Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Gray wolfA new study, published in the journal Science, says red wolves and Eastern wolves are really just hybrids between gray wolves and coyotes.

Researchers believe the differences in size and coloration between the three varieties depend entirely on how much coyote DNA ended up in each — more in the smaller, more brownish red wolf, less in the Eastern wolf, and precious little in the gray wolf.

The Washington Post has an excellent summary of the study, along with an animation that explores the animals’ family trees.

One wonders, though, if the findings will tamp down the wolf-coyote controversy once and for all. Activists for red wolf restoration, for example, have historically been skeptical whether hybridization occurred. A lot of money has been poured into red-wolf research and restoration already, and those who have made their livings at it probably aren’t eager to give up on a cause to which they have devoted so much energy.

tiger-attacking-womanOh my.

When I saw the headlines, I figured for sure that this latest tragedy was an example of someone vying for a Darwin Award by trying to “pet the big striped kitty.” Sadly, there’s more to it than that.

According to the Shanghaiist, a woman was killed after another woman stepped out of her car inside a Beijing safari-style wildlife park. The woman who got out of the car apparently had been arguing with a male passenger. Almost as soon as she stepped from the vehicle, she was attacked by a tiger. The second woman got out to help the first one, and she was killed. The first woman was hospitalized with what were described as severe injuries.

People who drive through the park are cautioned not to get out of their vehicles. In the heat of the moment, that admonition appears to have been forgotten — with tragic results.

Some websites, including the one linked above, are linking to what appears to be surveillance-camera video of the attack. I’m not sure because I won’t watch it. The still photo is gut-wrenching enough.

CWD infected deer (NY Dept. of Env. Conservation)By now, just about everyone familiar with deer hunting has learned at least a little bit about chronic wasting disease.

Here in West Virginia, CWD was discovered in 2005 in the state’s Eastern Panhandle, near the Hampshire County town of Slanesville. The state Division of Natural Resources set up a containment zone, placed restrictions on the transportation of animals outside the zone and began sampling the population to discover the extent of the outbreak.

West Virginia is by no means the only state dealing with CWD problems. The true extent of the disease can’t be known because the disease’s delayed onset keeps animal-health officials about half a step behind when it comes to diagnosing chronic wasting disease’s extent and spread.

The University of Georgia’s Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Survey probably has its finger on the national CWD pulse better than just about any other organization. SCWDS officials recently documented what they know in a newsletter devoted exclusively to the the disease. It’s a fascinating read, and it points to the increasingly obvious evidence that captive-deer breeding and high-fence hunting facilities are hotbeds for CWD’s ever-accelerating spread.

Yellowstone bison calfIt was a “facepalm moment” for everyone concerned.

A few days ago, a couple of foreign tourists to Yellowstone National Park decided that a bison calf looked cold. They put the calf in the back of their van to warm up. When park rangers tried to return the calf to its mother, the herd wouldn’t accept it. Rather than allow the young bison to starve to death, rangers euthanized it — unpleasant, to be sure, but necessary under the circumstances.

Since that recent unfortunate event, the Terribly Concerned have clucked and tut-tutted their high-minded little heads off. To them, the incident was evidence that too many of The Great Unwashed are being allowed into Yellowstone and other national parks. Rather than risk the life of some other bison calf, bear cub, wolf cub, mule deer fawn or elk calf, the Terribly Concerned are proposing that some national parks might be better off if — well, if people were kept out of them.

Excuse me? Weren’t national parks created specifically for people’s recreational benefit?

It is true that the sheer volume of people sometimes causes problems. The main road through Yosemite National Park, for instance, becomes a giant traffic jam during the park’s high season. Wildlife in Yellowstone are often crowded and harassed by nature-ignorant visitors.

As bad as those things are, though, I don’t believe the answer is to put a virtual plate-glass cover around parks in order to save them from “the rabble.”

Traffic problems can be engineered away. Human ingenuity knows no bounds, and solutions can be found for most any problem.

As long as people remain ignorant about wildlife, however, conflicts will continue to occur. Wild animals go where they want to go and do what they want to do. People might encounter them anywhere. Tourists who don’t know how to deal with animals will inevitably make mistakes. Sometimes, as with the bison calf, the animals suffer the consequences.

At other times, the humans do.

The first time I visited Yellowstone National Park, in 1984 or thereabouts, the ranger at the gate handed me a flyer about the park’s wildlife. The flyer warned that bison killed and injured more visitors than all other species combined.

“Is that really the case?” I asked.

“Unfortunately, yes,” the ranger replied. “Just last week, we had a visitor who decided to take a picture of a big bull bison that happened to be lying beside the road. The man didn’t want a picture of a bison lying down, he wanted a picture of one standing up. So he walked over to the bison and kicked it in the rear end. The bison whirled around and killed him on the spot.”

Some people can’t be saved from their own ignorance. For them, perhaps a Darwinian approach is the way to go.

Mountain lion rescue captured on video

Rescuing an adult mountain lion from a bobcat trap isn’t for sissies, especially if you choose to do it without tranquilizing the animal first.

Two wildlife workers from Utah managed it, though. Someone captured the feat on camera, and it’s must-see TV. Check out the video.

Hat tip: My friend Rich Landers of the Spokane Spokesman-Review

Who killed 13 bald eagles in Maryland?

Photo by Officer First Class Robert Karge/Maryland Natural Resources Police via AP)
Photo by Officer First Class Robert Karge/Maryland Natural Resources Police via AP

Perhaps in an effort to avoid spooking the killers, investigators are staying mum about what killed 13 bald eagles on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. All they will say is that the birds didn’t die naturally. From the Associated Press:

Federal wildlife officials say 13 bald eagles found dead on Maryland’s Eastern Shore did not die of natural causes.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Catherine J. Hibbard said in a statement Thursday that necropsy results of the eagles discovered in Federalsburg on Feb. 20 ruled out disease, leading investigators to now focus on finding those who were responsible for the deaths.
Hibbard says eliminating the possibility of diseases such as bird flu is important because the area has numerous poultry farms and migratory birds.
She declined to release further details about how investigators believe the birds might have died.
A $25,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to an arrest and conviction.

Bear cubs can drown in their dens?

Perhaps bears' winter hibernation isn't as safe as we think it is.
Perhaps bears’ winter hibernation isn’t as safe as we think it is.

I suppose anything is possible, but Maryland wildlife officials definitely surprised me when they theorized that some black-bear cubs drown in their dens when deep snows melt in spring.

Here’s the story, from the Associated Press by way of the Cumberland Times-News:

CUMBERLAND, Md. (AP) — Maryland wildlife officials are concerned that some bear cubs may have been drowned this winter because of fast-melting snow that could have flooded their dens.
The Cumberland Times-News reports that the Maryland Wildlife & Heritage Service will begin checking bear dens on Wednesday.
Black bear project leader Harry Spiker says that when weather conditions were similar in the past, crews have gone to dens where cubs were known to have been born in January and the young bears aren’t there. He says sometimes drowned cubs are eaten by their mother.
Spiker says crews are hoping to visit the dens of nine radio-collared sows over the next three weeks in Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties. Each March, the agency sedates the sows and pulls the cubs for inspection, tagging and veterinary treatment.

Mortality low in urban deer, study shows

Research shows that the greatest danger to the fawns of urban deer is being hit by vehicles.
Research shows that the greatest danger to the fawns of urban deer is being hit by vehicles.

Researchers at Ball State University have discovered that the fawns of deer that live in urban surroundings suffer much lower mortality than fawns of deer in rural settings.

They attribute the increased survival to a lack of predators. For rural fawns, the greatest cause of mortality is being eaten by coyotes. Not surprisingly, the greatest cause of mortality to urban fawns is being hit by cars.

You can read up on the Ball State study on their Facebook page or on their website.

That’s one honkin’ big bobcat!

Photo courtesy of Jon Rogers
Photo courtesy of Jon Rogers

What would you do if you stepped out onto your deck one morning and found that a bobcat had dragged a deer carcass almost to your back door?

Jon Rogers, who lives just south of Charleston not far from Corridor G, didn’t haul the carcass away. Instead he set up a trail camera nearby in the hope he might capture a photo or video of the critter responsible for the carcass. He didn’t have to wait long. The cat returned to feed on the carcass, and Rogers ended up with some nifty still photos and video clips.

As you can tell from the accompanying photo, the bobcat turned out to be a really big one. Rogers said he sent a picture to a Division of Natural Resources official, who told him that it was one of the biggest he’d ever seen.

Previews of coming W.Va. attractions

Southern West Virginians are in for a treat.

Sometime within the next year or so, state wildlife officials will stock elk into portions of Logan and Mingo counties. The herd will be allowed to grow until it spreads over all of four counties — Logan, Mingo, McDowell and Wyoming — and parts of Boone, Lincoln and Wayne.

The treat will come during the elk mating season, which begins in late August and can extend through October. When they’re in a romantic mood, bull elk advertise their presence by making a sound known as “bugling.” It sounds sort of — well, it’s hard to describe. It’s probably better to hear it for yourselves. YouTube contains several examples of it; here is a brief one: