The black-footed ferret is one of the most endangered mammals on the planet.
Thought extinct in the mid 1980s, a surprise finding of a handful in 1987 spawned a capture and eventual captive breeding program that currently has 370 in the wild and more at facilities like the National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center near Fort Collins, Co.
In 2014, I spoke with Texas Parks & Wildlife Department biologist Calvin Richardson about ferret restoration possibilities in Texas and he gave some hopeful information.
During the recent meeting of the Texas Black-footed Ferret Working Group on August 12th, the working group members agreed that the drought and past years of drier than average conditions over the High Lonesome have created less than favorable conditions for prairie dog densities, which has direct implications for survival of black-footed ferrets. TPWD will therefore not seek to reintroduce ferrets in Texas in 2013, but instead focus on a potential reintroduction in 2014 on the High Lonesome next fall.
Problems with Man and Nature
That reintroduction never happened.
I spoke to Richardson Feb. 15 and he said private ranches in the Panhandle that had large prairie dog towns (necessary for ferrets) were no longer under consideration and that a public tract that has the right type of habitat and large prairie dog towns was recently hit by plague.
This is typical of the black-footed ferret’s story.
On one hand the poisoning of prairie dogs in the mid 20th century had a huge negative impact on these mustelids and in turn nature deals a cruel blow every time plague rips through a prairie dog town.
Richardson said TPWD’s Panhandle office has been busy dealing with potential endangered designations on several species including the western massasauga and the prairie chicken. Ferret reintroduction at least in that region seems to be off the table for the moment-or at least until conditions in the region change.
The black-footed ferret once ranged across a huge portion of the west-central United States and perhaps one day they will again.
Their populations will never by back to their former glories but there is hope these unique predators will inhabit far more territory than they do now.
I hope my home state of Texas is included.
It would make the High Plains and the rugged Trans Pecos seem a little wilder and more complete.
An article at the Miami Herald says that federal officials are quietly considering removing endangered status from the Florida Key Deer.
With population estimates showing numbers down to around 950 and recent population hits from screwworms and hurricanes it seems like an odd time to consider reducing their status to “threatened” according to retired biologist Tom Wilmers.
“Down-listing the Key deer to threatened is beyond absurd,” said Tom Wilmers, a deer biologist who retired from the National Key Deer Refuge after nearly 30 years. “Their habitat is horrible. They’ve been hit by a hurricane. There was the horrible situation with those screwworms. And now you’re going to talk about down-listing them? What is better than it was 25 years ago? Nothing.”
Endangered species have always been under the gun so to speak due to the controversial nature of the Endangered Species Act which at times has caused logging and other activities to cease.
And in recent years there has been a trend toward delisting subspecies of. Recently the Louisiana black bear was delisted, despite still low populations and it is not surprising to see key deer examined. There are those who argue that there is not much difference between a Louisiana black bear and other black bear subspecies so protection should come from states as they determine population levels in their territory, not from the federal government.
In the case of the Florida Key Deer there is a good chance this designation change will not happen due to the high-profile of the species. However, even considering changing their status is…well…strange.
My concern for the species with a delisting is that it will embolden wildlife smugglers and poachers to take a toll on an already decimated population.
I have been on multiple Texas ranches that have more whitetail within their acreage than the Florida Keys have their namesake deer (950). When looking at situations like this it is all about perspective and I cannot help but think about the above statement and realizing a single disease outbreak or major storm could literally wipe out most of the remaining key deer. In this case I hope common sense and good science prevails and this national treasure retains the protection it deserves.
An ancient Hebrew text prophesies that one day the “…the wolf will live the the lamb, the leopard with the calf and a little child will lead them.”
But what about the coyote and the nine-banded armadillo?
In Southeast Texas, armadillos are regular prey items for coyotes, however in this series of videos filmed by naturalist Mark Hines it is obvious this coyote and an armadillo have a bit of a friendship going.
The first two videos are from the same day but the third is nearly a month later. There have been numerous cases of predators interacting with prey in playful fashion but this is the first time we have seen this with a coyote and armadillo.
This is a fairly young coyote that Hines has captured on video many times but it is with a pack that includes mature individuals that live in the same relatively small area. That implies that all of the coyotes are tolerating the armadillo that as of yet has not met its demise, at least not on camera.
Hines has captured some captivating videos over the last few years that show a side to not only coyotes but some animals we believe have strong red wolf genetics (coywolves if you will) doing some pretty incredible things.
We will be sharing some of these videos in the coming months and giving a look at these animals in an area where few studies have been conducted on the species.
Many believe the coyote is the most adaptable mammal in North America and as someone who has had many dealings with them, including the group in Hine’s videos I concur.
They are truly intelligent creatures that can survive in the shadow of many and apparently in the presence of armadillos as well.
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Those are the ingredients necessary to allow wildlife to reach maximum size.
Without the genetic code animals don’t have the capacity for super size. Without food and cover it is impossible to feed their potential. And without reaching the optimal age, it is all a moot point.
These three factors are the reason why gigantic feral hogs will become the apex predator in many American cities.
Feral hogs have entered the city limits of many cities in the American South and are becoming major problems for animal control, homeowners, golf course managers and park superintendents.
There are no doubt hogs in cities like Houston, Orlando and others major cities right now with the potential to outgrow the average grizzly bear.
Greenbelts as well as abandoned lots, dumps and other open areas provide adequate nutrition.
And then there is the age factor.
Once hogs enter cities there is virtually no way to control them.
Trapping has very limited effectiveness. Shooting them under virtually every circumstance is off limits for obvious reasons. No one will have the stomach to allow hunters with trained curs and pit bulls to capture/kill them and poisoning (where legal) is not going to be possible due to dangers to pets and people.
So, when that hog with the genes to be a giant enters a city, it has everything else it needs to do just that.
These hogs will do massive damage to everything they put their snout to and will pose a danger to people and their pets. Hogs are most fond of plant material but they can and often do prey on live animals.
That means “Fifi” the poodle could be on the menu when her doting mother takes her for a walk in the park.
Such hogs already exist and have for years but as hogs numbers continue to skyrocket even the urban areas in the feral hog’s range that have had no swine migration will see them move in.
Early in my writing career I got some revealing intel on such animals. The first was almost a face to snout encounter.
When taking my girlfriend (now wife) Lisa out on a date at a seafood restaurant we heard something step out of the cane just behind us in the parking lot.
As we fixed our eyes toward the racket a huge mud-covered animal emerged.
At first in the dim light at the back end of the parking lot I thought it was a young steer as cattle are common in any pasture, wood lot or in the case chunk of marsh next to the restaurant.
But it was no steer.
This was a hog, one that weighed well beyond 500 pounds.
It grunted heavily when it saw us (we were only 10 steps away) and then went on about its business of rooting up the ground.
The area the animal came from is a piece of marsh probably in the 300 acre range next to a large refinery facility. This is bordered by a large chip channel and a whole bunch of industrial buildings and homes.
Obviously that huge hog, perhaps a domestic set free to graze years ago as used to be common in Texas had found its nice. It does not take hogs much time to go back to their wild origins and integrate into purely feral populations.
This was not the only time I came across evidence of monster hogs in the area.
Around the same time, a man told me had located a really big black boar in a wood lot behind the Vidor, TX Wal Mart and wanted to know if I wanted to tag along with he and his dogs to catch it.
Two weeks later a letter arrives in the mail with a photo of the hog they killed, all 400 pounds of it. I later drove by the area to inspect and saw the 20 acre wood lot the beast had lived in amongst a city of 10,000.
As hogs push deeper into urban territory, certain individuals will find these sanctuary areas that will allow them to grow to epic proportions.
It will be important to educate the public on these animals with a very special emphasis on not feeding them. Feral hogs are bad enough but feral hogs without any hunting pressure who know humans feed them will eventually turn to animals that approach people.
And at some point someone will get hurt, maybe killed.
I have written extensively on hog attacks and they are more common than many might suspect.
Having been chased up a tree on two occasions by wild hogs both in Texas and Tennessee, I can attest being on the side of their wrath is a frightening thing.
We should always use caution when hogs are around and realize some of them tend to be more Hannibal Lecter than Porky the Pig.
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My radio program “Moore Outdoors” allows me to be able to interview all kinds of experts on wildlife.
By far one of the greatest interview subject is Marty Stouffer of “Wild America” fame.
The now syndicated show (last 25 years) originally aired on PBS and set records for viewership. Here’s some info on Stouffer from Wikipedia.
Along with his brother Mark, Stouffer also produced the TV series of John Denver specials for ABC in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Another half-dozen one-hour Specials for the National Geographic Society were also produced during that same time period. Stouffer’s special “The Predators” was narrated by Robert Redford and his special “The Man Who Loved Bears” was narrated by Will Geer and Henry Fonda.
By the mid-1970s, Stouffer had compiled several full-length specials that aired on television as prime time network documentaries. At that time, he approached the programming managers at the PBS about a half-hour-long wildlife series. PBS signed for the rights to broadcast Stouffer’s series Wild America in 1981. The series almost immediately became one of the most popular aired by PBS, renowned for its unflinching portrayal of nature, as well as its extensive use of unique film techniques such as extreme slow motion, close-ups and time-lapses through the seasons of the year.
Stouffer’s stories, incorporating dramatic “facts of life,” and told simply in his home-spun style, won the hearts of a loyal audience. It 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 which has ever aired on Public Television. At the time, it was common for producers to limit the number of broadcasts to 4 airings over a period of 3 years. Stouffer saw no good reason for that limitation and he was the first producer to offer unlimited broadcasts of the series by the network. Many of the 260 PBS stations chose to broadcast the programs multiple times each day throughout the weeks. In some weeks, according to Nielsen ratings, it was viewed by more than 450 million viewers.
In total, the Wild America episodes have been viewed untold billions of times by hundreds of millions of viewers. Wild America has become the strongest, most popular and most recognized brand in existence on the subject of North American wildlife and nature.
Listen here to our discussion bears, wildlife programing and all things “Wild America”.
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The biggest ecological concern of Hurricane Irma was the highly endangered key deer which only lives on a handful of islands in the Florida keys.
With only 949 estimated key deer remaining (I have been on many ranches with more whitetail than than in Texas) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials estimate the storm killed 21 deer and in 2016 they were hit by a screwworm infestation that took 135.
Now two South Florida residents, who captured and restrained three Florida Key deer on Big Pine Key according to US Fish and Wildlife Service officials, were sentenced Oct. 31, 2017, in federal court in Key West for violations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Erik Damas Acosta, 18, of Miami Gardens, and Tumani A. Younge, 23, of Tamarac, previously pled guilty for their involvement in the July 2, 2017 incident in Monroe County, Florida. United States District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez sentenced Acosta to one year in jail, followed by two years of supervised release, and ordered him to perform 200 hours of community service. Younge was sentenced to time already served, placed on 180 days of home confinement subject to electronic monitoring, given a term of supervised release of two years, and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service. The Court found that neither defendant could pay a criminal fine.
According to court records, including a Joint Factual Statement signed by the defendants, they used food to lure the deer and captured them. The defendants tied up the deer and placed them in their vehicle. They further admitted their actions injured an adult male Key deer, including a fractured leg. The animal later had to be euthanized by authorities.
I have written on several occasions in recent months about the huge problem of young people poaching endangered wildlife. This is another terrible example.
The issue must be addressed and vulnerable species like the key deer must continue to be protected.
We’ll keep you updated with all key deer related issues.
A couple of days ago I came across a project called “I am Somebody” from fourth grade.
It was an exercise in challenging us to state who we are and who we wanted to become in life.
I don’t remember this project and I have not seen it since I did it back in 1984 but what I found in it reminded me that a dream of working with wildlife that became a vision later in life started long ago.
When asked to draw a picture or cut out and paste of picture of what I wanted to be when I grew up I chosen article from National Geographic showing a researcher with a leopard seal.
I would like to be a scientist because I would like to maybe find a way to stop water pollution or discover a new animal. I would like to be a wildlife biologist.
I ended up studying journalist in school and later zoology and have since I was in high school pursued wildlife journalism. It’s amazing a little boy with a big dream got to live it in a little different way.
The assignment also had a section called “If I Were…”
If I were an animal I would like to be a grizzly bear so I could be the strongest animal in the forest.
Not much has changed on that front although I would probably tell you a jaguar for the answer now-the strongest cat in the forest.
The reason for this post is to inspire you to follow the vision you have for your life. My advice is to seek God, receive revelation on your life and pursue that with everything you have.
I am no one special but I have been able to do many special things in regards to wildlife. There is no reason you can’t do the same thing.
I plan on doing many more special things with wildlife in the next 25 years and beyond and want to inspire you to seek out your WILDEST dreams.
I will probably never become a grizzly but I just might get an up close and personal photo one of one of these magnificent creatures.
For a moment, it seemed as if I were in a bizarre, fever-induced nightmare, descending deeper and deeper into murky blackness.
Life and death hung in the balance as I struggled to make it toward the light above but my captor was powerful. Effort seemed futile as it pulled with unbelievable strength until suddenly something gave and I broke free.
Rocketing to the surface toward the boat I was pulled from, I gave everything to get back in.
A huge beast with razor sharp teeth had just taken me on a trip into 40 degree, 50-foot deep water. Drowning, hypothermia and bleeding to death were all likely scenarios but an even stronger force led me to the light.
Back in 1997, I was running a trotline in a deep hole in the Sabine River. My cousin Frank Moore and I had trotlines about 200 yards apart and had been catching a few blue catfish.
This was in the middle of winter and we were targeting huge blue catfish. In previous days I had several large hooks straightened and had visions of 75-pound blues in my mind.
As I went to check my line, I noticed most it was not parallel to the shore but drifting out across the deep, instead of on the edge. The line had been cut (or so I thought).
Immediately not so kind words flowed through my mouth to whoever cut the line but then as I started to pull it in something happened.
The line moved!
I pulled in a little more and felt great weight at the end of the line and soon realized I had a seven-foot long alligator garfish on my line. In the Moore family, gar trump blue cats any day of the week so I was excited and even more so when I saw the huge gar barely moving.
Gar will often drown on trotlines (seriously) and this one looked a little worse for the wear so I though it would be easy pickings.
I pulled the line up to the beast, hooked my gaff under the only soft spot on the fish, which is directly below the jaw. I jammed it in there good to make sure it would hold and to see how lively the fish was. It literally did not budge. The fish was alive but did not seem lively.
I then took a deep breath, mustered up all the strength I had since this was a 200-pound class fish and heaved the gar into the boat. That is when the big fish woke up.
It pulled back with full force and all of a sudden I found myself headed down into 30 feet of water with the gar. In an instant I realized one of the other hooks on the trotline had caught in my shoe and I was now attached to 200 pounds of toothy fury.
I had just enough time to take a breath and went under.
All I could focus on was getting back to the surface and toward the light. I am not sure how deep I went but according to my cousin who was just down the shore from me, I did not stay under very long. A 200-pound gar and a 200-pound young man snapped the lead on the line but the hook amazingly remained in my shoe as a reminder I was very near death.
Bringing the line into the boat was a mistake on my part. Nearly a fatal one. They should always be checked on the side of the boat.
More philosophically, thinking back to that moment enveloped in a cold darkness and looking up to the light would foreshadow what would happen in my life in years to come.
There was much more living to do. I just had to reach to the light-the Light of the World to be set free.
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.
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 Keydeer population,” said Dr. Roel Lopez, institute director and co-principal investigator for the Keydeer 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 Keydeer 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.
Cutting-edge wildlife writings and investigations.