All posts by wildlifejournalist

Journey of a wayward bear

About 10 years ago, a man by the name of Al Weaver sent me a photo of a black bear he encountered while hog hunting with dogs.

The interesting part is that he was hog hunting near Bay City, TX in Matagorda County.

Bears inhabiting the Trans Pecos region near Big Bend National Park and slipping across the border from Louisiana and Arkansas into the Pineywoods are well documented but Bay City is far from these locations.

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The dogs they were hunting with scared the bear into a tree and it was left alone while the hunt continued. The photo of this bear is above and as you can see it appears to be a a youngster.

It is most likely a male as young males will often travel far to start searching out mates but (male or female) how far did this one travel?

Lets say that bear entered Texas from Louisiana right at my home town of Orange coming across the Sabine River into the Blue Elbow Swamp which sits literally at the juncture of the Pineywoods and coastal marsh. This would also allow the closest access from Louisiana.

By car this is 155 miles which if you see the blue line would have the bear going through downtown Houston. That obviously did not happen. The straight path would lead it across the fifth largest bay system in the nation. That did not happen either.

The animal would have to at some point cross Interstate 10 or enter the wider spaces of the Sabine just south of Interstate 10 in Orange and maneuver through the coastal prairies, make its way around the Galveston Bay complex and down to Bay City.

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What if the bear hailed from the Trans Pecos area-say somewhere near Big Bend in the Lajitas area? That’s a 651 mile drive for us and a 472 mile straight shot by air (or bear) covering all kinds of territory along the way from cities to hunting leases to wildlife refuges to international borders perhaps.

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Some might argue this was a captive bear that was released but that is very unlikely. Another possibility this is an undocumented bear that was born somewhere in the middle perhaps in the Hill Country where sightings have spiked in recent years or even in the western Pineywoods or maybe along the coast somewhere.

Did you know there were bear hunting seasons as recently as the 1980s along the Texas coast? In my personal collection I have a hunting regulation book from 1979 that had a bear season in Chambers County and have seen others from subsequent years.

Were there really still a few bears along the coast at that time? Any scientific information is scant but it is an intriguing thought.

No matter where this bear came from its origins are interesting as they defy commonly held beliefs about bears in Texas.

This should serve as a reminder that nature still has plenty of surprises left and that bears can show up unexpectedly-even where no bears are known to roam.

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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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jaguarundi tail

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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.

Feral monkeys in Texas (photo and more)

The thorn-filled plains of South Texas are the epitome of biodiversity. From the gorgeous green jay to the massive indigo snake the region is a wildlife haven.

As a veteran bowhunter (who wishes to remain anonymous) climbed into a stand overlooking a drying creek bottom he wondered if the big whitetail buck he had been pursuing would reveal itself this evening.

It is after all what drew him here and with the wind blowing into his face and away from what he thought was the buck’s bedding area, everything was perfect.

There was one small glitch.

He did however get to the stand a late and he would only have about an hour before dark to make it happen.

That’s “ok” he figured as these are the minutes when the wild lands come alive.

Then he heard it.

A high-pitched bellowing scream that echoed throughout the bottoms.

As his adrenaline production went into overload, he pondered what might be making the sound and why it was coming his direction. The screams got louder and louder, so he readied an arrow just incase.

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Photo courtesy M. Odom

Suddenly from out of the underbrush walked a large monkey. With a pinkish-red face and gray body it walked along the edge of the treeline before eventually disappearing into the shadows.

It was a shocking sight for sure. How did a monkey end up in South Texas?

Well, at at least it was not the monster he had pictured in his imagination.

There exists an area in the South Texas Plains where a population of Japanese macaques live and they have a long, bizarre story.

National Geographic covered them in a documentary. Watch this clip to the get the basics.

The Snow Monkeys of Texas (National Geographic) from Harrison Witt on Vimeo.

One of our readers M. Odom snapped this photo of one of the monkeys on his deer lease near Dilley, TX so we had to share.

Have you ever seen a monkey in Texas? If so we would love to see the photos. 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.

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Chester Moore, Jr.

Cougar kills javelina (photo)

Ron Wehmeyer, sent in this amazing shot  of a huge cougar standing over its recently killed javelina on his ranch out in the Texas’ arid Trans Pecos region.

Having photographed many cougars over the years I estimate this one to be in the 150 pound range which is very large.photo2-1

Do not believe any of the so-called “experts” who say all of Texas’ cats are small. We do have some really big ones as this photo proves beyond a shadow of a doubt.

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.

Red and yellow can really hurt a fellow

“Red and yellow, kill a fellow.”

“Red and black venom lack.”

That is the poem I grew up with mom taught me to distinguish the highly venomous coral snake from our local mimic, the Louisiana milk snake.

With a nervous system attacking venom like that of their cobra cousins, the coral snake is without question one of if not the deadliest snake bites in America (mojave rattler is the other contender).

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The author checks out a large Texas coral snake caught in the Pinewoods of East Texas.

However, a recent study has discovered something that might get the striped serpent an edge.

This study shows the venom of the Texas coral snake in particular has ability to cause severe pain. The following is from an article at ucsf.edu…

The venom contains a toxic mixture of chemicals that includes two special proteins that join together, glom tightly onto tiny detectors on human nerve endings and don’t let go. These detectors normally sense acid burns, and after the snake bites, the victim’s brain receives unrelenting signals of an acid-like burn.

“Bites from this snake are associated with really intense, unremitting pain,” said David Julius, PhD, the Morris Herzstein Chair in Molecular Biology & Medicine at UCSF, who led the research. “This work helps to explains why and gives us new tools for examining how our brains perceive pain.”

But  don’t break out the machetes to start slaughtering coral snakes.

There is also research that suggest certain subspecies venom can help treat epilepsy as well as breast cancer. We’ll have more on that soon but for now here is the article about the research on the Texas coral snake.

And although these snakes don’t rattle or show a white mouth to warn you, consider the toxins they can inject a big “Don’t Tread On Me!” declaration.

To read more click here.

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Fawn deaths skyrocketing

Whitetail fawns are stunning.

With their burnt orange coat and white spots they not only blend with the forest floor but shine as one of nature’s true beauties.

This fawn was hidden on the edge of a briar tangle at a Ducks Unlimited waterfowl preserve in North Dakota. As its mother watched from a distance, I snapped a quick photo and then left so neither mom or baby would feel threatened.

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The author came across this fawn walking a Ducks Unlimited preserve in North Dakota. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

This was in stark contrast to the lifeless fawn I found on the edge of a high line on the southern tip of Newton County, TX.

It had been dead awhile but there was no broken neck or eaten ribcage typical of coyote or bobcat predation. What killed it remains unclear.

A much greater mystery is the huge increase in fawn deaths nation-wide.

According to Kip Adams, wildlife biologist with the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA), a significant decline in fawn survival has occurred in the last 15 years.

“Overall, fawn recruitment rates have declined from an average of 0.81 fawns/doe in the U.S. in 2000 to 0.58 fawns/doe in 2015. That’s significant,” he said.

As of 2015, the Northeast U.S. averaged 0.48 fawns/doe, the Southeast averaged 0.50 fawns/doe, and the Midwest averaged 0.82 fawns/doe.

“I believe the main cause is increased predation on fawns,” Adams said.

“Deer herds with high fawn recruitment rates are very resilient to severe weather, disease outbreaks, and over-harvest.  This provides a nice buffer in deer management programs.  Significantly reduced fawn recruitment rates remove this buffer and make deer herds more vulnerable to the above factors.”

There are more than 30 million whitetails in North America.

This is not an issue where a species is becoming endangered, threatened or even in any kind of major decline. Deer herds are chiefly managed for hunting and it can even be argued that increased predation is a natural response to burgeoning deer herds and should be welcomed.

But there is more.

Penn State biologists are wrapping up a three year study that involves fitting fawns with radio collars.

Research Duane Dieffenbach provided this information on one of Penn State’s study areas.

Five of the fawns captured were found dead with no visible cause (even after necropsy). Some lacked milk in the rumen, while others did not but the real reason why a seemingly healthy dead fawn found its way to the necropsy table is unknown.

This year when the field crew checked on one fawn whose collar was in mortality mode, they found it alive but unable to move. When they checked on the fawn the next day it had died. The necropsy found milk in its stomach but no obvious cause of death. PGC vet, Dr. Justin Brown, collected tissue samples for examination but we do not have a confirmed cause of death at this time.

Bottom line, lots of fawns (about a third of all mortalities) die from causes other than predation

What are these causes? They can run the gamut from pneumonia to screwworms but some are questioning whether the introduction of GMO agriculture has had an impact.

A North American Whitetail article digs deep into the potential impact of GMO crops on whitetails. You can read it here.

The takeout of the article for this writer was anecdotes from Judy Hoy of Montana who does wildlife rehabilitation.

“As a game warden, my husband retrieved many accident-killed big-game animals, primarily white-tailed deer, from roadsides and yards, and I examined the carcasses prior to disposal. I also cared for newborn wild ruminants. Thus, we examined hundreds of white-tailed deer prior to and after 1995.

“We observed that, beginning in spring of 1995 and continuing through 2014, many individuals of white-tailed deer fawns were born with one or more birth defects consistent with mineral deficiencies and thyroid hormone disruption. In 1996, I began documenting the bite, the size of the deer and the size of the male genitalia with measurements and photos. I also found the sex ratio on the white-tailed deer skewed highly in favor of males at around 60M/40F, especially between 1995 and 2002.”

There is much more to the story which I highly recommend reading but it certainly paints an interesting picture since the 1990s there have been millions of acres planted with GMO seeds and their use only continues to increase. The impact of GMOs on rats and mice in laboratories is truly frightening.

Once again whitetail declines are superficial when looked at through the prism of history and the fact that even the states with the lowest whitetail numbers are vastly above what they were 50 years ago.

But there is no question something is different out there.

Something is changing the dynamic of fawn recruitment and it is happening on a large scale.

For now let’s say the fawns in America’s woodlands could be like the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Their disappearance could be a signal of something bigger on the  horizon.

We have created a continuing dialogue with universities, the QDMA and state agencies to look deeper and will report as we find out.

Fawns are starting to hit the ground in parts of the country right now. Making it past spring has always been a challenge due to the harsh nature of life in the woods but now it seems something or some things are making it downright difficult for Bambi to lose his spots.

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.

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.

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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.