Tag Archives: the wildlife journalist

He always wanted to kill a manatee

“I’ve always wanted to kill a manatee”.

That statement was among the first comments on the photo of a manatee stranded in Tampa Bay as Hurricane Irma sucked water out of that vast ecosystem.

It would be easy to pass that off as a typical Internet idiot stirring trouble but when you look at the profile and see it was an adult male who made the comment and followed up with other disturbing quotes you see something is very wrong here.

This was not a non-indigenous feral hog that displaces native wildlife or a game animal like a whitetail deer or wild turkey that are hunted and eaten by licensed hunters. It was a manatee-a gentle giant of the seagrass flats.

It was a manatee-a highly protected species.

The “kill the manatee” comments (and others like it circulating on the Web) are reminiscent of the dolphin shooting I covered in Texas in 2015.

Two teenage boys actually shot a dolphin, one that was disillusioned after wandering into freshwater nonetheless with a fishing arrow.

That killing probably made some of the people I dealt with in the Texas flounder regulation debate back in 2008 happy.

This is an actual regulatory suggestion I got from someone and my reply.

“They are always out there in the passes flipping those flounder out of the water and eating them. The dolphins are getting more populous and they eat more flounder than we ever kill, so we should enact some dolphin population control.”

“So, you’re saying we should shoot Flipper to save the flounder?,” I asked.

“Yes, pretty much.”

Somehow the idea of setting up dolphin sharpshooters in our bays and passes did not seem like it would fly with not only the public but wildlife managers.

“Come to the Texas coast where we blew away 500 dolphins last year!”

Not exactly good Chamber of Commerce material, is it?

Soon however, the tide turned away from dolphin eradication to redfish annihilation

“There are just too many redfish. They are eating all of the baby flounder. That is why flounder numbers are down.”

This is reminiscent of the late 1990s when commercial fishermen in Louisiana tried to get gill and strike nets legalized for redfish once again because the reds were “wiping out the crabs.”

A decline in blue crab numbers could not possibly have been related to the insane number of crab traps set in Bayou State waters but had to have been redfish, which as far as we know have been co-existing with crabs forever.

At the end of the day those who kill protected animals (or fantasize about doing so) do it because they want to.

They choose to do so.

But I wonder what contributing factors are at play.

Is it a rural version of the mall fights and other random violence we have seen in larger cities or some kind of other pent up anger?

Is it the hardened stance against anything labeled “green” or “environmental” or “endangered” that is pervasive in sectors of the hunting community?

I can’t tell you how many people have told me jokes about spotted owl and whooping crane gumbo I have been told over the years.

There is probably no way to tell but it needs to stop and a true respect for all wildlife needs to be front and center.

We need as a community of outdoors lovers to rebuild the platform by which we teach conservation to the young and instill pride in the fact that we have incredible wildlife resources here and that taking beyond what the law offers depletes them.

We need to use these shameful moments as teachable ones and talk about consequence.

I have swam with manatees in the Crystal River in Florida three times and they were some of the most amazing experiences of my life.

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Photo

I also grew up deer, duck and hog hunting.

Yet somehow I have never wanted to kill a manatee or a bald eagle or a dolphin.

It is because I was brought up to respect the resource and only take what I could eat. The idea of someone chuckling at the plight of a manatee sickens me.

Part of it is because I love these great animals but even more so I am troubled over a public where comments like that end up turning to actions like the aforementioned dolphin shot by Texas teens.

We have to move forward with conservation and a deep respect for wildlife and shame those who want to destroy it.

Wise stewardship should be celebrated whether its enacted by Ducks Unlimited or the Save the Manatee group.

Wildlife needs our help and thankfully the stranded manatee got it.

The keyboard warrior who wanted to kill one was probably too busy surfing the Web in his mother’s basement, living the kind of pathetic life trolls live.

In this case, the manatee won.

Thank God.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Key deer major concern as Irma hammers Florida

The average elevation of Big Pine Key off the mainland coast of Florida is three feet.

Early reports of storm surge from Hurricane Irma hitting Big Pine Key is 10 feet.

Big Pine Key is home to the majority of the federally endangered key deer, the smallest subspecies of whitetail and it is headquarters of National Key Deer Refuge.

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Key Deer have had a rough go of it in the last couple of years.

“While there had been no screwworm outbreaks in the U.S. for the past 30 years, one began last July (2016) on Big Pine Key, which affected the Key deer population,” said Dr. Roel Lopez, institute director and co-principal investigator for the Key deer study, San Antonio, a project of Texas A&M University.

Last year screwworms infested the population, which is spread across more than 20 islands. It has led to 135 Key deer deaths, including 83 that were euthanized to reduce the risk of further infection.

“This was a significant blow to a species of which is uniquely located in that area and has an estimated population of just 875,” said Lopez, who noted the mortalities were chiefly among adult males.

We will be contacting officials with the key deer study as well as at National Key Deer Refuge to monitor what is happening with the species.

A 10 foot surge could have serious consequences to all wildlife of the keys but the key deer is the most vulnerable. And they have already been hit by a severe (proportionally speaking) screwworm outbreak.

Mid-day Monday we found a report at the Miami Herald about the species.

Dan Clark superintendent of the National Key Deer Refuge, said his first priority as the massive storm approached was to evacuate National Wildlife Refuge personnel assigned to the area.

“After we receive information from Monroe County that it is safe to return and we can inhabit the Lower Keys, a post-storm assessment of our facilities and residences will be conducted to determine if we can operate,” Clark said.

As we get updates we will keep you updated.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Harvey aftermath: Dioxins, PCBs and other pollutants impacting children and women of child-bearing age

The waters of Galveston Bay south of Houston and Sabine Lake in the Golden Triangle area (Beaumont/Port Arthur/Orange) have had a tremendous amount of water pollution history.

The Houston/Galveston area has numerous superfund sites which are designated major pollution sites that need years and sometimes decades worth of cleanup efforts.

These pollutants have already impacted wildlife and found their way into the human population via fishing which is very popular in the region.

With many superfund sites underwater and flooding into neighborhoods, marshes and into fisheries what will happen in the long run?

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Speckled trout, the most popular sport fish on the Texas coast, absorbs several potentially deadly pollutants.

What are the threats to wildlife and people?

These warnings come from the Texas Department of Health and have been established in the area for years.

Sabine Lake and contiguous Texas waters in Jefferson and Orange counties (Chemical of Concern: Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

*For gafftopsail catfish, adults should limit consumption to no more than three 8-ounce meals per month.

*Children under 12 and women who are pregnant, nursing or may become pregnant should limit consumption to no more than one 4-ounce meal per month

Houston Ship Channel and all contiguous waters north of the Fred Hartman Bridge, State Highway 146 including the San Jacinto River below the Lake Houston dam (Chemicals of Concern: Dioxins, Organochlorine pesticides, Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

*For all species of fish and blue crabs, adults should limit consumption to no more than one, 8-ounce meal per month.

*Women of childbearing age and children under 12 should not consume any fish or blue crabs from this area.

Upper Galveston Bay and all contiguous waters north of a line drawn from Red Bluff Point to Five-Mile Cut Marker to Houston Point (Chemicals of Concern: Dioxins and Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

*For all species of catfish, spotted seatrout and blue crab, adults should limit consumption to no more than one, 8-ounce meal per month.

*Children under 12 and women of childbearing age should not consume spotted seatrout, blue crabs or any catfish species from this area.

Galveston Bay and all contiguous waters including Chocolate Bay, East Bay, Trinity Bay and West Bay (Chemicals of Concern: Dioxins and Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

*For all species of catfish, adults should limit consumption to no more than one, 8-ounce meal per month.

*Children, and women who are nursing, pregnant or who may become pregnant should not consume catfish from these waters.

This brings a frightening element to the old statement, “You are what you eat”.

Lets pray for these pollutants to not impact people already devastated in the region for much wiser stewardship of our resources.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Harvey: Huge wild boar visits neighborhood (video)-this will be a common site in some areas

Don’t let the name The Woodlands fool you.

Yes, it is beautifully developed with plenty of trees and greenbelts but The Woodlands is part of the Houston area and it is usually bustling with human activity.

After Hurricane Harvey’s torrential rains hit the area last weekend, wildlife from the local forests started to invade the neighborhoods.

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(Photo courtesy CJoslinROCK)

Jon Joslin captured this footage of a massive wild boar that came trotting through the yard as if it owned the place.

This is exactly what we warned would happen in an earlier entry explaining that the Houston area has a massive feral hog and coyote population that floodwaters would reveal.

Texas’ feral hog population estimates are in the three million range with some believing that is very conservative. Feral hogs have officially become the most harvested game animal in Texas with more than 750,000 taken by hunters and trappers. That is more than 150,000 above the state’s annual whitetail harvest and Texas has by far the largest deer harvest in the nation.

Feral hogs despite their reputation are not out to get people-well at least most of them aren’t.

Scientists have recently uncovered a profile of killer hogs-yes those that kill people and we reported on it here.

You might now want to read that one before going to bed-or a camping trip. Yeah, its kind of creepy.

Most hogs however want to be left alone but animals stressed by being displaced in a flood situation just might be more prone to lashing out than one you see while taking a stroll on your favorite hiking trail.

If you see a hog during these flooding conditions chances are it it not someone’s pet. Keep in mind not all feral hogs are black. Many are brown, some are white, others spotted and even blonde.

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Feral hogs are not all black. In fact they can have a range of colors. (US Fish & Wildlife Service Photo)

Even sows (females) can be aggressive. Sows with young are particularly testy.

By all means do not feed any hogs you see in the area. Habituating them to your property is a bad idea at every level. Even in the best case scenario your yard will look like someone plowed it for agriculture.

As the human tragedy of Hurricane Harvey continues to unfold, displaced wildlife will be encountered by thousands.

The best play is to stay a safe distance, especially in the case of hogs.

That way you and the hog can stay out of trouble.

Chester Moore, Jr. 

 

Rat hordes biggest wildlife threat in Harvey aftermath

“Rats!”

“Thousands of them! Millions of them!”

The famous quote from Dwight Frye’s portrayal of Renfield in 1931’s Dracula shows a crazed man obsessed with large number of rodents.

There is no question that thousands and perhaps millions of rats have been displaced in Houston and outlying areas in the historic flooding of Hurricane Harvey.

And they are the most likely of displaced animals to cause problems.

Rats are excellent swimmers and climbers and while some will no doubt have perished most will survive.

The Houston area has had an increase rat problem this summer as show by this video from ABC 13.

According to the Center of Disease Control rats and their kind are major disease carriers.

Worldwide, rats and mice spread over 35 diseases. These diseases can be spread to humans directly, through handling of rodents, through contact with rodent feces, urine, or saliva, or through rodent bites. Diseases carried by rodents can also be spread to humans indirectly, through ticks, mites or fleas that have fed on an infected rodent.

Immediately some locations on high ground will find themselves covered with large numbers of rats. And while rats do not typically “attack” people, stressed ones are more likely to bite. The main threat would be children picking them up and pets encountering them.

Britannica_Rat_-_Brown_Rat

During my coverage of Hurricane Ike in 2008, I learned of a family that stayed in the path of the massive of Hurricane only a few miles from the beach and had to retreat into the attic and eventually the roof. As waters rose, rats inundated the small strip of high ground along with snakes from the nearby marsh.

Rats that can stay together will. They have a very strong social order.

But those separate by flooding conditions are still resilient.

Rodents that survive a disaster often move to new areas. It will take time for rodents to regroup, reorganize their social behavior, become familiar with their new environment, find safe haven, locate food and water, and memorize their movements according to CDC officials.

Colony building and reproduction will begin only when their new ecosystem has stabilized. This typically takes 6 to 10 months under favorable conditions. As the rodent population grows and resettles, people have a greater chance of being exposed to the diseases carried by rodents. Rodent urine and dander also contain allergens that can cause allergic reactions or trigger asthma symptoms in sensitive persons and more than 9,000 persons are treated in emergency departments annually for rat or mouse bites.

And something very few people consider is that a large number of rats found in America cities are a foreign invader-the Norway rat.

Dispersed around the world on ships these highly resilient animals can chew through virtually anything. These animals can outcompete native rodents for space and food and will survive virtually anything-including Hurricanes and floods.

CDC officials warn damaged or abandoned homes and other buildings may be infested with rodents.

In the aftermath of Harvey if you see signs of rodents, the building will need to be thoroughly cleaned.

Here are a few CDC tips for cleaning up after rats.

*Do not vacuum or sweep rodent urine, rodent droppings, or contaminated surfaces that have not been disinfected.

*Spray urine and droppings with a disinfectant or a 1:10 chlorine solution (1½ cups of household bleach mixed with 1 gallon of water) until thoroughly soaked.

*Let it soak for 5 minutes.

*Use a paper towel to remove urine and droppings.

*Discard the paper towel outdoors in a sealed garbage container.

Make sure and educate children about rats and let them know not to approach or pick up any live or dead. If a child (or adult) is bitten by a rat get medical treatment immediately.

Its doubtful anyone will see “thousands of rats” and certainly not “millions”.

But for those of us who don’t much like these pests it can only take one to drive us crazy or at least feel that way.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Harvey’s Houston flooding will put urban coyotes, hogs on the move

The catastrophic flooding hitting the Houston area now due to Hurricane Harvey’s rain bands stalling will push the significant coyote and feral hog population out into the open.

The drainage ditch systems as well as the green belts near White Oak, Buffalo and Brays Bayou system are where coyotes dwell and use to travel throughout the metropolitan area.

How far do coyotes penetrate into this vast urban zone?

I saw a fresh road kill last year 1/4 mile east of the I-59 exit off of Interstate 10. They will be roaming the streets now and seeking shelter.

Coyote
Coyotes are common through the Greater Houston area from the Katy prairie to the bayou systems down. (US Fish & Wildlife Service Photo)

Most of the time coyotes are not a problem for people but when frightened and hungry threats can go up. Coyotes are also a rabies vector and can carry distemper so caution is wise for pet owners.

If you are in an impacted area consider the following to avoid coyote contact:

*Keep garbage inside or at least keep the lid on your cans.

*Feed your dogs and cats inside.

*Do not attempt to feed coyotes or any stray dog you might come across. Some have problems distinguishing dogs and coyotes.

*If your dog has to go walk it on a leash and keep walks short and away from any wooded areas or cover.

In addition to coyotes, feral hogs are an increasing issue in the Houston area with significant numbers along the eastern Beltway 8 corridor, in the wooded areas near Pasadena, Texas City and virtually all of the northern tier communities.

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Feral hogs are great swimmer and will find their way to safe ground with no problem. In this case that might mean someone’s backyard. (US Fish & Wildlife Service Photo)

Feral hogs can be much more aggressive than coyotes especially when stressed and may be brazen enough to walk through parks, neighborhoods and yards as if they own the place.

If you see a hog during these flooding conditions chances are it it not someone’s pet. Keep in mind not all feral hogs are black. Many are brown, some are white, others spotted and even blonde.

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Feral hogs are not all black. In fact they can have a range of colors. (US Fish & Wildlife Service Photo)

And while they are not out to get anyone, they have no problem letting someone feel their wrath if cornered. Do not approach any hog.

Few Houston area residents realize the depth of wildlife in their communities. Now, due to these catastrophic floods they will get perhaps a very up close look.

Use these tips to ensure both humans and wildlife stay safe during this tragic event.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Hurricane Harvey might cause snake “migration”

Hurricane Harvey is likely to cause a “migration” of rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and other snakes common to the Texas coastline near Rockport, Port Lavaca and Port Aransas.

There is no question storms move snakes. Floodwaters push up debris that snakes pile on and they get a free ride sometimes dozens of miles inland.

The area being impacted by Hurricane Harvey has a sizable population of rattlesnakes on the islands along the Intracoastal Canal and higher ground in the marshes as well as abundant cottonmouths.

Snake migration via hurricane has happened before.

In fact it happened nine years ago after Hurricane Ike hit the Upper Texas Coast.

In 16 years (as of 2008) of covering every aspect of outdoors and wildlife in Southeast Texas and having looked for snakes in the region since I was nine, I had never heard of a western diamondback rattlesnake east of Galveston Island.

Immediately after Hurricane Ike (2008) I interviewed a man who killed a large diamondback on Pleasure Island on Sabine Lake 50 miles to the east of Galveston.

Then within two years more and more stories of western diamondbacks in the region started to surface.

A capture reported to us by veteran local meteorologist Greg Bostwick gave us photographic evidence of diamondbacks in the area.

“The snake was captured alive about one mile south of my house in Chambers County and was about 4.5 feet long,” Bostwick said.

The snake was found north of Winnie, and that is not typical diamondback territory.

The western diamondback captured by Greg Bostwick.

Shortly before Bostwick’s capture, the late Mike Hoke, at the time director of Shangri-La Botanical Gardens, said a diamondback was found during an expedition a while back at the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge in Sabine Pass.

It surprised him and his team.

Cottonmouths can deliver a damaging bite.

There is no doubt snakes will be found in larger numbers in some areas after this storm than many would expect.

Here are safety tips to consider.

#Debris piles should be avoided. They can be thick with snakes as can high levees in flooded areas.

#Snakes can remain hidden in impressive fashion. When returning to flooded homes and beach cabins check every nook and cranny before allowing children or pets to come back in.

#In the event of storm surge snakes will be looking for fresh water. Be cautious around any fresh water source including toilets in homes in impacted areas.

The snakes are not out to get anyone but they are as stressed as anyone so be cautious navigating these flooded zones.

Rattlesnakes don’t always rattle and as I can attest cottonmouths often do not show their white mouth to avoid being bitten.

But when they do they are saying “Don’t tread on me!”

Wise people don’t.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

The ultimate red wolf podcast! (audio)

Last week I had  Kim Wheeler, Executive Director of the Red Wolf Coalition, on my radio program “Moore Outdoors” on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI.

It was without a question the most in-depth, detailed program we have ever done on red wolves in the nearly 19 year history of the program and you can listen to it right here via podcast.

We discuss history of the species, controversies surrounding its introduction, success of the captive breeding program and future of this misunderstood and highly endangered mammal.

If you like wolves tune in. It will open your eyes to the mysterious world of Canis rufus.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Interview with “Wild America” creator-Marty Stouffer

Remember “Wild America”?

According to Wikipedia, “Wild America” was one of PBS’s most highly rated regular series, never leaving the top ten, and in more than one year, it was the number one highest rated regular series to air on the network.

It remains the most-broadcast series ever aired on public television.

I had an opportunity to interview its creator and host and one of my earliest wildlife inspirations, Marty Stouffer, on my radio program “Moore Outdoors” on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI.

We covered quite a bit of ground and the thing I found most fascinating about not only his series but the interview itself was the emphasis not just on big animals like bears and mountain lions but the smaller, more mysterious side of nature.

He mentioned a program on shrews and those are near and dear to my heart believe it or not. We also had a great chance to talk about the past, present and future of outdoors video. It was a true honor to have him on and we look forward to more discussions in the future.

Click the link above to listen to a show that according to Nielsen ratings, was viewed by more than 450 million viewers.

Chester Moore, Jr.

YO Headquarters: Giraffe Encounter & Wildlife Tour

Mountain Home, TX—Since she was two years old, giraffes have been my daughter Faith’s favorite animal.

It started when I bought her a gigantic plush giraffe on a road trip and she named it “raff raff” and has continued throughout the last eight years.

We jumped at the opportunity to let her meet giraffes in a safe, naturalistic setting and that is exactly what the wildlife tour at YO Headquarters provides.

Faith was nervous when the giraffe’s gigantic tongue reached out to grab the cookie she held but soon had a huge smile on her face and was as she said, “a bit of an expert” on feeding the animal of her dreams in short order.

“My dream came true,” she said.

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Faith’s first encounter with YO Headquarter’s giraffes was featured in the May 2016 edition of Texas Fish and Game.

You just can’t beat that kind of statement from your children.

“The giraffes are just amazing. They thrill everyone who visits them here in one of two huge pastures where we take our wildlife tours,” said Debbie Hagebusch, Director of Tourism for YO Headquarters.

Texas outdoors lovers know the YO Ranch for its exotic wildlife and Texas-sized mystique.

Steeped in history, the Y.O. Ranch remained the property of the Schreiner Family since 1880 when Captain Charles A. Schreiner began amassing the 566,000 acres of ranch land in the aftermath of the Civil War. From its humble beginnings as a vast ranch land, carrying through five generations, Y.O. Headquarters will continue operating as a premiere destination according to Hagebusch.

In October 2015, Byron and Sandra Sadler and their partners Lacy and Dorothy Harber purchased nearly 5,400 acres of the historical Y.O. Ranch.

A journey through the cedar and live oak thickets on the ranch is unlike virtually any other on the planet. On our first excursion we saw eland, the world’s largest antelope, a herd of gorgeous red sheep and a trio of zebras.

“We really have a lot to offer and it is in a part of the world that has a unique beauty. There is something special about walking outside of a cabin and looking out to the distance and seeing giraffes or Pere’ David’s deer and maybe get a glimpse of an eagle flying overhead,” Hagebusch said.

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Demi Schlagater feeds one of the giraffes at YO Headquarters.

Since that first trip, I have returned three times, including taking a young boy from our Kingdom Zoo’s “Wild Wishes” program that grants exotic animal encounters to children who have a terminal illness or have lost a parent or sibling. YO Headquarters has welcome our wish kids with open arms.

The giraffe encounter was powerful for the young boy as was seeing a beautiful and rare white buffalo as we took the seven mile trek from the ranch house to the gate on Highway 41.

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The white buffalo that lives at YO Headquarters.

My most recent excursion involved returning with my wife and daughter and our young friend Demi who has served tirelessly in our ministry. She wanted to meet the giraffes and I needed some more wildlife photos so to YO Headquarters we went.

This time we got to see baby wildebeests born just a day before, view a super rare pair of white sika deer. I have seen thousands of sika and have never even heard of white ones until this trip.

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A pair of white sika deer at YO Headquarters. The one to the left is an even greater rarity. Most whites turn the cream color of the one on the right at adulthood.

And of course the giraffes were incredible.

Most that have never been to southern Africa don’t realize the Texas Hill Country looks very much like South Africa or Zimbabwe. That is why so much of the African game does well here.

And it is one reason why seeing a giraffe peek its head over the trees from a mile away in the huge enclosure is a special treat and it’s even more special when they come up close and you can see some of God’s most beautiful creations in living color, just a few feet away.

Even as someone who has had many tremendous wildlife encounters it gives me goose bumps every time.

For more information click here.