It is the most valuable wildlife commodity in the world.
Fetching up to $60,000 a pound on the black market, the rhinoceros horn is coveted greatly by millionaires in Asia who use it as a status symbol or grind into traditional elixirs as a aphrodisiac or folk cures for various ailments.
By comparison ivory from poached elephant tusks are going for about $1,500 a pound. That’s chump change compared to rhino horn.
Large-scale poaching of the now critically endangered black rhino resulted in a dramatic 96 decline from 70,000 individuals in 1970 to just 2,410 in 1995 according to Save the Rhino, a strictly rhinoceros-based conservation organization.
“Thanks to the persistent efforts of conservation programs across Africa, black rhino numbers have risen since then to a current population of between 5,042 and 5,458 individuals.”
“The overwhelming rhino conservation success story is that of the Southern white rhino. With numbers as low as 50-100 left in the wild in the early 1900s, this sub-species of rhino has now increased to between 19,666 and 21,085.”
But poaching has increased dramatically.
In 2007 there were 13 rhinos poached in South Africa. That number skyrocketed to 83 the next year and by 2015 there were 1,175 rhinos poached. That means one out of every five rhinos was killed drive by the aforementioned Asian market.
There is no end in site to the killing. Despite the use of surveillance drones, shoot to kill policies on poachers in some area and increase awareness, poachers are hitting rhinos and they are hitting them hard.
Some believe the solution to saving the species involves bringing them to Texas.
Hundreds of orphaned baby rhinos could be moved into Texas where they could be kept far away from poachers on highly managed private ranches. The thought process is the gene pool could be preserved while conservationists figure out what to do with the problems in Africa.
I will have a full feature article on this project in the May edition of Texas Fish & Game. I am very excited about the project and the article. In fact, I was so excited I had to tease it a little bit here.
This rhino project has many challenges and we will be covering it in-depth fashion not only in that article but also here.
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.
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.
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s decision to list a warfarin-based hog lure as a state-limited-use pesticide has sent shockwaves through the wildlife community.
The pesticide, “Kaput Feral Hog Lure,” is the first toxicant to be listed specifically for use in controlling the feral hog population. Opinions are varied from landowner support to hunter and wildlife enthusiast outrage.
Commissioner Miller said the introduction of the first hog lure may usher in the “Hog Apocalypse”.
It could also set off the “Texas Javelina Massacre”.
The collared peccary, more commonly known as javelina is a denizen of the arid regions of Texas. At one time they roamed from the Rio Grande to the Red River but that range has been cut down to less than half that size.
There are now according to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) roughly 100,000 of these animals inhabiting 62 million acres of rangeland.
One of the most feral hog dense regions is the javelina’s South Texas stronghold and while they are not pigs, they eat many things pigs eat. They readily devour corn put out for deer, soured grain set out to bait hogs and will without any doubt devour this toxic feral hog lure.
Unlike feral hogs, javelina are a native species that can easily coexist and compete little with free-ranging whitetail deer, the state’s most popular game animal.
They key word here is “free ranging”.
TPWD’s “Javelina in Texas” publication notes that “Recent downturns in javelina population trends in South Texas appear to follow drought cycles, habitat management treatments, and more recent emphasis on white-tailed deer management, including high fencing and predator control.”
They go on to say that although habitat improvement for white-tailed deer, such as food plots, supplemental feeding, and water development improved habitat for javelina, in many cases it also exacerbated problems between deer enthusiasts and javelina.
“Incidental and illegal harvest of javelina due to their perceived nuisance of predation, agricultural damage and competition with deer has added to this decline.” (TPWD)
Big protein-fed, selectively bred whitetail bucks bring in big bucks to ranchers and javelina are not a priority. In fact, as the TPWD document notes illegal harvest is rampant.
I have personally spoken with ranchers who admit to killing every javelina they see and influencing hunters to do the same.
They eat some of the high protein supplemental food put out for their monster bucks.
If warfarin ends up killing those bucks their will be an outcry as big as the state itself. If it kills javelina, you can bet more will be put out. Many will look at taking out hogs and javelina as a two for one special.
Javelina should be given their due respect just like any other Texas native but they are not an easy icon to get behind. Hunters don’t care too much for them and they are not well known enough for the “green” movement to support.
At the time of this writing it looked like the warfarin-based toxin might have some legal hurdles to overcome before hitting the field.
As for the javelina, they will benefit from any ban or delay.
Because you see the “Texas Javelina Massacre” actually began years ago. It was about the time high fences started popping up south of San Antonio and the javelina became an enemy instead of a respected species.
And no one from any side of the conservation aisle seems to care.
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.”
“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, author of “The Wildlife Journalist” blog has received the prestigious Mossy Oak Outdoor Legacy Award.
Presented last Saturday at the annual conference of the Texas Outdoor Writer’s Association, the award recognizes Moore for his work with children and wildlife.
“It’s such an honor to receive this award. Whether I am blogging at ‘The Wildlife Journalist’, broadcasting live on the radio or out granting a child’s exotic animal encounter through our ‘Wild Wishes’ program, I am always looking at things through the filter of how we can inspire young people and take better care of our natural resources,” Moore said.
“This award inspires me to push harder and go further down this path.”
Moore has won more than 100 awards for writing, photography, radio and conservation.
He was named a “Hero of Conservation” by Field & Stream magazine and his nonprofit project “Kingdom Zoo” won nonprofit of the year in 2016 from the Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce.
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.
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.
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 email@example.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.
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.
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.
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.