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Tuesday, November 12 2019
From Ancient Bear Skulls to Menacing Black Vultures -- News From MO and KS Conservation Departments

Extreme Floods Unearth Ancient Bear Skull in Southcentral Kansas
Source: KDWPT News Update

A mid-August kayak trip down the Arkansas River in southcentral Kansas took a fascinating turn for sisters Ashley and Erin Watt when they happened upon a massive skull protruding from a sandbar. It was partially buried nose down, but they immediately knew the shape was unique. When they pulled it from the sand and saw the large teeth of a carnivore, they knew they had something special.

With a little research, Ashley and Erin determined they had likely found a bear skull. They shared their exciting discovery in a Facebook post, which caught the eyes of local Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) game warden Chris Stout. Stout shared the photos with colleagues, and they eventually reached Sternberg Museum of Natural History paleontologists Dr. Reese Barrick and Mike Everhart who provided insight into the significance of the finding.

While Barrick and Everhart quickly verified the sisters’ suspicions that this was a bear skull, the large size – approximately 16 inches long by 8.5 inches wide – and fossilized appearance left them questioning whether this was a modern grizzly or a more primitive species from the past. The skull is believed to have been deposited into the Ark River sands – an excellent substrate for preservation – and maintained there until it was displaced by this year’s historic floods.

“The bear skull was washed out of the same river sediments that routinely produce the skulls and bones of the American bison, some of which could date back as far as the last Ice Age,” said Everhart, who serves as the Adjunct Curator of Paleontology at the Sternberg Museum. “Whether it is hundreds or thousands of years old, the skull gives us a better insight into the richness of life on the plains before Western man.”

Grizzly bears are native to Kansas and are thought to have occurred throughout most of the state, but history suggests the species was likely extirpated by the middle 1800s. Perhaps the most likely scenario is that this skull did belong to the modern species. Though old enough to have partially fossilized, the skull is in excellent condition; except for the loss of a few minor teeth, it is largely intact and minimally worn.

Though there are several historical accounts of grizzly bears in Kansas, this could be the first physical evidence of their former presence, pending species verification, of course.

“It’s been pretty amazing not only discovering the skull but also the crowdsourcing used to determine how truly exceptional this find is,” said Ashley. “We can’t wait to see what further information can be uncovered about this incredible animal.”

Ashley, a former agriculture teacher at Oxford Jr/Sr High School, and Erin, an Animal Science student at West Texas A&M University, have graciously donated the specimen to the Sternberg Museum in Hays.

MDC Warns of Nuisance Black Vultures at Bagnell Dam Access on Osage River
Source: MDC Mid-Missouri News

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) advises area users at Bagnell Dam Access on the Osage River to beware of potential damage to parked vehicles due to black vultures.

MDC has worked to harass these birds and remove some of them, but they continue to congregate in this area despite deterrence efforts. MDC also has signs posted at Bagnell Dam Access alerting area users of the potential nuisance threat.

“MDC and conservation partners in the area are working to try to deter these vultures, but black vultures can be aggressive and persistent,” said MDC Wildlife Regional Supervisor John George. “It may make sense for area users to take precautions such as covering their vehicles with tarps and straps. However, even these precautions do not necessarily guarantee full protection.

Black vultures (Coragyps atratus) have a large, black body with a naked black head. Their global range extends from South America through the southeastern U.S., and, historically, these birds have only been reported in southern Missouri. However, in the past several years their range has expanded northward and sightings as far north as the Lake of the Ozarks have increased.

Two species of vultures live in Missouri. The turkey vulture (Cathartes aura), identifiable by its naked red head (adults), are slightly larger and typically avoid areas where black vultures are present.

Turkey vultures look for carrion by riding wind currents and searching for smells to investigate for food. Black vultures cannot smell as well as turkey vultures, and they rely more on sight to find food.
Vultures play an important role in nature by cleaning up dead animal waste, recycling proteins and other nutrients, and limiting exposure and spread of disease to both wildlife and humans.

All vultures and other nongame bird species are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and may not be killed without special permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Learn more about Missouri’s vultures with MDC’s online field guide at, and stay updated on alerts at Bagnell Dam Access at

KDWPT Receives National Award for Lesser Prairie-Chicken Project
Source: KDWPT News Update

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) was presented the Wildlife Restoration Award (Wildlife Research category) from The Wildlife Society (TWS) at their annual conference in Reno, Nev. The Wildlife Restoration Award recognizes outstanding projects supported by federal Wildlife Restoration funds — also known as Pittman-Robertson funds — and associated non-federal matching funds. KDWPT Wildlife Division staff received the award for their research project, “Lesser Prairie-Chicken Habitat Use, Survival, and Recruitment.” Kent Fricke, KDWPT small game coordinator, accepted the award on behalf of the department.

“The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Project has been one of the most productive research projects ever funded by our department,” said Fricke, “and it exemplifies the success that can be attained when state wildlife agencies, researchers, and landowners work together. The findings of this research will continue to influence lesser prairie-chicken management for decades to come.”

The project has generated new information and helped establish common methodologies that will help researchers better understand the factors affecting habitat use and life history traits of lesser prairie-chickens. Research efforts were led by Dr. Dave Haukos, Unit Leader of the Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Kansas State University.

According to Fricke, none of this would have been possible without the cooperation of landowners.

“Because the vast majority of lesser prairie-chickens occur on private property in Kansas, it was imperative that relationships were developed between researchers and landowners to make this project successful,” said Fricke. “Landowner access was key.”

TWS is an international organization committed to addressing national and international issues that affect the current and future status of wildlife in North America and throughout the world. TWS annually recognizes professional excellence, outstanding achievement, and highlights contributions to wildlife science and management through their awards program. For more on The Wildlife Society, visit

For more on prairie chickens in Kansas, visit

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