Creature Feature: GIANT toad!

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On this week’s episode of The Creature Feature we profile a giant Suriname marine toad. Enjoy!

Creature Feature: Giant Toad! from Kingdom Zoo on Vimeo.

Lynx in Texas? Pt. 2

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(This is the final installment of a two-part series written by my cat research partner Terri Werner and I.

Chester Moore, Jr.

The first difference between a Canada lynx and a bobcat is size.

Bobcats can vary greatly in size as noted earlier in the story. A hunter for example who shoots a 20-pound bobcat might be shocked to see a 35-pound cat with long legs that looks as if it were a giant in comparison to the animal they took. Some bobcats tend to be very “leggy” while others are long and lean.

Ear tufts also vary greatly among individuals. Most bobcats have short but some are comparable to those of their northern cousins.

Spot patterns also vary wildly with some having virtually no spots on the top half and others possessing well-defined spots. A few individuals have a unique pattern traits of spots within spots that look sort of like the rosettes of a leopard or jaguar. It is not as pronounced as those big cats but it looks shockingly different from other bobcats. “Bob” one of the bobcats at Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge has this pattern and we received a photo of wild specimen in Texas while conducting our research.

Bobcat photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Bobcat photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

People seeing this “different” looking bobcats sometimes associate them with Canada lynx and at some point a stocking legend began.

In a way that is a shame because, our very own lynx, the bobcat, is an amazing cat.

Here are some facts that will give you a new appreciation for this diminutive but astounding feline.

*A few years back the estimated bobcat population in Texas was around 200,000. That is probably a low number. These cats are all over the place and their range seems to be expanding.

*Our research has documented bobcats in the city limits of Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. Bobcats are able to live in small woodlots and will do just fine preying on the rodents around garbage dumps and drainage ditches.

*A study conducted in the Florida Everglades in 1992 showed that bobcats are fully capable of killing full grown whitetails although it fairly rare event. Bobcats killed six radio-collared adult deer in the region by administering one bite to the throat.

*According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, bobcats are able to jump up to 12 feet in a single bound.

The bobcat may not be as glamorous as its furrier, snowshoe-footed Canadian cousin may but they are perfectly suited for life in the Lone Star State where they fill an important niche in the environment.

 

Lynx in Texas? Pt. 1

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(In 2012, my friend Terri Werner and I published an article in Texas Fish & Game that had the most reader feedback of any story in the magazine in at least five years. The next two postings will be that article along with some photos. Hope you enjoy!)

Chester Moore, Jr.

It happened at several secret locations deep in the forests of East Texas.

In the early 1980s, officials with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) released Canada lynx into the Pineywoods region. I first heard of these stockings taking place in the Livingston area but later heard they also occurred near Toledo Bend reservoir and in the Big Thicket National Preserve.

Occasionally people would see one of these “lynx”, which are allegedly much larger than a Texas bobcat.

These stories were persistent growing up in East Texas but the details seemed to change. Some said it was actually the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that released the cats while others claimed it was the U.S. Forest Service.

The problem is these stories are bogus. Totally bogus.

TPWD or any other agency for that matter has never stocked Canada lynx (Lynx Canadensis) into any destination in Texas and for that matter would have no reason to do so. They have never lived in the region and their very close cousin is doing incredibly well here.

That is where the confusion lies.

Many people often call a bobcat a lynx or a lynx a bobcat. They are very similar in appearance and it can be confusing to tell them apart, especially when you look at the scientific classification.

Both the bobcat and lynx are found in the cat family, Felidae, which is then broken down to the genus Lynx. From there, each species of lynx is named. The Canada lynx is Lynx Canadensis and the bobcat is Lynx rufus. (there are also two other lynx, Eurasian and Iberian)

Therefore, even though they are in the same classification, they are two distinct subspecies (confused yet?).

By appearance, they are similar. They both have “stumpy” tails, about 4-5” long, ruff of fur extending from the ears to the jowl and a black tipped tail. The colors are similar from light gray to brown that is more common and is often spotted or streaked with black. Their size is similar, from 65-100 cm (including the tail) and weights range from 15-35 lbs. From here, we can get more specific.

The bobcat looks more like an overgrown housecat. Most of them do not have the distinguishing extra long tufts of hair on the tips of its ears or the bigger, shaggy feet that help the Canada lynx navigate in the deep snow.

Another characteristic is the tail. While both have short “bobbed” tails, the bobcats is banded with black stripes, and is black at the top of the tip and white at the bottom. The lynx’s tail lacks banding and is completely black at the tip.

The range of the bobcat is from southern Canada to Central Mexico and tolerates the forest, mountains, swamps or desert regions, while the Canada lynx prefers forested areas and mainly lives on the snowshoe hare.

There is a distinct correlation between the number of births of Canada lynx and the amount of prey of the snowshoe hare. The bobcat feeds on a more diverse diet of, rabbits, squirrels, mice and birds and sometimes deer, a trait that has contributed greatly to their success.

We could find no basis for the origins of Canada lynx stockings in Texas as was discovered about the alleged timber rattlesnake releases in the Pineywoods and published first here in TF&G in 2003. While conducting research for our Southern Panther Search, however, we have found numerous traits of bobcat appearance that could make someone think they were seeing a lynx.

Check our next postings for the conclusion of this piece.

baby bob
Lynx rufus-the bobcat.
The Siberian lynx-a captive specimen at Bear Creek Feline Center.
The Siberian lynx-a captive specimen at Bear Creek Feline Center.

 

Creature Feature: Short-tailed Opossum

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On this week’s episode of The Creature Feature we profile a super cool short-tailed opossum. Enjoy!

Creature Feature: Short-tailed Opossum from Kingdom Zoo on Vimeo.

Filming begins…

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We’re starting to shoot season 3 of God’s Outdoors with Chester Moore this week. If you have exotic animals, ranch land or access to unique, beautiful areas in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas or Oklahoma and would let us have access to film them please email chester@kingdomzoo.com. We greatly appreciate it. Without God working through you we could not make it happen.

Chester Moore, Jr.

1gods

 

Wild Wishes

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In 1982, I got to accompany my grandmother Ruby Pickard on a very important mission.

She granted a little boy with leukemia his “wish” which was to have an American flag hanging outside his home. She of course made that happen and much more and founded My Wish Inc. an organization which granted wishes to more than 250 terminally ill children in Southeast Texas.

In honor of her we have added “Wild Wishes” to our outreach at Children’s Kingdom Ministries.

We are making animal encounter dreams come true with children who have had a loss in their family, terminal illness or have simply had an extremely rough go of it. It’s not something we publicize a whole lot because we want it to be about the wish, not our deeds but so far we have granted three of these wishes.

Our first was a sweet girl who wanted to meet a zebra, which you can see here.

zebra 1

Part of your donations helps us do “Wild Wishes” and we are eternally thankful. If you would like to learn more you can email me at Chester@kingdomzoo.com

Chester Moore, Jr.

What is out there?

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What is out there?

That question has dominated my interest in wildlife since I was a little boy growing up on the edge of the pineywoods and coastal marshes in West Orange, TX.

I can not remember a time I passed by a forest, marsh or pasture and not wondered what kind of wild creatures roamed there, hiding in the shadows, prowling after the setting of the sun.

No more than 100 yards past my office window is a patch of woods bordering Adams Bayou. This slow-moving stream begins with a small trickle near Mauriceville, starts opening up near Interstate 10, winds through West Orange and eventually meets up with the Sabine River near the Port of Orange. Even now the thought of the creatures that dwell along its corridors and similar areas in the region stimulates my curiosity and inspires me to seek them out.

My fascination with our local wildlife ran into some problems in its earliest years. Back in 1984, at the ripe old age of 11, I read an article in Outdoor Life about red wolves.

It illustrated how this once common species was declared extinct in the wild in 1980 after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service captured the remaining few animals for a captive breeding program. What intrigued me most was the last ones came from just a few miles from my home in Orange County. I already thought wolves were great to begin with but this article helped inspire a lifelong love affair with them that burns as strongly today as it ever did.

Well, that and an encounter later that same year.

My little league baseball team the Bucs had its end of the year party at Claiborne West Park, a beautiful 500-acre wooded property on Cow Bayou near Vidor. As we were drinking Dr. Peppers, eating hot dogs and chips, I looked toward the edge of the trees and saw a reddish-brown, long legged canine.

“Dad, look at that!” I exclaimed.

“Is that a red wolf?”

“Yes it is,” he said.

A couple of unique photos capture on a Wildview Game Camera by Chester and his big cat research partner Terri Werner. Is this close kin to the red wolf?
A couple of unique photos capture on a Wildview Game Camera by Chester and his big cat research partner Terri Werner. Is this close kin to the red wolf?

I can still see the animal as plainly today as I did then looking and remember it had a thin summer coat, tall ears, and a broad forehead. The animal was also panting from the brutal heat and humidity as it slinked through the grass and disappeared into the woods but never from my mind.

This would be the first time I would learn that what I saw in the wild would sometimes conflict with official reports.

The red wolf was the first animal that inspired me to seek out mysterious animals and also the subject of the first story I wrote professionally. My very first newspaper column published in the Opportunity Valley News in Oct. 1992 was about a report of alleged red wolf sightings in Orange County and featured a photograph I took of a pair in the captive breeding program at the Texas Zoo in Victoria.

Since that first encounter, I have learned is that maps in most wildlife guidebooks are not always so accurate when it comes to animal distribution. Take for example, the road-killed porcupine photographed by Dean Bossert, manager of the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Sabine Pass in December 2009.

Why was there a porcupine in Sabine Pass? Could it be there are isolated populations of animals living far away from their supposed native range?

The melanistic (black) jaguar is one of the world's most mysterious cats.
The melanistic (black) jaguar is one of the world’s most mysterious cats.

Similarly, jaguars are native to Texas and once roamed throughout most of the state but ranchers and government trappers allegedly eliminated them by the 1920s. Now jaguars have been verified by state-sponsored trail camera programs in New Mexico and Arizona and are believed to be coming in from Mexico. I first hypothesized jaguars were still moving into Texas in the early 2000s and have since spoken with a couple of witnesses who claim sightings along the border in South Texas.

How could this be?

If they are crossing into our two neighboring states, there is no reason they cannot cross into ours. Some argue that on the South Texas border there is too much development between the Mexican side and known jaguar populations in Mexico.

Well, there is a lot of development between Sabine Pass and Austin but somehow a porcupine (and I am imagine a few of his friends) made it down to the coast. Animals are extremely crafty in their migrations and in the case of the jaguar it could be possible they are crossing into the much less densely populate Trans Pecos region and traveling down the Rio Grande corridor toward the brush country. Or maybe there have been a few in Texas all along and we simply missed them.

After all, cougar sightings in East Texas have been controversial for decades but obviously someone did not tell the one that walked in front of me 20 years ago it was not supposed to be there. And there are hundreds of people with similar experiences in Southeast Texas and neighboring Southwest Louisiana.

The question I asked at the beginning of this introduction was “What’s out there?”

Perhaps more fitting would be, “What’s really out there?” because that is what we are asking. Anyone can look through a wildlife field guide or surf the Internet and come up with a pretty good idea of local animals. If you live on the outskirts of Beaumont and see a lot of rooting on your property and rounded-off hoof prints, there is little doubt feral hogs are nearby. Any official guide would tell you that.

However, if you see what you identify as a slinking dark-colored cat crossing in front of you off a dark secluded highway, the situation might be very different. This book will discuss these mysterious animals and give you a good idea of what is really out there.

At these wild crossroads be prepared to be surprised because our woods, marshes, prairies and waterways are truly where the wild things are.

Chester Moore, Jr.