The impact of COVID-19, the coronavirus on humanity, is nothing short of historic.
While the death toll has not and hopefully will not reach the levels of the Spanish flu of 1918, the potential is there, and the grip it has on government, commerce, and private citizens is unprecedented.
That’s why I can’t help but make parallels between COVID-19 and the near-catastrophic decline of wild sheep of the 1800s.
When Lewis & Clark set out on their epic expedition, there were around two million wild sheep in North America. By 1900, there were fewer than 25,000 according to some estimates.
And while it would be easy to blame it on unregulated hunting and market killing which no doubt had some impact, by far the biggest killer was pneumonia.
Coming from domestic sheep, it hit wild herds as they co-mingled in the valleys and mountains during the westward expansion of European settlement. Millions of sheep died, and if it were not for conscientious hunters and fish and game departments around the nation, there would likely be no wild sheep left today.
Listen to Chester Moore discuss this issue and give some inspiration on wild sheep conservation at his new podcast “Higher Calling”.
It’s a story few have heard outside of wild sheep hunting and biologist circles, but now is the time.
The decline of wild sheep is second only to the government-sponsored bison slaughter in the depth of impact on a species in North America.
Humans are now quarantined, and in effect, bighorns are in many areas.
In 2016, Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) officials killed six bighorns because backpackers saw them co-mingling with domestic sheep. The bacterial form of pneumonia can be brought back to the herd and transmitted to lambs.
“When you have the lambs dying, it’s hard to build a population,” said CPW spokesman Joe Lewandowski in The Durango Herald.
“As wildlife managers, we look at populations, not individual animals. In this case, we know an individual animal could spread the disease to the larger herd, and then we have a bigger problem.”
This is not an uncommon practice in wild sheep management.
While translocations, strict herd management, and grazing restrictions have brought sheep numbers continent-wide into the 150-175,000 range, pneumonia is still the most significant threat. Still, there are no specials on Animal Planet or Nat Geo Wild or any other mainstream media outlets. This pandemic has been going on with wild sheep for 150 years, and only the hunting community, fish and game agencies, and biologists seem to care.
The focus should now be on saving people and the economies of the world, but there is space to teach a valuable lesson on wildlife conservation. There has never been a point in recent history where this particular story of wild sheep has such a great chance to touch the hearts of millions of wildlife enthusiasts.
During the downtime from work and school, people are looking for things to occupy their time and inspired, informative media on some of the beautiful animals in North America can help fill some of that void.
That is what this post is all about. I’m doing my best to let people know that when the dust settles on COVID-19 (and me and my family are praying daily that will happen soon), sheep will still have their own pandemic to face.
Concerned conservationists have done a remarkable job building herds throughout North America, but these conservationists are aging quickly, and new blood needs to step up to the plate.
Maybe something good that can come out of this tragedy is that some young person is motivated to get involved with sheep conservation. Perhaps being isolated, afraid of mingling with others and under the potential threat of death itself because of an unseen force will inspire action.
Sheep, of course, have no way to conceptualize these things, but they don’t need to when caring conservationists are in place in fish and game departments, conservation groups, and halls of the legislature.
COVID-19 may be momentarily stealing our freedoms, but it can’t rob the wild and enduring spirit of those thoughtful enough to make a bold stand for bighorns and their thinhorn cousins.
That force is as majestic as the sheep themselves.
While the coronavirus dominates headlines and causes great fear around the world, there is an interesting parallel in the world of wildlife.
Join The Wildlife Journalist® and award-wining conservationist Chester Moore as he discusses the connection between what we are experiencing in this pandemic setting and what nearly wiped out wild sheep in America in the 1800s.
Also hear a a heartfelt story of how Chester and his Dad bonded over hunting scrapbooks and how it pointed him toward a higher calling of wildlife conservation.
Wildlife journalist Chester Moore has been honored for his writings on bighorn sheep hunting and conservation.
He won first place for the “Outdoors Column ” category in the Texas Outdoor Writers Association Excellence in Craft awards for his bighorn sheep story entitled “New Life For New Mexico’s Bighorns”. The story appeared at Higher Calling and in the Wild Sheep Foundation’s Mountain Minutes newsletter.
He also received a second-place award in the “Feature” category for his “Desert Homecoming” story in Sports Afield that detailed the comeback of Texas’ desert bighorn herd.
“I’ve been doing a lot on wild sheep, trying to get the word out on their conservation needs and the absolute triumph that hunter-based conservation has been for all wild sheep in North America. It’s a real honor to be recognized for these writings.”
Moore is a staunch supporter of sheep and mountain wildlife conservation is a member of The Wild Sheep Foundation, Texas Bighorn Society and Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society as well as the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance.
Additionally, in January at the National Wild Turkey Federation-Texas state convention Moore was awarded the “Advocatus Magni” award for his work as an advocate for wild turkey conservation.
“This is such a tremendous honor,” Moore said.
“Wild turkeys are a passion of mine and I believe if we get turkey conservation right all forest species will benefit. Even wild sheep benefit from certain turkey enhancement projects like controlled burning. To get an award like this is truly inspiring.”
Both of these sharks were fitted with SPOT transmitters by research/conservation group OCEARCH. These tags communicate with satellites and when the information from those tags if fed back to OCEARCH, it allows the public to view their movements at OCEARCH.org.
When, Katharine, all 2300 pounds of her, staked out the stretch of coastline off of Panama City Beach, Fla., people paid attention. More than four million logged onto the OCEARCH website, crashing the server the week and causing a media firestorm.
“Those two sharks, Katharine in particular, drew an enormous amount of attention to great white sharks in a very positive way and the interactive nature of the site, gave people a way to see great white movements take place in a way never before possible,” said OCEARCH founder Chris Fischer.
“We are solving the life history puzzle of ‘Jaws’ out of the Cape Cod area for the first time in history and it has been interesting to see unfold.”
And that story is continuing to unfold as Unama’ki, a massive adult female that was 2,076 pounds at the time of her capture off the coast of Nova Scotia moved into the Gulf and at the last “ping” of her tag was offshore somewhere west of the Mississippi River in Louisiana.
This is the first mature great white tagged by Ocearch to show up this far west in the Gulf and it is possible it could head all the way to Texas.
There is much to learn about great white behavior and Ocearch’s cutting-edge approach has made knowledge of them formerly out of reach, possible.
Historical records from the 1900s show great white in catch records from Florida to Port Aransas, TX.
While there is no question these giants are not abundant in Gulf waters, its obvious they don’t mind swimming in its warm currents and I have a feeling Unama’ki, isn’t the only one out there.
The Wildlife Journalist® and Higher Calling blog publisher Chester Moore was awarded the National Wild Turkey Federation’s (NWTF) “Advocatus Magni Award” for being an outstanding advocate of wild turkey conservation and hunting.
Moore received the award at the NWTF Texas banquet in College Station, TX and said it a true honor to be recognized by such a prestigious organization and for something he believes in wholeheartedly.
“As turkeys go, so do America’s forests. If we get turkey conservation right then everything from whitetail deer to gopher tortoises and wild sheep benefit,” he said.
In 2019 Moore embarked on a quest to raise awareness to turkey conservation and began by photographing the Grand Slam of turkeys around the nation in one year.
“There’s much more to come. This award inspires me to do even more and explore things like the link between turkeys and sheep in their shared range. It’s going to be a great year,” he said.
The highlight will be taking a group of teen’s from Moore’s Wild Wishes® program into Colorado on a search for wild sheep, turkeys and elk in the mountains.
These Higher Calling Wild Wishes Expeditions will take these young people who have a critical illness or loss of a parent or sibling on a special conservation mission trip to raise awareness to sheep, turkey and elk habitat and conservation issues.
“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.
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”.
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.
Bengal cats come in various colors, sizes and patterns. The basic look mimics the original stock of Asian leopard cat in terms of pattern.
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.
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.
People allow their cats to go outside. Cats escape houses and pens and as we know with standard-edition feral cats they are everywhere.
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 email@example.com.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.