Category Archives: Animal Americana

Monster hogs lurking in southern cities? Pt. 1

Are feral hogs the new coyote?

In other words, have they become the latest large wild creature living quite cozily within the city limits of the largest cities in the nation?

The answer is “yes”.

Right now there are sizable feral hog populations Dallas-Forth Worth and Houston in my home state of Texas and also around Baton Rouge, La. and a number of sizable metro areas in Florida.

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Photo submitted by Timothy Soli.

I believe what we are about to see is cities harboring some absolutely monster-sized hogs.

In the past I have written and lectured on what I call “Monster Hogs”  which are any weighing more than 500 pounds. Such animals are few and far between but some of our cities offer all of the right ingredients to make it happen.

There is adequate habitat, food and cover  and large boars in particular which tend to be solitary are great at remaining hidden. They may in fact possess more “intelligence” than any wild animal in North America.

Add to this a lack of hunting pressure.

Photo submitted by Tyler Clines.
Photo submitted by Tyler Clines.

Hogs are popular with hunters and in fact, have superseded whitetail deer as the most harvested animal in Texas with a whopping 750,000 new killed annually according to Texas AgriLife.  Louisiana and Florida also support a huge hog hunting culture.

The fact that firing guns in city limits is a no-no will give hogs with monster genes the opportunity to live to maximum potential.

This is where it will get interesting.

Sightings will be elusive but these creatures will be seen perhaps in schoolyards near children or eating Fifi” the poodle as granny takes it for a stroll in the park.

We are fielding increasing reports from shocked citizens seeing normal-sized hogs in greenbelts and suburbs but how will the public react to seeing a boar just shy of average grizzly proportions(600 pounds) strolling down main street?

More to come…

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Strange backyard creatures of America

Most of mammals we see where I live Southeast Texas would be considered of the common garden variety.

Whitetail deer, raccoons, opossums and squirrels are the most frequently seen creatures that thrive in our woodlands, prairies, marshes and urban areas.

In fact, these animals are common sightings throughout North America

There are however some really strange mammals in the region that are very rarely seen by human eyes and yet they can live in suburban backyards.

Take the eastern mole for example.

These burrowing mammals have tiny eyes but they cannot see and spend almost all of their time underground.

Kenneth Catania, Vanderbilt University
Kenneth Catania, Vanderbilt University

According to the Mammals of Texas, “…moles feed largely on earthworms and grubs, although beetles, spiders, centipedes, insect larvae and pupae, and vegetable matter may also be eaten. In captivity, they have consumed mice, small birds, and ground beef.

“The average daily food consumption is about 32 percent of the body weight of the animal, although a mole can consume more than 66 percent of its body weight in 18 hours. Active prey is killed by crushing it against the sides of the burrow with the front feet or by piling loose earth on the victim and biting it while thus held. Captive moles kill earthworms by biting them rapidly in several places, often nearly cutting the worm in two.”

The saliva of males contains a type of toxin that paralyzes worms and insects. And if that is not weird enough, they can move as quickly backwards as they can forwards.

If the mole isn’t odd enough for you than let me introduce you to the shrew.

These mouse-sized insectivores are arguably the most voracious predators on the planet and East Texas has two varieties: the southern short-tailed shrew and the least shrew.

According to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, shrews have an extremely high metabolic rate. This rapid conversion of food to energy requires that these animals consume up to their own body weight in food every day.

“The highly social and gregarious least shrew often cooperates in building burrows or nests, which are sometimes shared with other least shrews during the nesting and wintering seasons. The species uses the runways and burrows of moles, voles and other small mammals but will make its own runways in soft, loose soil. Tunnels under the snow provide protection from wind and intense cold, allowing least shrews to remain active all winter.

Least shrews rely mainly on their senses of touch and smell. Sight and hearing are not well developed.

The least shrew only lives a short time, usually a little over a year.

God created many amazing creatures and although the big ones get most of the media attention, those on the small side are just as interesting.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Have you ever seen a cottonmouth do this?

The cottonmouth is the most feared snake of the American South.

With a reputation for a short temper, this stout pit viper often flashes the white of its mouth to say “Don’t Tread On Me”.

Wise people don’t.

I have dealt with cottonmouths on hundreds of occasions and actually found some of them to be quite docile but the one in this photo was not.

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At all!

It rose up about a foot of the ground in an almost cobra-like stance. Actually it was sort of a cross between a western diamondback rattlesnake’s “s” position and a cobra.

The snake in question is the biggest I have ever worked with and is nearly four feet in length.

Another interesting thing about this particular snake is that unlike most cottonmouths I have worked with, it did not want to maintain its position and lash out. It lunged at me while conducting the photo shoot and kept advancing forward.

One of the things that continually amazes me about the amazing creatures the Lord graced us with is individuality. Most people, including those into wildlife, look at snakes as all one in the same. A snake is a snake is a snake…or something like that.

In reality there are vast differences among individuals in a population and also from region to region. The cottonmouths I encounter in the Pinewoods of East Texas do not tend to be as aggressive as the ones along the Texas coast.

In addition it is virtually impossible to get those I find along the Interstate 12 corridor in East Texas/Southwest Louisiana to show their white mouth while the ones just north and south of there do it frequently.

One of the intriguing things as a journalist pursuing wildlife is that we cannot interview them like I might a wildlife biologist so we spend as much time in the field as possible shooting photos and videos to capture a profile of a given species.

Chester Moore, Jr.

The great white buffalo!

 

A beautiful herd of longhorn cattle made their way across a bluebonnet covered meadow.

Walking down a trail from an oak thicket, one particularly massive bull stopped and glared at us so I felt obliged to jump out of the truck and shoot photos.

We were at YO Ranch Headquarters near Mountain Home in Kerr County and had just completed granting a “Wild Wish” for a little boy named Amos who got to encounter a giraffe and many other exotic animals at the legendary ranch.

“Wild Wishes” is a program that grants exotic animal encounters to kids who have a terminal illness or have lost a parent or sibling.

Amos and two other wish kids who accompanied us followed me and another chaperone out to photograph the massive bull when we noticed something in the bushes. Hiding under the shade of a live oak was a massive bison. The longhorns were cool but this was awesome!

This thing was easily in the 2,000 pound range and gave us a real thrill as buffalos were the topic of conversation riding down the road. “Wild Wishes” grants exotic animal encounters for children who have lost a parent or sibling or who have a terminal illness and to think that the Lord granted us this chance to see such an amazing animal together was humbling to say the least.

Then it got better.

From behind another tree stood up something big and white. At first it looked like a bull but when it turned around chills ran up and down my spine. This was no bull. It was a white buffalo.

The Great White Buffalo!

As I snapped photos, the majestic bison looked us square in the eye and then retreated into the oaks as we stood blown away.

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All three of the kids knew about the legend of the white buffalo and its importance to Native American culture and so did I of course. And I could not help but sing a chorus of my friend Ted Nugent’s “The Great White Buffalo”.

We had no idea such a creature existed on the huge ranch and would not have seen it if we had not decided to pull over and photograph the longhorns.

I have no question the Lord had His hand on this encounter and so did the kids who were excited beyond measure. They had seen something that until then only seemed like a legend.

I have had many incredible wildlife encounters and this one ranks right up there with seeing great whites in the Pacific. This was a lifelong dream come true and I got to share it with three very special kids and a friend who is as big a buffalo fan as I am.

Part of my love of bison comes from knowing their tragic history and the great conservation efforts that saved them.

According to the Texas Bison Association, Bison were hunted in various ways. Before the Indians rode horseback, they would encircle the herd with tribe members on foot. By getting the animals to mill within the ring they formed, Indians were able to fire large volleys of arrows into the herd until they downed an adequate number of animals.”

“In the 16th Century, when horses were acquired by the Plains Indians, bison hunting became easier. The Indians used other methods to harvest the mighty buffalo: stampeding herds over a cliff, driving the animals into a large natural trap, or into bogs or blind canyons. The most famous hunting technique was the “horse surround.” Several hundred riders would form semicircles on two sides of the herd, then move in until they created a circle around its entirety. As pressure was applied by the oncoming riders, the bison would begin to get confused, start milling and eventually stampeded into a frenzied milling mass. At this point, riders would move in and begin the slaughter with showers of arrows or plunging lances.”

Then came wholesale slaughter of bison by European settlers that was as much to wipe out the Plains tribes that relied on them as it was to sell bison parts. What was once a herd of millions was reduced to less than 1,000 by the late 1800s.

According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, legendary rancher Charles Goodnight started the remnants of the herd on his JA Ranch in the Texas Panhandle in 1878, in attempts to save the animals that had meant so much to him.

“It was actually his wife that influenced the cattle and business tycoon to preserve them, before they disappeared, so that future generations might be able to see and appreciate these special creatures.”

“Somehow, against the odds, a herd of genetic-related Southern bison have managed to survive the decades since, and now, we all benefit from the Goodnights’ vision. When the bison were initially donated to TPWD and moved to Caprock Canyons State Park in 1997, it was discovered that their DNA was different, and feature genetics that are not shared by any other bison in North America. In fact, the Official Texas State Bison Herd at Caprock represents the last remaining examples of the Southern Plains variety.”

Now YO Ranch Headquarters and other ranches proudly raise bison and they are flourishing right here in the Lone Star State on private land and at Caprock Canyons State Park. Without ranchers and hunters, there would likely be no bison today.

As we walked back to the trucks, the moms, grandmas and dads were excited for the kids (and this big kid) who just encountered something special.. They got to see all of this go down but one thing they did not see were its eyes.

We started into the eyes of the white buffalo.

None of us may ever be the same.

We locked eyes with a legend.

Chester Moore, Jr.