Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fourth Camera Trap Deployed

I just returned from deploying a game camera in a remote spot forty minutes or so West of my home. I now have four cameras out in the field in an attempt to document big cats here in Central Texas.

Things got off to a poor start today as one of the two cameras I had left to deploy would not work. So, instead of having five cameras out in the field it looks like I will only have four. I will not be able to expand the project beyond these four cameras for the time being.

I am not as pleased with the location of this camera as I am with the spots I found for the first three. The general area is a bit farther from a water source than the other three and more of a prairie than anything else. The area is dotted with stands of oak, mesquite, and cedar trees. This in and of itself isn't really a problem. I just couldn't find that perfect spot. When the area looked right I couldn't find a suitable tree. I hiked the general area for several hours and just never found a location I was crazy about. There are obviously some things to look for when choosing a spot for a game camera but there is also an intangible "something" that is hard to define. You just know the perfect spot when you see it. I never saw that spot today. I came close to not deploying the camera at all but figured I still had a chance of getting a good picture at this location. One thing I do know is that my chances of getting a good shot with the camera back in my closet at home are nil. I will give this location a month. If nothing promising develops I will pull the camera and relocate it.

I will post some pictures of the general area where this fourth camera is located in the next day or so. Honestly, I am just too tired to do it right now.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Delusions of M.K. Davis

I have listened to and read the theories of M. K. Davis now for a couple of years. I have watched his "documentary," Spotlight on: The Patterson-Gimlin Film, with incredulous bemusement. I found it unbelievable that anyone could buy into Davis' wild and unsubstantiated theories. However, I left it at that. I never bothered to comment, at least publicly, on Davis or his ideas. Davis was, in my opinion, just one of those people this subject seems to attract who was either totally delusional or an outright charlatan. Surely, I thought, no sane person would buy into any of the craziness Davis was promoting. Sadly, I was mistaken. That being the case, I can no longer sit idly by and say nothing.

M. K. Davis gained notoriety for his work in "stabilizing" the Patterson-Gimlin film. His work helped provide the clearest version of the Patterson-Gimlin film yet seen. However, the way he went about obtaining the images to stabilize should have provided ample insight as to what sort of person M.K. Davis would turn out to be. Davis used images illicitly obtained from well-known researcher Rick Noll to create his stabilized version of the film. Noll had spent countless tedious hours pouring over John Green's copy of the Patterson-Gimlin film. He photographed the sasquatch in each frame of the film using a microscope. The images Noll's efforts rendered were the clearest and sharpest ever seen of the creature that would become known as "Patty". Davis obtained Noll's images on the sly from a third party with whom Noll had shared the images. Without these images, the "stabilized" version of the Patterson-Gimlin film would not have been possible. The unprofessional and unethical method by which Davis acquired the images seems to have been forgotten, or forgiven, by most. Perhaps, most feel the end justified the means. I would simply say that, in my opinion, there is no right way to do the wrong thing.

Davis went on to make some outlandish claims based on what he was able to see in his new and stabilized version of the Patterson-Gimlin film. Here are a few of the claims made by Davis based on the "evidence" now visible because of his work: the sasquatch was obviously some type of human, a top-knot and braid were clearly visible on the top of the creature's head along with a bone hair clasp, the sasquatch was carrying a stick, thus, it was obviously a member of a remnant tribe of, in his words, digger Indians that still inhabited the Bluff Creek area, an anomalous bulging visible on the creature's thigh proved that it had been shot, and the way the sasquatch moved its head at one point in the film showed it was dodging a bullet or bullets still being fired at it by, presumably, Bob Gimlin. In addition, Davis claimed the shape of the creature's head in the film was the result of a head binding technique practiced by some Native American tribes in years past. Watching his version of the film, I was unable to see anything that justified these claims. Davis, in his documentary, went on to theorize that sasquatches were actually descendents of Asian yetis captured by the Chinese in ancient times. The Chinese, according to him, were exploring the world on massive junks and using the sasquatches as slave labor when some were released or escaped onto the North American continent. Are you beginning to get the picture here? This is stuff I could not make up if I tried.

As I mentioned before, I chuckled a bit, shook my head, and did not give M.K. Davis much more thought. After all, his theories did not harm anyone. The only person who seemed likely to be harmed by this foolishness was Davis himself. It was his legacy that he was endangering by promoting these wild theories. Now, I'm afraid, Davis has taken things to a whole new level. He has come up with a slew of new and increasingly illogical theories based on what he sees in a film he claims was shot at the same time as the Patterson-Gimlin video. Davis claims this film proves there was a massacre of numerous sasquatches at Bluff Creek and that well-known researchers John Green, Bob Titmus, and Rene Dahinden, along with Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, were involved in a massive cover-up of the event. Davis makes these accusations based on "evidence" he found when he manipulated the film. It seems he intensified elements of red in certain spots on the film to reveal blood on the hands of those present and huge pools of blood on the ground. Davis even claims to have spotted a sasquatch skin and a ribcage in the film. The ribcage and skin I just don't see. The pools of blood and the red on the hands of the investigators? Well, I'm no expert, but photo-enhancing software is pretty standard on computers these days. You can toy with shading, spectrum, sharpness, and contrast to produce a radically altered image if you so desire. Anything with elements of red, orange, purple, tan, or brown can be altered to appear red quickly and easily. You can read more on the theories of M.K. Davis over at Cryptomundo. Loren Coleman has done a very good job of documenting all this nonsense in great detail.

So why do I feel compelled to speak out now? Several reasons, I suppose. First, and foremost, this newest round of foolishness impugns the character of others. No longer is Davis hurting his own reputation only. Now he is attempting to smear the reputations of others. It isn't right. Roger Patterson, Rene Dahinden, and Bob Titmus are all dead. They can't defend themselves. John Greene is one of the most respected researchers of this subject of all time. Bob Gimlin is a nice man who does not deserve this. He has endured more than his share of grief due to his being present that fateful day in 1967. Another reason I felt it was time to speak is that sometimes ignoring a problem does not make it go away. A cancer left untreated will spread and consume the entire body. The cancerous poisons that are the theories of one M.K. Davis need to be removed from the body of this community. Finally, and perhaps the simplest reason is that the greatest sin occurs when good men do nothing. I can do nothing no longer.

I think there is one more reason for speaking out. The field of cryptozoology is considered a fringe science at best. With people like M.K. Davis running around spewing nonsense we cannot hope for anything better. It is time for those of us in this field to say enough is enough and expel the whackos from out midst. No other scientific discipline would accept delusional rants as fact and not require some sort of actual proof beyond doctored bits of film and stills blown up so large they are just pixelated messes. If we continue to harbor the delusional and the charlatans the field will never be taken seriously. Our standards must be higher. It has been said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence in order to be believable. Fair enough. I accept and support that in regard to proving the existence of these incredible animals. We must demand the same standard of proof of M.K. Davis in regard to his hurtful accusations and wild theories.

I am not a well known researcher or scientist. Probably only a few dozen people will read this entry. That is ok. I've now done what I can to alert people to the crazy snake oil that M.K. Davis is selling. I will not be silent while the reputations of good men are soiled by baseless nonsense any longer.

My conscience is now clear.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Camera Trapping Project Expanded Again

Today I managed to get a third game camera deployed in hopes of documenting large cats here in Central Texas. The camera location is very remote and near one of the two major rivers that run through this part of Texas (camera #2 is located near the other). I had to work a little harder to find a spot for this camera than I did for the first two. I walked along an abandoned road that ran parallel and within a quarter mile or so of the river for a long time before I found a suitable spot. There were signs of possible predation as I located a partial skeleton of a small animal, a broken up turtle shell, and fresh scat of some kind. I'm not sure what animal is responsible for the droppings. It didn't look like deer, hog, or cat scat to me. See the pictures below.

The brush grew incredibly thick on both sides of the "road" and was all but impenetrable in many spots. See the next series of pictures below.

I did not want to place the camera along the old road. While animal sign was everywhere and there had obviously not been much, if any, human activity for a long time, I did not want to leave the camera too close to the road. So, I had to call upon my old Big Thicket skill of brush busting to find a suitable spot. I put my head down and pushed my way through the thick stuff until I came to an area that opened up a bit. There were a couple of game trails that came and went through this area and it was close to the river as well. Below are a couple of shots of the camera location and surrounding area. I'm very pleased with the camera's location and the area in general.

I actually located several other very promising potential camera locations. I have two more to deploy and this area is about a thirty -minute drive from my home. It may be more practical and efficient to have at least two cameras out in this area.

I did have some excitement on the walk back to my truck. I was approaching a point where what was left of two old roads came together in a "Y" when I spooked something to my left. It quickly ran from one side of the road to the other (on the road that formed the "Y" to my left). It bounded from the tall grass on one side, touched the road once about halfway across, and was in the brush on the other side in the blink of an eye. It quickly concealed itself in some thick brush. It was at least 3-4 feet long and jet- black in color. I did not notice a tail of any kind. It was definitely not a deer or a hog. It seemed to stretch and flatten out as it reached the opposite side of the road. That is all I can say about it for sure. I circled around trying to catch a glimpse of it again but it wouldn't move out of the brush. I really wish I had gotten a better look at it. I think if I had had a partner with me the animal could have been flushed a second time and possibly photographed. Maybe next time.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Reader Spots A Juvenile Cougar Near Cross Plains

I received an email from a reader today who reported spotting what he described as a juvenile cougar near the West Texas town of Cross Plains just after Memorial Day this past summer. I've omitted the reader's name to protect his privacy but you can read his account below.

Hello, ive been trying to decide if you would be interested in this info or not, i figured if your not: no harm no foul. just after memorial day of this year i had a juvenile cougar cross highway 206 in between Cisco and Cross Plains in Eastland County. Not sure if this qualifies for your search for big cats in Central Texas but i thought i'd let you know regardless. I have also found cougar tracks along the Colorado River in Coke County. hope this helps.
PS great site.

The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department only recognizes the existence of wild cougars in the Trans Pecos area of Texas and deep South Texas. The Cross Plains area, while considered West Texas, would be well outside the officially recognized range of mountain lions in the Lone Star State.

Several familiar questions are raised once again by this account. If there are no wild cougars in this area of the state, what are people seeing? Surely, the many sightings of mountain lions in this state can not all be attributed to escaped exotic pets and mis-identifications. Personally, I think the cougars of Texas, much like coyotes, have learned to better survive in close proximity to people. These survivors continue to reproduce and are reappearing in areas where they haven't been seen for decades. I feel it is only a matter of time until the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department is forced to recognize this.

Ironically, this is the second interesting story to come out of the Cross Plains area this month. Newspaper accounts out of Abilene recently documented the killing of an alligator near Cross Plains. You can read my original post on that story here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Is "The Hobbit" the Agogwe of Africa?

An interesting article was published yesterday on The Australian website regarding the origins of the small human-like hominids whose remains were discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores. You can access the article here but I'll try to sum it up for you.

The article, written by Leigh Dayton, claims there is mounting evidence that the remains of these small hominids, named Homo Floresiensis and popularly dubbed "The Hobbit", were not merely deformed humans but a truly "archaic that appears to have gone its own evolutionary way long before our species emerged," according to Debbie Argue, an Australian National University doctoral student. In addition to this startling claim, Argue and her team, claim evidence suggests that "The Hobbit", a long-armed, small-brained, biped may very well have been the first human-like creature to have walked out of Africa. Scientists generally have believed that a more modern hominid called Homo Erectus was the first to migrate off the African continent. Homo Erectus is thought to be a direct ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans. If Argue and her team are correct, then "The Hobbits" of Flores left Africa roughly 100,000 years before Homo Erectus.

Ms. Argue's findings were published in the Journal of Human Evolution and mirror findings published in the Journal of Science in 2007 that concluded the unique wrist structure of Homo Floresiensis suggested it came from a lineage far more ancient than that of Homo Erectus. Argue also said that a population of "Hobbits" lived on Flores as recently as 13,000 years ago, seemingly, unbothered and oblivious to the emergence of modern humans. "I think it is incredible that it lived until so recently. Humans came down from Asia but missed Flores. It's lucky that Flores is hard to get to." said Argue.

I find this story interesting on many levels but found myself thinking of tales of the Agogwe, a small, hair covered, bipedal creature of African legend. Sightings of these small beings continue to be reported from time to time to this day. I wrote a brief post on this subject earlier this year. You can read it here. If Ms. Argue and other scientists are right and "The Hobbit" did originate in Africa and did exist as recently as 13,000 years ago is it not possible that some of these beings stayed in Africa? Assuming this is a possibility, is it not also possible a small population survived in the most remote corners of the Dark Continent and is responsible for the Agogwe legend and sightings? The description of the Agogwe seem to match that of "The Hobbit" quite closely.

Food for thought...

A Reader Weighs In...

I received a nice email from a reader today regarding the reality of wild big cats in Texas. I thought I would share it with you. I've withheld the readers name and hometown to protect his privacy.

Mike, I grew up in the Davey Crockett National Forest in a Small Town of *******, Tx. If you look the town on a map you will see how deep it is in the woods. I have seen Black Panthers, Mountain Lions, and other odd cat type animals. I have seen a Mountain Lion that was head to tail walking across my dirt road that was almost as long as the road was wide, which would be around 6 feet long. I am watching a Program on MonsterQuest right now and someone said we don't have them but I know we do. Googled it and this site popped up... Just thought I would give you another bit of info.

I would enjoy hearing from any other readers who have seen unusual or out of place animals. I would especially like to hear of sightings in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. You can leave comments below any of my posts or email me at my address.

I look forward to hearing from some more of you.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

East Texast Field Report

I thought I would pass along some photos from my latest trip to East Texas two weeks ago. I checked out two different alleged sasquatch sightings. I felt one report was likely valid and one was not. You can read about the sighting I felt good about here.

I did a lot of hiking in the general area where the alleged sighting occurred. I did come across what I will describe only as a possible print on a game trail that crossed a forest service road a mile or so off the highway. This forest service road was in pretty good shape but gated so no vehicles could access it. I don't know if it is kept gated all the time or not. This possible track was old and what would be the heel area had washed out a bit. I hesitate to mention it at all since I'm not 100% sure about it. The first two pictures below show this possible track. As is usually the case with these things, the picture doesn't really do justice to what I was able to see with my own eyes. I present it only as a "maybe" and will leave it at that.

The photos below just show some of the areas I checked out while on this trip. As you will see, this is a really beautiful part of the state.

Hope you enjoy the pictures.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Camera Trapping Project Expansion

I thought I would take a moment and update my progress on my camera-trapping project.

I managed to get out today and get a second 35mm game camera deployed. The location of Camera 2 is quite a bit more remote than the location for Camera 1. If you recall, the location of Camera 1 was a direct result of a conversation I had with a witness who claimed to have seen a large, long-tailed, tawny colored cat cross the road at that location. Camera 2 is located about 20 miles farther west. The area features bluffs, cliffs, caves, one major river, several live creeks, and acres of heavily wooded land. I am very excited about the specific camera location. It seems ideal and, hopefully, will yield that big cat photo I'm after. Some pictures of the general camera vicinity are below.

I also managed to pull the film from Camera 1, reload it, and refresh the batteries. Thanks to the magic of 1 hour photo developing I have already seen the latest pictures. Again, no cats of any kind. I did get a nice series of shots of a yearling doe entering the field of view and then bounding away. See these images below.

I also got the picture below. I have no idea what it is. I'm guessing raccoon but a guess is really all it is.

Once again, I got several shots of scenery only. We did have some storms come through in the last week or so that may have caused some swaying of the trees in front of the camera. This can sometimes trigger the shutter. It is probable that the camera simply triggered too slowly on a couple of occasions and missed whatever animal activated it. That is just the way it goes with these old cameras. Still, overall, I like what I'm seeing.

I now have two cameras deployed and have three to go. I am hoping to get the third one out soon, possibly tomorrow. I already have an area in mind for this one. Hopefully, the more cameras the better shot I have of catching one of the big cats people have reported in our area.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Big Cat Project Update

As you may recall from my post a couple of weeks ago, I have started a camera trapping project in an effort to document big cats in the central Texas area. I have only managed to get one camera out thus far but will ultimately have five cameras out in various locations.

As I mentioned in the original post, the traps consist of 35mm film cameras that are almost five years old. The shutter speed is slow so I have tempered my expectations but am still hopeful I can get a photo of one of the big cats that have been seen in my area. I have just developed the first roll of film from my lone deployed camera and have three pictures along with several of what I assume are "near misses". What I mean by "near misses" are pictures of nothing but scenery. Something likely walked by and triggered the camera but the camera took too long to fire and missed the animal. I am experimenting with different kinds of bait and scents in an effort to keep the animals in front of the cameras long enough to get a good shot. Hopefully, I'll come up with a concoction that is effective to that end. In the meantime, here are the three photos that feature recognizable, if not perfect, shots of local wildlife.

The first shot of a doe, below, is the best of the bunch an clearly shows that there is a food source available for a large predator like a cougar in our area. You may notice the camera is set fairly low to the ground and gives an image that appears to be looking up at the deer. This was on purpose as I did not want to miss smaller animals or cats that sometimes slink up to bait or prey extremely low to the ground.

The second shot, below, may be my favorite even though it is not the clearest. It seems to me to show either a coyote or a fox closely inspecting the camera. I guess this could be the drawback to having the camera low to the ground. You can clearly see the darker eye area to the lower right of the photo and an ear to the upper left. This guy probably came trotting in from the baited/scented area well in front of the camera. However, the shutter did not activate quickly enough to catch him before he got right up on the camera itself. I hope to get a better photo in the future that will allow me to identify this canine as a coyote or a fox. I still think it is a fun shot.

The final picture, below, shows a skunk passing by the camera. You can see him in the lower left portion of the photo. The white stripes are clearly visible. I actually find skunks to be beautiful animals and think they get something of a bad rap. Hopefully, I'll get a better photo of this guy or one of his relatives soon.

So, no cats caught on film yet, however, I remain hopeful. Cats are famously elusive and stealthy. The TBRC's camera trapping project is much more sophisticated, uses the absolute top of the line technology, is on a much larger scale, has been ongoing for over three years, and has yet to capture a photo of a cougar. This despite the fact that these large cats are known to inhabit the areas where the cameras have been placed. So, I will continue to hope for the best. In the meantime, I will remain wonderfully entertained by the photos of the visitors, like these three, who do pay a visit to my cameras.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Whirlwind 48 Hours

I just returned from a crazy 48 hour trip through East Texas. All together I covered 500 miles and investigated two different alleged sasquatch sightings. I managed to speak to the witnesses in both cases and visit both sites where the sightings supposedly occurred. After looking into both cases, it is my opinion that one report was legitimate and one was not. That is actually a pretty good ratio when it comes to this sort of thing. The cases involving misidentification, hoaxing, or outright crazies are much more the norm. So, my batting .500 this weekend is actually very good. More on these cases later.

Also, I have developed my first set of pictures from the game camera I have out in my hopes of documenting cougars in Central Texas. I have a couple of good pictures that I will post later. No big cats, unfortunately, but some fun pictures nonetheless.

More soon...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Lost Bears and Black Panthers

The news just keeps rolling in today...

The San Francisco Chronicle reported today on a couple of unusual wildlife sightings in the Bay Area. California is a long way from Texas but the events reported by columnist Tm Stienstra may have a logical tie in to events that continue to be reported in the Lone Star State.

One sighting involved a bear. Apparently, a hiker nearly walked headlong into a bear while walking along the Peninsula's Skyline Ridge. The bear is likely the same individual spotted about this time last year in the same vicinity. The sighting makes 10 likely valid sightings of a bear in the Bay Area in the last 12 years. Stienstra writes, "The idea that the Bay Area still has enough wild places for bears to astonishing."

The event that really caught my eye, however, had to do with another animal: one that is not supposed to exist. Lynn Reed, a rancher, avid hunter, and, according to the article, wildlife expert claims he and his wife watched what appeared to be a black mountain lion for more than 10 minutes in the foothills near Dublin in Alameda County. The sighting gained even more credence when another large black cat was seen by an engineer in the nearby San Ramon hills. Reed's 10 minute sighting of a black mountain lion was the longest eyewitness account since a Game Warden reported one in the 1980s near the Sunol Regional Wilderness. "He was black as can be with a head the size of a cantaloupe," Reed said. "We watched it for 10 minutes. I said to my wife, 'Look how its tail goes back and curls up, look how its shoulders move.' It was 3 feet long, the tail 2 1/2 feet, maybe 60, 75 pounds."

Of course, what makes the whole idea of a black cougar so interesting is that they are not supposed to exist at all. The pelt of a black mountain lion has never been recovered and no cases of melanistic cougars have ever been documented in the wild or in captivity. California wildlife officials are citing some tiresomely familiar theories. The most likely explanation, in their opinion, is that an owner of an exotic animal, like a black leopard or jaguar, let an animal loose. Black panthers, they say, do not exist in California.

According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife, black panthers don't exist in Texas either. However, to residents of river bottoms and heavily wooded remote spots in Texas, the big black cats are just part of daily life. I personally know two people who claim to have seen black panthers. One saw a large black cat while hunting on his family's property near the Davey Crockett National Forest in East Texas. The second person spotted both a tawny colored and a black "long tailed cat" in central Texas not 50 miles east of Waco. Wildlife officials fail to recognize that even normal colored cougars have returned to east and central Texas. The sightings are almost always explained away as a misidentification or an escaped pet. Reports of black panthers don't even merit a response from wildlife officials in this state at this point.

So, what are people seeing? There are several possibilities, in my opinion. The first possibility is simply that cougars can sometimes be black. This is a well-documented trait in jaguars and leopards. Scientists have yet to see it in cougars but that doesn't mean it doesn't occur. The second possibility is that jaguars still roam the state. Texas was once part of the jaguar's natural range. The last known jaguar in Texas was killed in Brownwood in the 1940s. It is thought they may still haunt the state's southern border but are not thought by wildlife experts to range into central or east Texas. One more possible candidate for the black panther sightings is the jaguarundi. The jaguarundi is a relative of the cougar but much smaller. It averages between 30 and 45 inches long and can be dark in color though, it is thought, not black. A final possibility is that there is simply an undocumented species of large black cat roaming not only Texas but other areas of the country as well.

So, which of the possible explanations is the right one? I'm not big on the jaguar explanation. The melanistic jaguar is well known but still not common. If jaguars were the culprits, I would think that the normal spotted coat would be reported much more often than the jet-black color. Also, the physical characteristics most often described seem to rule out the jaguar. Jaguars are massive cats with thick muscular builds. They are the third largest cat in the world coming in behind only the tiger and the lion in size. Jaguars have massive heads, necks, and shoulders. The cougar on the other hand, is a more lithe cat and not nearly as large. The jaguarundi may be responsible for some black panther sightings as they fit the "long tail cat" description and most people have never even heard of them. However, they are small and their size alone rules them out as the culprit in most black panther sightings. That seems to leave cougars or an unknown species as the explanation.

Whatever the explanation, people, including wildlife experts, continue to report large black panthers in this country. It is going to take some extraordinary photographic evidence or a body to convince the scientific establishment that these animals are real and do roam the remote areas of our state and country. Sounds familiar doesn't it?

Another Big Pig

Today's edition of The Oklahoman featured a story about a very large hog killed in Johnston County last month. The hog weighed in at 558 pounds., had 2.5 inch tusks, and measured 6'3" in length. You can read the article here.

A firefighter named Landon Wood harvested the boar while hunting on an 8,500 acre ranch near Mill Creek. Wood took the shot from 80 yards. The .308 cartridge only penetrated halfway through the hog but was enough to take it down. Wood will be submitting his hog to Weiser, Weight, and Tusk - the equivalent of Boone & Crockett for trophy wild boars. If certified, this hog would be recognized as the largest wild hog ever killed in Oklahoma and the 15th heaviest ever in the U.S.

Officially, Wood's boar may become recognized as the state record but others may dispute the claim. According to the article, a hog weighing in excess of 600 pounds was killed near Durant two years ago. The boar was never certified, however. According to Jack Carson, spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Food, Forestry, and Agriculture, Oklahoma hogs average about 300 pounds. However, he added, " We've seen exceptionally large hogs. In fact, I saw some while turkey hunting on the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, that from my experience with seeing hogs, looked every bit of 500 to 600 pounds."

The feral hog problem continues to grow in the Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas region. Oklahoma now has reports of feral hogs from all 77 of its counties. It seems logical that the larger the population grows the more true giants will be encountered. While research, and experience, tells me that most wild hogs run away from people, it also stands to reason that the more hogs there are the more aggressive individual animals will be encountered. Always use caution when in close proximity to these animals.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Alligator of Cross Plains

I came across an interesting story about an out of place animal today. The Abilene Reporter-News reported an alligator was killed just outside the town of Cross Plains, Texas. You can access the story here. Now this may not seem remarkable on the surface as alligators are not only natural but common in the lone star state. What is remarkable is that Cross Plains is located in Callahan County not too far southeast of Abilene. This area is all but a desert.

Dick Vestal and his son Chris had been telling people they had spotted an alligator in one of their stock tanks (that would be a pond to any non-Texan readers). Predictably, nobody believed them. The elder Vestal claims to have first spotted the creature about three years ago and continued to spot the gator every two or three weeks as it moved back and forth between stock tanks.

The alligator's stay on the Vestal property came to an abrupt end this week, however, when it was shot and killed by a passerby who spotted it in a roadside ditch about a quarter of a mile from the latest tank it had called home. Dick Vestal was pleased that he and his son's stories of the gator had been proven true but a bit distressed that the animal had been killed. "We watched that rascal grow," Vestal said. " I imagine someone just had a pet that got too big for them, and they turned it loose-and it ended up out there in my stock tank."

Dick Vestal may or may not be right in his theory of how the gator came to live in his stock tank. The gator was at least a couple of hundred miles farther west than it should have been. It just goes to show that sometimes reports of animals in places they aren't supposed to be turn out to be true.

Are tales of cougars in central Texas, jaguars in south Texas, or black bears in east Texas any more unlikely than an alligator in arid Cross Plains? What about the "ghost grizzlies" of the South San Juan Wilderness in Colorado or the wolverines of Washington State? Unlikely? Definitely. Impossible? Certainly not. I read just yesterday of a Florida panther that was shot and killed in Alabama. These cats are not supposed to exist outside of the south-central portion of the state. So, the next time you hear about an animal roaming about in an area where it isn't supposed to exist, think back on the unlikely tale of the alligator of Cross Plains, Texas and keep an open mind. You just never know.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Lake Worth Monster Revisited

Forty summers ago Fort Worth, Texas was, briefly, the center of the cryptozoological universe. Lake Worth, particularly the area near Greer Island, became known as the home of the Lake Worth Monster or Goat-man.

It all started on July 10, 1969 when six terrified people reported being attacked by a seven-foot tall half-man, half-goat creature that was covered by fur and scales. The Fort Worth police took the reports seriously, as the people reporting the attack were obviously very scared. Other reports followed. The monster allegedly leaped from a tree onto a car, threw a large tire at a group of observers from the top of a bluff, was seen tromping through the area in the vicinity where dead sheep and goats were found, and was heard emitting pitiful moaning cries. During this furor the police admitted to having had reports of the creature in the area before but laughed them off. Law enforcement soon had to get serious about the creature, and the hordes of gun toting glory hunters seeking it. Coincidentally, or maybe not, sightings petered out around the time school started in the fall.

Among the many who flocked to Lake Worth during the height of the furor was an aspiring writer named Sallie Ann Clarke. Clarke interviewed numerous witnesses, wrote, and self-published a hastily put together book titled The Lake Worth Monster of Greer Island. Clarke, in her book, did not take the sightings too seriously. To say the book was tongue-in-cheek would be an understatement. Clarke would change her tune in later years, however. After the book was published, she claims to have seen the monster herself on three different occasions. "If I had seen it before I wrote the book, the book would have been quite different," she told The Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1989. Clarke also has in her possession the only known photograph of the Lake Worth Monster. The photo was taken by Allen Plaster in October of 1969 in the wee hours of the morning and shows a large light colored upright figure. The figure in the photo is devoid of scales and, to the disappointment of many, looks very little like a goat at all. Clarke said on numerous occasions that the figure in the photo was the same creature she had seen herself. Plaster, however, decided in later years that he had probably been the victim of a hoax. In a 2006 Star-Telegram interview he said, "Looking back, I realize that when we drove by, it stood up. Whatever it was, it wanted to be seen. That was a prank. That was somebody out there waiting for people to drive by. I don't think an animal would have acted that way." Plaster, apparently tired of the whole thing, no longer discusses his famous photo and does not do interviews.

So what was the Lake Worth Monster? Several explanations have been offered. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram received a hand-written "confession" in 2005. The writer of the letter detailed how he, and some friends, put the whole thing on to scare the folks who went out to Lake Worth to park. Of course, the confessor did not provide his name or address. Through the years, several others, always anonymously, have confessed to being responsible for bringing the Lake Worth Monster to life in the summer of 1969. There was even a kennel operator near the lake who claimed to have lost a macaque monkey during that summer. Could sightings of this monkey be the source of the goat-man legend?

There is another possibility. Maybe, just maybe, the monster was real. For her part, Sallie Ann Clarke never wavered in her belief that the monster was real. According to her husband, Clarke offered a $5,000 reward, a hefty sum in the late sixties, to any person claiming to be responsible for the hoax who could pass a lie detector test. "She never got one call." he said.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Camera Traps Document Rare Tigers in Nepal

While we're on the subject of camera trapping, I thought I would pass along this great story from the National Geographic website. Access this story and the great photos it includes here.

I will not recount the article here as you are more than capable of reading it for yourself. However, I will point out that the story does further validate the use of camera traps to document extremely rare and elusive species living in remote areas.

How anyone can say camera trapping is not a valid scientific tool to be used in the effort document the sasquatch, or any animal in a certain location, is beyond me.

New Blog Site Added

I have added a new site to my favorite blog site roll to the lower right. The site is a blog called The Camera Trap Codger. It is a great resource for any and all who are interested in this method of research. The "Codger" has used many innovative techniques to get some fantastic shots. Contrary to what many think, there is more to getting great pictures using game cameras than just hanging a camera on a tree.

Whether you are interested in cryptids or just would like to know what sort of animals roam a certain piece of property, this sight should be enjoyable and educational to you. Enjoy.