Wildlife Wednesday: Giant Rattlesnakes, Elk in Texas And Comeback of the Markhor

Snakes intrigue the public.

Even though most fear snakes, people can’t help but click on videos and photos of snakes, especially big ones.

Images of people holding large, dead rattlesnakes are all over the Internet and with spring arriving and snakes on the move, I thought we would address this issue.

A while back I asked my friend renown snake expert Austin Stevens of Austin Stevens Snakemaster and Austin Stevens Adventures about these claims of giant rattlers.

Q: There are rumors of gigantic eastern diamondbacks killed and seen over the years. What do you think the maximum potential size is for this species?

A: As mentioned before, the eastern diamondback rattlesnake is the largest venomous snake in North America, and is known to average around 5.5 feet in length. The largest specimens found have been closer to eight feet, weighing in at about 10 pounds—a formidable snake, to say the least.

Snakes grow all their lives, though the process slows as they get older. An eastern diamondback rattlesnake may live to be 20 years old. No one knows for sure in the wild. Its rate of growth would most commonly depend on the availability of food, though some specimens just simply do grow faster and bigger than others. (As noted in captive specimens)

I am often asked to comment about dead snakes in photographs being held up to the camera with exaggerated claims to their size. In these instances it is immediately obvious that the snake is extended close to the lens, making it look bigger, while the person holding out the specimen, usually on a pole, looks that much smaller in the back ground.

Claims of 15-foot rattlers being spotted have never been substantiated, and are ludicrous. Having said this, it is not unrealistic to imagine that in some uninhabited wilderness area where humans have not made their presence over abundant, there might still be unrecorded eastern diamondbacks in excess of 8.5 feet in length.

In 2020, I did a podcast on this topic and addressed a long forgotten “giant rattlesnake” photo that appeared in a 1970s edition of Sports Afield.

You can check it out here.

A printout from a friend’s copy of the magazine shows the alleged 11 foot eastern diamondback killed in Florida in the early 1900s.

Markhor Comeback

The markhor is one of the most striking wild goats on the planet. And in the mid 1990s their numbers were down to near 2,000 in their native Pakistan.

Recent conservation efforts have seen a big surge in numbers with an estimated 5,000-6000.

An article in the Express-Tribute detailed how controlled hunting of older billies has brought incentive to protect the species.

The government uses the license money, which is in US dollars, to support local communities by building schools, mosques, health centres, and even providing scholarships to local students, the official said.

These incentives encourage local communities to avoid killing markhor and instead push them to care for the wild goats, he explained.

“The most recent markhor hunt license was sold for $160,000,” Salahuddin Jamaluddin, a divisional forest officer in Wildlife Department’s Peshawar office, told Anadolu Agency.

“We spend 80% of the money on the local community, who help us with our conservation efforts, and 20% on the government for administrative expenses,” he explained.

Markhor are rare but present on some hunting ranches in Texas and are being very carefully managed. Guide Austin Pressy darted this big billy and extracted semen to put in a cryogenic facility for future breeding purposes. “I want to do what I can to conserve the species. They have become my favorite animal after working around them,” he said.

To read more click here.

Share Our Wild Sheep Pandemic PSA

I recently created a public service announcement about wild sheep and their struggle with exposure to pneumonia through domestic sheep. It has been airing on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI and other stations in Texas.

We now have a video version on Youtube. By sharing this video on your social media, you can help get the word out on what’s going on with wild sheep in North America.

Elk Research Project Begins

Elk are one of the most regal animals on the planet.

They are are the second largest deer next to moose and have a fascinating history.

Did you know elk are native to Texas and also other states east of here?

I’m working on a series of articles and podcasts on this topic for this year and thought I would start by sharing this

Elk are not considered a game animal in Texas (so there are no official TPWD population estimates) but by all accounts from landowners in the region, their numbers in the Trans Pecos are increasing.

Photo by Chester Moore

But their history in Texas stretches to the Hill Country and even the Pineywoods region.

In 1759, Captain Juan Angel de Oyarzún reported elk near Menard.

“This watering place was recognized as that of the buros (what they called elk at the time) for the many it maintains. This species resembles deer, although its body and antlers are larger. As a rule they are, when grown, like a medium-sized horse, and the antlers ordinarily attain the height of two varas [1.7 meters (m) or 5.5 feet (ft)]. For this reason the Comanche Indians use them to make bows for their arrows.”

In 1772, French captain Athanase de Mézières reported elk by calling them red deer (the elk’s close European cousin) between modern day Nacogodches and the Sabine River.

“This very large province can compete with the most fertile and productive. It produces in abundance beans, maize, large and small stock, buffalo, deer, red deer, wild goats, turkeys, wild hogs, partridges, hares, rabbits, and other species of both quadrupeds and birds, which has served us in this long journey for recreations as well as for sustenance.”

There are many, many more historical accounts in their study but just as fascinating is the DNA evidence they show of today’s free-ranging Texas elk origins.

“DNA research indicates that today’s free-ranging elk in the Davis and Glass mountains are the result of the natural immigration of elk from the Lincoln National Forest of New Mexico, just north of the Texas border, to recolonize areas of their former native range in the Trans-Pecos. The evidence presented substantiates the presence of native elk throughout Texas prior to their extirpation in the 20th century…”

If you have any photos or videos of elk in Texas or any Eastern state, please email me at chester@chestermoore.com.

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