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.
Wild canids are special to me. On the North American front I am particularly fond of red wolves, coyotes and their hybrids the “coywolf”.
The red wolf is declared extinct in the wild other than a handful of captive-bred animals that have been released into various remote areas. The reason for extinction designation was hybridization with coyotes-accacerbated by wholesale slaughter under the guise of predator control.
The term “coywolf” is most often used for gray wolf/coyote hybrids but it is equally fitting for the offspring of coyotes and red wolves.
My friend Mark Hines has for the last three years been getting the most amazing videos of a family of animals I believe has some red wolf in their lineage down the road. These are from Orange County, TX in an area literally less than five miles away from where the last “pure” red wolves were captured for the federal breeding program in 1980.
Mark has given us an incredible look into the lives of these animals that are no doubt mostly coyote but look like they have some red wolf in the gene pool as well. These clips show puppies born this spring.
Naturalists like Mark are an important part of keeping the awareness of wildlife at a high level and allowing us to get an incredible glimpse at some things rarely seen by human eyes.
Chester Moore, Jr.
(To contact Chester Moore e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to this blog enter your email address in the box on the top right of this page.)
The most beautiful creature I have ever seen in the wild is a pink dolphin. In fact it is the very pink dolphin you see in the photo below that I took on Louisiana’s Lake Calcasieu (Big Lake) in 2010.
This dolphin is nicknamed “Pinky” and I have been blessed to see it on three separate occasions and it had it swim fairly close to our boat while drifting in the channel near Cameron, La. in 2013. You can see that video clip below.
In my opinion anomalies like this are important because they raise awareness to issues in nature and in this case the presence and importance of marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico.
According to Heidi Whitehead with the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network, this partitcular dolphin has been observed for more than a decade.
We initially began receiving reports of the “pink” bottlenose in Calcasieu in 2007 and we worked with NOAA to educate people and reduce vessel traffic around the animal for the protection of the animal because there were so many wanting to get out to see it. There was also a pink dolphin observed in the Houston ship channel near Bolivar several years ago but it has not been confirmed whether or not this was a different animal than the Calcasieu one as we have seen evidence from our photo-ID work that dolphins travel between Galveston and Louisiana.
Whitehead provided us with a fact sheet from NOAA on pink and white albino dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico and it contains some truly interesting information.
While there have been many documented sightings of albino, “white” or “pink” bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico; it is believed these sightings are of the same three individuals. The first was reported during the summer of 1994 in Little Lake near New Orleans, Louisiana. The all-white dolphin was spotted in a group of 4-5 individuals for 20 to 30 minutes and never seen again. In September 2003, another all white dolphin calf was first observed in a group of more than 40 dolphins south of Galveston, Texas. It was re-sighted several times in the same vicinity through August 2004 (Fertl et al., 1999; Fertl et al., 2004).
This is what NOAA has to say about “Pinky” from the Lake Calcasieu area.
Although the dolphin is often referred to as a “pink” dolphin because of its pink coloration, it is considered an albino. The dolphin’s mother is not albino and has the gray coloring typical of coastal bottlenose dolphins. Dolphin calves are typically born dark gray in color. All sightings of this dolphin have been off Louisiana and most of the time it was seen swimming with a group.
According to NOAA there have been “white” dolphin sightings along the eastern seaboard of the United States.
Other “white” dolphins have been sighted in the Southeast U.S. between 2012-2014, these include off the coast of South Carolina, NE Florida and Georgia, and in the Indian River Lagoon, Florida
If you see a pink or white dolphin call the Southeast US Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 1-877-433-8299. They are interested in getting information on these unique animals.
And so am I.
If you have photos or videos please send them along with photo credits and dates/timeline if possible.
I am working on a special project for kids regarding these colorful enigmatic marine mammals and would appreciate your help.
In response to an earlier entry here at The Wildlife Journalist® another report came in-this time from Florida.
Last year in August (2017) we were on a family vacation. We went down to the beach and got I’m in the water and not two minutes later my 11-year-old started yelling snake. I still couldn’t see it. So he pointed at it and followed it out the water. It went down the beach 20 or 30 yards and back in the water. It was only a baby but definitely a banded sea krait. I have watched many nature shows with this snake on it. This was at Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island, Fla. We will be there again this August and I will be keeping a look out for another one.
This location is on the Gulf Coast of Florida and is the first report we are aware of in the region.
In the first article on the subject we note there are eel species in the Gulf that could be mistaken for a sea snake, however the behavior mentioned in the report above does not match up with eel behavior.
Is it really possible that banded sea kraits entered the Gulf of Mexico through ship ballasts?
An article at thoughtco.com explains ballast systems purpose and how they work.
A ballast water system allows a ship to pump water in and out of very large tanks to compensate for a change in cargo load, shallow draft conditions, or weather.
The capacity of ballast water tanks might be millions of gallons on a large vessel. This allows vessels to carry a light or heavy load while maintaining ideal buoyancy and handling conditions in all situations.
More than 7,000 species move around in ship ballots daily according to officials with the World Wildlife Fund in an article in The Telegraph and while ships are supposed to change their ballast water in the open ocean to lessen the chance of invaders making it inland, this would have little impact on sea snakes. They could easily catch a ride on a mat of Sargassum and be just fine.
The Chinese Mitten crab has taken up residence in the Thames and other English river systems after being brought in by ballasts. It’s within the realm of possibility for sea snakes to hitch a ride into the Gulf.
An interesting side-note is the most likely sea snake hitchhiker would be the yellow-bellied sea snake as it is found along the Pacific Coast of Panama and is the most widely distributed species. All of the reports I have gathered are of banded sea kraits which live much further away from the United States.
We will talk more about this in another post and dig more into some other possible cases of mistaken identity besides the aforementioned eels.
If you have seen any sea snake in the Gulf of Mexico or had a sighting of something snake-like you cannot explain email email@example.com.
This story is getting more interesting by the week and we will continue coverage here at The Wildlife Journalist®.
If you want a look into wildlife you will find nowhere else subscribe to this blog by entering your email address at the bar on the top right side of the page.
Chester Moore, Jr.
While I have you here…
Do you have an animal-loving child between the ages of eight and 18?
What would you say if I told you they can be part of a powerful wildlife conservation group that helps endangered wildlife around the world?
And what if told you it was free?
World Wildlife Journalists™ is an outreach for school-aged children that allows them to take part in helping threatened wildlife and learning media skills to do it. It’s all positive with no drama and no politics. Your child will never be part of ugly, heated debates over wildlife political issues like you see on cable television.
They will however be part of a forward thinking outreach on behalf of the most incredible animals on the planet.
By simply signing up your child can become part of an important movement of youth involvement in conservation, take part in monthly online events and earn special prizes.
The common blacktip shark is never listed in Internet and television lists of the most dangerous sharks.
Yet if you look at the raw numbers from the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), you will see they should be.
While blacktips were only positively identified in one unprovoked fatality they were responsible for 29 total attacks.
That puts only the great white, tiger and bull-the three species everyone recognizes as potentially dangerous above them. We wrote about this last year here but have some new insight.
ISAF has a category for requiem and lamniforems-attacks linked to thosebranches but not to exact species and those are both higher than the blacktip. But when it comes to identified sharks biting people blacktips rank fourth.
This is not to implicate the blacktip as a creature to be feared. It is however to question some of the shark attacks identified as bull and to lesser extent spinner sharks (which have 16 attacks attribute to them.)
Spinner sharks are nearly identical to blacktips and bull sharks and big blacktips can appear similar especially in murky water.
The identification issue is noted by ISAF.
This list must be used with caution because attacks involving easily identified species, such as white, tiger, sandtiger, hammerhead and nurse sharks, nearly always identify the attacking species, while cases involving difficult to identify species, such as requiem sharks of the genus Carcharhinus, seldom correctly identify the attacker.
Blacktips are the most common large shark to be found in the Gulf of Mexico. They are highly abundant along many beaches and probably come into contact with people more than any other large shark.
While the bull shark is common and sort of jacked up on testosterone, blacktips are even more abundant and frequently prey on schools of mullet, menhaden, pompano and other fish on the beachfront.
In my opinion some of the “bull shark” attacks on fishermen in particular are probably blacktips. Wade fishermen routinely carry belts with fish stringers and I have personally witnessed numerous blacktips hitting stringers. I have seen bulls circle anglers and have heard of one attacking a stringer but blacktips are far more often the culprit here.
Bulls have a bad reputation so they might be getting a little more blame on some of the attacks that do not involve fatalities and outright brutal attacks.
An interesting note from ISAF is that blacktips have been known to attack surfers in Florida.
Is it possible they are experiencing the same kind of phenomenon great whites do in seal-rich waters of the Pacific but instead of pinnipeds they relate it to the silhouette of sea turtles?
Blacktip sharks are amazing creatures that have the respect of anglers due to their incredible acrobatics when hooked. Most anglers catch-and-release them these days respecting their role in the ecosystem.
Perhaps with this knowledge they might respect them a little more-and be a little more cautious when toting around a stringer of speckled trout or pompano in the surf.
A strange wolf-like animal some say could be the mysterious Shunka Warakin was killed by a Montana rancher May 16.
It was so strange in fact Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) officials are sending off samples for DNA testing.
As people are sending them question after question about the creature, here is what they had to say.
Here’s what is not in question: The animal came within several hundred yards of the rancher’s livestock. He shot it and reported it as required by law. The animal was a young, non-lactating female and a canid, a member of the dog family, which includes dogs, foxes, coyotes and wolves.
Those facts are not unusual in Montana’s farm and ranch county.
The animal originally was reported as a wolf, but several Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ wolf specialists looked at photos of the animal and collectively doubted it was a purebred wolf: the canine teeth were too short, the front paws too small and the claws on the front paw were too long.
Nevertheless, social media was quick to pronounce the animal as everything from a wolf to a wolf hybrid to something mythical.
Rather than guess, FWP reports said they sent the carcass to the Department’s lab in Bozeman where tissue samples will be collected, then shipped to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Laboratory in Ashland, Org.
In a laboratory, scientists extract DNA from cells, looking for markers specific to individual species. Those markers are then compared to samples of known species on hand.
While the process may take a week, just getting to that stage may take weeks or months, depending on the laboratory’s backlog of cases.
All of which means it may be awhile before the anyone really knows what the animal near Denton really was.
The most intriguing thing about this incident is that it happened in Montana where a well-known mysterious canid some call the aforementioned Shunka Warakin is preserved in a museum in Ennis, Montana.
It emerged from a weedline that covered the edges of the 18 Mile Light (Sabine Bank Lighthouse) out of Sabine Pass, TX on the Texas-Louisiana border.
“It had white/bluish and black bands and came from under the weeds and then swam to the surface. It was a sea snake and I have no doubts about what I saw,” said one angler I interviewed in person who wishes to remain anonymous.
The angler said the “snake” had a paddle-like tail and he and his fishing partner observed it for several minutes.
The problem is there are not supposed to be any sea snakes in Gulf waters. They dwell the Pacific although in the past there has been some banter about whether or not they would make it through the Panama Canal.
I got that report a couple of years back and then sort of filed in the “X” category for review later on down the road.
Then I spoke with someone who told me about catching a big diamondback rattlesnake near High Island, TX.. He said this as he brought me a king snake for my collection and we spent an hour talking about serpents. And just as he was done relating the story of the rattler, he dropped a bombshell.
“The craziest thing I ever saw was a banded sea krait at one of the rigs off of the Bolivar Peninsula,” he said.
He reported seeing the snake swimming around a rig that he had paddled his kayak to on a calm day.
A couple of things happened when I got this report. First, he called it a “banded sea krait” which is a specific type of sea snake. There are numerous species.
Then I realized this was only about 25 miles from where the other sighting came from which described a banded sea krait. These two individuals did not know each other and the reports were unsolicited. In other words there was no collusion.
Once again there are supposed to be no sea snakes in Texas.
A possible candidate for the sightings is the snake eel which is present in the Gulf of Mexico and has similar markings to a banded sea krait. They are established in the Gulf and would be a species found around an oil rig or a structure like the 18 Mile Light although I have never spoken with anyone who has ever reported seeing one and that includes divers-including myself.
There are several reports of beaded sea snake that allegedly washed up in Florida after a red tide event. There are also a few stories of sea snakes reportedly being found in different areas of the Caribbean.
Bloggers blame ship ballasts for carrying snakes from the Pacific and then unintentionally releasing them into the Gulf. It is unlikely but the fact is you just never know.
A recent video shows a snake that appears to be a sea snake in the Gulf of Maine-far from their range.
If you think you might have seen a sea snake in the Gulf of Mexico email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would appreciate any accounts, photos or video.
Sea snakes are fascinating creatures and their presence in the Gulf although unlikely is not impossible.
Chester Moore, Jr.
(To contact Chester Moore e-mail email@example.com. To subscribe to this blog enter your email address in the box on the top right of this page.)
Those words would have been laughable if they were not coming from a young teenage boy who was dangling a 2.5 foot long Texas coral snake over his hand.
Wrapped around a stick it was within striking distance and this kid thought he had caught a scarlet king snake.
When I told him it was a coral snake and he needed to allow me to take it from him, he give me the deadly mistaken version of the children’s poem to distinguish venomous coral snakes from their mimickers.
That’s when I replied, “No kid it means KILL a fellow.”
At that point I walked over, pulled the stick out of his hand and told him he was flirting with disaster.
He really did think this was a scarlet king snake which lives nowhere near Orange, TX where this occurred. We do have the Louisiana milk snake but this was the genuine article-a real and large coral snake.
His plan was to sneak the snake past his mom and keep it in his sock drawer. Some 20 years later, I use this story every time I bring out one of our milk snakes to let kids know that if you have to rely on poetry to identify snakes you could get in trouble.
I have no doubt if I had not seen the kid walking down the street he would have gotten bitten and possibly died. Coral snake bites are very serious.
A recent story about an Alabama man named Jeffrey Phillips shows the sad result of mishandling wild snakes.
Phillips’ children were the first to spot the snake. Initially thinking the serpent was a harmless king snake, Phillips decided to catch it and give the snake as a gift to his older brother, who has owned snakes in the past
At the time of this writing he was in the hospital paralyzed and fighting for his life, a truly tragic situation.
The owner of Reptile World Serpentarium in St. Cloud, Fl., VanHorn is passionate about snakes and besides exhibiting more than 50 species, keeps hundreds for the sole purpose of extracting venom-including coral snakes.
“You see this. These are fangs,”VanHorn said as he carefully rolled open the mouth of an eastern coral snake while I filmed there a few years ago.
The tiny fangs were in the front of the snake’s mouth and destroy the commonly held myth that coral snakes are rear-fanged and must chew on a person to inject venom.
“They are elapids just like cobras and they have the same skull structure. I don’t know where these rumors came from but they are persistent,” VanHorn said.
He went on to say that most coral snake bites result from people picking them up and it is often young men.
“Women typically don’t go around picking up venomous snakes. And a coral snake has a very dangerous venom that is difficult to treat so people shouldn’t fool with them,” he said.
Coral snakes like all other snake species are not out to get anyone but they are fully capable of hurting someone if they are toyed with. The best thing to do with them is leave them alone and feel blessed you saw one of the strikingly beautiful reptiles in the world.
Takoda has served as an ambassador for the species, having appeared on national television and also as a loved companion to his owner.
It was however time for this cat to make a home among others of its kind and serve out the rest of its days inspiring thousands of annual visitors to the facility.
“We’re excited to have this beautiful cat here at Bear Creek Feline Center,” said founder Jim Broaddus.
“Cougars are such an exceptional beauty and representative of wildness and Takoda is quite a striking cat. He fits right in.”
This facility has taken in many cats, some well cared for like Takoda and others not so much. While they have been a refuge for cats in need of a transition from different private captive settings, the key here is education.
“When people see a cat like this in a safe and intimate setting it moves their heart. People can see their grace and beauty and then we can help teach them how important they are to the ecosystem,” Broaddus said.
Along with servals, Siberian lynx, bobcats and jaguarundis, there are cougars from several subspecies including the highly endangered Florida Panther.
“There is a lot of diversity among cougars and they inhabit everywhere from Canada to Argentina and a lot of people don’t know that. We are glad to educate people and when we have a chance to take in these animals it helps to make it real to the public. There is something special about seeing these cats in person,” Broaddus said.
My life at age 14 was changed when I saw a cougar making its way over a rice levee in Orange County, TX.
At a distance of only 10 yards, we locked eyes for a moment and many years later that is a feeling I cannot shake.
And I do not want to.
In its eyes I saw wildness and have spent my entire professional career trying to communicate to the general public how important wildness and wild animals are-in large part due to that encounter.
As Takoda walked out of his transport enclosure into this spacious new home, I saw a familiar gleam in its eye.
It reminded me of the cat I saw so many years ago and made me excited for its prospects representing its kind-the great cat of America.
Their life in the ocean, beauty and even their awkwardness put them at the top of the animal kingdom for high school senior Reannah.
So when Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center® founder Chester Moore overheard a conversation at Texas Children’s Hospital about this young lady wanting to meet a sea turtle, he went into action.
One of the organization’s outreaches is called Wild Wishes and it grants exotic animal encounters to children with critical illness or loss of parent or sibling. In the past, Moody Gardens in Galveston, TX had granted penguin encounters to children in the program.
He knew they had a Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle named “Chloe” so he contacted the facility to see what was possible.
On April 29, Reannah got to meet this special turtle in a behind the scenes setting, almost getting to hand it food via a special device. Chloe was a tad too shy for that but swam up and gave Reannah a close look that put a Texas-sized smile on her face.
She also got to do an encounter with giant river otters which included feeding the endangered mustelids rainbow trout and posing for a kiss photo. On top of that she got to go to go behind the scenes at the Caribbean aquarium and feed the fish.
The smiles got even bigger as Reannah realized she was not only feeding tarpon, Atlantic spadefish and jack crevalle but also sharks.
“This is awesome!,” she said.
“I can’t thank Moody Gardens enough for rolling out the red carpet for a very sweet and caring young girl. Everyone from the PR department to the animal care crew were gracious and gave not only their time but love. I’ll never forget that,” Moore said.
And he will never forget Reannah’s desire to meet sea turtles.
“The Lord had really been working on me about getting deeper into wildlife conservation with our program. I have been involved with endangered wildlife my entire professional life at many levels but not until we met this young lady did I put the dots together how Wild Wishes would connect to conservation.”
Each young person coming through the program will have an opportunity to choose from a list of endangered species they would like to help. Moore and his team have vetted numerous organizations who work with them and they will make a small donation in the child’s name to that cause.
“A few months ago I was speaking with legendary marine artist and conservationist Dr. Guy Harvey and he said that if everyone would just do a little, then a lot would be accomplished. With that said, I find it amazing that Reannah wanted to help the ocean and we will be making a small donation in her name to the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation,” Moore said.
Who better to help wildlife facing immense challenges than children facing challenges themselves?
“I can’t tell you how impactful learning of Reannah’s desire to meet a sea turtle was and then meeting her and seeing how much she really does care about animals and the ocean. Moving forward many endangered animals will be helped because this young lady wanted to get close to sea turtles. She inspired us,” Moore said.
Not only will children in the program on top of their wish encounter get a donation to an endangered species cause in their name but they will also have an opportunity to be part of a special mentoring program.
“The young people who come through Wild Wishes will have a chance to become our conservation ambassadors,” Moore said.
That means they will have the chance to get hands-on training with animal ambassadors from Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center®, learn wildlife photography, go through an endangered species information course and appear at events with animals to help raise awareness to endangered species conservation.
“As far as we know this has never been done. We’re very excited and inspired. We love the Lord, children and wildlife and this is a way to bring it altogether,” said Lisa Moore who will be working heavily on the photography part of the mentoring program.
Reannah’s encounter was the 60th wish the program has granted and while doing a Bible study recently, Moore noticed something unique about the number 60.
Moore said Hebrew numbers have meanings beyond their numerical value and the meaning for 60 in that ancient language is “to support”.
“We will not only continue supporting children facing challenges through Wild Wishes but also help those children support endangered wildlife. I think it’s a match made in Heaven.”