Tag Archives: the wildlife journalist

Guy Harvey and the Gulf’s missing shark

A long time ago in the far, far reaches of the Gulf of Mexico...

The contrasting bars of the pilot fish create a striking image in the cobalt blue waters just beyond the continental shelf. Swimming in unison they dart, twist and turn in natural aquatic harmony.

Suddenly, from amongst the motion a strong form emerges.

Swimming with focus and purpose, the white bars on its fins reveal the ocean’s wanderer: the ocean whitetip shark.

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Photo by Johan Lantz/Wiki Commons

It continues its trajectory at a slow but determined pace. Cruising just beneath the surface, it is set to prey on anything it might encounter.

Pickings can be slim in this desolate environment.

Once considered the world’s most common large animal (over 100 pounds) they are now  deemed critically endangered. This is especially true for the Gulf of Mexico.

In a 2004 study, researchers Baum and Myers noted a 99 percent decline of oceanic whitetips in the Gulf since the 1950s.

“Scientists there once considered this species a nuisance because of the prevalence around vessels. Nowadays it is rarely seen,” they noted.

In hundreds of trips in the Gulf out of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi this writer has never seen one. And neither have dozens of veteran Gulf anglers I have interviewed.

And that concerns ocean art icon and conservationist Guy Harvey.

“The oceanic whitetip is a truly remarkable shark and due to the high demand of fins from large shark species they have declined dramatically,” Harvey said.

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Currently the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation (GHOF) and its partners are engaged in a study to track and analyze whitetip populations. They are studying the stock structure of oceanic whitetip sharks on a global scale by using genetic techniques, and migration patterns of this species in the western Atlantic with the aid of satellite tracking technologies.

Information gained on the whitetip’s movements can help create better management strategies to save the species.

When Harvey called the species “remarkable” that is not a generalized statement. He has firsthand knowledge having spent time in the water with the species and producing a documentary about their plight.

“They are bold and have no problems approaching a diver which makes for great interaction and observation,” Harvey said.

Harvey’s works with whitetips has allowed him to create stunning works of art showing the declining species in all of its glory.

Art captures the mood and feel of a natural scene better that photography and Harvey’s instantly recognizable style has resonated with an ocean-loving public in a way that connects them to wildlife.

“Things happen so fast down there and you have limited time. Painting allows to create a way to raise awareness to species that otherwise might not get much attention,” Harvey said.

The oceanic whitetip is one such creature.

If they disappeared tomorrow few anglers would notice.

Beachcombers never see these open water dwellers anyway so that only leaves wildlife journalists like myself, researchers like Harvey and his crew and a handful of shark fanatics who would even notice their demise.

But to the ocean it does matter.

An intricately woven food chain has already been disrupted and if they were to vanish forever, the balance would be upset.

And the world would lose a beautiful, cunning predator.

We should do our best to support research like GHOF are doing and all efforts to ensure shark populations not only survive but perhaps one day thrive like they did so long ago in the Gulf and beyond.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Pink Albino Dolphin (Video)

Among the most incredible animals I have encountered in my life in the wild is a super rare pink albino bottlenose dolphin appropriately dubbed “Pinky”.

I first encountered it while filming a television program on Louisiana’s Lake Calcasieu in 2010 and returned with a group of children to capture it on video in 2013.

We are planning another expedition to photograph “Pinky” and the other dolphins of the area. We will post our results here.

Until then enjoy this clip.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

 

Rhinos in Texas

It is the most valuable wildlife commodity in the world.

Fetching up to $60,000 a pound on the black market, the rhinoceros horn is coveted greatly by millionaires in Asia who use it as a status symbol or grind into traditional elixirs as a aphrodisiac or folk cures for various ailments.

By comparison ivory from poached elephant tusks are going for about $1,500 a pound. That’s chump change compared to rhino horn.

Large-scale poaching of the now critically endangered black rhino resulted in a dramatic 96 decline from 70,000 individuals in 1970 to just 2,410 in 1995 according to Save the Rhino, a strictly rhinoceros-based conservation organization.

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“Thanks to the persistent efforts of conservation programs across Africa, black rhino numbers have risen since then to a current population of between 5,042 and 5,458 individuals.”

“The overwhelming rhino conservation success story is that of the Southern white rhino. With numbers as low as 50-100 left in the wild in the early 1900s, this sub-species of rhino has now increased to between 19,666 and 21,085.”

But poaching has increased dramatically.

In 2007 there were 13 rhinos poached in South Africa. That number skyrocketed to 83 the next year and by 2015 there were 1,175 rhinos poached. That means one out of every five rhinos was killed drive by the aforementioned Asian market.

There is no end in site to the killing. Despite the use of surveillance drones, shoot to kill policies on poachers in some area and increase awareness, poachers are hitting rhinos and they are hitting them hard.

Some believe the solution to saving the species involves bringing them to Texas.

Hundreds of orphaned baby rhinos could be moved into Texas where they could be kept far away from poachers on highly managed private ranches. The thought process is the gene pool could be preserved while conservationists figure out what to do with the problems in Africa.

I will have a full feature article on this project in the May edition of Texas Fish & Game. I am very excited about the project and the article. In fact, I was so excited I had to tease it a little bit here.

This rhino project has many challenges and we will be covering it in-depth fashion not only in that article but also here.

Chester Moore, Jr. 

 

 

 

Forgotten Texas Wolf

Canis lupus monstrabilis

Ever heard of it?

Chances are you have not. Oh, wolf fans will be familiar with the Canis lupus part but “monstrabilis”?

It is the name of the now extinct “Texas Wolf” a species recognized in 1937 and considered extinct by 1942.

Very little is known about this animal other than it inhabited the Texas Hill Country into Oklahoma and was believed to have followed the historical bison herds. When they were wiped out cattle became chief prey.

That put a target on the species as big as the state itself.

Government trapping, poisoning and bounties put all varieties of gray wolf out of business for good in Texas.

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Life was hard for wolves in the 20th Century.

Only the Mexican gray wolf  still exists and it is relegated to the progeny of released specimens from a captive breeding program all residing outside of Texas borders.

Taxonomists have reshuffled virtually everything in recent decades and this species is now sometimes lumped in with the Mexican Gray Wolf but there is no way to go back and definitely argue the case.

For now I ponder what it would be like to step out on a limestone cliff and look below to see the Texas Wolf chasing a whitetail or perhaps helping thin out some of the Edwards Plateau’s increasing exotic axis deer herd.

Now only brief mentions in wildlife journals  are left to remind us once the most scenic parts of Texas were a little wilder.

What it must have been like to sleep beneath the stars and amongst the chaotic frenzy of coyote calls hear the wolf’s deep, mournful song.

At some point the last howl of the last Texas wolf sounded off.

Did someone hear it?

Did that very call alert the wrong people of its presence and lead to its demise?

To think about that almost brings a tear to my eye.

Well, maybe not almost…

Chester Moore, Jr.

I want to see…

It’s a little thing.

But seeing one would be a very big deal to me.

I want to see a long-tailed weasel.

I might have seen one in 1998 when crossing over Adams Bayou near my home in Orange County. It was at night and this little creature crossed the road. At first it looked like a mink but the color wasn’t quite right and it didn’t quite look as bulky as the mink I was used to seeing in the area.

Still, I can’t call that a sighting.

I want to see one and know that I saw it.

I have a spot where I see mink about every third trip. Some of them are quite large and aren’t very spooked by human presence.

But these weasels are another issue.

I am in the process of seeking out reports in the Orange, Newton and Jefferson County areas of Southeast Texas. If you have a sighting or game camera photo please emailed chester@kingdomzoo.com.

I want to stake out an an area and try to lure one out with a predator call for photos and also set up a game camera for photos. I have one potential spot mapped out near where I had my “possible” sighting nearly twenty years ago.

It is perfect habitat and there has been some possible depredation on poultry.

It easy to get caught up with the bigger and more widely known animals but I like the little shy guys too.

Makes sense for someone who operates  “micro zoo”, doesn’t it?

Looking forward to seeking out some weasels. At the very least it should be challenging.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Things that go bump in the night…

The night was quiet.

Other than a couple of barred owls trading barbs in the distance, I had literally heard nothing but the chirping of crickets in seven hours of sitting a climbing tree stand, 30 feet up a pine.

Just as I was fighting the urge to close my eyes, a guttural “woof” sounded in the thicket in front of my position.

Focusing the Generation 3 Night Vision Goggles, a large black form appeared out of the green filter of the device.

“Woof”.

The beast sounded off again but this time much louder and now it was out of the brush and standing on the trail.

It was a monster hog.

Take a close look at this game camera photo submit by Timothy Soli and you will see a truly monster hog about the size of the one the author encountered on his expedition.

The huge boar cautiously walked down the trail and gave me a good look at its form. It had the classic razorback ridge on its back, was as broad as a young steer and was  in my estimation  a legitimate 500 plus pounder.

The wind was light and swirling and as soon as I felt the breeze at my back, the hog stood at attention.

It cleared its nostrils to get a whiff and then bolted into the brush.

It did not get this big by being making many mistakes.

I had walked that same trail literally dozens of times and only saw faint tracks and a couple of large mud rubs on trees that indicated a large hog was in the area.

This natural game trail lead to a large grove of oak trees and was the only way in and out as both sides were 10-year-old clear cuts that had grown so thick a hog such as this one could stand a few feet inside and no one could see it.

But things happen after dark.

Creatures of the night come out to prowl.

I truly believe a wildlife lover cannot fully understand the woods unless they spend team there after dark. What may seem like an area devoid of animal life can turn into an energetic juncture of wild happenings as soon as the sun sets.

Or it can prove to be the lair of something large and dangerous.

There was little sign of deer and other hogs along this trail and it is likely due to this animal showing dominance. This was its domain. It claimed this territory and it took spending some very uncomfortable time up a tree to get a glimpse of it.

Throughout 2017 we will be venturing into the woods at night often to bring you a deeper understanding of the mysterious lives of nocturnal wildlife. The goal is to create a deep appreciation for animals and their habitat and the only way to accomplish that is go where they live and when they are on the prowl.

And we will bring back reports, video and photos.

This will be a year of discovery, inspiration and wild encounters.

Get ready. Anything could happen.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

 

Banteng

It must be the Texan in me.

I love cattle especially wild ones. There is something powerful and majestic about the bulls in particular.

Numerous species exist around the world but my favorite is the banteng of Southeast Asia.

Public Domain Photo
Public Domain Photo

I first learned of these while in college doing some studies on Australia’s wildlife. Banteng were introduced there in the 1830s and there are about 10,000 of them dwelling Garig Gunak Barlu National Park.

That is actually the largest population of wild banteng found anywhere. In their native Southeast Asia their numbers have dwindled.

There is a domesticated strain of banteng idenfited as “Bali cattle” and there has been some introducing them into the gene pool to help bring some diversity.

A study entitled Rapid development of cleaning behavior by Torresian crows on non-native banteng in Northern Australia (That’s a mouthful, huh?) shows some positives of their introduction

In this paper we report the observation of a rapidly developed vertebrate symbiosis involving ectoparasite cleaning by a native corvid of northern Australia, the Torresian crow, on a recently introduced bovid ungulate, the banteng. On three separate dates we observed a total of four crow individuals eliciting facilitation behaviours by a total of ten female banteng to assist in the removal of ectoparasites.

Most exotic introductions are considered a negative although in reality people would be shocked with which animals in their country are actually native. This one is at least proving interesting scientifically and benefiting a native species.

One of the animals we plan on acquiring for the next phase of the Kingdom Zoo: Wildlife Center is a banteng . If anyone has any contacts here in the states please contact us.

And don’t worry. As much as I like beef, banteng will not be what’s for dinner.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Bobcats have tails!

Bobcats have tails!

That might not seem worthy of the exclamation point there but it needs to be said emphatically.

Over the last year I have examined at least a dozen bobcat photos people thought were cougars because the tail was longer than they expected.

The video below shows a bobcat captured on a game camera by friends of mine in Orange County, TX.

This particular bobcat has a tail longer than just about any I have seen but there are many of them out there with tails close to this. Some have little powder puff looking tails but most stretch out 3-4 inches. This one is probably 8-9 inches in length.

That is long for a bobcat but nearly as long as a cougar which has a tail nearly as long as the body.

I have no scientific way of estimation but I daresay 75 percent of alleged cougar sightings in the eastern half of the United States are bobcats.

I know for a fact there are cougars there too but bobcats are far more numerous and I know from personal experience how many people think they have a cougar photo but find out it is a bobcat instead.

This is no fault of their own. Wildlife identification studies are not a priority at schools and in fact game wardens even get very little wildlife identification education during their formal training.

I appreciate any and all game camera photos and if you have some you would like to have evaluated email chester@kingdomzoo.com.

Bobcats are one of my favorite animals and I have had the pleasure to work with them in captivity, photograph them on many occasions and have probably seen 200 plus in the wild.

In fact on a peace of property near the set of John Wayne’s “The Alamo” near Bracketville, TX I saw five bobcats in one day.

Seeing them is fairly common for me but I always rejoice knowing I caught a glimpse of one of America’s most successful predators.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Playing Jim Fowler

Growing up I always thought television talk shows were boring.

Johnny Carson made me laugh  when I talked my parents into letting me stay up late enough to watch but his guests did not impress me as a youngster.

That is unless that guest was Jim Fowler.

Fowler, the co-host of my favorite television program growing up “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” was a frequent guest on “The Tonight Show” and brought wildlife to the masses for decades via his relationship with Carson.

As I walked onto a stage in front of 3,000 kids at the Global VBS at Cornerstone Church last summer, I felt like I was getting to play Jim Fowler.

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The program is called “Cheeto Talk” and it is a late night television talk style show but hosted by a puppet operated by my friend Pastor Brett Own of San Antonio, TX.

During the course of an hour we brought out all kinds of animals for Cheeto to interact with and we had an absolutely great time.

From “Reverend Sweets” one of the guests almost having a legitimate panic attack over our rosehair tarantula to the kids collective “awww” when they saw our short tail opossum it was tons of fun.

The highlight for me was having the Kingdom Zoo kids bring out the animals and interacting with the crowd.

During the last segment Rachel brought out “Rowdy” our coatimundi who was only 10 weeks old at the time. He behaved well in front of the huge crowd and commanded their attention.

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At the end Pastor Owen asked me to close in prayer and at this point “Rowdy” climbed on top of my head.

Not that there is much competition in this category but I have a feeling I hold the record for the only prayer with a coatimundi on one’s head while leading  a prayer.

And I got to play Jim Fowler for an hour. I hope the performance would make him proud.

Click here to watch Cheeto Talk with special guest Chester Moore.

Chester Moore, Jr.

All hail the King (Cobra)!

“Snakes can’t count.”

I uttered that under my breath as an 11 foot long king cobra scanned the room.

Owned by Andy Maddox of Pets-A-Plenty: The Ultimate Reptile Shop, the impressive serpent paid attention to everything happening in the room.

We were shooting a clip for my Kingdom Zoo television broadcast on GETV Kids and although I said they can’t count I was beginning to believe this cobra could.

Every time someone in the room moved, it marked them.

I have handled snakes thousands of times. At the Kingdom Zoo: Wildlife Center we have 25 species and never have I had a snake pay so much attention to its surroundings.

Not even close.

Then it happened.

Me and the cobra (safely held on snake hooks by Eric Haug and Maddox) looked me in the eye. Square in the eye in fact and I could see there was something going on there.

This was an intelligent being, certainly by reptile standards and it had an awareness unlike any other snake I had encountered.

My first look at a king cobra came at the Houston Zoo when I was six years old. In what I have come to know is a super rare experience, a 14 footer there hooded up at me and my mom as I pressed close to the glass.

Mom literally ran out of the room and drug me away kicking and screaming. I wanted to stay and watch!

Since that visit I have acquired some interesting information on king cobras and other varieties of the iconic snake we will be writing about here at The Wildlife Journalist.

It has been quite a learning experience for me and an exciting one as it hearkens back to my childhood of playing with rubber cobras in the backyard and seeing these magnificent animals at the Houston Zoo and Sea Arama in Galveston, TX.

Stay tuned and check out the video outtake from the encounter described above.

Chester Moore, Jr.