The record-setting freeze that hit Texas over the last week has devasted two species of well-established non-indegenous antelope species in several areas.
The nilgai antelope, a native of India and Pakistan has been free-ranging along the Lower Coast from around Baffin Bay to the Mexico line for more than 80 years.
These very large antelope are notoriously susceptible to extreme cold and we have received a report of more than a dozen dead nilgai found on one eight mile stretch of road with others standing around in very uncharacteristic fashion.
It’s hard to get in-depth reports at the moment with power outages, etc. especially since the majority of nilgai live on two of Texas’ largest private ranches, the King and Kenedy but there is historical precedence.
According to officials with the Texas Tech Natural Science Research Library, a past freeze put a huge hit on the species.
During the severe winter of 1972–1973, 1,400 of 3,300 nilgai (estimated population at the time) were killed by the weather in southern Texas. This die-off was exacerbated by previous brush clearing, which resulted in forage loss and increased competition with livestock and other wildlife.
The much smaller blackbuck antelope is a more widespread species and while there are free-ranging populations in the Edwards Plateau, most live behind game proof fences.
Also from India and Pakistan, they are not the most cold tolerant of animals and there are numerous photos floating around social media of large numbers of blackbuck as well as some axis deer dead on ranches.
We will have more on the impact on these animals that have become an important part of the Texas outdoors economy and are highly valued for their meat (especially nilgai) and revered by sportsmen.
The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) will host its annual Convention and Sport Show but this time virtually.
And registration is officially open.
As with many recent conventions across the country, the 2021 NWTF convention will look much different than previous years but still provide a wealth of information, entertainment and inspiration for turkey hunters and other wildlife lovers who support NWTF.
The NWTF will host the 45th annual Convention from Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium in Springfield, MO, highlighting many of the acclaimed wildlife exhibits bringing conservation and the outdoors lifestyle directly to at-home viewers.
“Attendees will be able to experience the many great things that make our Convention and Sport Show so special — a lineup of great music, including a Lee Brice concert; messages from leaders in the conservation and hunting communities; awards for those dedicated to the NWTF mission; a veterans celebration; and silent and live auctions, among so much more.”
The Convention and Sport Show kicks off Monday, Feb. 15, and will continue through Sunday, Feb. 21, with evening programming streaming Friday and Saturday.
In addition to on-demand video content and seminars, virtual attendees can enjoy the immersive exhibit hall that will host nearly 100 vendors. Once registered, you will be able to interact directly with the brands you all know and love, and experience all the great outdoor products the sport show offers.
Access to the convention is free with current NWTF membership. Non-members will get an annual NWTF membership when registering for convention access and a $25 Bass Pro Promo card. All participants can join our scavenger hunt and interact to earn points for a chance to win a TriStar Upland Hunter 20 gauge.
“We encourage friends, family and loved ones who cherish the wild turkey and our outdoors lifestyle to register for the convention to join in on the fun,” said Jason Burckhalter, NWTF chief information officer. “Although in a different environment, the show must go on as we look forward to celebrating all of our achievements, members, volunteers and partners.”
A trail camera captured the image of a jaguar in Arizona’s Chiricahua/Dos Cabezas mountain range Jan. 6.
According to officials with the Chiricahua National Monument, it is the same male that has been photographed in the area off and on since 2016.
Both Arizona and New Mexico have verified jaguar migration into their jurisdictions through a trail camera project over the last 15 years.
Although chiefly associated with South America and tropical rainforests, jaguars occupy a variety of habitats that once included Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California. There are even historical accounts of them in Louisiana.
Jaguars face a host of problems including increased poaching.
The Asian black market for tiger parts, such as claws for traditional medicines, has depleted most of Asia’s tiger populations. Due to having direct links because of thousands of workers in South and Central American countries, they are targeting jaguars-in particular for their claws and heads.
According to a study published in Conservation Biology, jaguar poaching, as noted by seizures of jaguar parts by wildlife officials and customs agents, increased 200-fold in South America in five years.
Hunting of jaguars is illegal in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, French Guiana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, the United States, and Venezuela.
Ecotourism has proven a valuable asset to wildlife in areas where it is feasible but only in Brazil’s Pantanal region is the jaguar a factor. It’s the only place on Earth where ecotourists see them regularly. Otherwise, they are one of the planet’s most elusive animals.
Impoverished people with very little governmental oversight will have a hard time passing up the opportunity to kill these cats if it means money.
There have been a few attempts at “green hunting” for jaguars to dart them for GPS collaring and research with success in Bolivia.
We are partnering with Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center for project to engage kids in jaguar conservation. It’s called Jaguar Revival.
Its goal is to revive awareness of jaguar conservation and inspire young people to get directly involved in the cause. It will use investigative journalism to get the story of what’s really happening with jaguars to the public.
It will also issue conservation challenges for kids and teens and create a reward system that recognizes young people stepping out to help these great cats.
California State Senator Scott Weiner’s “Bear Protection Act” would have ended all hunting of black bears in California.
He withdrew the bill Monday after a vast opposition from wildlife managers, conservation organizations, and hunters.
Bear Trust International’s Executive Director Logan Young said his group strongly opposed the legislation as it was based “100 percent off emotion and had zero scientific data to back it up”.
“Sportsmen and conservationists rallied together to display the true biological facts and proven negative outcomes of what they were proposing. The right decision was made,” Young said.
Under a management system where hunting is one of the tools, black bear populations in California have increased from 10,000 in 1982 to 40,000 in 2021.
And that’s factoring in vastly more people and development that has eaten up their habitat in the last 40 years.
California officials tightly regulate bear hunting with a cap put on harvest annually based on surveys. Last year fewer than 1,000 bears were harvested.
As bear populations have grown in the Golden State, so has the issuance of depredation permits where state officials deem a bear can be terminated due to livestock attacks or dangerous behavior around people.
In 2018 (the last year stats were available), more than 300 depredation permits were issued, which is a full third of the usual harvest in the state. Banning hunting would certainly increase human-bear and livestock-bear conflicts, ending in more killing of bears.
Science should dictate wildlife management, and what California is doing now works.
I love bears.
In Texas, I started Texas Bear Aware, a program that raises awareness of black bears returning to the state in 2007. Through Texas Fish & Game magazine, we have distributed thousands of educational posters and worked with tens of thousands of wildlife class students on bear issues.
And it’s not so we can hunt them.
It will be a long time before these animals are ever at a huntable number in Texas unless some drastic migration happens. And it won’t.
Banning bear hunting where they are flourishing (300,000 in the Lower 48 and 600,000 in North America total) is pointless.
There are real bear issues right now that need looked at around the globe. In America, helping support wildlife overpasses like ones instituted in Colorado and Texas will save their lives.
More importantly, on a global level, species most American’s don’t know to exist are having real problems.
The world’s smallest bear, the sun bear, which lives in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia is a prime example.
These bears are listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN, and there is great concern due to an increased market for their bile.
Traditional medicine adherents use the bile, and while most comes from bile farms where bears are kept in tiny cages and have their bile harvested from them in shocking ways, wild-caught bears replenish those that die (and they do so frequently).
Poachers also kill them for their claws and other parts, and they catch babies to sell as pets.
The sloth bear of India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal has had increasing issues in the human-conflict arena. Supporting education initiatives for the species from groups like Bear Trust International, for example, would do much to help them.
We support these actions and have used our media platforms to raise awareness throughout the world.
There are bears out there that need protecting, but they’re not in California. They need managed, and the current system is doing a great job of that.
No system is perfect, but when wildlife managers follow the North America Model of Conservation that allows hunting as a tool, wildlife flourishes.
And that’s precisely what bears are doing in California.
It crawled out of a hole in the base of an old live oak stump and sat atop as if it owned the world.
The small, striking creature had a round face, with large cupped ears and a gorgeous, banded tail.
It was an animal I had heard of and now at age 18, was seeing in a remote creek bottom in Menard County, TX.
It was a ringtail cat.
Well, that’s the name I had always heard-“ringtail cat” with the emphasis on “cat”.
My studies on this charming animal however, told me it was not a cat at all.
According to Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials, the ringtail is a cat-sized carnivore that is kin to raccoons, not felids. Its bushy tail is flattened and nearly as long as the head and body, with alternating black and white rings.
These are highly nocturnal animals that conduct most of their business in the middle of the night. My sighting however was about an hour before dark and since I was positioned in a ground blind, it never knew I was there.
The ringtail sat there for 30 minutes or so and then crawled down and disappeared into the brush.
Ringtails are associated with the Texas Hill Country and Trans Pecos and according to TPWD are distributed statewide. My high school art teacher who is a brilliant wildlife artist told me of seeing one in Pinehurst in Orange County around the time I was in school in the 90s.
I also have reports from a trapper who claims to have caught one in Sour Lake and a camper who reported seeing one near Sam Rayburn reservoir.
The International Union on the Conservation of Nature shows them present through the state, but I have never seen one or even a game camera photo of one in Southeast Texas where I live.
On the Jan. 29 edition of my radio program “Moore Outdoors” I spoke about ringtails and mentioned these obscure sighting references.
A listener emailed me and said I should contact TPWD-licensed wildlife rehabber Pam Jordan.
She was in possession of a ringtail brought to her by a TPWD game warden that was caught in a live trap by a resident of Bridge City, near the shore of Texas’ northenmost bay Sabine Lake.
Was this a ringtail brought from someone who hunts or perhaps owns land in the Texas Hill Country? It very well could be.
I have solicited wildlife reports, photographs and trail camera evidence for decades in the region and only have the above accounts with no hard proof.
Could it be a native remnant of a small, hidden population?
TPWD, IUCN and researchers at Texas Tech University show evidence it could be. The below map from Texas Tech’s Natural Science Research Laboratory shows a verified sighting in Jefferson County.
No one will ever know the origin but this mystery give us a great opportunity to learn of a beautiful, unique resident of Texas. Jordan said this animal will be released into a safe, undisclosed location and said people should not take animals from the wild home with them. Such incidents causes problems for the animal and often the people who caught them.
She noted that ringtails were brought into caves by miners who had no conflict with them as they worked during the day when ringtails sleep. At night however they would awaken and prey on the rodents in the mines.
Since that sighting in my youth I have only spotted two other ringtails and both of them were in Menard County during the same timeframe. And I have spent a vast amount of time in ringtail country.
I was blessed to have had the opportunity to see the one Jordan is caring for at her facility.
A ringtail may not be a cat but they’re very bit as fascinating and mysterious as any of the wild cats that inhabit Texas. Seeing one today reminded me there are always surprises in the wild.
Wild turkeys are fast on their feet and often flee from danger by running instead of taking to the air.
They can however fly quite fast and as each box opened on a private tract of land in Titus County, TX, the flying ability of the wild turkey was on display.
Marked with the logo of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), these six boxes held six Eastern turkey hens captured in Missouri and transported to Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials at the Dallas-Forth Worth Airport.
Working together on restoring the Eastern turkey to East Texas, TPWD and NWTF have forged a powerful partnership that saw hope for this subspecies in the region literally taking flight.
According to TPWD Turkey Program Director Jason Hardin, there are now about 10,000 Eastern turkeys in the region thanks to stocking birds from partner states like Missouri and enhanced management on public and private lands.
It’s a brilliant conservation program and one that has inspired turkey hunters and private landowners to do more to manage forests for turkeys.
This particular turkey release, however, inspired another group of people.
Higher Calling Wildlife’s mothership is the Wild Wishes program that grants wildlife encounters to children with a critical illness or loss of a parent or sibling. To date, the outreach has granted 115 wishes and is working on many more.
“We filmed the release with our smartphones and put together a virtual turkey release for one of our wish families. They have been basically shut-in since COVID started because of health issues with children, so we wanted to do something special for them. We knew they would love seeing the turkeys released, and TPWD and NWTF officials have been very gracious in allowing us to have our kids participate in these releases,” said Lisa Moore, director of the Wild Wishes program.
Emily Odom, 16 of Graham, TX, got to participate in a release in 2020 on the same property and said it was one of our her life highlights.
“I’ve been in the Wild Wishes program since I was nine, and it changed my life so much for the better. Getting to open that box and watching those turkeys fly out was so freeing and inspiring for someone like myself who has had some challenges. I loved it,” she said.
It inspired her so much in fact she went home and did some wild turkey artwork and has begun a program to raise awareness of wildlife conservation through artwork.
“That turkey release helped inspire that. I’m so grateful to the Moore’s for taking me into the Wild Wishes program years ago and for NWTF and TPWD for letting me be part of a release,” she said.
As Emily said, there is something special about seeing those turkeys fly out of the boxes into an area that needs a population boost. East Texas by the early 1980s was essentially devoid of wild turkeys, but thanks to TPWD and NWTF, there is a growing population.
That’s inspirational for turkey hunters, wildlife lovers and a very special group of kids who have been able to take part in person and virtually.
“Social-distancing” is a term most hope disappears from the lexicon soon. While the concept of keeping a safe distance during the COVID-19 pandemic is wisdom, losing the connection to others is challenging for humanity. For wild sheep, social-distancing is essential.
Domestic sheep and goats can transmit a form of pneumonia to bighorn and thinhorn sheep that is devastating to herds. It is so devastating that more than two million that existed at the time of Lewis & Clark’s expedition declined to around 25,000 by the early 1900s.
“Wildlife agencies and conservation groups have done a remarkable job of bringing them back to around the 150-175,000 range, but there is still a major problem with exposure to domestic sheep. Die-offs are occurring in pockets right now in states like Oregon and Utah,” said Chester Moore, an award-winning wildlife journalist and founder of Higher Calling Wildlife.
Higher Calling Wildlife seeks to raise awareness of mountain and forest wildlife conservation. It also mentors young people dealing with critical illness and traumatic loss to use media for conservation purposes.
One of those young people is Reannah Hollaway, who, through the program and the generosity of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, got to take part in a desert bighorn capture and relocation in 2019.
“I have cystic fibrosis, which affects the lungs, and have had to take special precautions during COVID-19. This gives me a unique understanding of the need for keeping wild sheep and domestic sheep apart. This kind of social-distancing can save bighorns,” she said.
Hollaway is a student at Texas Tech and studying to work in the field of wildlife management.
She chose this degree after a wildlife encounter through Higher Calling Wildlife’s mothership, Wild Wishes. This outreach grants wildlife encounters to young people with a critical illness or the loss of a parent or sibling.
To raise awareness of the need for sheep social distancing, Higher Calling WIldlife has begun the Sheep Scrapbook project, which seeks photos taken of wild sheep throughout North America.
“It’s our way to get people of all backgrounds to think about wild sheep, and the response has been tremendous,” Moore said.
“We’re hoping that when people focus their cameras on sheep, whether in one of our national parks or a hunting or fishing expedition, they can take time to realize these animals are facing a real problem with pneumonia. It’s time all of us who love wild sheep do more to support organizations and agencies searching for ways to keep wild sheep social-distanced from their domestic cousins.”
Having just watched an Arizona desert bighorn tag sell for $315,000, many other record tag bids and a week that took digital conservation communication to a new level, hope is alive and well.
That hope is that despite incredible setbacks due to COVID-19 that purpose and innovation can serve as a model for how future challenges can be met in a digital platform.
Everyone, myself included, hopes there will be an in-person “Sheep Show” in Reno, NV next year but if the pandemic continues, WSF officials have proven something impactful can still happen.
While total fundraising results were not available at the time of this writing, it should be anywhere between $4-5 million for the purpose of putting and keep wild sheep on the mountain.
And that of course is extremely important but there’s something else here.
And that is connection.
Among the numerous Zoom meetings, seminars, chat rooms and a very interactive vendor’s expo hall, sheep and mountain hunters from around the world were able to do business, get educated and make friends.
As a wildlife journalist, I spent much of my time communicating with state and regional biologists and various WSF chapters and state sheep conservation groups.
With the desire to bring the latest in sheep coverage here and via our other media platforms it was great to connect with the people on the ground doing the work and getting the inside story of what’s happneing with wild sheep in North America.
While we humans are battling a pandemic, wild sheep have been contending with one since domestic sheep were brought out West in the 1800s. Pneumonia that is minimally impactful to domestic sheep is devastating to wild sheep and has had an impact at some level everywhere from Canada to Mexico.
Conservationists like those involved with WSF and in the state, tribal, and provincial wildlife agencies have taken up the cause. Through population transplants, habitat and domestic sheep grazing management have brought the numbers up to about six-fold from their all-time low of 25,000.
But the problems that impacted sheep in the 1800s are still there and without conservation efforts of sheep hunters there would be little hope for these truly majestic animals.
It will be exciting to see the fundraising tally that will help so many states and provinces manage their wild sheep.
But in my opinion, an equally powerful victory was keeping the mountain hunting community connected and expanding the reach of WSF’s vision.
For the first time, the organization has topped 10,000 members, showing that “Sheep Week” was an experience that many found appealing.
That’s a very good thing because many challenges lie ahead for our beloved rams, ewes, and lambs.
“Sheep Week” shined the bright light of hope on them and set the proverbial bar for digital conservation interaction far above the tree line-into sheep country.
Pneumonia has spread into the Northeast Oregon bighorn sheep herd.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) have determined that the same strain of bacterial pneumonia that caused a die-off in the Lookout Mountain bighorn sheep herd in early 2020 has spread to the Burnt River herd.
ODFW officials reported this is the first-time bacterial pneumonia (caused by the organism Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae) has been identified in the Burnt River herd.
While I-84 normally separates the herds, bighorn sheep have been known to try to cross the highway. The Lookout Mountain herd ranges north of I-84 and west of Brownlee Reservoir, about 10 miles from the Burnt River Canyon herd, which is south of I-84.
Most concerning of all is that all lambs in the Lookout Mountain herd have died although adult mortality has tapered off.
This latest spread of pneumonia in wild sheep which is caused by exposure to domestic sheep is why I believe the least covered wildilfe tragedy (at the national level) in America is this pandemic.
And it is a pandemic-at least at the level of existing in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
It is what killed nearly two million wild sheep in the 1800s and continues today.
Local news coverage and hunting-based conservation groups are the only ones to touch this topic. When is the last time you saw something about this on a major wildlife television network?
Since wild sheep are managed by many different state, provincial and tribal agencies, few are aware of the myriad outbreaks of pneumonia happening right now.
Even in the Internet age, it can be challenging to know what’s happening in the Yukon for example when you live in Texas.
Alaska’s Dall sheep population has long been seen as bulletproof so to speak due to vast contiguous habitat and strict management.
In 2018 officials however, found bacterial pneumonia in four Dall sheep within a sample of 136 and in two of 39 mountain goats.
“The Dall sheep testing positive for M. ovi were all in Game Management Unit 13A; all were taken by hunters and appeared healthy. The mountain goats were live captured and released in Southeast and on the Kenai Peninsula and showed no sign of illness; only samples from goats on the Kenai tested positive,” according to officials with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
“Our initial research has confirmed M. ovi in a small number of Dall sheep and mountain goats in relatively isolated areas of the state,” said Division of Wildlife Conservation Director Bruce Dale.
There have been no reported die-offs but the finding is concerning, especially when you look at what has happened recently in Oregon.
We will continue coverage of the sheep pandemic and also show recovery efforts that have taken sheep numbers far above where they were by their all-time low early in the 20th century.
It’s an important issue and in our corner of the world it will remain at the top of the priority list.
Niceville, Fla, located on Florida’s “Emerald Coast” in the Panhandle (Gulf side) is not known as a great bear viewing destination.
But on Jan. 3, a neighborhood there got a special treat seeing a hefty black bear having its choice of tasty food in the garbage.
I would have been pumped!
Seeing bears is a fairly rare experience for most of us and I would have certainly been out there with my camera at a cautious distance, but then immediately do what I could to make sure it didn’t happen again.
That means not feeding pets outside, certainly not purposely leaving food for these animals and perhaps figuring out a way to go bear proof with the garbage cans.
There’s an old saying in wildlife management that a “fed bear is a dead bear”.
What that means is bears fed around people get to comfortable and often have to be taken out. That might not sound fair but it’s the way it is.
And as much as we invest in bear awareness here, it’s better to remove a bear than have one kill a child.
People get way too comfortable around black bears. They assume because they are not grizzlies, that they are safe.
And while black bears are not as aggressive…lets says on the average, they do attack people. And in fact, most black bear attacks are predatory.
While a grizzly might whack you around because it doesn’t like you in its habitat, most black attacks are predatory. That’s why every fish and game department in bear country recommends fighting back against a black bear attack.
And those in grizzly country, recommend playing dead for grizzlies. Grizzlies might just chew on you. Almost all black bear attacks are of the predatory kind.
As these animals expand in places like Florida and my native Texas people need to be aware of this and give the bears their distance and respect. You shouldn’t be terrified if you see one but also shouldn’t treat it as you would a whitetail doe sighting.
Bears coming back is a good thing. It represents a conservation victory but the public needs to understand they are wild animals, not cartoons.
Like, I said I would have shot photo of this one too but with my 400 mm lens from a vehicle, not a cell phone at charging range. Just sayin.
These carnivores make places wilder and in this case, it added some wildness to a nice, suburban neighorhood.
Considering how crazy things are in the world right, a bear showing up in the bushes outside of my bedroom would be a welcome relief.
I would just make sure my response would be best for my family and the bear.
The Inspirational Voice Of Mountain & Forest Wildlife Conservation