Touching Hearts For Turkey Conservation

“Holy smokes! It’s a turkey!”

A 16-year-old girl wearing a retro Metallica shirt could not believe her eyes.

“I’ve never seen a turkey. He’s so big,” she said.

The young lady was referring to a hefty golden-breasted gobbler we had displayed at Eco-Fest at Shangri-La Botanical Gardens in Orange, TX. The tall, docile bird was strutting his stuff and drawing a crowd.

She was not the only one that was shocked to see a turkey.

Hundreds came by to see it and every one of them left hearing that wild turkeys are the epitome of a wildlife conservation success story.

They also learned East Texas is seeing a return of eastern turkeys due to the efforts of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the hunter-founded National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF).

Our Wild Wishes® program grants wildlife encounters to children with a terminal illness or loss of a parent or sibling. We are mentoring many of them to be conservation ambassadors.

Eleven-year-old Jaxon sat in with the big gobbler and told passers-by about wild turkeys and had lots of fun making turkey calls to incite gobbles.

And if that didn’t get them the baby turkeys did.

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Ana enjoyed showing Eco-Fest attendees the turkey poults.

We brought two newly hatch bronze-breasted poults and they absolutely blew away everyone who saw them.

“Their wild cousins will be born shortly out in the woods, deserts, swamps and mountains of America. If we want wild turkeys to thrive then we need to make their habitat healthy and do our best to restore them in areas where they are missing,” I told one gentleman.

I’m not saying he shed a tear when I let him pet one of the poults but he was definitely moved.

The wildlife conservation community needs to bring more people in if we want to secure the future for not only wild turkeys but hundreds of other species and their vanishing habitat.

And that will require moving the hearts of the public.

Legendary wildlife host and zoo director “Jungle” Jack Hannah once told me that you must move the heart before you change the mind when it comes to wildlife. He said this while telling kids from our Wild Wishes® program about the value of zoological facilities to conservation and giving props to excise taxes on sporting goods funding everything from game wardens to land acquisitions.

In my opinion, hunting-based conservation groups have done great work in the field but have missed in moving the heart.

I want to conserve turkeys because I grew up in a family that hunted for its food and dreamed of the day I would one day see wild turkeys in the field.

As a youngster there were virtually none in the Pineywoods where I grew up due to poaching, lack of natural fire and habitat loss. Now, groups like the NWTF are helping bring them back.

I first encountered a wild turkey on a day lease in Llano in the Texas Hill Country and since then have had deep reverence for America’s greatest game bird.

Many people left Eco-Fest thinking turkeys were amazing too and were armed with more information about the positive aspects of turkey conservation.

We need to reach a broader audience with a pro-conservation message in ways that people have never considered.

Bringing a big gobbler and some poults to a community event did that and having kids trained up to talk turkey (in Jaxon’s case literally) made people think.

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Jaxon had a great time getting his turkey “Tom” to gobble for the crowds.

Me and my wife Lisa have dedicated our life to helping hurting children and training them to be wildlife conservationists. We believe these kids are not the next generation of conservationists.

They are the NOW generation.

We have just begun this Turkey Revolution and will unveil many more projects spearheaded by these wonderful young people for not only turkeys but many species.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

 

 

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.

A Turkey Revolution Has Begun!

A society can only value what it understands.

And with wildlife, understanding is only the beginning. People must find a way to appreciate wild animals enough to care whether or not they exist.

Throughout decades of research, time spent in the field from Canada to California to seemingly every corner of my home state of Texas, I have come to a conclusion.

No creature in North America is linked more to healthy forests than the wild turkey. And no creature has the potential to captivate people in all corners of the nation than these great birds.

The author was busted by this big gobbler as he tried to sneak up near a tree on his belly. These free-ranging birds on a ranch didn’t know if they were tame, wild or in between but this one showed no fear. Good thing the author’s wife Lisa was set up in an elevated position just a few yards away and caught this photo.

Whether they are the striking Rio Grandes in the Texas Hill Country, Eastern turkeys in the big woods of the Northeast, Oceloas in Florida’s swamps, Merriam’s in mountain forests of the West or Gould’s in the high deserts, turkeys desperately need healthy habitat.

All animals do of course but some have done a much better of adapting to mans’ meddling of forest management, invasive exotics and urban sprawl.

And while there are urban centers where turkeys have adjusted, for the most part unlike whitetail deer and coyotes, turkeys need primo habitat to thrive.

If we can make the woods better for turkeys, it will be better for deer and the threatened Louisiana pine snake and the gopher tortoise and a host of other native wildlife desperately needing healthy ecosystems.

The National Wild Turkey Federation and various state fish and game departments have done an incredible job of turkey restoration and enhancement but they need the public’s help.

I have begun a quest to capture quality photographs of Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Eastern and Oceola in 2019.

Hunters call this quest the Grand Slam and while I will be taking a hunt or two this year, this quest is to document with a camera these great birds and to log everything discovered along the way.

I live a stone’s throw from Louisiana and a friend recently sent photos of eastern turkeys near their home.

Photos submitted by Maris Martinez inspired the author to look at Louisiana’s turkey population.

This inspired me to look more at Louisiana’s turkey population.

As of now it sits at 60,000 but that is down from a historic high of as many as 1,000,000 birds.

What happened?

Digging into these types of stories is what this is all about it. I’m calling it the Turkey Revolution and it will encompass years of research, reaching out to the public via many media platforms and searching out stories in the field.

If you have an interesting observation on wild turkeys, perhaps see a rare color phase bird or have anything related to them to share email me at chester@chestermoore.com.

Founding father Benjamin Franklin famously opined that the wild turkey would make a better representative of America than the bald eagle.

After all eagles are scavengers he said!

While I can’t see an image of the gobbling turkey intimidating America’s enemies, I can see the story of these great birds move the hearts of the public toward wanting healthier forests and more abundant wildlife of all types.

Putting a gobbler on a flag might have been a terrible way to cap the Revolutionary War but for a Turkey Revolution that might actually be pretty cool.

Chester Moore, Jr. 

 

 

 

Big Hogs Invade City (Video)

Seeing raccoons, opossums and even coyotes in the city is commonplace throughout the American South. But a much larger  creature has entered the concrete jungle and its suburban outposts-the feral hog.

Graham, TX isn’t a big city but it has a Wal-Mart, a few hotels and is lined with neighborhoods.

And when Marci Huckobey was headed out to get gas Jan. 17 she did not expect to see an entire sounder of large wild hogs rooting up the manicured city roadside illuminated by the light of the gas station.

But as you can see that is what she encountered.

These are some large hogs in the video above and they are unafraid of the passing vehicle.

In 2017 I wrote about hogs being displaced into the Houston and Beaumont, TX areas through the widespread regional flooding of Hurricane Harvey. Check out that entry here along with a video of a large boar at someone’s front door.

Back in 2016 I began writing on what I predicted would be an invasion of hogs into cities in the South and that the very biggest hogs would exist in urban greenbelts and in suburban areas due to a lack of hunting pressure to grow to maximum size and plenty of food and cover.

Domestic hogs left free to graze integrate with feral hogs and can produce monstrous offspring.

You can read the entires here and here.

Recently a 400 pound boar was captured near a school bus stop in Palm  Bay, Fla according to the report at Clickorlando.com

“Very seldom do we ever run into hogs like this, that are so massive and so big,” said Melbourne wildlife trapper James Dean.

About two weeks ago, Dean received a call reporting “a very large boar hog” that was tearing up sod around a playground, near a school bus stop. A nearby resident also sent him a nighttime photo of the great beast rooting behind a tree.

Locating giant wild boars in city limits is one of three investigations I have been conducting since I took a hiatus from posting here Oct. 2018.

I’m back and you will begin see more stories on this issue and others that are being ignored by the corporate wildlife media.

2019 is going to be a wild ride!

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.

Presence of Two Pink Dolphins Proven in Louisiana (Video)

Southwest Louisiana–A pink Atlantic bottlenose dolphin has stolen hearts and been the subject of many social media discussions along the Gulf Coast dating back to the mid 2000s.

I have personally shot still photos of the creature and captured it on video along with writing about it here at The Wildlife Journalist®.

You can see a video captured by a reader in 2016 in the Gulf off of Louisiana here.

You can view my 2013 video filmed in the ship channel near Cameron, La. (Lake Calcasieu area) here.

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This is the pink dolphin the author photographed in Lake Calcasieu in 2010.

A recent ground-breaking video captured by Capt. Thomas Adams gives proof of what many have suspected-there is more than one pink dolphin in the area.

On Aug. 17 he captured two pink dolphins jumping in front of a ship in the Calcasieu Ship Channel.

Capt. Adams has been gracious enough to allow us to use the video here.

There have been rumors of multiple pink dolphins in the Calcasieu system but this is the first concrete proof I have seen.

According to Heidi Whitehead with the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network, at least one pink dolphin has been observed for more than a decade.

We initially began receiving reports of the “pink” bottlenose in Calcasieu in 2007 and we worked with NOAA to educate people and reduce vessel traffic around the animal for the protection of the animal because there were so many wanting to get out to see it.  There was also a pink dolphin observed in the Houston ship channel near Bolivar several years ago but it has not been confirmed whether or not this was a different animal than the Calcasieu one as we have seen evidence from our photo-ID work that dolphins travel between Galveston and Louisiana.

Whitehead earlier this year provided us with a fact sheet from NOAA on pink and white dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico and it includes accounts from other locations.

The first (report) was reported during the summer of 1994 in Little Lake near New Orleans, Louisiana. The all-white dolphin was spotted in a group of 4-5 individuals for 20 to 30 minutes and never seen again. In September 2003, another all white dolphin calf was first observed in a group of more than 40 dolphins south of Galveston, Texas. It was re-sighted several times in the same vicinity through August 2004 (Fertl et al., 1999; Fertl et al., 2004).

This is what NOAA has to say about “Pinky” from the Lake Calcasieu area.

Although the dolphin is often referred to as a “pink” dolphin because of its pink coloration, it is considered an albino. The dolphin’s mother is not albino and has the gray coloring typical of coastal bottlenose dolphins. Dolphin calves are typically born dark gray in color.

According to NOAA there have been “white” dolphin sightings along the eastern seaboard of the United States.

Other “white” dolphins have been sighted in the Southeast U.S. between 2012-2014, these include off the coast of South Carolina, NE Florida and Georgia, and in the Indian River Lagoon, Florida

If you see a pink or white dolphin call the Southeast US Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 1-877-433-8299. They are interested in getting information on these unique animals.

Anomalies in nature matter because they raise awareness to the beauty and importance of wildlife and in this case also the forgotten sea called The Gulf of Mexico.

Chester Moore, Jr.

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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.)

The Independent Voice Of Wildlife Conservation