Category Archives: Animal Americana

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

black bear map 1

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.

black bear map 2 lagitas

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.

You can subscribe to this blog to get updates on subjects like this by entering your email address at 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.

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).

599279_490795787699791_671615238_n
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.

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.

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.

fawn
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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

mottled stamp

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.

 

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.

Montana_wolf_100_lbs_1928_Young_&_Goldman_USFWS
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.

Toxic Pork

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller  has announced a rule change in the Texas Administrative Code (TAC) that classifies a warfarin-based hog lure as a state-limited-use pesticide.

The pesticide, “Kaput Feral Hog Lure,” is the first toxicant to be listed specifically for use in controlling the feral hog population and represents a new weapon in the long-standing war on the destructive feral hog population according an agency press release.

“This solution is long overdue. Wild hogs have caused extensive damage to Texas lands and loss of income for many, many years,” Commissioner Miller said.

“With the introduction of this first hog lure, the ‘Hog Apocalypse’ may finally be on the horizon.”

hogblog2
State officials are saying traditional hunting and trapping is not getting the job done with Texas hog population. Hunters are crying foul.

“It won’t just be hogs eating the poison. It will be deer and squirrels and rabbits and raccoons. Everything you see come up to game camera at feeders will be impacted,” said Brian Johnson, a local duck dog trainer and hog hunter.

“You can’t just introduce mass poison to the environment and expect only one species to be impacted.”

Frank Moore a Texas-based hunter who works to help landowners eradicate hogs also had strong opinions on the issue.

“If I were to go out and put a bunch of random poison on my lease to kill deer I would get in big trouble. How do they know this is not going to impact other animals as much as it does hog?,” he asked.

Moore at the same time is skeptical that it will work long-term.

Hogs are smart. There is a chance they will figure out something is wrong with the bait if it is supposed to take a number of times eating it to kill it like most rat poisons. There are just a whole lot of factors in this issue that should be looked at,” Moore said.

From this writer’s vantage point, this is a bad idea on many levels but one is glaring, yet no one seems to be addressed. it.

This will greatly impact javelina (collared peccary) in South and West Texas where the swine-like native animals are present.

Javelina will eat virtually anything a hog will eat and will no question be victims of the poison. Javelina are a game animal in Texas with a bag limit of two per season.

Unfortunately some ranches allow wholesale killing of javelina but they are recognized by state law as a game animal as they should be. They are not exotic introductions like hogs and are as much a part of Texas as whitetail deer or Rio Grande turkey.

Who will be counting the impact on javelina?

The same goes for everything else in the ecosystem.

We will have more on this issue which is likely to get heated as an animal that has definitely caused problems (feral hogs) is now weighed against other wildlife in value.

Chester Moore, Jr.