WIRED TO NATURE • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Imagining when big cats, elephant-like
creatures roamed the Bellaire-West U prairie
By Eric Duran Jaguar
When I take kids out in the park, or out on large areas
of land nearby the Nature Center, I like to tell stories
about what the land was like long before we we were
Before European settlement of the Houston area, prairie domi-nated
the landscape here. It’s not hard to imagine what kinds of
“big prairie” animals may have been prowling the landscape in
the exact location where you sit or stand now, where your home
or workplace stands, and where the Nature Discovery Center is
located. I wanted to spend a little time this month remembering
a few animals that are no longer here in Bellaire and Houston,
and some of which are no longer on the planet at all.
Most of us think of jaguars as rainforest animals of Central and
South America. However, they once ranged across much of the
state of Texas and into Louisiana, as well as the desert south-west
of the United States. Imagine a jaguar wandering around
Bellaire Boulevard looking for prey. Jaguars are large, power-ful
predators, so you can imagine why they have disappeared
from the modern American landscape. Many European settlers
feared the toll that the cats would take on their livestock, and
hunted them rather ruthlessly. The last known jaguar in the
state of Texas was killed in the south part of the state in the
Another wild cat that would have been found in this part of
Texas was the ocelot. In Texas, ocelots were found in the arid
Southern part of the state and the habitats along the coast
to the southwest part of Louisiana. Ocelots, like jaguars, are
known today for frequenting Mexican deserts and neo-tropical
rainforests (rainforests of Central and South America). They are
a small-medium sized cats, slinky and sleek in appearance.
As with other noticeable predators, settlers and farmers feared
they would prey on livestock, and had ocelots exterminated
across the state. Today, the species holds on by a thread in
the Lower Rio Grande Valley but is endangered by continuing
habitat destruction due to development and agriculture. Large
barriers at the border with Mexico also threaten vital pathways
between South Texas and Mexico, which the creatures need to
find new mates and maintain large enough territories to find
adequate prey. Thankfully, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and
other non-governmental agencies are working hard to preserve
ocelots in our state.
Of course a lot of animals disappeared from the Texas land-scape
well before there were any humans on this continent.
Gomphotheres were elephant-like creatures that roamed the
plains and forests of North America between one and two mil-lion
years ago. They were gradually replaced by mastodons and
mammoths. These odd-looking animals may have been major
seed dispersers for wild avocados and osage oranges (neither
tree currently has a significant seed disperser now).
These creatures lived on a landscape here in this part of Texas
with giant armadillo relatives, giant sloths, dog-sized horses,
and wild rhino relatives.
The Texas landscape has obviously changed a lot in the past 2
million years, but it’s good to stretch the imagination to remem-ber
what your West University or Bellaire neighborhood was
like before civilization descended on the big prairie.
Duran is head naturalist at the Nature Discovery
Center, 7112 Newcastle Dr., Bellaire, NatureDiscov-eryCenter.
Page 29 | THE ESSENTIALS
ARE UPON US!
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If you have marble countertops, cleaning up acidic spills like red wine is very important to
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We hope this guide finds you well! From all of us at LBJ Construction, we wish you a
Happy Thanksgiving. 713-781-0169