Did you know bighorn sheep are slowly moving back into Oklahoma?
How cool is that?
Have you ever heard of Asia’s Marco Polo Sheep-a massive mountain dweller that lives exclusively in elevations of 12-15,000 feet?
Oh and by the way , the rams sport horns upwards of 60 inches in length.
Learn about this and much, much more in the podcast of my radio program “Moore Outdoors” (May 25 edition) as I interview Gray Thornton, President & CEO of The Wild Sheep Foundation.
Wild sheep have a deep personal meaning in my life dating back to early childhood when I would sit with my Dad and cut out photos of wildlife from Sports Afield,Field & Stream and Outdoor Life and place them in a scrapbook.
Wild sheep and wild turkeys were my favorites.
Dad passed away of natural causes on a hunting trip with me five years ago but the memories of sitting in his lap and clipping out those photos will never fade.
A recent discovery of one of these scrapbooks in a storage vault brought back a flood of emotions and reminded me that a love of wild sheep has been with me my whole life.
The interview is just one of what will be many broadcasts, articles and investigations on wild sheep and their conservation moving forward.
This includes a forthcoming major feature story on desert bighorn in Texas Fish & Game magazine in the August 2019 issue.
For now check out the podcast. It’s one of the best interviews I have had in 20 years of radio.
Listen to learn about wild sheep of the world and to be inspired by their amazing conservation story.
Seeing a feral hog in thick snow was surreal to me.
I had seen thousands in swamps, cactus thickets and rocky canyons in Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana and Florida but seeing one bust out from behind a tree on a snow-covered hill in Michigan was wild.
This was back in 2001, just 20 years after the first feral hogs were spotted in Michigan. Now they are in virtually every county in the state.
The feral hog issue is definitely most pronounced in the South but hogs are becoming increasingly common in the North.
A decade ago I did an interview with a radio station in New Jersey because they had just opened a hog hunting season and the host wanted advice of dealing with these invasive exotics.
If states on the northern tier of their range in America do not take action then hogs will gain a permanent foothold above the Mason-Dixon line.
Some states have taken an unusual stance on dealing with hogs. They have made hunting them illegal.
It seems counterintuitive to eliminate a potential method of removing many hogs from the landscape.
The reasoning in states like New York, Minnesota and Kansas is the spread of feral hogs has had much to do with ranches that put them behind high fences for hunting. Hogs of course escape and the population outside fences spreads.
I have no doubt this has contributed greatly to the spread of hogs in my native Texas and have written on this in Texas Fish & Game.
It’s a bizarre idea to prohibit a hunter who is out to seek deer for example from killing one when at the end of the day state officials will have to kill hogs to stop their spread.
Perhaps simply banning importing them or transporting live pigs would be better.
It will be interesting to see how management of hogs changes as they multiply.
Will states that ban hunting them see success in their fight against this foreign invader? Or will they have to change their tactics?
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 brought protected status to dozens of then-dwindling North American animals.
Among the first listings were the red wolf, black-footed ferret and ivory-billed woodpecker.
Had the ESA been established in 1900, the American bison would have been listed along with the wild turkey and pronghorn. All of those are game animals now hunted across multiple states with thriving populations.
“It is unprecedented to have so many species come back in such a big way and it has everything to do with the value put on those species and their habitat by hunter-conservationists like our founder Teddy Roosevelt,” said Keith Balfourd with the Boone & Crockett Club.
Since 1900 bison bounced back from 1,000 to 300,000 and wild turkeys went from 30,000 to nearly seven million.
Pronghorns which fell below 20,000 animals now number more than a million.
And it doesn’t stop there.
Whitetail would not have been listed as “endangered” but their population stood at only 500,000 throughout the continent. Now it’s 15,000,000.
Elk were down to 40,000 and now there are more than a million.
Contrast that with the ivory-billed woodpecker which is functionally extinct and the red wolf that exists only through a very small captive-bred introduced population in North Carolina and in various zoos and wildlife centers.
Some ESA-listed animals like the bald eagle have had huge success stories but the rise of game populations managed for hunting rarely gets mentioned in the corporate wildlife media.
One of the first actions of dedicated hunter Roosevelt and the Boone & Crockett Club was to push for the creation of Yellowstone National Park as it was one of the last intact ecosystems with abundant game.
“Roosevelt and the early proponents of Yellowstone faced many obstacles including mining, timber and railroad interests. But they prevailed and Yellowstone’s preservation made it possible to restore dwindling species to other areas,” Balfour said.
Elk from Yellowstone were transplanted to areas where they had been eliminated and so were bison.
As newly created game laws created protection for these animals their numbers began to multiply where they had been stocked. This quickly became the template for wildlife restoration in America.
The key reason for the wild turkey’s monumental increase was bringing excess birds from areas of abundance and releasing into zones with no birds. This practice continues today and has also been a cornerstone for the restoration of everything from bighorn sheep to gray wolves.
What Roosevelt, the early members of the Boone & Crockett Club and other early conservationists tapped into was that wildlife needed areas of sanctuary. And once you establish this, excess animals can be taken from there to areas of need.
To some it might seem ironic.
Hunters pushed for huge areas to be shut down to hunting and then helped create licensing systems that ensured hunting as restricted and managed by the government. On top of that they added licenses and excise taxes on sporting goods to fund conservation projects.
But these hunters knew without making sacrifices the animals they pursued would have been gone forever.
They were visionaries and the pioneering work they did gave hope that wildlife could continue to thrive in the face of growing human population and industrialization. It is not a perfect system but it works better than anything else on the planet thus far.
Many have had a hand in wildlife conservation in North America but few have had the impact of early hunter-conservationists like Roosevelt and the Boone & Crockett Club.
Their legacy lives on-in the woods, on the mountains and across the fruited plain.
A 16-year-old girl wearing a retro Metallica shirt could not believe her eyes.
“I’ve never seen a turkey. He’s so big,” she said.
The young lady was referring to a hefty golden-breasted gobbler we had displayed at Eco-Fest at Shangri-La Botanical Gardens in Orange, TX. The tall, docile bird was strutting his stuff and drawing a crowd.
She was not the only one that was shocked to see a turkey.
Hundreds came by to see it and every one of them left hearing that wild turkeys are the epitome of a wildlife conservation success story.
They also learned East Texas is seeing a return of eastern turkeys due to the efforts of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the hunter-founded National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF).
Our Wild Wishes® program grants wildlife encounters to children with a terminal illness or loss of a parent or sibling. We are mentoring many of them to be conservation ambassadors.
Eleven-year-old Jaxon sat in with the big gobbler and told passers-by about wild turkeys and had lots of fun making turkey calls to incite gobbles.
And if that didn’t get them the baby turkeys did.
We brought two newly hatch bronze-breasted poults and they absolutely blew away everyone who saw them.
“Their wild cousins will be born shortly out in the woods, deserts, swamps and mountains of America. If we want wild turkeys to thrive then we need to make their habitat healthy and do our best to restore them in areas where they are missing,” I told one gentleman.
I’m not saying he shed a tear when I let him pet one of the poults but he was definitely moved.
The wildlife conservation community needs to bring more people in if we want to secure the future for not only wild turkeys but hundreds of other species and their vanishing habitat.
And that will require moving the hearts of the public.
Legendary wildlife host and zoo director “Jungle” Jack Hannah once told me that you must move the heart before you change the mind when it comes to wildlife. He said this while telling kids from our Wild Wishes® program about the value of zoological facilities to conservation and giving props to excise taxes on sporting goods funding everything from game wardens to land acquisitions.
In my opinion, hunting-based conservation groups have done great work in the field but have missed in moving the heart.
I want to conserve turkeys because I grew up in a family that hunted for its food and dreamed of the day I would one day see wild turkeys in the field.
As a youngster there were virtually none in the Pineywoods where I grew up due to poaching, lack of natural fire and habitat loss. Now, groups like the NWTF are helping bring them back.
I first encountered a wild turkey on a day lease in Llano in the Texas Hill Country and since then have had deep reverence for America’s greatest game bird.
Many people left Eco-Fest thinking turkeys were amazing too and were armed with more information about the positive aspects of turkey conservation.
We need to reach a broader audience with a pro-conservation message in ways that people have never considered.
Bringing a big gobbler and some poults to a community event did that and having kids trained up to talk turkey (in Jaxon’s case literally) made people think.
Me and my wife Lisa have dedicated our life to helping hurting children and training them to be wildlife conservationists. We believe these kids are not the next generation of conservationists.
They are the NOW generation.
We have just begun this Turkey Revolution and will unveil many more projects spearheaded by these wonderful young people for not only turkeys but many species.
There is nothing like staring into the eyes of a predator.
Even a glare from captive predators like a leopard at a zoo can send chills down your spine-and in my case in a good way.
I dig that kind of thing.
A few months back I locked eyes with a wild black canid that had been seen in Orange County, TX numerous times. People were calling it the “black coyote”.
Driving down a rural road near my home I saw the creature cross the road and literally stop a couple of feet away from the white line so I did what virtually no one else would do.
I hopped out for a closer look.
Trying to open my camera bag I kept my eye on the beautiful animal that was only 10 feet away. And just as the bag opened, the coyote looked me dead in the eyes and ran off.
So much for getting a photo.
Despite the frustation I was thrilled at the opportunity to see such a magnificent animal and in recent weeks have been getting emails, texts and social media shares of unusual-looking coyotes and other suspect-looking canids.
With the recent red wolf gene rediscovery on the Texas Coast, anything that looks wolf-like in particular makes coyotes even more interesting.
Below are a couple of photos of unique-looking coyotes or perhaps non-coyote canids (hybrids of some sort).
If you have seen unusual coyotes or perhaps a non-coyote canid email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to check them out and share with readers.
Seeing raccoons, opossums and even coyotes in the city is commonplace throughout the American South. But a much larger creature has entered the concrete jungle and its suburban outposts-the feral hog.
Graham, TX isn’t a big city but it has a Wal-Mart, a few hotels and is lined with neighborhoods.
And when Marci Huckobey was headed out to get gas Jan. 17 she did not expect to see an entire sounder of large wild hogs rooting up the manicured city roadside illuminated by the light of the gas station.
But as you can see that is what she encountered.
These are some large hogs in the video above and they are unafraid of the passing vehicle.
Back in 2016 I began writing on what I predicted would be an invasion of hogs into cities in the South and that the very biggest hogs would exist in urban greenbelts and in suburban areas due to a lack of hunting pressure to grow to maximum size and plenty of food and cover.
“Very seldom do we ever run into hogs like this, that are so massive and so big,” said Melbourne wildlife trapper James Dean.
About two weeks ago, Dean received a call reporting “a very large boar hog” that was tearing up sod around a playground, near a school bus stop. A nearby resident also sent him a nighttime photo of the great beast rooting behind a tree.
Locating giant wild boars in city limits is one of three investigations I have been conducting since I took a hiatus from posting here Oct. 2018.
I’m back and you will begin see more stories on this issue and others that are being ignored by the corporate wildlife media.
The red wolf (Canis rufus) has been rediscovered along the Texas Gulf Coast or at least its essence has proven to survive long-thought extinction.
A collaborative effort of Princeton, Trent University, University of Georgia and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium researchers among others makes this claim in a just published study preprint (not yet peer reviewed) at biorxiv.org.
Rediscovering species once thought to be extinct or on the edge of extinction is rare. Red wolves have been extinct along the Gulf Coast region since 1980, with their last populations found in coastal Louisiana and Texas. We report the rediscovery of red wolf ghost alleles in a canid population on Galveston Island, Texas.
Biology Online Dictionary defines an allele as “one member of a pair (or any of the series) of genes occupying a specific spot on a chromosome that controls the same trait.”
An example would be eye color or head shape.
A “ghost allele” is essentially a genetic variant that has disappeared from a population through reduction or some other factor and then rediscovered elsewhere.
In this case it was found in two road-killed wild candid specimens from Galveston Island, TX near the last known stronghold of the red wolf.
Among the first species listed under the Endangered Species Act, the red wolf was declared extinct after decades of relentless predator control and habitat destruction led to strained populations and hybridization with coyotes.
Some 14 of hundreds of canids caught by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) officials were considered to be true representatives of the species and became the genesis of a successful nation-wide captive-breeding program and limited wild restoration effort that exists in North Carolina today.
The study authors note surviving ancestral traits from the shared common ancestor of coyotes and red wolves could have drifted to a high frequency in the captive breeding red wolf population and in a small portion of Gulf Coast coyotes; or wild coyotes in the Gulf Coast region are a reservoir of red wolf ghost alleles that have persisted into the 21st century.
Through interbreeding with coyotes, endangered and extinct red wolf genetic variation has persisted and could represent a reservoir of previously lost red wolf ancestry. This unprecedented discovery opens new avenues for contemporary red wolf conservation and management, where ghost alleles could be re-introduced into the current captive and experimental populations
Noted red wolf researcher and former USFWS biologist Dr. Ron Nowak said the study supports long-standing morphological evidence and visual observations that animals at least partly red wolf have continued to exist along the Texas coast, in other parts of eastern Texas and in Louisiana from the 1970s to the present day.
“This new information should help to stimulate further relevant study that should ascertain the status of red wolf genetic material across larger areas, determine the mechanisms that have enabled survival of such material and develop appropriate management programs,” he said.
Red wolf recovery has been controversial due to a variety of factors, not the least of which is its protection under the Endangered Species Act which spooks some private landowners.
A few scientists have even questioned whether Canis rufus exists at all by hypothesizing it is a fertile gray wolf/coyote hybrid, not a separate species.
Other interests are concerned about recovery impact on deer populations and livestock and the corporate wildlife media have all but ignored the red wolf’s story.
It has never resonated with the public at large like its larger cousin the gray wolf’s comeback in the Yellowstone region, though the red wolf has long been much more at risk.
But the aforementioned essence of the red wolf has survived despite the obstacles and may even be thriving, not only on Galveston Island but in a broader area.
Thousands of hunters, hikers, fishermen and landowners have reported seeing wolves in the Texas-Louisiana region since 1980. They have often been told they saw a coyote or a feral dog, not a wolf.
This study shows that if it looks like a wolf and howls like a wolf that it might not necessarily be fully wolf or fully coyote as we currently understand them.
What people are seeing in Texas and Louisiana however could be wild canids with genetics that could be the key to this misunderstood specie’s survival.
Chester Moore, Jr.
Listen to a podcast on this discovery at The Wildlife Journalist® by clicking below.
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*Study Authors (ElizabethHeppenheimer, Kristin E.Brzeski, RonWooten, WillWaddell, Linda Y.Rutledge, Michael J.Chamberlain, Daniel R.Stahler, Joseph W.Hinton, Bridgett M.vonHoldt)
Black Panther Search 2007—My heart pounded as I saw the silhouette of a black cat move through the tall grass.
Headed toward a clearing on the edge of a bayou it would be only seconds before it stepped into the open.
The fact I was on an expedition to investigate “black panther” sightings in the area added to the excitement.
What was I about to see?
As its head peeked out of the grass at a distance of about 70 yards I thought it might be a jaguarundi,.
When the entire body came out, it was obvious that was not the case.
I estimated this cat to be around 42-45 inches in length, stocky, with a tail longer than the body and sporting a solid, dark coat.
The cat quickly shot into a thin line of cattail that intersected a marsh and I never saw it again.
This was fall of 2007 and I knew I had not seen a jaguarundi or a jaguar or a black cougar. It was a domestic cat or some kind of hybrid and it was bigger than normal. And somehow I knew that when an untrained eye saw this cat -“black panther- would get bestowed upon it quickly.
About two years after that as game camera prices plummeted and smart phones began featuring quality cameras I started getting many cat photos sent by readers. Most of them inquired whether the cat they captured an image of was a “black panther”. A couple asked if it might be a jaguarundi.
All but two of them have been some kind of feral house cat.
And I believe they are the source of the vast majority of “black panther” sightings.
I believe this for three key reasons.
People Cannot Judge Size: I have received dozens of photos of bobcats people sent to me insisting they were cougars. I have now come to the conclusion many cougar sightings in nontraditional habitat are bobcats. I have personally identified dozens of “black panther” sightings as house cats or some kind of hybrid. (We’ll get to that in a minute)
Distribution: Feral house cats are distributed throughout North America, have large populations in many forested areas and are the only known black cat to dwell continent-wide. I have received multiple photos of readers wondering what kind of wild cat they captured on their game camera. It turned out they were white, tabby and other colored feral house cats. People are not prepared to see a feral cat in the woods but they are abundant. When they see a black one they often label it “panther”.
New research in Australia which has a massive feral cat problem suggests these cats are growing to much bigger sizes than anyone would expect. Recent states attributed to Oklahoma wildlife officials state sizes of up to 35 pounds for feral cats.
The photo above was submitted by a landowner who wishes to remain anonymous.
As you can see it features a large black cat with a long tail. The cat has a build somewhat like a domestic cat but it has a very long tail and judging by the size of the cinder blocks it is larger than the average house cat.
In my book Field Guide to Mystery Cats of Texas, I have officially dubbed these “Black Longtails”.
Texas-based researcher Jeff Stewart who captured a similar cat on a game camera in Panola County has an interesting theory.
“One theory I have been working on to explain the sightings of large black cats in the South is that interbreeding could happen between a large cat with no black gene (like a cougar) and another which has the gene then the offspring have the ability to be black or even produce black kittens themselves,” Stewart said.
Hybridization is rampant in cats and stranger things have happened in nature.
These black longtails could simply be feral domestic house cats that are adapting to a wild life. Or maybe there has been some sort of hybridization going on that science has not discovered.
Feral house cats are the key to understanding the bulk of the black panther phenomenon in America.
My research has shown me jaguarundis play a part in this as well and there is a slight chance of melanistic jaguars and bobcats in the mix. We can scratch black cougars off the list as there is no evidence they exist.
The corporate wildlife media have perpetuated the black panther hoax for ratings and web traffic and most amateur researchers including myself have overlooked the obvious as a solution because so many credible witnesses have great panther stories.
On this end the research will continue in the field and by communicating with people throughout the country who hunt, fish, ranch, farm and spend time in nature.
The black longtail is out there and whether is an evolving house cat or something else it is a mystery worth pursuing despite its obviously domestic roots.
Black panthers are the most controversial felid topic in North America.
As noted in part 1 of this series there is no such species recognized as “black panther” anywhere on the planet much less in the United States of America.
The “black panthers” seen in zoos, wildlife demonstrations and in media are melanistic (black) leopards and jaguars. They are anomalies within these species and not a separate one altogether.
So, what are people seeing? There is no doubt there are many, many reports.
The late Don Zaidle who wrote extensively on man-eating animals was doing some research on wild cats and suggested 16 years ago I look at the jaguarundi as a possible “black panther” suspect. Shortly after I actually saw one of these cats north of their accepted range and it sort of clicked that people could be seeing them and labeling “black panther”.
After all, virtually no one outside of hardcore wildlife fans even knows that jaguarundi exists so “black panther” is an easy tag to give them.
Jaguarundis are known to range from South America to the Mexican borders of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. The key word here is “known”. That means scientists have observed or captured the species within those areas, however they are reported to range much farther north in the Lone Star State and perhaps elsewhere.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials solicited information from the public and received numerous reports of the species in the 1960s, including several sightings from central and east Texas. Additional sightings were reported from as far away as Florida, Oklahoma, and Colorado
In a study conducted in 1984, TPWD biologists noted a string of unconfirmed jaguarundi sightings in Brazoria County, which corners the hugely populated areas of both Houston and Galveston.
Brazoria County is more than 200 miles north of the counties of Cameron and Willacy, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has designated as being the only confirmed areas of Texas that houses jaguarundis.
I saw mine in Jefferson County which is 300 miles north of their accepted range and have fielded multiple reliable reports from the region-even one from a wildlife biologist.
There are some black panther reports howefer that do not fit the mold of the jaguarundi.
The aforementioned jaguar is a potential candidate because they exhibit melanism and once ranged into Louisiana to the east and California to the west with some accounts as far north as Oklahoma before being considered eliminated in the United States.
Jaguars in the last 15 years have been proven to move in and out of New Mexico and Arizona although the last known American-traveling jaguar was killed in Mexico.
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 now have three specific reports that after interviewing eyewitnesses lead me to believe they possibly could have seen a jaguar. Two are in Texas and on is in Louisiana. Two of those are standard colored jaguars and the other is melanistic.
It is unlikely that all black panther reports are melanistic jaguars. In fact none of the alleged panther videos or photos I have seen even look like jaguars so that eliminates them as the top suspect in these cases although the jury is out on a few accounts I have investigated.
Another possible source is melanistic bobcats. Bobcats have been documented to produce melanistic offspring and I know for a fact many people cannot judge their size.
In the last 12 months I have examined more than a dozen game camera photos sent by readers who thought they had captured a cougar but had really gotten a large bobcat or in a couple of cases one with an extra long tail.
That’s no slight on the people sending the photos. Unless you deal with these animals it can be hard to gauge.
If people are thinking standard bobcats are cougars could some of the melanistic ones be called black panthers?
It is possible.
I believe the answer to this mystery does not fall with a solitary species but several and I believe the bulk of reports come from a source I will write on the third installment that has some pretty compelling evidence.
Southwest Louisiana–A pink Atlantic bottlenose dolphin has stolen hearts and been the subject of many social media discussions along the Gulf Coast dating back to the mid 2000s.
I have personally shot still photos of the creature and captured it on video along with writing about it here at The Wildlife Journalist®.
You can see a video captured by a reader in 2016 in the Gulf off of Louisiana here.
You can view my 2013 video filmed in the ship channel near Cameron, La. (Lake Calcasieu area) here.
A recent ground-breaking video captured by Capt. Thomas Adams gives proof of what many have suspected-there is more than one pink dolphin in the area.
On Aug. 17 he captured two pink dolphins jumping in front of a ship in the Calcasieu Ship Channel.
Capt. Adams has been gracious enough to allow us to use the video here.
There have been rumors of multiple pink dolphins in the Calcasieu system but this is the first concrete proof I have seen.
According to Heidi Whitehead with the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network, at least one pink dolphin has been observed for more than a decade.
We initially began receiving reports of the “pink” bottlenose in Calcasieu in 2007 and we worked with NOAA to educate people and reduce vessel traffic around the animal for the protection of the animal because there were so many wanting to get out to see it. There was also a pink dolphin observed in the Houston ship channel near Bolivar several years ago but it has not been confirmed whether or not this was a different animal than the Calcasieu one as we have seen evidence from our photo-ID work that dolphins travel between Galveston and Louisiana.
Whitehead earlier this year provided us with a fact sheet from NOAA on pink and white dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico and it includes accounts from other locations.
The first (report) was reported during the summer of 1994 in Little Lake near New Orleans, Louisiana. The all-white dolphin was spotted in a group of 4-5 individuals for 20 to 30 minutes and never seen again. In September 2003, another all white dolphin calf was first observed in a group of more than 40 dolphins south of Galveston, Texas. It was re-sighted several times in the same vicinity through August 2004 (Fertl et al., 1999; Fertl et al., 2004).
This is what NOAA has to say about “Pinky” from the Lake Calcasieu area.
Although the dolphin is often referred to as a “pink” dolphin because of its pink coloration, it is considered an albino. The dolphin’s mother is not albino and has the gray coloring typical of coastal bottlenose dolphins. Dolphin calves are typically born dark gray in color.
According to NOAA there have been “white” dolphin sightings along the eastern seaboard of the United States.
Other “white” dolphins have been sighted in the Southeast U.S. between 2012-2014, these include off the coast of South Carolina, NE Florida and Georgia, and in the Indian River Lagoon, Florida
If you see a pink or white dolphin call the Southeast US Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 1-877-433-8299. They are interested in getting information on these unique animals.
Anomalies in nature matter because they raise awareness to the beauty and importance of wildlife and in this case also the forgotten sea called The Gulf of Mexico.
Chester Moore, Jr.
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The Investigations of Award-Winning Writer, Photographer & Conservationist Chester Moore