Here in West Virginia, we often talk of white-tailed bucks that have “basket” racks of antlers.
In Bethel Park, Pa., a fellow named Andy Kovac spotted a basket-racked buck that had a basketball stuck in its basket! Kovac grabbed his camera and snapped a photo of the would-be point guard. Uh, let’s make that a “six-point” guard.
Ugh. From Zimbabwe comes news that more than 80 elephants have been slaughtered, indiscriminately poisoned by poachers.
From the Associated Press:
HARARE, Zimbabwe — Authorities in Zimbabwe said Tuesday that more than 80 elephants have died from cyanide poisoning in the country’s biggest national park over the past four weeks.
“The situation is getting bad, as the poison might have been taken by many other animals — not only elephants,” said Environment Minister Saviour Kasukuwere, after touring Hwange National Park — Africa’s third largest wildlife sanctuary.
Last month the authorities reported they had arrested six poachers who had poisoned elephants with cyanide in the national park, which is roughly the size of Switzerland and is located about 50 miles southwest of Harare.
Kasukuwere has pledged stricter jail sentences for poachers.
Biologists in Oregon have determined that a recent die-off of black-tailed deer in that state were caused by a variety of adenovirus. According to the following Associated Press report, the virus has struck there before:
MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) — Oregon wildlife officials say blacktailed deer are being found dead in several rural communities in southern Oregon’s Jackson County.
Officials say this is likely a new outbreak of the naturally occurring adenovirus that killed hundreds of area deer more than a decade ago.
The Medford Mail Tribune reports that biologists on Tuesday learned of their first confirmed case of the adenovirus.
Several reports of similar deaths have come recently in Jacksonville, Eagle Point and elsewhere.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says the deaths are occurring at a rate not seen since 2002, when more than 1,000 blacktails died.
Wildlife biologist Mark Vargas says outbreaks tend to happen during hot, dry months. The virus is also associated with people leaving food and water for animals, which causes unnatural congregations of blacktails and other animals.
Humans and pets aren’t considered at risk.
More on adenoviruses (some of which can be transmitted to humans), can be found here.
Let’s hope the virus doesn’t show up here in West Virginia. With chronic wasting disease present in Hampshire and Hardy counties, and with periodic outbreaks of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, the last thing we need is something else that kills deer.
Wildlife officials got quite a surprise recently when an animal, shot and killed in west-central Kentucky earlier this year, was confirmed to be a gray wolf.
Wolves hadn’t been seen in the Bluegrass State for more than a century, but all that changed on March 16, when varmint hunter James Troyer shot an animal he believed to be a coyote. The 73-pound creature turned out to be a wolf. To be sure, Kentucky wildlife officials shipped the carcass off to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s genetics lab in Oregon. Scientists there identified the remains to be those of a gray wolf.
For those of you who think all the world’s animal, fish and bird species have been identified and cataloged, researchers at the Smithsonian have a message: Think again.
Naturalists are all abuzz over the discovery of a new mammal species. It’s a night-prowling carnivore that lives in the cloud forests of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela, and it’s called the olinguito.
Associated Press science writer Seth Borenstein has the full story:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Imagine a raccoon with a teddy bear face that is so cute it’s hard to resist, let alone overlook. But somehow science did — until now.
Researchers announced Thursday a rare discovery of a new species of mammal called the olinguito. It belongs to a grouping of large creatures that include dogs, cats and bears.
The raccoon-sized critter leaps through the trees of mountainous forests of Ecuador and Colombia at night, according to a Smithsonian researcher who has spent the past decade tracking them.
But the adorable olinguito (oh-lihn-GEE’-toe) shouldn’t have been too hard to find. One of them lived in the Smithsonian-run National Zoo in the Washington for a year in a case of mistaken identity.
“It’s been kind of hiding in plain sight for a long time” despite its extraordinary beauty, said Kristofer Helgen, the Smithsonian’s curator of mammals.
The zoo’s little critter, named Ringerl, was mistaken for a sister species, the olingo. Ringerl was shipped from zoo to zoo from 1967 to 1976: Louisville, Ky., Tucson, Ariz., Salt Lake City, Washington and New York City to try to get it to breed with other olingos.
“It turns out she wasn’t fussy,” Helgen said. “She wasn’t the right species.”
The discovery is described in a study in the journal ZooKey.
Helgen first figured olinguitos were different from olingos when he was looking at pelts and skeletons in a museum. He later led a team to South America in 2006.
“When we went to the field we found it in the very first night,” said study co-author Roland Kays of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. “It was almost like it was waiting for us.”
It’s hard to figure how olingos and onlinguitos were confused for each other.
“How is it different? In almost every way that you can look at it,” Helgen said.
Olinguitos are smaller, have shorter tails, a rounder face, tinier ears and darker bushier fur, he said.
“It looks kind of like a fuzzball … kind of like a cross between a teddy bear and a house cat,” Helgen said.
It eats fruit, weighs about 2 pounds and has one baby at a time. Helgen figures there are thousands of olinguitos in the mountainous forest, traveling through the trees at night so they are hard to see.
While new species are found regularly, usually they are tiny and not mammals, the warm-blooded advanced class of animals that have hair, live births and mammary glands in females.
Outside experts said this is not merely renaming something, but a genuine new species and a significant find, the type that hasn’t happened for about 35 years.
“Most people believe there are no new species to discover, particularly of relatively large charismatic animals,” said Case Western Reserve University anatomy professor Darin Croft. “This study demonstrates that this is clearly not the case.”
We West Virginians haven’t (yet) had a widespread public-versus-private debate over hunters’ access to wildlife.
In Europe, wildlife belongs to landowners, and access to that wildlife is reserved for those wealthy enough to afford it. Traditionally in the United States, land can belong to landowners but the wildlife can’t. The “North American model for wildlife management” says states own the wildlife, and hold it in trust for the public to enjoy.
Out in Montana, the appointment of a former private-land game biologist to the state’s game and fish commission has triggered a vigorous public debate over the issue. The Helena (Mont.) Independent Record has a fascinating article about it, an article all hunters should read.
As if Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever weren’t enough, federal researchers have found a new disease that can be carried by ticks. From the Associated Press:
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Federal health investigators have confirmed that ticks carry the new virus that sickened two Missouri men.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suspected ticks were a likely source of the Heartland virus, which was named for the St. Joseph hospital where the men were treated in 2009.
A study published Monday and authored by Harry Savage, a CDC research entomologist, said samples from ticks taken from the patients’ farms and other land in northwest Missouri have tested positive for the Heartland virus. The study was published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported .
“It’s the first time that anyone found the virus in the environment,” Savage said. “This is yet another tick-borne disease in the U.S., and it’s another reason to take preventative measures to avoid tick attachment and tick bites.”
There are no treatments for Heartland virus, which can cause low white blood cell counts, fever, chills, diarrhea and other symptoms. Both Missouri men, who are the only recorded cases of Heartland virus, recovered after nearly two weeks in the hospital.
When the two men arrived at Heartland Regional Medical Center in 2009 complaining of fever and fatigue, Dr. Scott Folk at Heartland suspected ehrlichiosis, a common tick-borne disease that has infected at least 126 people in Missouri this year. The patients, however, didn’t respond to antibiotics used to treat ehrlichiosis. Folk then sent blood samples to the CDC, where researchers determined it was a new insect-borne virus, but were uncertain which insect was carrying the virus.
CDC scientists traveled to northwest Missouri to collect ticks and mosquitoes in an effort to trace the virus. Samples taken last year from the patients’ farms and the Honey Creek Conservation Area tested positive for the Heartland virus. About one in 500 nymph, or adolescent, ticks collected near one of the patient’s homes contained the virus.
Savage said the Heartland virus is probably spread elsewhere in Missouri too, though there haven’t been any other reports of Heartland illnesses. It’s likely patients have caught the virus and been misdiagnosed, because there is no quick, reliable test.
Dr. Ericka Hayes, an infectious disease specialist at Washington University, said it’s not surprising that the Heartland virus was discovered in Missouri because Missouri leads the nation in tick-related diseases. Preventive measures to avoid tick bites include tucking pants into socks, wearing long sleeves and using bug repellent with DEET.
“If you’ve been outside in Missouri, you should be going over yourself head to toe,” Hayes said. She said it takes 24 hours or more for a tick to transmit a disease to a person. “If you can prevent the tick (from attaching), it doesn’t matter what disease they’re carrying.”
From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service comes news that a tiny fish currently found only in West Virginia’s Elk River is being added to the federal Endangered Species List.
Here’s the news release:
The diamond darter, a tiny fish that has faced serious threats to its habitat, will now be protected under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced. The diamond darter’s protected status will take effect in 30 days.
The native diamond darter could once be found along the southern Appalachians from Ohio to Tennessee. Years of changes from dams, water quality degradation and other threats have restricted this small member of the perch family to one stream in West Virginia’s Elk River, where fewer than 125 diamond darters have been collected during the last 30 years.
Darters play an important role in waterway systems as indicators of good water quality and diversity. The presence of healthy darter population indicates that a river is healthy and would sustain other populations of fish, such as musky or bass. To determine if the diamond darter requires ESA protection, the Service evaluated five factors, including effects to the species’ habitat or range, overuse of the species, disease or predation, inadequate regulatory protection and other natural or manmade factors. Out of all factors, the darter is most threatened by the destruction, change or limitation of its habitat.
In July 2012, after extensive evaluation, the Service proposed that the diamond darter be protected as endangered under the ESA and requested comments on the proposed rule. The Service received and fully considered 24 letters from peer reviewers, state and federal agencies and the public. The subject of comments ranged from water quality degradation and coal mining activities to historical survey methods and macroinvertebrate studies. See the final rule for more information on comments and the Service’s responses.
In July 2012, the Service also identified a total of 123 river miles in West Virginia and Kentucky as habitat critical for the darter’s conservation. The proposed critical habitat includes areas in Kanawha and Clay counties, West Virginia, and in Edmonson, Hart and Green counties, Kentucky. The Service will finalize this and address comments specific to the proposed critical habitat in a separate rule.
FAIRMONT, W.Va. (AP) — The superintendent of Valley Falls State Park will decide over the next few days whether to file charges against a couple whose dog was swept over the waterfalls and two fishermen who violated a swimming ban when they jumped in to rescue it.
Superintendent Ron Fawcett has pulled eight bodies out of the frigid, swift-moving Tygart Valley River in the 18 years he’s run the Fairmont park. He said Monday that the body count nearly rose when a couple went wading with two dogs and a little girl.
One dog jumped off a 2.5-foot ledge, was swept over the first set of falls and became stranded on the rocks Saturday, Fawcett said. Two fishermen jumped in to rescue it, and one of them was nearly swept over the second set of falls.
Fawcett said he screamed and gestured at the fishermen to stop, but they couldn’t hear him over the roar of the water. Now he’s consulting with the Marion County prosecutor’s office on whether to charge them.
Swimming, wading and the consumption of alcohol are banned at the park, and signs warn of the dangers and fines. Though fines can be as little as $20, Fawcett said court costs are about $168.
Fawcett said media reports about the possibility of charges have made some people angry, but he doesn’t care.
“I’d rather have people getting ticked at me than pull them out dead,” he said Monday. “This place is beautiful, but it will kill you in a heartbeat.”
Two brothers died in September 2008, and the wife of one nearly died trying to rescue them, Fawcett said.
More than 150 drownings have been documented, he said, most in the past 60-70 years.
Fawcett, a trained diver, said the river is the most dangerous place he’s dived in 30 years. Water travels downstream about 10 miles from a 140-foot dam, he said, and it remains “ice cold” when it hits the park.
“If you don’t get the bodies out within 10 minutes, they’re so gelled up you can’t revive them,” he said. “I’ve taken eight bodies out of here, so I know how fast it can happen.”
The current sucks back up under the falls, “and that’s a big, giant whirlpool,” Fawcett said. Hidden below is another hazard — twisted railroad steel washed into the river after an 1888 flood.
“I had it under control. I had a boat and firemen on the way, and it just escalated,” he said of Saturday’s incident. “We could have wound up with two dead people and a dead dog.”
Authorities in Barbour County are also worried about drownings in the river.
They say a swimming ban at the Pleasant Creek Wildlife Management Area could drive more swimmers to a popular hangout near Arden called Party Rock.
Barbour County Sheriff John Hawkins said the strong current can sweep and hold swimmers under water. Alcohol and drugs are often involved in the accidents and drownings.
Authorities have already rescued three teenagers and a dog this season.
Hawkins said his deputies have increased patrols, and they’ll enforce a state law that bans parking within 10 feet of the roadway.
County Commissioner Phil Hart said officials are considering new signs to warn people of the dangers.
John McCoy is the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette’s award-winning outdoors writer. His "Woods & Waters" page appears weekly in the Sports section of the Sunday Gazette-Mail.
In 32 years of outdoors writing, John has had articles published in Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Bowhunter, North American Whitetail, Hatches and other publications. His works have earned more than 50 state, regional and national awards for writing and photography.