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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After 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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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 email@example.com.)
“Did you know there are giantcatfish 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.
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.
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 giantcatfish supposedly “noodled” look closely at the fins. It is probably a Wels.
And the next time you hear of giantcatfish below the dams, realize there is no way they are the size of an economy car.
You never know what you’re going to see traveling through the Texas Hill Country at night. Sometimes you come across a true mystery animal.
Geoffrey Bennett submitted these photos (after posting on his Facebook) of an animal his brother saw and was able to capture these images of as it climbed a rock wall.
Exact location has not been given nor would we give it but it’s safe to say it is in the beautiful limestone-encrusted Edwards Plateau.
On the initial posts several people chimed in with thoughts including jaguarundi, ringtail and lemur.
It’s definitely not a ringtail or lemur.
Jaguarundi was my first thought at seeing the photo below but after seeing the next one in the series I am convinced this is a kinkajou (Potus flavus). These rainforest dwellers are the only member of the genus “Potos” and are sometimes called a “honey bear”.
The tail is what tipped me off. Kinkajous have a prehensile (climbing/gripping able) tail and this one is curled up. I have a kinkajou at our Kingdom Zoo: Wildlife Center and his named is “Irwin”.
His tail is always curled up.
Plus the body and head just look kinkajou and if you look close enough you can see what looks like a collar.
If this is a kinkajou, what is it doing in the Texas Hill Country?
They are common animals at zoos and wildlife parks and are not a rare pet. In fact, for those who like exotics they make a much smaller and generally safer pet than say a lion.
My suspicion this is someone’s pet that escaped.
What do you think of the identify of this cool-looking animal?
Post your comments below.
Have you seen anything like this? We’d love to see the photos.
We appreciate Mr. Bennett giving us access to these pics and sharing this unique encounter with us wildlife lovers.
(To subscribe to The Wildlife Journalist blog enter your email at the top right of this page.)
For years I have heard about strange whitetail deer that have a blue tint to their coats.
My father even reported seeing some of these deer on a hunting lease near San Saba, TX in the mid 1970s.
This of course was well before the era of cell phone cameras and game cameras so no photos were taken.
A reader sent in this photo of mysterious blue whitetails taken on his game camera in an undisclosed location in the Pinewoods of East Texas.
Some parts look blue, others purple but this is not a an Adobe Photoshop rendering.
Have you seen any deer with unusual colors? If so e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
We would love to see them.
The dim moonlight illuminated the trees just enough to make out the edge of the forest. A strange sense of forebode overcame me as I gazed into the blackness.
As I neared a crossroads, something jumped out of the ditch and made its way through the tall grass. Standing about 20 inches at the shoulder, the creature had large, erect ears and pale, gray skin.
Perhaps, I had finally encountered the legendary “chupacabra”.
I have maintained the “chupacabras” seen on many video clips and photos shared on social media are coyotes or foxes with a very bad case of mange.
However, as I pulled over, grabbed my flashlight and ran to the woods edge, my rational explanation wasn’t resonating. I was alone, without a gun, on a dark, country road and looking for a “chupacabra”.
To top things off my flashlight was dying and so was my cell phone.
Sounds like a good start for a horror movie, doesn’t it?
As I pressed toward the woodline, a nasty growl came my direction. Followed by aggressive barks, I could tell there was a canine not happy with my presence. I inched a little closer and could make out a set of blue eyes illuminated by my dim flashlight. A creepy silhouette of a thin animal with tall ears peaking from a behind the tree looking at me, hit my curiosity factor so I moved closer.
At this point, the animal moved and started barking again. Aggressive barks.
It was time for me to go. I may be curious but I am not stupid.
I returned this morning slowly cruising alone the road as a thin layer of mist on the ground began to dissipate.
And about 50 yards from where I left it the night before was the mysterious animal. I quickly shot a few photos with my cell phone as it stood silhouetted in the forest. I could only make out the shape until it moved into an open patch of light.
I could see that it was a dog (mutt) of some sort with short hair that was coming off in large patches. It even had a tiny collar on.
If coyotes and foxes make up the bulk of “chupacabra” sightings, now the domestic dog can join the ranks.
“Chupacabras” are not monsters. They are simply sick animals and in this case I have feeling it was a sick animal dumped off in the woods so the owners would not have to deal with it. Either that or it escaped from somewhere and made a long haul to this stretch of road.
I doubt that though as it hung around the same spot I saw it last night. That’s a sign of an abandoned dog.
I knew what I was looking at was a canine of some sort all along but how many people would be able to tell during a brief sighting under the moonlight?
In this case the “chupacabra” was more like Frankenstein’s monster than some sort of evil being from beyond as some bloggers claim. It’s circumstance was at least partially man-made and it was just doing what it had to do to stay alive.
In this case I was the like the angry mob that drove the monster to the windmill, only with a flashlight instead of a torch. I did however back off and let nature take its course.
After all, Frankenstein’s monster fought back and I had no desire to end up bitten by a chupacabra-one wearing a collar or not. Chester Moore, Jr.