Yesterday we announced that we created our own conservation outreach Higher Calling Wildlife. Everyone who joins for FREE gets this very special edition Higher Calling Wildlife “Wildlife Of Israel” e-mag.
It’s the first of its kind magazine focusing solely on Israel’s wildlife and we chose to debut it today as the Jewish festival of Rosh Hashanah (Feast of Trumpets) begins this evening.
This is the New Year on the calendar God gave to the Hebrews and since supporting Israel’s wildlife is one of our pillars, we thought this would be a good way to celebrate and also a new beginning for us.
This summer has been a fun one here at Higher Calling as we have been on a three month long quest called “Summer of the Bear”.
The goal has been to raise awareness to bears and bear conservation around the world.
It started with reporting on greatly increased bear sightings in my home state of Texas and has seen us doing lots of giveaways including plush bears for kids and special edition Texas Bear Aware tokens.
This week ends our summer bear project and we’re doing it in a big way publishing this podcast I recorded with Jack Evans of Bear Trust International.
Listen to the show below as we talk about that organization’s great conservation education work.
Thanks to everyone who participated by sending emails, social media interaction, photos and videos.
The “Summer of the Bear” was a big success thanks to you.
“You see it on social media all the time, but I never thought it would happen to me. Someone shot and killed our horse last night in his pasture in Port Mansfield. If anyone has any leads please let us know. I am completely devastated R.I.P Seabiscuit.”
Those heartbreaking words showed up in my Facebook feed just a day after I started looking into mysterious horse killings in Texas, Florida and Louisiana.
I was able to interview the horse’s devastated owner Jessica Neu, who said the horse was shot in the chest, head on and no meat was taken.
“This was in a pasture right outside of Port Mansfield, TX. It’s the navigation district property where local kids can keep livestock and show animals..”
There is no known motive and as she noted in her post, these killings are showing up all over the place. If you have any information for Neu, contact her here.
The podcast also addresses three similar killings in the Liberty County area from 2017-2018.
The Pearland killings involved the harvest of meat. Like the death of Neu’s horse, the ones in Liberty were shot and left to die with no meat harvest.
These are both bizarre situations and ones that I believe deserve attention here as horses are such an important part of the lifestyle of outdoors lovers.
There is in my opinion two different situations happening regarding horse killings.
The Pearland killings along with a similar situation in central Florida most likely is tied to some sort of black market horse meat trade.
As my friend and fellow researcher Jeff Stewart noted in order to butcher a horse and load it up it would be like skinning and packing out a large bull elk.
One hind quarter would possibly weigh over 100 pounds. There’s a good chance this would take more than one person and the risk level of taking the horse, killing and taking the meat is far higher than a drive by shooting of sorts.
The second situation is what we will focus on here which is the killing of horses for seemingly no gain other than to kill the horse or perhaps terrorize the owners.
An Aug. 5 story at Spectrum News details a July killing of a little girls’ horse in Caldwell County, TX. where a horse was shot in the head and left to die. Caldwell County is a four hour drive straight up Highway 77 from Port Mansfield.
Two of the killings were the same little girls’ horse-one two days before Christmas in 2017 and the other in February 2018 after someone gave her a new horse. Another child’s horse was killed in the same area Nov. 2017.
Is there a pattern here?
We have just hit the tip of the iceberg and will cover more in future editions but here are a few similar reports from other states.
There is nothing more majestic than a bighorn ram navigating its mountain domain where the air is thin and the scenery stunning.
As me and my wife Lisa photographed a gorgeous Rocky Mountain bighorn ram enjoying a natural mineral lick at 12,000 feet in Colorado, another ram appeared.
Popping its head up over what looked like a sheer cliff from our angle, the younger ram carefully made it’s away toward the lick, cautiously approaching the older and larger animal.
I thanked God for the moment because I knew it was He that put me and Lisa on this path.
Six months earlier the Holy Spirit whispered the words “Higher Calling” into my spirit and put me on a trajectory that led me on a path of deeper purpose and of elevated expectations.
As COVID-19 continues to shake the world and people debate everything from wearing masks to rioting, there is no doubt times are confusing.
In his letter to the church in Phillip, the Apostle Paul wrote, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
And that’s what seeing the great animals of the high country reminds me of-God, His Creation and divine purpose.
There was a reason these rams had a mineral lick in their alpine habitat and they instinctively knew they needed it.
When the universe was flung into Creation, those purposes were built into the Earth and the sheep and here we were witnessing it.
There is something pure about mountain air and special about the creatures that thrive in these environments.
Wild sheep don’t always live in the highest altitudes though. They will move down into valleys and fields to feed. And when they do, they are often in grave danger.
There has been a pandemic of sorts ongoing with wild sheep in North America since the 1800s when domestic sheep entered their landscape. Carrying bacterial pneumonia, they transfer it to their wild cousins and the results have been catastrophic.
From two million wild sheep on the continent when Lewis and Clark set out on their expedition to 25,000 or so in 1900 it was brutal.
Hunter-conservationists and concenred fish and game agencies stepped in and through translocation and careful management have brought numbers up to around 175,000 but the threat still exists. And wild sheep still die when the co-mingle with domestics.
Maybe there’a s lesson here for us.
Co-mingling with those infected can only bring trouble.
The coronavirus is one aspect but I am talking about all of the infection of the hateful, vicious fighting over issues that will only truly be settled when the Lord returns. I am talking about the abandonment of honor for fellow humans.
At 12,000 fee that day there were no political debates, election ads, controversies of social issues or division thereof.
It was just me, my wife, what ended up being three Rocky Mountain bighorn rams and a tangible sense of God’s presence.
If I had not heeded the words “Higher Calling”, we would not have experienced this and many things in my life would be different.
This blog would not even exist.
There is something to this whole “Higher Calling” thing and that is for each of us to discover and I believe those who purpose it in their hearts will do so in 2020.
And I am soon heading back to the mountains to do just that.
Author Michael Bond impacted several generations with his iconic “Paddington Bear” series.
Featuring a spectacled bear from South America, a species known little outside of its indigenous range, the books and animated features have done more to raise the profile of the species than anything.
They are the only South American bear species and are named for the light pattern on their face, neck and chest that in some individual resembles spectacles or eyeglasses.
According to the Wildlife Conservation Network, little is known about this elusive bear and while the mystery surrounding them may add to its mystique, it does little to further its conservation.
Lack of knowledge about these bears considerably compromises the conservation management for the species.
This rare, charismatic bear is highly endangered, primarily due to habitat fragmentation that has caused bears to lose access to critical feeding areas. Although this bear is generally found in humid, alpine cloud forests, Spectacled Bear Conservation (SBC) discovered a population of more than 65 bears in the low elevation dry forest, providing a unique opportunity to observe these bears in the wild.
SBC says spectacled bears are a vulnerable species seriously threatened by habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and human-wildlife conflict.
The lack of knowledge about spectacled bears in the wild impacts our ability to make conservation decisions or plans. Spectacled bears are the only bear species in South America with potentially as few as 2,500 mature individuals remaining.
I have reached out to some researchers to get some in-depth information on the species we will hopefully be able to post soon. Until then, enjoy this introduction to the beautiful, enigmatic and endangered spectacled bear.
Rhinoceros are not just animals of savannah and desert as we established in the first two installments of this series (Pt. 1, Pt. 2).
These great animals inhabit moist forest and even highland areas in Africa and in Asia, most of the remnant rhino populations are in dense forest or mountainous areas.
African rhinos get a fair amount of mainstream wildlife coverage but their cousins in Asia get almost none which was a big inspiration for me to do this series.
The Javan and Sumatran rhinos are as on the edge of extinction as any animal on the planet, but not everything in Asia is bad.
In fact, in India, there has been quite a turnaround in the population of Indian or one-horned rhinos according to officials with the World Wildlife Fund.
Both range countries, India and Nepal, have been very successful in expanding greater one-horned rhino numbers from around 200 individuals at the turn of the 20th century to a total of around 3,500 today.
Vigorous anti-poaching patrols and successful translocations from one area to another has brought the species back from the brink of extinction.
In Africa, rhino farming has been extremely successful in South Africa and hunter-based iniatives including “green hunting” where rhinos are darted and sperm is collected to artifiically insimiate rhinos in other areas have proven successful especially for white rhinos.
But the situation is very serious out there on the poaching end. The Asian demand has not ceased. Here are a few standouts to show how much effort it takes to keep rhinos in existence.
*Zoo Poaching: A rhino was poached for its horns at a zoo in France in 2016. “Rhino poaching has historically targeted wild populations,” said Dr. Susie Ellis, Executive Director of the International Rhino Foundation in a 2016 news release.
“This is the first such known poaching incident at a zoo. Criminal networks fairly recently began targeting museum specimens in Europe. Zoos, as living museums, now are also at risk. In response to the Paris rhino killing, we urge all zoological facilities to take serious measures to keep their rhinos safe.”
Terror Cells: It is believed major poaching syndicates are in league with terror groups using funds from rhino horns and ivory to help fund their activities. If you think dealing with poachers is bad, think about it being tied in with terrorists.
Assasinations: Lt-Col Leroy Bruwer, 49, a top rhino poaching ring investigator died in a hail of bullets in Mbombela on the R37 connecting Mbombela and Lydenburg March 18, 2020.
The people protecting rhinos and working for their conservation are doing incredible work and deserve our prayers and support both in awareness-raising and finances.
Below are some groups doing great work for rhinos.
The giant ungulates are truly wonders of Creation and are also among the planet’s most critically endangered animals.
In part 1 of our series we established that these animals are not only dwellers of savannah and desert but also inhabit forest and mountainous areas in Africa.
Africa has two species, the black and white (square-lipped) rhinoceros and of those two the black had the largest historical range.
That wide-ranging distribution included several now extinct subspecies including the western black rhinoceros which the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) deemed extinct in 2011 after a search in heavily-forested Cameroon proved fruitless.
The eastern black rhino is often found in highland forest and like all rhinos will inhabit savannah as well.
Like all black rhinos, these are browsers which mean they prefer eating from bushes, trees and other woody vegetations whereas grazers eat grass and low vegetation. Forests offer ample grazing opportunties as well as cover.
That’s why account for exact black rhino numbers in forested nations is challenging. Helicopter, drone and airplane surveys are not as effective as they are on the savannahs.
White rhinos prefer open areas more than their darker-colored and smaller cousins but will spend time in forested areas, especially if they find a good mud hole or trees to use for a rubbing post. (To scractch that itch.)
Sumatran rhinos are even more critically endangered than their African cousins with fewer than 100 left in the wild according to Save The Rhino International (STI). These rhinos are the smallest of all but they are incredibly agile.
Sumatran rhinos can run fast and are very agile. They climb mountains easily and can negotiate very steep slopes and riverbanks. With the protection provided by the horns and rims of hard skin and cartilage on nose and head, they can easily break through the densest vegetation, leaving round tunnels
These Javan rhino is in even worse shape in terms of population wtih only single population of around 70 animals believed to exist in the wild. These animals which currently live in dense forest once had an incredible distribution according to STI.
Javan rhinos used to live in a variety of tropical landscapes, both lowland and highland, from the mangroves of the Sunderbans in India and Bangladesh, the mountains of southern China, to the sub-montane shrubs on the highest volcanoes of Java. The Javan rhino probably had a wider ecological range than either its larger relative, the greater one-horned rhino, or its compatriot, the Sumatran rhino.
The reason for this series is to give a look at overlooked aspects of African rhinos and their range and to bring awareness to those forest-dwellers in Asia that are far closer to extinction than even those in Africa.
For whatever reason they get almost no attention from the corporate wildlife media. This is our way of shining some light on a dark spot in wildlife conservation.
In the next and final article in the series we will examine an Asian rhino that is on the rebound and look at some conservation project that could radically change the trajectory of rhino populations in Africa for the better.
Rhinoceros are some of the most iconic and endangered animals on the planet.
Facing outright slaughter by poachers seeking highly valuable horns for trade in the Asian traditional medicine market, they are animals of very special concern.
When thinking of rhinos it is hard not to imagine them in the open savanna or desert settings often depicted on television. And yes, those areas in southern Africa are crucial to both white and black rhinoceros and their subspecies.
But did you know rhinos are also an animal of the forest and even the mountains? Or at least they were in many areas before poachers decimated them.
Black rhinos live in the montane forests of Kenya, an ecoregion that has several separate areas up to 2000 meters in elevation.
Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) in recent years has imported rhinos to once again inhabit their former range in the small, landlocked country that has a mix of forest, savanna, and mountains.
I first got an interest in learning more about rhinos in thicker forest habitat after watching an episode of my friend Austin Steven’s brilliant program Austin Stevens Adventures.
In the episodeIn the Shadow of Armored Giants, he sought black and white rhinos in the Mkhaya game reserve in Eswatini. The scenes of him in some super thick forests approaching rhinos at an incredibly close distance was quite inspiring.
I reached out to Stevens to get some of his thoughts on his rhino encounters since his groundbreaking footage probably gave the best glimpse into rhinos I have ever seen on a television program.
I have been fortunate to observe the behavior of the two species found in Southern Africa, the so-called white rhino (more accurately, the square-lipped rhino) and the black rhino. Of the two, the black rhino is generally the slightly smaller, and known for its more aggressive nature. The white rhino, on the other hand, while of course also being potentially dangerous, has a far more subdued demure. Both are amazingly well camouflaged in natural bush and can be easily missed on a game drive, in spite of their size. If on foot in the bush, one encounters a white rhino, there is usually time and opportunity to slowly back away and avoid confrontation. Should one however, enter into close proximity with a black rhino, then basically it is already too late, and disaster might be the result.
As described in his latest book, Running Wild, Stevens experienced a close encounter with each of the species.
One saw me awakened each night in my tent as a white rhino stomped, pounded and pulverized, with great gusto, my entrance mat, rendering me terrified inside the flimsy walls of the tent. It seemed that my tent had unknowingly been erected within the rhino’s terrain. A lesson well learned.
The black rhino encounter was a little scarier.
As for my black rhino encounter, as is typical, I had no idea the animal was present until it charged out of the thicket and sent me scurrying for my life up a leaning tree, thankfully within reach. A few snorts and a few jabs at my feet, just out of reach, and the animal seemed to be satisfied that it had secured its territory, and it turned around and disappeared once more back into the thicket from which it had emerged. I was pretty shaken, and another lesson learned. All in a day’s work for a wildlife photographer.
I would never have considered some of the dense forest rhinos can inhabit if I had not seen Stevens episode and read his book. They inspired this series of articles and to look deeper into where rhinos used to roam.
As a photographer, rhinos are at the very top of my list of African game I would like to photograph.
Seeing them in the distant savannah and approaching in a Land Rover is one thing but to get close to them in a thick, forested setting is another.
In the next edition, we will look at some of the surprisingly high elevations rhinos can roam and look into what is happening with them in the more forested regions of west-central Africa.
And we will conclude the series with how innovative conservation measures are bringing hope for these armored giants.
Argali are the largest and arguably most regal wild sheep on the planet.
Inhabiting areas ranging from the Gobi desert to the Himalayas, these massive mountain ungulates are prized by hunters and revered by wildlife lovers.
They face many threats ranging from warming temperatures causing degradation of alpine habitat in Tajikistan to highly organized poaching in several countries.
A study conducted in the Ikh Nart Nature Preserve in Mongolia presents a real threat that is flying under the radar of wild sheep management.
According to researchers, they tracked collared argali for a minimum of two weeks each month, and survival was monitored daily with binoculars and telemetry. All collars were equipped with mortality sensors. When an individual animal was found dead, a necropsy was performed to determine the cause of death and the surrounding area was searched for additional clues.
They said in cases of predation, attempts were made to identify the predator species. Potential predators of argali include wolves, free-roaming dogs, foxes, and snow leopards.
Fox and snow leopard kills could normally be distinguished from those of other predators by a combination of signs, including the tracks, scat, and the distance between puncture wounds. However, kills made by either a wolf or by free-roaming or feral dogs could not be distinguished confidently in all cases, and were classified only as canid.
They said dog predation in the Ikh Nart Nature Reserve was responsible for between 2.7 and 34.2 percent of GPS (global positioning system)-collared argali deaths. Although only 2.7 percent were positively identified as dog kills, wolves were sighted just six times in eight years whereas free-roaming dogs were frequently observed.
We also found or observed five uncollared argali killed by free-roaming dogs during the study period. The deaths of radio-collared argali during this study therefore suggest that dogs may be a large source of mortality.
Feral dogs are present in a huge portion of the variety of argali subspecies range as well as that of snow sheep and wild goats.
Since these researchers have been extremely cautious in putting blame on dogs and have shown they are a big part of the mortality equation in this particular preserve it begs the following questions.
How much do feral dogs impact wild sheep in other areas of Asia?
Do feral dogs do some of the killing blamed on wolves in certain areas? (Remember researchers said feral dogs were “frequently seen” and wolves were seen only six times in eight years in the study area.)
Could organized control of feral dogs have a positive and practical impact on argali?
Feral dogs are a threat to wildlife and to people. I have personally had two harrowing encounters with feral dogs and have spoken with wildlife managers as well as ranchers who have major problems with feral dogs.
I never considered them as a threat to argali but they might just be ones that are having a bigger impact than we ever imagined. Hopefully, research in other areas can shed light on this issue that would be much easier to address than things like climate change.
(Researchers for this study included Julie K. Young, Kirk A. Olson, Richard P. Reading, Sukh Amgalanbaatar, Joel Berger. The study was first published in Bioscience magazine.)
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