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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Wild Wishes® grants wildlife encounters for children who have a terminal or critical illness or have lost a parent or sibling. It’s a project of Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center® based out of Pinehurst, TX (Orange area).
Since 2014 the organization has granted 92 of these wishes and also works with children in the foster system and families who have children struggling with various issues.
“This was a very special encounter because these two girls have been part of our program for a year and a half. They are both volunteering as interns this summer, and this was the big send-off before college classes begin. We have been teaching them how to promote wildlife conservation, and this is an incredible inspiration for them,” said Lisa Moore, co-founder of Wild Wishes® and Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center®.
The other co-founder, her husband Chester is an award-winning wildlife journalist and said the story here is the ability to learn about wild cats so intimately.
“These girls got to interact with Siberian lynxes, Florida panthers, bobcats and servals and each time Jim and Bertie Broaddus educated them about these great animals and their place in the wild,” Moore said
“Since coming into our program Reannah changed her major to wildlife conservation and Lauren is getting an education degree to become an elementary teacher. We believe they will have a major impact on wildlife and wildlife education in the future and a catalyst for that will be these experiences.”
Bear Creek Feline Center is one of the few facilities in America to house jaguarundis.
Sometimes called the “otter cat” because unusual, low-profile look, these cats were of particular interest to the girls and they spent extended time photographing them.
“The photos will be used for future writings and social media activity where we will not only mention this great facility but also the conservation status of jaguarundis, which is a bit mysterious. We think featuring them will be an engaging way to educate people about wild cats in the Americas,” Chester said.
Safe, interactive wildlife encounters are crucial to inspiring people to appreciate wildlife and become advocates for species and habitat conservation.
“We’re appreciative of our partners at Bear Creek Feline Center for helping us take our mentoring program to a new level and for in a big way make Wild Wishes® come true for some special young ladies,” Lisa said.
In a technology-driven world where man seems to get more disconnected to nature by the day, opportunities like this can cause one to pause and ponder Creation.
Sure, the girls might have been taking cell phone photos of the cats and posting to Instagram, but they exposed people to wildlife in inspiring fashion in the process.
That’s a win for wildlife and young people facing challenges alike.
Award-winning wildlife journalist and conservationist Chester Moore and his wife Lisa are giving away a month-long North American Wild Sheep curriculum to any educator whether home, private or public school.
“We are fully committed to wildlife and sheep conservation is right there at the top of the list for us. We want to do our part to see young people get an engaging education on wild sheep. They need to understand these great animals and know the role hunter-conservationists have played to ensure their future,” Chester said.
The curriculum will be available beginning Aug. 15.
“We love wild sheep in the Moore household, and we want to educate young people about these great animals. This is our gift to wild sheep and to kids who love wildlife,” said Lisa Moore, a certified teacher of 22 years.
The Moore’s said they have been inspired by conservation groups like the Wild Sheep Foundation, Texas Bighorn Society and others that have contributed so much to wild sheep. This curriculum is the first step in their forthcoming Conservation Campus that will bring cutting-edge wildlife conservation to home and private schools.
“We decided to do this while at 10,000 feet photographing bighorns in Colorado on our 20th anniversary. It was a dream come true moment for us, and we wanted to do something to inspire young people to get involved in sheep conservation. It’s a great privilege to contribute even a small bit to help secure the future of wild sheep,” Chester said.
The Stark Museum of Art is bringing the great outdoors inside with Conservation Art: Federal Duck Stamps & Prints.
The exhibition opens July 13 and continues through January 4, 2020. This exhibition celebrates the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, popularly known as the Duck Stamp.
A set of stamps and prints, from the beginning in 1934-1935 through 2000-2001, is on view. In addition to viewing the stamps and prints, visitors can go on a virtual Duck Hunt and enjoy other activities.
Started in 1934, the Federal Duck Stamp program links hunting with conservation. Sales of stamps support wildlife habitat. Choosing artists to design the stamps added visual drama. Artists’ prints increased the impact of the program.
With this exhibition, the Stark Museum of Art traces the history of the Federal Duck Stamp. The United States government created the stamp to address a problem. In the 1930s, the numbers of ducks and geese had fallen to dangerously low levels.
Loss of habitat and over-hunting contributed to the decline. Hunters and conservationists sought remedies. To raise funds for waterfowl habitat, the government required hunters to buy a Migratory Bird stamp. The U.S. uses the revenue to purchase and maintain wildlife refuges.
Every year the government selects an artist to create the image and issues a new stamp. They depict ducks, geese, and swans. The beauty of the stamps has inspired collecting. It has also prompted the artists to make prints from their stamp art.
The exhibition begins with the 1934-35 Stamp and its accompanying print by Jay N. “Ding” Darling. Darling was a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist, a hunter, and a conservationist.
Franklin Roosevelt appointed him as Chief of the Biological Survey. Darling drew two mallards flying onto the water for the first stamp, and then made an etching based on his design.
The exhibition includes etchings, lithographs, and photolithographs by fifty-two artists, including Frank W. Benson, Maynard Reece, and the Hautman brothers.
Visitors will also have the opportunity to view a digital exhibit of the 2018-19 Federal Junior Duck Stamp in Texas winners. The Federal Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design program began in 1993. Each state holds a contest.
A best of show for the state is selected. These works advance to the national contest. The digital exhibit features the top twelve Texas artists in Kindergarten through twelfth grades in the 2018-19 contest. It is presented in cooperation with the Federal Junior Duck Stamp in Texas program.
The exhibition includes a number of hands-on learning opportunities. The interactives include viewing recent years’ duck stamps up closely using magnifying tools, drawing and displaying a duck stamp, and playing the Nintendo Entertainment System pop culture classic Duck Hunt.
Adjacent to the main exhibition will be Waterfowl Art with the flourishing images of ducks and geese as seen in Steuben glass, Limoges plates, Boehm porcelain, and other forms.
An Opening Reception and Insights Lecture will be held 2-4 p.m. Sat. July 13. at the Stark Museum of Art.
Celeste Rickert, a 2018 Federal Duck Stamp Finalist from Katy, TX, will speak on her experience as an artist participating in the Federal Duck Stamp competition.
Light refreshments will be served following the talk. The Opening Reception and Insights Lecture are open to the public.
So, what happens when whitetail and mule deer meet up?
It’s a question I have long been intrigued with since I heard stories of mysterious whitetail/mule deer hybrids at a hunting camp in my home state of Texas.
While on a mission to photograph Merriam’s turkey in Colorado for my Turkey Revolution quest two weeks ago my wife Lisa and I stopped at a beautiful location to look for mule deer.
We found a big bachelor group with some large males feeding in a meadow.
And then from the distance came more deer.
I assumed they were muleys too but after glassing, I realized they were whitetail.
Eventually, they made their way to the mule deer. Most passed by but a couple merged with them and began to feed. This is what you see in the included photo.
It was interesting to see this interaction.
I plan on returning to this location in the fall when the rut is on and see what type of activity occurs. Bucks could get along now but how about when their antlers are hard and testosterone is jacked up?
The whitetail will be fighting one another and the muleys battling it out as well. But will they fight one another?
Who will win?
Even more intriguing is the possibility of whitetail and mule deer mating.
Longstanding studies by Texas Parks & Wildlife Department officials show some interesting dynamics including hybridization.
“Where mule deer and white-tailed deer coexist, interbreeding does occur. The long-term effects are unknown, and for most areas, the extent of hybridization is not known. The highest incidence of hybridization in the Trans-Pecos occurs in the eastern part of the region where high populations of mule deer and white-tailed deer coexist. It has been estimated that up to 15 percent of deer may be hybrids where both species occupy the same range,” TPWD reported.
“DNA sequencing techniques were used to determine the extent of hybridization in the Panhandle (Donley County) where the ranges of both species overlap. Results indicated a hybridization frequency of eight percent. ”
TPWD reported antler characteristics, tail coloration, and ear length are not reliable in recognizing hybrids.
They said hybrids can be identified by the length of the metatarsal gland that is located on the outside of the rear leg between the hock and the hoof. It typically will measure about 3 /4 inch long in whitetail and about 4 inches long in mule deer.”
“The metatarsal gland of hybrids is intermediate in length, measuring about two inches long. It has been theorized that occurrences of hybridization are initiated by white-tailed bucks, but interbreeding also can occur between mule deer bucks and white-tailed does. Hybrids appear to have at least a limited degree of fertility. Hybridization is a concern to managers who see it as a threat to their mule deer herd.:
Whitetail numbers have reached historic highs in most of their range and are healthy virtually everywhere whereas mule deer are on the decline in many areas.
I will have more on the mule deer decline soon as well as hybridization.
For now, I am seeking photos of whitetail/mule deer hybrids.
The Wildlife Journalist® publisher and Texas Fish & Game Editor-In-Chief Chester Moore was honored by the Press Club of Southeast Texas for his “Be Texas Bear Aware” public service announcement that runs on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI.
Moore took first place in the radio public service announcement category at the groups annual excellence in media awards.
“It’s a real honor to be awarded by such a great organization and especially for something so special to me,” Moore said.
“I had the opportunity to create public service announcements on wildlife for KLVI who are always great about supporting wildlife conservation and the first one I came up with was the issue of black bears.”
Moore said many outdoors lovers are not aware that black bears are moving in and out of Texas through Louisiana and Arkansas and a growing population exists in the Trans Pecos region.
“I want people to be aware of bears. Part of that is educating hog hunters to be careful of their targets as a bear and hog can appear similar at a distance especially if you have no idea bears are in the area. I also wanted to get the message across that killing a bear in Texas is illegal and comes with serious legal consequences. There aren’t enough bears to justify a hunting season yet.”
Moore has long worked to get the word out on bears creating a bear awareness poster, partnering with Texas Fish & Game beginning in 2007 that has went to thousands of readers, concerned citizens and students.
“Black bears are an important part of Texas’ legacy and as a lifelong hunter and wildlife lover seeing them come back is exciting. If the efforts of me and my media partners helps a little bit that makes me happy,” Moore said.
Moore was also honored in four other categories including radio talk show for “Moore Outdoors” on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI and independent blog for The Wildlife Journalist.
The desert bighorn sheep is now officially a celebrity in Texas.
A new conservation license plate features a stunning bighorn image and those who purchase them for $30 get the satisfaction of knowing $22 goes directly to sheep conservation efforts of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD).
The new plate design is a first for TPWD.
“Our longtime plate artist, Clemente Guzman, retired, so we decided to use a photograph of a majestic Bighorn Sheep proudly looking into the desert—and perhaps its future,” said Janis Johnson with the TPWD Conservation License Plate program.
“We conducted an online survey with thousands of hunters and conservationists and had them rank several designs for a Bighorn Sheep plate and a Pronghorn plate. The Bighorn Sheep was the overwhelming favorite.”
Diehard hunters and wildlife enthusiasts know bighorns are native to Texas. The mainstream of those user groups however have no idea about Texas rich bighorn legacy and the amazing conservation efforts it took to get them back on the mountains of the Trans-Pecos.
Wild sheep have been a source of interest to me since I clipped out a statistics chart from a TPWD magazine during my childhood and put it in my dream hunt scrapbook.
I did so to serve as a reminder that we should always put in more than we take.
That graph showed 100 bighorns in Texas in 1928 and 40 in 1976, just a few years before I made this clipping.
For a six year old who was already knew about the Grand Slam of sheep this was frightening.
Now according to TPWD Desert Bighorn Program Leader Froylan Hernandez there are around, 1,500 which is at historical highs.
It will take a broader awareness of their presence in the arid Trans Pecos to support things like proper domestic sheep grazing practices so their diseases do not impact the easily infected bighorns.
This license plate along with the media blitz that has introduced it will go a long way and creating a path for bighorns to find their way into the mainstream Texas wildlife consciousness.
New generations must learn of these great animals and be inspired to help them.
Through our Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center me and my wife Lisa work with children in the foster system and those with terminal illness and who have lost a parent or sibling. We give them the wildlife encounter of their dreams through our Wild Wishes program.
The license plate has given me a chance to integrate wild sheep conservation awareness into our programs.
When I showed a group of kids at foster children’s home e a monster set Gobi argali horns I asked them what type of animal they came from.
A couple said deer, while one said antelope.
Most of the others said it was a ram.
When told that a ram is a male of a particular kind of animal none of them knew it was a sheep.
Several expectedly thought rams were male goats. (This seems to be a common belief-even among adults.)
When I told them we had wild rams in Texas in the form of the desert bighorn sheep they lit up. And they thought it was even cooler that we will have a special conservation license plate to help them.
That’s just a tiny example of the kind of conversations the new license plate will generate.
Impactful conservation takes awareness, money and creativity and all of those are present in this project.
In the long run the bighorns of Texas will benefit greatly from this small step toward the mainstream.
Chester Moore, Jr.
The Investigations of Award-Winning Writer, Photographer & Conservationist Chester Moore