Outdoor photographer Gerald Burleigh is known widely in his home state of Texas for his whitetail deer photography as well as his images of the life cycles of waterfowl.
While setting a game camera to lure in feral hogs on a stretch of property near the Neches River in Southeast Texas, he came across something interesting.
An alligator found his bait pile and came in and ate corn and gorged itself on some old donuts.
Alligators are carnivores that will eat virtually anything that swims in front of them but mainly eat fish and turtles.
This one apparently has a sweet tooth.
Something else interesting about this video is the camera is not set directly by the water. This alligator had to walk a pretty good way to find the food.
Alligators will actually cover long distances during the mating period and some of the very largest alligators are found in ponds far from the main waterways where they have set up after arriving there to find no mates during breeding season.
These areas house some of the very largest alligators because they are detached from their main habitat. The biggest alligators are targeted during the alligator hunting season so many of the largest specimens are those that have forsaken coastal marshes, main river channels and other spots close to civilization.
Alligators can grow to impressive sizes but it takes the correct genetics, available food and cover and the ability to live their maximum life cycle which can be upwards of 80 years.
Hunting pressure targeting the very largest alligators takes away the largest adults so truly large alligators (over 11 feet) are become increasingly rare.
Alligator populations themselves are high but those of maximum size are not as common as they used to be.
This one looks as if it might not make it too much longer. Any alligator that is willing to gobble up donuts would no doubt had a hard time resisting a chunk of rancid chicken dangling over the water. Chester Moore, Jr.
No one knows snakes like Austin Stevens.
When his program Austin Steven’s “Snakemaster” debuted on Animal Planet a decade ago, wildlife enthusiasts around the world were mesmerized not only with the serpents he encountered on film, but of Steven’s deep passion and knowledge of the subject matter.
Stevens has just released his latest book Austin Stevens: Snakemaster-Wildlife Adventures with the World’s Most Dangerous Reptiles.
I recently had the privilege of interviewing Stevens who is currently residing in Australia. From here in the swamps of East Texas to the great expanse of Down Under we have traded emails, exploring all things snakes.
A recent proliferation of cottonmouth photos on social media as well as a well-publicized incident with a young man being bitten while talking a “selfie” inspired a question about this infamous southern species.
“The cottonmouth, or water moccasin as it is also known is indeed reputed to be a bad-tempered snake when approached. Generally speaking I have found this to be true, though one must also take into account that though a species may have earned a particular reputation, individual snakes may differ within a species,” Stevens said.
“In Florida, in one morning, I came across two specimens within 50 feet of each other. The first immediately deployed the typical defense strategy, with head pulled back into its body coils, mouth wide open with tongue flickering in and out while its tail vibrated noisily amongst leaf litter, producing a sound almost like a rattler. Moving closer with my camera, the snake immediately responded with numerous short, quick strikes in my direction.”
“Not 20 minutes later and just a little further along, I came across a smaller specimen of the same species, basking on a log. This cottonmouth showed little interest in my approach and only moved when I attempted to pick it up with my snake tongs, which I eventually did with little complaint on the part of the snake. Two completely different displays of attitude, but generally speaking, cottonmouths are quick to show their displeasure when approached.”
Another common social media-fueled controversy are photos and videos purporting to show massive anacondas and reticulated pythons-usually dead ones. While it is commonly known these are the planet’s largest snakes, the size of specimens living today is open to debate.
“The largest anaconda I have ever come across in the wild was close to 18 feet in length, and the largest reticulated python I have ever come across in the wild measured around 21 feet. The longest reticulated python I have ever seen, however, was a 24 foot specimen raised in captivity. This was a true monster of a snake,” Stevens said.
He went on to explain there have over the years been numerous reports of these giant snakes found to be much bigger than this, but no proof has been offered, other than, in a few cases, poorly faked photographs.
“As mentioned before, snakes grow throughout their lives, thus allowing for the possibility that there might be some larger specimens yet undiscovered deep in the jungles of Borneo, or the tributaries of the Amazon. It is unfortunate that such specimens might only be discovered when humans encroach deeper into wilderness regions and the result is usually to the detriment of the snake.”
Stevens is a world-renowned wildlife photographer and has used his skills to show the beauty, behavior and unique attributes of snakes. His favorite species is a bit of a show-off.
“I have a special fondness for numerous snake species, but the one I most enjoy, especially from a photographic point of view, is the black and yellow Asian mangrove snake,” he said.
“This snake grows up to 8 feet in length, is brightly colored in shiny black and startling yellow, and is ever ready to enthusiastically display its discontent when approached. This snake is a photographer’s dream, as it dramatically inflates its throat, opens its mouth wide and coils its body into a series of S-bends in preparation to strike out in self-defense if the need arises”.
The mouth is kept wide open for long periods, showing a pure white interior, allowing for plenty of time to trigger off a number of impressive photographs. The snake is back-fanged, but in spite of its size, not considered dangerously venomous to humans,” he added.
Stevens said habitat destruction through agricultural development, urbanization, mineral extraction, erosion, and pollution, are amongst the most important causes that have brought about a decline in reptile species on top of persecution based out of fear.
A prime example is the case of the timber rattlesnake, a species that is on the threatened list in Texas and numerous other states.
“Probably the first snakes encountered by America’s Founding Fathers, and a symbol of defiance ever since, the timber rattlesnake has been persecuted throughout much of its range in the USA,” he said.
In the broader picture, Stevens said if a single person throws down a piece of paper it’s of little consequence. When a million people each throw down a piece of paper it is pollution.
“So, with this in mind, if just one conservation minded person starts the ball rolling, millions can follow, and conservation of the planet as a whole could be achieved,” Stevens said.
“Nature and wildlife education and awareness plays a key role and should be included in the curriculum of every school around the world.”
And what would a world be without chances to encounter amazing animals? At the end of the day that is what Stevens brings across in his broadcasts, writings and photography.
The finest example from his experience is his now famous encounter with a massive king cobra.
“When confronted by this 14 foot specimen in India, it became immediately apparent to me that it possessed a higher intelligence. By comparison, it was like facing an adult, where all snakes before had been children,” he said.
“At first the snake had charged at me with hood raised, ready to defend its territory, stopping just short of me, where it eyed me out with some apparent curiosity. This curiosity became even more evident when I slowly lowered my camera bag from my shoulder, and the snake did something I had never seen before with any other snake.”
“It focused its eyes on my movement as I bent down to drop the camera bag and it tilted its head, not forward but to the side, at an angle, as though directing its nearest eye for a better look, much like a hawk might do when taking note of potential prey. Carefully it watched my movements, and, when once again the snake looked up directly into my eyes, I realized without any shadow of doubt, as far as snake species were concerned, I was in the presence of higher intelligence.”
Stevens said although he was clearly within its domain, and within striking distance, with every movement being watched and calculated by this giant cobra, it never advanced towards him.
“Instead it released a long, almost continuous rumble from its throat, as though a gentle warning not to push my luck.”
“And when a short while later, while attempting to photograph the snake from multiple angles, I tripped and fell crashing to the ground, startling the cobra into thinking it was under threat, it immediately reacted by lunging forward raising its head to loom over me where I lay in the leaf litter on the forest floor,” Stevens said.
“When it realized that I was in fact not threatening it, it simply gazed down at me with tilted head, more, it seemed, out of curiosity than anger. And as I slowly raised myself up again, the great snake slowly moved back to allow me space. I have never experienced anything like it before.”
These are the kinds of encounters that make Austin Steven’s accounts in his new book a must read for wildlife enthusiasts and that inspire others to respect nature.
Yes, even its most feared and misunderstood creatures. To purchase the book click here. You can follow Austin Stevens on Facebook here.
There is something powerful about the eyes of a great white shark.
In the 1975 blockbuster “Jaws”, obsessed shark hunter Capt. Quint describes them as “lifeless eyes…black eyes…like a doll’s eyes”.
As an 18 footer turned its eye to look at me while on a cage diving expedition to the Farallon Islands I quickly disagreed with Quint. Black they were but lifeless the sharks’ eyes were not.
They were filled with purpose. To kill. To eat. To survive.
Long believed extinct in the Gulf of Mexico or at least an extremely rare visitor, it seems there are survivors.
In 2014, “Katharine” and “Betsy”, two young great whites were verified in Gulf waters.
Both of these sharks were fitted with SPOT transmitters by research/conservation group OCEARCH. These tags communicate with satellites and when the information from those tags if fed back to OCEARCH, it allows the public to view their movements at OCEARCH.org.
When, Katharine, all 2300 pounds of her, staked out the stretch of coastline off of Panama City Beach, Fla., people paid attention. More than four million logged onto the OCEARCH website, crashing the server the week and causing a media firestorm.
“Those two sharks, Katharine in particular, drew an enormous amount of attention to great white sharks in a very positive way and the interactive nature of the site, gave people a way to see great white movements take place in a way never before possible,” said OCEARCH founder Chris Fischer.
“We are solving the life history puzzle of ‘Jaws’ out of the Cape Cod area for the first time in history and it has been interesting to see unfold.”
Cape Cod is one thing but the Gulf of Mexico? That’s the domain of bull sharks and black tips, not great whites. Right?
Great white populations are on the rise due to 20 plus years of gill nets being banned along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. These nets caught and killed many juvenile great whites that are born on the East Coast and migrate into the Gulf to feed.
The shallow, nearshore areas along the eastern seaboard and portions of the Gulf Coast, especially Florida are “nursery” areas where the younger sharks spend their time. Both Katharine and Betsy were tagged off of Cape Cod in August 2013 and covered thousands of miles of water before entering the Gulf.
In 2005 I wrote an article called “Jaws in the Gulf” for Tide magazine recalling historical references and at the time a recent sighting. The article was a bit controversial as great whites in the Gulf seemed too magnificent to believe.
Now it has been vindicated. But that’s not the point. Seeking out the mysterious is a big part of what we do.
The point is the most iconic shark in the planet is proven to inhabit the Gulf and could be on the rise. Fishermen and conservationists need to know so these great predators can be protected.
NOAA has some extremely interesting older data on great whites in the Gulf of Mexico. Their earliest recorded white shark was off the coast of Sarasota, Fla on a set line in the winter of 1937. Another specimen was caught in the same area in 1943.
In February 1965, a female was captured in a net intended for bottlenose dolphins at Mullet Key near St. Petersburg. In addition, National Marine Fisheries Service officials reported 35 great whites as bycatch in the Japanese longline fishery in the Gulf from 1979 through 1982.
Those sharks died but last year the first great white ever known to be caught from the surf was taken by an angler in Panama City Beach, Fla.
Instead of killing it, he fitted it with a tag, photographed and released it.
Knowing about great whites, their rarity and conservation problems is crucial so great whites meet happy endings when encountered by anglers-the user group most likely to see them.
It might seem counterintuitive to save something that can and occasionally does eat humans. But the fact is we need things like great white sharks to keep us humble, to remind us, we are vulnerable and to keep us in a sense of wonder.
That was the state I was in gazing out onto the Gulf of Mexico while fishing the 61st St. Pier in Galveston, TX with my Dad at age 12.
“It’s a shame we don’t have a lot of great whites off our coast,” I told him.
“Maybe we do. We just haven’ found them yet,” Dad replied.
Dad is gone now and I sure would like to tell him, they have been found. Great whites dwell the Gulf of Mexico and you never know. There might have been one cruising the surf just beyond that pier on that night so long ago.
It is entirely possible.
Fallow deer are one of the most beautiful creatures on the planet.
With coats ranging from chocolate brown to snow white and with the bucks sporting heavy, palmated antlers, they are an extremely striking animal.
Did you know that fallow deer are native to Israel and much of the Middle East?
The endangered Persian Fallow Deer (Dama dama mesopotamica) is the indigenous variety and I was happy to find out that the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem (Jerusalem Biblical Zoo) is involved in a captive breeding and wild restoration program of these majestic creatures.
A conservation program to achieve lasting conservation of the and its habitat. This is a long-term conservation program aimed at re-establishing this species in the Nahal Soreq area of its former range (near Jerusalem in southern Israel) from a breeding core at the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem.
In Israel there were approximately 200 individuals in the north of the country (Nahal Kziv area) by 2005 and today this is the world’s largest stable wild group. In addition, a wild group of around 45 individuals now exists in the south of the country (Nahal Soreq area). Captive populations also exist in Israel – 65 individuals at the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem and around 150 in the Hai Bar Carmel Mountain Reserve in central Israel.
Here at Kingdom Zoo, we will do a series of articles on this unique project, but there’s more. We will be donating a portion of our donations to help restore these animals that undoubtedly lived in the Garden of Eden to God’s chosen land.
We are collecting change for the Persian Fallow Deer. All of the funds from the change collected, will be given to the Tisch Famiy Zoological Gardens, earmarked for their fallow deer project.
You can also help with this project. Click here to donate.
Look for more on this unique conservation initiative as we updates from Israel. Chester Moore, Jr.
Snake venom is a precious commodity.
From antivenom for snakebites to cancer treatments and the latest research on neurological diseases, venom is being used in a wide variety of applications.
And George Van Horn has been collecting it for these uses for nearly 40 years.
The owner of Reptile World Serpentarium in St. Cloud, Fl., Van Horn is passionate about snakes and besides exhibiting more than 50 species, keeps hundreds for the sole purpose of extracting venom.
Twice a day he allows the public to view through safety glass that allows a peek at his high tech venom extraction room.
“You see this. These are fangs,” Van Horn said as he rolled carefully opened the mouth of a large eastern coral snake.
The tiny fangs were in the front of the snake’s mouth and destroy the commonly held myth that coral snakes are rear-fanged snakes that must “chew” on a person to inject venom.
“They are elapids just like cobras and they have the same skull structure. I don’t know where these rumors came from but they are persistent,” Van Horn said.
He went on to say that most coral snake bites result from people picking them up and it is often young men.
“Women typically don’t go around picking up venomous snakes. And a coral snake has a very dangerous venom that is difficult to treat so people shouldn’t fool with them,” he said.
He uses a specially designed snake stick to hold down the heads of the bigger snakes he extracts venom from but can’t do it with the corals due to their small skull. That means he grabs them quickly from behind, a method that is without question risky but is best for the long term health of the snake.
“We keep them around a long time and have to watch out for their well-being,” he said.
The venom collecting shows daily at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. are worth the price of admission but so are the snakes on display.
From a five foot long Florida cottonmouth to a 14 foot long king cobra, a black mamba and a beautiful eastern diamondback/canebrake (timber) rattler hybrid there is a lot to see.
Snakes are part of nature whether you like it or not and if you venture into the great outdoors it is best to learn to respect them and get educated so you can handle any encounter that comes your way.
Reptile World Serpentarium is a great place to to learn about snakes and see the unique practice of venom collection.
For more information go to www.reptileworldserpentarium.com.
Canis rufus, the red wolf is one of the most endangered mammals in the world.
Declared extinct in the wild in 1980, they faced hybridization with more adaptable coyotes. Now a number of scientists believe the species is actually a fertile hybrid of gray wolf and coyote to begin with but the red wolf at this point is still declared a unique species.
The Texas Zoo is one of the first in the nation to take part in the captive breeding program that has produced offspring that have been stocked at several locations in the Southeast including North Carolina’s Alligator National Wildlife Refuge.
The wolves there are kept in a spacious, naturalistic enclosure where with a good camera with a solid telephoto lens and fast shutter speed you have a good shot at capturing images like the one above.
The first photo I ever had published was a pair of red wolves dating back to 1992 in a now defunct newspaper called The Opportunity Valley News. I actually took the photo the year before while I was a junior in high school.
One of the best parts of the wolf exhibit is that it is located close to a coyote exhibit. Coyotes are often mistaken to be wolves and here you can see a clear contrast and also note the similarities.
The vast majority of the animals at the Texas Zoo are Texas natives but there are also tigers and other exotics now included to give some variety for visitors.
If you are ever near Victoria, TX which is situated off of I-59 between Houston and Corpus Christi, stop by and see the red wolves and the other wild creatures that call it home.
It’s got a nice collection of animals and charm the size of the Lone Star State.
The smell of southern fried seafood hit my nostrils as the car doors opened.
As I walked over to open the door for my then girlfriend (now wife) Lisa, the pleasant aroma hit every hunger button I had. Visions of shrimp and sausage gumbo danced in my head.
Then as Lisa stepped out of the car I heard something move in the tall cane behind us.
As we fixed our eyes toward the racket a huge mud-covered animal emerged.
At first in the dim light at the back end of the parking lot I thought it was a young steer as cattle are common in any pasture, wood lot or in the case chunk of marsh next to the restaurant.
But it was no steer.
This was a hog, one that weighed well beyond 500 pounds.
It grunted heavily when it saw us (we were only 10 steps away) and then went on about its business of rooting up the ground.
The area the animal came from is a piece of marsh probably in the 300 acre range next to a large refinery facility. This is bordered by a large chip channel and a whole bunch of industrial buildings and homes.
Obviously that huge hog, perhaps a domestic set free to graze years ago as used to be common in southeastern Texas. It does not take hogs to go back to their wild origins and integrate into any purely feral hog populations.
This was not the only time I came across evidence of monster hogs in the area.
Early in my writing career a man told me had located a really big black boar in a wood lot behind the Vidor, TX Wal Mart and wanted to know if I wanted to tag along with he and his dogs to catch it.
Two weeks later a letter arrives in the mail with a photo of the hog they killed, all 400 pounds of it. I later drove by the area to inspect and saw the 20 acre wood lot the beast had lived in amongst a city of 10,000.
Both of the aforementioned hogs were boars and large, solitary ones that can find enough woods to hang out during the day and vacant field, cattle pastures (common in southern cities) right of ways along highlines and drainage canals can thrive
Throw in the aforementioned practice of allowing domestic hog breeds like Yorkshires and Durocs feed on open range with cattle and you have an even bigger chance of huge hogs showing up. Hogs show little regard for fencing and also need no help from man to survive beyond captivity.
As hogs push deeper into urban territory, certain individuals will find these sanctuary areas that will allow them to grow to epic proportions.
Animal control offices throughout the South (and as far north as New Jersey) are contending with hogs now on a daily basis but monsters like these are unlikely to participate in any trapping program they initiate.
Without the gun as an option in these urban sanctuaries, those hogs with the genetic code to grow huge will, dethroning the coyote as the apex of city-dwelling wildlife.
Young pigs will provide coyotes food but the ones I am writing might just decide to make coyote their food.
They are able and in some cases totally willing. Chester Moore, Jr.
Are feral hogs the new coyote?
In other words, have they become the latest large wild creature living quite cozily within the city limits of the largest cities in the nation?
The answer is “yes”.
Right now there are sizable feral hog populations Dallas-Forth Worth and Houston in my home state of Texas and also around Baton Rouge, La. and a number of sizable metro areas in Florida.
I believe what we are about to see is cities harboring some absolutely monster-sized hogs.
In the past I have written and lectured on what I call “Monster Hogs” which are any weighing more than 500 pounds. Such animals are few and far between but some of our cities offer all of the right ingredients to make it happen.
There is adequate habitat, food and cover and large boars in particular which tend to be solitary are great at remaining hidden. They may in fact possess more “intelligence” than any wild animal in North America.
Add to this a lack of hunting pressure.
Hogs are popular with hunters and in fact, have superseded whitetail deer as the most harvested animal in Texas with a whopping 750,000 new killed annually according to Texas AgriLife. Louisiana and Florida also support a huge hog hunting culture.
The fact that firing guns in city limits is a no-no will give hogs with monster genes the opportunity to live to maximum potential.
This is where it will get interesting.
Sightings will be elusive but these creatures will be seen perhaps in schoolyards near children or eating Fifi” the poodle as granny takes it for a stroll in the park.
We are fielding increasing reports from shocked citizens seeing normal-sized hogs in greenbelts and suburbs but how will the public react to seeing a boar just shy of average grizzly proportions(600 pounds) strolling down main street?
More to come… Chester Moore, Jr.
Most of mammals we see where I live Southeast Texas would be considered of the common garden variety.
Whitetail deer, raccoons, opossums and squirrels are the most frequently seen creatures that thrive in our woodlands, prairies, marshes and urban areas.
In fact, these animals are common sightings throughout North America
There are however some really strange mammals in the region that are very rarely seen by human eyes and yet they can live in suburban backyards.
Take the eastern mole for example.
These burrowing mammals have tiny eyes but they cannot see and spend almost all of their time underground.
According to the Mammals of Texas, “…moles feed largely on earthworms and grubs, although beetles, spiders, centipedes, insect larvae and pupae, and vegetable matter may also be eaten. In captivity, they have consumed mice, small birds, and ground beef.
“The average daily food consumption is about 32 percent of the body weight of the animal, although a mole can consume more than 66 percent of its body weight in 18 hours. Active prey is killed by crushing it against the sides of the burrow with the front feet or by piling loose earth on the victim and biting it while thus held. Captive moles kill earthworms by biting them rapidly in several places, often nearly cutting the worm in two.”
The saliva of males contains a type of toxin that paralyzes worms and insects. And if that is not weird enough, they can move as quickly backwards as they can forwards.
If the mole isn’t odd enough for you than let me introduce you to the shrew.
These mouse-sized insectivores are arguably the most voracious predators on the planet and East Texas has two varieties: the southern short-tailed shrew and the least shrew.
According to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, shrews have an extremely high metabolic rate. This rapid conversion of food to energy requires that these animals consume up to their own body weight in food every day.
“The highly social and gregarious least shrew often cooperates in building burrows or nests, which are sometimes shared with other least shrews during the nesting and wintering seasons. The species uses the runways and burrows of moles, voles and other small mammals but will make its own runways in soft, loose soil. Tunnels under the snow provide protection from wind and intense cold, allowing least shrews to remain active all winter.
Least shrews rely mainly on their senses of touch and smell. Sight and hearing are not well developed.
The least shrew only lives a short time, usually a little over a year.
God created many amazing creatures and although the big ones get most of the media attention, those on the small side are just as interesting.
Hollywood gets lots of things wrong.
And one of the most glaring examples are references to wildlife in films. There are countless examples like CGI whitetail deer with elk antlers and any number of animals shown in the wrong country.
The following is a short list from horror movies that show there were no wildlife experts among the crew. “Could’ve been a skunk”—In the 1978 classic “Halloween”, killer Michael Myers is believed to have visited his old house and when his doctor and the sheriff find a half-eaten German shepherd, they blamed it on a skunk.
Skunks might be able to kill a dog by giving it rabies but there is no skunk big and bad enough to kill a full grown German shepherd and eat it.
It’s a great movie but it boggles the mind to think of that line getting the green light.
Armadillos in Transylvania—In 1931’s groundbreaking movie “Dracula” starring Bela Lugosi, we are introduced to the count’s creepy, gothic castle.
In the castle are rats, bats and…armadillos.
Yes, armadillos, the nine-banded variety to be exact.
Apparently someone thought what would put that movie over the edge is a North American armored mammal. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
Oh and there was an opossum too. No Grizzly Here—The 1970s produced lots of killer animal movies in the wake of “Jaws”. One I liked as a kid was “Grizzly”, about-you guessed it a killer grizzly bear.
When they figure out a killer bear is in the park, they are amazed because someone allegedly caught all of the grizzlies and relocated them as if grizzlies can’t move long distances. And also as if they would know if they caught all of the grizzlies. Night of the Lepus—A movie about giant, carnivorous rabbits. Nothing else to say. Chester Moore, Jr.