detection of species from the evidence they leave behind.

Through the identification of animals from their droppings we can gain an accurate estimate of population abundance, and the kit will be particularly useful for the detection of rare and elusive species where scats are difficult to identify morphologically. The portability and affordability of the kit will also make it easier for detecting species inhabiting challenging terrain, and in developing countries where conservation funding is limited. Once identified, those samples can then be taken back to the lab for further analysis of diet and disease.

The kit can also be used by customs officers to rapidly identify the remains of illegally trafficked species such as skins and bone. It is the lack of ability to be able to distinguish between legal and illegal wildlife products that represents the biggest issue in the enforcement and prosecution of wildlife trafficking. By improving our frontline detection methods we can identify poaching hotspots and trafficking routes, determine the geographic origin and age of the product, as well as assist law enforcement officers to prevent future crimes.

Finally, the simple design will allow the detection kit to be used by non-experts such as local communities and for citizen science initiatives. The usability of the kit will help local people to be directly involved in identifying and mitigating threats to wildlife, thereby expanding conservation outcomes.

We’ve already made significant headway and with the support of people and organisations who believe in the value of this idea too, we’ll get there.

To subscribe to regular updates on the project and to make a donation, please visit https://www.natscatsdna.com/

What are the greatest challenges for the species moving forward?

Despite the IUCN downlisting of the species, snow leopards are still considered at high risk of extinction from habitat loss and degradation from mining and infrastructure development, declines in prey populations and poaching for the illegal wildlife trade. It is so important that we don’t become complacent in our efforts to preserve this important apex predator.

The snow leopard plays a crucial part in maintaining the health of the Himalayan ecosystem.

A bear named Gigi

It was called Tiger Bar and Grill.

Besides the booze, the draw was a pair of Bengal tigers sitting on a small slab across from the bar.

It is hard to imagine that at some point, this was considered a good idea but it had been open for several years and by the amount of bottles in the trash can outside, they had a few patrons.

Our mission was to rescue a young black bear illegally imported into Texas and being kept in the bar.

The author at age 21 with his cousin Frank Moore giving “Gigi” her last Twinkie of the night. (Photo by Gerald Burleigh)

A game warden had contacted Monique Woodard of the Exotic Cat & Wildlife Refuge in Kirbyville, TX to see if she would take the bear and she got my frequent cohort and wildlife photographer Gerald Burleigh and I to come along.

My job was to dart the bear if it got belligerent so we could put it in the crate to ride to Kirbyville in the back of my truck. Gerald was thereto document the day with his unique style of photography.

The tigers despite being in a small area looked healthy but the bear on the other hand was quite scruffy. Weighing about 80 pounds, she was probably around six months old and despite her small size she could have taken out all of us. Bears are extremely powerful.

We walked up to the enclosure and the bear stood up on its hind legs.

Before risking darting the animal, we put the extra large pet porter next to the door of the cage and Monique reached into her bag and pulled out a Twinkie.

Gigi getting a drink in her new enclosure (Photo by Gerald Burleigh)

She held it up to the nose of the bear which at this point was standing at the door and she had me open it. She then threw the Twinkie into the porter and the bear went right in.

Easy enough.

On the way home, somewhere around Baytown on Interstate 10, the bear which at this point had been named “Gigi” pounded on the bed of my truck.

We pulled over to see what was wrong and Monique said she was hungry so she gave her a few more Twinkies from the box.

This happened three more times before getting to Kirbyville where she had the very last Twinkie in her big new enclosure.

Gigi was a real treat and ended up being a big draw to the refuge and a gigantic blessing to our lives.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Into the Abyss…

Time stood still as I sank into the abyss.

For a moment, it seemed as if I were in a bizarre, fever-induced nightmare, descending deeper and deeper into murky blackness.

Life and death hung in the balance as I struggled to make it toward the light above but my captor was powerful. Effort seemed futile as it pulled with unbelievable strength until suddenly something gave and I broke free.

Rocketing to the surface toward the boat I was pulled from, I gave everything to get back in.

A huge beast with razor sharp teeth had just taken me on a trip into 40 degree, 50-foot deep water. Drowning, hypothermia and bleeding to death were all likely scenarios but an even stronger force led me to the light.

Back in 1997, I was running a trotline in a deep hole in the Sabine River. My cousin Frank Moore and I had trotlines about 200 yards apart and had been catching a few blue catfish.

This was in the middle of winter and we were targeting huge blue catfish. In previous days I had several large hooks straightened and had visions of 75-pound blues in my mind.

As I went to check my line, I noticed most it was not parallel to the shore but drifting out across the deep, instead of on the edge. The line had been cut (or so I thought).

Immediately not so kind words flowed through my mouth to whoever cut the line but then as I started to pull it in something happened.

The line moved!

Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.

I pulled in a little more and felt great weight at the end of the line and soon realized I had a seven-foot long alligator garfish on my line. In the Moore family, gar trump blue cats any day of the week so I was excited and even more so when I saw the huge gar barely moving.

Gar will often drown on trotlines (seriously) and this one looked a little worse for the wear so I though it would be easy pickings.

I pulled the line up to the beast, hooked my gaff under the only soft spot on the fish, which is directly below the jaw. I jammed it in there good to make sure it would hold and to see how lively the fish was. It literally did not budge. The fish was alive but did not seem lively.

I then took a deep breath, mustered up all the strength I had since this was a 200-pound class fish and heaved the gar into the boat. That is when the big fish woke up.

It pulled back with full force and all of a sudden I found myself headed down into 30 feet of water with the gar. In an instant I realized one of the other hooks on the trotline had caught in my shoe and I was now attached to 200 pounds of toothy fury.

I had just enough time to take a breath and went under.

All I could focus on was getting back to the surface and toward the light. I am not sure how deep I went but according to my cousin who was just down the shore from me, I did not stay under very long. A 200-pound gar and a 200-pound young man snapped the lead on the line but the hook amazingly remained in my shoe as a reminder I was very near death.

Bringing the line into the boat was a mistake on my part. Nearly a fatal one. They should always be checked on the side of the boat.

More philosophically, thinking back to that moment enveloped in a  cold darkness and looking up to the light would foreshadow what would happen in my life in years to come.

There was much more living to do. I just had to reach to the light-the Light of the World to be set free.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Key deer live through Hurricane Irma (video)

We have been promising to keep you updated as to the status of the federally endangered key deer in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

The following is a video captured by veteran television journalist David Sutta via Facebook showing four key deer on Big Pine Key after Irma blasted through.

Big Pine Key is where the majority of the population lives. Thanks to Cody Conway from Wild Imaging for sending this to me.

Our contacts in key deer research have been unavailable and have not been able to access their research areas. We hope to have more on the status of the deer in the coming days and weeks.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

He always wanted to kill a manatee

“I’ve always wanted to kill a manatee”.

That statement was among the first comments on the photo of a manatee stranded in Tampa Bay as Hurricane Irma sucked water out of that vast ecosystem.

It would be easy to pass that off as a typical Internet idiot stirring trouble but when you look at the profile and see it was an adult male who made the comment and followed up with other disturbing quotes you see something is very wrong here.

This was not a non-indigenous feral hog that displaces native wildlife or a game animal like a whitetail deer or wild turkey that are hunted and eaten by licensed hunters. It was a manatee-a gentle giant of the seagrass flats.

It was a manatee-a highly protected species.

The “kill the manatee” comments (and others like it circulating on the Web) are reminiscent of the dolphin shooting I covered in Texas in 2015.

Two teenage boys actually shot a dolphin, one that was disillusioned after wandering into freshwater nonetheless with a fishing arrow.

That killing probably made some of the people I dealt with in the Texas flounder regulation debate back in 2008 happy.

This is an actual regulatory suggestion I got from someone and my reply.

“They are always out there in the passes flipping those flounder out of the water and eating them. The dolphins are getting more populous and they eat more flounder than we ever kill, so we should enact some dolphin population control.”

“So, you’re saying we should shoot Flipper to save the flounder?,” I asked.

“Yes, pretty much.”

Somehow the idea of setting up dolphin sharpshooters in our bays and passes did not seem like it would fly with not only the public but wildlife managers.

“Come to the Texas coast where we blew away 500 dolphins last year!”

Not exactly good Chamber of Commerce material, is it?

Soon however, the tide turned away from dolphin eradication to redfish annihilation

“There are just too many redfish. They are eating all of the baby flounder. That is why flounder numbers are down.”

This is reminiscent of the late 1990s when commercial fishermen in Louisiana tried to get gill and strike nets legalized for redfish once again because the reds were “wiping out the crabs.”

A decline in blue crab numbers could not possibly have been related to the insane number of crab traps set in Bayou State waters but had to have been redfish, which as far as we know have been co-existing with crabs forever.

At the end of the day those who kill protected animals (or fantasize about doing so) do it because they want to.

They choose to do so.

But I wonder what contributing factors are at play.

Is it a rural version of the mall fights and other random violence we have seen in larger cities or some kind of other pent up anger?

Is it the hardened stance against anything labeled “green” or “environmental” or “endangered” that is pervasive in sectors of the hunting community?

I can’t tell you how many people have told me jokes about spotted owl and whooping crane gumbo I have been told over the years.

There is probably no way to tell but it needs to stop and a true respect for all wildlife needs to be front and center.

We need as a community of outdoors lovers to rebuild the platform by which we teach conservation to the young and instill pride in the fact that we have incredible wildlife resources here and that taking beyond what the law offers depletes them.

We need to use these shameful moments as teachable ones and talk about consequence.

I have swam with manatees in the Crystal River in Florida three times and they were some of the most amazing experiences of my life.

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Photo

I also grew up deer, duck and hog hunting.

Yet somehow I have never wanted to kill a manatee or a bald eagle or a dolphin.

It is because I was brought up to respect the resource and only take what I could eat. The idea of someone chuckling at the plight of a manatee sickens me.

Part of it is because I love these great animals but even more so I am troubled over a public where comments like that end up turning to actions like the aforementioned dolphin shot by Texas teens.

We have to move forward with conservation and a deep respect for wildlife and shame those who want to destroy it.

Wise stewardship should be celebrated whether its enacted by Ducks Unlimited or the Save the Manatee group.

Wildlife needs our help and thankfully the stranded manatee got it.

The keyboard warrior who wanted to kill one was probably too busy surfing the Web in his mother’s basement, living the kind of pathetic life trolls live.

In this case, the manatee won.

Thank God.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Key deer major concern as Irma hammers Florida

The average elevation of Big Pine Key off the mainland coast of Florida is three feet.

Early reports of storm surge from Hurricane Irma hitting Big Pine Key is 10 feet.

Big Pine Key is home to the majority of the federally endangered key deer, the smallest subspecies of whitetail and it is headquarters of National Key Deer Refuge.

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Key Deer have had a rough go of it in the last couple of years.

“While there had been no screwworm outbreaks in the U.S. for the past 30 years, one began last July (2016) on Big Pine Key, which affected the Key deer population,” said Dr. Roel Lopez, institute director and co-principal investigator for the Key deer study, San Antonio, a project of Texas A&M University.

Last year screwworms infested the population, which is spread across more than 20 islands. It has led to 135 Key deer deaths, including 83 that were euthanized to reduce the risk of further infection.

“This was a significant blow to a species of which is uniquely located in that area and has an estimated population of just 875,” said Lopez, who noted the mortalities were chiefly among adult males.

We will be contacting officials with the key deer study as well as at National Key Deer Refuge to monitor what is happening with the species.

A 10 foot surge could have serious consequences to all wildlife of the keys but the key deer is the most vulnerable. And they have already been hit by a severe (proportionally speaking) screwworm outbreak.

Mid-day Monday we found a report at the Miami Herald about the species.

Dan Clark superintendent of the National Key Deer Refuge, said his first priority as the massive storm approached was to evacuate National Wildlife Refuge personnel assigned to the area.

“After we receive information from Monroe County that it is safe to return and we can inhabit the Lower Keys, a post-storm assessment of our facilities and residences will be conducted to determine if we can operate,” Clark said.

As we get updates we will keep you updated.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Harvey aftermath: Dioxins, PCBs and other pollutants impacting children and women of child-bearing age

The waters of Galveston Bay south of Houston and Sabine Lake in the Golden Triangle area (Beaumont/Port Arthur/Orange) have had a tremendous amount of water pollution history.

The Houston/Galveston area has numerous superfund sites which are designated major pollution sites that need years and sometimes decades worth of cleanup efforts.

These pollutants have already impacted wildlife and found their way into the human population via fishing which is very popular in the region.

With many superfund sites underwater and flooding into neighborhoods, marshes and into fisheries what will happen in the long run?

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Speckled trout, the most popular sport fish on the Texas coast, absorbs several potentially deadly pollutants.

What are the threats to wildlife and people?

These warnings come from the Texas Department of Health and have been established in the area for years.

Sabine Lake and contiguous Texas waters in Jefferson and Orange counties (Chemical of Concern: Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

*For gafftopsail catfish, adults should limit consumption to no more than three 8-ounce meals per month.

*Children under 12 and women who are pregnant, nursing or may become pregnant should limit consumption to no more than one 4-ounce meal per month

Houston Ship Channel and all contiguous waters north of the Fred Hartman Bridge, State Highway 146 including the San Jacinto River below the Lake Houston dam (Chemicals of Concern: Dioxins, Organochlorine pesticides, Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

*For all species of fish and blue crabs, adults should limit consumption to no more than one, 8-ounce meal per month.

*Women of childbearing age and children under 12 should not consume any fish or blue crabs from this area.

Upper Galveston Bay and all contiguous waters north of a line drawn from Red Bluff Point to Five-Mile Cut Marker to Houston Point (Chemicals of Concern: Dioxins and Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

*For all species of catfish, spotted seatrout and blue crab, adults should limit consumption to no more than one, 8-ounce meal per month.

*Children under 12 and women of childbearing age should not consume spotted seatrout, blue crabs or any catfish species from this area.

Galveston Bay and all contiguous waters including Chocolate Bay, East Bay, Trinity Bay and West Bay (Chemicals of Concern: Dioxins and Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

*For all species of catfish, adults should limit consumption to no more than one, 8-ounce meal per month.

*Children, and women who are nursing, pregnant or who may become pregnant should not consume catfish from these waters.

This brings a frightening element to the old statement, “You are what you eat”.

Lets pray for these pollutants to not impact people already devastated in the region for much wiser stewardship of our resources.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Harvey: Huge wild boar visits neighborhood (video)-this will be a common site in some areas

Don’t let the name The Woodlands fool you.

Yes, it is beautifully developed with plenty of trees and greenbelts but The Woodlands is part of the Houston area and it is usually bustling with human activity.

After Hurricane Harvey’s torrential rains hit the area last weekend, wildlife from the local forests started to invade the neighborhoods.

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(Photo courtesy CJoslinROCK)

Jon Joslin captured this footage of a massive wild boar that came trotting through the yard as if it owned the place.

This is exactly what we warned would happen in an earlier entry explaining that the Houston area has a massive feral hog and coyote population that floodwaters would reveal.

Texas’ feral hog population estimates are in the three million range with some believing that is very conservative. Feral hogs have officially become the most harvested game animal in Texas with more than 750,000 taken by hunters and trappers. That is more than 150,000 above the state’s annual whitetail harvest and Texas has by far the largest deer harvest in the nation.

Feral hogs despite their reputation are not out to get people-well at least most of them aren’t.

Scientists have recently uncovered a profile of killer hogs-yes those that kill people and we reported on it here.

You might now want to read that one before going to bed-or a camping trip. Yeah, its kind of creepy.

Most hogs however want to be left alone but animals stressed by being displaced in a flood situation just might be more prone to lashing out than one you see while taking a stroll on your favorite hiking trail.

If you see a hog during these flooding conditions chances are it it not someone’s pet. Keep in mind not all feral hogs are black. Many are brown, some are white, others spotted and even blonde.

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Feral hogs are not all black. In fact they can have a range of colors. (US Fish & Wildlife Service Photo)

Even sows (females) can be aggressive. Sows with young are particularly testy.

By all means do not feed any hogs you see in the area. Habituating them to your property is a bad idea at every level. Even in the best case scenario your yard will look like someone plowed it for agriculture.

As the human tragedy of Hurricane Harvey continues to unfold, displaced wildlife will be encountered by thousands.

The best play is to stay a safe distance, especially in the case of hogs.

That way you and the hog can stay out of trouble.

Chester Moore, Jr. 

 

Rat hordes biggest wildlife threat in Harvey aftermath

“Rats!”

“Thousands of them! Millions of them!”

The famous quote from Dwight Frye’s portrayal of Renfield in 1931’s Dracula shows a crazed man obsessed with large number of rodents.

There is no question that thousands and perhaps millions of rats have been displaced in Houston and outlying areas in the historic flooding of Hurricane Harvey.

And they are the most likely of displaced animals to cause problems.

Rats are excellent swimmers and climbers and while some will no doubt have perished most will survive.

The Houston area has had an increase rat problem this summer as show by this video from ABC 13.

According to the Center of Disease Control rats and their kind are major disease carriers.

Worldwide, rats and mice spread over 35 diseases. These diseases can be spread to humans directly, through handling of rodents, through contact with rodent feces, urine, or saliva, or through rodent bites. Diseases carried by rodents can also be spread to humans indirectly, through ticks, mites or fleas that have fed on an infected rodent.

Immediately some locations on high ground will find themselves covered with large numbers of rats. And while rats do not typically “attack” people, stressed ones are more likely to bite. The main threat would be children picking them up and pets encountering them.

Britannica_Rat_-_Brown_Rat

During my coverage of Hurricane Ike in 2008, I learned of a family that stayed in the path of the massive of Hurricane only a few miles from the beach and had to retreat into the attic and eventually the roof. As waters rose, rats inundated the small strip of high ground along with snakes from the nearby marsh.

Rats that can stay together will. They have a very strong social order.

But those separate by flooding conditions are still resilient.

Rodents that survive a disaster often move to new areas. It will take time for rodents to regroup, reorganize their social behavior, become familiar with their new environment, find safe haven, locate food and water, and memorize their movements according to CDC officials.

Colony building and reproduction will begin only when their new ecosystem has stabilized. This typically takes 6 to 10 months under favorable conditions. As the rodent population grows and resettles, people have a greater chance of being exposed to the diseases carried by rodents. Rodent urine and dander also contain allergens that can cause allergic reactions or trigger asthma symptoms in sensitive persons and more than 9,000 persons are treated in emergency departments annually for rat or mouse bites.

And something very few people consider is that a large number of rats found in America cities are a foreign invader-the Norway rat.

Dispersed around the world on ships these highly resilient animals can chew through virtually anything. These animals can outcompete native rodents for space and food and will survive virtually anything-including Hurricanes and floods.

CDC officials warn damaged or abandoned homes and other buildings may be infested with rodents.

In the aftermath of Harvey if you see signs of rodents, the building will need to be thoroughly cleaned.

Here are a few CDC tips for cleaning up after rats.

*Do not vacuum or sweep rodent urine, rodent droppings, or contaminated surfaces that have not been disinfected.

*Spray urine and droppings with a disinfectant or a 1:10 chlorine solution (1½ cups of household bleach mixed with 1 gallon of water) until thoroughly soaked.

*Let it soak for 5 minutes.

*Use a paper towel to remove urine and droppings.

*Discard the paper towel outdoors in a sealed garbage container.

Make sure and educate children about rats and let them know not to approach or pick up any live or dead. If a child (or adult) is bitten by a rat get medical treatment immediately.

Its doubtful anyone will see “thousands of rats” and certainly not “millions”.

But for those of us who don’t much like these pests it can only take one to drive us crazy or at least feel that way.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Cutting-edge wildlife writings and investigations.