That might not seem worthy of the exclamation point there but it needs to be said emphatically.
Over the last year I have examined at least a dozen bobcat photos people thought were cougars because the tail was longer than they expected.
The video below shows a bobcat captured on a game camera by friends of mine in Orange County, TX.
This particular bobcat has a tail longer than just about any I have seen but there are many of them out there with tails close to this. Some have little powder puff looking tails but most stretch out 3-4 inches. This one is probably 8-9 inches in length.
That is long for a bobcat but nearly as long as a cougar which has a tail nearly as long as the body.
I have no scientific way of estimation but I daresay 75 percent of alleged cougar sightings in the eastern half of the United States are bobcats.
I know for a fact there are cougars there too but bobcats are far more numerous and I know from personal experience how many people think they have a cougar photo but find out it is a bobcat instead.
This is no fault of their own. Wildlife identification studies are not a priority at schools and in fact game wardens even get very little wildlife identification education during their formal training.
I appreciate any and all game camera photos and if you have some you would like to have evaluated email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bobcats are one of my favorite animals and I have had the pleasure to work with them in captivity, photograph them on many occasions and have probably seen 200 plus in the wild.
In fact on a peace of property near the set of John Wayne’s “The Alamo” near Bracketville, TX I saw five bobcats in one day.
Seeing them is fairly common for me but I always rejoice knowing I caught a glimpse of one of America’s most successful predators.
“That is next movie they need to make. We’ve got one about a killer shark but they need to make one about a killer gar,” said my Dad.
“Wouldn’t that be cool?” he asked as we sat on the side of the road between Bridge City and Port Arthur, TX fishing for alligator garfish.
At eight-years-of age I thought that would be epic to say the least and if any of the producers of such high art as “Sharktopus” are reading this blog, it very well could become the next SyFy Original.
Just sign those royalty checks to “Chester Moore” please.
Dad always liked to make me laugh and that certainly did but there certainly are not a bunch of garfish attacks to report.
There is however something quite interesting.
While “Jaws” is on the minds of beachgoers in Texas (our variety-bulls, lemons, blacktips) “Teeth” is soaking up some of the same salty waters.
Angler Marcus Heflin caught a sizable alligator garfish while fishing the surf at Sea Rim State Park at Sabine Pass along the Texas-Louisiana border.
This was the first gar I have heard of on the beach anywhere along the Gulf Coast although I have long suspected they are there.
As a child I had a collection of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazines and one of them had a profile of Sea Rim State Park-where Heflin caught the gar pictured above.
It had fishing hotspots and there were several marked for garfish in the surf.
Garfish are considered a freshwater species but do well along the Gulf Coast. I grew up fishing for them in Sabine Lake and surrounding waters, a bay that at its southern end is only seven miles from the surf.
Mobile Bay in Alabama is a hotbed of alligator garfish activity and they are present in numerous salt marshes along the Louisiana coast.
Still, you can find almost no references to garfish in the surf.
The question is just how common they are in Gulf waters and how far out do they go?
These are very mysterious fish with little known about their life cycles or habits in comparison to America fish for comparable size.
So, if you’r ever at the beach and see something that looks kind of like a mutated alligator swim beside you don’t worry.
You just have had an encounter with “Teeth”.
There is no danger to be concerned with except in my eight-year-old imagination where a ravaging gar seemed like an intriguing proposition.
I uttered that under my breath as an 11 foot long king cobra scanned the room.
Owned by Andy Maddox of Pets-A-Plenty: The Ultimate Reptile Shop, the impressive serpent paid attention to everything happening in the room.
We were shooting a clip for my Kingdom Zoo television broadcast on GETV Kids and although I said they can’t count I was beginning to believe this cobra could.
Every time someone in the room moved, it marked them.
I have handled snakes thousands of times. At the Kingdom Zoo: Wildlife Center we have 25 species and never have I had a snake pay so much attention to its surroundings.
Not even close.
Then it happened.
Me and the cobra (safely held on snake hooks by Eric Haug and Maddox) looked me in the eye. Square in the eye in fact and I could see there was something going on there.
This was an intelligent being, certainly by reptile standards and it had an awareness unlike any other snake I had encountered.
My first look at a king cobra came at the Houston Zoo when I was six years old. In what I have come to know is a super rare experience, a 14 footer there hooded up at me and my mom as I pressed close to the glass.
Mom literally ran out of the room and drug me away kicking and screaming. I wanted to stay and watch!
Since that visit I have acquired some interesting information on king cobras and other varieties of the iconic snake we will be writing about here at The Wildlife Journalist.
It has been quite a learning experience for me and an exciting one as it hearkens back to my childhood of playing with rubber cobras in the backyard and seeing these magnificent animals at the Houston Zoo and Sea Arama in Galveston, TX.
Stay tuned and check out the video outtake from the encounter described above.
There was something about those 1980s Fruit Loops commercials.
The debonair sounding “Toucan Sam” was and is a memorable icon of pop culture and was what initially got me interested in toucans.
After seeing them on my cereal box in the mornings I started looking them up in the personal wildlife book library I had accumulated and found them fascinating.
Fast forward to 1999 and I found myself in the rainforest of Venezuela and five feet away from this white-throated toucan on the shores of the massive Lake Guri.
I was mesmerized as I snapped this photo.
The unique design and beautiful contrast of light and dark was in my opinion the most beautiful bird I had ever seen.
Sure, cardinals and red-headed woodpeckers had more standard beauty but there was something special about the toucan-all toucans.
When we founded Kingdom Zoo in 2012 me and my wife Lisa knew we wanted at toucan.
We searched high and low to no avail so we did what we should have done to begin with. We prayed.
We also gave away plush toucans to needy children in the community as a way of showing Christ’s love but also believing that he who gives us given unto.
We recently had the opportunity to purchase a gorgeous male green aracari toucan. We named him “Papaya”.
This friendly and very active bird had his official debut last weekend at the Kingdom Zoo: Wildlife Center and seeing people’s reactions was special.
Most have never seen a toucan up close, only on the cereal box or perhaps in a distance enclosure at a zoo. Our micro zoo provides close interactions with animals and “Papaya” has become our number one bird ambassador.
He is a true treasure and I could not be happier.
Dreams do come true. Sometimes they come after profound revelation. Sometimes they are passed down from family members.
And sometimes they can even be founded gazing at a cereal box excited about the sugary snack inside.
And don’t give me any flack about GMOs and refined sugars. You know you were eating them too.
Outdoor photographer Gerald Burleigh is known widely in his home state of Texas for his whitetail deer photography as well as his images of the life cycles of waterfowl.
While setting a game camera to lure in feral hogs on a stretch of property near the Neches River in Southeast Texas, he came across something interesting.
An alligator found his bait pile and came in and ate corn and gorged itself on some old donuts.
Alligators are carnivores that will eat virtually anything that swims in front of them but mainly eat fish and turtles.
This one apparently has a sweet tooth.
Something else interesting about this video is the camera is not set directly by the water. This alligator had to walk a pretty good way to find the food.
Alligators will actually cover long distances during the mating period and some of the very largest alligators are found in ponds far from the main waterways where they have set up after arriving there to find no mates during breeding season.
These areas house some of the very largest alligators because they are detached from their main habitat. The biggest alligators are targeted during the alligator hunting season so many of the largest specimens are those that have forsaken coastal marshes, main river channels and other spots close to civilization.
Alligators can grow to impressive sizes but it takes the correct genetics, available food and cover and the ability to live their maximum life cycle which can be upwards of 80 years.
Hunting pressure targeting the very largest alligators takes away the largest adults so truly large alligators (over 11 feet) are become increasingly rare.
Alligator populations themselves are high but those of maximum size are not as common as they used to be.
This one looks as if it might not make it too much longer. Any alligator that is willing to gobble up donuts would no doubt had a hard time resisting a chunk of rancid chicken dangling over the water.
Australia’s Outback is one of the wildest and biologically diverse chunks of habitat left on the planet.
It is also a place that has tracts of ground that have felt no human footprints at least in the modern era.
American has its own outback.
It is the Trans-Pecos region of Texas-the far western region of the state.
The Trans-Peco is part of the Chihuauan Desert and features several small mountain ranges and has a county (Brewster) that is larger than the entire state of Connecticut.
It is home to some of the rarest and most elusive reptiles in North America and is home to the largest black bear population in Texas. Scattered bears also roam the eastern third of the state.
This region in my opinion is the most likely place to discover new wildlife in the United States and is also very like to be home to a small population of jaguars.
Jaguars have been proven to be crossing into New Mexico and Arizona frequently due to a concerted game camera study in both states. No such study exists in Texas.
Unlike Arizona and New Mexico most of Trans-Pecos Texas is privately owned. That means any large-scale study would have to be given the green light by landowners there. That could happen and two years ago I spoke with a research group that focuses on the great cats and they expressed interest in the topic but so far nothing is happening.
The truth is unless landowners themselves make reports almost no news gets out of the region.
An interesting report I am investigating is of a Mexican gray wolf sighted in a remote area Alpine.
The person who gave me the report was a fur trapper with more than 50 years experience in killing coyotes for cattle and sheep operations. In other words, he knows the difference between coyote and wolves.
When I interviewed him the animal he described sounded strikingly like a Mexican gray wolf and was in an area far away from any major human population.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the wild population of Mexican gray wolves in 2015 was 48 animals. It is not much a leap of faith to see one or more of these animals wandering into Texas.
In October 2000, a radio collared gray wolf from was shot and killed near Kirksville, MO nearly 600 miles away. A Mexican gray would not have to travel that far to end up near Alpine.
We will be forcing some effort on studies in this region and investigating the wildlife of America’s Outback.
The clocking is ticking toward extinction for tigers.
All subspecies of Panthera tigris are critically low and with the threats like habitat loss and poaching for the traditional medicines on the upswing, radical action must be taken.
And it must be taken now.
All measures taken to help tigers in the wild have failed so it’s time to try some things that will certainly (and have in some cases) ruffle feathers and might seem far-reaching.
The fact is with less than 3,000 tigers throughout all of Asia the far reach is the only one left.
The following are some ideas that need serious examination and thought from those interested in seeing this great cat saved from nonexistence.
#Island Tiger Preserves-There are enough small to medium uninhabited islands scattered throughout distant areas of the Pacific to create tiger preserves that would not be cost effective for poachers to hit. Many of these islands have populations of wild pigs and could be stocked with abundant deer. Problem tigers (human and livestock killers) could be recaptured and place on these islands with the idea of setting it with just enough male/female ratio to create a breeding population. In some cases that might be two tigers but if two can breed and raise young in the wild, then we’re gaining ground.
#Pick a Species-If several large conservation organizations could pick one subspecies of tiger and focus on a moon mission sized goal of purchasing X amount of acres of critical habitat and accompanying that with full time scientific staff and game wardens then we might be able to rally the troops enough to keep a solid gene pool going for a particular variety. Small efforts by large, well-funded organizations could go to one huge project with smaller groups taking up smaller needs and other varieties.
#Rewilding-It has already been tried with limited success but at some point rewilding captive tigers needs addressed. The Island Tiger Preserve project might be a way to accomplish this but if tiger viability will go beyond 2025, rewilding will have to be a part of the process.
#Zoo, Private & Sanctuary Cooperation-The captive gene pool of tigers must be analyzed from the biggest zoos to private owners. Cut all of the political mess out of the way and take personal opinion of sanctuary and personal ownership around the world and get real-the gene pool is getting narrower and captive populations could be part of the solution.
All things must be on the table if we are to save what I consider the most beautiful creature God created. We’ll be talking about the great cats frequently in 2015 and tiger conservation will be an important part of that. Conservation means the wise use of resources and now the wisest thing we can do about tigers is throw preconceived notions out the window and make some things happen.
We’re a generation away from the old “lions, tigers and bears…” saying missing a key component.
There is something powerful about the eyes of a great white shark.
In the 1975 blockbuster “Jaws”, obsessed shark hunter Capt. Quint describes them as “lifeless eyes…black eyes…like a doll’s eyes”.
As an 18 footer turned its eye to look at me while on a cage diving expedition to the Farallon Islands I quickly disagreed with Quint. Black they were but lifeless the sharks’ eyes were not.
They were filled with purpose. To kill. To eat. To survive.
Long believed extinct in the Gulf of Mexico or at least an extremely rare visitor, it seems there are survivors.
In 2014, “Katharine” and “Betsy”, two young great whites were verified in Gulf waters.
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.”
Cape Cod is one thing but the Gulf of Mexico? That’s the domain of bull sharks and black tips, not great whites. Right?
Great white populations are on the rise due to 20 plus years of gill nets being banned along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. These nets caught and killed many juvenile great whites that are born on the East Coast and migrate into the Gulf to feed.
The shallow, nearshore areas along the eastern seaboard and portions of the Gulf Coast, especially Florida are “nursery” areas where the younger sharks spend their time. Both Katharine and Betsy were tagged off of Cape Cod in August 2013 and covered thousands of miles of water before entering the Gulf.
In 2005 I wrote an article called “Jaws in the Gulf” for Tide magazine recalling historical references and at the time a recent sighting. The article was a bit controversial as great whites in the Gulf seemed too magnificent to believe.
Now it has been vindicated. But that’s not the point. Seeking out the mysterious is a big part of what we do.
The point is the most iconic shark in the planet is proven to inhabit the Gulf and could be on the rise. Fishermen and conservationists need to know so these great predators can be protected.
NOAA has some extremely interesting older data on great whites in the Gulf of Mexico. Their earliest recorded white shark was off the coast of Sarasota, Fla on a set line in the winter of 1937. Another specimen was caught in the same area in 1943.
In February 1965, a female was captured in a net intended for bottlenose dolphins at Mullet Key near St. Petersburg. In addition, National Marine Fisheries Service officials reported 35 great whites as bycatch in the Japanese longline fishery in the Gulf from 1979 through 1982.
Those sharks died but last year the first great white ever known to be caught from the surf was taken by an angler in Panama City Beach, Fla.
Instead of killing it, he fitted it with a tag, photographed and released it.
Knowing about great whites, their rarity and conservation problems is crucial so great whites meet happy endings when encountered by anglers-the user group most likely to see them.
It might seem counterintuitive to save something that can and occasionally does eat humans. But the fact is we need things like great white sharks to keep us humble, to remind us, we are vulnerable and to keep us in a sense of wonder.
That was the state I was in gazing out onto the Gulf of Mexico while fishing the 61st St. Pier in Galveston, TX with my Dad at age 12.
“It’s a shame we don’t have a lot of great whites off our coast,” I told him.
“Maybe we do. We just haven’ found them yet,” Dad replied.
Dad is gone now and I sure would like to tell him, they have been found. Great whites dwell the Gulf of Mexico and you never know. There might have been one cruising the surf just beyond that pier on that night so long ago.
The term just kind of rolled off my tongue as I walked up to the scene of an unusual depredation of captive feral hogs.
A cougar was the suspect but I ruled that out quickly. Maybe we’ll delve into this old story later on.
Everyone from law enforcement to nearby ranchers were there and after introducing myself and getting that “Who is this long-haired guy with the camera?” look, I said, “I’m the wildlife journalist”.
Everyone kind of nodded and the investigation continued.
Freud was a weirdo so I hesitate to call it a “Freudian Slip” but maybe it was. I have done many things in the field of journalism and in reality “wildlife journalist” is the best description.
I have (and continue) to work in the fishing and hunting industry as an editor. I have published more than 5,000 articles on various wildlife subjects and somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 photos since I began my career in 1992 at the ripe old age of 19.
I have conducted more than 300 lectures on topics ranging from red wolves to sharks in venues as diverse as Nurnberg, Germany to Dallas, TX.
And I have produced two television programs and appeared on Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, Destination America, The Outdoors Channel and numerous regional networks.
All of that work has been based on getting a story. All of it has involved investigating, interviews, photography and a passion for wildlife and wildlife conservation that just won’t quit.
“Wildlife Journalist” just sort of fits.
What this site will bring to the table is everything ranging from unique wildlife photos to investigations of animal mysteries and interviews with the top experts and legends in the field.
This will be the only place for my wildlife blogging. The articles posted here will be exclusives and it will always be fun.
It’s an honor and privilege to communicate with wildlife lovers around around the world and I look forward to taking that to new levels beginning now.
I’d love to hear from you and will periodically answer questions at this venue. In addition, we love to see your wildlife photos and videos.
In a little way all of us with a cell phone can be wildlife journalists of sorts these days by capturing those incredible moments in the field and on the water.