Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Another Texas "Chupacabras" Tale

I got a reminder about the power of the media this past week. A good friend of mine who lives in SE Texas called me and said that he had been contacted by an acquaintance about a “chupacabras” roaming around near an abandoned house on the Trinity River. The creature was allegedly the size of a large coyote and was wandering about and appearing on the porches of homes up and down the river looking for food. It had been spotted eating out of dog bowls on multiple occasions and the locals were worried it would end up hurting someone or one of their pets. When my friend asked this caller to describe the animal they were seeing he got the classic description of the “new chupacabras” popularized by the media: a hairless, blue-gray skinned canid of some sort. I use the term “new chupacabras” due to the fact that these hairless, mangy canids, or blue dogs as many in Texas are now calling them, do not resemble the original descriptions of the chupacabras in any way.


The chupacabras legend originated in Latin America, specifically in Puerto Rico. Also called the goat sucker, the chupacabras allegedly attacks small domestic animals like chickens, goats and sheep. It is said that it kills by making two vampire-like puncture wounds on its victim through which it drains their blood. Usually, no other marks are present on the body of the unfortunate victim. Immigration has brought the legend of the chupacabras to America and news outlets have jumped at the chance to label any mystery creature or odd-looking animal as a chupacabras. The most annoying aspect of this is that these outlets are latching on to the legend in name only. They are completely ignoring how the chupacabras was originally described. According to early reports out of Puerto Rico, the chupacabras was an upright, alien-looking creature with large glowing eyes, spikes protruding off its back and large claws. The “new chupacabras” look nothing like this; however, that fact has not stopped news outlets and magazine shows from labeling every poor mangy coyote and fox seen roaming about as the dreaded chupacabras.

My friend, knowing full well what he was likely to find on the banks of the Trinity River was nothing more than a mangy dog of some sort, agreed to come out and have a look and make an attempt to rid the area of the creature. Whatever the animal was, he reasoned, if it was coming up on to porches and approaching homes it was likely sick. A sick animal near people, especially children, and pets is often a bad combination. My friend arrived at the home of the man who contacted him and was told he might need something more powerful than the shotgun he was carrying to dispatch the large creature. While my friend was confident he had more than enough firepower to handle whatever this animal might turn out to be, he was intrigued that this man had been so intimidated by the creature.


What followed was as predictable as the sun rising in the east. My friend located the “chupacabras” in the abandoned house on the bank of the river and dispatched it quickly and humanely. As he suspected, the dreaded chupacabras turned out to be nothing more than a very ill fox that was eaten up with a severe case of mange. The allegedly large, coyote-sized beast turned out to weigh between 15-20 lbs.

My friend called me after he had completed his task and we chuckled over the whole incident. The people living in the area had been completely spooked by the prospect of the dreaded goat-sucker roaming about wreaking havoc. The idea of the much feared chupacabras had been firmly implanted in their minds by local and national media.


While there was never any chupacabras on the banks of the Trinity River, it is still a good thing that my friend was called out to investigate and dispatch the animal. Any time wild animals approach humans, it is a sign that animal might be sick. Sick animals can be desperate animals and desperation can lead to dangerous confrontations. In addition, many diseases, the different types of mange among them, can be spread from wild canids like foxes and coyotes to domestic dogs. Finally, this little fox was suffering badly. Judging by how emaciated he was, he would not have lasted too much longer. He was slowly starving to death. While it is sad any time an animal has to be put down, his suffering is now at an end.

One of my goals when I began this blog was to educate people on some of the more odd animal stories out there. I hope I am accomplishing that to some degree with this post. Simply, hairless, mange-ridden canids are not chupacabras. They never have been and never will be. News people are just exhibiting their ignorance on the topic by their continued insistence on labeling these sick creatures as cryptids or something paranormal.

There may be something to the chupacabras legend. I have found that in many cases, if not most, there is at least a grain of truth to myths and legends. Whatever that grain of truth may be when it comes to the chupacabras, it does not involve mangy canids.

Spread the word.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Gorillas Use Odor to Communicate in the Wild

“The smell was just awful, like something had died.”

“That smell almost knocked me over. I swear I wanted to vomit.”

“It smelled sort of like a wet dog, but much worse; a very sour, pungent odor. Terrible.”


The quotes above all come from people who claim to have had a close encounter with a wood ape or sasquatch. Anyone with even a casual interest in the bigfoot phenomenon has heard about the terrible smell associated with these creatures. Terms like “sour” and “wet garbage” are often used to describe the overpowering odor. Yet, there are many other witnesses who claim the same types of encounters at close range that report having smelled nothing at all. Why would some of these animals emit a horribly foul odor while others would not?

It has long been known that gorillas have scent glands that emit a foul smelling odor whenever these great apes are under duress or excited. It has been posited by many that the sasquatch is likely a close relative of the known great apes, as it exhibits many classic behaviors that have been observed in these large primates. Bluff charges, chest beating, shaking trees and vegetation, snapping limbs off trees, rock throwing and other known great ape intimidation tactics have been reported by witnesses. Too, the most common description of the physical appearance of the North American wood ape correlates closely to the appearance of the known great apes. Hair-covered, colors ranging from black to reddish, extremely long arms, barrel-chested, extremely thick necks and sagittal crests are described on a regular basis. All that to say, it seems to be well established that the sasquatch exhibits many of the same behaviors and physical attributes of the known great apes. With that being the case, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to hypothesize that the North American wood ape may also share some of the same internal anatomical features as well. Scent glands may be one such feature.


The mere presence of scent glands would not, however, explain why some wood apes, seemingly under duress, exude a putrid odor while others, in very similar circumstances, do not. It seems this is a question primate researchers have asked themselves in regard to gorillas as well. The results of a 12-month study conducted by the University of Stirling in Scotland may provide some answers.

Co-authors of the study, Phyllis Lee and Michelle Klailova, both psychologists at the University of Stirling, observed a male silverback lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) named Makumba in his native habitat within the Central African Republic rainforest for one year and reached some interesting conclusions. First, gorillas can, and do, communicate with each other using scent. Second, the ability to emit scent is, at least partially, under the conscious control of the individual. Evidence suggests that Makumba could turn on or shut off his scent depending on circumstances.

It has long been known that gorillas communicate with several different types of vocalizations but they were not thought to communicate by projecting scents. There are numerous reasons for this assumption. Chief among these reasons is the size of the brain region dedicated for the sense of smell has shrunk during the course primate evolution. Also, primates lack a vomeronasal organ, a sensor that detects pheromones emitted by other animals. This combination of factors makes primates much more dependent on senses other than smell, most notably the sense of vision. Despite these facts, gorilla researchers such as Dian Fossey have long reported that each individual gorilla has a unique, and rather pungent, musky smell. It begged the question, if gorillas do not communicate by scent then why do they have these glands that emit such a strong odor? What was the purpose?

Lee and Klailova selected Makumba, a dominant male with an established harem and territory to study. The researchers observed the big silverback as he went about the business of tending to his females and fending off competitors. It was noted that Makumba broadcast his scent when he encountered other male gorillas that he may have seen as a potential threat.

“It was as if he was saying I am strong, powerful and here, protecting my females and babies,” Lee said.

This particular observation was not anything particularly new. It fit the model of a gorilla that was under duress, be it fear or anger, broadcasting his scent. What was potentially ground breaking was the fact that Makumba did not always broadcast his scent when other males encroached upon his territory, making it very possible that he was in conscious control of his scent glands. When other potentially threatening silverbacks came near, Makumba would abruptly shut off his scent.

“We think he was then trying not to tell the other male where and who he was,” said Lee.

Additional observations by the team seemed to back up the idea that Makumba was in control of when, and how strongly, he would broadcast his scent. According to Lee, Makumba’s scent would change depending on the situation.

“Makumba’s smell changed depending on the situation, such as whether the youngest baby was nearby or with its mother, whether his female harem mates were around and which stranger gorillas lurked about,” Lee said.


Indeed, it seemed the big silverback was able to directly influence the behaviors and activities of other gorillas by broadcasting his scent. It appeared to the researchers that Makumba was using odor as a modifiable form of social communication, where context-specific chemical signals directed the social behavior of other gorillas.

The fact that Makumba could so quickly turn this scent on and off in subtly different social contexts led the researchers to conclude that the ability to broadcast scent was, at least to some degree, under conscious control and not merely an automatic response to fear or arousal. It also strongly suggests that scent plays a far more important role in the lives of primates than originally thought. The authors of the study suggested this ability to communicate via scent may be especially useful in Central African forests, where limited visibility may necessitate increased reliance on other senses.

Mireya Mayor, a primatologist with the Centre ValBio at Stonybrook University in New York, who was not involved with the study, called the findings of Lee and Klailova “mind-boggling” due to the fact that primates rely so much less on their sense of smell than other animals.

“The most surprising part,” Mayor said, “is that they are able to suppress and consciously control scent.” She added, “But though it seems strange to imagine consciously dialing body odor up or down, humans can consciously control basic physiological processes such as heart rate, and humans are genetically quite close to gorillas.”

The question now is what, if anything, does this study have to do with the sasquatch?

As has been mentioned previously, many people claiming to have had encounters with North America’s great ape report a terrible odor in association with their sightings. When witnesses attempt to describe the smell, words like pungent, musky and sour are often used. Not coincidentally, in my opinion, these are the same descriptors used by gorilla researchers when they describe the odor broadcast by male silverbacks. Primatologist Mireya Mayor was right when she said that humans are genetically quite close to gorillas. Assuming the sasquatch is a real flesh and blood animal, it must be genetically close to gorillas and the other great apes as well. It is, therefore, not illogical to hypothesize that these creatures might possess scent glands like some of their great ape cousins. The excretions of these glands could very well explain the awful smell so often attributed to these creatures.

Terrible smells, however, are not always reported by alleged wood ape witnesses. Often, no smell at all is noticed at the time of a sighting, even if it took place in very close proximity to the animal. Other witnesses have described a wide range of scents ranging from a vaguely equine-like odor to an almost pleasant earthy smell. The lack of any smell at all has often been explained away those interested in the phenomenon by several different theories.

“The witness must not have been close enough to the animal.”

“The witness was so traumatized by what they were seeing that they didn’t notice the smell.”

“The witness must have been upwind from the sasquatch.”

“Bigfoot only emit odor when they are surprised or frightened. If there was no odor, the animal must have been aware of the presence of the witness the whole time.”



These, and a myriad of other circumstances, could certainly explain at least some of the times a discernible odor is absent during an encounter. They cannot, however, explain the other more subtle and varied scents described by witnesses. That is where the results of the University of Stirling study truly come into play. If apes can consciously control when they broadcast their scent, and to what degree, then it is possible the sasquatch could do so as well. If so, it could go a long way toward explaining the various scents, or total lack thereof, witnesses continue to report. Powerful, overpowering sour odors when broadcast could be territorial warnings for invaders to stay out. They could also be a way for a dominant male to let the members of his troupe know where he was or that intruders are in the area. More subtle scents could be “business as usual” communications between family units who are not always within site of one another in the dense forests and wetlands in which they are most often reported to live.

I, and many of my fellow NAWAC members, have experienced a wide range of scents in our quest to document these animals. There have been times when it almost feels like you walk into a wall, the smell is so bad, but within moments it is gone completely. I have often wondered how a smell that is so powerful can be there to such a strong degree one moment and then completely gone just seconds later. Did the animal move away? If Lee and Klailova are right, and gorillas can consciously control when, and to what degree, they broadcast their scent, and if the sasquatch does have scent glands similar to those of gorillas, and if they can control them in the same manner, then the answer could simply be the animal “turned off” his scent. It may not have moved off at all and may, in fact, still be very close but is, from an olfactory point of view, undetectable.

Admittedly, much of what I have discussed here is speculative in nature. At this time no one can say for sure what anatomical features wood apes possess or whether they are closer to humans or apes on the evolutionary scale. It continues to fascinate me, however, that the more we learn about the behavior and anatomy of great apes, the more plausible certain alleged sasquatch behaviors and reported encounters with them become.


Sources:

Ghose, Tia. "Gorillas Use Stinky B.O. to Say 'Back Off'." LiveScience, 9 July 2014. Web. 17 July 2014. .

PLOS. "Odor communication in wild gorillas: Wild gorillas signal using odor." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 July 2014. .

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Classic Photo of Ivory-billed Woodpecker

The photo below was taken in the doomed Singer Tract in Louisiana by James Tanner in 1938. The photo shows an ivory-billed nestling as it rests on the shoulder of Tanner's friend, J.J. Kuhn. This is one of a series of photos taken by Tanner that day that are thought to be the only shots ever captured of a ivory-billed woodpecker nestling.


It is heartbreaking to think that this nestling was likely among the last of its kind.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sasquatch Classics: The Ottine Thing

What is it about swamps that strike such a primal chord in men? Is it the near impenetrable vegetation that obscures our view and potentially hides all manner of threats? Is it the slow moving black water of bayous and marshes that harbor all kinds of ill-tempered beasts from alligators to snapping turtles and that make travel all but impossible? The venomous snakes, perhaps? Too, there is the sense that one gets when making your way out of the swamp, almost as if the bog doesn’t want to let you go. Could that be it?

Or is it something else?

There’s a feeling one gets in the swamps, marshes and bottoms of Texas and the Deep South that is hard to define. Once surrounded by bogs, quicksand and dark woods, it becomes easy to imagine that you are setting foot in a place where no man has trod before. It is like visiting the land as it must have appeared eons before, a time when anything might have walked the swamp. Stand in that same swamp at night and the mind wonders if whatever walked the swamp in times past might not walk it still. It would seem in some locales that might be exactly the case.


To many, the Ottine Swamp is but 198 acres of bog and thicket located almost exclusively within the confines of Palmetto State Park. It is much more than that, however, and is actually made up of some 10,000 acres that flank the San Marcos River between Luling and Gonzalez. There is an amazing diversity of plant life in this area ranging from hardwood bottoms, mesquite flats and true palmetto dominated swamplands. It is a spot out of place geographically and out of time chronologically where people have reported strange encounters with a hair-covered, bigfoot-like creature known locally as “the thing.”

One of the most famous accounts regarding the thing of Ottine Swamp was documented by historian William Syers in his book Ghost Stories of Texas (1981). Syers recounts the experiences of one Berthold Jackson in the book. Jackson was a longtime resident of the Gonzales area and had spent years stalking the creature by the time he was interviewed by Syers in 1980. Jackson is described as an expert woodsman, someone who would know all of the regular denizens of the swamp. He claimed to have had several run ins with the thing but had nothing substantive to show for it. He claimed to have heard it, however, and said, “I’ve heard it, nights. I’ve heard just about every animal’s cry; this one is somewhere between human and animal – like nothing you’ve ever heard in your life.” When asked what he did whenever he had heard the creature’s cry, Jackson said, “We went after it but it is black dark in there; it moved too fast. We heard it dead ahead, then all at once, a quarter mile north.” Jackson was continually frustrated and confused by his inability to get a look at the thing. “I’ve put a big light on it; so have others, more than once. Nothing!” he said. While a true visual eluded Berthold Jackson, he did feel like he had an idea as to the size of the beast and what it might be. He told Syers that he felt that the creature was well over a hundred pounds. “Yet,” he added, “we’ve doubled back and seen limbs stepped on and broke.” Jackson added, “It could weigh more – like an ape.”


Berthold Jackson theorizing that the thing of Ottine Swamp might be an ape is interesting and might have been based on the visual descriptions of the beast given by others in the area. The thing has been described as covered in gray or black hair, ranging from four to eight feet tall, incredibly fast and, seemingly, possessing the ability to melt into the swamp almost instantaneously. This last fact could contribute to the mythology that has sprung up around the legend where it is said the beast can become invisible at will.

Jackson shared another well known, at least locally, incident that occurred in the early 1970’s involving local residents Brewster Short and Wayne Hodges, who were running dogs in the swamp one night (presumably, the pair were hunting raccoons). One of the dogs caught a scent and was off like a shot. The hunters trailed the dog for over two miles to the base of Lookout Hill, near Palmetto State Park. “They got one dog in,” Jackson recalled. “Wayne was in the back of the car holding his hound and Brewster was calling in the others. All at once, Wayne’s dog bristled all up and started howling and crying. When he did, something reared up on the back of the car. Wayne looked around and all he could see was big and gray.” The pair beat it out of the area as soon as possible, leaving the two dogs still in the swamp to fend for themselves. Jackson added the following, “Wayne’s plenty brave, always was, but when he got home, he moved into his mother and dad’s bedroom.”

The Lookout Hill area has remained a hotspot for encounters with the thing. Many an amorous couple has been run out of the area. Sometimes they abandon their parking spots because of blood curdling screams emanating from just inside the brush line. Others have reported having their vehicles shaken violently or struck by something amazingly strong. A smaller number of people have reported actually catching a glimpse of a huge, hair-covered creature that glowered at them from the edge of the woods or, in rare cases, actually approached their vehicle and peeked in the window or windshield at uncomfortably close quarters. These types of experiences are not limited to only the Lookout Hill area; however, they have been reported for several miles up and down the river between Luling and Gonzales. Mobile homes have been slapped and shaken, pets have come up missing and strange tracks have been found over the years.


The legend is not only historical in nature, however, as incidents continue to occur. Recently, I investigated the report of a couple that was out for an afternoon hike at Palmetto State Park when they had an encounter with something that matches the description of the thing. The couple had a rock thrown at them, heard odd howling vocalizations and, finally, caught a glimpse of a large, bipedal, black creature tearing from one side of the hiking trail to the other. You can read my investigation report on this incident here. Too, Palmetto State Park, and by extension, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, seems to have embraced their swamp monster. A framed photo, taken by a camper in 2011, allegedly showing the beast, hangs in the park headquarters. In addition, a small bigfoot figurine sits on the mantle, swamp monster t-shirts are for sale in a wide range of colors and a pamphlet titled The Thing of Ottine Swamp is available, free of charge, to park visitors. The legend is alive and well.

While South-Central Texas does not contain the type of habitat most would consider ideal for a sasquatch-type animal (the possible exception being Ottine Swamp) the area actually has a long history of encounters with such creatures. The tales of the wildwoman of the Navidad, the beast of Bear Creek, the bear king of Marble Falls, the Converse werewolf, the naming of Woman Hollering Creek, the hairy man of Round Rock and, now, the Ottine thing all contain elements that, if described today, would have most people thinking “bigfoot.” Granted, most of these tales involve flaps of sightings that took place decades ago but encounters continue to be reported sporadically, especially along the San Marcos River between Luling and Gonzales, to this very day.


Does the Ottine Swamp hold a secret? I cannot say for sure. What I can tell you is that a few weeks ago I traveled to Palmetto State Park to meet with the couple that had reported seeing the creature. I arrived the day before I was to meet with this couple. I wanted a chance to walk the trails and get the lay of the land prior to visiting with them. As I explored the area where the pair claimed to have had a rock thrown at them, I heard a deep, guttural growl coming from the brush. I backed away a few steps and the growling ceased. I took a few steps forward and the growling resumed. I stared into the brush but saw nothing. The growling was loud enough to give the impression that the animal making it was very close. I felt like I should have been able to see it but I could not. I retreated again but the growling continued, albeit from a more distant location, and went on intermittently for the next ten minutes, or so, as I resumed my hike. I tried to record the growl on my iPhone but by this time it was too distant to pick up. The whole experience was rather odd. I simply don't understand why I was unable to see an animal that, judging by the deep tone of the growling, must have been fairly large. It was close yet, somehow, remained out of sight.

As I approached my campsite, I stopped and looked back at the primeval swamp. The sun was low but there was still a solid hour of daylight before dusk. Even so, the gloom emanating from the swamp was almost palpable. The children of some campers who, when I had started my hike about two hours before, had been playing near the boundary of the swamp, had moved closer to their tents, trailers and parents, away from the dark wood line. Too, the nightly chorus of insects and frogs had already started within the marsh. Despite what my watch told me, darkness had already come to the Ottine. I smiled and walked back to my camp. I realized that whatever secret the Ottine Swamp holds, it would remain secret at least one more day.

Maybe it will remain so forever.

Source: Syers, William. Ghost Stories of Texas. : Texian Press, 1981. Print.

Monday, July 7, 2014

NAWAC Report #01140018: Couple Encounters Something Strange While Hiking in Palmetto State Park

Following is my write-up of a recent investigation I did concerning an alleged sighting of a sasquatch, or wood ape, type creature within the confines of Palmetto State Park. What follows is my write-up. For the full text of the witness's original report, visit the NAWAC site here.

This investigation was conducted as a result of an incident that allegedly occurred in Gonzales County, Texas, within the confines of Palmetto State Park, 08 June 2014.

The witnesses, a husband and wife, are avid hikers and decided to stop at Palmetto State Park for a hike on their way home from a trip to New Braunfels. The pair live farther to the east and stopping for a hike was a welcome way to break up their trip and get some exercise.


The couple began their hike on the San Marcos River Trail and located what they believed to have been a very large footprint in the sandy soil just off the main trail. The track was located close to one of the spots where hikers can leave the trail and negotiate the steep riverbank to reach the San Marcos River, approximately 30 feet below. They did not think too much about the track at the time other than the husband commenting, “That was one big boy,” as the track, according to the couple, measured approximately 16” in length. The pair proceeded to negotiate the steep incline to the waters edge below the trail. After taking in the sites along the water and taking a short break, the pair began making their way back up the bank to the trail. The female witness walked ahead of her husband and reached the top first. The bank, slick from recent rains, was giving the husband some trouble as he tried to walk back up. He decided to attack the incline quickly in the hopes that his momentum would be enough to propel him to the top. Just as he picked up his pace, a large rock struck the ground behind him. The rock struck the spot where, in his estimation, he would have been standing had he not decided to pick up his pace just a few seconds before. Both hikers heard the thud of the rock impacting the hillside and then tumbling down the incline toward the water. The husband stated, “Somebody just threw a rock at me!” The wife initially believed that her husband was playing a joke on her until she saw how angry he was about the incident. Once the couple crested the hill, they took a good look around and below them in an effort to spot the rock thrower. They saw no one. A bit confused and perturbed, the couple continued their hike.

As they walked on, the pair heard various snaps and breaks, which led them to believe the local wildlife was very active that day. Shortly before reaching the point where the San Marcos River Trail meets the Mesquite Flats Trail, the couple heard a loud vocalization from just behind them and in the direction of the river. The couple described the noise as a howl of some kind. They described the sound as similar to that of a cow bellowing but different and deeper. It should be noted that the male witness is a USDA meat inspector by trade and has worked in a slaughterhouse for years. He is quite sure he knows every sound a cow is capable of making and insists what he and his wife heard that day was not a cow. The couple was a bit unnerved and the thought occurred to them that they were being followed or stalked by the unseen rock thrower. Deciding this kind of thinking was silly, the pair decided to continue on the outer loop of the trail instead of taking a shorter route back to the parking area.


Shortly after entering the Mesquite Flats Trail, the pair heard another loud vocalization from behind them that was identical to the first howl a few minutes earlier. The pair, getting more uneasy by the minute, picked up their pace significantly. The hiked roughly ¾ of a mile without incident, the female walking about 15-20 feet in front of her husband. About ¼ of a mile from the point where the Mesquite Flats Trail transitions to the Ottine Swamp Trail, the couple crossed a long boardwalk-style bridge. The male witness was no more than 30 feet beyond the bridge, his wife ahead of him, when the couple heard a loud snap behind them. They wheeled around quickly to see what had caused the loud snap. The male witness's attention was focused on a tree limb that had appeared in the middle of the trail. It had not been there moments before. The limb was a bit curved, almost bow-like, in shape and was still rocking or wavering as it rested on the trail. As he stared at the stick, he caught a glimpse of something black to his left moving quickly away from the trail. The female witness was not distracted by the stick in the trail and caught site of a large, black figure running at breakneck speed from her right to left away from the trail. She got a good, if brief, look at the figure. She described it as jet black and “ungodly fast.” She was positive that what she saw was upright and bipedal. While mainly taken aback by the speed of the figure, she also noted that it was very large. The female witness described the figure as “massive.” The only sound the pair reported hearing was four heavy “thumps” as the figure ran away from them.

The couple made their way closer to each other and stared out in the direction in which the figure had fled. As they looked, they both saw it, partially obscured by a tree but peeking around it and seemingly looking back at them. The figure was now roughly 40 yards from the amazed couple as they stood on the trail. The couple decided to get going and began their hike onto the Ottine Swamp Trail, all the while trying to keep an eye on the large black figure that appeared to be observing them. The trail took a bend back to the right shortly thereafter and some vegetation blocked their view of the figure for a few moments. When the couple got a bit farther up the trail and again had a window through which they could see the tree the figure had been behind, it was no longer there. Neither witness heard it move away.


Now thoroughly unnerved, the couple hiked quickly down the Ottine Swamp Trail and back toward Park Road 11 and the parking area. Roughly ½ mile from the end of the trail, the pair heard one last loud vocalization. It was the same loud bellowing/howl they had already heard twice previously. This time, however, the vocalization originated from a spot much closer to them and, much to their chagrin, ahead of them, between them and the perceived safety of the park. Cautiously, but quickly, the couple covered the final ½ mile and made their way back to their vehicle.

The witnesses immediately went to the park headquarters to report their experience. They were surprised to hear from the rangers that they get similar reports often. The witnesses claim the rangers told them the most common experiences are strange sounds/vocalizations and rock throwing. While at the park headquarters, the couple got a brief education on the history of the Ottine Swamp thing or Ottine Swamp monster. The creature is extremely well known locally and sightings go back decades. The park actually promotes the monster in their gift shop. A framed photograph, allegedly showing the creature, taken by a camper in 2011 hangs on the wall. A small bigfoot figurine adorns the mantle. Swamp monster t-shirts are for sale and a handout is available, free of charge, which briefly documents the history of the thing in the Ottine Swamp. A bit overwhelmed, the couple returned home and immediately set about doing some research on their own. It was during this research that they came across the NAWAC site and filed a sighting report.


I found both witnesses to be very credible. Their story did not vary from the initial written account. Each of the witnesses experienced moments while retracing their steps that day when they got very nervous and had to take a moment to regain their composure. At one such point, the male witness struggled to light a cigarette due to his hands shaking so badly. I detected no signs of deception and, to the contrary, came away feeling that the couple had encountered a form of wildlife for which they had no explanation.

The NAWAC continues to collect and investigate reports of encounters, both contemporary and historical, with strange, bipedal ape-like creatures in Texas and its neighboring states that fit the traditional description of the wood ape.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Reader Reports Childhood Encounter With A Giant Snake

The growing population of Burmese pythons in the Everglades of Florida has become a well-known issue to the general public. While other invasives, such as the Argentine tegu, the zebra mussel and the piranha-like pacu are all causing problems for native wildlife and eco-systems, nothing seems to grab a hold of the imagination of the public quite like the thought of a mammoth snake slithering about the swamps and marshes of the American South.


I’ve long feared that the issues with which Florida is currently dealing in regards to invasive snakes could become a problem for us in Texas. I did a post a while back in which I compared the annual precipitation amounts and average temperatures of the Everglades to those in SE Texas and found them similar enough to think that Burmese pythons, and other exotic reptiles, would do just fine here as well. You can read that post here.

While this “invasion” of large exotic snakes has not taken place yet, there have been a few stories that have made their way in to me. You can hit the “giant snakes” tag in the right-hand margin to read about a couple of them. Recently, another account came in via email from a reader detailing an experience he had with a giant snake as a child. As you can imagine, I cannot absolutely verify that the story he tells is true but I can tell you that this reader provided his full name and sent the story in via an email. Most people who provide accounts of this nature simply send them in anonymously in the form of a comment to an existing post making communication after the fact impossible. That is not the case here, so make of all of that what you will. I am withholding the name of the reader of my own volition. He has not asked me to do so.

His account follows:

"A True Giant Snake Story


Two young children, a boy 7 and a his older sister, 8, lived occasionally with their adopted “Grandparents” who lived in a wooded area on Taylor Lake near Seabrook, Texas. Their home, well out in the country off a gravel road in those days, the boy and his sister would dismount from the school bus and walk just a little over a quarter of a mile up a one lane oyster shell road leading to the little farm house overlooking the lake.


On one particular day, the two children decided to walk through the edge of the woods adjoining the shell road. They were approximately 30 feet or so from left side the road when they approached a downed tree in their path. It was then that they saw something that chilled their blood. They never saw the snake’s head for it had already crossed the length of the rather large fallen oak tree; but they saw the body, as big around as a man’s arm—or more—as it slithered along, and, looking to the shell road as a way of putting distance between them and the snake, the children saw the tip of the tail of the giant snake as it crossed the shell road quite a distance away, disappearing into the grass beside the road.

As fast as their little legs could carry them, they raced along the shell road to the farmhouse where their “Grandma” and “Grandpa” were sitting on the front veranda facing the lake—shelling purple hull peas. The children yelled at the old couple to “get the gun—we’ve just seen the biggest snake you ever saw. It must be 40 feet long or more.”

The old couple smiled knowingly at each other and told the children to go out and play in the back yard. Even the children’s parents, who happened to be there at the time, dismissed the report as childish imagination. It just could not be true—there could never be such a snake around Taylor Lake, or in Texas for that matter—or maybe in the whole world.

But the children knew it was true and not an exaggeration. For many years, as they grew into their seventies, they sometimes would look into each others eyes and ask, “Do you remember that snake?” The two are still alive today: my sister lives in Dallas—and I live in Houston only 28 miles from where we saw “the snake” sometime around 1947 or 1948. We could never convince even our closest family members and friends of what we saw that day.

We have thought about it for many, many years and concluded that, perhaps, a large Python or Anaconda must have escaped from the Houston zoo; or somehow an Anaconda from South America had made its way north. The following is a cut from an article I recently found on the internet:

“There are some historical reports of early European explorers of the South American jungles seeing giant anacondas up to 100 feet long and some of the native peoples of the South American jungle have reported seeing anacondas up to 50 feet long.”

This story is true and my sister and I will go to our graves declaring it to be so.

XXXX XXXXX
Houston, Texas"



I suppose it is possible that this gentleman might be overestimating the overall length of the snake. Places and things we remember from our childhood often seem smaller than they did when we were little. Even if this is true, however, this still must have been a really big snake. Even if this gentleman has overestimated the length of the snake by fifty percent, that still leaves us with a serpent that is 20-feet or more in length. There is no snake native to North America that large. There are actually only a handful of snakes found anywhere in the world that approach 20-feet in length. The reader, himself, mentions two of them in his email: the anaconda and the python (several species of python can approach, or surpass, 20-feet in length). That being the case, we are almost assuredly dealing with an invasive animal. How in the world did it get to Seabrook, Texas? The date of the sighting, 1947 or 1948, predates the exotic pet trade that is causing so many problems today. Another possibility that crossed my mind is that it might have been a true “sea serpent” of some kind. Seabrook does, after all, sit right on Galveston Bay, which in turn, opens up to the Gulf of Mexico. This is an unlikely scenario to be sure, but you never know.

One other thought crossed my mind as well. What if this reader has not overestimated the length of the snake he saw at all? That is the stuff of which nightmares are made.

If anyone out there reading this has had a similar experience to that of this reader, please email it in to me. I would love to hear about it. It may also help me gauge whether or not we are seeing an increase in invasive species of snake in the Lone Star State.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Strange Cat Photographed in Mount Pleasant, Texas

A reader sent me an interesting photo a couple of weeks ago. The photo features what looks to be a large, dark and very strange looking cat of some kind. As you will see, the cat is very unusual looking and the reader was hoping for some help in identifying exactly what kind of cat was roaming about near her home.


The photo was actually snapped by the reader’s father at his place of employment, a plant near Mount Pleasant, Texas. As if often the case with these types of photos, there is little in the picture to provide scale so determining the size of the cat with any real accuracy is impossible. Having said that, the cat appears to me to be larger than an average house cat and very long-legged. No tail is visible in the photo, though it is difficult to say absolutely if it is not present or, possibly, tucked between the back legs of the animal. Stranger still, the cat seems to be almost completely hairless. While I have seen multiple animals, ranging from coyotes and foxes to raccoons suffering from hair loss due to mange; I have never observed a wild cat in that condition.


Cats can, and do, get mange. Mange is caused by parasites and cats can suffer from several different types. By far the most common form of feline mange is called Feline scabies (Notoedric mange) but cats can also get Sarcoptic mange, Cheyletiella mange, Otodectic mange (ear mites) and Demodectic mange. Symptoms vary, depending on the type of mange contracted, but some that are common almost across the board are weight loss, brown marks on the nose and ears, scabbed patches on and near the head and neck, patchy hair loss, very thin fur and scabs and “crusty patches” on the body. It is rare to see a domestic cat with near total hair loss as owners recognize the symptoms fairly early on and get their animal to a vet for treatment. A wild cat would be a different story, however, as there would be no treatment for an animal suffering with this condition. Certainly, mange has been a real problem among the wild canids of Texas over the last ten years or so, resulting in a host of “chupacabra” sightings. I, myself, have seen a coyote, completely devoid of hair, in the Sam Houston National Forest. Since several types of mange can affect felids as well as canids, it is only natural to think it could be a growing problem for our wild cats as well. The reason that it has not been observed, in my opinion, is that cats are so much more elusive than canids. They simply are not seen very often.


Now, back to the photo. Based on all of the above, my best guess is that the picture shows a common bobcat (Lynx rufus) suffering from a terrible case of mange. The long-legged appearance of the cat and the seeming lack of a long tail all but cement this animal’s identity in my mind. The lack of fur certainly give the bobcat an odd and alien appearance, but I believe a bobcat is exactly what we are looking at in this photo.

It just goes to show that nature always has a surprise or two for us. It also points out the need to always keep a camera handy. You just never know what you might come across out there.