Category Archives: Animal Underground

Black Panther Hoax Pt. 2 (Unusual Suspects)

Black panthers are the most controversial felid topic in North America.

As noted in part 1 of this series there is no such species recognized as “black panther” anywhere on the planet much less in the United States of America.

The “black panthers” seen in zoos, wildlife demonstrations and in media are melanistic (black) leopards and jaguars. They are anomalies within these species and not a separate one altogether.

So, what are people seeing? There is no doubt there are many, many reports.

The late Don Zaidle who wrote extensively on man-eating animals was doing some research on wild cats and suggested 16 years ago I look at the jaguarundi as a possible “black panther” suspect. Shortly after I actually saw one of these cats north of their accepted range and it sort of clicked that people could be seeing them and labeling “black panther”.

After all, virtually no one outside of hardcore wildlife fans even knows that jaguarundi exists so “black panther” is an easy tag to give them.

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Jaguarundi photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

I started writing on jaguarundis being a possible “black panther” back in 2002 with an article at The Anomalist.

Jaguarundis are known to range from South America to the Mexican borders of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. The key word here is “known”. That means scientists have observed or captured the species within those areas, however they are reported to range much farther north in the Lone Star State and perhaps elsewhere.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials solicited information from the public and received numerous reports of the species in the 1960s, including several sightings from central and east Texas. Additional sightings were reported from as far away as Florida, Oklahoma, and Colorado

In a study conducted in 1984, TPWD biologists noted a string of unconfirmed jaguarundi sightings in Brazoria County, which corners the hugely populated areas of both Houston and Galveston.

Brazoria County is more than 200 miles north of the counties of Cameron and Willacy, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has designated as being the only confirmed areas of Texas that houses jaguarundis.

I saw mine in Jefferson County which is 300 miles north of their accepted range and have fielded multiple reliable reports from the region-even one from a wildlife biologist.

There are some black panther reports howefer that do not fit the mold of the jaguarundi.

The aforementioned jaguar is a potential candidate because they exhibit melanism and once ranged into Louisiana to the east and California to the west with some accounts as far north as Oklahoma before being considered eliminated in the United States.

Jaguars in the last 15 years have been proven to move in and out of New Mexico and Arizona although the last known American-traveling jaguar was killed in Mexico.

I have gathered several alleged jaguar sightings from Texas along the Rio Grande River region and into the Trans-Pecos. These sightings are under investigation but unlike New Mexico and Arizona there are no official trail camera programs attempting to study any possible movements into Texas. The Trans-Pecos is a huge area and is vastly uninhabited so it is possible there are jaguars touching Texas soil no one has seen.

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Melanistic jaguar photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In terms of anecdotal evidence, I now have three specific reports that after interviewing eyewitnesses lead me to believe they possibly could have seen a jaguar. Two are in Texas and on is in Louisiana. Two of those are standard colored jaguars and the other is melanistic.

It is unlikely that all black panther reports are melanistic jaguars. In fact none of the alleged panther videos or photos I have seen even look like jaguars so that eliminates them as the top suspect in these cases although the jury is out on a few accounts I have investigated.

Another possible source is melanistic bobcats. Bobcats have been documented to produce melanistic offspring and I know for a fact many people cannot judge their size.

In the last 12 months I have examined more than a dozen game camera photos sent by readers who thought they had captured a cougar but had really gotten a large bobcat or in a couple of cases one with an extra long tail.

That’s no slight on the people sending the photos. Unless you deal with these animals it can be hard to gauge.

If people are thinking standard bobcats are cougars could some of the melanistic ones be called black panthers?

It is possible.

I believe the answer to this mystery does not fall with a solitary species but several and I believe the bulk of reports come from a source I will write on the third installment that has some pretty compelling evidence.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Black Panther Hoax (Pt. 1-Cougars and Circus Trains)

A hoax has been perpetuated on American wildlife enthusiasts and it centers on the existence of the black panther.

There is no such species recognized as “black panther” anywhere on the planet much less in the United States of America.

The “black panthers” seen in zoos, wildlife demonstrations and in media are melanistic (black) leopards and jaguars. They are anomalies within these species and not a separate one altogether.

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A black jaguar. Not the spots which cannot be seen at certain angles. (US Fish and Wildlife Service Photo)

There is no large cat on the planet that is officially recognized as a “black panther”. The only ones that qualify are the aforementioned melanistic leopards and jaguars. And there are no black cougars.

Other than a grainy black and white photo from Costa Rica in the 1950s there has never been any real evidence of a black cougar (mountain lion, puma, panther) killed by a hunter, mounted by a taxidermist or born at wildlife facilities around the world. At least none that I have seen and I have investigated this phenomenon heavily for more than 20 years.

If melanistic cougars were the source of the thousands of black panther reports in America the sizable captive population would have already shown melanism. We have even verified an albino cougar born in Europe but melanism is not in the cards in my opinion.

Fellow investigator Todd Jurasek heard about a large black cat mounted at a restaurant in his home state of Oklahoma from researcher Glenn McDonald.

What he found is what he believes is a black cougar that had been dyed black.

“I saw on the hind parts what looked like areas where the dye didn’t take or is wearing off. It definitely looked like a cougar and didn’t have any spots like a melanistic jaguar or leopard would have,” he said.

unnamed-4.jpgAfter Todd checked it out and reported to his source,  McDonald  provided two links to taxidermists who have in recent years created “black panthers” from cougars to show that it has been done. I also found a couple.

You can check different versions here and here.

If this were a truly black cougar I would be ecstatic but I just don’t see it.

Cougars do come in a range of brown colors with some being an almost chocolate color. Such a cat seen in low light conditions could certainly appear as a black. Young cougars are darker in color than their parents and come with spots and on occasion they keep some spots and darker coloration into their first two years of life. These could also potentially be a source “black panther” reports.

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This cougar is a much darker shade of brown than many specimens. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

An extremely prolific theory is that many years ago a circus train crashed and black leopards escaped and gave birth to the black cats reported throughout the country. The problem is there would have to be a male and female. Then they would have to survive, produce young and those offspring survive.

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There was a circus train wreck in Gary, Indiana in 1918 but no black leopards were reported to have spawned from this tragedy. (Public Domain Photo)

Considering the bulk of a wild cat’s hunting skills are taught, this is not likely.

There is no way there are hundreds, if not thousands of black leopards running around the country due to a circus train crash. So far, all intensive re-wilding efforts of tigers have failed  so how could circus leopards escape, survive and create a nation-wide population?

Then again, I have heard about these crashes all over the place so maybe there was an epidemic of them and somehow no lions or tigers (or elephants) escaped and bred, only black leopards. (Sarcasm mode turned off.)

Let’s go ahead and scratch the circus train theory.

So, what are the cats people are reporting seeing around the country? We will investigate in the next installment with some interesting photographic evidence.

Until then check out my mini-podcast on the topic and ponder the following question.

If there is a black panther hoax who is perpetrating it?

Chester Moore, Jr.

Secret Rattlesnake Stockings? Plus The Texas “Lynx”

In a secret effort to replenish diminishing timber rattlesnake stocks, government officials have been stocking captive-bred specimens of the timber rattlesnake.

At least that’s the story that has been floating around East Texas for years.

It is unclear as to which agency is responsible but some reports indicate it could be the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service while another rumor has it linked to a clandestine university project.

I say “story” but the truth is I have heard numerous tales of rattlesnake restoration efforts in the Pineywoods of East Texas. One gentleman even told me his uncle’s brother-in-law had some released next to his farm near Crockett. Hundreds of them.

Where did these stories originate?

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This photo of an East Texas timber rattler was submitted by Amber Deranger several years ago.

Well, rattlesnakes have technically been released into certain areas in the Pineywoods.

However, scientists did not breed them in captivity and they are not part of some secret restoration effort.

These released rattlesnakes are simply ones that were captured as part of a radio-telemetry study conducted by officials with the U.S. Forest Service. Timber rattlesnake were captured in the wild, fitted with radio transmitters and released back into the wild so researchers could track their movements.

There never has been a timber rattlesnake stocking program in Texas or anywhere else for that matter.

I first wrote on this topic and destroyed the myth of the rattlesnake stocking in 2006 when I spoke to TPWD biologist Ricky Maxey.

He said the rumors have been floating around since the 1990s.

“I used to work in the Big Thicket area out of Beaumont and we used to get questions about rattlesnake stockings frequently. And it seems the rumors are still pretty rampant,” Maxey said.

“Someone could have seen Forest Service officials capturing the snakes or releasing the ones fitted with transmitters and the rumor could have started there. It could be the case of a true story getting less and less truthful as it’s told,” he said.

This story is similar to another albeit slightly less widespread tale of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) releasing Canada lynx into the Pineywoods region. I first heard of these stockings taking place in the Livingston area but later heard they also occurred near Toledo Bend reservoir and in the Big Thicket National Preserve.

Occasionally people would see one of these “lynx”, which are allegedly much larger than a Texas bobcat.

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The only lynx in Texas is Lynx rufus, the bobcat. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

The problem is these stories are bogus. Totally bogus.

TPWD or any other agency for that matter have never stocked Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) into any destination in Texas and for that matter would have no reason to do so. They have never lived in the region and their very close cousin the bobcat (Lynx  rufus) is doing incredibly well here.

Bobcats can vary greatly in size as previously noted. Ear tuft length also varies among individuals. Most bobcats have short but some are comparable to those of their northern cousins.

Spot patterns also vary wildly with some having virtually no spots on the top half and others possessing well-defined spots. A few individuals have a unique pattern traits of spots within spots that look sort of like the rosettes of an ocelot or jaguar.

People seeing this somewhat unusual looking bobcats sometimes associate them with Canada lynx and at some point a stocking legend began. In a way that is a shame because, our very own “lynx” the bobcat, is an amazing cat.

Having these mysteries solved might ruin your favorite local legend but the fact is there really is no mystery. The rattlesnake stocking was not a stocking at all but re-release of a few snakes fitted with transmitters.

And the lynx story is false all the way.

Remember not everything you read on the Internet is true and tales told around the campfire tend to get taller with age.

Hear more details of the “lynx” stocking on this episode of The Wildlife Journalist® mini-podcast.

Chester Moore, Jr.

(To subscribe to this blog enter your email address in the box on the top right of this page. To contact Chester Moore e-mail chester@chestermoore.com.)

Car-Sized Giant Catfish Below Dams?

“Did you know there are giant catfish below Toledo Bend dam?”

That was the question posed to me at a speaking engagement.

“And they are so big divers are afraid to go down there and look at the dam. They say they are the size of Volkswagens!”

This story has been told over and over and is considered absolute fact by many. I have heard it about Toledo Bend but also other lakes throughout the American South.

Here are a few points I would like to make about this legend that lives on due to photos circulating social media.

#I have been investigating these stories since 2005 and have never spoken with anyone who has actually seen these giant catfish. It is always their brother-in-laws cousin’s former roommate twice removed or something.

#The largest catfish in North America are the blue and flathead both of which live at Toledo Bend and other reservoirs in the South. They can attain weights of over 130 pounds and I have no doubt there are specimens quite a bit larger. In my opinion this legend began with a diver seeing an extra big catfish in murky water and then the story grew from there. A Volkswagen-sized catfish would weigh closer to a ton. Such fish don’t exist here in the United States.

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The author diving with “Splash” in 2005.

I actually got to dive with the (at the time) world record catfish-nicknamed “Splash”-caught by angler Cody Mullenix on Lake Texoma. She weighed 121. 5 pounds and lived for awhile at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, TX. I had the incredible opportunity to dive with it to get perspective on what it would be like to encounter a catfish of record proportions underwater.

My conclusion was such a fish seen in murky conditions could easily be construed as “giant”. Divers can exaggerate as much as fishermen.

#If you have a Facebook account or e-mail  address, you have probably seen the photos of anglers in the water with huge  yellow-skinned catfish with a subject line like, “Angler’s Noodle World Record  Flathead” or something like that. Well for starters, “noodling” is the practice of feeling around with your hands and grabbing catfish by the mouth and  wrestling them to shore.

The photos passed around the Internet of anglers with super-sized flatheads are not really flatheads at all. They are Wels catfish from Europe. They look almost exactly like flatheads except for the fins, which grow like a tadpole. And then there is the size. Wels grow up to 10 feet in length and catches of fish over six feet are common. The world record flathead was just over five feet in length.

My wife Lisa and I both caught Wels over seven feet in the Segra River in Spain in 2005 and nearly everyone who sees the photos thinks they are flatheads until we tell them differently.

Listen to hear Chester’s full Wels catfish adventure and more.

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The author with a huge Wels catfish caught and released in Spain’s Segra River in 2005.

Interestingly the guide on our trip told us that divers in that river work on and inspect the dam in shark cages. The Wels (which can grow to over 10 feet in length) are aggressive enough to attack them. I was a bit skeptical of the attacks but then we saw the massive scar across his back of where a Wels bit him attempting to land it.

The next time you see photos of giant catfish supposedly “noodled” look closely at the fins. It is probably a Wels.

And the next time you hear of giant catfish below the dams, realize there is no way they are the size of an economy car.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Montana Officials Investigation Mysterious Canid-Shunka Warakin?

A strange wolf-like animal some say could be the mysterious Shunka Warakin was killed by a Montana rancher May 16.

It was so strange in fact Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) officials are sending off samples for DNA testing.

As people are sending them question after question about the creature, here is what they had to say.

Photo Montana Fish, Wildlife And Parks

Here’s what is not in question: The animal came within several hundred yards of the rancher’s livestock. He shot it and reported it as required by law. The animal was a young, non-lactating female and a canid, a member of the dog family, which includes dogs, foxes, coyotes and wolves.

Those facts are not unusual in Montana’s farm and ranch county.

The animal originally was reported as a wolf, but several Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ wolf specialists looked at photos of the animal and collectively doubted it was a purebred wolf: the canine teeth were too short, the front paws too small and the claws on the front paw were too long.

Nevertheless, social media was quick to pronounce the animal as everything from a wolf to a wolf hybrid to something mythical.

Photo Montana Fish, Wildlife And Parks

Rather than guess, FWP reports said they sent the carcass to the Department’s lab in Bozeman where tissue samples will be collected, then shipped to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Laboratory in Ashland, Org.

In a laboratory, scientists extract DNA from cells, looking for markers specific to individual species. Those markers are then compared to samples of known species on hand.

While the process may take a week, just getting to that stage may take weeks or months, depending on the laboratory’s backlog of cases.

All of which means it may be awhile before the anyone really knows what the animal near Denton really was.

The most intriguing thing about this incident is that it happened in Montana where a well-known mysterious canid some call the aforementioned Shunka Warakin is preserved in a museum in Ennis, Montana.

Alleged “Shunka Warakin” in a museum in Montana.

You can read more about in an article by Loren Coleman presented here.

Could the animal killed May 16 and the mounted museum specimen be the same type of animal?

Strange road kills and game camera photos are commonplace but fish and game departments going as far as to DNA test and send out a news release is not.

We will keep you posted on this interesting animal as we learn more.

Chester Moore, Jr.

A Mexican wolf in TX? (Photo)

Mexican Wolf In Texas

I’ll never forget staring into the eyes of a big male Mexican gray wolf.

Its piercing eyes reflected a wild lineage that roamed the Southwest until the white man moved in with guns, traps and poison.

This was early in my career and the animal resided at a captive breeding facility where remnants of the highly endangered subspecies were being bred for release into the wild.

I shot tons of photos but they were lost in Hurricane flood damage-along with many others.

Since that time there have been numerous releases in New Mexico and even pups born in the wild there.

So, when Jaclyn Booth sent me this photo I took notice because the animal looked very much like the wolves I had seen at the facility so many years ago.

The photo came through our “The Wildlife Journalist” Facebook and had no information on where it came from.

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Photo courtesy Jaclyn Booth

My thought was “Wow, thats a gray wolf, probably a Mexican gray wolf.”

I messaged her to find out what state the photo came from and when she said it came from her ranch in Hall County, TX I was in shock.

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The photo below is a coyote from the same ranch and in fact at different angles of the same log. Compare this coyote and the canid in the above photo.

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Photo courtesy Jaclyn Booth

Now compare with this one of a Mexican gray wolf taken at the Alameda Park Zoo below. Notice the extreme likeness.

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Public Domain Photo
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Photo courtesy Jaclyn Booth

Wiped Out On Purpose

The Mexican gray wolf is indigenous to this part of the world but like all other representative of Canis lupus was wiped out due to government predator control and unregulated killing on ranches.

Is there a remnant pocket of these hailing from the captive breeding program in New Mexico? Or maybe a rogue wanderer?

It is possible but unlikely.

After all a gray wolf radio collared in Michigan was killed by a bowhunter in Missouri in 2001. That’s a much longer journey that New Mexico to Hall County, TX.

Is there a remnant pocket of Mexican gray wolves in North Texas and perhaps even in the Trans Pecos?

In 2013 I had a professional trapper who has trapped and killed thousands of coyotes tell me of seeing a Mexican gray wolf near Alpine, TX the year previous. He was adamant at what he saw.

Is there a possibility of having Mexican gray wolf-coyote hybrids (that maybe lean heavily on wolf appearance) in the region?

Absolutely. It has been proven that coyotes and gray wolves hybridize by numerous researchers.

I will be writing a lot about wild canids of the United States this year and will be posting photos, videos and research.

Are there Mexican wolves in Texas?

The jury is still out but on a ranch in Hall County there is definitely an animal that looks a whole lot like one.

More to come…

(To subscribe to The Wildlife Journalist blog enter your email at the top right of this page.)

Chester Moore, Jr. 

 

Mystery Animal Photographed in Central Texas

You never know what you’re going to see traveling through the Texas Hill Country at night. Sometimes you come across a true mystery animal.

Geoffrey Bennett submitted these photos (after posting on his Facebook) of an animal his brother saw and was able to capture these images of as it climbed a rock wall.

Exact location has not been given nor would we give it but it’s safe to say it is in the beautiful limestone-encrusted Edwards Plateau.

On the initial posts several people chimed in with thoughts including jaguarundi, ringtail and lemur.

It’s definitely not a ringtail or lemur.

Jaguarundi was my first thought at seeing the photo below but after seeing the next one in the series I am convinced this is a kinkajou (Potus flavus). These rainforest dwellers are the only member of the genus “Potos” and are sometimes called a “honey bear”.

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Photo courtesy Jeffrey Bennett

The tail is what tipped me off. Kinkajous have a prehensile (climbing/gripping able) tail and this one is curled up. I have a kinkajou at our Kingdom Zoo: Wildlife Center and his named is “Irwin”.

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Photo courtesy Jeffrey Bennett

His tail is always curled up.

Plus the body and head just look kinkajou and if you look close enough you can see what looks like a collar.

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Our kinkajou “Irwin” taking a nap in his hide.

If this is a kinkajou, what is it doing in the Texas Hill Country?

They are common animals at zoos and wildlife parks and are not a rare pet. In fact, for those who like exotics they make a much smaller and generally safer pet than say a lion.

My suspicion this is someone’s pet that escaped.

What do you think of the identify of this cool-looking animal?

Post your comments below.

Have you seen anything like this? We’d love to see the photos.

We appreciate Mr. Bennett giving us access to these pics and sharing this unique encounter with us wildlife lovers.

(To subscribe to The Wildlife Journalist blog enter your email at the top right of this page.)

Chester Moore, Jr.

Mysterious Growls Pose Controversial Question

An enraged cacophony of mysterious growls, yells, and grunts broke the silence of the darkened forest.

While rabbit hunting in a remote East Texas creek bottom, my father and I happened onto something that did not appreciate our being there. With each passing moment the noisemaker seemed more agitated as it increased the intensity of its furious-sounding cries.

The sounds were guttural and and they pierced my 12-year-old soul, permanently embedding their frequencies in my memory bank. Although it is impossible to accurately describe them, they still echo in my mind as if I were standing by my Dad right now, wondering what we had gotten ourselves into.

I knew something was wrong when my Dad told me it must be a bull that got loose from a nearby ranch, as we retreated from the woods and called off the hunt.

No bull sounded like this. Not even close.

Neither of us had heard anything remotely like this again until August 20, 2000 while accompanying our friend Bobby Hamilton on an investigation into strange sightings in Polk County, TX.

It had been a long night as we sat out between a creek bottom and pine thicket. Other than a few faint moans heard in the distance, the venture was uneventful. That is until about 4 a.m.

That is when a low grunt sounded from a thicket 40 yards to the west.

Hamilton and I responded with grunts of our own and the mysterious noisemaker replied with great fury. A chill ran down my spine as memories of our encounter 15 years earlier came back. The tone was the same and so was the feeling we were in the presence of something highly unusual. This creature was without question the same kind that ran Dad and I out of the woods so long ago.

It started with low volume grunts and then worked itself into a yelling frenzy until it let out a high-pitched roar that can only be described as terrifying. After fumbling through our packs, we flooded the woods with the powerful beacon of a million-candle Q-Beam flashlight and the noisemaker retreated. Although it had approached us silently, it left cracking brush and snapping branches along the way almost as if it wanted us to know it was gone.

Just nine months before the aforementioned event, I encountered a howler monkey while fishing on Venezuela’s Lake Guri.

My guide and interpreter called the monkey a “mono vil” or “mean monkey” and after messing with one of the creatures, it is easy to understand why. As we approached more closely, it jumped from branch to branch, snapping limbs and increasing the intensity of its yells. Finally, I decided to do a series of grunts and see how the animal responded.

I would grunt and it would grunt. I would grunt twice and it would grunt twice. And finally, tired of my harassment, the monkey let out a loud roar and disappeared into the dense canopy of the South American rainforest

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Is there a relative of the howler monkey prowling East Texas? (Public Domain Photo)

This was virtually the exact behavior and very similar sound to what occurred 3,000 miles to the north nine months later.

The difference was we were investigating the sighting of large, hair, bipedal ape-like creatures most call “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch”. This particular case involved a public school teacher Hamilton had met who reported numerous encounters.

The encounters listed above sent me on a quest into the Animal Underground as a wildlife journalist to look into this phenomenon. Whether this is all a mass public delusion, a huge and complex series of hoaxes or something really is out there it is a huge story for someone in my position.

Did we hear a sasquatch creature that night? That is if such a creature exists.

Most won’t touch the subject with a 10 foot pole due to the controversial nature but that does not bother me. I am too curious to let the opinions of others halt a genuine investigation.

These two stories are some of the highlights on what has been an interesting sort of side trail taken in a career of wildlife journalism.

I wish I could tell you with certainty what the source of these encounters was but I do know this. We heard growls out there that matched nothing that lives in Texas either native or exotic.

Speaking of those growls.

I will never forget them.

(To subscribe to The Wildlife Journalist blog enter your email at the top right of this page.)

Chester Moore, Jr.

Weird wildlife of America with Ken Gerhard (Podcast)

We take a deep dive into the unknown with author/explorer/television host/cryptozoologist Ken Gerhard on a recent edition of “Moore Outdoors”.

In it we talk everything from chupacabra to Bigfoot to mysterious winged animals and the fact that to research the unexplained you need a really good grasp of the explainable.

Ken is a phenomenal guest. You don’t want to miss this edition.

Loren Coleman and Chester Moore talk Patterson Gimlin film (Podcast)

On Friday Oct. 20, Chester Moore had renown cryptozoology author  Loren Coleman on as a special guest on “Moore Outdoors” on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI.

The program was dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the controversial Patterson/Gimlin film that allegedly depicts as a Bigfoot creature crossing a stretch of Bluff Creek in northern California.

If you have an interest in this topic you do not want to miss this episode.

(To subscribe to The Wildlife Journalist blog enter your email at the to right of this page.)