Chester Moore is an award-winning wildlife journalist and conservationist. He is Editor-In-Chief of Texas Fish & Game magazine and contributes to Sports Afield, Hunter’s Horn, Deer & Deer Hunting, Tide, The Lakecaster and many others. He is host of “Moore Outdoors” on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI and of The Higher Calling podcast.
He is author of fifteen books including Hog Wild: Hog Hunting Facts, Tips & Strategies, Texas Waterfowl and Flounder Fever. Chester is a lifelong hunter and angler who enjoys everything from bowhunting wild turkeys to surf fishing for sharks to fly fishing for rainbow trout.
He was awarded the Advocatus Magni Award in 2020 from the National Wild Turkey Federation for his work with wild turkeys, the Mossy Oak Outdoors Legacy award in 2017 for his work with children and wildlife and was named a “Hero Of Conservation” by Field & Stream magazine. Altogether he has won more than 150 awards for conservation, writing, radio and photography.
On the program Moore will talk about wild turkeys ranging from their life habits o conservation issues.
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Yesterday I exchanged texts with a private biologist in Texas who owns land in the Hill Country and surveys everywhere from East Texas to remote desert in the Trans Pecos.
What’s happening in my home state is bad, but it’s even worse in other places.
The following is from the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Central Washington, Idaho, and northwest Montana also saw increases in drought extent or severity as short-term dryness continues to build upon long-term moisture deficits extending back to last year. Many parts of southern Idaho, and the rest of the West, have set records for the driest 3-month period (January to March) going back 100 years or more. Meanwhile near record warmth increased evaporative demand from plants and soils.
Farther south, extreme drought expanded in parts of California, Nevada, and New Mexico while moderate and severe drought expanded across Arizona. In California, Cooperative Extension reports impacts to agriculture including reduced forage, livestock stress, decreased water allocation, and the selling livestock earlier than normal. Data such as reduced stream flows and declines in satellite-based vegetation health and soil moisture indicators confirm these reports.
This is already having a big impact on wildlife. As early as last summer, wildlife officials in Nevada in conjunction with partners like The Wild Sheep Foundation were dropping water on manmade guzzlers (water tanks) to supplement water for desert bighorns and other wildlife.
There are concerns across much of Texas for wild turkey and quail production in much of the state.
This will end up being the United States biggest wildlife story of 2022 and we will do our best to keep you up to date.
Helping Asian Elephants
Since 2007 I have been writing about the need to get more attention to Asian elephants and their dire conservation needs.
There are literally 10 times as many African elephants yet they seem to get the bulk of attention.
I was excited to learn of the Center of Asian Elephant Conservation at the St. Louis Zoo.
Check out what they’re doing.
The Center for Asian Elephant Conservation’s partnership with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and others will significantly enhance our scientific understanding of rewilding elephants. Through a ground-breaking research project based in Myanmar, a framework will be developed for elephant release that incorporates a diversity of scientific approaches at all decision stages. To test this framework, approximately 30-50 elephants will be released into the wild in the near future to gain a deeper understanding of which animals are most likely to succeed in the wild and which management choices can ensure success. This project will be a tool for environmental managers to use when designing future elephant reintroduction programs across Asian elephant range countries.
Between 2005 and 2021, they contributed more than $420,000 to the International Elephant Foundation to support Asian elephant conservation in Asia and has supported projects in Sumatra, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and India.
The Zoo is also eading the fight against Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes Virus (EEHV), a viral infection that affects elephants in the wild and in zoos, by contributing to prognosis and treatment protocols that have saved elephants. In 2021, the Zoo established its own EEHV lab to further our commitment to fighting this disease.
Growing up in South Florida, Emily and Amanda Gale, The Gale Force Twins, discovered their love and passion for the water.
Last weekend I had a chance to hang out with them and interview them for the Higher Calling Wildlife podcast at the Hunt-Fish Podcast Summit.
“At an early age, we started fishing off the docks of Islamorda wanting nothing more than to go deep sea fishing. We attended the University of Miami, earning degrees in Microbiology and Immunology while competing on the track and field team as pole vaulters. The two of us spent our summer breaks and long weekends working on a busy fishing charter boat out of Key West,” they said.
“It was there that we finished our sea time, honed in on our skills and earned our USCG 50 Ton Captains Licenses. With that we started our own business, Gale Force Twins LLC.”
Upon graduating, the girils left the academic world to pursue careers in the sportfishing industry.
“After a few years of running our own charter business. We began vlogging our adventures as female captains on the water. The response was exponentailly positive. We now film, edit and produce educational yet entertaining videos on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. Although each video is unique they all share the same goal: to Educate, Explain and Entertain. We take pride in keeping our pages family friendly while we take our viewers with us to experience the variety of fishing opportunities that the world has to offer.”
The folks at Spring Creek Outdoors, LLC were kind enough to ask if I wanted to release one of the Rio Grande turkeys I had been photographing them release on the Rafter K Ranch. It was cool being on this side of a release. They are working on a TPWD-permitted turkey restoration project.
I never take moments like this for granted and thank God for them in a very literal sense.
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*Population estimates in Kentucky and hunting opportunities.
*Travel and migration issues
*Opportunities for future elk restoration
*Plus, much more.
Rogue Waves In Channels and Bays
A large segment of our readership fishes along the Gulf Coast of the United States.
And due to my own experience I have been conducting an investigation on large rogue waves produced by oil tankers and other large cargo ships.
These can be life threatening so I am raising awareness to the issue through Texas Fish & Game as well as a future edition of the podcast.
Here’s an encounter I shared in a recent story at fishgame.com.
Reader Chris Polnick recently shared this harrowing encounter with us.
“Across from the dike quite a few years back, a buddy and I were doing some night fishing. We were out at the end of the small jetty. The waters were fairy calm. We were out there a few hours and I estimate the water line at the time to be at least three feet below the top of the jetty. All of a sudden a wave hit the jetty and the water pulled way back off the rocks and wave number was enough to splash us,” he said.
Polnick said as the water pulled even further back the second wave had just enough time to grab what we could just before the third wave washed across the top of the jetty, luckily only about mid-shin level.
“Luckily for us we were able to maintain our footing. Much higher and we would have been pushed off the jetty for sure. We lost some tackle boxes a rod and a few other items. You don’t think much about a life jacket on the jetty but we came real close to needing one that night!”
Have you ever encountered a wave like this in a bay or channel? If so, please share with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sharing your story could help save someone’s life.
Fatal Grizzly Bear Attack
According to a report at CNN.com, a grizzly bear fatally attacked a father of four in Montana.
Sheriff Brad Bichler of the Park County Sheriff’s Office told CNN Craig Clouatre, 40, was hiking with a friend Wednesday in the Six Mile Creek area, which is about 20-25 miles north of Yellowstone National Park, when they split up.
“It is with a very heavy heart that I am writing this update. After an extensive search this morning we have located Craig,” Bichler said in a Facebook post.
“It appears he had an encounter with a grizzly and unfortunately did not survive,” Bicher’s post said.
Grizzly numbers are rising in Montana and Wyoming and black bear numbers are increasing across much of their range. Many times these are attacks are simply people being in the wrong place at the wrong time and meeting the wrong bear.
We were excited to get an update from our friend Rachael Risby Raz with the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem about the Persian fallow deer restoration project we have supported for the last eight years.
At the beginning of March, we released a large group of nine Persian Fallow deer from the breeding center at the Zoo into the wild at the Nahal Sorek Nature Reserve in the Jerusalem hills.
Three females and six males were released, and of these, seven deer were fitted with GPS tracking collars.
In the past, only the females are fitted with GPS collars. This is because the males’ necks can expand during the breeding season which means that the collars can snap and break.
This year we have acquired special elastic collars that expand when needed and thus were able to fit collars to some of the males as well.
Nadav Ganot, the Zoo’s conservation project coordinator, reports that all the deer are doing well in the acclimatization enclosure and in the coming weeks, the gates to the enclosure will be opened and the deer will be free to go into the wild. This process usually takes a few days.
The project is in partnership with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
Special guests for the event include Gray Thornton, President & CEO The Wild Sheep Foundation, Renee Thornton, Chair Women Hunt, Dale Rollins (Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch), Brittany Perry, biologist for the National Wild Turkey Federation, Gale Force Twins (Emily and Amanda), Captain Stacy Lynn, Captain Eric Trout, Heroes On the Water, Laura Lindsey and Camille Null.
We will post a special updates with links to the first podcast to come from the event. All podcasters will interview the special guests and there will be special round-table discussions as well.
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A monster black bear has been captured and relocated in Tennessee.
A 500-pound black bear living near Tusculum college in Greeneville had become habituated to human and unnatural foods and was relocated to a remote area of the Cherokee National Forest according to officials with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA).
Wildlife Sgt. David Carpenter said the bear had regular access to garbage, birdseed, and pet food had and been in the area for a few years but ramped up its activity and property damage last year on the agency’s Facebook page.
Wildlife Officers decided to trap it then due to the increasing potential for negative interaction, but were unsuccessful after the bear changed its travel routine. Recent activity indicated it was back to its old ways and Officers Ryan Rosier, Austin Wilson, and Sgt. Carpenter located the bear in a small vacant wood lot and were able to free-range tranquilize it. They worked the bear up and requested the assistance of the Greeneville Fire Department to help move it to the transport cage due to its size. They were glad to help and were able to use some of their specialized equipment to expedite the process.
Kudos to TWRA officials for the successful relocation of a monster bear and reminding us how big black bears can get.
The Most Dangerous Thing In The Woods
A couple of years ago someone asked me what was the most dangerous thing to encounter in the woods.
Since I’ve written and broadcasted extensively on cougars, snakes, feral hogs and bears they were expecting one of those as the answer.
“People, ” I said.
“There is nothing more dangerous than people, especially in remote forests and mountainous regions.”
Deep woods can sometimes mean big dangers. (Public Domain Photo) The answer came from collecting stories as a journalist over the years and my own personal experiences which I will discuss in upcoming posts and broadcasts.
The stories are omnipresent.
Take for example the caller to my radio program “Moore Outdoors” on Newtalk AM 560 KLVI who found a body burning while teal hunting with his son south of Houston.
Another caller revealed that in the 70s he and his father were out night fishing near High Islalnd, TX and see someone against the shoreline burying something and decided to leave.
Turns out it was monstrous serial killer Dean Corll who brutalized dozens of teenage boys.
Remote areas are often the most peaceful but due to the isolation can be extremely dangerous.
This author often finds himself in very remote locations. Here he glasses for bighorn sheep in a remote valley in Colorado.
My goal is to educate people on what can happen in these areas and how to be prepared so that all deep woods hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing trips are safe.
That will require bringing to light some uncomfortable facts. And it will also involve creating a system of proactive safety.
I see these human-related threats falling into four categories.
*Idiot Hunters: These are those rare , unethical, clueless hunters who should not be in the woods (and give the rest of us a bad name). Every years stories of people shooting someone because they heard something coming through the bushes. This is probably statistically the most dangerous human threat because of the widespread nature of hunters in America.
*Poachers: Encountering a poacher in the woods can be dangerous if they assume you will turn them in or if you make the mistake of confronting them instead of law enforcement handling the duties. It’s not as dangerous as it is in Africa where organized crime and even terror cells are involved in high stakes rhino and elephant poaching but it is a potential threat.
*Drug Trade: Finding meth labs and pot farms is not good. People do not want their operations found out and will go to any length to stop someone from squealing.
*Predators: This is the highest level. This is coming across someone hunting humans whether to rape, kill or terrorize.
I will be doing a podcast series on this topic. Have you had a crazy human encounter in the woods or on the water?
Sharing your encounter might help save someone’s life.
Drugs In Bonefish
A three-year study by Florida International University (FIU) and Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (BTT) has discovered pharmaceutical contaminants in the blood and other tissues of bonefish in Biscayne Bay and the Florida Keys.
“Coastal fisheries face increasing threats associated with human-based contaminants,” said Jim McDuffie, BTT President and CEO.
“Pharmaceuticals are an often overlooked dimension of water quality and their presence in South Florida bonefish is cause for concern. These contaminants pose a significant threat to the flats fishery, an important part of Florida’s recreational saltwater fishery, which has an annual economic impact of $9.2 billion and directly supports 88,500 jobs.”
Since the study began in 2018, FIU scientists and BTT research associates, in partnership with Sweden’s Umeå University and the University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), have sampled 93 fish in South Florida, finding an average of seven pharmaceuticals per bonefish, and a whopping 17 pharmaceuticals in a single fish. The list includes blood pressure medications, antidepressants, prostate treatment medications, antibiotics, and pain relievers. Researchers also found pharmaceuticals in bonefish prey—crabs, shrimp and fish—suggesting that many of Florida’s valuable fisheries are exposed, and not only the bonefish fishery.
At a BTT panel event in Tallahassee, FL, lead researcher Dr. Jennifer Rehage presented the study’s findings.
“These findings are truly alarming,” said Dr. Rehage. “Pharmaceuticals are an invisible threat, unlike algal blooms or turbid waters. Yet these results tell us that they are a formidable threat to our fisheries, and highlight the pressing need to address our longstanding wastewater infrastructure issues.”
Approximately 5 billion prescriptions are filled each year in the US, yet there are no environmental regulations for the disposal of pharmaceuticals worldwide.
Pharmaceutical contaminants originate most often from human wastewater and are not sufficiently removed by conventional water treatment. They remain active at low doses, can be released constantly, and exposure can affect all aspects of fish behavior, with negative consequences for their reproduction and survival. Pharmaceutical contaminants have been shown to affect all aspects of the life of fish, including their feeding, activity, sociability, and migratory behavior.
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.
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.”
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.
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 email@example.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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com. We would love to share them here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.