Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Gray Wolf Killed in East Texas

 A wolf has been killed in East Texas. 

That is not a misprint or a mistake. A gray wolf was shot and killed this past week in a heavily wooded region of East Texas. I will not be revealing the location – please don’t ask – for a variety of reasons. I will say that the man who took the wolf is a close friend of mine and I can absolutely vouch for the authenticity of the story and the photographs included in this post. 

The details are as follows: The property owners where the wolf was taken were decorating for a party they would be hosting the next day. The family noticed the animal skulking about on the edge of the wood line and reported it to my friend. He told me the family members described it as being “as large as a shepherd.” These are people who live in the woods and they know a coyote when they see one. They were quite sure this was no coyote. My friend searched the area, but found no sign of it.


The next day, the animal was seen again – this time by a delivery person who had come to the property. According to the delivery man, the animal fled when it was seen. Another search revealed nothing.

Sunday evening, my friend heard one of his dogs yapping at something in a pasture that was occupied by livestock. Upon investigation, my friend saw a huge, gray, dog-like animal interacting with his pointer. The interaction did not seem aggressive, but knowing coyotes will often act playful in order to lure a domestic dog away from its yard in order to attack it, my friend decided to take no chances. He felt that a huge wolf-like animal near his livestock, dogs, and family was a recipe for disaster and took the shot.



The animal weighed in at 120 lbs. Certainly, this was no coyote. On top of that, it did not look like a coyote; it looked like a wolf. My friend called the local Game Warden who arrived and took possession of the animal. My friend was notified today that the animal has been positively identified as a gray wolf by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

Gray wolves (Canis lupus) once roamed over the western two-thirds of Texas but has long been considered extirpated there. While red wolves once occupied East Texas, gray wolves were always rare there. It has long been believed that the last two gray wolves in Texas were killed in 1970. One was shot on the Cathedral Mountain Ranch, south of Alpine in Brewster County on December 5 and the other was trapped on the Joe Neal Brown Ranch, located near the point where Brewster, Pecos, and Terrell Counties meet. While there have sporadic wolf reports from all over the state since 1970, almost all of them turned out to be coyotes. As for the few sightings that seem intriguing, the more likely candidate was always the red wolf. These facts are what makes this incident so fascinating.

The Texas Parks & Wildlife biologists are almost certain that this animal – though absolutely a gray wolf – was someone’s pet. Whether this unfortunate canid escaped an enclosure or was released will never be known.

I’m sure the biologists are correct and that this was not a truly wild wolf. Wolves are pack animals, not solitary wanderers. Certainly, a pack of wolves – even a small one – would be noticed by authorities and the locals. Still, the next time I am out in the woods and hear the coyotes start to howl and carry on, I will pause and listen a little more closely. My hope is that I will hear an answer to their calls that goes on longer and is a bit deeper, something that might indicate the presence of a wild canid larger than a coyote.

A guy can hope… 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Sasquatch FAQ Series: Do Wood Apes Avoid Game Cameras?

With thousands of game cameras out there, if bigfoot is real, why are there no pictures?

The question above is one I have heard countless times over the years. Make no mistake, it is a fair question and I have no problem with anyone who asks it. On the surface, the fact that no clear and conclusive photos have been captured via game camera would seem to indicate that the wood ape does not exist. The real answer as to why game cameras have failed to get the “money shot,” however, may not be quite so simple. As seems to be the case with almost everything related to the sasquatch enigma, the truth may be more nuanced and layered than one might expect.

In 2003, a team from the University of Nebraska published a paper titled Wariness of Coyotes to Camera Traps Relative to Social Status and Territory Boundaries. The paper detailed an aversion that Alpha coyotes seemed to have regarding game cameras. The study took place in the Dye Creek Preserve in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains of California which was closed to the public. The authors thought the coyote population in this area would make good subjects for their study due to their extremely limited exposure to humans. “Coyotes on the preserve were not hunted and generally represented an unexploited population,” the authors wrote. The results of their study were fascinating.


The study found that the dominant coyotes, the Alphas, were never photographed inside their territories during the three years the game cameras were in place. Not one time. The authors concluded that this was not due to the animals having left the area as Betas and transient coyotes, thirty-eight in all, were successfully photographed by the cameras and Alphas were observed via more traditional means in their territories. Instead, the authors felt the lack of photos of the Alphas had to do with an increased level of awareness and caution on the part of the dominant pack members. “Alphas are probably the only coyotes that are truly territorial in terms of defending and fully exploiting their space,” the authors said. The Alphas regularly traversed their entire territories and “actively tracked human activity within their territories and presumably gained information about camera stations as they were being set up.” The final conclusion was the Alphas “were cautious of camera stations because of their association with humans and not simply because they were novel.”

The conclusion that Alpha coyotes avoided game cameras because they associated them with humans is one that has real ramifications for those attempting to gain photographic evidence of the wood ape by the use of such devices. The NAWAC conducted a large-scale camera-trapping project dubbed Operation Forest Vigil from 2006 – 2011. Despite hundreds of man hours and thousands of dollars spent on the effort, no definitive photos of the target species were captured. The thinking was that apes might avoid the cameras for a few days or weeks after their initial deployment, but get used to them over time. The lack of results and the findings of the University of Nebraska biologists caused the group to reconsider that opinion and the project. If the apes were avoiding the cameras due to associating them with humans and not because they were something new and out of place – like the Alpha coyotes in the University of Nebraska study – then the group was very likely wasting its time and money. 

Coyotes are one thing, apes are another. How can we be sure that apes are as wary of cameras as Alpha coyotes? A recent study conducted by the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology shed some light on that question. According to a paper published in March of 2019, an international team of researchers placed cameras in ape-populated forests in Africa in an effort to learn how wild apes would react to these unfamiliar objects. Responses varied by species, and even among individuals within the same species, but one thing was consistent throughout: the apes definitely noticed the cameras.

“Our goal was to see how chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas react to unfamiliar objects in the wild since novel object experiments are often used in comparative psychology research, and we wanted to know if there were any differences among the three great apes,” said primatologist Ammi Kalan. “We were specifically surprised by the differences in reactions we observed between the chimps and bonobos. Since they are sister species and share a lot of the same genetic makeup, we expected them to act similarly to the camera, but this wasn’t the case.” The chimps, though they noticed the cameras, seemed uninterested, for the most part. The bonobos, on the other hand, were stressed by the devices. “The bonobos appeared to be much more troubled by the camera traps; they were hesitant to approach and would actively keep their distance from them,” said Kalan.


The experiment pointed out the necessity of researchers to consider how animals will respond to unfamiliar monitoring equipment – I would include audio recording devices under this umbrella, too –in their natural habitats. The variation in behavior from species to species towards unfamiliar objects placed in their environment “might be problematic when trying to collect accurate monitoring data,” said Kalan. In other words, there may be no such thing as truly passive observation. The mere presence of a camera or a recorder may alter the behavior of the target species.

Many researchers, me among them, have long held the belief that wood apes avoid camera traps. Do not misunderstand, I do not think an ape knows what a camera does and makes a conscious effort to avoid having its picture taken. That is foolishness. I do, however, think it is possible – likely even – that these wood apes associate cameras with humans. If they understand, even on an extremely rudimentary level, that humans are generally bad news, and if they are more bonobo-like than chimpanzee-like in their sensitivity to foreign objects in there environment, then they are likely going to go to great pains to avoid anything to do with them; that would include camera traps.

Despite this belief, I am still a proponent of the use of game cameras. I feel short of a hunter taking a specimen or a road-kill type of scenario, cameras remain our best chance of documenting the species. I also feel that despite the challenges, a large-scale camera project sponsored by a well-funded group with sufficient resources just might be able to capture the evidence desired. What must be understood is that just hanging a camera on a stake or a tree is not going to be good enough when the quarry is something as intelligent as a great ape. New and novel techniques will need to be utilized to have any chance of success. Another reason I remain a proponent of game cameras is that these creatures are not infallible. They do make the occasional mistake. Researchers can do the wrong thing, be too loud, fail to camouflage their cameras, etc. day after day for years. That is okay; there is always tomorrow. The wood ape has to be perfect every day in order to permanently avoid detection. That is simply not possible, not even for an animal as furtive and elusive as the sasquatch. One mistake. That is all it will take for the discovery of the millennium to be made. The question really is not whether or not the wood ape will make a mistake; one will. The question is will there be anyone or a monitoring device present to capitalize on said mistake?

If you are the type to get into discussions over cryptozoological-related matters – and you likely are considering you are reading this – file the findings of the University of Nebraska biologists and the researchers of the Max Planck Institute away for future conversations. The question of why no photos have been captured by game cameras is bound to come up eventually. Along with the most common response – and quite a valid one, in my opinion – stating that most game cameras are pointed at deer feeders that are not too deep into the woods, bring up the possibility, backed by scientific studies, that some animals simply avoid cameras due to their association with humans. You will come across as well-read, reasonable, and intelligent.

You will also be right.


Sources:

“Wild African Ape Reactions to Novel Camera Traps.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 14 Mar. 2019, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190314111015.htm.

Sequin, E.S, et al. “Wariness of Coyotes to Camera Traps Relative to Social Status and Territory Boundaries.” Digital Commons @ University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USDA National Wildlife Research Center - Staff Publications, Mar. 2003, digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=http://woodape.org/index.php/about-bigfoot/articles/190-cryptidcaution&httpsredir=1&article=1227&context=icwdm_usdanwrc.

Higgins, Alton, and Daryl Colder. “Cryptid Caution Concerning Cameras?” Cryptid Caution Concerning Cameras?, woodape.org/index.php/about-bigfoot/articles/190-cryptidcaution.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

A Week in Area X


I recently returned from a week in the NAWAC’s primary study area. This area, dubbed Area X years ago, has proven time and again to be a place where odd things happen. The NAWAC is firmly convinced a number of wood apes make this mountainous region of southeastern Oklahoma their home. Events of this past week did nothing to change my mind.

I, along with two other NAWAC members, arrived on site on Saturday, July 27th. A fourth member joined us the next day. Saturday afternoon and evening was spent getting settled into camp and prepping for the week’s activities. Nothing of note took place and we managed to all get a good night’s sleep.



Sunday, we took several day hikes in the hopes that any apes in the vicinity would take note and become curious about what we were up to. In the past, day hikes seemed to have enticed apes to follow members back to the camp site where all manner of behaviors have been documented. Nothing unusual was noted on any of the hikes, but we were hopeful that, if nothing else, any apes in the vicinity were now very much aware of our presence.

One of the strategies we planned on utilizing during the week was to conduct overwatch on a nightly basis. Basically, overwatch consists of half the team staying up all night and scanning the area around camp with thermal devices in the hopes of spotting an ape. It would be a dark camp, no fire. We had heard a loud bang up on the mountain slope earlier in the evening and were hopeful that it was a sign an ape was observing us in camp. Shortly before midnight, the two of us on overwatch duty were surprised to hear a loud sound just to the west of the camp’s small hunting cabin. The sounds were quite unlike anything I have ever heard in the woods before. It sounded like someone beating the ground repeatedly with a large stick. You could hear the stick – or whatever it was – cutting the air just before striking the ground. This went on for nearly a full minute. My partner and I stayed in place and scanned the area from whence the sounds seemed to be emanating, but could not see who or what was responsible. 

A few minutes after this initial flurry of activity, the sounds started again. The maker of the sounds had changed locations slightly to the northwest in the area where a metal carport-like structure, nicknamed the hooch, sits. The hooch is open on three sides and provides a protected area for people and equipment during the frequent rain storms that occur in this corner of Oklahoma. I would have sworn that whatever was making these sounds was under the hooch and mere yards from us. The impact sounds were louder this time, as if the striker was swinging his “club” even harder than before. Whap! Whap! Whap! Despite how close the sounds seemed, we could still not see the sound maker through the thermals. The impacts went on for about 25 seconds and seemed to be increasing in intensity. Finally, I hit my head lamp, firmly convinced I would see an ape underneath the hooch. Instead, I saw nothing and the impact sounds stopped. 

We were astounded that we could not see whatever was making these sounds. Literally, it sounded like it was RIGHT THERE and uncomfortably close. We were more frustrated and amazed than shaken at this point and decided to move on to the porch area of the cabin. The hope was that whatever it was, it would think we had gone inside and might be emboldened to come in close enough for us to catch a glimpse of it. We did not have to wait long. Within 2-3 minutes of our sitting on the porch, the impacts started again; however, things had really intensified. I find it difficult to express just how loud and powerful the ground strikes were. Over and over again, the impacts were repeated. Finally, something struck the side of the hooch with terrific force. We were stunned at just how loud the impact was and how the hooch reverberated for several seconds afterward. We came off the porch immediately, scanning with thermals and then white lights. Nothing. Whatever it had been was now gone. How it could have been so close and yet remained concealed was something we just could not fathom. The remainder of the night was quiet.

While I cannot say for sure an ape was responsible for the noises we heard that night, I simply do not know what else it could have been. Something was swinging a heavy stick or log and beating the ground and hooch with it. A bear cannot do that. A cougar cannot do that. Even playing devil’s advocate, I cannot think of an alternate explanation that is not more outlandish than the possibility it was an ape. Some will say it must have been a person, someone messing with you. Two things on that. First, I do not think a person could have pulled these incidents off without being seen in the thermals and heard approaching and retreating into the bush. Second, anyone who tried such a stunt would be placing themselves in serious danger. We were heavily armed and ready should trouble arise. To pull such a stunt would be suicidal. I believe it was an ape, bigfoot, sasquatch; whatever your favorite term.

Later in the week, one of my teammates had a likely visual. I will not go into the details of how we were attempting to lure an ape into view, but will say that our efforts seem to have been rewarded. He saw a 5 1/2 – 6-foot tall figure covered in black hair peaking up over the bank of a dry creek bed. The animal was standing in the creek bed and seemed to be looking up the trail at something at the level of the forest floor. My teammate watched if for a minute or two, but it did not move. He could not make out a face or other distinguishing characteristics. He could only tell it was lean, upright, and covered in black hair. My friend decided to change his position in an attempt to get a better look at the animal. He hoped a new angle would allow him to positively identify it. In the process of moving, he lost sight of it for a few seconds. Those few seconds were all that it took for the animal to vanish. He did not hear it leave. Was it a bear? We talked about it, but it did not seem to act like a bear. It was quiet and still. Bears tend to roam about sniffing and seem to care little about being seen or heard. This animal seemed to be attempting to stay hidden and quiet as it peaked over the edge of the creek bed. Maybe bears do this, but if they do, I have not heard about it. Make of this visual what you will, but personally, I have serious doubts that what my friend saw was a bear.

I have heard skeptics say things along the lines of, “You guys seem to see bigfoot behind every tree,” and “All these visuals, but no video or photos.” Truth be told, we hardly ever see anything at all. Take this last week, for example. Four men stayed in Area X for six days. That is a total of 144 man hours or 8,640 minutes. Out of the entire week – combining the weird ground striking sounds and the visual – only an estimated 25 minutes of high strangeness took place. That is only 0.2% of the time on site. To be clear, that is not 2%, it is 0.2% of the time spent in Area X. That is a miniscule percentage of time. This despite our best efforts to annoy, irritate, and embolden the apes of the area to react to our presence. As you can see, the reality is that the vast majority of the time in Area X nothing out of the ordinary is going on.

Other than the two events discussed above, the week consisted of hikes, conversation, and dehydrated camp food. Oh, and sweating. Lots of sweating. As always, Area X gave us enough to make us want to get back there as soon as possible, but nothing more. It is a beautiful, wild, and unforgiving place. A place which I believe will yield the evidence necessary to officially document the wood ape.

I hope to return soon.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Black Pumas in the News and the Latest Black Panther Report

I have been reading a couple of book concurrenly over the last week, or so, Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record by Errol Fuller and The Ghost with Trembling Wings by Scott Weidensaul. The former is a beautiful, but very melancholy, look at several species that are extinct and gone forever. Species like the Carolina Parakeet, Yangtze River Dolphin, Eskimo Curlew, and Passenger Pigeon are discussed as are a handful of species that, while considered extinct by mainstream science, may yet be clinging to life in the more remote corners of the planet. The Ivory-billed woodpecker and the Thylacine are two such examples of these types of animals. The book is beautiful and full of photographs. There is something about the black and white images that is truly haunting. The emotions I feel when looking at them are jarring. Guilt, sadness, anger…they are all present and mixed up in a cauldron of sentiment that is impossible to ignore. The latter is a book about loss, recovery, endurance and resurrection. The book is enthralling and hard to put down. It is in this book that something caught my eye…

In Chapter 5 of his book, Weidensaul discusses anomalist cat sightings. Having grown up in the Appalachians, he is particularly interested in cougar sightings. The Eastern cougar is thought to have gone extinct around the turn of the century. Still, Weidensaul points out, people continue to report sightings and, from time to time dead pumas turn up in the region. Clearly, there are still a few cougars in the East, the author concludes. The discussion was fairly typical up this point: How many? Where did they come from? Were they ever really completely gone in the first place? Etc. Then I read the following passage:

“How reliable are those eyewitness sightings? One measure of their veracity might be the large number – between a quarter and a third – that involve black panthers. This is more troubling than it may at first appear. While black leopards and jaguars are fairly common, I know of only two documented cases of black cougars, nor is melanism at all common among North America’s other wild cats.”

Did you catch it? Weidensaul wrote “I know of only two documented cases of black cougars…” Well, that is news to me. In my book Shadow Cats: The Black Panthers of North America, I discuss the cougar as a possible suspect in the black panther mystery, but point out that there has never been an officially documented case of a melanistic puma. There are stories to be sure – many of which I discuss in the book - some of which are very old, but they are stories only. I have sent Mr. Weidensaul an email requesting some additional detail about these two documented cases of a black cougar. If he replies, I will update you here.

The question of whether or not pumas can be black came up again a day or two later when a reader of the blog sent me a link to a very interesting article. You may have read of the recent discovery of a ‘Lost City’ in Honduras. The ruins, built by an unknown civilization and uncovered in 2015, have yielded many items of archaeological significance since excavation began in earnest. Somewhat surprisingly, they have proven to be home to a treasure trove of rare wildlife as well.  Already, three species previously thought extinct, including the pale-face bat, have been found. It was the first paragraph of the article, however, that struck me with the force of a baseball bat.  It reads:

“Trond Larsen was night-searching for rare frogs and insects in the Lost City recently discovered within Honduras’ Mosquitia Rainforest when his headlamp illuminated something surprising: a curious black puma. Larsen, a researcher who led this February 2017 expedition into the so-called Lost City of the Monkey God, walked away from the encounter unscathed, but that puma was but a bite of the magnificence Larsen and his team would find.”

I know you caught it that time.  A black puma was seen among the ruins of a lost city in the heart of the Honduran rainforest. The witness was none other than Trond Larsen, of the Conservation International’ Rapid Assessment Program. Yet, nothing else is spoken about this remarkable sighting. In fact, the way it reads, it seems there is nothing remarkable about it at all.

What is going on here? Do black cougars exist or not? Why does no one seem interested in following up sightings like that of Trond Larsen? Are scientists so specialized that remarkable discoveries outside of their area of expertise are going unrecognized?

Finally, I will leave you with the latest credible black panther sighting reported to me. 

Reported 6/29/19

"Hi, Mike - really enjoy your blog. I don't know how meaningful this report is to your work, but I thought I'd send it to you as a datapoint.

In the summer of 2008 or 2009 I was riding my bike down a gravel road in Frisco just after dawn. About 40 yards ahead of me I watched a big black cat casually run across the road and then sail over a barbed wire fence into some trees. I'm not a good judge of animal mass, but it was about waist high, probably 5 or 6 feet from head to tail. It happened so quickly and was too far away for me to get any details other than the fact that it had a very long thick tail, was very dark, and moved like a cat. Coincidentally, this occurred next to a creek in Frisco called Panther Creek.


The fence on the left wasn't there at the time, but the water treatment plant did exist. There weren't nearly as many subdivisions in the area either. Lots of open land back then.

Foolishly, I kept riding down the road and looked for it when I crossed the point where I saw it jump, but never saw it. For some reason, I thought I'd be able to out run it on my bike if I needed to, but I'll bet I would have been an exciting hunt for her if she decided to chase me down.

I thought for a long time what it could have been, thinking maybe it was just the silhouette of something else, which made it appear black. But, I was riding westward just after dawn when I saw it, so it definitely wasn't back-lit. I also spotted it before it entered the trees, so it would have been in the sunlight.

Also, I thought the sighting you posted on your blog from Plano about that same time was interesting. Maybe it was the same animal.”

- Brian Taylor

TCH Comment:  Brian is right in that Frisco has boomed over the last decade. On the surface, a big cat sighting of any kind there seems ludicrous, but a sighting from 10-11 years ago is another matter. The description given is fairly typical: big, very dark to black, long thick tail.  The area has been the source of black panther reports in the past (see distribution map). Too, I have had a handful of reports that have come from areas very close to water treatment plants, which I find interesting. I will be adding this sighting to my Black Panther Sighting Distribution Map

To wrap it up, in the last week I have become aware of no less than three sightings of black pumas referred to by recognized men of science and academia. Again, I am making an effort to get more information on these sightings. I’ll let you all know how that goes.

If you would like to know more about the black panther mystery, check out my book, Shadow Cats: The Black Panthers of North America. You can hit the link to the right or click here for more information. 

Sources:


Fuller, Errol. Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record. Princeton University Press, 2014.

Fuller, Errol. Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record. Princeton University Press, 2014. Page 126.

Funds, Yessenia. “Exploration of 'Lost City' in Honduras Uncovers Trove of Rare Life Forms.” Gizmodo, 21 June 2019, www.gizmodo.com.au/2019/06/exploration-of-lost-city-in-honduras-uncovers-trove-of-rare-life-forms/.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Can the Xoloitzcuintli Explain Texas Chupacabras Sightings?

I was recently approached by a television producer about doing a cryptid-based show on the “Texas chupacabras.” I agreed to do the show on the condition that I be allowed to share my beliefs on what it was that people were actually seeing. The producers agreed, arrangements for shooting on private land in Texas were made, and a tentative date for the shoot was set. I never mentioned any of this on the blog or my other online outlets as experience had taught me that such plans often fall through. As it turned out, the production company decided that they would not be coming to Texas to film after all. While disappointed – this is a show with which you would all be familiar – I certainly harbor no hard feelings; it’s just the way it goes sometimes. One of my biggest disappointments about not getting to do the program was that I would not be able to give my thoughts on what these “Texas chupacabras” might be. That being the case, I thought a blog post on the topic might be in order. While I won’t reach the number of people I would have on the television show, I am hoping that I can still reach a great many folks this way.

The chupacabras legend is a fairly new addition to the pantheon of cryptid beasts. While the myth may have existed regionally before (For example, residents of the Puerto Rican town of Moca endured the killings of dozens farm animals by a creature dubbed “The Vampire of Moca” in 1975), the possible existence of a blood-sucking creature that attacked livestock on the island of Puerto Rico came to the fore in the early and mid-1990’s. Soon, unusual livestock deaths in the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Brazil, Mexico, and the United States were being blamed on chupacabras. The attacks were purported to be similar in that the animals were drained of their blood via two or three puncture marks in the throat or chest, though to my knowledge, this blood-draining has never been confirmed by a necropsy performed by a certified veterinarian. The legend of the chupacabras, however, caught the fancy of the public and spread like wildfire throughout Latin America and north into Texas. 


The original description of the chupacabras – as described by Puerto Ricans in the 1990’s – is of a reptilian-looking creature with a series of long spikes or spines protruding from its back. It had strong back legs on which it stood in a fashion similar to that of a kangaroo. The forelimbs were described as smaller, but ending in “hands” or paws that were tipped with razor sharp talons. The creature’s mode of locomotion was jumping or hopping, again, much like a kangaroo (one must wonder if an imported kangaroo or wallaby might have escaped its enclosure and been wandering around Puerto Rico in the 1990’s). Whatever was hopping around Puerto Rico in the 1990’s seems to have no similarities to the creatures being called chupacabras today. Modern accounts all describe the chupacabras as a canine-like animal, devoid of hair, with grayish-blue to black skin similar to that of an elephant or rhino. The size reported varies from that of a German shepherd to that of a small fox. News outlets seize on every opportunity to publish photos or video of these alleged chupacabras (many Texans refer to them as blue dogs) and have spread this new picture of the creature far and wide. Just this past week, a report of a “chupacabras” wandering about the city of Houston received a lot of attention. In my opinion, the video clearly shows an ill canine of some kind, not a mythical blood-sucking beast. Still, the myth – and this new description – persists.

While I cannot speculate on just what people in Puerto Rico might have seen 20-25 years ago, I do feel that I can offer up a few opinions on what people are seeing here in Texas now. I strongly feel that most “chupacabras” are nothing more than canines suffering from a form of mange. Mange is caused by a parasitic mite that burrows into the skin and kills the hair follicles of the host animal. Sarcoptic mange – also known as canine scabies – causes hair loss, crusting of the skin of the ears and joints, and secondary skin infections. Canines suffering from this form of mange quickly deteriorate into very poor condition if left untreated. The disease is not uncommon among the coyotes and foxes of the Lone Star State. I have seen a mange-ridden coyote myself in the Sam Houston National Forest. It was strange and alien-looking to be sure, but undoubtedly a coyote. It was completely hairless and had the typically described bluish-gray, elephant-like skin. The ribs were protruding and the animal moved slowly and did not appear to be in very good shape at all. I have no doubt that if I had snapped a photo and sent it to the newspaper or local television affiliate, “chupacabras” headlines would have soon followed. I believe strongly, that most sightings of this Texas version of the chupacabras are nothing more than sick, mangy canines.


Having said that, the idea that mangy canines explain ALL chupacabras sightings has never sat particularly well with me. The vast majority of sightings? Absolutely. But, all of them? No. Some of the sightings describe very robust, strong, or fast animals. None of these attributes would be expected from an animal suffering with an advanced case of mange. The famous dashcam footage of what was obviously a very healthy, yet hairless, canine of some kind outside of Cuero, Texas has become the Patterson-Gimlin footage of the chupacabras world. Whatever this creature was, it was clearly healthy. Is there another explanation, another animal that fits the description of the classic Texas chupacabras? As it turns out, yes.

The Xoloitzcuintli, or Xolo for short, is a dog breed that fits the classic description of the Texas chupacabras almost perfectly. Also known as the Mexican Hairless, this dog has been around for centuries. Statues resembling the breed have been found in Mayan, Colima, and Aztec ruins and burial sites that date back 3,000 years. Aztec mythology attributed the creation of the breed to Xolotl, the god of lightning and death, who needed the breed to guide souls through the underworld. The tribes of ancient Mexico and Central America believed the Xolo had physical and spiritual healing powers and regarded the breed as sacred. The unusual name of the breed is a combination of Xolotl and itzcuintli, the Aztec word for dog. It is believed that the first European to lay eyes on this hairless breed of canine was none other than Christopher Columbus himself in 1492.* Once the Spanish conquest of the New World began in earnest, the Xolo became more and more rare. The AKC did recognize the breed in 1887 – as the Mexican Hairless – but dropped it from its official registry in 1959 due to extremely low numbers. During this time, British and Mexican authorities worked together to save the Xolo from extinction. The group managed to trap 10-12 wild Xolos in remote Mexican forests and successfully bred them. After the numbers bounced back a bit, the Xolo was eventually named the official dog of Mexico. While well-known south of the Rio Grande, the breed is still rarely seen, and relatively unknown, in the United States.

I was aware of the Mexican Hairless, but mistakenly believed it was a toy-sized dog only. I have since learned that the breed comes in three distinct sizes: Standard, Miniature, and Toy. The breeds range in weight from 10-50 lbs. As the name implies, they are all but completely hairless (there are sometimes tufts of hair on the head, toes, and tail). The skin color of these Xolos is typically black or bluish-gray in color. The allele that causes the breed’s hairlessness is also responsible for abnormalities in the dentition of the breed. Hairless Xolos usually display incomplete or abnormal dentition that can include unusually long canines. The Xolo is very athletic, graceful, and a strong runner with a sturdy build. This vigorous and robust nature is thought to be due to the fact that the breed was never selectively bred historically. While they can make good pets, Xolos are extremely intelligent and have a reputation as escape artists with the ability to climb and/or jump fences.


When the whole picture is put together, the Xolo must be considered a prime suspect in the Texas chupacabras mystery. While not limited to south Texas, the breed is far more common near the Texas-Mexico border. The bulk of chupacabras sightings that are not obviously mange-ridden canines, originate from the southern part of the Lone Star State. The bluish-gray to black skin so commonly reported is a hallmark of the breed. Too, the over-sized ears – sometimes described as resembling those of a mule or donkey – and long canines are common characteristics of the Xolo. The athletic and robust build of the Standard-sized Xolo matches up well to many descriptions given of the chupacabras and the fact that escapees are not uncommon would seem to strengthen the case that the Xolo could be the prime suspect in this mystery. Finally, and maybe the most important fact of all, is that the majority of Texas residents simply are not familiar with the breed. This is not surprising as the breed was right on the brink of extinction as recently as the mid 1950’s. A Texan who is unaware of the existence of the Xolo, but who has been exposed to the media-driven chupacabras legend, is likely to jump to the cryptid creature conclusion. 

To wrap it up, I just do not believe there is much to the Texas chupacabras legend. I have heard stories of there being DNA testing of specimens that indicate some kind of wolf/coyote/dog hybrid, but have not seen any such studies myself. I think chupacabras sightings – at least those in Texas – can be attributed to sick, mangy foxes, coyotes, or domestic/feral dogs nine times out of ten. On the rare occasions when a healthy, strong, and fast “chupacabras” is spotted, in my opinion, it is a very strong possibility that a Xolo was seen. This is another case where I would welcome being wrong – a weird and new hybrid species of blood-sucking creature would be cool – but I do not think I am. 

*Source material claims Columbus mentioned the Xolo in his journal, but I have been unable to corroborate.

Sources:




https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/skin/c_dg_sarcoptic_mange

Thursday, April 25, 2019

New Website Now Online

For numerous reasons, I have decided to create a true website. I will continue to post here on the blog, but the website will allow me a place to make even more information available.

The site a place to keep up with news and appearances, and contains links to podcasts, radio programs, print articles, and television work I've done. Also, there is a collection of my favorite blog posts/articles from over the years, links to my Facebook, Twitter, YouTube accounts, and tons of photos. Give it a look when you can. I would appreciate it.


The website will not be solely dedicated to my Texas Cryptid Hunter activities. It will also serve as my "author site." Now that I have retired from my coaching duties, I hope to write more often. I have a book underway that I think will be of interest to fans of this site and a lot of other ideas. I'll share more about all of that at the appropriate time. Due to the fact that the site will serve multiple purposes, I decided against just using the Texas Cryptid Hunter designation. Instead, I opted to use my name. So, if you are so inclined, click the link below, bookmark it, and visit often for all manner of information. I hope you enjoy it.

Link: Michaelcmayes.com

Mike

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Jim Kaizer and the Beast of Oak Island

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am a huge fan of the History Channel program “The Curse of Oak Island.” I guess it should not be that surprising, as I have always been fascinated by a good mystery. The story of the men and women who have tried to solve the riddle of this small island in the north Atlantic over the last 200 years has captivated me and the program is appointment television at my house. My wife, knowing I wanted to know more about the place, what went on there, and who might have been behind it, gifted me with the book, The Curse of Oak Island: The Story of the World’s Longest Treasure Hunt by Randall Sullivan this past Christmas. I was not very far into the book before I ran across a story I wanted to share. I have gone back and forth over whether or not the tale belongs on this site. Ultimately, I decided it was my site and I could put whatever I wanted on it, lol. In all seriousness, I believe most of you reading this are like me in that you enjoy tales of the mysterious and creepy. This story certainly falls into those categories.


The stories of buried treasure on Oak Island go back hundreds of years, but the story I want to tell you really does not have anything to do with the actual search for riches; rather, it has to do with one of the unfortunate souls whose time on Oak Island looking for that mythical fortune ruined, and ultimately cost him, his life. This is the story of a man named Jim Kaizer. 

We will pick up the story in 1959, the year Robert Restall signed a one-year agreement with Mel Chappell to take over the hunt for the treasure allegedly buried on Oak Island. Viewers of the television show know the story of the tragedy that befell the Restall family a few short years later well. For the rest of you, I will summarize it now. On August 17, 1965, Robert Restall, at approximately 2:45 p.m., fell into the deep shaft he and his family had been excavating near Smith’s Cove in an attempt to reach the famed “Money Pit,” where untold riches were rumored to be hidden. No one actually witnessed the fall. It is thought Restall was either climbing down into the shaft or leaning over and peering into it when the accident took place. Restall must have made some kind of sound when he fell as his oldest son, Robert Restall Jr. (Bobby), and co-workers Cyril Hiltz and Andy DeMont realized something was wrong immediately and raced to the shaft. Bobby, seeing his father floating in the dark water at the bottom of the pit, immediately started down the ladder to attempt a rescue. By the time Hiltz, DeMont, and Restall investor Karl Graeser arrived and peered into the shaft, Bobby had, also, somehow become unconscious and fallen to the bottom. The three men, knowing only that their friends were in dire trouble, starting down the ladder to render aide. Not one of them made it to the bottom before they, too, fell unconscious from the ladder to the bottom of the pit. 

Present on the island that day was a Buffalo, New York fire captain named Edward White. White had been camping nearby and heard the cries for help. Looking down the shaft, he saw the grisly pile of unconscious bodies stacked liked firewood at the bottom. White realized the shaft must have filled with some kind of poisonous gas that had overcome the men. Even knowing this, he lashed a rope around his thighs and waist and had tourists who had gathered near the opening lower him into the shaft. White managed to get a line tied around DeMont just before being overcome by the gas himself. The tourists on hand lifted White and DeMont out of the pit where they were revived. Robert Restall, Robert Restall Jr., Karl Graeser, and Cyril Hiltz would all die in the cold black water at the bottom of the shaft.

News of the tragedy quickly spread until it reached the ears of Jim Kaizer. Kaizer had been working on Oak Island with the Restalls for months and had become very close to Robert. Fifty-one years after the tragedy, Faron Kaizer, Jim’s son, told author Randall Sullivan, “He (Jim) and Mr. Restall were two peas in a pod, both tough and hardworking. They were the type of men who didn’t have a lot of education, but just knew how to do things. Dad really enjoyed going over there. He rarely missed a day, because it was exciting for him.” As fate would have it, though, Jim Kaizer was absent on that fateful day in August of 1965. A water pump at the family home had broken and Jim, at the insistence of his wife, had stayed home from work to get it running. That broken pump probably saved his life.


Once alerted that something bad had happened on the island, Kaizer raced to the scene where he was greeted by a throng of people gathered around the shaft in which the bodies of the four men rested, the shaft he had helped dig. By now it was clear the men at the bottom of the shaft were clearly dead and the operation was now in a recovery, rather than a rescue, mode. The volunteers of the Chester Fire Department had decided it was too dangerous for anyone to go into the pit and retrieve the men. Begrudgingly, it was decided the method of recovery would be via a three-pronged gaff called a treble hook that would be lowered into the shaft. Realizing what a messy operation that would be, and the additional strife it would cause Mildred Restall and her surviving son Rick, Kaizer stepped up and said, “No way, you’re not doing that. I’ll go down.” Using an old World War II era gas mask stuffed with wet rags and wearing thick coveralls, Jim Kaizer made four trips to the bottom of the pit, recovering the bodies of all four men. “After that,” said Faron Kaizer, “Dad wasn’t the same.” Jim’s grandson Tim agreed and said, “My grandmother said it changed him, but it might have been more what happened after. It was hard to know…”

After the death of her husband, Mildred Restall signed over the search rights on the island to a man named Robert Dunfield and moved away. Dunfield, needing a man who knew the island, wasted no time in offering the job of night watchman to Jim Kaizer. Kaizer, who after the events of that terrible day had lost his enthusiasm for digging, accepted the position. It would turn out that he would not keep the job for long. One night that fall, Kaizer came home in the wee hours of the morning. It was clear to his family that he was badly shaken. Faron Kaizer recalls, “He was just swearing up and down, not like he was angry, but like it was just coming out of him. It really scared us…I realize now he was scared. But he was a man who never got scared so he didn’t know how to express it except by swearing.” Seeing the rough and tumble (and previously fearless) Jim so badly shaken and afraid rattled the family. Faron recalls that after about a week his father calmed down, “But Dad still wouldn’t go back to Oak Island. He never went back on the island again, not once after that night.”


The details of what happened to Jim that fateful night came out in bits and pieces over time. Kaizer first shared details with his wife, Beulah, and later his boys. “He told me I wouldn’t believe him, but he was tellin’ me anyway,” Faron recalled. According to Faron, Jim was in the Restall’s old cabin, where he spent the bulk of most nights while on the island, when something terrifying took place. “Dad said it was about eleven or twelve o’clock. He said, ‘I had a little fire going. I put some wood on the fire and then I lay down on the cot and closed my eyes.’ Apparently, he fell asleep. And he said, ‘I woke up and I couldn’t breathe.’ And he said there was two of the biggest red eyes you would ever want to see looking right into his. And the whole body was covered with tight, curly black hair. He said that was all he could see, because the…whatever it was, was holdin’ him down by his arms and had him pinned so tight he couldn’t move. But then it smiled at him and said, ‘Don’t ever come back.’ My dad said when it let him go and disappeared the whole building shook.” After being released, Jim Kaizer wasted no time getting to his truck and getting off of Oak Island. “And he wouldn’t ever go back on the island again after that,” Faron said. “He told me, ‘It was the only thing that’s ever scared me.’”

According to Faron Kaizer, his father was never the same after that. He began drinking heavily, would sometimes be silent and brooding for days at a time, and would often fly into a rage for no apparent reason. Jim’s own family began to make themselves scarce whenever he was around due to his erratic behavior. Jim even started to have run-ins with the law. He became even more unstable whenever he would share the story of what he encountered that night on Oak Island with someone who, inevitably, would not believe him. “When he realized people didn’t believe him, he stopped talking and just bottled it up,” said Faron. Even Jim’s wife, Beulah, though she seemed to believe her husband's story, struggled with just what to think of it. “I remember Dad telling Mom certain things,” remembers Faron. “And she would just shake her head and walk away.”

The story of Oak Island treasure hunter Jim Kaizer would end tragically in 1976 when he shot himself in the head with a rifle outside of a bar in Western Shore. He was not yet fifty years-old. It remains unclear as to what tormented Jim Kaizer the most. Was it the death of his good friend Robert Restall and the three other men that terrible August day in 1965? The four hellish, yet heroic, trips he made into the shaft to retrieve the bodies of his friends? The guilt he must have suffered for not having been on site that day? Or was it the hair-covered abomination that pinned him to his cot, stared through him with blood red eyes, and warned him to never come back to Oak Island?

Some have suggested a sasquatch/wood ape is responsible for the strange experience of Jim Kaizer, though these people have a difficult time explaining the fact that the creature reportedly spoke. Even most of those willing to accept the possibility that wood apes exist would find the idea of an English speaking individual preposterous; however, such claims, though exceedingly rare, have been made before. The dire warning issued by the creature and the way it disappeared bear striking similarities to the experience of Davy Crockett – who was on his way to San Antonio - in the Piney Woods of east Texas in 1836. He, too, claimed an experience with a huge, hair-covered beast that issued a warning. In a letter to his brother-in-law, Crockett wrote, “…I swear to you, Abe, that what spirit came upon me was the shape and shade of a large ape man…” He added that the creature was, “covered in wild hair.” Crockett then wrote, “The monster then addressed a warning to me. Abner, it told me to return from Texas, to flee this Fort and to abandon this lost cause.” The parallels between these two encounters are eerie and could not be more obvious, but the answer to the question of what was actually seen by these two men remains elusive.

Nova Scotia is not without alleged sasquatch sightings and activity. Hikers walking the trails of Uniake Museum Park have reported having had rocks thrown at them, tree-shaking, noises like foot-stomps, and being run out of/escorted from the area by an unseen creature. Another tale told around Nova Scotia campfires is of a Cape Breton sasquatch that seemed to take great pleasure in catching a larger fish - with its bare hands - than a stunned fisherman who had just landed one of his own. 


Still, the most likely explanation is that Jim Kaizer drifted off to sleep and had a nightmare, one that seemed incredibly real to him. It seems logical enough, but is it not possible that a lightly dozing Kaizer might have incorporated some real events into his dream? I know this has happened to me while in that gray area where I am half-awake and half-asleep. For example, a while back I was enjoying a Sunday afternoon nap on the couch. I had a dream that an old friend was ringing the doorbell. Suddenly, I snapped to and realized the doorbell was, indeed, ringing. It was not the old friend I had been dreaming of, but a young lady selling Girl Scout cookies (almost as good, lol). The point is, while dozing, my mind took something that was really happening – the ringing doorbell – and incorporated it into my dream. A good friend of mine shared a similar, though far creepier, story regarding this phenomenon and his mother-in-law. This lady is quite independent and makes a habit of backcountry hiking alone. She is sometimes gone a week or more on these solo hiking trips. Several years back she shared an experience with my friend she had while hiking in, if I recall correctly, Yosemite National Park. She always travels light and was carrying only her sleeping bag on this trip. One night, very late, she awoke to see a huge man with a thick beard leaning over her. My buddy asked her what happened next and she said she could not recall and must have just gone back to sleep. Is it possible, that a bearded man was traveling alone and on foot through the area in the middle of the night? I suppose, but I have often wondered if this woman awoke to see something else leaning over her and her half-awake mind turned whatever it was into a large, bearded man to make it more palatable and less frightening. Could Jim Kaizer have really have seen a red-eyed, hair-covered monster? Could his mind, traumatized by the recent tragedies and wracked by guilt, have dreamed the words of warning? In other words, could the creature have been real and the words spoken been the dream? Many have posited this is what happened to Crockett in the Piney Woods of Texas all those years ago. If so, what an incredible premonition. One can only wonder what his fate would have been had he heeded the warning and not proceeded to the Alamo. Jim Kaizer did heed the warning and never again set foot on Oak Island. Even so, his life ended tragically soon after. Perhaps, there really is no escaping our fate.

Oak Island has long been rumored to be haunted. Strange lights and fireballs have been seen. Inexplicable equipment failures – some with catastrophic consequences – have plagued every treasure hunter to put shovel to dirt there. Even Marty Lagina, on an episode of "The Curse of Oak Island: Drilling Down," admits to hearing eerie screams while out alone near the Money Pit area one night. Marty, by far the more skeptical of the treasure-hunting brothers, admits to having been scared and says he no longer wanders the island at night. Could we add a sasquatch to this eerie mix, based on the account of Jim Kaizer? Or, could it have been something even more sinister. Jim’s grandson, Tim Kaizer, said, “…Oak Island scares me. I believe there is a bad spirit on the island. I believe my grandfather encountered it.”

I will leave you with this, Tim once asked his grandmother, Beulah, about the events of that night and whether or not she believed Jim’s story.  Tim recalls her response, “My grandmother looked at me, and then she told me that when he came home that night Jim had showed her his arms. And they had huge bruises on them that had been made by handprints.”


Sources:

Sullivan, Randall. The Curse of Oak Island: The Story of the Worlds Longest Treasure Hunt. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2018.

“Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization.” Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, bfro.net/.

Fairclough, Ian. “Stories to Give You Chills and Thrills.” Halifax Chronicler Herald, 30 Oct. 2011.