I once walked into the mouth of an old railroad tunnel.
Covered in vines and decaying it looked a bit ominous, even from a distance.
Many years previous trains would cut through as they winded through the limestone encrusted hills of the Edwards Plateau in Central Texas.
Now the tunnel is home to more than a million of Mexican free tail baits.
Passing by during the day or even walking nearby one would never know of their presence unless they maybe caught a sniff of the guano (bat dung).
But at night, these bats exit the tunnel and travel into the darkness in pursuit of insects and they return before dawn.
In the 1800s, a network of safe houses and secret routes called the “Underground Railroad” saw thousands of African American slaves find their way to freedom out of states where slavery was legal.
Thinking about the tunnel reminded me there is an underground network of sorts for animals, paths in which they can travel without the system taking notice.
The animals themselves of course are not aware of it although by sheer instinct they use it to their advantage.
It is a mindset in the culture of wildlife viewing, academia, media coverage and the hunting and fishing community that things with wildlife are supposed to go “by the book” and anything challenging the official narrative is ignored outright assailed.
In 2002, I spent a day in the field in the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area in Louisiana with researchers David Luneau and Martian Lammertink in search of the ivory-billed woodpecker, a species at the time considered extinct. Zeiss Sports Optics sponsored a truly rare look at a species often reported but believed long gone.
We never saw any ivory bills but I saw two men intent on at least searching out what could be an incredibly important find.
In 2004, Luneau obtained a video in Arkansas that the US Fish and Wildlife Service itself considers to be an ivory bill-a previously though extinct bird.
It goes along with other recordings and research suggesting there are a few ivory bills out there. However, the official narrative is the species is still lost.
Many don’t want to touch the topic with a 10 foot pole.
Did they ever exist anyway?
That’s what many act like.
And its this very lack of “official” interest that allows such species to hide in the shadows beyond the attention of those who can verify and perhaps save certain ones.
Most scientists tow the line on mysterious wildlife because their careers are centered on grants and anything outside the norm might rock the financial boat too much.
The hunting and fishing community dodges controversial wildlife topics for fear of government intervention especially in relation to the Endangered Species Act.
Amateur naturalists are quick to skip over the mysterious for fear of public ridicule and loss of access to property.
And the media doesn’t really care unless they can spin it into the next viral story, often shaming those who are dare to question things or belittling the off the wall topics altogether.
I am too curious to ignore the stories that require stepping into the shadows. I crave the opportunity to pursue mysteries of the wildlife kind-controversial or not.
Growing up in the 80s, the intro to syndicated horror anthology series Tales from the Darkside used to terrify me.
That is terrify me enough to watch.
Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality. But… there is, unseen by most, an underworld, a place that is just as real, but not as brightly lit… a Darkside. (Series Intro)
I won’t call the animal underground a “dark side” in terms of evil but it certainly not as brightly lit as what most see.
Maybe it’s time to light a candle.
Chester Moore, Jr.