Banteng

It must be the Texan in me.

I love cattle especially wild ones. There is something powerful and majestic about the bulls in particular.

Numerous species exist around the world but my favorite is the banteng of Southeast Asia.

Public Domain Photo
Public Domain Photo

I first learned of these while in college doing some studies on Australia’s wildlife. Banteng were introduced there in the 1830s and there are about 10,000 of them dwelling Garig Gunak Barlu National Park.

That is actually the largest population of wild banteng found anywhere. In their native Southeast Asia their numbers have dwindled.

There is a domesticated strain of banteng idenfited as “Bali cattle” and there has been some introducing them into the gene pool to help bring some diversity.

A study entitled Rapid development of cleaning behavior by Torresian crows on non-native banteng in Northern Australia (That’s a mouthful, huh?) shows some positives of their introduction

In this paper we report the observation of a rapidly developed vertebrate symbiosis involving ectoparasite cleaning by a native corvid of northern Australia, the Torresian crow, on a recently introduced bovid ungulate, the banteng. On three separate dates we observed a total of four crow individuals eliciting facilitation behaviours by a total of ten female banteng to assist in the removal of ectoparasites.

Most exotic introductions are considered a negative although in reality people would be shocked with which animals in their country are actually native. This one is at least proving interesting scientifically and benefiting a native species.

One of the animals we plan on acquiring for the next phase of the Kingdom Zoo: Wildlife Center is a banteng . If anyone has any contacts here in the states please contact us.

And don’t worry. As much as I like beef, banteng will not be what’s for dinner.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Bobcats have tails!

Bobcats have tails!

That might not seem worthy of the exclamation point there but it needs to be said emphatically.

Over the last year I have examined at least a dozen bobcat photos people thought were cougars because the tail was longer than they expected.

The video below shows a bobcat captured on a game camera by friends of mine in Orange County, TX.

This particular bobcat has a tail longer than just about any I have seen but there are many of them out there with tails close to this. Some have little powder puff looking tails but most stretch out 3-4 inches. This one is probably 8-9 inches in length.

That is long for a bobcat but nearly as long as a cougar which has a tail nearly as long as the body.

I have no scientific way of estimation but I daresay 75 percent of alleged cougar sightings in the eastern half of the United States are bobcats.

I know for a fact there are cougars there too but bobcats are far more numerous and I know from personal experience how many people think they have a cougar photo but find out it is a bobcat instead.

This is no fault of their own. Wildlife identification studies are not a priority at schools and in fact game wardens even get very little wildlife identification education during their formal training.

I appreciate any and all game camera photos and if you have some you would like to have evaluated email chester@kingdomzoo.com.

Bobcats are one of my favorite animals and I have had the pleasure to work with them in captivity, photograph them on many occasions and have probably seen 200 plus in the wild.

In fact on a peace of property near the set of John Wayne’s “The Alamo” near Bracketville, TX I saw five bobcats in one day.

Seeing them is fairly common for me but I always rejoice knowing I caught a glimpse of one of America’s most successful predators.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Playing Jim Fowler

Growing up I always thought television talk shows were boring.

Johnny Carson made me laugh  when I talked my parents into letting me stay up late enough to watch but his guests did not impress me as a youngster.

That is unless that guest was Jim Fowler.

Fowler, the co-host of my favorite television program growing up “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” was a frequent guest on “The Tonight Show” and brought wildlife to the masses for decades via his relationship with Carson.

As I walked onto a stage in front of 3,000 kids at the Global VBS at Cornerstone Church last summer, I felt like I was getting to play Jim Fowler.

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The program is called “Cheeto Talk” and it is a late night television talk style show but hosted by a puppet operated by my friend Pastor Brett Own of San Antonio, TX.

During the course of an hour we brought out all kinds of animals for Cheeto to interact with and we had an absolutely great time.

From “Reverend Sweets” one of the guests almost having a legitimate panic attack over our rosehair tarantula to the kids collective “awww” when they saw our short tail opossum it was tons of fun.

The highlight for me was having the Kingdom Zoo kids bring out the animals and interacting with the crowd.

During the last segment Rachel brought out “Rowdy” our coatimundi who was only 10 weeks old at the time. He behaved well in front of the huge crowd and commanded their attention.

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At the end Pastor Owen asked me to close in prayer and at this point “Rowdy” climbed on top of my head.

Not that there is much competition in this category but I have a feeling I hold the record for the only prayer with a coatimundi on one’s head while leading  a prayer.

And I got to play Jim Fowler for an hour. I hope the performance would make him proud.

Click here to watch Cheeto Talk with special guest Chester Moore.

Chester Moore, Jr.

“Teeth” in the Gulf

“Teeth”!

“That is next movie they need to make. We’ve got one about a killer shark but they need to make one about a killer gar,” said my Dad.

“Wouldn’t that be cool?” he asked as we sat on the side of the road between Bridge City and Port Arthur, TX fishing for alligator garfish.

At eight-years-of age I thought that would be epic to say the least and if any of the producers of such high art as “Sharktopus” are reading this blog, it very well could become the next SyFy Original.

Just sign those royalty checks to “Chester Moore” please.

Dad always liked to make me laugh and that certainly did but there certainly are not a bunch of garfish attacks to report.

There is however something quite interesting.

15240140_10153905413465780_2058860035_nWhile “Jaws” is on the minds of beachgoers in Texas (our variety-bulls, lemons, blacktips) “Teeth” is soaking up some of the same salty waters.

Angler Marcus Heflin caught a sizable alligator garfish while fishing the surf at Sea Rim State Park at Sabine Pass along the Texas-Louisiana border.

This was the first gar I have heard of on the beach anywhere along the Gulf Coast although I have long suspected they are there.

As a child I had a collection of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazines and one of them had a profile of Sea Rim State Park-where Heflin caught the gar pictured above.

It had fishing hotspots and there were several marked for garfish in the surf.

Garfish are considered a freshwater species but do well along the Gulf Coast. I grew up fishing for them in Sabine Lake and surrounding waters, a bay that at its southern end is only seven miles from the surf.

Mobile Bay in Alabama is a hotbed of alligator garfish activity and they are present in numerous salt marshes along the Louisiana coast.

Still, you can find almost no references to garfish in the surf.

The question is just how common they are in Gulf waters and how far out do they go?

These are very mysterious fish with little known about their life cycles or habits in comparison to America fish for comparable size.

So, if you’r ever at the beach and see something that looks kind of like a mutated alligator swim beside you don’t worry.

You just have had an encounter with “Teeth”.

There is no danger to be concerned with except in my eight-year-old imagination where a ravaging gar seemed like an intriguing proposition.

And to be perfectly honest it still does.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Follow the nose…

There was something about those 1980s Fruit Loops commercials.

The debonair sounding “Toucan Sam” was and is a memorable icon of pop culture and was what initially got me interested in toucans.

After seeing them on my cereal box in the mornings I started looking them up in the personal wildlife book library I had accumulated and found them fascinating.

Fast forward to 1999 and I found myself in the rainforest of Venezuela and five feet away from this white-throated toucan on the shores of the massive Lake Guri.

I was mesmerized as I snapped this photo.

The unique design and beautiful contrast of light and dark was in my opinion the most beautiful bird I had ever seen.

Sure, cardinals and red-headed woodpeckers had more standard beauty but there was something special about the toucan-all toucans.

When we founded Kingdom Zoo in 2012 me and my wife Lisa knew we wanted at toucan.

We searched high and low to no avail so we did what we should have done to begin with. We prayed.

We also gave away plush toucans to needy children in the community as a way of showing Christ’s love but also believing that he who gives us given unto.

We recently had the opportunity to purchase a gorgeous male green aracari toucan. We named him “Papaya”.

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This friendly and very active bird had his official debut last weekend at the Kingdom Zoo: Wildlife Center and seeing people’s reactions was special.

Most have never seen a toucan up close, only on the cereal box or perhaps in a distance enclosure at a zoo. Our micro zoo provides close interactions with animals and “Papaya” has become our number one bird ambassador.

He is a true treasure and I could not be happier.

Dreams do come true. Sometimes they come after profound revelation. Sometimes they are passed down from family members.

And sometimes they can even be founded gazing at a cereal box excited about the sugary snack inside.

And don’t give me any flack about GMOs and refined sugars. You know you were eating them too.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Aoudad are here to stay

The aoudad (barbary sheep) is now a part of the Southwestern landscape that will never leave it-at least not until something cataclysmic like a worldwide flood or giant astroid strikes the planet.

I’m serious.

Imported from north Africa for hunting more than 60 years ago in Texas there are now large feral populations in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

The aoudad is rufous tawny in color according to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

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Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.

“The insides of the legs are whitish. There is no beard, but there is a ventral mane of long, soft hairs on the throat, chest, and upper part of the forelegs. The horns of the male sweep outward, backward, and then inward; they are rather heavy and wrinkled, and measure up to 34 inches in length. Females also have prominent horns although they are not as large as those of the male.”

According to Wikipedia aoudad are fond of mountainous areas where they both graze and a browse.

They are able to obtain get all their moisture from food, but if liquid water is available, they drink it and wallow in it. They are crepuscular which means they are active in the early morning and late afternoon and resting in the heat of the day. They are very agile and can achieve a standing jump of over seven feet and will flee at the first sign of danger.

“They are well adapted to their habitats which consist of steep rocky mountains and canyons. When threatened, they always run up and bounce back and forth over the tops of the mountains to elude predators below. They stay in rough, steep country because they are more suited to the terrain than any of their predators. Aoudad are extremely nomadic and travel constantly via mountain ranges.”

One rancher had a 640 acre tract in Real County that was high fenced and had aoudad on it when he bough it. If you were to take all of the surface acres with canyons, hills and caves it is probably more like three times that size, at least it feels that way when I have been there.

Aoudad have rarely been killed there although herds as large as 30 have been seen.

The author snapped this rare photo of a baby aoudad on a tract of land in Texas in 2012.
The author snapped this rare photo of a baby aoudad on a tract of land in Texas in 2012.

He came across an aoudad ewe at a game sale and had the idea to fit her with a bell around her neck. When she got with the herd, he could hear the area they were in on the ranch. It is often extremely quiet out there.

The herd completely rejected her.

Another ranch had an aoudad in an acre pen that had grass grown up several feet high. They went to find the animal to try and lead it into a chute to put in a cage for the sale. It took them an hour to find the aoudad in an acre pen. They animal kept quietly crawling around on its knees.

These animals are survivors but are extremely elusive. Even in areas where they are common aoudad are far more shy than any of the native North American sheep.

Wildlife managers believe they outcompete native sheep for food and water but there are opposing viewpoints out there. We will discuss some of those in coming posts but either way the aoudad is here to stay.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Blue Deer

For years I have heard about strange whitetail deer that have a blue tint to their coats.

My father even reported seeing some of these deer on a hunting lease near San Saba, TX in the mid 1970s.

This of course was well before the era of cell phone cameras and game cameras so no photos were taken.

A reader sent in this photo of mysterious blue whitetails taken on his  game camera in an undisclosed location in the Pinewoods of East Texas.

Some parts look blue, others purple but this is not a an Adobe Photoshop rendering.

Have you seen any deer with unusual colors? If so e-mail wolf@wolfandlambmedia.com

We would love to see them.

Alligator eating donuts (Video)

Outdoor photographer Gerald Burleigh is known widely in his home state of Texas for his whitetail deer photography as well as his images of the life cycles of waterfowl.

While setting a game camera to lure in feral hogs on a stretch of property near the Neches River in Southeast Texas, he came across something interesting.

An alligator found his bait pile and came in and ate corn and gorged itself on some old donuts.

Alligators are carnivores that will eat virtually anything that swims in front of them but mainly eat fish and turtles.

This one apparently has a sweet tooth.

Something else interesting about this video is the camera is not set directly by the water. This alligator had to walk a pretty good way to find the food.

Alligators will actually cover long distances during the mating period and some of the very largest alligators are found in ponds far from the main waterways where they have set up after arriving there to find no mates during breeding season.

These areas house some of the very largest alligators because they are detached from their main habitat. The biggest alligators are targeted during the alligator hunting season so many of the largest specimens are those that have forsaken coastal marshes, main river channels and other spots close to civilization.

Alligators can grow to impressive sizes but it takes the correct genetics, available food and cover and the ability to live their maximum life cycle which can be upwards of 80 years.

Hunting pressure targeting the very largest alligators takes away the largest adults so truly large alligators (over 11 feet) are become increasingly rare.

Alligator populations themselves are high but those of maximum size are not as common as they used to be.

This one looks as if it might not make it too much longer. Any alligator that is willing to gobble up donuts would no doubt had a hard time resisting a chunk of rancid chicken dangling over the water.

Chester Moore, Jr.

The Snakemaster Speaks: A Conversation with Austin Stevens

No one knows snakes like Austin Stevens.

When his program Austin Steven’s “Snakemaster” debuted on Animal Planet a decade ago, wildlife enthusiasts around the world were mesmerized not only with the serpents he encountered on film, but of Steven’s deep passion and knowledge of the subject matter.

Stevens has just released his latest book Austin Stevens: Snakemaster-Wildlife Adventures with the World’s Most Dangerous Reptiles.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Stevens who is currently residing in Australia. From here in the swamps of East Texas to the great expanse of Down Under we have traded emails, exploring all things snakes.

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A recent proliferation of cottonmouth photos on social media as well as a well-publicized incident with a young man being bitten while talking a “selfie” inspired a question about this infamous southern species.

“The cottonmouth, or water moccasin as it is also known is indeed reputed to be a bad-tempered snake when approached. Generally speaking I have found this to be true, though one must also take into account that though a species may have earned a particular reputation, individual snakes may differ within a species,” Stevens said.

“In Florida, in one morning, I came across two specimens within 50 feet of each other. The first immediately deployed the typical defense strategy, with head pulled back into its body coils, mouth wide open with tongue flickering in and out while its tail vibrated noisily amongst leaf litter, producing a sound almost like a rattler. Moving closer with my camera, the snake immediately responded with numerous short, quick strikes in my direction.”

“Not 20 minutes later and just a little further along, I came across a smaller specimen of the same species, basking on a log. This cottonmouth showed little interest in my approach and only moved when I attempted to pick it up with my snake tongs, which I eventually did with little complaint on the part of the snake. Two completely different displays of attitude, but generally speaking, cottonmouths are quick to show their displeasure when approached.”

 

Another common social media-fueled controversy are photos and videos purporting to show massive anacondas and reticulated pythons-usually dead ones. While it is commonly known these are the planet’s largest snakes, the size of specimens living today is open to debate.

“The largest anaconda I have ever come across in the wild was close to 18 feet in length, and the largest reticulated python I have ever come across in the wild measured around 21 feet. The longest reticulated python I have ever seen, however, was a 24 foot specimen raised in captivity. This was a true monster of a snake,” Stevens said.

 

He went on to explain there have over the years been numerous reports of these giant snakes found to be much bigger than this, but no proof has been offered, other than, in a few cases, poorly faked photographs.

“As mentioned before, snakes grow throughout their lives, thus allowing for the possibility that there might be some larger specimens yet undiscovered deep in the jungles of Borneo, or the tributaries of the Amazon. It is unfortunate that such specimens might only be discovered when humans encroach deeper into wilderness regions and the result is usually to the detriment of the snake.”

Stevens is a world-renowned wildlife photographer and has used his skills to show the beauty, behavior and unique attributes of snakes. His favorite species is a bit of a show-off.

“I have a special fondness for numerous snake species, but the one I most enjoy, especially from a photographic point of view, is the black and yellow Asian mangrove snake,” he said.

“This snake grows up to 8 feet in length, is brightly colored in shiny black and startling yellow, and is ever ready to enthusiastically display its discontent when approached. This snake is a photographer’s dream, as it dramatically inflates its throat, opens its mouth wide and coils its body into a series of S-bends in preparation to strike out in self-defense if the need arises”.

 

The mouth is kept wide open for long periods, showing a pure white interior, allowing for plenty of time to trigger off a number of impressive photographs. The snake is back-fanged, but in spite of its size, not considered dangerously venomous to humans,” he added.

Stevens said habitat destruction through agricultural development, urbanization, mineral extraction, erosion, and pollution, are amongst the most important causes that have brought about a decline in reptile species on top of persecution based out of fear.

A prime example is the case of the timber rattlesnake, a species that is on the threatened list in Texas and numerous other states.

“Probably the first snakes encountered by America’s Founding Fathers, and a symbol of defiance ever since, the timber rattlesnake has been persecuted throughout much of its range in the USA,” he said.

In the broader picture, Stevens said if a single person throws down a piece of paper it’s of little consequence. When a million people each throw down a piece of paper it is pollution.

“So, with this in mind, if just one conservation minded person starts the ball rolling, millions can follow, and conservation of the planet as a whole could be achieved,” Stevens said.

“Nature and wildlife education and awareness plays a key role and should be included in the curriculum of every school around the world.”

And what would a world be without chances to encounter amazing animals? At the end of the day that is what Stevens brings across in his broadcasts, writings and photography.

The finest example from his experience is his now famous encounter with a massive king cobra.

“When confronted by this 14 foot specimen in India, it became immediately apparent to me that it possessed a higher intelligence. By comparison, it was like facing an adult, where all snakes before had been children,” he said.

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“At first the snake had charged at me with hood raised, ready to defend its territory, stopping just short of me, where it eyed me out with some apparent curiosity. This curiosity became even more evident when I slowly lowered my camera bag from my shoulder, and the snake did something I had never seen before with any other snake.”

“It focused its eyes on my movement as I bent down to drop the camera bag and it tilted its head, not forward but to the side, at an angle, as though directing its nearest eye for a better look, much like a hawk might do when taking note of potential prey. Carefully it watched my movements, and, when once again the snake looked up directly into my eyes, I realized without any shadow of doubt, as far as snake species were concerned, I was in the presence of higher intelligence.”

Stevens said although he was clearly within its domain, and within striking distance, with every movement being watched and calculated by this giant cobra, it never advanced towards him.

“Instead it released a long, almost continuous rumble from its throat, as though a gentle warning not to push my luck.”

“And when a short while later, while attempting to photograph the snake from multiple angles, I tripped and fell crashing to the ground, startling the cobra into thinking it was under threat, it immediately reacted by lunging forward raising its head to loom over me where I lay in the leaf litter on the forest floor,” Stevens said.

“When it realized that I was in fact not threatening it, it simply gazed down at me with tilted head, more, it seemed, out of curiosity than anger. And as I slowly raised myself up again, the great snake slowly moved back to allow me space. I have never experienced anything like it before.”

These are the kinds of encounters that make Austin Steven’s accounts in his new book a must read for wildlife enthusiasts and that inspire others to respect nature.

Yes, even its most feared and misunderstood creatures.

To purchase the book click here.

You can follow Austin Stevens on Facebook here.

Great Whites of the Gulf

The eyes.

Coal black.

Intense.

Ominous.

There is something powerful about the eyes of a great white shark.

In the 1975 blockbuster “Jaws”, obsessed shark hunter Capt. Quint describes them as “lifeless eyes…black eyes…like a doll’s eyes”.

As an 18 footer turned its eye to look at me while on a cage diving expedition to the Farallon Islands I quickly disagreed with Quint. Black they were but lifeless the sharks’ eyes were not.

They were filled with purpose. To kill. To eat. To survive.

Long believed extinct in the Gulf of Mexico or at least an extremely rare visitor, it seems there are survivors.

In 2014, “Katharine” and “Betsy”, two young great whites were verified in Gulf waters.

Public Domain Photo

Both of these sharks were fitted with SPOT transmitters by research/conservation group OCEARCH. These tags communicate with satellites and when the information from those tags if fed back to OCEARCH, it allows the public to view their movements at OCEARCH.org.

When, Katharine, all 2300 pounds of her, staked out the stretch of coastline off of Panama City Beach, Fla., people paid attention. More than four million logged onto the OCEARCH website, crashing the server the week and causing a media firestorm.

“Those two sharks, Katharine in particular, drew an enormous amount of attention to great white sharks in a very positive way and the interactive nature of the site, gave people a way to see great white movements take place in a way never before possible,” said OCEARCH founder Chris Fischer.

“We are solving the life history puzzle of ‘Jaws’ out of the Cape Cod area for the first time in history and it has been interesting to see unfold.”

Cape Cod is one thing but the Gulf of Mexico? That’s the domain of bull sharks and black tips, not great whites. Right?

Wrong.

Great white populations are on the rise due to 20 plus years of gill nets being banned along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. These nets caught and killed many juvenile great whites that are born on the East Coast and migrate into the Gulf to feed.

The shallow, nearshore areas along the eastern seaboard and portions of the Gulf Coast, especially Florida are “nursery” areas where the younger sharks spend their time. Both Katharine and Betsy were tagged off of Cape Cod in August 2013 and covered thousands of miles of water before entering the Gulf.

In 2005 I wrote an article called “Jaws in the Gulf” for Tide magazine recalling historical references and at the time a recent sighting. The article was a bit controversial as great whites in the Gulf seemed too magnificent to believe.

Now it has been vindicated. But that’s not the point. Seeking out the mysterious is a big part of what we do.

The point is the most iconic shark in the planet is proven to inhabit the Gulf and could be on the rise. Fishermen and conservationists need to know so these great predators can be protected.

NOAA has some extremely interesting older data on great whites in the Gulf of Mexico. Their earliest recorded white shark was off the coast of Sarasota, Fla on a set line in the winter of 1937. Another specimen was caught in the same area in 1943.

In February 1965, a female was captured in a net intended for bottlenose dolphins at Mullet Key near St. Petersburg. In addition, National Marine Fisheries Service officials reported 35 great whites as bycatch in the Japanese longline fishery in the Gulf from 1979 through 1982.

Those sharks died but last year the first great white ever known to be caught from the surf was taken by an angler in Panama City Beach, Fla.

Instead of killing it, he fitted it with a tag, photographed and released it.

Knowing about great whites, their rarity and conservation problems is crucial so great whites meet happy endings when encountered by anglers-the user group most likely to see them.

It might seem counterintuitive to save something that can and occasionally does eat humans. But the fact is we need things like great white sharks to keep us humble, to remind us, we are vulnerable and to keep us in a sense of wonder.

That was the state I was in gazing out onto the Gulf of Mexico while fishing the 61st St. Pier in Galveston, TX with my Dad at age 12.

“It’s a shame we don’t have a lot of great whites off our coast,” I told him.

“Maybe we do. We just haven’ found them yet,” Dad replied.

Dad is gone now and I sure would like to tell him, they have been found. Great whites dwell the Gulf of Mexico and you never know. There might have been one cruising the surf just beyond that pier on that night so long ago.

It is entirely possible.

 Chester Moore, Jr.