OBEAST CONSERVATION

Back From the Brink

The Endangered Species Acts of 1966, 1969, and 1973 at last provided legislature to conserve and protect not only endangered animals but also their native habitats. Sadly, it appeared that these efforts might have come too late for the obeasts. Early attempts to breed obeasts in captivity had completely failed; the shy creatures not only refused to breed, they also refused food and water and often died within a month or two of their arrival. When zero obeast sightings were reported between 1974 and 1983, the worst was assumed and the species was considered extinct.

Then something amazing happened.

Biologists researching the long leaf pine habitat of the endangered red cockaded woodpecker on Fort Bragg, North Carolina, found strange bipedal tracks in the mud. Judging from the depth of the footprint they gauged the animal to weigh about 250 lbs. Could it be Obeastus galbulus? Weeks later motion-activated cameras mounted to trees were able to catch the first images of an obeast in nearly ten years.

From 1984-86 more sightings began to trickle, then lightly stream, in. Small pods of obeasts were reported in North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Saskatchewan.  By 1987, when the all three species of obeast were officially added the obeast to the endangered species list, there also were confirmed sightings in Mexico and the Southwestern United States.

Obeast researchers have developed new covert research methods that allow them to get a more accurate count of the numbers of obeasts. Recent findings indicate that obeasts have adapted to human persecution by living only in the most remote habitats available, which probably accounting for the drop-off in sightings during the late 20th century. Today, small groups obeasts, as rare as they are, can be found throughout  the U.S., southern Canada, and northern Mexico. They numbers appear to be notably rebounding in the southeastern US states, probably because of the more moderate climate, abundant food supply, and larger areas of undeveloped land.

Obeasts are proving to be a resilient animal, fighting their way back from the very brink of extinction. They play such an important role in American history and culture, and yet we know very little about them. In early 2010 the Museum for Obeast Conservation Studies (MOCS) was founded with the intention of educating the public about the obeast and serving as a coordinating organization for research and conservation efforts.