Wildlife Wednesday: Saving America’s Micro Deer, Rewards For Turkey Photos, Louisiana Elk & More

Saving America’s Micro Deer

The Key deer (Odocoileus virginianus clavium) is the smallest whitetail subspecies topping out at 60 pounds and living exclusively in their namesake islands on the Florida coast.

Seeing a herd of Key deer on my honeymoon in 1999 was a special moment that fulfilled a childhood dream born out of a fascination with all things wildlife—especially the rare and unusual. Seeing them last July during a Florida fishing expedition was just as exciting.

I would love to share photos of the massive (by Key deer standards) buck from that expedition, but they were destroyed along with many others when Hurricane Ike ravaged my hometown in 2008. Just as those photos washed away with storm surge, a series of hurricanes have played havoc on Key deer.

A Key deer mom and her fawn. (Photo by Faith Moore)

Most recently, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) officials, Hurricane Irma in 2017 killed 21 deer with an additional dozen killed in the chaotic aftermath. With the latest estimates showing only 949, that hurts.

For perspective, I have hunted on a single 5,000 acre low-fence Texas ranch with more whitetails than that.

Additionally, an old foe last seen in the U.S. more than 30 years ago, hit the Keys hard in 2016. But Texans came to the rescue.

“Screwworms infested the population, which is spread across more than 20 islands. It led to 135 Key deer deaths, including 83 that were euthanized to reduce the risk of further infection,” said Dr. Roel Lopez. “This was a significant blow to a species, which is uniquely located in that area.”

These tiny dee keep drawing me back to the Keys. Of course the awesome flats fishing might be a factor too. (Photo by Lisa Moore)

Doctor Lopez is director and co-principal investigator for the Key deer study, San Antonio, a project of Texas A&M University (TAMU). TAMU, along with various agencies including USFWS, alleviated the crisis by preventive treatment and fly eradication efforts. This included feed stations lined with anti-parasitic medications and releasing 60 million sterile male screwworms to mate with wild female flies and curb reproduction.

That is a big effort for a little deer, but there is much love for them among those who understand their delicate existence. A single disease outbreak or storm could literally wipe out the population.

Then again, the species has proven resilient. The screwworms mainly took out mature males and researchers believe there are enough young bucks to replace them. At the five-year mark of the outbreak things are looking up.

You can read my full story in Texas Fish & Game by clicking here.

Challenge Tokens For Eastern Turkey Photos

Through our Higher Calling Wildlife® outreach, we have created a new Eastern Turkey Aware challenge token.

If you have photographed eastern turkeys in East Texas or Louisiana on a game camera or by traditional photography, email the photos with the county or parish the photo was taken to chester@chestermoore.com. We will send you one of these cool wooden challenge tokens and a special edition Higher Calling Wildlife® turkey decal.

Thanks to the National Wild Turkey Federation-Montgomery County Chapter for their help on this project.

We will share these in posts at highercalling.net and in the Texas Fish & Game e-newsletter.

Higher Calling Wildlife mentors teens facing special challenges to become wildlife conservationists. Several of the teens we work with will be promoting this challenge via social media and helping in other ways.

It’s our way of helping create a NOW generation of conservationists.

Elk in Louisiana (Cool Reader Feedback)

In last week’s Wildlife Wednesday, I wrote about elk in Texas and solicited photos and information about elk in the eastern United States.

Reader Gary Pool sent in this super cool find.

I don’t have a picture but I have a book on the history of the Wyatt Family (my maternal grandmother’s maiden name). Her Uncle, Sillenger Wyatt was interviewed by a local newspaper in Jackson Parish of Louisiana around the time of WWII. He was in his 90’s at the time and died at 102 in the late 1940s.

As you can tell by the terrain, this ain’t in Louisiana! It’s in Montana. But there are breeding elk populations in the Eastern United States. (Photo by Chester Moore)

In it he says in response to a question about changes he had seen. He stated that before all the logging of the early 1900’s he remembered being able to SEE AN ELK OVER A MILE AWAY.

I’m sure you know north-central Louisiana is much like the Pineywoods of East Texas. I was not surprised to read that climax forests had less undergrowth and thus greater visibility and I do realize the “mile away” may not be accurate. But, ELK really got my attention.

I just thought you might find it interesting. I am in possession of the book.

If anyone has documentation or photos of free-ranging elk in Texas or anywhere east of here, please email chester@chestermoore.com.

Goosebumps anyone?

Ever feel as if something’s watching you in the woods? Well, it could be a cougar.

They are one of the most elusive predators in the world and can live in a populated area with virtually no one seeing them. In the woods, its as if they live in stealth mode.

I took this photo back in 2007 and thought I would share with you.

(Photo by Chester Moore)

Free E-Mag

We are beginning to work on our 2022 Higher Calling Wildlife® annual magazine. This is a labor of love for me.

Not only do I get to write cool stories on my favorite wildlife but more than half of the content (stories, photos, artwork) comes from teens we work with in our ministry.

In the forthcoming edition, we have what I believe is the strongest collection of content we’ve produced.

Thank you for your suppor!

If you would like to view or download or 2021 edition click here.

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

Snakes intrigue the public.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can check it out here.

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

Markhor Comeback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read more click here.

Share Our Wild Sheep Pandemic PSA

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

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

Elk Research Project Begins

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Chester Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wildlife Wednesday: Moose Attacks, Black Coyotes & Conserving Africa’s Wildlife

Greetings from the Higher Calling Wildlife® headquarters!

This week we have lots to discuss from around the world beginning with a series of moose attacks.

My “The Great American Wildlife Conflict” article was published in the Houston Safari Club Foundation’s convention journal that was handed out to all guests at their 2022 convention.

Big moose are bad news when they want to be! And they will show up in your front yard. (Photo Courtesy U.S. Fish.& Wildlife Service)

In the piece I named five animals I thought would have increasing conflicts with people and one of them was moose.

People typically think of carnivores as threats but large ungulates can almost become dangerous, especially when they routinely weigh more than 1,000 pounds.

In the last 48 hours, these three headlines came across my Google alerts.

Moose Attacks Two Vehicles Never Eveleth

Maine Teen Kills Moose After It Attacks Dog Sled

Alaska Moose Attack: Drive Prayed Not To Be Killed

Human populations are growing, moose numbers are increasing in some areas and wildlife habitat is shrinking.

The bull moose charged Bridgett Watkins’ dogs and trampled on them for more than an hour before it was shot dead on the Salcha River trail system near Fairbanks on Thursday.

Ms Watkins, who was training for a race, said she “emptied her gun into” the animal, but it continued to attack before a friend arrived and killed it with one round from their rifle.

That quote from the Alaska story is quite frightening and shows the potential danger of moose. Many predators leave after they think a threat is eliminated or if they “miss” in a pass at someone. Moose apparently like to hang around and keep on pounding.

I will be covering more on moose attacks and their behavior in coming editions.

My wife and I saw moose for the first time in the wild three years ago and we both fell in love with them. They have become her favorite animal so if fuel prices come down we may take a road trip this fall to photograph them.

Oh, don’t worry. We’ll keep a safe distance.

Black Non- Coyote-Canid?

For a few years I was on an email list with a bunch of biologists and wolf researchers and frequently heard the tear “non-coyote canid” used to describe animals that were definitely part coyote but might also have some wolf DNA.

Is this the case with this beautiful animal Rusty Adams captured on this game camera in East Texas? It looks like a coyote but it has a lot of bulk. Melanism (hyper amounts of black pigment) was common in what came to be the red wolf in the Southeastern United States. Is this a melanistic coyote or is there some lingering red wolf DNA?

I guess that would make it a non-coyote canid.

No matter what, it’s awesome and we appreciate Rusty sending in these photos. If you have game camera photos of unusual canids or any interesting wildlife, please send to chester@chestermoore.com. We would love to share them here.

Photo Courtesy Rusty Adams
Photo Courtesy Rusty Adams

Conserving Southern Africa’s Wildlife

In the latest episode of Higher Calling Wildlife® we talk with Adrian Donian of Buffalo Kloof Conservancy in South Africa about their amazing conservation work involving everything from white and black rhinos to cheetahs.

Joining us is Jake Hill, a Stephen F. Austin student who did an amazing internship there last year and had experiences that might make me just a tad jealous.

Jake connected me with Buffalo Kloof after we met on a turkey capture in Nacogdoches County, TX.

It’s a can’t miss episode on the Waypoint Podcast Network. Click here to listen.

Higher Calling Wildlife, the podcast, is brought to you by Texas Fish & Game magazine.

Bringing Back the Caspian Tiger

The Caspian tiger was the subspecies found in the Middle East and into parts of southern Russia.

They were known for having a large “beard” so to speak and were deemed officially extinct in 2003.

A Caspian tiger killed in northern Iran in the 1940s. (Wikimedia Commons Photo)

I recently came across a fascinating blog about Caspian tiger restoration efforts that involve everything from releasing Amur (Siberian) tigers into their range to bringing them back in the lab through cloning.

You can read about it here.

I heard intriguing reports in 2019 of Caspian tigers possibly surviving in Turkey. Wildlife of the Middle East has always intrigued me and I would love to one day go an an expedition into Turkey and Iran looking for some of its rare wildlife, including any possible leads on surviving tigers.

Eating Wild Game Is Sustainable And Healthy

We like to eat wild game at the Moore household as much as possible. I catch a lot of fish and usually kill at least a deer and a hog or two every year.

Wild game is healthy and by harvesting it and creating a demand through legal, biologically-monitored hunting, it creates a demand to keep wild species like whitetails and elk around.

Many people are turning to venison for health reasons. Check out my article at Texas Fish & Game on this topic by clicking here.

Free Wildlife of Israel E-Mag

Leading up to Passover, all of my media platforms are doing extra coverage on the wildlife of Israel.

We would like to offer our award-winning e-mag The Wildlife of Israel for free!

It’s got some top-notch stories and photos and features some work from some of the teens we are working with in our conservation project.

You can view the e-mag by clicking on the icon above or here.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Teen Poaching Crisis, COVID from Deer To Humans? & More

Greetings subscribers!

This will be a new format we use from here on out with multiple wildlife news and feature updates on Wednesdays including our Higher Calling Wildlife® podcast.

We will continue to have various special reports at different times throughout the week but on Wednesdays we get you up to speed on many things most of the outdoors world is either ignoring or or hot news as it becomes available.

This Week’s Podcast: The Teen Poaching Crisis

It’s a topic the outdoors world has been silent on. Save from a few law enforcement agency press releases and mentions of isolated cases in the blogosphere I’ve been the only one publishing on this issue.

Click here to listen to the show.

In this episode me and my special guest-author and outdoors television personality Jeff Stewart discuss the following:

*Deer slaughters involving teens across America

*Teens killing endangered species

*Strange killing of bald eagles

*Why we think this is happening

*How we can teach teens respect for wildlife.

It’s a can’t miss episode on a deep, intense topic.

Covid-19 From Deer to Humans?

A few weeks ago I interviewed biologist Macy Ledbetter about the discovery of COVID-19 in whitetails in Texas, numerous Midwestern states and Canada.

You can listen to that podcast here.

Now we have a report from Canada that researchers believe they have found a case of COVID-19 jumping from deer to humans.

You can read my piece on it here.

Super Long-Tailed Bobcat

A few years back, I wrote a piece on some bobcats have long tails and that post has gotten shared out there thousands of times.

The cool part is we get some great photo submissions.

This photo credited to Nathaniel Ohs was taken in South Carolina showing a bobcat with a very long tail.

Do you have any unusual bobcat photos? If so send them to chester@chestermoore.com

Boar Charges Surfer IN WATER in Hawaii

While out in the waters near Kaena Point on Oahu’s northwest shore, longtime surfer Ingrid Seiple says she was charged at by a wild boar according to a report at SF Gate.

According to the report, Seiple, a personal trainer who was born and raised in Kailua, Oahu, has been surfing for more than 35 years. 

“I saw something floating, I thought it was a monk seal,” Ingrid Seiple told Kyle Metcalf of KJK Production in a YouTube video. “I thought, ‘Oh cute, a monk seal,’ and then it just looked more stiff. It didn’t look round like a monk seal, so, I don’t know, I was ignoring it and thought maybe it was a log.

This is definitely among the wildest (pun intended) hog-human interactions I’ve heard.

These animals will continue to become emboldened globally as hog and human populations soar.

To read more click here.

An Inspiring Moment

Our Higher Calling Wildlife Expeditions takes mentors teens to become wildlife conservationists.

One of the teens we mentor, Nathan Children, wants to be a game warden and thanks to Macy Ledbetter of Spring Creek Outdoors and the Rafter K Ranch he got to take part in a special release of Rio Grande turkeys.

It was Nathan’s first time being around wild turkeys and on the way home from the trip he said, “I definitely want to do more to help wild turkeys after experiencing that.”

Speaking of turkeys, we’ll be announcing something special the Montgomery County Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation is helping us with next week.

Stay tuned.

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Tracking Eastern Turkeys: LSU Study Crosses Over To Texas

A cutting-edge study to examine the lives of Eastern wild turkeys has crossed the Sabine River from Louisiana into East Texas.

Louisiana State University (LSU) researchers with the cooperation of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) and help from the National Wild Turkey Federation are fitting Eastern turkeys with GPS collars to track their movements.

Higher Calling Wildlife’s Chester Moore got to document the first collaring effort in Texas.

He hit the field with Chad Argabright, a graduate student at LSU spearheading the project in the field and TPWD Wildlife Region 6 Leader Rusty Wood and his staff.

LSU graduate student Chad Argabright fits an Eastern turkey captured north of Lufkin with a GPS transmitter. Argabright has worked with everything from whitetails to opossums around the nation. ((Photo by Chester Moore)
  • In this edition of Higher Calling Wildlife,-the podcast Chester  interviews LSU’s Dr. Bret Collier who has studied the birds in Louisiana for a decade and is overseeing the the overall turkey collaring study that spans Texas and Louisiana.

In this show learn the following:

*The technology to track turkeys

*How the collars can track hens with poults in their feeding zones down to a 30 square foot area.

*Roosting habits of turkeys.

*An examination of turkey breeding dates.

*Predation on turkeys-(key predators)

*The controversy of hog predation on turkeys. Are hogs really a direct nest threat?

*Reasons for decline of Eastern turkeys in many states & much more.

You can reach out to Dr. Collier @drshortspur on Twitter and Instagram.

Subscribe to the podcast on the Waypoint Podcast Network by clicking the “subscribe” button at the bottom of the latest episode to get updated when shows debut.

The podcast is brought to you by Texas Fish & Game magazine.

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*

COVID-19 In Whitetail Deer: Top Biologist Gives Latest Info, Plus A Deep Dive On CWD

COVID-19 has been found in whitetail deer in Texas and numerous Midwestern states.

And contrary to social media chatter, it’s not the coronavirus common to certain animals. It’s the same COVID-19 impacting people around the world.

Biologist Macey Ledbetter with a whitetail on one of his ranch surveys.

In this special edition of Higher Calling Wildlife, host Chester Moore interviews veteran wildlife biologist Macey Ledbetter of Spring Creek Outdoors who works with deer on a daily basis through Texas.

Click here to listen.

In this episode the following points are addressed:

*Location (County) of COVID-19 deer study in Texas.

*Latest theories on how deer got the virus.

*Concerns about deer transmitting it to humans.

In addition Chester and Macey go deep into Chronic Wasting Disease talking about number of deer killed in Texas, possible genetic links to CWD susceptibility, how the disease impacts deer breeders and the possible overlooked transmitting species that no one seems to be examining in Texas.

Higher Calling Wildlife was recently named one of the top 20 wildlife podcasts on the planet and won Best Podcast in the Press Club of Southeast Texas “Excellence In Media” awards.

Higher Calling Wildlife is brought to you by Texas Fish & Game.

Poisoned Hogs & The Texas Javelina Massacre

Should we poison feral hogs?

For the last five years, various plans to poison feral hogs has been on tap for Texas but various challenges have changed the original plans.

In the final installment on our series on hogs, Higher Calling Wildlife discusses the following:

Click here to listen

*Latest update on plans to poison hogs on a mass scale in Texas

*Results of USDA Studies on impact on non-target animals

*The CONTRACEPTIVE that was introduced into the wild to fight hogs in 2021.

*’An exclusive interview excerpt with a geneticist about technology to GENE EDIT sows.

*How hog poisoning could help finish of Texas’ javelina population.

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Monster Hogs: Killing Bear-Sized Boars

In part two of the Higher Calling Wildlife podcast series, we discuss truly monster hogs.

Click to listen to this interview with “The Hogfather” Frank Moore.

In this episode we address the following questions:

*What is the maximum size for wild hogs?

*Are wild hogs as smart as whitetails?

*Can you specifically target and kill giant boars?

*Which is more dangerous-giant boars or sows?

*How are monster hogs thriving in cities?

Plus, much, much more.

You can listen to part 1 of the series here.

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Analysis Of A Hog Attack

In this episode of Higher Calling Wildlife on the Waypoint Podcast Network, host Chester Moore and hog expert Jeff Stewart analyze a 2021 hog attack after Chester interviews the survivor who tells a terrifying story of his near-death encounter.

Click image below to listen

Chester and Jeff answer the following questions:

What triggered the attack?

How will this factor impact others as hog numbers continue to skyrocket?

Are we about to enter an era where hog attacks are common?

Just how dangerous are feral hogs?

It’s a can’t miss episode with the super rare change to hear a hog attack survivor’s story and high-level analysis of exactly what happened.

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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

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