Category Archives: Animal Americana

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.

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.

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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.”

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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.

You never know…

They were the strangest footprints I had ever seen.

They sort of resembled a very large nine-banded armadillo which are very common on this piece of property on on Texas-Louisiana border but this was no armadillo.

The heel of these tracks showed and it was a very long heel.

As I stared at the photo on an online field guide to Australian wildlife, there was no question this was a kangaroo track.

A what?

Nilgais_fighting,_Lakeshwari,_Gwalior_district,_India
There are thousands of free-ranging antelope along the Lower Texas Coast. Nilgai are a native of India. (Public Domain Photo)

Yes, a kangaroo track.

In Southeast Texas.

A friend of mine who owns 86 acres of mixed woods and marsh just a mile away from my home called and said that the man who mows his pasture swears he and his assistant saw a large kangaroo jumping across the road in front of them.

My friend explained that he believed the man saw something and that he found some weird-looking tracks in the mud near the alleged sighting.

I went out the next day and found them and verified they were from a kangaroo.

Obviously someone’s exotic pet got loose. There are obviously no native kangaroo species to Texas or in the United States for that matter but exotics do escape.

In 1999 a landowner in Newton County, TX told me about some strange high pitched whistling that almost sounded like a scream sounding off on the back side of their property. One evening she even saw something very large and white just past her horses about 1/2 mile from her front porch.

This was early in the era of game cameras but I had one and unlike the inexpensive models that today feature HD video and high resolution digital photos, this one shot 35 mm print film. It was costly, time consuming and you had to be very careful to set up right or you might get cattle or a bunch of raccoons you were not targeting.

I set the camera up and returned two days later. On the camera was a beautiful white bull elk in velvet. It had escaped from a nearby exotic ranch.

It had been more than 100 years since elk roamed naturally in East Texas and seeing any elk much less a white one was a shock.

More recently the landlord of our Kingdom Zoo: Wildlife Center in Pinehurst, TX called me and said, “Chester, you need to get down to Martin St. One of your monkey is loose.”

“There’s a problem with that,” I replied. “I don’t have a monkey.”

Five minutes later animal control called me and said the same thing. Turns out there was an alleged monkey sighting just a few blocks from our facility

I drove down to meet them and ended up interviewing a man who went out to check on his dog and found it fighting with a capuchin monkey. He didn’t call it a capuchin but perfectly described one.

Me and a friend went out on in the adjoining woods that afternoon and played capuchin calls and got one to yell back.

The monkey was spotted several more times and was later found to be one trained to assist a paraplegic man.

If we would be honest the field guides to American wildlife would feature many more species. Exotics abound whether they are the thousands of axis deer increasing in number in the Texas Hill County or feral cats roaming the woods of Ohio.

We can make all the arguments in the world about the damage they do and in some cases is is true but there is no doubt they keep things interesting for those of us who pay special attention to everything that inhabits the woods in our communities.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

 

I want to see…

It’s a little thing.

But seeing one would be a very big deal to me.

I want to see a long-tailed weasel.

I might have seen one in 1998 when crossing over Adams Bayou near my home in Orange County. It was at night and this little creature crossed the road. At first it looked like a mink but the color wasn’t quite right and it didn’t quite look as bulky as the mink I was used to seeing in the area.

Still, I can’t call that a sighting.

I want to see one and know that I saw it.

I have a spot where I see mink about every third trip. Some of them are quite large and aren’t very spooked by human presence.

But these weasels are another issue.

I am in the process of seeking out reports in the Orange, Newton and Jefferson County areas of Southeast Texas. If you have a sighting or game camera photo please emailed chester@kingdomzoo.com.

I want to stake out an an area and try to lure one out with a predator call for photos and also set up a game camera for photos. I have one potential spot mapped out near where I had my “possible” sighting nearly twenty years ago.

It is perfect habitat and there has been some possible depredation on poultry.

It easy to get caught up with the bigger and more widely known animals but I like the little shy guys too.

Makes sense for someone who operates  “micro zoo”, doesn’t it?

Looking forward to seeking out some weasels. At the very least it should be challenging.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Things that go bump in the night…

The night was quiet.

Other than a couple of barred owls trading barbs in the distance, I had literally heard nothing but the chirping of crickets in seven hours of sitting a climbing tree stand, 30 feet up a pine.

Just as I was fighting the urge to close my eyes, a guttural “woof” sounded in the thicket in front of my position.

Focusing the Generation 3 Night Vision Goggles, a large black form appeared out of the green filter of the device.

“Woof”.

The beast sounded off again but this time much louder and now it was out of the brush and standing on the trail.

It was a monster hog.

Take a close look at this game camera photo submit by Timothy Soli and you will see a truly monster hog about the size of the one the author encountered on his expedition.

The huge boar cautiously walked down the trail and gave me a good look at its form. It had the classic razorback ridge on its back, was as broad as a young steer and was  in my estimation  a legitimate 500 plus pounder.

The wind was light and swirling and as soon as I felt the breeze at my back, the hog stood at attention.

It cleared its nostrils to get a whiff and then bolted into the brush.

It did not get this big by being making many mistakes.

I had walked that same trail literally dozens of times and only saw faint tracks and a couple of large mud rubs on trees that indicated a large hog was in the area.

This natural game trail lead to a large grove of oak trees and was the only way in and out as both sides were 10-year-old clear cuts that had grown so thick a hog such as this one could stand a few feet inside and no one could see it.

But things happen after dark.

Creatures of the night come out to prowl.

I truly believe a wildlife lover cannot fully understand the woods unless they spend team there after dark. What may seem like an area devoid of animal life can turn into an energetic juncture of wild happenings as soon as the sun sets.

Or it can prove to be the lair of something large and dangerous.

There was little sign of deer and other hogs along this trail and it is likely due to this animal showing dominance. This was its domain. It claimed this territory and it took spending some very uncomfortable time up a tree to get a glimpse of it.

Throughout 2017 we will be venturing into the woods at night often to bring you a deeper understanding of the mysterious lives of nocturnal wildlife. The goal is to create a deep appreciation for animals and their habitat and the only way to accomplish that is go where they live and when they are on the prowl.

And we will bring back reports, video and photos.

This will be a year of discovery, inspiration and wild encounters.

Get ready. Anything could happen.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

 

Bobcats have tails!

Bobcats have tails!

That might not seem worthy of the exclamation point there but it needs to be said emphatically.

Over the last year I have examined at least a dozen bobcat photos people thought were cougars because the tail was longer than they expected.

The video below shows a bobcat captured on a game camera by friends of mine in Orange County, TX.

This particular bobcat has a tail longer than just about any I have seen but there are many of them out there with tails close to this. Some have little powder puff looking tails but most stretch out 3-4 inches. This one is probably 8-9 inches in length.

That is long for a bobcat but nearly as long as a cougar which has a tail nearly as long as the body.

I have no scientific way of estimation but I daresay 75 percent of alleged cougar sightings in the eastern half of the United States are bobcats.

I know for a fact there are cougars there too but bobcats are far more numerous and I know from personal experience how many people think they have a cougar photo but find out it is a bobcat instead.

This is no fault of their own. Wildlife identification studies are not a priority at schools and in fact game wardens even get very little wildlife identification education during their formal training.

I appreciate any and all game camera photos and if you have some you would like to have evaluated email chester@kingdomzoo.com.

Bobcats are one of my favorite animals and I have had the pleasure to work with them in captivity, photograph them on many occasions and have probably seen 200 plus in the wild.

In fact on a peace of property near the set of John Wayne’s “The Alamo” near Bracketville, TX I saw five bobcats in one day.

Seeing them is fairly common for me but I always rejoice knowing I caught a glimpse of one of America’s most successful predators.

Chester Moore, Jr.