The biggest ecological concern of Hurricane Irma was the highly endangered key deer which only lives on a handful of islands in the Florida keys.
With only 949 estimated key deer remaining (I have been on many ranches with more whitetail than than in Texas) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials estimate the storm killed 21 deer and in 2016 they were hit by a screwworm infestation that took 135.
Now two South Florida residents, who captured and restrained three Florida Key deer on Big Pine Key according to US Fish and Wildlife Service officials, were sentenced Oct. 31, 2017, in federal court in Key West for violations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Erik Damas Acosta, 18, of Miami Gardens, and Tumani A. Younge, 23, of Tamarac, previously pled guilty for their involvement in the July 2, 2017 incident in Monroe County, Florida. United States District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez sentenced Acosta to one year in jail, followed by two years of supervised release, and ordered him to perform 200 hours of community service. Younge was sentenced to time already served, placed on 180 days of home confinement subject to electronic monitoring, given a term of supervised release of two years, and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service. The Court found that neither defendant could pay a criminal fine.
According to court records, including a Joint Factual Statement signed by the defendants, they used food to lure the deer and captured them. The defendants tied up the deer and placed them in their vehicle. They further admitted their actions injured an adult male Key deer, including a fractured leg. The animal later had to be euthanized by authorities.
I have written on several occasions in recent months about the huge problem of young people poaching endangered wildlife. This is another terrible example.
The issue must be addressed and vulnerable species like the key deer must continue to be protected.
We’ll keep you updated with all key deer related issues.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the most controversial wildlife footage ever captured.
On Oct. 20, 1967 Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin captured on film what they alleged was a Bigfoot (sasquatch) creature on a desolate stretch of Bluff Creek in northern California.
This is the footage that plays in virtually every sasquatch-based television special and even in commercials.
Frame 352 showing the film’s subject walking with its arms swinging is the template for hundreds of products in the cottage industry that has grown up around the sasquatch phenomenon and even the arm swing itself is used in many obvious fake videos over the years.
This footage has been analyzed more than any other than the Zapruder film showing the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Numerous individuals have claimed the film was a fake and claimed to have been the man in the suit or that they actually created it.
One man even claims it was made from red horse hair.
Roger Patterson who was holding the camera that day died of cancer in 1972 and maintained what they filmed was real.
Bob Gimlin who is still living and until recent years has mainly avoided the topic also maintains he and his partner captured the image of a living sasquatch, not a man in a suit.
There have been many alleged sasquatch videos captured in the last 50 years but why does this one not only endure but remain the epicenter of media attention on the topic?
As a wildlife journalist I have wrestled with the question many times over the last 25 years.
I have an interest in the topic and have done my share of field research and investigating eyewitnesses. In my opinion this whole phenomenon is important because it is either the greatest source of mass fraud and hallucination the wildlife world has ever seen or its a truly epic discovery waiting to happen.
And I personally get tired of the film itself outshining other aspects of the phenomenon. There are some legitimately interesting things happening on the scientific end of this search.
But the fact remains if it is a fake, why haven’t many better ones been produced since then?
How could two cowboys in an era where Planet of the Apes was the shining example of costume makeup effects produce something that no one has even gotten close to getting?
Not a single alleged sasquatch video is as clear, close up and contains anywhere near as much detail as the Patterson/Gimlin film.
Not even close.
A question that must be asked is if it was so easy to fake in 1967 why haven’t there been many more much better fakes come out as special makeup effects technology has increased dramatically?
Even the BBC with a budget much bigger than Patterson and Gimlin’s abilities failed to produce anything that looked even remotely as realistic as what was captured on Bluff Creek 50 years ago.
Either it is a fake or the most important wildlife footage ever captured. There are no in-betweens.
That is why today this is a worthy subject to write about and the entire phenomenon is one that although problematic in many ways deserves further investigation.
Wildlife filming history was made 50 years ago.
Whether the film is legitimate or not may never be settled but without any doubt the Patterson/Gimlin film has its place in history.
I once walked into the mouth of an old railroad tunnel.
Covered in vines and decaying it looked a bit ominous, even from a distance.
Many years previous trains would cut through as they winded through the limestone encrusted hills of the Edwards Plateau in Central Texas.
Now the tunnel is home to more than a million of Mexican free tail baits.
Passing by during the day or even walking nearby one would never know of their presence unless they maybe caught a sniff of the guano (bat dung).
But at night, these bats exit the tunnel and travel into the darkness in pursuit of insects and they return before dawn.
In the 1800s, a network of safe houses and secret routes called the “Underground Railroad” saw thousands of African American slaves find their way to freedom out of states where slavery was legal.
Thinking about the tunnel reminded me there is an underground network of sorts for animals, paths in which they can travel without the system taking notice.
The animals themselves of course are not aware of it although by sheer instinct they use it to their advantage.
It is a mindset in the culture of wildlife viewing, academia, media coverage and the hunting and fishing community that things with wildlife are supposed to go “by the book” and anything challenging the official narrative is ignored outright assailed.
In 2002, I spent a day in the field in the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area in Louisiana with researchers David Luneau and Martian Lammertink in search of the ivory-billed woodpecker, a species at the time considered extinct. Zeiss Sports Optics sponsored a truly rare look at a species often reported but believed long gone.
We never saw any ivory bills but I saw two men intent on at least searching out what could be an incredibly important find.
In 2004, Luneau obtained a video in Arkansas that the US Fish and Wildlife Service itself considers to be an ivory bill-a previously though extinct bird.
It goes along with other recordings and research suggesting there are a few ivory bills out there. However, the official narrative is the species is still lost.
Many don’t want to touch the topic with a 10 foot pole.
Did they ever exist anyway?
That’s what many act like.
And its this very lack of “official” interest that allows such species to hide in the shadows beyond the attention of those who can verify and perhaps save certain ones.
Most scientists tow the line on mysterious wildlife because their careers are centered on grants and anything outside the norm might rock the financial boat too much.
The hunting and fishing community dodges controversial wildlife topics for fear of government intervention especially in relation to the Endangered Species Act.
Amateur naturalists are quick to skip over the mysterious for fear of public ridicule and loss of access to property.
And the media doesn’t really care unless they can spin it into the next viral story, often shaming those who are dare to question things or belittling the off the wall topics altogether.
I am too curious to ignore the stories that require stepping into the shadows. I crave the opportunity to pursue mysteries of the wildlife kind-controversial or not.
Growing up in the 80s, the intro to syndicated horror anthology series Tales from the Darkside used to terrify me.
That is terrify me enough to watch.
Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality. But… there is, unseen by most, an underworld, a place that is just as real, but not as brightly lit… a Darkside. (Series Intro)
I won’t call the animal underground a “dark side” in terms of evil but it certainly not as brightly lit as what most see.
A couple of days ago I came across a project called “I am Somebody” from fourth grade.
It was an exercise in challenging us to state who we are and who we wanted to become in life.
I don’t remember this project and I have not seen it since I did it back in 1984 but what I found in it reminded me that a dream of working with wildlife that became a vision later in life started long ago.
When asked to draw a picture or cut out and paste of picture of what I wanted to be when I grew up I chosen article from National Geographic showing a researcher with a leopard seal.
I would like to be a scientist because I would like to maybe find a way to stop water pollution or discover a new animal. I would like to be a wildlife biologist.
I ended up studying journalist in school and later zoology and have since I was in high school pursued wildlife journalism. It’s amazing a little boy with a big dream got to live it in a little different way.
The assignment also had a section called “If I Were…”
If I were an animal I would like to be a grizzly bear so I could be the strongest animal in the forest.
Not much has changed on that front although I would probably tell you a jaguar for the answer now-the strongest cat in the forest.
The reason for this post is to inspire you to follow the vision you have for your life. My advice is to seek God, receive revelation on your life and pursue that with everything you have.
I am no one special but I have been able to do many special things in regards to wildlife. There is no reason you can’t do the same thing.
I plan on doing many more special things with wildlife in the next 25 years and beyond and want to inspire you to seek out your WILDEST dreams.
I will probably never become a grizzly but I just might get an up close and personal photo one of one of these magnificent creatures.
Recently I received news that one of the most mysterious and beautiful creatures on the planet was being taken off the endangered species list.
I am talking about the snow leopard.
Listing and delisting a species can come with a lot of confusion as subjects like this one deal with everything from extremely difficult population analysis to its interpretation.
In this special case I turned to someone I trust and respect my friend from the other side of the world Dr. Natalie Schmitt who as you will see is doing some great work that will benefit snow leopards and other wild felines.
Here is the transcript of the questions I sent her and as always she answered with great detail and honesty.
Chester Moore, Jr.
Do you feel the delisting of the snow leopard is justified?
I think the decision by the (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) IUCN assessment team to downgrade the snow leopard’s conservation status from ‘endangered’ to ‘vulnerable’ is justified as the species needed to meet very specific criteria to maintain that status.
A continuation of the ‘endangered’ classification for the snow leopard would have required two criteria to be met, 1.) a population consisting of less than 2,500 adults, and 2.) a rate of decline exceeding 20 percent over 16 years. The expert assessor team (consisting of five respected international experts), using the best information available, determined that the snow leopard currently meets neither criteria.
Although recent studies suggest that snow leopard numbers are likely higher than previously thought, the assessment team took an exceptionally precautionary approach, including using the lowest widely accepted global population size (4,000) when determining if the ‘endangered’ threshold could be met.
Although we still have only very crude estimates of snow leopard abundance based on sightings, camera trap recordings and interviews with local people, more accurate estimates are likely to not have any impact on the conservation status according to the expert team. However, my personal concern is that the decision has been made prematurely before broader-scale surveys are conducted with more accurate counting methods, to know for certain. In fact, in the full report on the snow leopard, the IUCN noted that population numbers could be partly speculative, given the difficulties in collecting accurate data on the elusive species across its full range from Afghanistan through to China.
What has been the main contributing factor to an increase in population?
Conservation efforts have been pinnacle in helping to prevent snow leopard extinction, particularly efforts to stop poaching and cutting off illegal trafficking routes however, as far as we are aware, the population is still decreasing, just not as rapidly as we once thought.
What are some negatives that could come from de-listing the snow leopard?
The biggest concern about the recent downlisting is that the lower status may weaken conservation efforts in range countries and the ability of local governments to stop the major threats to their survival. Some funding sources are also restricted to Endangered or Critically Endangered species, so there may be less funding opportunities for the species.
Tell us about your invention for tracking species like the snow leopard?
This invention has become the biggest life sacrifice for me, because I believe in its value so much! With the help of biomedical experts from McMaster University, the Centre for Molecular Dynamics in Nepal and Panthera, we aim to develop a simple, inexpensive, accurate, sensitive and portable DNA detection kit that can be used by non-experts for the rapid detection of species from the evidence they leave behind.
Through the identification of animals from their droppings we can gain an accurate estimate of population abundance, and the kit will be particularly useful for the detection of rare and elusive species where scats are difficult to identify morphologically. The portability and affordability of the kit will also make it easier for detecting species inhabiting challenging terrain, and in developing countries where conservation funding is limited. Once identified, those samples can then be taken back to the lab for further analysis of diet and disease.
The kit can also be used by customs officers to rapidly identify the remains of illegally trafficked species such as skins and bone. It is the lack of ability to be able to distinguish between legal and illegal wildlife products that represents the biggest issue in the enforcement and prosecution of wildlife trafficking. By improving our frontline detection methods we can identify poaching hotspots and trafficking routes, determine the geographic origin and age of the product, as well as assist law enforcement officers to prevent future crimes.
Finally, the simple design will allow the detection kit to be used by non-experts such as local communities and for citizen science initiatives. The usability of the kit will help local people to be directly involved in identifying and mitigating threats to wildlife, thereby expanding conservation outcomes.
We’ve already made significant headway and with the support of people and organisations who believe in the value of this idea too, we’ll get there.
What are the greatest challenges for the species moving forward?
Despite the IUCN downlisting of the species, snow leopards are still considered at high risk of extinction from habitat loss and degradation from mining and infrastructure development, declines in prey populations and poaching for the illegal wildlife trade. It is so important that we don’t become complacent in our efforts to preserve this important apex predator.
The snow leopard plays a crucial part in maintaining the health of the Himalayan ecosystem.
Besides the booze, the draw was a pair of Bengal tigers sitting on a small slab across from the bar.
It is hard to imagine that at some point, this was considered a good idea but it had been open for several years and by the amount of bottles in the trash can outside, they had a few patrons.
Our mission was to rescue a young black bear illegally imported into Texas and being kept in the bar.
A game warden had contacted Monique Woodard of the Exotic Cat & Wildlife Refuge in Kirbyville, TX to see if she would take the bear and she got my frequent cohort and wildlife photographer Gerald Burleigh and I to come along.
My job was to dart the bear if it got belligerent so we could put it in the crate to ride to Kirbyville in the back of my truck. Gerald was thereto document the day with his unique style of photography.
The tigers despite being in a small area looked healthy but the bear on the other hand was quite scruffy. Weighing about 80 pounds, she was probably around six months old and despite her small size she could have taken out all of us. Bears are extremely powerful.
We walked up to the enclosure and the bear stood up on its hind legs.
Before risking darting the animal, we put the extra large pet porter next to the door of the cage and Monique reached into her bag and pulled out a Twinkie.
She held it up to the nose of the bear which at this point was standing at the door and she had me open it. She then threw the Twinkie into the porter and the bear went right in.
On the way home, somewhere around Baytown on Interstate 10, the bear which at this point had been named “Gigi” pounded on the bed of my truck.
We pulled over to see what was wrong and Monique said she was hungry so she gave her a few more Twinkies from the box.
This happened three more times before getting to Kirbyville where she had the very last Twinkie in her big new enclosure.
Gigi was a real treat and ended up being a big draw to the refuge and a gigantic blessing to our lives.
Chester Moore, Jr.
For a moment, it seemed as if I were in a bizarre, fever-induced nightmare, descending deeper and deeper into murky blackness.
Life and death hung in the balance as I struggled to make it toward the light above but my captor was powerful. Effort seemed futile as it pulled with unbelievable strength until suddenly something gave and I broke free.
Rocketing to the surface toward the boat I was pulled from, I gave everything to get back in.
A huge beast with razor sharp teeth had just taken me on a trip into 40 degree, 50-foot deep water. Drowning, hypothermia and bleeding to death were all likely scenarios but an even stronger force led me to the light.
Back in 1997, I was running a trotline in a deep hole in the Sabine River. My cousin Frank Moore and I had trotlines about 200 yards apart and had been catching a few blue catfish.
This was in the middle of winter and we were targeting huge blue catfish. In previous days I had several large hooks straightened and had visions of 75-pound blues in my mind.
As I went to check my line, I noticed most it was not parallel to the shore but drifting out across the deep, instead of on the edge. The line had been cut (or so I thought).
Immediately not so kind words flowed through my mouth to whoever cut the line but then as I started to pull it in something happened.
The line moved!
I pulled in a little more and felt great weight at the end of the line and soon realized I had a seven-foot long alligator garfish on my line. In the Moore family, gar trump blue cats any day of the week so I was excited and even more so when I saw the huge gar barely moving.
Gar will often drown on trotlines (seriously) and this one looked a little worse for the wear so I though it would be easy pickings.
I pulled the line up to the beast, hooked my gaff under the only soft spot on the fish, which is directly below the jaw. I jammed it in there good to make sure it would hold and to see how lively the fish was. It literally did not budge. The fish was alive but did not seem lively.
I then took a deep breath, mustered up all the strength I had since this was a 200-pound class fish and heaved the gar into the boat. That is when the big fish woke up.
It pulled back with full force and all of a sudden I found myself headed down into 30 feet of water with the gar. In an instant I realized one of the other hooks on the trotline had caught in my shoe and I was now attached to 200 pounds of toothy fury.
I had just enough time to take a breath and went under.
All I could focus on was getting back to the surface and toward the light. I am not sure how deep I went but according to my cousin who was just down the shore from me, I did not stay under very long. A 200-pound gar and a 200-pound young man snapped the lead on the line but the hook amazingly remained in my shoe as a reminder I was very near death.
Bringing the line into the boat was a mistake on my part. Nearly a fatal one. They should always be checked on the side of the boat.
More philosophically, thinking back to that moment enveloped in a cold darkness and looking up to the light would foreshadow what would happen in my life in years to come.
There was much more living to do. I just had to reach to the light-the Light of the World to be set free.