The thorn-filled plains of South Texas are the epitome of biodiversity. From the gorgeous green jay to the massive indigo snake the region is a wildlife haven.
As a veteran bowhunter (who wishes to remain anonymous) climbed into a stand overlooking a drying creek bottom he wondered if the big whitetail buck he had been pursuing would reveal itself this evening.
It is after all what drew him here and with the wind blowing into his face and away from what he thought was the buck’s bedding area, everything was perfect.
There was one small glitch.
He did however get to the stand a late and he would only have about an hour before dark to make it happen.
That’s “ok” he figured as these are the minutes when the wild lands come alive.
Then he heard it.
A high-pitched bellowing scream that echoed throughout the bottoms.
As his adrenaline production went into overload, he pondered what might be making the sound and why it was coming his direction. The screams got louder and louder, so he readied an arrow just incase.
Suddenly from out of the underbrush walked a large monkey. With a pinkish-red face and gray body it walked along the edge of the treeline before eventually disappearing into the shadows.
It was a shocking sight for sure. How did a monkey end up in South Texas?
Well, at at least it was not the monster he had pictured in his imagination.
There exists an area in the South Texas Plains where a population of Japanese macaques live and they have a long, bizarre story.
National Geographic covered them in a documentary. Watch this clip to the get the basics.
One of our readers M. Odom snapped this photo of one of the monkeys on his deer lease near Dilley, TX so we had to share.
Have you ever seen a monkey in Texas? If so we would love to see the photos. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to subscribe to this blog to keep up with these kinds of stories enter your email address in the form to the top right of this page.
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That is the poem I grew up with mom taught me to distinguish the highly venomous coral snake from our local mimic, the Louisiana milk snake.
With a nervous system attacking venom like that of their cobra cousins, the coral snake is without question one of if not the deadliest snake bites in America (mojave rattler is the other contender).
However, a recent study has discovered something that might get the striped serpent an edge.
This study shows the venom of the Texas coral snake in particular has ability to cause severe pain. The following is from an article at ucsf.edu…
The venom contains a toxic mixture of chemicals that includes two special proteins that join together, glom tightly onto tiny detectors on human nerve endings and don’t let go. These detectors normally sense acid burns, and after the snake bites, the victim’s brain receives unrelenting signals of an acid-like burn.
“Bites from this snake are associated with really intense, unremitting pain,” said David Julius, PhD, the Morris Herzstein Chair in Molecular Biology & Medicine at UCSF, who led the research. “This work helps to explains why and gives us new tools for examining how our brains perceive pain.”
But don’t break out the machetes to start slaughtering coral snakes.
There is also research that suggest certain subspecies venom can help treat epilepsy as well as breast cancer. We’ll have more on that soon but for now here is the article about the research on the Texas coral snake.
And although these snakes don’t rattle or show a white mouth to warn you, consider the toxins they can inject a big “Don’t Tread On Me!” declaration.
The tracks were so fresh I expected to see their maker appear at any second.
Nearly as wide as my two hands combined and nearly as long as my foot there was no doubt these were left by a very large black bear.
I kept my camera ready as any encounter would be up close and personal.
In a remote area of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in northern California, I was at a stretch of river where huge boulders lined the shores, creating a rugged maze.
It was wall to wall granite with the ground being a mix of smaller rock and sand.
The tracks that ended at a huge flat outcropping led me close to the river. The view was stunning and I took time to savor the moment but my quarry remained elusive.
An hour later I found myself a few hundred yards above this location.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught slight movement.
Through the binoculars what looked at first like a bush turned out to be a black bear standing as if something had caught its attention too.
I am not sure if it was the same bear whose tracks I had followed.
Perhaps it had caught scent I left behind but one thing is for sure. The chill that ran down my spine at that moment reminded me of why I pursue wildlife and on this occasion wildlife might have very well been pursuing me.
After all, I was in this majestic animal’s domain.
Ursus americanus is the most abundant bear on the planet with an estimated 600,000 scattered throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. They are a true wildlife conservation success story but not all is well.
Parts of their historic range are devoid of bear while some others are starting to see the first sign in decades.
Texas is a prime example.
Ursula americanus eremicus, the Mexican black bear, is protected from harvest in Mexico and over the last two decades they have been spilling into Texas from the Sierra Del Carmen Mountains.
Most of the population is centered around Big Bend National Park but there are verified bear sightings and road kills near Alpine and also as far east as Kerr County.
In fact, bear sightings in the Texas Hill Country have increased dramatically in recent years. One even paid fisheries biologists at the Heart of the Hills Hatchery near Ingram a visit.
A similar yet less documented return is happening in East Texas where black bears from Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma are crossing the state line. Most of these are subadult males searching out mates and in most cases they are striking out.
We did however verify at least one denning mother in Newton County dating back several years.
These are Ursus americans luteolus, the Louisiana black bear, an animal designated as a threatened species since 1992 under the Endangered Species Act but recently moved off of that list due to reported population increases.
Texans haven’t seen bears on a regular basis in more than a century so educating the public will be a big task for all who consider themselves fans of this iconic American animal.
Consider me one .
Over the years I have written dozens of articles and broadcast many radio programs promoting bear restoration in Texas. Working to a great extent in the hunting and fishing industry I have found this position slightly controversial at times but by and large most people have been very supportive.
You see when people learn to understand bears they respect them and when they respect them they do not mind sharing the woods with them.
Bears represent wildness and this writer will never forget the wildness I felt looking over the picturesque landscape in northern California and seeing that huge, stunning bear.
That’s the kind of encounter that leads me into the woods and will continue to do so. Let’s hope there are many more opportunities to encounter bears throughout America and even in my home state.
Their return has already begun. Let’s do what we can to help them along.
Chester Moore, Jr.
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The mottled duck has always had a soft spot in my heart.
They are a native duck of the Gulf Coast and always symbolized the brackish-intermediate wetland I love so much.
Growing up on the Gulf Coast of Southeast Texas they were a common sight of my youth and then sometime in my twenties they started to dwindle.
Now there are restrictive bag limits for hunters and much study of this beautiful but under appreciated waterfowl. The waterfowl conservation community has spent much time studying these species in the last 10 years and while looking over various studies one particular tidbit caught my attention.
The Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge began outfitting mottled ducks with transmitters to track their movements in the mid 2000s. And according to refuge officials there have been some surprising results.
The results indicate that mottled ducks, which normally avoid open water, have begun spending extended time offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists suspect habitat loss and saltwater intrusion, both a result of coastal development, may be forcing the ducks out of their wetland habitats. Coastal research in other regions shows similar trends, indicating the problem may be more than just local.
The idea of a puddle duck like the mottled duck in the open waters of the Gulf seems strange indeed but the fact is there is still much to learn about this species but this study goes to show why it is important to learn about wildlife habitat and movements.
Without that knowledge managing species is impossible and with the continual growing pressure on our wildlife resources, good management is more important than ever.
Jaguars captured on game cameras in New Mexico and Arizona have captured a fair amount of media attention over the last decade.
A majestic species generally affiliated with the Amazon, jaguars are highly adaptable cats that fare just as well in desert mountain regions as they do as they do in dense rainforest.
The idea of jaguars crossing into the American Southwest seems odd for those with little understanding of the species which brings us to the first of five points never mentioned in media coverage.
Jaguar Range: The historical range of jaguars goes all the way into western Louisiana and bleeds over into California to the West. As you can see looking at this map by cat research specialists Panthera (not to be confused with defunct metal band Pantera), that range has decreased dramatically.
Rivers No Barrier: The jaguar is a water-loving cat and is arguably more comfortable in the water than even the tiger which has been portrayed as the world’s top water-loving large cat. Jaguars have been encountered swimming large stretches of the Amazon River and are regularly documented feeding on caimans (a type of crocodilian) in the water with a bite to skull nonetheless!Jaguars are “Black Panthers”: The term “black panther” is thrown around indiscriminately and in my 25 years as a wildlife journalist I have found most Americans relate it to black cougars. The problem is black cougars most likely do not exist or at least have not been proven to exist. There is however an American cat that produces black offspring and that is the jaguar. The condition is called “melanism” and it is not uncommon in jaguars. The large black cats seen in zoos, on television programs, etc. are other melanistic jaguars or leopards which can also have melanistic offspring.Size Matters: Jaguars are the world’s third largest cat behind the tiger and lion. Their size varies greatly throughout their range with the largest specimens living in parts of Brazil averaging 220 pounds. The largest on record was a male that weighed 326 pounds with an empty stomach. That is about the size of an average Bengal tiger.Texas Sightings: Over the last decade 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.In terms of anecdotal evidence, I have two specific reports that after interviewing eyewitnesses lead me to believe they were most likely telling the truth.We will be doing numerous articles on jaguars this year and always appreciate reader feedback.For now check out this great clip from the World Wildlife Fund of a melanistic jaguar crossing the Amazon.
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.
I love cattle especially wild ones. There is something powerful and majestic about the bulls in particular.
Numerous species exist around the world but my favorite is the banteng of Southeast Asia.
I first learned of these while in college doing some studies on Australia’s wildlife. Banteng were introduced there in the 1830s and there are about 10,000 of them dwelling Garig Gunak Barlu National Park.
That is actually the largest population of wild banteng found anywhere. In their native Southeast Asia their numbers have dwindled.
There is a domesticated strain of banteng idenfited as “Bali cattle” and there has been some introducing them into the gene pool to help bring some diversity.
A study entitled Rapid development of cleaning behavior by Torresian crows on non-native banteng in Northern Australia (That’s a mouthful, huh?) shows some positives of their introduction
In this paper we report the observation of a rapidly developed vertebrate symbiosis involving ectoparasite cleaning by a native corvid of northern Australia, the Torresian crow, on a recently introduced bovid ungulate, the banteng. On three separate dates we observed a total of four crow individuals eliciting facilitation behaviours by a total of ten female banteng to assist in the removal of ectoparasites.
Most exotic introductions are considered a negative although in reality people would be shocked with which animals in their country are actually native. This one is at least proving interesting scientifically and benefiting a native species.
One of the animals we plan on acquiring for the next phase of the Kingdom Zoo: Wildlife Center is a banteng . If anyone has any contacts here in the states please contact us.
And don’t worry. As much as I like beef, banteng will not be what’s for dinner.
Chester Moore, Jr.
Cutting-edge wildlife writings and investigations.