Category Archives: Animal Underground

The New Cat In The Woods

“I think I saw an ocelot. It crossed the road in front of me-just outside of Oklahoma City.”

“What do you think of these game camera photos? Is this a serval or maybe an ocelot?”

“What kind of wild cat species is this? Has something escaped from the zoo?”

These questions, comments and conversations have increased dramatically over the last 2-3 years.

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A meeting with a beautiful serval brought smiles to everyone at Bear Creek Feline Center in Panama City, Fl. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

People have always submitted photos of cats caught on game cameras or cell phones to ask for evaluation. They are usually to distinguish bobcats versus cougars or people thinking the might have the image of an elusive “black panther”.

I believe I have pretty much closed at least chapter 1 of the panther issue and you can read that blog here.

The phenomenon I mention now is different and I believe it involves a different kind of cat on the American landscape.

Hybrid and designer cat breeds are popular in America.

Everything from the relatively common Bengal cat (originates with Asian leopard cat/domestic hybrid) to savannah cats (serval/domestic hybrid) to designer cats like the ocicat all look wild, look exotic and to a certain extent are and they are now entering the woods and wildlands and confusing the public.

Here are a couple of photos sent to me by Amy Chambers in San Patricio, TX. She thought she might have captured an ocelot on camera but at closer examination this is without a doubt a domestic and most likely a Bengal or Bengal hybrid.

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Gamer camera photo from San Patricio, Tx. (Photo Courtesy Amy Chambers)
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Game camera photo from San Patricio, Tx. (Photo Courtesy Amy Chambers)

Bengal cats come in various colors, sizes and patterns. The basic look mimics the original stock of Asian leopard cat in terms of pattern.

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The Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center® Bengal cat “Purity” interacting with kids.

Our Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center® Bengal “Purity” is what is called a “snow leopard” morph with the white/gray mix and blue eyes. The pattern though is Asian leopard cat or even ocelot-like.

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Closeup of the Amy Chambers San Patricio Cat which the author believes is most likely a Bengal.

There are even breeders who specifically breed for the spot pattern close to ocelots or Asian leopard cats and interestingly we discovered one about 20 miles from where this cat was captured on a game camera.

Even though our Bengal is sweet she has a little wild in her and has incredible jumping abilities and predatory instincts. We never allow her near our birds or small mammals. And she is probably four generations removed from original hybridization.

Savannahs are out there that are half serval and some of them are wild enough in fact that they end up at sanctuaries due to them not being quite as cuddly as some domestic cats.

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A Savannah is a hybrid of a serval and domestic cats. (Public Domain Photo)

People allow their cats to go outside. Cats escape houses and pens and as we know with standard-edition feral cats they are everywhere.

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A lavender and chocolate color phase Ocicat. (Public Domain Photo)

I believe we will see more of these types of cats in the wild and they will contribute to many people thinking they have seen everything from a long-tailed bobcat to ocelots and leopards.

I will write more on this issue but wanted to get this out there to let people know some of the beautiful, spotted, long-tailed cats they are seeing in the woods may be exotic and even feral but not necessarily wild.

The era of the exotic hybrid cat has begun in the wild areas of America as I have personally received photos and videos to identify from Texas, Michigan and New York.

If you think you have a photos or videos. of one of these cats or a spotted cat you cannot identify email chester@chestermoore.com.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Fatal Hog Attack Reveals Increasing Danger

The death of Christine Rollins, 59, of Anahuac, TX has officially been ruled caused by feral hogs.

This according to a statement released by the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office and published at KFDM.com is conclusive.

“The Medical Examiner determined her death was not due to a medical condition or canine related.”

Rollins was killed outside of a home on Highway 61 near Anahuac where she was a caretaker for an elderly couple.

The most important thing here is that someone lost their life. Family and friends will grieve the unthinkable loss of their loved one to something so horrible few could imagine.

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Large boars are extremely dangerous but all hogs should be considered a potential threat. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

The next issue that needs addressed, however, is the reality of feral hog attacks.

As feral hog populations soar in Texas and spread into new territory all around the nation, more attacks will happen.

No one can predict attacks but they will happen and people need to have honest information on hogs.

In 2017, I wrote an article called “Do Feral Hogs Attack? These Do”...

That article sites troubling statistics.

Of the 21 states reporting hog attacks Texas led the pack with 24 percent with Florida at 12 percent and South Carolina at 10. Interestingly when examining worldwide shark fatalities hogs actually beat them out in deaths some years-including as recently as 2013.

A study by Dr. Jack Mayer documents 412 wild hog attacks worldwide impacting 665 people. During this time there were four fatal hog attacks in the United States.

In his study, hogs that attack are described as solitary (82 percent), large (87 percent) and male (81 percent) and most attacks occurred when there was no hunting involved. In other words they were unprovoked.

In this particular case, Chamber’s County Sheriff’s Brian Hawthorne said there is “no doubt in my mind or my criminal investigation captain John Miller that multiple animals were responsible for the attack.”

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Never approach piglets no matter how cute they appear. Their mother is nearby and she is dangerous.  (US Fish & Wildlife Service Photo)

Despite lone boars perpetrating the vast majority of incidents, there are accounts of groups of hogs attacking people as well.

Hogs attacking people in the United States in and around homes is not unprecedented either.

The Pineville Town Talk documents the story of a Pineville, La. man who had a pig enter the house he was visiting.

“Boston Kyles, 20, of 497 Pelican Drive told deputies he was visiting his sister’s house at the time of the incident. He said he had gone there to clean fish and was sitting in the house’s front room when the pig entered through the front door. Kyles told deputies he stomped the floor to try to shoo the pig out of the room, but the pig charged him, Maj. Herman Walters said.”

An Edgefield, South Carolina man who experienced one of the scariest hog attacks I could find occurring in the United States according to The Edgefield Advertiser.

 “A man was hospitalized recently after being attacked by a wild hog at his home on Gaston Road. The hog, which eyewitnesses estimated to weigh upwards of 700 pounds, materialized in Fab Burt’s backyard while he was working in his garden.”

“It came out of nowhere and attacked me. It had me pinned on the ground and was mauling me.”

Fortunately, Burt’s seven-month-old German shepherd, named Bobo, was on hand to help him fend off the hog.

“Walters had heard of pigs attacking people in the woods but said this was the first time he had heard of a pig going into a house and attacking someone.”

Feral hog attacks are rare.

I could easily spout of statistics like media often uses with shark attacks and say something like you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than being attacked by a hog.

And it would probably be true.

But that offers no comfort to the people who have been attacked and survived or families struggling with hog-related loss of their loved ones.

There is no question most people will never be attacked by a hog but there is also no question in my opinion that as hog numbers increase at unprecedented levels and more deeply into even large metropolitan cites like Houston, TX and Orlando, FL. more attacks will happen.

People need to be educated on the potential danger of hogs, especially children who could encounter them on playgrounds or even waiting at the bus stop. A 400-pounder was recently captured just a few yards from a bus stop in Tampa, FL.

It was a boar and fits the profile of a hog most likely to attack according to Dr. Mayer’s study.

Here are a few things everyone in hog territory needs to know.

*Hogs are dangerous. They can attack and kill. Never approach them.

*Never approach even cute piglets. Baby feral hogs are adorable but their mothers (sow) will go to any length to protect them. The sow may be out of the line of sight if you see tiny pigs but she is nearby and will respond.

*Do not feed hogs. Unless hogs are being baited in a wild location in preparation of hunting them, do not feed them. Never feed around houses or in parks. In areas like urban centers where hogs are never hunted, they can seem tame. Do not make them accustomed to seeing people as a food source. Additionally, do not throw scraps outside. That can also attract hogs.

*Be especially mindful of large, solitary boars. If you see such an animal on a hiking trail for example give it wide berth and report to officials. That animal certainly needs to be targeted for removal and elimination.

Feral hogs represent the single most challenging and complex issue involving wildlife in North America. It’s easy due to statistical analysis to gloss over rare attacks for the more easily discernible issue of hogs damage to agriculture and wildlife habitat.

But we must never forget those who have fell to feral hog attacks and do our best to educate people on the topic.

None of the victims cited here did anything to incite an attack. They were simply going about their lives.

But there are things we can do to make attacks less likely as hog and human populations increase and compete for resources.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

 

 

 

A Partial Answer To Gulf Sea Snake Mystery

The réponse to my blogs about sea snake sightings in the Gulf of Mexico has been tremendous. I have received nearly 200 reports dating back to the 1970s ranging from Cuba to the South Texas Coast.

Some have included photos that were misidentified eels, yet other reports were more mysterious.

Sea snakes are not indigenous to the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic so these reports are quite controversial to say the least.

I recently received an email with an interesting and (fairly) clear photo of a snake caught on Galveston Island, TX.

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A Gulf salt marsh snake caught on Galveston Island in Texas. (Photo submitted by Ashley Moore)

The people who caught it thought it might be a sea snake.

After all, it was on the beach and did not look like snakes commonly seen by most citizens in the region.

The snake in the photo however is a Gulf salt marsh snake (Nerodia clarkii clarkii).

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Naturalist and wildlife photographer Cody Conway was kind enough to let us use this photo of a Gulf salt marsh snake he photographed on the Texas coast. Conway noted there is some hybridization among the nerodia snakes in the region and some variation in patterns in salt marsh snakes. (Photo by Cody Conway)

I never thought of these being the source of some Gulf region sea snake sightings until receiving this photo.

It does makes sense for numerous reports I have received in open bays and beaches in the region.

Very few people know of this snake and they are very aquatic.

According to officials with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD), the Gulf salt marsh snake grows to a length of 15 to 30 inches.

Distinguishing characteristics include two longitudinal tan or yellow stripes on each side of the body, making up the dorsal (top) pattern of the snake. It has a reddish-brown or grayish-black ventral (bottom) color with one to three rows of large pale spots along the center of the belly. This snake is flat headed.

They added that as a way to avoid predators, salt marsh snakes are nocturnal (active at night) and often hide in shoreline debris and in crab burrows in the mud or sand.

The Gulf salt marsh snake does not have salt glands to help rid itself of the salt it eats so it must be very careful not to drink salt water. It gets moisture from rainfall and from the animals it eats.

Interestingly, their name is Nerodia clarkii, but it is a subspecies of this group so the actual name is Nerodia clarkii clarkii according to the University of Florida 

The other two subspecies are found in Florida.  The Mangrove salt marsh snake (Nerodia clarkii compressicauda) is found from central Gulf coast of Florida, around the Keys to Indian River County on the Atlantic coast.  The Atlantic salt marsh snake (Nerodia clarkii taeniata) has a very small range.

These snakes are nonvenomous but will bite if handled.

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An illustration of a true sea snake, a banded sea krait. If you are vacationing or working in their Pacific and Indian ocean range do not pick up. Sea snakes are the most venomous snakes on Earth despite generally having a calm disposition.

It’s best to leave them alone especially noting that TPWD officials and other researchers believe their numbers are on the decline.

These unique snakes will not account for all of the “sea snake”sightings in the Gulf region but I now believe they are part of the equation.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Wildlife Journalist Giving Away Free Wild Sheep Curriculum

Award-winning wildlife journalist and conservationist Chester Moore and his wife Lisa are giving away a month-long North American Wild Sheep curriculum to any educator whether home, private or public school. 

“We are fully committed to wildlife and sheep conservation is right there at the top of the list for us. We want to do our part to see young people get an engaging education on wild sheep. They need to understand these great animals and know the role hunter-conservationists have played to ensure their future,” Chester said.

Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.

The curriculum will be available beginning Aug. 15.

“We love wild sheep in the Moore household, and we want to educate young people about these great animals. This is our gift to wild sheep and to kids who love wildlife,” said Lisa Moore, a certified teacher of 22 years.

The Moore’s said they have been inspired by conservation groups like the Wild Sheep Foundation, Texas Bighorn Society and others that have contributed so much to wild sheep. This curriculum is the first step in their forthcoming Conservation Campus that will bring cutting-edge wildlife conservation to home and private schools.

“We decided to do this while at 10,000 feet photographing bighorns in Colorado on our 20th anniversary. It was a dream come true moment for us, and we wanted to do something to inspire young people to get involved in sheep conservation. It’s a great privilege to contribute even a small bit to help secure the future of wild sheep,” Chester said.

To get the free curriculum email chester@chestermoore.com.

 

Strange Coyotes

There is nothing like staring into the eyes of a predator.

Even a glare from captive predators like a leopard at a zoo can send chills down your spine-and in my case in a good way.

I dig that kind of thing.

A few months back I locked eyes with a wild black canid that had been seen in Orange County, TX numerous times. People were calling it the “black coyote”.

Driving down a rural road near my home I saw the creature cross the road and literally stop a couple of feet away from the white line so I did what virtually no one else would do.

I hopped out for a closer look.

Trying to open my camera bag I kept my eye on the beautiful animal that was only 10 feet away. And just as the bag opened, the coyote looked me dead in the eyes and ran off.

Ahhh!!!

So much for getting a photo.

Despite the frustation I was thrilled at the opportunity to see such a magnificent animal and in recent weeks have been getting emails, texts and social media shares of unusual-looking coyotes and other suspect-looking canids.

With the recent red wolf gene rediscovery on the Texas Coast, anything that looks wolf-like in particular makes coyotes even more interesting.

Below are a couple of photos of unique-looking coyotes or perhaps non-coyote canids (hybrids of some sort).

If you have seen unusual coyotes or perhaps a non-coyote canid email me at chester@chestermoore.com. I would love to check them out and share with readers.

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Mike Sulivant captured this photo on a game camera set in Leflore County, OK. Look at those eyes! This pattern is something I have never seen on a coyote.
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A listener of my radio program sent this shot over of a stocky animal that looks like it could possibly be linked to red wolves-somewhere down the line.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Red Wolf Rediscovery: Ancestral Genes Found Alive In Texas

The red wolf (Canis rufus) has been rediscovered along the Texas Gulf Coast or at least its essence has proven to survive long-thought extinction.

A collaborative effort of Princeton, Trent University, University of Georgia and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium researchers among others makes this claim in a just published study preprint (not yet peer reviewed) at biorxiv.org.

Rediscovering species once thought to be extinct or on the edge of extinction is rare. Red wolves have been extinct along the Gulf Coast region since 1980, with their last populations found in coastal Louisiana and Texas. We report the rediscovery of red wolf ghost alleles in a canid population on Galveston Island, Texas.

Biology Online Dictionary defines an allele as “one member of a pair (or any of the series) of genes occupying a specific spot on a chromosome that controls the same trait.”

An example would be eye color or head shape.

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An incredible shot of a gathering of wild canids in Galveston County taken by Ron Wooten one of the study’s authors. Notice the one howling on the right.

A “ghost allele” is essentially a genetic variant that has disappeared from a population through reduction or some other factor and then rediscovered elsewhere.

In this case it was found in two road-killed wild candid specimens from Galveston Island, TX near the last known stronghold of the red wolf.

Among the first species listed under the Endangered Species Act, the red wolf was declared extinct after decades of relentless predator control and habitat destruction led to strained populations and hybridization with coyotes.

Some 14 of hundreds of canids caught by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) officials were considered to be true representatives of the species and became the genesis of a successful nation-wide captive-breeding program and limited wild restoration effort that exists in North Carolina today.

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The first photo I had published back in 1992 when I had just begun my freshman year in college. These pair of red wolves lived at the Texas Zoo in Victoria.

The study authors note surviving ancestral traits from the shared common ancestor of coyotes and red wolves could have drifted to a high frequency in the captive breeding red wolf population and in a small portion of Gulf Coast coyotes; or wild coyotes in the Gulf Coast region are a reservoir of red wolf ghost alleles that have persisted into the 21st century.

Through interbreeding with coyotes, endangered and extinct red wolf genetic variation has persisted and could represent a reservoir of previously lost red wolf ancestry. This unprecedented discovery opens new avenues for contemporary red wolf conservation and management, where ghost alleles could be re-introduced into the current captive and experimental  populations

Noted red wolf researcher and former USFWS biologist Dr. Ron Nowak said the study supports long-standing morphological evidence and visual observations that animals at least partly red wolf have continued to exist along the Texas coast, in other parts of eastern Texas and in Louisiana from the 1970s to the present day.

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A red-wolf like canid I captured an image of along the Texas coast in 2003. Did this animal contain the “ghost alleles” found in the study?

“This new information should help to stimulate further relevant study that should ascertain the status of red wolf genetic material across larger areas, determine the mechanisms that have enabled survival of such material and develop appropriate management programs,” he said. 

Red wolf recovery has been controversial due to a variety of factors, not the least of which is its protection under the Endangered Species Act which spooks some private landowners.

A few scientists have even questioned whether Canis rufus exists at all by hypothesizing it is a fertile gray wolf/coyote hybrid, not a separate species.

Other interests are concerned about recovery impact on deer populations and livestock and the corporate wildlife media have all but ignored the red wolf’s story.

It has never resonated with the public at large like its larger cousin the gray wolf’s comeback in the Yellowstone region, though the red wolf has long been much more at risk.

But the aforementioned essence of the red wolf has survived despite the obstacles and may even be thriving, not only on Galveston Island but in a broader area.

Thousands of hunters, hikers, fishermen and landowners have reported seeing wolves in the Texas-Louisiana region since 1980. They have often been told they saw a coyote or a feral dog, not a wolf.

This study shows that if it looks like a wolf and howls like a wolf that it might not necessarily be fully wolf or fully coyote as we currently understand them.

What people are seeing in Texas and Louisiana however could be wild canids with genetics that could be the key to this misunderstood specie’s survival.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Listen to a podcast on this discovery at The Wildlife Journalist® by clicking below.

(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.)

*Study Authors (Elizabeth Heppenheimer, Kristin E. Brzeski, Ron Wooten, Will Waddell, Linda Y. Rutledge, Michael J. Chamberlain, Daniel R. Stahler, Joseph W. Hinton, Bridgett M. vonHoldt)

The Black Panther Hoax Pt. 3: Enter the Black Longtail

Black Panther Search 2007—My heart pounded as I saw the silhouette of a black cat move through the tall grass.

Headed toward a clearing on the edge of a bayou it would be only seconds before it stepped into the open.

The fact I was on an expedition to investigate “black panther” sightings in the area added to the excitement.

What was I about to see?

As its head peeked out of the grass at a distance of about 70 yards I thought it might be a jaguarundi,.

When the entire body came out, it was obvious that was not the case.

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The cat the author saw was not a jaguarundi (pictured here’d) but something similar in size.

I estimated this cat to be around 42-45 inches in length, stocky, with a tail longer than the body and sporting a solid, dark coat.

The cat quickly shot into a thin line of cattail that intersected a marsh and I never saw it again.

This was fall of 2007 and I knew I had not seen a jaguarundi or a jaguar or a black cougar. It was a domestic cat or some kind of hybrid and it was bigger than normal. And somehow I knew that when an untrained eye saw this cat -“black panther- would get bestowed upon it quickly.

About two years after that as game camera prices plummeted and smart phones began featuring quality cameras I started getting many cat photos sent by readers. Most of them inquired whether the cat they captured an image of was a “black panther”. A couple asked if it might be a jaguarundi.

All but two of them have been some kind of feral house cat.

And I believe they are the source of the vast majority of “black panther” sightings.

I believe this for three key reasons.

  1. People Cannot Judge Size: I have received dozens of photos of bobcats people sent to me insisting they were cougars. I have now come to the conclusion many cougar sightings in nontraditional habitat are bobcats. I have personally identified dozens of “black panther” sightings as house cats or some kind of hybrid. (We’ll get to that in a minute)
  2. Distribution: Feral house cats are distributed throughout North America, have large populations in many forested areas and are the only known black cat to dwell continent-wide. I have received multiple photos of readers wondering what kind of wild cat they captured on their game camera. It turned out they were white, tabby and other colored feral house cats. People are not prepared to see a feral cat in the woods but they are abundant. When they see a black one they often label it “panther”.
  3. New research in Australia which has a massive feral cat problem suggests these cats are growing to much bigger sizes than anyone would expect. Recent states attributed to Oklahoma wildlife officials state sizes of up to 35 pounds for feral cats.

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The photo above was submitted by a landowner who wishes to remain anonymous.

As you can see it features a large black cat with a long tail. The cat has a build somewhat like a domestic cat but it has a very long tail and judging by the size of the cinder blocks it is larger than the average house cat.

In my book Field Guide to Mystery Cats of Texas, I have officially dubbed these “Black Longtails”.

Texas-based researcher Jeff Stewart who captured a similar cat on a game camera in Panola County has an interesting theory.

“One theory I have been working on to explain the sightings of large black cats in the South is that interbreeding could happen between a large cat with no black gene (like a cougar) and another which has the gene then the offspring have the ability to be black or even produce black kittens themselves,” Stewart said.

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The Jeff Stewart black cat photo.

Hybridization is rampant in cats and stranger things have happened in nature.

These black longtails could simply be feral domestic house cats that are adapting to a wild life. Or maybe there has been some sort of hybridization going on that science has not discovered.

Feral house cats are the key to understanding the bulk of the black panther phenomenon in America.

My research has shown me jaguarundis play a part in this as well and there is a slight chance of melanistic jaguars and bobcats in the mix. We can scratch black cougars off the list as there is no evidence they exist.

The corporate wildlife media have perpetuated the black panther hoax for ratings and web traffic and most amateur researchers including myself have overlooked the obvious as a solution because so many credible witnesses have great panther stories.

On this end the research will continue in the field and by communicating with people throughout the country who hunt, fish, ranch, farm and spend time in nature.

The black longtail is out there and whether is an evolving house cat or something else it is a mystery worth pursuing despite its obviously domestic roots.

Chester Moore, Jr.

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.)