Tag Archives: the wildlife journalist

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.

Mississippi_Feral_hog_swimming_(5736777867)
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.

Wild_hogs
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.

faith yo
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.

demi giraffe
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.

white buffalo
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.

photo 2 white sika
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.

 

The Truth about the Blacktip Shark (Attacks and more)

My first encounter with a blacktip shark came while soaking a big hunk of cut mullet behind a shrimp boat in the Gulf of Mexico.

I will never forget seeing the streamlined fish burst from the water like a wayward rocket and achieve an almost marlin-like tail walk on the sandy green surface. To my fishing hosts, this was just another annoying shark but to this young angler it was an amazing moment.

These sharks are popular and important for sport anglers on the Gulf Coast, yet they are greatly misunderstood.

chester shark venice 2
The author with a large blacktip shark caught and released near Venice, La. in Oct. 2012.

For starters, all “blacktips” are not necessarily blacktips.

Young bull sharks are sometimes mistaken for blacktips by novice anglers due to the black markings on their fins but on closer inspection, the rounded nose and bulldog like appearance of the bull is a striking contrast to the sleek blacktip.

The spinner shark however is much more difficult to differentiate from blacktips. In fact, many veteran anglers and biologists have a hard time telling the difference at first glance.

They are very similar in body shape and size and both are quite acrobatic when hooked although the spinner twists like a tornado as the name implies while blacktips do more straight jumps.

The best way to tell them apart is the anal fin on the spinner is black whereas the blacktips is not. In reality, the spinner has more black on its tips than the blacktip in most cases.

If you were to ask anglers if these species were dangerous, most would answer with a resounding “No” since they are not in the lexicon of deadly sharks.

In fact, the Discovery Channel produced a highly rated program about the top 10 most dangerous sharks and neither made the list, while both the oceanic whitetip and shortfin mako did.

Those species rank far below both the blacktip and spinner in terms of unprovoked attacks on humans according to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

ISAF data show blacktips are responsible for 28 unprovoked attacks and 13 provoked attacks (think feeding, harassing, etc.). Spinners have been responsible for 15 unprovoked attacks, and one on the provoked side.

For comparison, the oceanic whitetip committed five unprovoked and three provoked attacks, while the shortfin mako dished out 8 unprovoked attacks and 15 provoked.

tfg shark cover
Photo courtesy NOAA

In the network’s defense, its list featured numerous factors, including fatalities, size, and likelihood to encounter humans, which would obviously put species like the great white above many other known attackers, but in terms of raw attack data, blacktips and spinners deserve our respect.

They are also species humans are likely to encounter in shallow water along beaches, where anglers tote stringers of speckled trout and other sport fishes, not to mention the scores of swimmers.

It is also possible blacktips and spinners are responsible for more attacks than ISAF can accurately list.

“Positive identification of attacking sharks is very difficult, since victims rarely make adequate observations of the attacker during the ‘heat’ of the interaction,” according to George H. Burgess of ISAF.

“Tooth remains are seldom found in wounds, and diagnostic characters for many requiem sharks (including blacktips and spinners) are difficult to discern even by trained professionals.

“Realistically, almost any shark in the right size range, roughly 6 feet (1.8 meters) or greater, is a potential threat to humans because, even if a bite is not intended as a directed feeding attempt on a human, the power of the jaw and tooth morphology can lead to injury.”

This does not mean you should start worrying about becoming a blacktips next meal. After all, shark attacks are rare no matter the species. However, you might want to give them a bit more respect because the statistics don’t lie.

They deserve it.

Chester Moore, Jr.

NMFS Sea Turtle Facility

Yesterday our journey through the “Wild Gulf”-our summer long quest to raise awareness to wildlife of the Gulf of Mexico paid a visit to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) sea turtle facility at Galveston, TX.

Since 1978, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has been participating in an international Sea Turtle recovery program. Currently the NMFS Galveston Sea Turtle Facility is participating in a variety of projects including injured and sick turtle rehabilitation, satellite tracking of wild turtles and numerous studies involving Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs).

We will post more on sea turtles later this month but for now here are some photos from yesterday.

IMG_0772
Kingdom Zoo’s Rachel enjoyed seeing the one-year-old loggerheads.
IMG_0766.jpg
Loggerheads are the most abundant sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico but that doesn’t mean their populations are healthy. They are down to around three percent of estimated historic levels.
IMG_0787 (1)
Erin and Abby learned what to do if they find a sea turtle stranded on a beach and were impressed with the amount of effort that goes into conserving these endangered marine reptiles.

For more information on the facility click here.

Deadly jellyfish found in Texas-Gulf waters!

One of the most dangerous of all sea creatures is the box jellyfish.

They are famously abundant in Australian waters where fatalities are reported on an annual basis.

They are also present in the Gulf of Mexico.

In the Gulf, we have the four-handed box jellyfish, a species I was made aware of by Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) biologist Jerry Mambretti in 2014.

“Our gulf sampling crew caught four-handed box jellyfish, Chiropsalmus quadrumanus, a member of the class Cubozoa, in 3 separate trawl samples about 2 miles off McFaddin NWR beach,” Mambretti said at the time.

“Box jellyfish are known for the extremely potent venom produced by some species, including this species, which is normally found in the west Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean. Their sting is very venomous and dangerous to humans, especially children.”

Tripedalia-cystophora-Bielecki
Box jellyfish from the Caribbean. Public Domain Photo

A study by William Guest noted the species has been known to be abundant in the Matagorda Bay system in the 1950s and their presence has a lot to do with salinity levels..

“The development of a large population coincided with drought conditions and high bay salinities along the Texas Gulf coast. When bay salinities dropped considerably in 1957 the jellyfish disappeared. The jellyfish were found to be living on or near the bottom at all times and preferred areas of soft mud.”

TPWD recommends for most jellyfish stings to splash the area with salt water.

“Then apply a paste of unseasoned meat tenderizer. Don’t press the skin. The pain should go away within an hour. Regular vinegar or a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water also work to alleviate pain.”

If you think you have been stung by a box jellyfish however seek medical attention immediately. Encounters are rare but the potential for serious problems exist if you do happen to bump into one of these tiny creatures.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Hidden reason for red wolf extinction

Canis rufus, the red wolf, is one of the most endangered mammals on the planet.

With fewer than 50 released into the wild from captive breeding facilities that house around 200 nationwide, they have remained on the brink since their officially declared extinction from the wild in 1980.

While the possibility of remnant, hidden populations exist, their numbers are a tiny in comparison to their former range from the eastern seaboard into Central Texas.

The reason for their extinct designation is they hybridized with coyotes to create a genetic mutt of sorts, the “coywolf”, which still has many representatives in Texas and Louisiana.

A seldom mentioned aspect of the red wolf’s story, however, is targeted eradication.

What caused coyotes to push eastward from their stronghold in the west so quickly was that the vast majority of red wolves had been killed and in large portion through a variety of state-sponsored programs.

This created a vacuum and nature abhors a vacuum.

wolf history
Page 149 of the document shows a government predator control agent with a “black wolf”. Black was a common color for Canis rufus in many parts of its range.

I recently came across a copy of the 1946-47 Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Biennial Report that goes into detail about wolves in the state.

Under the headline “Predator Control” the following information is given.

“The Legislature of 1946 increased hunting license fees to $2.00. Twenty five percent of these funds (the increase) were dedicated to predator control.”

“There has been a great increase in the predators of the State. Undoubtedly a great deal of the increase was due to war conditions which took many men away from farms, lack of ammunition and difficulties due to travel restrictions in certain sections of the State. The increase in our foxes brought on an epidemic of rabies and a tremendous increase in wolves and bobcats brought on a terrific loss to our ground-nesting birds, to our mammals, particularly rabbits and our young deer.”

The text goes on to say they hired an official predator control supervisor and had two trappers working under him.

In all fairness it says their desire was to bring a “proper balance” between predators and prey but there was no doubt large-scale predator control aimed directly at red wolves in the state.

The “black wolf” you see in the photo is a red wolf. Red was the primary colors in the Texas region but the red wolf was once called Canis niger (Niger is “black” in Latin) due to its primarily black color in many parts of the South.

As far this writer knows there have never been any melanistic red wolves in the captive breeding program consisting of 14 animals taken chiefly from eastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana, showing at least in the strain of wolves initially captured the black strain was not present.

It is most likely gone forever.

Similar projects were initiated in most if not all states in the red wolf’s range on top of unrestricted harvest by anyone with a gun, leg hold trap or poison.

We have come a long way in wildlife management in the country in many ways  but it is always good to look back so we don’t repeat the same mistakes.

Mark Twain once said “History doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes”.

It is up to us to figure make sure when it comes to wildlife good science trumps politics and conservation reigns supreme even in the hotly contested world of predator management.

Management is one thing, eradication is entirely something else.

Chester Moore, Jr.