All posts by wildlifejournalist

Chester Moore is known as The Wildlife Journalist® for his cutting-edge articles, videos, lectures, television appearances and radio broadcasts involving wildlife around the world. He has won more than 100 awards for writing, photography, radio and his conservation efforts. He was named a "Hero of Conservation" by Field & Stream magazine and won the Mossy Oak Outdoors Legacy award for his work with children and wildlife in the conservation field in 2017.

Ursus americanus

The tracks were so fresh I expected to see their maker appear at any second.

Nearly as wide as my two hands combined and nearly as long as my foot there was no doubt these were left by a very large black bear.

I kept my camera ready as any encounter would be up close and personal.

In a remote area of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in northern California, I was at a stretch of river where huge boulders lined the shores, creating a rugged maze.

It was wall to wall granite with the ground being a mix of smaller rock and sand.

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A bear photographed by Al Weaver while hog hunting near Bay City, TX more than a decade ago. This bear is hundreds of miles from the Louisiana border and even farther from Mexico. How far had it wandered or are there more in Texas than previously thought?

The tracks that ended at a huge flat outcropping led me  close to the river. The view was stunning  and I took time to savor the moment but my quarry remained elusive.

An hour later I found myself a few hundred  yards above this location.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught slight movement.

Through the binoculars what looked at first like a bush turned out to be a black bear standing as if something had caught its attention too.

I am not sure if it was the same bear whose tracks I had followed.

Perhaps it had caught scent I left behind but one thing is for sure. The chill that ran down my spine at that moment reminded me of why I pursue wildlife and  on this occasion wildlife might have very well been pursuing me.

After all, I was in this majestic animal’s domain.

Ursus americanus is the most abundant bear on the planet with an estimated 600,000 scattered throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. They are a true wildlife conservation success story but not all is well.

Parts of their historic range are devoid of bear while some others are starting to see the first sign in decades.

Texas is a prime example.

Ursula americanus eremicus, the Mexican black bear, is protected from harvest in Mexico and over the last two decades they have been spilling into Texas from the Sierra Del Carmen Mountains.

Most of the population is centered around Big Bend National Park but there are verified bear sightings and road kills near Alpine and also as far east as Kerr County.

In fact, bear sightings in the Texas Hill Country have increased dramatically in recent years. One even paid fisheries biologists at the Heart of the Hills Hatchery near Ingram a visit.

A similar yet less documented return is happening in East Texas where black bears from Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma are crossing the state line. Most of these are subadult males searching out mates and in most cases they are striking out.

We did however verify at least one denning mother in Newton County dating back several years.

These are Ursus americans luteolus, the Louisiana black bear, an animal designated as a threatened species since 1992 under the Endangered Species Act but recently moved off of that list due to reported population increases.

Reader Jimmy Sligar submitted this photo of a young black bear from a game camera on his deer lease in East Texas.

Texans haven’t seen bears on a regular basis in more than a century so educating the public will be a big task for all who consider themselves fans of this iconic American animal.

Consider me one .

Over the years I have written dozens of articles and broadcast many radio programs promoting bear restoration in Texas. Working to a great extent in the hunting and fishing industry I have found this position slightly controversial at times but by and large most people have been very supportive.

You see when people learn to understand bears they respect them and when they respect them they do not mind sharing the woods with them.

Bears represent wildness and this writer will never forget the wildness I felt looking over the picturesque landscape in northern California and seeing that huge, stunning bear.

That’s the kind of encounter that leads me into the woods and will continue to do so. Let’s hope there are many more opportunities to encounter bears throughout America and even in my home state.

Their return has already begun. Let’s do what we can to help them along.

Chester Moore, Jr.

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.

surf and turf
Bears, Etc. will be one such organization doing their part to help the black bear. Next Wednesday they will be holding a very special event in Conroe. I look forward to attending. Maybe I’ll see you there. This should be a great presentation and is certainly for a wonderful cause.

Texas Venom Experience comes to Conroe on Earth Day!

CONROE—Looking for something to do this Earth Day?

Want to know more about the reptiles in your backyard?

Curious about the uses of reptile venom in medicine and research to fight cancer, Alzheimer’s, high blood pressure, diabetes, and so much more?

1snakefarmOr just want to get out of the house and have a little fun with the family?

Come out to The Texas Venom Experience at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds on April 22, 2017.

Exhibit Hall
9055 Airport Rd
Conroe, TX 77303

The event will take place from 10 am-8pm with music, games, crafts to make and to purchase, product and gift sales booths, live animal interactions, live reptile demonstration, talks, presentations, animal and other educational displays, and fun for the entire family.

The Kingdom Zoo: Wildlife Center will be on hand from 10-3 with a variety of creatures and educational materials. We believe in and support this cause and look forward to being a part of this great event. Come by and say “hi” to me and the Zoo Crue. (Chester Moore)

$5 ages 4 and up
Kids under 3 are free

Tickets available at the door and soon will be available for purchase online!

Have a large group you want to come out? Contact us for group pricing!

Interested in getting a booth for eduction or sales? Contact us for more info!

https://www.facebook.com/events/1724825684448030??ti=ia

http://texasreptileconservationoutreach.org/texas-venom-experience

Mottled Duck Mystery

The mottled duck has always had a soft spot in my heart.

They are a native duck of the Gulf Coast and always symbolized the brackish-intermediate wetland I love so much.

Growing up on the Gulf Coast of Southeast Texas they were a common sight of my youth and then sometime in my twenties they started to dwindle.

Now there are restrictive bag limits for hunters and much study of this beautiful but under appreciated waterfowl. The waterfowl conservation community has spent much time studying these species in the last 10 years and while looking over various studies one particular tidbit caught my attention.

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The Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge began outfitting mottled ducks with transmitters to track their movements in the mid 2000s. And according to refuge officials there have been some surprising results.

The results indicate that mottled ducks, which normally avoid open water, have begun spending extended time offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists suspect habitat loss and saltwater intrusion, both a result of coastal development, may be forcing the ducks out of their wetland habitats. Coastal research in other regions shows similar trends, indicating the problem may be more than just local.

The idea of a puddle duck like the mottled duck in the open waters of the Gulf seems strange indeed but the fact is there is still much to learn about this species but this study goes to show why it is important to learn about wildlife habitat and movements.

Without that knowledge managing species is impossible and with the continual growing pressure on our wildlife resources, good management is more important than ever.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Jaguars in America: 5 Things No One Reports

Jaguars captured on game cameras in New Mexico and Arizona have captured a fair amount of media attention over the last decade.

A majestic species generally affiliated with the Amazon, jaguars are highly adaptable cats that fare just as well in desert mountain regions as they do as they do in dense rainforest.

The idea of jaguars crossing into the American Southwest seems odd for those with little understanding of the species which brings us to the first of five points never mentioned in media coverage.

    Jaguar Range: The historical range of jaguars goes all the way into western Louisiana and bleeds over into California to the West. As you can see looking at this map by cat research specialists Panthera (not to be confused with defunct metal band Pantera), that range has decreased dramatically.

jaguar range

    Rivers No Barrier: The jaguar is a water-loving cat and is arguably more comfortable in the water than even the tiger which has been portrayed as the world’s top water-loving large cat. Jaguars have been encountered swimming large stretches of the Amazon River and are regularly documented feeding on caimans (a type of crocodilian) in the water with a bite to skull nonetheless!
    Jaguars are “Black Panthers”: The term “black panther” is thrown around indiscriminately and in my 25 years as a wildlife journalist I have found most Americans relate it to black cougars. The problem is black cougars most likely do not exist or at least have not been proven to exist. There is however an American cat that produces black offspring and that is the jaguar. The condition is called “melanism” and it is not uncommon in jaguars. The large black cats seen in zoos, on television programs, etc. are other melanistic jaguars or leopards which can also have melanistic offspring.
    Size Matters: Jaguars are the world’s third largest cat behind the tiger and lion. Their size varies greatly throughout their range with the largest specimens living in parts of Brazil averaging 220 pounds. The largest on record was a male that weighed 326 pounds with an empty stomach. That is about the size of an average Bengal tiger.
    Texas Sightings: Over the last decade I have gathered several alleged jaguar sightings from Texas along the Rio Grande River region and into the Trans-Pecos. These sightings are under investigation but unlike New Mexico and Arizona there are no official trail camera programs attempting to study any possible movements into Texas. The Trans-Pecos is a huge area and is vastly uninhabited so it is possible there are jaguars touching Texas soil no one has seen.
    In terms of anecdotal evidence, I have two specific reports that after interviewing eyewitnesses lead me to believe they were most likely telling the truth.
    We will be doing numerous articles on jaguars this year and always appreciate reader feedback.
    For now check out this great clip from the World Wildlife Fund of a melanistic jaguar crossing the Amazon.

Chester Moore, Jr

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Texas Tentacles

A 1972 Robalo sportfishing boat pulls up to an oil platform off the coast of Corpus Christi, TX.

As the waves rise and fall around this giant manmade structure, Capt. Bill Sheka lowers a big hunk of cut bait seeking out snapper, grouper and other sport fish common to the area.

Suddenly he feels tension on the line so he sets the hook.

There is something on the other end but it is not moving.

At all.

“There were some deck hands on the rail of the rig and they were watching me. When I got it up it turned out to be a gallon glass mayonnaise jar, obviously pitched overboard by the rig’s cook,” Sheka said.

The men on the rig laughed at the strange catch and fired off some snide remarks.

“Got some bred for that mayonnaise?”

“Nice catch bud!”

But the jar was not empty.

“Inside was an octopus that took my bait and scurried back to his ‘home”in the jar,” Sheka said.

“I took my small wooden billy club and hit the jar breaking it to reveal the wiggling, twisting octopus. Now the crew was silent and I then asked them if they knew any octopus recipes,” Sheka said.

He had a good laugh at his naysayers before releasing the creature alive and well.

Octopus in the Gulf?

Absolutely.

The Flower Gardens Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) is the the most observed and studied habitat in the Gulf and according to FGBNMS research coordinator Emma Hickerson there are at least four octopus species there.

These include the Caribbean two-spotted octopus, common octopus, white-spotted octopus and mimic octopus.

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Caribbean two-spotted octopus at Flower Gardens Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Photo courtesy NOAA.

“I filmed a Caribbean two-spotted octopus quite a few years ago out and about scooting around the reef during the day,  but otherwise typically they are tucked away in the reef.  You can sometimes find their “middens” which are piles of shells from their meals.  One particular octopus I filmed was big enough to be feasting on large queen conch and slipper lobster at Stetson Bank,” she said.

Kristi Oden encountered caught one while diving off of an oil platform off the Gulf Coast.

“It was a feisty thing,” she said.

“It kept grabbing my dive knife and pulling on it. I got it into my dive bag and took it back up to the boat because I wanted to look at it. It was really neat. When I got it out of the bag and it changed colors to match the floor of the boat. I looked at it for a little while and then put him back in the water.”

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Angler Henry Pongratz caught and released this common octopus at the Port O’Connor Jetties.

Most encounters with octopus off the Texas coast are around oil rigs and at the FGBNMS but some divers reporting seeing them at the jetties in Port O’Connor, Aransas Pass and Port Mansfield.

Finding octopus along the beach jetties and even in the bays is a fairly common occurrence on the Gulf Coast of Florida but in the western Gulf they remain mysterious.

The common octopus can grow to impressive sizes with specimens as large as 4.3 feet and weighing upwards of 20 pounds. And although it is difficult to measure the “intelligence” of animals, octopus are without questions brainiacs of the marine world.

Octopus not only have the largest brains of any invertebrate but they also have an impressive number of neurons which are the measuring stick science uses for thinking potential.

The common octopus has around 130 million.  A human has more than 100 billion but that numbers not bad for something that makes its living in the cracks and crevices of reefs, rigs, jetties and yes, even mayonnaise jars.

The more we understand about the Gulf of Mexico, the more we can appreciate it.

And I can’t imagine someone not being able to appreciate the uniqueness of the octopus and the fact Gulf coastal waters are home to these amazing creatures.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Guy Harvey and the Gulf’s missing shark

A long time ago in the far, far reaches of the Gulf of Mexico...

The contrasting bars of the pilot fish create a striking image in the cobalt blue waters just beyond the continental shelf. Swimming in unison they dart, twist and turn in natural aquatic harmony.

Suddenly, from amongst the motion a strong form emerges.

Swimming with focus and purpose, the white bars on its fins reveal the ocean’s wanderer: the ocean whitetip shark.

Oceanic_Whitetip_Shark
Photo by Johan Lantz/Wiki Commons

It continues its trajectory at a slow but determined pace. Cruising just beneath the surface, it is set to prey on anything it might encounter.

Pickings can be slim in this desolate environment.

Once considered the world’s most common large animal (over 100 pounds) they are now  deemed critically endangered. This is especially true for the Gulf of Mexico.

In a 2004 study, researchers Baum and Myers noted a 99 percent decline of oceanic whitetips in the Gulf since the 1950s.

“Scientists there once considered this species a nuisance because of the prevalence around vessels. Nowadays it is rarely seen,” they noted.

In hundreds of trips in the Gulf out of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi this writer has never seen one. And neither have dozens of veteran Gulf anglers I have interviewed.

And that concerns ocean art icon and conservationist Guy Harvey.

“The oceanic whitetip is a truly remarkable shark and due to the high demand of fins from large shark species they have declined dramatically,” Harvey said.

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Currently the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation (GHOF) and its partners are engaged in a study to track and analyze whitetip populations. They are studying the stock structure of oceanic whitetip sharks on a global scale by using genetic techniques, and migration patterns of this species in the western Atlantic with the aid of satellite tracking technologies.

Information gained on the whitetip’s movements can help create better management strategies to save the species.

When Harvey called the species “remarkable” that is not a generalized statement. He has firsthand knowledge having spent time in the water with the species and producing a documentary about their plight.

“They are bold and have no problems approaching a diver which makes for great interaction and observation,” Harvey said.

Harvey’s works with whitetips has allowed him to create stunning works of art showing the declining species in all of its glory.

Art captures the mood and feel of a natural scene better that photography and Harvey’s instantly recognizable style has resonated with an ocean-loving public in a way that connects them to wildlife.

“Things happen so fast down there and you have limited time. Painting allows to create a way to raise awareness to species that otherwise might not get much attention,” Harvey said.

The oceanic whitetip is one such creature.

If they disappeared tomorrow few anglers would notice.

Beachcombers never see these open water dwellers anyway so that only leaves wildlife journalists like myself, researchers like Harvey and his crew and a handful of shark fanatics who would even notice their demise.

But to the ocean it does matter.

An intricately woven food chain has already been disrupted and if they were to vanish forever, the balance would be upset.

And the world would lose a beautiful, cunning predator.

We should do our best to support research like GHOF are doing and all efforts to ensure shark populations not only survive but perhaps one day thrive like they did so long ago in the Gulf and beyond.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Pink Albino Dolphin (Video)

Among the most incredible animals I have encountered in my life in the wild is a super rare pink albino bottlenose dolphin appropriately dubbed “Pinky”.

I first encountered it while filming a television program on Louisiana’s Lake Calcasieu in 2010 and returned with a group of children to capture it on video in 2013.

We are planning another expedition to photograph “Pinky” and the other dolphins of the area. We will post our results here.

Until then enjoy this clip.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

 

Rhinos in Texas

It is the most valuable wildlife commodity in the world.

Fetching up to $60,000 a pound on the black market, the rhinoceros horn is coveted greatly by millionaires in Asia who use it as a status symbol or grind into traditional elixirs as a aphrodisiac or folk cures for various ailments.

By comparison ivory from poached elephant tusks are going for about $1,500 a pound. That’s chump change compared to rhino horn.

Large-scale poaching of the now critically endangered black rhino resulted in a dramatic 96 decline from 70,000 individuals in 1970 to just 2,410 in 1995 according to Save the Rhino, a strictly rhinoceros-based conservation organization.

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“Thanks to the persistent efforts of conservation programs across Africa, black rhino numbers have risen since then to a current population of between 5,042 and 5,458 individuals.”

“The overwhelming rhino conservation success story is that of the Southern white rhino. With numbers as low as 50-100 left in the wild in the early 1900s, this sub-species of rhino has now increased to between 19,666 and 21,085.”

But poaching has increased dramatically.

In 2007 there were 13 rhinos poached in South Africa. That number skyrocketed to 83 the next year and by 2015 there were 1,175 rhinos poached. That means one out of every five rhinos was killed drive by the aforementioned Asian market.

There is no end in site to the killing. Despite the use of surveillance drones, shoot to kill policies on poachers in some area and increase awareness, poachers are hitting rhinos and they are hitting them hard.

Some believe the solution to saving the species involves bringing them to Texas.

Hundreds of orphaned baby rhinos could be moved into Texas where they could be kept far away from poachers on highly managed private ranches. The thought process is the gene pool could be preserved while conservationists figure out what to do with the problems in Africa.

I will have a full feature article on this project in the May edition of Texas Fish & Game. I am very excited about the project and the article. In fact, I was so excited I had to tease it a little bit here.

This rhino project has many challenges and we will be covering it in-depth fashion not only in that article but also here.

Chester Moore, Jr. 

 

 

 

Forgotten Texas Wolf

Canis lupus monstrabilis

Ever heard of it?

Chances are you have not. Oh, wolf fans will be familiar with the Canis lupus part but “monstrabilis”?

It is the name of the now extinct “Texas Wolf” a species recognized in 1937 and considered extinct by 1942.

Very little is known about this animal other than it inhabited the Texas Hill Country into Oklahoma and was believed to have followed the historical bison herds. When they were wiped out cattle became chief prey.

That put a target on the species as big as the state itself.

Government trapping, poisoning and bounties put all varieties of gray wolf out of business for good in Texas.

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Life was hard for wolves in the 20th Century.

Only the Mexican gray wolf  still exists and it is relegated to the progeny of released specimens from a captive breeding program all residing outside of Texas borders.

Taxonomists have reshuffled virtually everything in recent decades and this species is now sometimes lumped in with the Mexican Gray Wolf but there is no way to go back and definitely argue the case.

For now I ponder what it would be like to step out on a limestone cliff and look below to see the Texas Wolf chasing a whitetail or perhaps helping thin out some of the Edwards Plateau’s increasing exotic axis deer herd.

Now only brief mentions in wildlife journals  are left to remind us once the most scenic parts of Texas were a little wilder.

What it must have been like to sleep beneath the stars and amongst the chaotic frenzy of coyote calls hear the wolf’s deep, mournful song.

At some point the last howl of the last Texas wolf sounded off.

Did someone hear it?

Did that very call alert the wrong people of its presence and lead to its demise?

To think about that almost brings a tear to my eye.

Well, maybe not almost…

Chester Moore, Jr.

The Texas Javelina Massacre

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s decision to list a warfarin-based hog lure as a state-limited-use pesticide has sent shockwaves through the wildlife community.

The pesticide, “Kaput Feral Hog Lure,” is the first toxicant to be listed specifically for use in controlling the feral hog population. Opinions are varied from landowner support to hunter and wildlife enthusiast outrage.

Commissioner Miller said the introduction of the first hog lure may usher in the “Hog Apocalypse”.

It could also set off the “Texas Javelina Massacre”.

Peccary_javelina_wild_boar_or_skunk_pig_tayassu_tajacu

The collared peccary, more commonly known as javelina is a denizen of the arid regions of Texas. At one time they roamed from the Rio Grande to the Red River but that range has been cut down to less than half that size.

There are now according to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) roughly 100,000 of these animals inhabiting 62 million acres of rangeland.

One of the most feral hog dense regions is the javelina’s South Texas stronghold and while they are not pigs, they eat many things pigs eat. They readily devour corn put out for deer, soured grain set out to bait hogs and will without any doubt devour this toxic feral hog lure.

Unlike feral hogs, javelina are a native species that can easily coexist and compete little with free-ranging whitetail deer, the state’s most popular game animal.

They key word here is “free ranging”.

TPWD’s “Javelina in Texas” publication notes that “Recent downturns in javelina population trends in South Texas appear to follow drought cycles, habitat management treatments, and more recent emphasis on white-tailed deer man­agement, including high fencing and predator control.”

They go on to say that although habitat improvement for white-tailed deer, such as food plots, supplemental feeding, and water development improved habitat for javelina, in many cases it also exacerbated problems between deer enthusiasts and javelina.

“Incidental and illegal harvest of javelina due to their perceived nuisance of predation, agricultural damage and competition with deer has added to this decline.” (TPWD)

Big protein-fed, selectively bred whitetail bucks bring in big bucks to ranchers and javelina are not a priority. In fact, as the TPWD document notes illegal harvest is rampant.

I have personally spoken with ranchers who admit to killing every javelina they see and influencing hunters to do the same.

Their reason?

They eat some of the high protein supplemental food put out for their monster bucks.

If warfarin ends up killing those bucks their will be an outcry as big as the state itself. If it kills javelina, you can bet more will be put out. Many will look at taking out hogs and javelina as a two for one special.

Javelina should be given their due respect just like any other Texas native but they are not an easy icon to get behind. Hunters don’t care too much for them and they are not well known enough for the “green” movement to support.

At the time of this writing it looked like the warfarin-based toxin might have some legal hurdles to overcome before hitting the field.

As for the javelina, they will benefit from any ban or delay.

Because you see the “Texas Javelina Massacre” actually began years ago. It was about the time high fences started popping up south of San Antonio and the javelina became an enemy instead of a respected species.

And no one from any side of the conservation aisle seems to care.

Chester Moore, Jr. (The Wildlife Journalist)