America’s Outback

Australia’s Outback is one of the wildest and biologically diverse chunks of habitat left on the planet.

It is also a place that has tracts of ground that have felt no human footprints at least in the modern era.

American has its own outback.

It is the Trans-Pecos region of Texas-the far western region of the state.

trans_pecos

The Trans-Peco is part of the Chihuauan Desert and features several small mountain ranges and has a county (Brewster) that is larger than the entire state of Connecticut.

It is home to some of the rarest and most elusive reptiles in North America and is home to the largest black bear population in Texas. Scattered bears also roam the eastern third of the state.

This region in my opinion is the most likely place to discover new wildlife in the United States and is also very like to be home to a small population of jaguars.

Jaguars have been proven to be crossing into New Mexico and Arizona frequently due to a concerted game camera study in both states. No such study exists in Texas.

Unlike Arizona and New Mexico most of Trans-Pecos Texas is privately owned. That means any large-scale study would have to be given the green light by landowners there. That could happen and two years ago I spoke with a research group that focuses on the great cats and they expressed interest in the topic but so far nothing is happening.

The truth is unless landowners themselves make reports almost no news gets out of the region.

An interesting report I am investigating is of a Mexican gray wolf sighted in a remote area Alpine.

The person who gave me the report was a fur trapper with more than 50 years experience in killing coyotes for cattle and sheep operations. In other words, he knows the difference between coyote and wolves.

When I interviewed him the animal he described sounded strikingly like a Mexican gray wolf and was in an area far away from any major human population.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the wild population of Mexican gray wolves in 2015 was 48 animals. It is not much a leap of faith to see one or more of these animals wandering into Texas.

wolf-radio-collar

In October 2000, a radio collared gray wolf from was shot and killed near Kirksville, MO nearly 600 miles away. A Mexican gray would not have to travel that far to end up near Alpine.

We will be forcing some effort on studies in this region and investigating the wildlife of America’s Outback.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Desperate Measures Needed to Save Tigers

The clocking is ticking toward extinction for tigers.

All subspecies of Panthera tigris are critically low and with the threats like habitat loss and poaching for the traditional medicines on the upswing, radical action must be taken.

And it must be taken now.

All measures taken to help tigers in the wild have failed so it’s time to try some things that will certainly (and have in some cases) ruffle feathers and might seem far-reaching.

The fact is with less than 3,000 tigers throughout all of Asia the far reach is the only one left.

The following are some ideas that need serious examination and thought from those interested in seeing this great cat saved from nonexistence.

#Island Tiger Preserves-There are enough small to medium uninhabited islands scattered throughout distant areas of the Pacific to create tiger preserves that would not be cost effective for poachers to hit. Many of these islands have populations of wild pigs and could be stocked with abundant deer. Problem tigers (human and livestock killers) could be recaptured and place on these islands with the idea of setting it with just enough male/female ratio to create a breeding population. In some cases that might be two tigers but if two can breed and raise young in the wild, then we’re gaining ground.

tiger charge (2)

#Pick a Species-If several large conservation organizations could pick one subspecies of tiger and focus on a moon mission sized goal of purchasing X amount of acres of critical habitat and accompanying that with full time scientific staff and game wardens then we might be able to rally the troops enough to keep a solid gene pool going for a particular variety. Small efforts by large, well-funded organizations could go to one huge project with smaller groups taking up smaller needs and other varieties.

#Rewilding-It has already been tried with limited success but at some point rewilding captive tigers needs addressed. The Island Tiger Preserve project might be a way to accomplish this but if tiger viability will go beyond 2025, rewilding will have to be a part of the process.

#Zoo, Private & Sanctuary Cooperation-The captive gene pool of tigers must be analyzed from the biggest zoos to private owners. Cut all of the political mess out of the way and take personal opinion of sanctuary and personal ownership around the world and get real-the gene pool is getting narrower and captive populations could be part of the solution.

All things must be on the table if we are to save what I consider the most beautiful creature God created. We’ll be talking about the great cats frequently in 2015 and tiger conservation will be an important part of that.  Conservation means the wise use of resources and now the wisest thing we can do about tigers is throw preconceived notions out the window and make some things happen.

Sound desperate?

It is.

We’re a generation away from the old “lions, tigers and bears…” saying missing a key component.

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.

51f9macufql-_sx329_bo1204203200_

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.

ad6e077556b9d18c0c2ac8f30936c7da

 

“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.

Helping Holy Land Deer

Fallow deer are one of the most beautiful creatures on the planet.

With coats ranging from chocolate brown to snow white and with the bucks sporting heavy, palmated antlers, they are an extremely striking animal.

Did you know that fallow deer are native to Israel and much of the Middle East?

A Persian Fallow Deer in Israel, fitted with a radio transmitter.
A Persian Fallow Deer in Israel, fitted with a radio transmitter.

The endangered Persian Fallow Deer (Dama dama mesopotamica) is the indigenous variety and I was happy to find out that the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens  in Jerusalem (Jerusalem Biblical Zoo) is involved in a captive breeding and wild restoration program of these majestic creatures.

A conservation program to achieve lasting conservation of the  and its habitat. This is a long-term conservation program aimed at re-establishing this species in the Nahal Soreq area of its former range (near Jerusalem in southern Israel) from a breeding core at the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem.

In Israel there were approximately 200 individuals in the north of the country (Nahal Kziv area) by 2005 and today this is the world’s largest stable wild group. In addition, a wild group of around 45 individuals now exists in the south of the country (Nahal Soreq area). Captive populations also exist in Israel – 65 individuals at the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem and around 150 in the Hai Bar Carmel Mountain Reserve in central Israel.

Here at Kingdom Zoo, we will do a series of articles on this unique project, but there’s more. We will be donating a portion of our donations to help restore these animals that undoubtedly lived in the Garden of Eden to God’s chosen land.

Workers transporting a sedated Persian fallow deer.
Workers transporting a sedated Persian fallow deer.

We are collecting change for the Persian Fallow Deer. All of the funds from the change collected, will be given to the Tisch Famiy Zoological Gardens, earmarked for their fallow deer project.

You can also help with this project. Click here to donate.

Look for more on this unique conservation initiative as we updates from Israel.

Chester Moore, Jr.