Category Archives: Animal Americana

Key deer live through Hurricane Irma (video)

We have been promising to keep you updated as to the status of the federally endangered key deer in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

The following is a video captured by veteran television journalist David Sutta via Facebook showing four key deer on Big Pine Key after Irma blasted through.

Big Pine Key is where the majority of the population lives. Thanks to Cody Conway from Wild Imaging for sending this to me.

Our contacts in key deer research have been unavailable and have not been able to access their research areas. We hope to have more on the status of the deer in the coming days and weeks.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Key deer major concern as Irma hammers Florida

The average elevation of Big Pine Key off the mainland coast of Florida is three feet.

Early reports of storm surge from Hurricane Irma hitting Big Pine Key is 10 feet.

Big Pine Key is home to the majority of the federally endangered key deer, the smallest subspecies of whitetail and it is headquarters of National Key Deer Refuge.

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Key Deer have had a rough go of it in the last couple of years.

“While there had been no screwworm outbreaks in the U.S. for the past 30 years, one began last July (2016) on Big Pine Key, which affected the Key deer population,” said Dr. Roel Lopez, institute director and co-principal investigator for the Key deer study, San Antonio, a project of Texas A&M University.

Last year screwworms infested the population, which is spread across more than 20 islands. It has led to 135 Key deer deaths, including 83 that were euthanized to reduce the risk of further infection.

“This was a significant blow to a species of which is uniquely located in that area and has an estimated population of just 875,” said Lopez, who noted the mortalities were chiefly among adult males.

We will be contacting officials with the key deer study as well as at National Key Deer Refuge to monitor what is happening with the species.

A 10 foot surge could have serious consequences to all wildlife of the keys but the key deer is the most vulnerable. And they have already been hit by a severe (proportionally speaking) screwworm outbreak.

Mid-day Monday we found a report at the Miami Herald about the species.

Dan Clark superintendent of the National Key Deer Refuge, said his first priority as the massive storm approached was to evacuate National Wildlife Refuge personnel assigned to the area.

“After we receive information from Monroe County that it is safe to return and we can inhabit the Lower Keys, a post-storm assessment of our facilities and residences will be conducted to determine if we can operate,” Clark said.

As we get updates we will keep you updated.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Harvey: Huge wild boar visits neighborhood (video)-this will be a common site in some areas

Don’t let the name The Woodlands fool you.

Yes, it is beautifully developed with plenty of trees and greenbelts but The Woodlands is part of the Houston area and it is usually bustling with human activity.

After Hurricane Harvey’s torrential rains hit the area last weekend, wildlife from the local forests started to invade the neighborhoods.

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(Photo courtesy CJoslinROCK)

Jon Joslin captured this footage of a massive wild boar that came trotting through the yard as if it owned the place.

This is exactly what we warned would happen in an earlier entry explaining that the Houston area has a massive feral hog and coyote population that floodwaters would reveal.

Texas’ feral hog population estimates are in the three million range with some believing that is very conservative. Feral hogs have officially become the most harvested game animal in Texas with more than 750,000 taken by hunters and trappers. That is more than 150,000 above the state’s annual whitetail harvest and Texas has by far the largest deer harvest in the nation.

Feral hogs despite their reputation are not out to get people-well at least most of them aren’t.

Scientists have recently uncovered a profile of killer hogs-yes those that kill people and we reported on it here.

You might now want to read that one before going to bed-or a camping trip. Yeah, its kind of creepy.

Most hogs however want to be left alone but animals stressed by being displaced in a flood situation just might be more prone to lashing out than one you see while taking a stroll on your favorite hiking trail.

If you see a hog during these flooding conditions chances are it it not someone’s pet. Keep in mind not all feral hogs are black. Many are brown, some are white, others spotted and even blonde.

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Feral hogs are not all black. In fact they can have a range of colors. (US Fish & Wildlife Service Photo)

Even sows (females) can be aggressive. Sows with young are particularly testy.

By all means do not feed any hogs you see in the area. Habituating them to your property is a bad idea at every level. Even in the best case scenario your yard will look like someone plowed it for agriculture.

As the human tragedy of Hurricane Harvey continues to unfold, displaced wildlife will be encountered by thousands.

The best play is to stay a safe distance, especially in the case of hogs.

That way you and the hog can stay out of trouble.

Chester Moore, Jr. 

 

Rat hordes biggest wildlife threat in Harvey aftermath

“Rats!”

“Thousands of them! Millions of them!”

The famous quote from Dwight Frye’s portrayal of Renfield in 1931’s Dracula shows a crazed man obsessed with large number of rodents.

There is no question that thousands and perhaps millions of rats have been displaced in Houston and outlying areas in the historic flooding of Hurricane Harvey.

And they are the most likely of displaced animals to cause problems.

Rats are excellent swimmers and climbers and while some will no doubt have perished most will survive.

The Houston area has had an increase rat problem this summer as show by this video from ABC 13.

According to the Center of Disease Control rats and their kind are major disease carriers.

Worldwide, rats and mice spread over 35 diseases. These diseases can be spread to humans directly, through handling of rodents, through contact with rodent feces, urine, or saliva, or through rodent bites. Diseases carried by rodents can also be spread to humans indirectly, through ticks, mites or fleas that have fed on an infected rodent.

Immediately some locations on high ground will find themselves covered with large numbers of rats. And while rats do not typically “attack” people, stressed ones are more likely to bite. The main threat would be children picking them up and pets encountering them.

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During my coverage of Hurricane Ike in 2008, I learned of a family that stayed in the path of the massive of Hurricane only a few miles from the beach and had to retreat into the attic and eventually the roof. As waters rose, rats inundated the small strip of high ground along with snakes from the nearby marsh.

Rats that can stay together will. They have a very strong social order.

But those separate by flooding conditions are still resilient.

Rodents that survive a disaster often move to new areas. It will take time for rodents to regroup, reorganize their social behavior, become familiar with their new environment, find safe haven, locate food and water, and memorize their movements according to CDC officials.

Colony building and reproduction will begin only when their new ecosystem has stabilized. This typically takes 6 to 10 months under favorable conditions. As the rodent population grows and resettles, people have a greater chance of being exposed to the diseases carried by rodents. Rodent urine and dander also contain allergens that can cause allergic reactions or trigger asthma symptoms in sensitive persons and more than 9,000 persons are treated in emergency departments annually for rat or mouse bites.

And something very few people consider is that a large number of rats found in America cities are a foreign invader-the Norway rat.

Dispersed around the world on ships these highly resilient animals can chew through virtually anything. These animals can outcompete native rodents for space and food and will survive virtually anything-including Hurricanes and floods.

CDC officials warn damaged or abandoned homes and other buildings may be infested with rodents.

In the aftermath of Harvey if you see signs of rodents, the building will need to be thoroughly cleaned.

Here are a few CDC tips for cleaning up after rats.

*Do not vacuum or sweep rodent urine, rodent droppings, or contaminated surfaces that have not been disinfected.

*Spray urine and droppings with a disinfectant or a 1:10 chlorine solution (1½ cups of household bleach mixed with 1 gallon of water) until thoroughly soaked.

*Let it soak for 5 minutes.

*Use a paper towel to remove urine and droppings.

*Discard the paper towel outdoors in a sealed garbage container.

Make sure and educate children about rats and let them know not to approach or pick up any live or dead. If a child (or adult) is bitten by a rat get medical treatment immediately.

Its doubtful anyone will see “thousands of rats” and certainly not “millions”.

But for those of us who don’t much like these pests it can only take one to drive us crazy or at least feel that way.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Harvey’s Houston flooding will put urban coyotes, hogs on the move

The catastrophic flooding hitting the Houston area now due to Hurricane Harvey’s rain bands stalling will push the significant coyote and feral hog population out into the open.

The drainage ditch systems as well as the green belts near White Oak, Buffalo and Brays Bayou system are where coyotes dwell and use to travel throughout the metropolitan area.

How far do coyotes penetrate into this vast urban zone?

I saw a fresh road kill last year 1/4 mile east of the I-59 exit off of Interstate 10. They will be roaming the streets now and seeking shelter.

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Coyotes are common through the Greater Houston area from the Katy prairie to the bayou systems down. (US Fish & Wildlife Service Photo)

Most of the time coyotes are not a problem for people but when frightened and hungry threats can go up. Coyotes are also a rabies vector and can carry distemper so caution is wise for pet owners.

If you are in an impacted area consider the following to avoid coyote contact:

*Keep garbage inside or at least keep the lid on your cans.

*Feed your dogs and cats inside.

*Do not attempt to feed coyotes or any stray dog you might come across. Some have problems distinguishing dogs and coyotes.

*If your dog has to go walk it on a leash and keep walks short and away from any wooded areas or cover.

In addition to coyotes, feral hogs are an increasing issue in the Houston area with significant numbers along the eastern Beltway 8 corridor, in the wooded areas near Pasadena, Texas City and virtually all of the northern tier communities.

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Feral hogs are great swimmer and will find their way to safe ground with no problem. In this case that might mean someone’s backyard. (US Fish & Wildlife Service Photo)

Feral hogs can be much more aggressive than coyotes especially when stressed and may be brazen enough to walk through parks, neighborhoods and yards as if they own the place.

If you see a hog during these flooding conditions chances are it it not someone’s pet. Keep in mind not all feral hogs are black. Many are brown, some are white, others spotted and even blonde.

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Feral hogs are not all black. In fact they can have a range of colors. (US Fish & Wildlife Service Photo)

And while they are not out to get anyone, they have no problem letting someone feel their wrath if cornered. Do not approach any hog.

Few Houston area residents realize the depth of wildlife in their communities. Now, due to these catastrophic floods they will get perhaps a very up close look.

Use these tips to ensure both humans and wildlife stay safe during this tragic event.

Chester Moore, Jr.

The ultimate red wolf podcast! (audio)

Last week I had  Kim Wheeler, Executive Director of the Red Wolf Coalition, on my radio program “Moore Outdoors” on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI.

It was without a question the most in-depth, detailed program we have ever done on red wolves in the nearly 19 year history of the program and you can listen to it right here via podcast.

We discuss history of the species, controversies surrounding its introduction, success of the captive breeding program and future of this misunderstood and highly endangered mammal.

If you like wolves tune in. It will open your eyes to the mysterious world of Canis rufus.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Interview with “Wild America” creator-Marty Stouffer

Remember “Wild America”?

According to Wikipedia, “Wild America” was one of PBS’s most highly rated regular series, never leaving the top ten, and in more than one year, it was the number one highest rated regular series to air on the network.

It remains the most-broadcast series ever aired on public television.

I had an opportunity to interview its creator and host and one of my earliest wildlife inspirations, Marty Stouffer, on my radio program “Moore Outdoors” on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI.

We covered quite a bit of ground and the thing I found most fascinating about not only his series but the interview itself was the emphasis not just on big animals like bears and mountain lions but the smaller, more mysterious side of nature.

He mentioned a program on shrews and those are near and dear to my heart believe it or not. We also had a great chance to talk about the past, present and future of outdoors video. It was a true honor to have him on and we look forward to more discussions in the future.

Click the link above to listen to a show that according to Nielsen ratings, was viewed by more than 450 million viewers.

Chester Moore, Jr.

A cage dive with California’s great white sharks

Flashback (Sept. 2002)—A cold chill ran down my spine as I descended into the cold waters of the Pacific.

I may have told myself otherwise, but it had nothing to do with the 56-degree water temperature.

It was all about what lived in the water.

I was in the Farallon Islands, located off the coast of San Francisco, Ca. home of some of the largest great white sharks on the planet.

Specimens there range from 14 to 18 feet long with the occasional 20-footer making an appearance. Although in the safety of a well-crafted steel cage, I felt a sober sense of mortality while gazing into the surrounding sea.

Yes, I was frightened, but also more excited than ever.

After all, this was a dream birthed in childhood and it was now happening in real time.

Before the dive when we reached the islands after a very rough ride across the Pacific, I asked the captain if he needed any help chumming.

“Chumming?” he asked.

“Yes, putting fish oil or blood into the water to attract sharks. I do it all the time shark fishing in the Gulf of Mexico,” I replied.

“We can’t chum here. It’s illegal to chum here in the Farallons. We might start attracting sharks to people,” he said.

A bit dumbfounded, I asked, “Isn’t that the point?”

I then went into a min-lecture of how Jacques Cousteau always had a horse carcass or a huge tuna hanging overboard and that since we paid to see great whites, some chum or at least some bait would be helpful.

“Oh, we have bait. It’s in the long box at the back of the boat,” the captain said.

I quickly walked over and flung the long box open.

“There’s no bait here,” I quipped.

“There’s just a big yellow and red surfboard.”

“That’s the bait. We’re going to pull it behind the boat and the sharks will see it and think it’s a seal,” he said.

Interesting.

The first 30 minutes in the cage did nothing to change my skepticism. Other than the surfboard getting hung up on the cage while they were pulling it like a topwater plug, nothing happened so we moved and had a bite to eat while cruising over to another spot on the island.

Just as a lack sleep turned into drowsiness, the water behind the boat exploded with great fury.

A 15-foot great white grabbed the surfboard and jumped completely out of the water. It spit out the board, then circled and bumped it again. Then another shark from below rocketed out of the water and slammed the board.

I was awake now!

“That’s the coolest thing I have ever seen!,” I exclaimed.

Someone else appropriately said, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”

The captain motioned for the cage to go in the water and I realized a childhood dream was coming true. The four other people who paid for the expedition opted to stay out of the cage

“Maybe they’re the smart ones,” I thought to myself while descending into cool water.

At one point while submerged, a small school of squid swam up to the cage and swam for a few minutes. Then suddenly they bolted out of the area.

I could have sworn I heard the “Jaws” theme playing as a huge dark shadow moved through the silt below the cage, obscured but obvious that it was something living and very large. When I returned the surface, the captain decided to troll with the surf board some more so the cage was lifted and board deployed.

Within a few seconds, an 18-foot 2,500-pound monster breached the surface and destroyed the surfboard. This shark had some hang time and for a moment we locked eyes.

In “Jaws”,  Capt. Quint talks about whites having dark eyes “like a dolls eyes.”

I agree.

The monster shark and I seemed to make eye contact, if only for a brief second. I could see no conscience or thought, just an instinctive drive to do what sharks do. I was in awe.

The great white shark is nature at its purest and best, no matter how ugly or cruel it might seem to us.

Living in a world where we buy our meat from a market and live in air-conditioned homes, we humans sometimes lose touch with what true survival is all about.

The great white shark embodies that better than any living creature I can think of. More profoundly, it gives us a sense of humility.

Even though mankind has conquered everything from polio to space travel, there are still things to which we are vulnerable; sometimes, we are not at the top of the food chain.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Hidden reason for red wolf extinction

Canis rufus, the red wolf, is one of the most endangered mammals on the planet.

With fewer than 50 released into the wild from captive breeding facilities that house around 200 nationwide, they have remained on the brink since their officially declared extinction from the wild in 1980.

While the possibility of remnant, hidden populations exist, their numbers are a tiny in comparison to their former range from the eastern seaboard into Central Texas.

The reason for their extinct designation is they hybridized with coyotes to create a genetic mutt of sorts, the “coywolf”, which still has many representatives in Texas and Louisiana.

A seldom mentioned aspect of the red wolf’s story, however, is targeted eradication.

What caused coyotes to push eastward from their stronghold in the west so quickly was that the vast majority of red wolves had been killed and in large portion through a variety of state-sponsored programs.

This created a vacuum and nature abhors a vacuum.

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Page 149 of the document shows a government predator control agent with a “black wolf”. Black was a common color for Canis rufus in many parts of its range.

I recently came across a copy of the 1946-47 Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Biennial Report that goes into detail about wolves in the state.

Under the headline “Predator Control” the following information is given.

“The Legislature of 1946 increased hunting license fees to $2.00. Twenty five percent of these funds (the increase) were dedicated to predator control.”

“There has been a great increase in the predators of the State. Undoubtedly a great deal of the increase was due to war conditions which took many men away from farms, lack of ammunition and difficulties due to travel restrictions in certain sections of the State. The increase in our foxes brought on an epidemic of rabies and a tremendous increase in wolves and bobcats brought on a terrific loss to our ground-nesting birds, to our mammals, particularly rabbits and our young deer.”

The text goes on to say they hired an official predator control supervisor and had two trappers working under him.

In all fairness it says their desire was to bring a “proper balance” between predators and prey but there was no doubt large-scale predator control aimed directly at red wolves in the state.

The “black wolf” you see in the photo is a red wolf. Red was the primary colors in the Texas region but the red wolf was once called Canis niger (Niger is “black” in Latin) due to its primarily black color in many parts of the South.

As far this writer knows there have never been any melanistic red wolves in the captive breeding program consisting of 14 animals taken chiefly from eastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana, showing at least in the strain of wolves initially captured the black strain was not present.

It is most likely gone forever.

Similar projects were initiated in most if not all states in the red wolf’s range on top of unrestricted harvest by anyone with a gun, leg hold trap or poison.

We have come a long way in wildlife management in the country in many ways  but it is always good to look back so we don’t repeat the same mistakes.

Mark Twain once said “History doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes”.

It is up to us to figure make sure when it comes to wildlife good science trumps politics and conservation reigns supreme even in the hotly contested world of predator management.

Management is one thing, eradication is entirely something else.

Chester Moore, Jr.