High school sisters want to #Save the Vaquita porpoise

Rachel Rose loves dolphins and porpoises.

As long as she can remember they have been her very favorite animals and she has encountered them both in the wild and at marine parks.

Her twin sister Abby loves marine mammals too but her favorite pastime is photography.

Together these two Texas ninth graders want to do something to save the vaquita.

The “what” you ask?

The vaquita is a type of porpoise, the world’s smallest in fact and also the single most endangered marine mammal. There are only 30 estimated left on the planet.

Living in the upper reaches of the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez), these small, strikingly-marked cetaceans are the very definition of critically endangered.

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The girls are sporting the #savethevaquita shirts with the hashtag program on front and Dr. Guy Harvey’s artwork on back. Harvey has partnered with Sea World to raise funds for Vaquita CPR an international effort to save the species by creating a “Save the Vaquita” line of items that will be sold at Sea World Parks and through Dr. Harvey’s properties in which 15 percent of proceeds go directly to conservation efforts. They are holding the vaquita print also available for sale.

“It’s so sad that that such a beautiful creature could go extinct. It’s time we do something about it. We support what Dr. Guy Harvey and Sea World are doing with #savethevaquita,” Rachel said.

The girls have grown up working with our Kingdom Zoo outreach and had an encounter with a wild pink albino dolphin on one of our expeditions in 2013.

“I loved dolphins before but I really loved them after that and it made me appreciate marine mammals. We want others to appreciate them and contribute to saving the most endangered species of all-the vaquita,” Rachel said.

They will be helping with two events to help raise funds for vaquitas, a food fundraiser called “Fajitas for Vaquitas” which will take place at the Kingdom Zoo: Wildlife Center in Pinehurst, TX (Orange area) Sat. July 29 and Kingdom Zoo will be auctioning off prints of some of Abby’s wildlife photography.

“I love shooting photos of animals and I am excited that some of my photos can help raise money for the vaquita. They are one of God’s special creations and we are so excited to help them in any way. We have our #savethevaquita shirts and are inspired by Dr. Harvey’s amazing artwork,” Abby said.

The girls know saving the vaquita is a big task but that great things happen when people come together in the name of wildlife conservation.

“We can all do something,” Rachel said.

Indeed.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Moody Gardens upgrades aquarium pyramid

“People protect what they love.”

Those words were originally spoken by legendary ocean explorer Jacques Yves Cousteau, a man who spent much of life beneath the surface of the world’s oceans encountering its diverse inhabitants.

Most of us do not have that opportunity but we still seek an understanding of the ocean and Moody Gardens in Galveston is giving the public a chance to gain that knowledge in an up close and personal setting.

Sat. May 27 the facility will debut $37 million in upgrades that have turned the Moody Gardens Aquarium Pyramid into a true word-class educational experience.

I got a sneak peek and here is what stood out.

Gulf of Mexico Rig Exhibit: See the balance of technology and nature through this impressive 30,000 gallon, two-story, 23-foot scale model oil production platform aquarium. These manmade islands provide valuable attachment surfaces for a variety of encrusting organisms to create an entire reef ecosystem found throughout the Gulf of Mexico.  This new exhibit includes diver communication for presentations and interaction, further engaging guests in their underwater experience.

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Ever wonder what the part of an oil rig beneath the surface looks like? Now you know thanks to the new display at Moody Gardens (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

Flower Gardens Tribute: With help from the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, guests experience the East Flower Garden Bank, West Flower Garden Bank and Stetson Bank up close and personal. The exhibit includes examples of Brain, Star and Elkhorn coral, to name a few, all of which can be seen on the banks. The Flower Garden Banks reef system is one of the healthiest in the Gulf and Caribbean regions.

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For the first time a specific exhibit explaining the Flower Gardens will be part of the facility. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

Caribbean Display Upgrades: New to the exhibit is The Pride, a 19th century rum-runner shipwreck replica, loosely based on the vessel sailed by famed Galveston pirate Jean Lafitte. Divers spent a total of 68.5 hours underwater putting together the ship, which arrived in about 75 individual pieces. A new mangrove lagoon greets visitors at the Caribbean entrance where they get to touch cownose rays and see southern stingrays and spiny lobsters.

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Visitors can touch cow nose rays in a beautiful, realistic mangrove swamp setting. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

Humboldt Penguins: These unique warm-climate penguins hail from Southern Hemisphere waters from the Antarctic to the Equator. This is the second penguin exhibit at Moody Gardens and the Humboldts are right next door to the South Atlantic Penguin Habitat, home to the King, Gentoo, Chinstrap, Rockhopper and Macaroni penguins. As part of the recent renovations, the South Atlantic Penguin Habitat is newly enhanced to better benefit guests and the health and livelihood of the penguins within.

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Humboldt Penguins are a warm climate species that will be used as outreach animals at both the park and as ambassadors on the outside. (Photo courtesy Moody Gardens)

Jellyfish Gallery: The room wasn’t quite finished when I visited but what I saw of the jellyfish gallery was stunning. See some of the most beautifully designed creatures in nature in a perfectly lit environment. The highlight for visitors will no doubt be the touch tank-the world’s first opportunity to touch jellyfish in an aquarium-a non stinging variety of course.

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Jellyfish are the subject of a natural art gallery at Moody Gardens. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

There is much more including improvements to virtually every display, numerous new educational display and an impressive computer table display that shows full-scale giant squid size, explains ocean depth and other interesting facts.

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See a full-scale giant squid along with other mysterious ocean dwellers. (Photo by ChesterMoore, Jr.)

If someone already loves the ocean a visit here will help build that into a full-blown passion but any kid (or kid at heart) who pays a visit will walk away with enough information and inspiration to want to help conserve our ocean resources.

Jacques Cousteau would be proud.

Chester Moore, Jr.

To visit Moody Garden’s website click here.

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Do white cougars exist?

Black cougars do not exist.

At least none have been verified by science, killed by hunters, mounted by taxidermists or reared in zoos and other animal facilities.

But are there white ones?

In January 2016 an interesting story broke via KLTV out of Tyler, TX. Landowner Mitchell Cox of Hughes Springs captured on video what he and many others thinks is a “white panther”.

“When I first saw the white animal, the first thing I thought was, it was a dog. I feel blessed to actually be able to see it,” said landowner Mitchell Cox in the KLTV story.

“The cat jumps across about a six foot creek there. At first, my initial thought was it was an edited video, but upon talking to people I believe it’s true. A white albino mountain lion,” investigator Hershel Stroman, of the Morris County Sheriff’s Office told KLTV officials.

The video is interesting and the animal moves like a cougar but without a closer video (this one was short 50 yards away) it is difficult to tell. Watch it below.

The photo included here is a standard color cougar rendered in Adobe Photoshop to show what a white specimen might look like.

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A computer rendering of a standard cougar to show what it might look like in white form.   (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

In 2011 a white cougar was born at the Attica Zoological Park in Greece and was aptly named “Casper”. That alone is more proof of white cougar existence than has ever come forward for that of black specimens.

It is important to keep in mind the large black cats seen in zoos and on television or black (melanistic) jaguars or leopards. They are not a separate species called a “black panther”.

“Panther” is one of many terms used for Felis concolor along with cougar, mountain and puma but it has nothing to do with them being black.

A high resolution video or photo of a white cougar would be a major discovery in the United States and cause a major wave of interest among those who study wild cats.

The public has a major fascination with unusual white and albino animals.

Whether they are deer or wild cats there is something mysterious and majestic about an elusive white animal like the revered white buffalo of the Great Plains.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Saving the Vaquita

“30”

That is the number of days in an average month.

There are 30 teams in the NBA.

And there are 30 tracks on The Beatle’s The White Album.

It is also how many vaquitas scientists believe exist on the planet.

The vaquita is a type of porpoise, the world’s smallest in fact and also the single most endangered marine mammal.

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© Thomas A. Jefferson/VIVA Vaquita

Living only in the upper reaches of the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez), these small, strikingly-marked cetaceans are the very definition of critically endangered.

A gill net fishery that is now heavily centered on another endangered species-the totoaba (fish), vaquitas often end up tangled in the nets and either killed or left to die.

“The issue facing the vaquita is emblematic of larger impacts that humans are having on our oceans,” said world renown marine artist and conservationist Dr. Guy Harvey.

“From unsustainable fishing practices to marine pollution to changing ocean chemistry, human behavior is negatively affecting ocean health. As the human population continues to increase, we will depend on our oceans even more and need to ensure that we are using these resources in a sustainable manner to benefit future generations.”

Harvey has partnered with Sea World to raise funds for Vaquita CPR an international effort to save the species by creating a “Save the Vaquita” line of items that will be sold at Sea World Parks and through Dr. Harvey’s properties in which 15 percent of proceeds go directly to conservation efforts.

“I was proud to paint my first ever vaquita porpoise in support of SeaWorld and VaquitaCPR’s efforts to save this species that is on the brink of extinction,” Harvey said.

In addition Sea World has donated an additional $120,000 to the project.

“The plight of the vaquita porpoise illustrates the devastation the illegal wildlife trade can inflict on a species,” said Dr. Chris Dold, SeaWorld’s Chief Zoological Officer.

“We are proud to partner with Guy Harvey to help educate people about this crisis and raise money toward a solution. The Vaquita CPR effort is an extraordinary, last ditch attempt to prevent the extinction of a porpoise species that is only found right here in North America. We at SeaWorld care deeply about the ocean, and we care especially about the animals that live there. We can not sit idly by as another animal goes extinct.”

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© Thomas A. Jefferson/VIVA Vaquita

According to Vaquita CPR which is spearheaded by the National Marine Mammal Foundation the Mexican government has determined that emergency action is needed to temporarily remove some of the remaining animals from their threatening environment and create a safe haven for them in the northern Gulf of California.

An emergency conservation plan has been developed by an international team of experts, with field recovery operations set to begin in May 2017. Catching and caring for vaquitas may prove impossible, but unless we try, the species will likely vanish.

A project like this might indeed seem impossible. After all, is there any hope for a species that only has 30 representatives?

In 1987 there were only 22 California condors. Now there are more than 400.

The black-footed ferret was thought extinct in the early 1980s and then a population of a few dozen was found. Now, thanks to captive breeding and active monitoring efforts there are around 1,200 in the wild.

Yes, the fact vaquitas are ocean dwellers complicates things but there is still hope. The common denominator for all endangered species success stories is people taking action.

And that is what a coalition of people are doing right now.

Let’s do what we can to help the vaquita by supporting those who are supporting efforts to save this beautiful, severely endangered marine mammal.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Encountering Sea Lions

SEA WORLD SAN ANTONIO—Have you ever seen a sea lion smile, heard them “talk” or saw them flipping through the air? 

Well I did and it was inspiring.

These peppy pinnipeds were amazing during a brief visit with them at Sea World San Antonio. The sea lion trainers were equally amazing but somehow fell short of the actual sea lions.

After all, the sea lions are the stars, right?.

A sea lion’s contagious smile will make everyone else respond with a grin or maybe a laugh depending on what trick they are doing at the moment.

“Digit” and “Leon” are two sea lions with the Discovery Point interactive program at SeaWorld San Antonio.

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When you interact with sea lions you are up close and personal with them. The warm and gracious sea lion trainer Catherine Brown guided us through the encounter and let us know Digit has a bit more manners than the silly Leon.

Each person that goes through the interactive program will be shown simple hand gestures the trainers use with the animals. Each gesture will result in a different behavior such as smiling, waving and various water tricks.

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During the interaction the trainers reward each behavior with love, attention and of course fresh fish.

It was amazing to watch each animal respond to the attention of the trainers. The love and attention given to each animal was just as important to them as the fish. Although they never turned down the fish.

Ms Brown also discussed the anatomy of the sea lion, showing us their fur, fins, teeth, and vibrissae, which resemble whiskers. Each body part of the sea lion was created for a unique and special purpose in sea lions.

Their “whiskers” allow sea lions to feel vibrations in water which is used for hunting fish for their meals in the wild. In Seaworld these “whiskers” help them balance balls for guests.

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It was incredible to learn all of the different parts and their purpose for survival in the wild. Ms Brown also shared stories of rescuing wild, baby sea lions and releasing them when they were able to survive on their own.

Seaworld trainers are more than just entertainment and caretakers of the resident animals. Each of them are involved in species survival and rescue programs around the world.

As the encounter ended, we waved goodbye to the fun-loving creatures and I left a bit of my heart with them and I took away memories for a lifetime of love for the species, especially Digit and Leon.

If you would like to visit these remarkable animals and many more visit SeaWorld San Antonio and to register for an encounter with sea lions or other animals go to  www.seaworldparks.com.

At “The Wildlife Journalist” we believe encounters with animals like this and ecotourism are crucial for creating an interest in wildlife conservation. With at least two generations completely hooked on electronic devices it might take jumping into cool water and getting roared at by a sea lion to let them know there is more to life than what appears on a screen.

And maybe, just maybe such an encounter will create in them a love and determination to help our world’s wonderful marine mammals.

Lisa Moore

Monkey encounters deer at hunter’s feeder (photos)

Last week’s posts on feral snow monkeys in Texas have garnered a tremendous amount of interest.

Our goal is always to raise awareness to wildlife and in the case of exotics it is good to let people know there are strange encounters to be had-it seems especially in my home state of Texas.

Bart Moore read our story and graciously shared a story from his deer lease in South Texas and some a truly remarkable series of photos.

My brother-in-law is also on the lease and he was the first one that I know of that encountered one on our lease while hunting.  He was in the middle of a field in a ground blind when he saw some movement.  He looked over and saw a monkey headed in his direction.  The macaque noticed him just after he saw him and immediately puffed out his chest and got very red.  He walked in his direction and veered off before he was too close. For good measure, my brother-in-law had him in his sights the whole time with no intention of shooting him unless he was attacked.

Fast forward to last year and I was sitting in a blind one morning watching a doe and two fawns eating some corn from the feeder.  I noticed something too small for a deer on the ground and at first assumed it was a pig.  I glassed the animal and found that it was not a pig but was a monkey clearly on our side of the fence.  I took out my iPhone and snapped several pics with the phone up against my scope that are attached.

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The monkey enters the scene.
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Inching closer. Curious George maybe?

 

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“The funniest picture is the one where the monkey looks like he is swiping at the deer as they run off, in reality he is just reaching higher up the leg of the feeder.” (Bart Moore)
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Bart Moore says the money did not spook the deer. Something else did.
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“He slowly came down the leg after several seconds and then proceeded to puff out his chest and walk off into the brush”. (Bart Moore)

I can’t possibly thank Mr. Moore enough for sharing these photos. It seems these animals have found a niche and the hunters in the area have a live and let live policy. Good for them.

These monkeys are making things interesting.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

“Black panther” captured on TX game camera?

“Black panther” reports are common in the American South.

Accounts of mysterious black cats crossing the road in front of motorists or seen by hunters are frequent but rarely backed up by photography.

In my 25 years of wildlife journalism I have learned most people assume the animals they are seeing are black (melanistic) cougars. The problem is cougars do not produce melanistic offspring and there has never in history been one documented by science.

So, what are people seeing?

That question is broad and we will dive into that in another post, however one possible solution is the jaguarundi.

The late Don Zaidle who wrote extensively on man-eating animals was doing some research on wild cats and suggested 16 years ago I look at the jaguarundi as a possible “black panther” suspect. Shortly after I actually saw one of these cats and it sort of clicked that people could be seeing these animals and call them a “black panther”.

After all, virtually no one outside of hardcore wildlife fans even knows that jaguarundi exists so “black panther” is a quick an easy label to give them.

These photos came from B. Harper who got them on a game camera near the Texas-Mexico line.

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My friend Jim Broaddus operates Bear Creek Feline Center near Panama City, Fla. and has some of the only captive jaguarundi in America. Here is what he had to say about the photos.

“The first image looks 100 percent like a jaguarundi. The second one of the tail looks promising.  The third one throws me off. If it’s a jaguarundi it been eating better than most and the head seems too large to me,” Broaddus said.

I will add that the photo of the tail also looks promising because of the slate gray coloration of the fur. That is classic jaguarundi although they can be even darker and a solid brown color as well.

Below is a crop and lighting enhanced version of the third photo. Keep in mind this is in a part of the country where all five native Texas cat species once dwelled and may possibly do so to this day. These are the bobcat, cougar, ocelot, jaguar and jaguarundi.

When people hear “black panther” they think of cats like the one below but this is a black leopard-a genetic variant of the typical Asian and African species. We are not talking about leopards or jaguars which also produce black offspring in this scenario.  As I said we’ll cover all of that in another blog.

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What do you think is the identify of this mysterious cat? Like Broaddus I am sold on photo 1 being jaguarundi but also believe photo 2 is one as well. Photo 3 is up for grabs but it could also be a jaguarundi as well. Some say it is a domestic house cat but there is something about it that I can’t pinpoint. Ah, maybe in my next post I can figure it out.

E-mail chester@kingdomzoo.com with your thoughts and share this post with others to get their opinion.

Don’t forget you can subscribe to this blog by entering your email in the top right bar on this page.

Chester Moore, Jr.

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More on Texas feral monkeys (Photos & Stories)

Wow!

The response to our story on feral monkeys in South Texas has been tremendous. Click here to read in case you missed it. If you would like to subscribe to this blog to keep up with these kinds of stories enter your email address in the form to the top right of this page.

Since our original posting we have received several interesting stories and photos from people who have encountered these animals.

First up is an account shared by Rico Ramirez.

I had a client of mine who hunted near Dilley, TX. His story was quite haunting.  He stated that it was during the peak of the rut season.  It was very early In the morning when he was in  the stand. All I know is that it was still dark.  He had his small lamp with him.  He was reading a magazine when he heard a huge bump and the stand actually felt like it moved. He said the  bump and thump was getting louder as if someone was on the stand.  He said he reached for his pistol not knowing if it was an illegal, smuggler, or run away inmate.  He shined his flashlight through the window out of the door when it got quiet.  Then he said the noise was then on the roof of the blind.  He was in survival mode and scared.  He said there was a window that was open for air when he saw a small human like hand was trying to get in.  He said the hand was moving in an up and down motion. The hand was somewhat furry. He said he ran out the door leaving most of his gear in the stand.   He didn’t return till sunrise got his things and called the land owner.

He went on to say the landowner said it was probably one of those (fill in the blank) monkeys.

A gentleman from Richland Rock Resources shared this photo from a few years ago of one of the monkeys near a drill site in Cotulla, TX.

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This message came from Becky Rubin.

I, unfortunately don’t have a photo to share of these monkeys in Texas. But I do have a story. In the late seventies, or early 80s I took a Primate Behavior class at UT. We took a field trip to see these Japanese macaques and camped over night. It was a fantastic experience to have the monkeys run up to the cars and be so close to them. I’d love to see photos from any other UT student’s visits to Dilley.  loved reading the article. It brought back a really fun memory!

Well, Becky we do have a photo for you.

Lorrie Ramirez took a special topic course in Primate Behavior in the Spring of ’95, when she was an undergrad student at The University of Texas-Pan American and documented her encounter.

We went to observe the macaques in Dilley as part of our course work. In this picture, I was pretending to eat like the macaques were and moved in close to get this shot. Just thought I would share.

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People often see things in the wild they cannot explain. Coming across a Japanese macaque in the arid thorn-infested brush country of South Texas would certainly confuse most people.
We believe it is important to educate people about all aspects of wildlife and even appreciate the oddities in the field. In fact, we tend to seek those things out most often due to the curiosity of me and my family and the passionate response of those who follow this blog.
Once again if you have photos, video or accounts of these monkeys or other feral primates not only in Texas but anywhere in the United States please send to chester@kingdomzoo.com.
If you would like to subscribe to this blog to keep up with these kinds of stories enter your email address in the form to the top right of this page.
Chester Moore, Jr.

Wild boars kill ISIS fighters! For real

A stampede of wild boars killed three Isis Jihadi fighters in Iraq recently.

According to the Times of London the large group of boars were living in the dense reeds in the al-Rashad region on the edge of agricultural fields. In other words prime hog habitat.

“It is likely their movement disturbed a herd of wild pigs, which inhabit the area as well as the nearby cornfields,” Sheikh Anwar al-Assi, a chief of the local Ubaid tribe and supervisor of anti-ISIS forces, told the Times of London.

Details of the attack are sketchy but what we do know is that boars in some form or fashion killed Isis fighters.

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It might seem strange for there to be wild boars in Iraq as the Western idea of the Middle East is large tracts of sand with no life. The fact is there are arid forests and even pristine wetlands in the war-torn country. The Eurasian boar is one of the numerous native mammals and there are animals in the country that we would call “feral hogs” that are a mixture among domestic breeds and Sus scrofa the Eurasian boar.

The native hogs are likely the subspecies Sus scrofa attila that taxonomists believe extend from Hungray all the way into the Mesopotamian Delta in Iraq and possibly Turkey and Iran as well.

Although this is the first time we know of hogs being involved in the war on terror, over the years I have documented numerous cases of hogs attacking people.

The Pineville Town Talk tells the story of a Pineville, La. man who had a pig enter the house he was visiting.

“Boston Kyles, 20, of 497 Pelican Drive told deputies he was visiting his sister’s house at the time of the incident. He said he had gone there to clean fish and was sitting in the house’s front room when the pig entered through the front door. Kyles told deputies he stomped the floor to try to shoo the pig out of the room, but the pig charged him, Maj. Herman Walters said.”

“Walters had heard of pigs attacking people in the woods but said this was the first time he had heard of a pig going into a house and attacking someone.”

An Edgefield, South Carolina man experienced one of the scariest hog attacks I could find occurring in the United States.

The Edgefield Advertiser reported, “A man was hospitalized recently after being attacked by a wild hog at his home on Gaston Road. The hog, which eyewitnesses estimated to weigh upwards of 700 pounds, materialized in Fab Burt’s backyard while he was working in his garden.”

“It came out of nowhere and attacked me. It had me pinned on the ground and was mauling me.”

Fortunately, Burt’s seven-month-old German shepherd, named Bobo, was on hand to help him fend off the hog.

It looks like the Isis terrorists did not have any “Bobo” to save them. In a strange case from what is a brutal, ugly war, nature struck back-with a vengeance.

If you would like to subscribe to this blog to keep up with these kinds of stories enter your email address in the form to the top right of this page.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Coral snake eats copperhead (video)

This is probably the coolest amateur shot snake video I have ever seen.

Coral snakes regularly eat earth snakes but this is a fairly large copperhead, at least in comparison to the coral snake in the clip and it shows anything can happen in nature.

Thanks to Donna Grundy for sharing this amazing footage. I’ve had this one in the archives for awhile but now that snakes are out and about I thought it was time to share.

Chester Moore, Jr.