Category Archives: Mysterious Wildlife

Black Panthers Don’t Exist, But Black Longtails Do (Pt. 2)

Sightings of “black panthers” are common in the United States, especially in Texas and the Southeastern region.

The problem as I covered in part 1 of this series is that there is no such species as a “black panther” anywhere in the world.

What about the large black cats seen in zoos and on television programs? Those are black leopards or black jaguars.

Melanism occurs when an excessive amount of black pigment dominates coloration of an animal. It happens in many animals ranging from squirrels to whitetail deer. Melanism is not uncommon in leopards in certain parts of their range. This is also true with jaguars. The black cats you see in zoos and on television are all melanistic leopards or jaguars.

The general assumption with “black panther” sightings in America is that these are black or melanistic cougars. The problem is there has never been a melanistic cougar observed by science either in a zoo, captive setting, killed by a hunter, mounted by a taxidermist or otherwise positively identified.

For melanistic cougars to be the answer to America’s “panther” question there would have to be many of them, and there is no proof of any of them.

A melanistic jaguar. Notice the spots still appear on the cat but they can only be seen at certain angles. (USFWS Photo)

Jaguars, however, do throw melanistic offspring and are native to Texas, western Louisiana, New Mexico, Arizona and California. They were wiped out north of Mexico more than 100 years ago, but a few individuals have been verified moving in and out of New Mexico and Arizona. And over the years, I have fielded three Texas jaguars reports I believe, two right on the Mexico line and one about 100 miles north of it.

Recent research shows that melanism is a dominant trait in jaguars. In other words, if a male jaguar for example moves into an area and starts breeding females there is a good chance much of the offspring will be melanistic as well.

In the many photos captured on trail camera of jaguars crossing back and forth from Mexico into New Mexico and Arizona, there have been no black ones. (USFWS Photo)

Could a remnant population of jaguars survive that has the dominant melanistic genes? There is no way that’s an answer for the entire “black panther” phenomenon, but it is not out of the range of possibility for some of the sightings reported throughout the years.

It’s unlikely but within the realm of possibility.

Melanism is also present, albeit rare, in bobcats.

Melanistic bobcats have been killed and mounted in Texas. In fact, one by taxidermist Steve Moye was mounted leaping at a quail and hung in the Gander Mountain sporting goods store in Beaumont, Texas for the better part of a decade.

My experience shows that many people cannot differentiate between a bobcat and a cougar. Many are surprised that bobcats have tails at all. In fact some have tails as long as eight inches. A black bobcat could easily be labeled a “black panther” by someone who is not aware of melanism in the species.

USFWS Photo

In fact, I was sent a photo of a black bobcat back in 2011 that the reader believed was a “panther”.

I fault no one for not properly identifying animals or having questions. I consider it an honor and a privilege to get to check out the hundreds of photos sent my direction. But my conclusion is people have a very hard time identifying cats in the wild.

Besides people who don’t understand basic animal identification, the biggest problem in misidentifying cougars and bobcats is scale. A large bobcat seen at a distance with nothing to compare it to, looks much larger than it really is.

In part 1 of this series, I stated that large, feral cats of domestic lineage are the source of the majority of “black panther” sightings. You can read that here and if you’re interested in this topic I highly recommend it.

The jaguarundi is another prime candidate for “black panther” sightings. A large jaguarundi in the common dark gray or chocolate brown phase, crossing a road in front of a motorist or appearing before an unsuspecting hunter could easily be labeled a “black panther.”

Jaguarundis are one of the least known cats on the planet. Although short, they grow fairly long and someone seeing one of these cats could easily label it “black panther”. (USFWS Photo)

Because very few people are aware of jaguarundis, it’s highly unlikely they would report seeing one. Everyone can relate to a “black panther” and virtually no one has ever heard of a jaguarundi.

These cats are native to Texas (and all the way south into South America) but there has been no verified sighting in years. I do believe as some research suggests, there are isolated pockets of them north of their currently accepted range.

Is the jaguarundi responsible for many “black panther” reports in the United States? 

No way.

Are they the source of some sightings?

I have no doubt.

Some suggest the “black panther” sightings are the result of a “circus train” crash where its animals got loose. This story has been repeated over and over in Texas, and throughout the South with exact locations changing with the retelling.

Have circus trains wrecked? Yes but the idea black panther sightings have anything to do with them is ridiculous. Hessels, L. (Nederlandse Spoorwegen), fotograaf

I find no evidence of this.

If black leopards were to escape, the chance of them surviving and producing offspring wide-ranging enough for a phenomenon like this to take place is beyond far-fetched. 

Additionally, why would only black leopards escape? Where are the lions, tigers and elephants?

Considering the bulk of a wild cat’s hunting skills are taught, this is not even remotely likely.

There is no way there are hundreds, if not thousands of black leopards running around the country due to a circus train crash. So far, all intensive re-wilding efforts of tigers have failed  so how could circus leopards escape, survive and create a nation-wide population?

Isolated cases of exotic cats escaping have occurred, but in my opinion they are not the source of many sightings in Texas or at any other location in North America.

In my opinion the majority of these black panther these black longtails of domestic lineage discussed in part 1 of the series, standard cougars seen in low light conditions, black bobcats (because we have proof they exist), jaguarundis in parts of their historical range and I even leave the door open for a few of them even being jaguars.

The thing people have to consider is we are dealing with cats, not some creature with unknown abilities.

I have personally been sent hundreds of game camera photos of bobcats. Cougars which are one of the planet’s most elusive animals show up on game cameras in the American West all the time and even super rare and shy animals like snow leopards are common on these cameras set by researchers.

A cougar looking quite intense. (Photo by Chester Moore)

So, if these mysterious cats are all either black cougars or black jaguars why does no one get a clear daytime trail camera photo or even a clear night shot? The same exact areas have cameras getting pictures of bobcats and standard cougars so why are the black ones so elusive?

I don’t believe they are.

I believe the main answer is the “black longtail” of very domestic lineage discussed in part 1 of the series. I have seen many of these photos and even captured one on camera myself.

MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERA (Photo by Chester Moore)

It’s not an exciting answer if you want this mysterious cat to be something more grand than a feral and perhaps even evolving version of Felis catus but in my opinion it is the clear answer for a vast majority of sightings.

Something else to ponder there are “black panther” sightings throughout the UK, in Australia and other areas with no indigenous leopards or jaguars.

Ask yourself what cat is very common in these areas that is commonly black?

Yep, Felis catus.

I will be doing more features on this topic and communicating with biologists and genetic experts on how feral cats in the wild might be adapting and changing in ways that makes them as wild as any leopard.

Submit photos to chester@chestermoore.com. I would love to see them and share with our readers.

Chester Moore

Follow Chester Moore on the following social media platforms

@thechestermoore on Instagram

Higher Calling Wildlife on Facebook

To subscribe to this blog and get weekly cutting edge wildlife news and commentary, enter your email at the prompt on the top right of the page

Black Panthers Don’t Exist, But Black Longtails Do

Black panthers do not exist as a species.

If you open any field guide to wild cats of the world, there will be no species as a “black panther”.

All of the large black cats you see on television and in zoos are black (melanistic) jaguars and leopards. They are not a separate species but a variant of those cats that show an overload of black pigment in sort of reverse fashion of albinism.

With that said, there are thousands of reports of “black panthers” in the United States.

Having investigated this phenomenon since the beginning of my career most who share a report assume what they saw was a black cougar (mountain lion).

The problem is there has never been a black cougar born in a zoo or captive setting (and there are thousands there), killed and brought in by a hunter or observed by a biologist.

There are some fake black cougar mounts out there including this one sent to us by researcher Todd Jurasek who saw it in Oklahoma. There are even taxidermists advertising dying cougars black but there are none in the wild to kill and mount.

As noted on my “Moore Outdoors’ program on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI that airs tonight, all but two of the many photographs sent to me that were allegedly “black panthers” were feral house cats.

One of these cats was a jaguarundi and the other was a black bobcat.

Some of the photos were indeed big but they were house cats.

I did an article for Texas Fish & Game in 2019 entitled Mystery Of The Black Longtail. In it I explained the name for these cats I gave them in my Field Guide To Texas Wild Cats book. You can buy that book for $15 signed by emailing chester@chestermoore.com for pay information.

Mystery of the Black Longtail appeared in Texas Fish & Game Oct. 2019.

And I believe they are the source of the vast majority of “black panther” sightings.

I believe this for three key reasons.

  1. People Cannot Judge Size: I have received hundreds of photos of bobcats people sent to me thinking they were cougars. I have now come to the conclusion many cougar sightings in nontraditional habitat are bobcats. I have personally identified dozens of “black panther” sightings as domestic cats.
  2. Distribution: Feral house cats are distributed throughout North America, have large populations in many forested areas and are the only known black cat to dwell continent-wide. I have received multiple photos of readers wondering what kind of wild cat they captured on their game camera. It turned out they were white, tabby and other colored feral house cats. People are not prepared to see a feral cat in the woods but they are abundant. When they see a black one they often label it “panther”.
  3. 3. New research in Australia, which has a massive feral cat problem suggests these cats are growing to much bigger sizes than anyone would expect. Recent stats attributed to Oklahoma wildlife officials state sizes of up to 35 pounds for feral cats.

The long tail on these cats intrigues me.

Many of these cat photos that have been sent to me have extra long tails. This is the photo sent to me five years ago that inspired the name “Black Longtail”. This is from Texas from a reader who wishes to remain anonymous.

Courtesy Photo

The tail length of these cats is intriguing and matches some of the lengths of the extra large feral cats reported in Australia.

I got a photo myself recently in front of a hog trap I set in a woodlot near my home in Texas. At the time of this writing my main computer was down for repair and it has a night shot of this cat on the hard drive. I will do a second post with that photo as soon as it gets back from the shop. Look at the length of the tail on this cat and the tall ears.

Interesting, isn’t it?

MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERA (By CHESTER MOORE)

These animals having domestic origin does not make them less intriguing.

As noted on my radio broadcast I do not believe they are the total answer to America’s “black panther” phenomenon but I do believe they are the source of the vast majority of sightings.

Do you have photos of a mysterious black cat? I would love to see them.

I begrudge no one for making assumptions about their sightings. Not everyone is a wildlife expert and there are many voices on social media and in the blogosphere that are touting theories that make things confusing.

It’s hard to sort through all of the noise.

Submit photos to chester@chestermoore.com. I would love to see them and share with our readers.

Chester Moore

Follow Chester Moore on the following social media platforms

@thechestermoore on Instagram

Higher Calling Wildlife on Facebook

To subscribe to this blog and get weekly cutting edge wildlife news and commentary, enter your email at the prompt on the top right of the page

Rare Black Coyote (Video)

Coyotes are the most common large predator in the United States.

With populations everywhere from Yellowstone National Park to Central Park in New York City, they are highly adaptable creatures.

In fact, the Navajo people have a tradition that coyotes would be the last animal on Earth.

Black (melanistic) coyotes are super rare and we have an exclusive video of one sent to us by our friend and research partner Todd Jurasek.

He has been getting some incredible trail camera videos of bears and bobcats in southern Oklahoma.

Now, he sends us this beautiful, black coyote in broad daylight.

Click here to watch the clip.

Melanism (think reverse of albinism) is present in many animals including canids.

With recent evidence showing red wolf DNA in coyote-like canids on the Texas Coast, it would be interesting to have a DNA sample from this black one.

The red wolf which was native from Texas/Oklahoma to the eastern seaboard had a subspecies called the “black wolf”. It was later called the Floria black wolf and was believed to be a long-extinct subspecies of red wolf.

In fact, black wolf was a term commonly used throughout the South for what is now known as the red wolf due to the presence of black individuals.

I have a copy of the 1946-47 Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Biennial Report that goes into detail about wolves in the Bayou 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.”

Interestingly, the article shows the above photo of a predator control officer with a dead “black wolf”.

The red was declared extinct in the wild in 1980 due to hybridization with coyotes.

Whatever this particular coyote’s genetic heritage, it is a strikingly beautiful animal and we are grateful to Todd Jurasek for sharing it with us.

Do you have videos or photos of black coyotes or other wild canids? If so, email them to chester@chestermoore.com.

Chester Moore

To subscribe to this blog and get weekly cutting edge wildlife news and commentary, enter your email at the prompt on the top right of the page.

Red Wolf Shot-Or Not? A Look Into The Archives

The first article I ever had published as a wildlife journalist was about red wolves and their hybridization with coyotes.

I was 19.

In high school I did a lot of research on red wolves because some of the last ones to live naturally in the wild were just a few miles from my home.

During my early research into the species, my aunt Brenda gave me this clipping from the Orange Leader newspaper dating back to 1986.

It shows a man with what looks very much like a red wolf he shot in Orange County that year. The article says the man “shot an 80-pound timber wolf”.

It’s obviously not a timber (gray) wolf but it has a lot of red wolf characteristics.

The official word was that all of the animals left were “coyotes” or at best wolf/coyote hybrids.

But at the very least this photo shows the red wolf genetic was strong in the area after the extinction declaration.

We now know this to be true as I broke the story on red wolf DNA found in a road-killed canid on Galveston Island, TX in 2018.

I was honored to win a Texas Outdoor Writer’s Association “Excellence In Craft” award for that piece.

You can read it here.

I found this photo searching for some other images and thought you might enjoy seeing this rare image from the past.

Chester Moore

You can subscribe to this blog by entering your email address at the subscribe prompt at the top right of this page. You can contact Chester Moore by emailing chester@chestermoore.com. Subscribe to the podcast by visiting thehighercalling.podbean.com.

Not A Cat

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.

Kasey Johnson found this ringtail in a deer blind near Spring Branch, 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.

The IUCN ringtail range map.

Until now.

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.

The mysterious Southeast Texas ringtail caught in a live trap is a large specimen.

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.

Jordan does an incredible job rehabilitating a variety of animals and you can help support her mission by clicking here.

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.

And some of them are downright beautiful.

Chester Moore

You can subscribe to this blog by entering your email address at the subscribe prompt at the top right of this page. You can contact Chester Moore by emailing chester@chestermoore.com. Subscribe to the podcast by visiting thehighercalling.podbean.com.

An African Marsh Buck In TX

Sightings of antelopes are not uncommon in Texas.

The blackbuck antelope of India is a common resident of exotic game ranches and they are fairly common free-ranging outside of high fences in the Texas Hill Country,

In fact, I recently photographed some near Kerrville.

African antelopes are rarer but kudu, lechwe and several gazelle species are found on some ranches.

Sitatunga (marsh buck) are a central African forest antelope that are extremely rare even on the many large, high fence game ranches I have been on over the years. In fact, I have never seen one.

Photo by Chester Moore

That’s why getting a Facebook message that one was hanging out around a residence just outside of Beaumont got me excited. My friend took a couple of photos with her cell phone at her residence and a relative did the research to determine it was indeed a sitatunga. I have kept her anonymous because the sighting was literally behind her house.

I set a Moultrie Mobile cam on the property and within a few hours got a photo of the beautiful antelope. The camera has been there for over a month and it never returned.

According to the Smithsonian National Zoo, sitatunga reside in the swamps, savannas, forests and forest clearings of central, eastern and parts of southern Africa, ranging from Cameroon and Central African Republic in the north to northern Botswana in the south.

It is theorized that sitatunga likely occurred alongside waterways throughout western and central Africa as well, but are no longer found in that region.

Hunting ranches in Texas have created a a thriving industry that produces large number of animals. Animals like the scimitar-horned oryy, blackbuck antelope and axis deer have been sent back to their native lands where they were endangered from these ranches.

A sitatunga hunt would demand anywhere from $10-12,000 according to sources I reached out to so this animal was either from a hunting ranch, a breeder or perhaps someone who enjoys keeping beautiful exotic hoofstock.

An official with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department said the animal was sighted six miles away two weeks before I got my game camera photo.

And a few days ago, I got this photo from reader Ben Broussard that was taken three weeks after mine and about eight miles away. Either it’s the same animal or there were multiple escapees. I’m betting on it being the same animal. Again, sitatunga are not a common exotic in Texas.

Ben Broussard submitted this game camera photo of what I assume is the same sitatunga around eight miles from the location of my photo.

I have reached out to several exotic owners in Southeast Texas to see if they had an escapee or if they knew anyone who did. Everyone was shocked there was a sitatunga in the area-whether it was behind a fence or free-ranging now.

I have written numerous times in recent years that animal enocunters in the United States have changed dramatically because of the introduction of exotics.

This sitatunga situation was an interesting surprise. It likely simply got out of a hole in a fence or escaped during the two major hurricanes that hit Southeast Texas in 2020.

I hope it makes its way back home but likely it will continue wandering.

Interestingly, this antelope known as a “marsh buck” in Africa is probably better suited for survival in our swampy habitat than most exotics.

Chester Moore

You can subscribe to this blog by entering your email address at the subscribe prompt at the top right of this page. You can contact Chester Moore by emailing chester@chestermoore.com. Subscribe to the podcast by visiting thehighercalling.podbean.com.

Black Panther Hoax (Pt. 1-Cougars and Circus Trains)

A hoax has been perpetuated on American wildlife enthusiasts and it centers on the existence of the black panther.

There is no such species recognized as “black panther” anywhere on the planet much less in the United States of America.

The “black panthers” seen in zoos, wildlife demonstrations and in media are melanistic (black) leopards and jaguars. They are anomalies within these species and not a separate one altogether.

Black_jaguar_(1)
A black jaguar. Not the spots which cannot be seen at certain angles. (US Fish and Wildlife Service Photo)

There is no large cat on the planet that is officially recognized as a “black panther”. The only ones that qualify are the aforementioned melanistic leopards and jaguars. And there are no black cougars.

Other than a grainy black and white photo from Costa Rica in the 1950s there has never been any real evidence of a black cougar (mountain lion, puma, panther) killed by a hunter, mounted by a taxidermist or born at wildlife facilities around the world. At least none that I have seen and I have investigated this phenomenon heavily for more than 20 years.

If melanistic cougars were the source of the thousands of black panther reports in America the sizable captive population would have already shown melanism. We have even verified an albino cougar born in Europe but melanism is not in the cards in my opinion.

Fellow investigator Todd Jurasek heard about a large black cat mounted at a restaurant in his home state of Oklahoma from researcher Glenn McDonald.

What he found is what he believes is a black cougar that had been dyed black.

“I saw on the hind parts what looked like areas where the dye didn’t take or is wearing off. It definitely looked like a cougar and didn’t have any spots like a melanistic jaguar or leopard would have,” he said.

unnamed-4.jpgAfter Todd checked it out and reported to his source,  McDonald  provided two links to taxidermists who have in recent years created “black panthers” from cougars to show that it has been done. I also found a couple.

You can check different versions here and here.

If this were a truly black cougar I would be ecstatic but I just don’t see it.

Cougars do come in a range of brown colors with some being an almost chocolate color. Such a cat seen in low light conditions could certainly appear as a black. Young cougars are darker in color than their parents and come with spots and on occasion they keep some spots and darker coloration into their first two years of life. These could also potentially be a source “black panther” reports.

cougar intense
This cougar is a much darker shade of brown than many specimens. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

An extremely prolific theory is that many years ago a circus train crashed and black leopards escaped and gave birth to the black cats reported throughout the country. The problem is there would have to be a male and female. Then they would have to survive, produce young and those offspring survive.

Train_wreck_at_Hammond_Circus_Train_Wreck,_at_Hammond,_Indiana_June_22,_1918.png
There was a circus train wreck in Gary, Indiana in 1918 but no black leopards were reported to have spawned from this tragedy. (Public Domain Photo)

Considering the bulk of a wild cat’s hunting skills are taught, this is not likely.

There is no way there are hundreds, if not thousands of black leopards running around the country due to a circus train crash. So far, all intensive re-wilding efforts of tigers have failed  so how could circus leopards escape, survive and create a nation-wide population?

Then again, I have heard about these crashes all over the place so maybe there was an epidemic of them and somehow no lions or tigers (or elephants) escaped and bred, only black leopards. (Sarcasm mode turned off.)

Let’s go ahead and scratch the circus train theory.

So, what are the cats people are reporting seeing around the country? We will investigate in the next installment with some interesting photographic evidence.

Until then check out my mini-podcast on the topic and ponder the following question.

If there is a black panther hoax who is perpetrating it?

Chester Moore, Jr.

Secret Rattlesnake Stockings? Plus The Texas “Lynx”

In a secret effort to replenish diminishing timber rattlesnake stocks, government officials have been stocking captive-bred specimens of the timber rattlesnake.

At least that’s the story that has been floating around East Texas for years.

It is unclear as to which agency is responsible but some reports indicate it could be the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service while another rumor has it linked to a clandestine university project.

I say “story” but the truth is I have heard numerous tales of rattlesnake restoration efforts in the Pineywoods of East Texas. One gentleman even told me his uncle’s brother-in-law had some released next to his farm near Crockett. Hundreds of them.

Where did these stories originate?

rattlesnake-1-1.jpg
This photo of an East Texas timber rattler was submitted by Amber Deranger several years ago.

Well, rattlesnakes have technically been released into certain areas in the Pineywoods.

However, scientists did not breed them in captivity and they are not part of some secret restoration effort.

These released rattlesnakes are simply ones that were captured as part of a radio-telemetry study conducted by officials with the U.S. Forest Service. Timber rattlesnake were captured in the wild, fitted with radio transmitters and released back into the wild so researchers could track their movements.

There never has been a timber rattlesnake stocking program in Texas or anywhere else for that matter.

I first wrote on this topic and destroyed the myth of the rattlesnake stocking in 2006 when I spoke to TPWD biologist Ricky Maxey.

He said the rumors have been floating around since the 1990s.

“I used to work in the Big Thicket area out of Beaumont and we used to get questions about rattlesnake stockings frequently. And it seems the rumors are still pretty rampant,” Maxey said.

“Someone could have seen Forest Service officials capturing the snakes or releasing the ones fitted with transmitters and the rumor could have started there. It could be the case of a true story getting less and less truthful as it’s told,” he said.

This story is similar to another albeit slightly less widespread tale of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) releasing Canada lynx into the Pineywoods region. I first heard of these stockings taking place in the Livingston area but later heard they also occurred near Toledo Bend reservoir and in the Big Thicket National Preserve.

Occasionally people would see one of these “lynx”, which are allegedly much larger than a Texas bobcat.

bobcat3.jpg
The only lynx in Texas is Lynx rufus, the bobcat. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

The problem is these stories are bogus. Totally bogus.

TPWD or any other agency for that matter have never stocked Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) into any destination in Texas and for that matter would have no reason to do so. They have never lived in the region and their very close cousin the bobcat (Lynx  rufus) is doing incredibly well here.

Bobcats can vary greatly in size as previously noted. Ear tuft length also varies among individuals. Most bobcats have short but some are comparable to those of their northern cousins.

Spot patterns also vary wildly with some having virtually no spots on the top half and others possessing well-defined spots. A few individuals have a unique pattern traits of spots within spots that look sort of like the rosettes of an ocelot or jaguar.

People seeing this somewhat unusual looking bobcats sometimes associate them with Canada lynx and at some point a stocking legend began. In a way that is a shame because, our very own “lynx” the bobcat, is an amazing cat.

Having these mysteries solved might ruin your favorite local legend but the fact is there really is no mystery. The rattlesnake stocking was not a stocking at all but re-release of a few snakes fitted with transmitters.

And the lynx story is false all the way.

Remember not everything you read on the Internet is true and tales told around the campfire tend to get taller with age.

Hear more details of the “lynx” stocking on this episode of The Wildlife Journalist® mini-podcast.

Chester Moore, Jr.

(To subscribe to this blog enter your email address in the box on the top right of this page. To contact Chester Moore e-mail chester@chestermoore.com.)

Car-Sized Giant Catfish Below Dams?

“Did you know there are giant catfish below Toledo Bend dam?”

That was the question posed to me at a speaking engagement.

“And they are so big divers are afraid to go down there and look at the dam. They say they are the size of Volkswagens!”

This story has been told over and over and is considered absolute fact by many. I have heard it about Toledo Bend but also other lakes throughout the American South.

Here are a few points I would like to make about this legend that lives on due to photos circulating social media.

#I have been investigating these stories since 2005 and have never spoken with anyone who has actually seen these giant catfish. It is always their brother-in-laws cousin’s former roommate twice removed or something.

#The largest catfish in North America are the blue and flathead both of which live at Toledo Bend and other reservoirs in the South. They can attain weights of over 130 pounds and I have no doubt there are specimens quite a bit larger. In my opinion this legend began with a diver seeing an extra big catfish in murky water and then the story grew from there. A Volkswagen-sized catfish would weigh closer to a ton. Such fish don’t exist here in the United States.

splash.jpg
The author diving with “Splash” in 2005.

I actually got to dive with the (at the time) world record catfish-nicknamed “Splash”-caught by angler Cody Mullenix on Lake Texoma. She weighed 121. 5 pounds and lived for awhile at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, TX. I had the incredible opportunity to dive with it to get perspective on what it would be like to encounter a catfish of record proportions underwater.

My conclusion was such a fish seen in murky conditions could easily be construed as “giant”. Divers can exaggerate as much as fishermen.

#If you have a Facebook account or e-mail  address, you have probably seen the photos of anglers in the water with huge  yellow-skinned catfish with a subject line like, “Angler’s Noodle World Record  Flathead” or something like that. Well for starters, “noodling” is the practice of feeling around with your hands and grabbing catfish by the mouth and  wrestling them to shore.

The photos passed around the Internet of anglers with super-sized flatheads are not really flatheads at all. They are Wels catfish from Europe. They look almost exactly like flatheads except for the fins, which grow like a tadpole. And then there is the size. Wels grow up to 10 feet in length and catches of fish over six feet are common. The world record flathead was just over five feet in length.

My wife Lisa and I both caught Wels over seven feet in the Segra River in Spain in 2005 and nearly everyone who sees the photos thinks they are flatheads until we tell them differently.

Listen to hear Chester’s full Wels catfish adventure and more.

chester-wels-1
The author with a huge Wels catfish caught and released in Spain’s Segra River in 2005.

Interestingly the guide on our trip told us that divers in that river work on and inspect the dam in shark cages. The Wels (which can grow to over 10 feet in length) are aggressive enough to attack them. I was a bit skeptical of the attacks but then we saw the massive scar across his back of where a Wels bit him attempting to land it.

The next time you see photos of giant catfish supposedly “noodled” look closely at the fins. It is probably a Wels.

And the next time you hear of giant catfish below the dams, realize there is no way they are the size of an economy car.

Chester Moore, Jr.

A Mexican wolf in TX? (Photo)

Mexican Wolf In Texas

I’ll never forget staring into the eyes of a big male Mexican gray wolf.

Its piercing eyes reflected a wild lineage that roamed the Southwest until the white man moved in with guns, traps and poison.

This was early in my career and the animal resided at a captive breeding facility where remnants of the highly endangered subspecies were being bred for release into the wild.

I shot tons of photos but they were lost in Hurricane flood damage-along with many others.

Since that time there have been numerous releases in New Mexico and even pups born in the wild there.

So, when Jaclyn Booth sent me this photo I took notice because the animal looked very much like the wolves I had seen at the facility so many years ago.

The photo came through our “The Wildlife Journalist” Facebook and had no information on where it came from.

26794016_1752587581420598_142681517_n
Photo courtesy Jaclyn Booth

My thought was “Wow, thats a gray wolf, probably a Mexican gray wolf.”

I messaged her to find out what state the photo came from and when she said it came from her ranch in Hall County, TX I was in shock.

400px-Map_of_Texas_highlighting_Hall_County.svg

The photo below is a coyote from the same ranch and in fact at different angles of the same log. Compare this coyote and the canid in the above photo.

26793878_1752587598087263_1780314723_n
Photo courtesy Jaclyn Booth

Now compare with this one of a Mexican gray wolf taken at the Alameda Park Zoo below. Notice the extreme likeness.

mexican wolf zoo
Public Domain Photo

26794016_1752587581420598_142681517_n
Photo courtesy Jaclyn Booth

Wiped Out On Purpose

The Mexican gray wolf is indigenous to this part of the world but like all other representative of Canis lupus was wiped out due to government predator control and unregulated killing on ranches.

Is there a remnant pocket of these hailing from the captive breeding program in New Mexico? Or maybe a rogue wanderer?

It is possible but unlikely.

After all a gray wolf radio collared in Michigan was killed by a bowhunter in Missouri in 2001. That’s a much longer journey that New Mexico to Hall County, TX.

Is there a remnant pocket of Mexican gray wolves in North Texas and perhaps even in the Trans Pecos?

In 2013 I had a professional trapper who has trapped and killed thousands of coyotes tell me of seeing a Mexican gray wolf near Alpine, TX the year previous. He was adamant at what he saw.

Is there a possibility of having Mexican gray wolf-coyote hybrids (that maybe lean heavily on wolf appearance) in the region?

Absolutely. It has been proven that coyotes and gray wolves hybridize by numerous researchers.

I will be writing a lot about wild canids of the United States this year and will be posting photos, videos and research.

Are there Mexican wolves in Texas?

The jury is still out but on a ranch in Hall County there is definitely an animal that looks a whole lot like one.

More to come…

(To subscribe to The Wildlife Journalist blog enter your email at the top right of this page.)

Chester Moore, Jr.