Friday, July 19, 2013

Waxahachie Camera Project: July Update

Over the 4th of July weekend I managed to get up to Waxahachie to check on my game cameras. To refresh everyone, the property owners have had some problems with a predator of some kind. There are two horses and a mule on the property and two of the three have suffered injuries, some rather severe, on their faces and necks at one time or another. So far, no animals have been lost but the owners, as you might imagine, are quite anxious to find out just what is responsible for the injuries to their animals.

The property has a history of big cat sightings. The property owners claim to have seen both a regular-colored mountain lion and a large black cat on the property. The cats have been spotted in close proximity to the house which leads the owners to speculate that one or more of these cats is the likely culprit.

The property owner shared a story with me just a week or so ago that adds credence to the idea that big cats frequent the property. The following is the property owner’s recounting of a conversation with a neighbor in her own words:

“Last night as I arrived at the gate, the mares in the pasture across the street ran to meet me and neighed in some excitement. I know the heat is taking a toll and that they have only a pond to drink from. So, I came on home to put up groceries and had dinner, waiting for it to cool a tad... then I DROVE up, so I would be safer than walking.

Though the mares still have pond water, it is looking gross and the grass is short and drying up. I brought them each a flake of hay. I know they get water from the landowners now vacated house, so I went to get the hose from them. First I had to battle an ant's nest that was built in the hollow metal tool...(luckily I knew this and brought bug spray). Unfortunately I discovered the water meter was locked. Just then, the landowner arrived, a lady I have spoken to only a couple of times in 2 years.

I explained my presence and added........... ‘I don't know if you are aware of this or not, but we have a big cat problem out here, and I thought I ought to warn you.’ To this, she replied, (Please read this with your best Texas drawl, as that is how it was said) ‘Now, which one? The mountain lion or the jaguar? The mountain lion is scared of people. When I saw him, I popped of a shot and he took off. We hear the mountain lion sometimes, but we've only seen him once.’ (Mind you, I am standing quietly, and shocked... just listening and wanting as much info as she will share.) Then she says... ‘The jaguar doesn't come up here. He just stays in that tree line by the pond.’ I say, ‘Yes, that tree line is 50 yards from my door and that pond is also.’ She said, ‘Yes it is... better carry a weapon all the time. That is what **** did anytime she went outside." (**** was the former owner of this house).

She went on to tell me that the black cats have always been here. She said she personally has not seen one, but then named all of her family members that have seen it...always in that treeline/pond area). They can see it from their house (about a 1/4 mile away), so you know it is big. She said, ‘You probably don't need to worry about it during the day... they hunt at night.’ I said, ‘Didn't anyone see it during the day?’ She replied, ‘Daddy use to tell me he would see it laying in the shade at that old silver barn.’ Ummm, that is the horse shelter......... No wonder we have a problem. And I am surprised no one thought to warn us.”

While I’ve seen little in the way of evidence to support the theory of a large cat on the property, I do believe the property owner is telling the truth. Three members of the family claim to have seen a big cat of one kind or another and their stories match up well. I have seen the mule “alert” to the possible presence of a predator (this was detailed in an earlier post) and I have seen what I feel strongly is the scat of a fairly large cat near a pond on the property. I’ve also seen the wounds to the horses and mule first hand. Of course, I can’t say for sure what caused the injuries but some of them have been quite nasty and deep.

Unfortunately, my cameras failed to provide any photographic evidence of a truly big cat. I did get a lot of pictures of hogs, raccoons and fox but no “panther” of any kind. I did get some photos of a big bobcat this time around. I suspect that this bobcat is responsible for the scat previously found in the area. The scat is big but not as large as I would expect from a cougar or jaguar-sized cat.

I now have both cameras watching what we’ve nicknamed “Pig Pond.” This is a vital watering hole for the wildlife in the area and has proven a good spot to get photos. I’m hoping that by increasing the amount of camera coverage at the pond we will get the shot we all hope to see.

For now, though, all we can do is be patient and wait.

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Kick In The Pants From Theodore Roosevelt

"It is sheer unmanliness and cowardice to shrink from the contest because at first there is failure, or because the work is difficult or repulsive."

~ Theodore Roosevelt

Whenever I need inspiration, Theodore Roosevelt somehow supplies it.

I will continue the search...

Friday, July 5, 2013

KLFY News Report on Black Panther Sighting

Here is a link to the KLFY news report filed by journalist Hope Ford. The report includes interviews and several pictures of the mystery cat.

See the report here.

Black Panther Allegedly Photographed in Louisiana

The photo below was sent to television news reporter Hope Ford of KLFY. The picture was allegedly snapped in Iberia Parrish, Louisiana by a woman living near Broussard. The lady claims that the big cat was slinking through her backyard and claims several locals have spotted it as well.

It seems the photo is genuine as the witness has been interviewed by Ford.

I can’t say for sure what this animal is (mountain lion, jaguar, leopard, et al.) but I feel strongly that this is no house cat. This is the most compelling photo of a large black cat that I have seen. While I have to show a little restraint, as there is nothing in the photo to provide scale, the cat’s length, along with other anatomical features, do not look like those of a domestic/feral cat to me.

I’ll attempt to stay on top of this story. You can also check the KLFY website for potential updates.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Crazy Ant Invasion

A couple of years ago I was visiting with my younger brother about the growing problem of Africanized (killer) bees in my part of Central Texas (more on this topic soon). I recall clearly making the comment, “One day insects may just take over and rule the world.” My brother, a rather stoic individual, replied, “What makes you think they don’t already?”

I was reminded of this conversation by a couple of recent news articles regarding the growing problems being caused by invasive “crazy” ants. The tawny crazy ant (Nylanderia fulva) is native to Northern Argentina and Southern Brazil in South America. They’ve been, like many other invasive species, inadvertently transported to the southern U.S. by humans. The ants are tiny; only 1/8 of an inch in length, which allows them to get into nearly anything and everything and they are causing big problems.

Tawny crazy ants, named thusly due to their herky-jerky manner of locomotion, unlike most other ant species, do not excavate their own holes and tunnels. Because of this they are always looking to move in to existing cavities. Sometimes this means moving into the nests of other ant species. In some areas of Texas the crazies have driven out another invasive; fire ants. This might seem like a good trade as fire ants are largely responsible for a precarious drop in the population of ground nesting birds such as bobwhite quail. Fire ants also pack a powerful sting that nearly every living Texan has had to endure at one time or another. The fact is, however, that while fire ants are pests they pretty much keep to themselves unless disturbed and don’t cause the millions of dollars in damage that crazy ants do. Once they move in, tawny crazy ants will eventually outnumber native ants by a 100-1 ratio. The ecological issues brought about by such an out of whack ratio are probably pretty obvious as different species of ants are responsible for different tasks in nature. Complete domination by one species leaves a void, which means these tasks do not get done.

Crazy ants have now been identified in 21 Texas counties, 20 in Florida, and a handful of counties and/or parishes in Mississippi and Louisiana and they are leaving a trail of expensive destruction in their wake. As mentioned previously, tawny crazy ants do not excavate their own nests and are always on the lookout for a suitable cavity into which they can move. When native ant nests are unavailable, the crazy ants will move into air conditioner units, well pumps, sheds, storage buildings, farm equipment, vehicles, the walls and attics of homes and even cell phones. This has caused a huge problem for Texas industries and homeowners. When crazy ants enter areas that house electronic components their bodies sometimes create connections between electrical contacts which leads the circuits to short out and electrocute ants. When this occurs, the dying ant releases an alarm pheromone that is quickly sensed by the other ants. This alarm is a “we’re under attack” message and a call to come and fight. The brethren of the electrocuted ant come running in huge swarms and the process is repeated in a destructive cycle which leaves appliances broken and full of huge numbers of dead and/or angry ants. It has been estimated that crazy ants were responsible for $146.5 million in damage to electronic components last year alone.

So, why not just call the exterminator? As with many things, it just isn’t that simple. The ants have proven to be resistant to most insecticides and are not partial to any one type of bait. Exterminators have to use a variety of baits and liquid insecticides in order to even put a dent in the population of a crazy ant colony. Tom Rasberry, a Houston area exterminator credited with first identifying the tawny crazy ants in Texas, has had some success by using the insecticide Termidor (fipronil). The problem is that this insecticide is in the form of a poisonous gas and, if used incorrectly, can be deadly to bees, birds, aquatic animals, and other wildlife. It is so toxic that the FDA has restricted its use to “emergency situations” only. As you might guess, the definition of the word emergency varies widely depending on whose property is under siege.

It is likely that crazy ants are here to stay. Hopefully, officials and scientists can work together to figure out a way to control these pests. Control, I fear, is the best that we can hope for at this point. The genie is now out of the bottle. There is no putting it back.

Sources: USA Today, Live Science