Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas

Please allow me to wish all of you out there a Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Wisdom of John Burroughs

“For anything worth having one must pay the price; and the price is always work, patience, love, self-sacrifice”

- John Burroughs

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Humbling Day

I made a trip up to the Waxahachie area to check on my game cameras this past weekend. You may recall that this is the area where several large cats, of various colors, have been seen by the property owners. It is also the property where several horses have, seemingly, been accosted by some sort of predator. I was long overdue to check on the cameras. Severe winter weather, or what passes for it in Texas, has kept me off of the road for several weeks. This weekend, while cold, dawned clear and gave me an opportunity to make the trip.

It was to be a day of disappointment; however, as I discovered both cameras had been stolen. You may be thinking, “Why didn’t you secure them?” I had secured them with steel cables and padlocks. The Reconyx was actually in a “tamper-proof” steel box that was secured to a tree. As we all know, locks and such are really only a deterrent to honest people. Once found, the thieves had ample time to retrieve whatever tools they needed to remove the cameras. My guess is that with the onset of fall, and the subsequent loss of leaves on the foliage, the cameras became easier to spot. Once seen, it was only a matter of time before they were gone. The only thing that really keeps this from being painful for me is that both cameras appeared to be on their last legs. The Wildgame Innovations model had failed to trigger at all the last time I checked on it and acted really squirrely when I tried to reprogram it roughly two months ago. The Reconyx had also been acting up. Daytime photos were hazy and indistinct, though nighttime shots were still of high quality.

The property owners were far more disturbed about the theft than I was. It hit them on several levels, I suppose. First, they were upset that I had lost my cameras. This has happened to me before and the property owners always feel responsible for some reason though they should not. I think the aspect of the whole deal that upset them the most was the thought that trespassers have been skulking about on their property either in the dead of night or times when they are not home. Who knows what kind of people we’re talking about here? We know they are thieves and, likely, poachers. Who knows what else people like that might be capable of?

I assured the landowners that this sort of thing happens from time to time. It is the cost of doing business. My cameras would be safe at home in the garage but I’d never get a photo that way. It stinks but it is the chance you take when you leave expensive electronics bolted to a tree in a remote area.

I was a bit deflated after finding out the cameras were missing but decided to try and make the best of things and go hunting. I played the call of a distressed cottontail rabbit in an effort to call in any predator that might have been nearby. I had no luck whatsoever. I didn’t see a thing. I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t see a cat but was a bit surprised that no coyotes showed up as they are thick in the area. About dusk I called it a day and headed in. I said goodbye to the landowners and started for home. Little did I know that a disappointing day was about to take a dangerous turn.

I was less than an hour from home when I received a text from my wife. I need to answer her but didn’t want to try and text while driving. Nature was also calling pretty loudly at that point so I decided to pull over and kill two birds with one stone. I was traveling a farm to market road (I loathe interstates) and pulled off of it onto an old country road to take care of the business at hand. I stopped the truck and answered my wife. I then decided, as I was in the middle of nowhere, to get rid of some of that large Diet Coke I had consumed while traveling the road home. This is the point where things took a very nasty turn.

I stepped out of the truck and my left foot immediately when out from under me and slid to my right underneath the open driver’s side door. I thought I had stepped on a patch of ice (it was very cold). My foot continued to slip up under the door and the next thing I knew, I was lying in the road. I landed hard on my hip and left side but still didn’t understand what was really going on. Though I didn’t realize it until later, I had not slipped on a patch of ice; rather, my truck was in reverse and moving backward.

I KNOW I put the truck in park when I first pulled over because I sat there for 3-4 minutes as I texted my wife. I did NOT sit there with my foot on the brake for that length of time. Whether the truck slipped out of gear or I bumped the gearshift while exiting I cannot say. What I do know is that I was very close at this point to getting seriously injured…or worse.

The truck continued to move backwards. As it did so, my right leg, suspended in the air from my fall out of the cab, was struck by the backward moving open door. Two things occurred as the door moved over me. First, I was folded over at the waste like a taco shell (except for my left leg which remained extended as it was underneath the door). The second thing that happened was that I was spun, my upper back and shoulders acting as the pivot point, as the truck moved over and past me. The spin caused my extended left leg to come underneath the truck and in the path of the now oncoming left front tire. The momentum of the spin, induced by the door pushing on my right leg, kept my ankle and foot ahead of the tire momentarily but it quickly caught up and ran over me. Very briefly, I felt a lot of pressure on my foot and ankle but it was over quickly as the truck didn’t even appear to slow down.

At no time did I have any idea what was going on. I was completely disoriented until I sat up and saw my truck backing away from me and back toward the farm to market road. Without thinking, I jumped up and sprinted after the truck. No doubt, adrenaline had kicked in and allowed me to run, pain free, and catch the runaway truck. I managed to jump into the cab and hit the brake. The truck stopped less than a foot away from a fence line and power pole. I put the truck back into gear and idled back to the general vicinity of my original stopping point. It was only then that I began to realize just how bad this could have gone. I easily could have fallen in a slightly different position and spun in the opposite direction which would have placed my head and upper body in the path of the oncoming tire. I shuddered and rested my head on the steering wheel to catch my breath.

After triple checking to make sure the truck was in park AND engaging the parking break, I tentatively stepped out on to the road to test my left foot/ankle. I was shocked to find that it really didn’t feel bad at all. There was little to no pain and there didn’t seem to be any swelling. I have absolutely no explanation for how this could even be possible. I then finished the business I had intended to take care of originally and stepped back into the truck and began the last leg of my drive home.

During the drive my body began to ache and my foot started to throb a bit. After arriving at the house, I gave myself a thorough going over. Other than a few scratches and just a bit of swelling on my foot, I was fine. My entire body began to get stiff and sore within the next hour or so but it was no worse than I might have felt after a hard workout. I was very, very lucky.

I debated whether or not to even write about this. It doesn’t paint me as a very intelligent person. I decided to go ahead and share it, however, as it is a reminder on just how quickly things can go south on any of us. Whether in the wild or in the suburbs, pay attention, not only to your surroundings but, to what you are doing as well. It doesn’t take long to get yourself hurt.

So, you can see it was a pretty humbling day. After thinking about it, though, I’m not going to call it a bad day. I got to visit with good people, spend some very peaceful time in the great outdoors and narrowly avoided getting myself severely injured. The more I ponder it, I realize the fact that I’m walking around with scarcely a limp means it was a pretty good day after all.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Black Lion Photo Hoaxes

There are a couple of photos making the rounds on Facebook and via email that feature what appear to be black lions. The photos are quite striking and the animals in them are beautiful. Unfortunately, they are not real. The photos have been digitally manipulated to make normal tawny-colored lions appear black. Dr. Karl Shuker does a great job of debunking these photos here.

Stories of melanistic lions are not new. They go back for centuries. In fact, the great explorer Marco Polo claims to have observed a black lion during his travels (most people today feel Polo likely observed a melanistic leopard). The problem is that, much like the North American cougar, no melanistic lion has ever been documented by science. Many cats have the melanism gene but lions are not thought to be one of these species. There are several possible explanations to the black lion sightings. The video below does a very good job of outlining them. It is worth the time to view this short video to the end.

If you’ve been reading this blog for very long at all, you know that I strongly believe there is something to the black panther reports that are so often reported here in the southern United States. That being the case, you may think it strange that I’m spending time debunking photos of another possible cryptid big cat. Let me be clear on this; I’m not dismissing the possibility that melanistic lions could exist. I’m dismissing the two most commonly circulated photos being presented as evidence of their existence. There is a difference.

I do truly believe there is a real animal out there responsible for the black panther sightings here at home. I’m less convinced of the existence of black lions but remain open to the possibility, hopeful even. Anecdotal though the evidence may be, there are many more, what I consider to be, credible sightings of large melanistic cats here in North America than there are of black lions in Africa. I will freely admit to not being an expert in regard to African cryptids but do follow these types of things pretty closely and feel there is not much evidence to back up the possibility of melanistic lions.

Like it says at the end of the video, “Nature has thrown us bigger curve balls than this.” Certainly that is true; however, these photos making the rounds don’t prove it. Maybe one day a melanistic lion will be documented.

That day just hasn’t come yet.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Port Neches Wood Ape Sighting Revisited

I trekked back to my old stomping grounds in SE Texas for the Thanksgiving holidays last week. I had not been back for several years and really enjoyed visiting with family and driving around my old hometown. It is always fun to see what has changed and what has not and to visit people and places that were very important to me as I was growing up.

Another good thing about the trip is that I was able to visit the location of an alleged wood ape sighting that was reported back in February. The sighting was reported by a Nederland man named David Arceneaux. He claimed that he spotted two wood apes across from Block Bayou while he was visiting Oak Bluff Cemetery in Port Neches in December of 2012. Arceneaux said he visits the cemetery roughly once per month to tidy up the graves of a friend and a family member. He claims he has done this for years without incident. This December day was destined to be different. The account of David Arceneaux is below as it appeared in the Port Arthur News:

“I heard a blood curdling scream and a lady nearby asked me if I was OK. I told her it wasn’t me,” Arceneaux said as he stood, uneasily, at roughly the same spot where he saw the creatures. “We walked over to the water and looked to the left then straight ahead.”

What he saw next amazed him. Two Bigfoot-like creatures that had been throwing rocks in the water looked across at him and the unknown female. One was standing next to a tree, arms around the trunk and the other was squatted down. As the second creature rose from the crouching position Arceneaux estimated the creature was about eight-foot tall. So he snapped a photo with his phone, he said.

“All of a sudden they started walking then running through the woods,” he said of the bipedal creatures. “When they began to run, the lady said ‘I’m leaving’ and left. I stayed a few more seconds and then thought there may be a way for them to cross here so I left, scared.”

Arceneaux said he could see the face of the creature “clear as day.” There was hair from the mouth down like a man and when the creature turned he could see hair hanging down its arm.

Disturbed by what he saw, Arceneaux went home and watched an episode of “Finding Bigfoot” but had to change the channel when they played an audio recording of Bigfoot — it was too real.

“This is my first time back here since December,” he said.

Arceneaux said he spoke to a game warden, describing the situation, and was told there had been other sightings along the Neches River. Calls placed to a local game warden were not returned by Tuesday afternoon.

Arceneaux said he did not come forward with his story sooner because he worried about what others would think of him. He has shown this photographic evidence — which was taken at a far distance with a cell phone — to friends and family and only had one person scoff. He will continue to research Bigfoot, he said, but remains wary of returning to the spot where the encounter occurred.

The cemetery the witness was visiting is well known regionally as it is the final resting place of country crooner Tex Ritter. The area used to be a popular "parking" spot for teenagers back in the early 80's. Just back to the east is the allegedly haunted Sara Jane Road (E. Port Neches Ave./Atlantic Rd.) where all manner of odd things seem to occur. The area is not the first place I would think of when it comes to sasquatch sightings. Still, there have been a few reports along the Neches in this area (though they've occurred on the north bank) and it is not far from Orange and Newton Counties, which do have a rich history of such sightings. The photo is interesting but, like almost all the others allegedly showing these creatures, too fuzzy and indistinct to be proof of anything. That being the case, I needed to visit the location myself.

I made the trip out to Oak Bluff on Saturday before making my way home to Central Texas. I was going to try and stand in the exact spot from which Mr. Arceneaux took his cell phone pictures but was not able to quite get there as there was a burial service taking place nearby. Not wanting to intrude or to be a distraction, I kept a respectful distance from the service. While I did not get to the exact spot, I was pretty close. I think my photos show that. I also know I must have been close as there were at least a half a dozen “No Trespassing” signs up in a very small area that I had never seen before. No doubt, these signs were posted to keep bigfoot enthusiasts away from the area.

Being able to visit a sighting location in person is always helpful. It brought several questions to mind regarding this alleged sighting. First, Mr. Arceneaux mentions that the creatures had been throwing rocks into the water. This concerns me a bit as the bayou is very close to where the witness must have been standing. He would’ve clearly heard the rocks hitting the water from this spot. Why did it take a “blood-curdling scream” to get the witnesses to look up? The second problem I have with the rock statement is that there just aren’t many rocks around. This area is a marshy bog or “gumbo” as we used to call it. There just aren’t any rocks out there. Anyone who has spent any time in a swamp can tell you that rocks are hard to come by.

The next detail that causes me some concern is the statement, ““All of a sudden they started walking then running through the woods.” Mr. Arceneaux doesn’t say that ran back toward the woods; rather, he said they “started walking then running THROUGH the woods.” This is an important distinction. The tree line is only about 100 yards from where I stood and took my photos. I don’t think it is unreasonable that Mr. Arceneaux could have seen the figures from that far away; but they must have been right at the wood line when he saw them as there are no trees between Block Bayou and the forested area. Mr. Arceneaux even claims that one of the figures was “standing next to a tree, arms around the trunk,” when he first spied it. This is all well and good except for two things. Supposedly, the two apes were throwing rocks into the water when he heard one of them scream causing him to look up. There is no water near the tree line that I could see. So, were the apes in or near the woods or 100 yards away from the trees out near the water’s edge and VERY close to the witness? There seem to be some conflicting details here. The second problem with the figures being in or near the woods is Mr. Arceneaux’s claim that he could see the face of the creatures as “plain as day” as they walked, then ran, through the trees. I have a very hard time with this. Again, the woods are approximately 100 yards from the bayou’s edge. IF the apes were near the tree line there is no way anyone could clearly make out facial details.

The final factor that casts a shadow of doubt over this incident is the location itself. The area in question is surrounded on three sides by heavily populated areas. The Neches River creates a substantial barrier on the fourth side. I suppose it is possible that a pair of apes could make their way to this area but they would, in my opinion, have to swim to get there. I don’t see how they could traverse that side of the river without running into substantial obstacles and a large number of people. Why would a pair of intelligent and amazingly elusive creatures choose to pen themselves into an area like this? It seems an unlikely scenario.

To be fair, I have not interviewed Mr. Arceneaux. Maybe some details were misrepresented by the reporter who wrote the story. Lord knows it has happened before. It is possible he could satisfactorily address the questions I have if given the opportunity. His photo seems to show something though it is far too fuzzy and indistinct to draw any hard conclusions. I must say, though, that I have some serious misgivings about this alleged sighting. There just seem to be a lot of things that don’t add up.

In the end, I guess we’ll never really know what, if anything unusual, was roaming the banks of the Neches River and Block Bayou that day. If I had to wager though, I would guess it wasn’t a pair of wood apes.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Missing In Action

Lately, I’ve been as hard to find as a black panther or wood ape. I apologize for the lack of posts and action on the blog. My teaching and coaching duties are in high gear right now. In addition, my wife is working on her Master’s Degree so I’m having to take on some extra duties around the house in order to help her out.

One exciting thing that has been occupying a lot of my time of late is the impending publication of a children’s book I’ve written. This is my first go around with this sort of thing and, believe me, the writing, editing and publishing process is quite arduous. My hat is off to professional writers and artists. I’ll be giving you some more details on the book as soon as I know exactly when it is going to be available.

I do have some things on the horizon. I hope to get my new camera deployed soon and have some ideas on future posts. It may be after the holidays my schedule eases up enough to get back to full speed, however.

I appreciate all of you who are bearing with me during this, my busiest time of the year.

More soon, I promise.

Monday, November 18, 2013

What Can We Expect To Learn From Wood Ape DNA?

With the cryptozoological community all aflutter over the Bryan Sykes DNA study, I thought now would be a good time to discus what exactly it is we might expect should viable wood ape DNA ever be successfully obtained. I can’t take credit for the question. Fellow NAWAC investigator Ed Harrison posed the question on our online member’s forum. Some of the specific questions raised by Ed were: Will we be able to determine the origins of the wood ape species (geographically)? From which branch of the primate tree did the species spring? How big do they really get? Many other questions were raised and discussed as well but you get the idea.

What we do know is that simply observing/documenting DNA similarities between species says little, or may say very little, about morphological and/or behavioral similarities. A good example of this is the comparison of human and chimp DNA, which shows great overlap.

For example, let’s assume that wood ape DNA is 99% comparable to that of a modern human. That, in and of itself, wouldn't mean they are "human" as we understand the concept. Significant differences could result from factors controlling the expression of genes. The sequence in which genes are activated during development, the duration in which the genes are active, epigenetic factors controlling which genes may be turned off, these factors could produce creatures that are very different from "us" even if the DNA is nearly identical.

Another NAWAC member with great expertise in this area is Brad McAndrews. Brad holds an ABHI certificate from the American Board of Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics and is a Certified Histocompatibility Specialist (also known as a Clinical Histocompatibility Scientist in some states). Brad received his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin (B.S. in Biology with concentration in Genetics and Biotechnology) and followed that with 5 years of intensive training at a clinical laboratory of the University of Texas Health and Science Center in Houston, TX. All of that to say, Brad knows what he is talking about when it comes to genetics. Following is a summary of Brad’s thoughts to the questions posed above:

"What can we expect to find in the DNA?"

“The study of the wood ape genome will be multifaceted in that several scientists and organizations of varying expertise will study their genes of interest. It will take years to draw lines of correlation between parallel species but science will begin to produce results, the wood ape blueprint, in only days. We will learn about their growth curves, metabolic characteristics, endocrine pathways, and we’ll be able to make discoveries from other genetic linkages already being studied in the higher primates. The endocrine system drives the growth and development cycle from the fetal stage through adolescence (and even adulthood). We'll learn a great deal from studying the endocrine system (which includes hormones, etc) including various physical attributes including relative musculature, to things like emotional states, sleep patterns, and details of the reproductive system. We’ll learn about its dietary capabilities and/or restrictions by studying certain metabolic factors.”

“We will learn details on their ability to learn, hearing, sight, the ability to vocally enunciate (both vowels and consonants) – the FOXP2 gene. We'll learn some interesting things about how they learn, and where their strongest cognitive and/or involuntary cerebral strengths lay. One of the biggest, and most complicated, targets of the wood ape genome will focus on facets of the immune system. Studies of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) and human leukocyte antigen (HLA) repertoire will teach us a lot about disease susceptibilities and as well as possible new constructs (i.e. mutations) that may help the wood ape fight certain diseases – like Lyme or RMSF. HLA is my particular field of study. No doubt, the discovery of the wood ape will lead to new treatments for mankind. I foresee a day when cells from the wood ape are cloned and distributed (for profit) for study all across the globe. New drugs and therapies will emerge after studying certain aspects of the wood ape immunopathology and it constructs.”

“We’ll also learn many other things that are not specifically related to the wood ape's nuclear or mitochondrial genome. Various microbiotomes will be discovered in the animal's gut flora and new bacterial species/populations may be found on the epidermis (skin) or mouth cavity. We could learn a lot simply by swabbing the cheek of an ape…. We might learn what types of foods they eat even if their entire digestive tract is empty. We can learn about how they metabolize certain foods and compounds.”

“Is the wood ape a descendent of Gigantopithecus blackii? What is the evolutionary lineage?”

“This question will be answered very quickly by sequencing the < 20,000 base pairs of DNA from the mitochondrial genome and comparing that to what data is available for G. blacki. This is easy science. Compare this to all the highly mutagenic interesting stuff found in the more than 3 billion base pairs of the nuclear genome!"

“What can we expect to find within a non-contaminated sample of tissue/blood that has been scientifically proven to be valid?"

“We’ll discover a great many things (as we touched on above). The difficult part of this is that in the scenario where we’ve only a small amount of blood/tissue, proving the existence of this creature as a valid species has limitations. The specimen itself, in this case, is a limiting factor, which could prevent full independent and reproducible study. Basically, science demands that third-party laboratories reproduce the same data set to support the initial find thus creating a “theory.” Ideally, this would include the initial steps of DNA isolation/extraction from the specimen in question. In the case with our Echo samples, we’ve only two very small and degraded residues… That’s huge limitation for us.”

"Will we find the origins of wood apes (geography)?"

“Information on evolutionary history and genetic lineage/origins may be pulled from the mitochondrial genome of a given species. Even without the full mitochondrial genome, much of this information is attainable by analyzing comparative evolution of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene – a humble 1,200 base pairs of information. Determining geographic origin, however, would require an existing known ancestral “anchor” species in a given geography. When comparisons between two closely related species are being made, this information becomes less reliable because of limitations in sample (that being the gene targeted for sequencing) size. In these cases, additional sequence targets are valuable. Basically, the targeted gene of study may be too highly conserved between the two species. There are only 33 mutations between human and chimp, a mere 2% variation. What might we expect with the wood ape? The comparisons are so alike that it brings into question human contamination… A more likely conclusion to an odd result that “looks human.”

"How far back does the gene pool go (timeline)?"

“A gene pool is actually a collection of all heredities that currently exist in a given and accessible (in regards to breeding) population. That is, how variable (i.e. stable) is the gene pool of the wood ape population? I think what you’re trying to ask is “how far back did this animal branch out from the tree of life?” The answer to this question would be one of the first addressed via the sequencing of the mitochondrial (maternally inherited) genome. Thankfully it would be the easiest of all to answer in terms of testing and it would provide answers to those questions related to its evolution history and origins. This is what I am most curious about personally. I think this is true for many. This is also where Bryan Sykes holds his expertise. A simple science in today’s world.”

"From which branch of the primate tree did the species spring?”

“This will quickly be answered by producing a mitochondrial sequence of the organism. Less than one week of time to produce this data set and a couple-few minutes to run a comparison on GeneBank.”

"How tall [do] these animals really get (physical attributes), etc.?"

"Simply observing/documenting DNA similarities between species says little, or may say very little, about morphological and/or behavioral similarities. A good example of this is the comparison of human and chimp DNA, which shows great overlap."

“While this may certainly be true in a broader context, much of the data derived from genome-wide association studies of similar but different species provide a veritable treasure trove of information that holds value in describing both physical and behavioral phenotypes for a given species. Take a look at the following article, for instance, where it says, “As expected, most of the human genome was closer to the chimp's than to the gorilla's. But in about 15 percent of the genome, human and gorilla resemble each other the most. In another 15 percent, chimp and gorilla DNA are closer to each other than chimp is to human. The analysis also found gene variants in gorillas that are harmless to them but are linked to dementia and heart failure in people. …If we could understand more about why those variants are so harmful in humans but not in gorillas, that would have important medical implications."

"Significant differences could result from factors controlling the expression of genes. The sequence in which genes are activated during development, the duration in which the genes are active, epigenetic factors controlling which genes may be turned off, these factors could produce creatures that are very different from "us" even if the DNA is nearly identical."

“Absolutely spot on here. This is where the revolution in medical genetics (ever heard of this?) will make its biggest strides. Epigenetic gene expressions are influenced by a number of different "micro factors" which may be stimulated by environmental factors and/or stressors. These changes in expression can be either minute or significant. Some changes due to environmental change show themselves phenotypically, while others do not. Many are expressed temporarily, some longer, some for a lifetime, and some are heritable through successive generations (given the continued presence of external pressures). Epigenetic factors, however, are functional in ways that do not cause mutation, or change, to the nucleotide sequence of the organism’s DNA but rather they cause the DNA to be “read” in different ways. This results in coding for different proteins, turning off certain active genes, or by turning on certain dormant ones. Some mechanisms actually modify DNA locally let’s say, for instance, in the epidermis/skin by adding methyl groups to DNA or RNA, or by binding protein to genetic receptors to inactivate a certain from being expressed. This influences the underlying DNA in a way that it is transcribed (or “read”) differently than it was before. You know how some mammals grow thicker coats of fur in the winter and then lose it in the spring? That’s a perfect example of how these factors can influence a change in expression as a product of seasonal changes in temperature (the environmental catalyst). Another fantastic example of epigenetic expression can be seen when a domesticated hog goes feral. Genetic expressions may change very quickly due to environmental stressors, or change. It does not take long before offspring start to resemble feral hogs (the Wild type organism) again with their stunted snouts becoming elongated; hair becoming longer and increasingly coarse, their tusks even grow at faster rates. The domestic pig that gets loose will even begin to show/express “feral” characteristics with longer/thicker hair, increased virility, and quick change in behavior. This is due to something called “phenotypic plasticity,” which is a mechanism that involves a lot of epigenetic factors, caused by environmental alteration or habitat, and which results in changes in genetic expressions – both in phenotype (physical change) and even behavior. The immune system is also greatly influenced by these factors.”

“Anyhow, bottom line is this… just because an organism’s DNA looks similar to another’s from a bird’s-eye view perspective, does not mean that the two organisms are one in the same, or even close to being similar to one another physically, mentally, etc. There is A LOT of stuff going on that goes much deeper than the mere DNA blueprint and we’re just beginning to make sense of it all. We do have a long way to go, sure, but huge strides are being made in the way of knowledge. I can say the following with great confidence, without the detailed genetic comparisons of closely related species, none of these gains in knowledge would be possible.”

Whether the Sykes study yields wood ape DNA remains to be seen. I do think Brad has given us a very good idea of what to expect if and when Sykes, or anyone else, does come up with a viable genetic sample.

One other question sprang to mind when Sykes examined alleged yeti hair and identified it as belonging to a supposedly long extinct species of bear:

"Will mainstream science recognize the existence of a large mammalian species thought to be long extinct based solely on DNA evidence?"

IF the scientific community accepts Sykes’ results and officially recognizes this ancient bear as a living, breathing species that still walks the earth then the “no-kill” crowd may finally have a valid argument as to why a wood ape specimen should not be harvested. If, however, the scientific community refuses to recognize the existence of this ancient bear, a species that they KNOW actually did exist at one point, then there is zero chance that wood ape DNA alone will suffice in documenting the species. If the existence of this ancient bear remains unrecognized after intense DNA study then it should become crystal clear to everyone that the only way to prove the existence of the sasquatch, or wood ape, is by the taking of a holotype. There would simply be no other way.

Contributors: Alton Higgins, Ed Harrison and Brad McAndrews

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Large Black Cat Photographed in Oklahoma?

The photo below of what appears to be a large black cat was sent to me from the guys at Expanded Perspectives (expandedperspectives.com). The only thing they were able to tell me was that the photo came from Oklahoma.

Now, we've been here before so I can't vouch for the authenticity of the photo or the location where it was allegedly captured. I would welcome any additional details if someone out there knows the story behind this photo.

It is intriguing but I have some concerns about the photo. Lots of vertical "seams" that look a bit fuzzy in it. That probably isn't clear but it's the best I can do to explain what I'm seeing. On the other hand, I'm no expert on photo manipulation and it certainly looks like SE Oklahoma so, who knows?

Again, I'd like to hear from anyone that might have the scoop on this one.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Wisdom of Walt Disney

“The difference between winning and losing is most often… not quitting.”

- Walt Disney

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Texas Black Panther Photo Appears to be a Hoax

Well, I can't say I'm surprised...

The photo posted to Facebook last night of a large black cat is real enough but it was not taken anywhere close to Kosse, TX. Hit this link and it will take you to a story on black leopards in Africa which includes this same photo.


Does this dampen my enthusiasm about the possibility of large black North American cats being real? Momentarily maybe but I'll get over it. One hoaxed photo doesn't mean they don't exist. All I have to do is look at the sighting reports that continue to pour in to my site. These folks are seeing something and I just don't believe they are all mistaken or liars.


Texas Black Panther Clearly Photographed...Maybe

Below is a photo allegedly taken by a game camera near Kosse, TX.

Unlike many photos that are purported to show black panthers, this one is undeniably a big cat. It is clearly very large and you can see the spots despite the black coat. IF this shot really was captured in Texas then it is a game changer. The photo was brought to my attention by a Facebook follower who came across it on another Facebook page called Big Bucks & Diesel Trucks.

What is interesting about it is how matter-of-factly the photo was received by the site administrator who said, and I’m paraphrasing, “Not a big buck but this would be a hell of a kill.” No amazement that a “black panther” was photographed. No accusations that this could not have possibly been taken in Texas (though at least one commenter did make that statement). It was the type of response that I would expect from a rural Texan who actually lives and spends time in the outdoors.

I left a message on the site asking the person who uploaded the photo to contact me but have not heard from her yet. Keep your fingers crossed that she does and that I can get down there in the near future to investigate.

The photo is clearly genuine. There is no doubt what it shows. What we do NOT know with certainty is where the picture was taken. If there is anyone out there that knows the story on this photo, please contact me at Texascryptidhunter@yahoo.com.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Black Panther Sighting Distribution Map

Anyone who has read this blog for very long knows of my interest in the cryptid black panthers that many are convinced roam the more remote areas of Texas and the Deep South. I know that there is not supposed to be any such animal. I know that the term black panther is generally considered to be a misnomer and that the only large melanistic cats out there are the leopards of Africa and the jaguars of Central and South America. I know that no melanistic cougars have ever been documented in captivity or the wild. I know all of this.

Yet, the sightings continue to pour in…

I’ve never seen a black panther myself but I know several people who say they have. I would trust these men with my life and believe their stories. I have met and interviewed many others who have had sightings of what can only be described as black panthers. I have no reason to doubt their accounts and detected no signs of deception from them. I’ve also seen a handful of very intriguing photos that, while not conclusive, seem to suggest that a large black cat of some sort just might be out there. I want to prove once and for all that these cats are out there. I want them documented and recognized by science. More than anything, I want to know what they are. New species? North American jaguar? What?

I have been holding onto and publishing the accounts of people who claim to have had encounters with these cryptid cats for several years now. I thought the accounts were fascinating and would make interesting reading for my followers but also hoped that some kind of pattern would become apparent as I studied them. Maybe some common denominator would appear that would help me zero in on where the best place to find one of these animals might be. I wanted to create a distribution map showing the location of each sighting. Only recently did I come to the point where I felt I had enough credible sighting reports to begin the process of creating such a map. I have plotted the location of right at one hundred sightings of large, black, long-tailed cats in the Lone Star State. I’ve included a handful of reports out of Oklahoma that have been sent to me as well. I have received sighting reports from other regions of the country and have published them in various blog posts but they are not included on this particular map. My black panther distribution map is below. The map shows the major rivers of Texas by name. Major cities are denoted by black dots. Sightings of large, black, long-tailed cats are denoted by red dots.

Have any patterns emerged as a result of my effort? Maybe. It appears that there are three definite hot spots for black panther sightings. They are the North Texas area surrounding the D-FW Metroplex, the Texas Hill Country and the Big Thicket/Piney Woods area of Southeast Texas. Central Texas has a high concentration of sightings as well but they are not in quite as tightly packed as the reports coming out of these other three regions. There is also a nice concentration of sightings in Northeast Texas.

Major rivers seem to play an important role in these sighting reports, particularly the areas where the rivers originate. For example, the Hill Country sightings are packed tightly within an area sandwiched between the headwaters of the Nueces, San Antonio, and Guadalupe Rivers. The Trinity River is a major player, too, with sightings concentrated at its beginning point (North Texas) and ending point (Southeast Texas). Secondary hot spots share this characteristic as well. Take the mini-flap of sightings just south of Wichita Falls near the point where the Brazos really begins to take shape and the small concentration of sightings in Northeast Texas near the headwaters of the Sabine and Neches Rivers. One seeming exception to the “headwaters” pattern is in Central Texas. The sightings here are concentrated in the region where the Brazos and Colorado Rivers begin to flow pretty close to one another but are already well established. Smaller rivers like the Leon, Little River, and Lampasas, however, do originate in this area so maybe it isn’t an exception after all. Southeast Texas, though, would definitely be an exception. This is the area where rivers culminate. The Sabine, Neches and Trinity all dump into the Gulf of Mexico near this area. The area does share many similarities with the headwaters areas mentioned above as large numbers of creeks, bayous and marshes cut through the region. These areas are inhospitable to humans but rich in resources for wildlife.

The fact that the sightings are concentrated near and along rivers is certainly no surprise. The waterways are natural corridors that wildlife uses to travel from one area to another. Even rivers that flow through major metropolitan areas, like the Trinity, are often surrounded by greenbelts a mile or more in width. These greenbelts certainly would not sustain a large predator for any real length of time but would provide more than adequate food resources and hiding places for transient cats as they moved through a highly populated area.

What is a bit eye opening to me is how the sightings are bunched up near the headwaters of rivers. I have no real explanation for this. Are these areas somehow richer than other areas along the path of these rivers? Maybe. Certainly the concentration of springs, creeks and small streams in these areas would make for a rich environment. Add the fact that many of the areas where our major rivers originate are still fairly remote and we might be on to something.

Please keep sending in your reports of black panther sightings. Encourage any friends you know that have seen these cats to do the same. The more credible sightings I can plot on the map the better.

Maybe we really can begin to zero in on the mysterious black panthers of Texas.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Wisdom of Carl Sagan

"Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."

- Carl Sagan

Monday, October 21, 2013

Waxahachie Field Report: An Interesting Day

I made a long overdue trip up to my study site near Waxahachie, TX yesterday. Just to remind everyone, and alert new readers to what I’m up to there, this is the area where several horses and a mule have suffered injuries from what the property owners feel is a big cat of some kind. Both property owners claim sightings of cougars and a large black cat of some kind over the last couple of years. One of them claims to have actually been semi-charged by a large cougar-sized cat that was very dark in color one night while feeding the horses. I say “semi-charged” because the cat did stop short and retreat back into the brush.

Currently, I have two game cameras on the property and have spent a little time still-hunting and hoping for an opportunity to see for myself just what might be stalking the property. Up to this point I have had no luck finding anything concrete that might prove the presence of a big cat of some kind on the property. While my trip yesterday failed to produce a photo or a sighting, it did provide some tantalizing tidbits that may point to the, at least occasional, presence of a large predator on the property.

I started the day by refreshing the two cameras, which are located adjacent to a small pond near the rear of the property. One camera was placed overlooking a game trail which wound from a heavily wooded area bordering Waxahachie Creek and yielded a lot of photos. Upon checking the card, I was a bit dismayed to see that the camera was taking nice night shots but the day shots were poor in quality. The edges of all daytime photos are very fuzzy and blurred. The area that remained in focus seemed to get smaller with each passing day. I found it odd since all of the night shots were perfectly focused. This obviously meant it was not just a dirty lens. A bit confused, I downloaded the images, changed the batteries, and left the camera to continue its work. I moved to the second camera that overlooks an area the property owners have taken to calling scat rock. This is a rocky area on the east side of the pond where loads of predator scat has been found. The scat contains bones and hair and is white in color. When I tell you there is a lot of it at this location I am not engaging in hyperbole. The area is covered. It is clearly a latrine area for some predatory animal. I was very excited to see lots of new scat directly in front of the camera location. My excitement was short-lived, however, when I found that the camera had malfunctioned and failed to take even one photo. This is the second time this particular camera has malfunctioned and I am fed up with it. I went ahead and fiddled with it a bit, changed the batteries, and redeployed it. I changed the settings so that it is now programmed to take still shots instead of videos in the hopes that would work. I had little to lose, as I had no new camera with which to replace this one. I will have a replacement ready for deployment next time.

I spent the rest of the afternoon walking the more remote portions of the property. I found an area situated on a long, tree-covered berm that separates two portions of the property and sat down, rifle in hand, in the hopes that the problem cat might wander out in front of me. Within 15 minutes, I began to hear a large animal of some kind moving about in a heavy thicket about 50 yards in front of me. The volume of the noise led me to believe this was a substantial animal. It moved about a good bit, even thrashing about quite violently at one point, but I was never able to obtain a visual. After more than an hour of this, I decided to move and loop around in the hopes of getting a look at the hidden animal. I retreated to the opposite side of the berm and quietly hiked approximately 200 yards to the north. I then climbed back over the berm and made my way back toward my original location as stealthily as possible. The hope was that the mystery animal would have seen me leave but not sensed me returning (the wind was in my favor so it should not have winded me). I had crept to within 25 yards of my original location when I found something I’ve never come across before.

I spied what appeared to be a thick leg bone (probably from a hog) wedged into the “y” of a tree. The bone was about five and a half-feet off the ground. At the base of the tree was another bone. This particular tree had recently been snapped off only a few feet above the spot where the leg bone was wedged. The limb that shot off from the snapped trunk had also been broken just beyond the bone’s location. In my many years of hiking about in the woods, mountains and swamps, I’ve never found a bone in a tree. Ever. I photographed the scene and then examined the bone but found no obvious signs of gnawing. I decided to replace it. I didn’t really know what else to do. It was beginning to get dark by this time so I started making my way back toward my truck.

I was still about a quarter of a mile away from my truck when I heard another (same?) animal moving about in the tree line to my left. As before, this was obviously a heavy animal of some kind. It was crashing about the brush and creating quite a ruckus. I wasn’t too worried about it being a cat. No cat carries on like that. I was guessing it was a big hog as the property is covered up with them. I couldn’t believe I couldn’t see whatever it was that was making so much noise. It couldn’t have been more than 20 yards from me. It was right THERE but I saw nothing. I continued walking and it paralleled me. When I stopped it would stop, though it continued to be loud. It was only when I got to within 100 yards of the truck that whatever it was moved off. I could hear it as it retreated.

I was a bit puzzled by this mystery animal’s behavior but, honestly, was more intrigued by the bone I had found wedged in a tree. I shared the pictures with several friends, all of whom have years of outdoor experience. As you might imagine, I received all manner of possible explanations. As far as animals that might have carried the bone up into the tree, raccoons, bobcats, porcupines and vultures were mentioned. One friend even mentioned the possibility that the bone might have become lodged in the tree during a high water event. A human culprit was also suggested. Everyone had different ideas. The one possible explanation that every single one of them mentioned was a big cat.

Mountain lions are not known to cache kills in trees. Generally, they cover kills with dirt, grass and leaf litter. This is generally pretty effective and since there are no other large carnivores in the area (that we know of) that might steal a kill it makes little since for cougars to expend the energy necessary to haul prey into a tree. It is a common misconception that all big cats do this. Leopards are really the only known big cat to cache kills in trees but only because of the presence of lions and hyenas. Mountain lions don’t have the same worries here in North America. Jaguars certainly are strong enough to cache prey in trees but have only been observed doing so on a few occasions. It is my understanding that the jaguars seen doing this only did so in order to avoid losing the kill to rising flood waters.

I suppose I should stand down a bit here. Clearly, this bone does not represent an entire carcass cached in a tree. It was one bone (though the additional bone at the base of the tree suggests it, too, might have been in the tree at one point). I cannot assume that there was an entire carcass in this tree at some point. I can only go with what I found. Since only one bone, even though it was quite substantial, was located, maybe a smaller animal did grab a piece of a carcass and enjoy a snack in the tree. As intriguing as this find might be to me, it does not prove a big cat is on the property.

The bone is another piece in an ever-expanding puzzle. Something has attacked the resident horses and mule on more than one occasion, these animals exhibit fearful behavior several times per month (I’ve seen it myself), a predator of some kind is leaving a LOT of scat on the property, and now something has deposited a leg bone in a tree. Add the anecdotal evidence of the big cat sightings reported by the landowners and the puzzle begins to take shape.

The puzzle remains incomplete, however. It is as if all the edge pieces are in place, forming a frame, but the middle pieces that reveal all the answers remain missing. I can only hope that with continued effort, I can find those middle pieces and solve this riddle once and for all.

More soon.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Texans Report More Black Panther Sightings

Following are the latest handful of black panther sighting reports sent in by readers. I continue to get reports from people who claim visuals of these cryptid cats on an almost weekly basis. The reports below are the presented exactly as they were sent to me. The only items withheld are the names of the submitting witnesses.

These reports should generate renewed interest as they come on the heels of the Fox News report out of Montgomery County earlier this week that detailed attacks on horses by some sort of big cat.


“Had a few sightings at our ranch in Washington County a few months ago. Our neighbor says it was a large feral domestic cat. To me it seemed to be too large and too fast. Was only about 2.5 feet long but jet black with long tail. Seemed, to me, that it might have been a juvenile larger cat? There has been quite a bit of talk in the area of larger black cat sightings and the local HS mascot is actually named The Panthers. Old-timers in the region call them "swamp cats" cause they say you used to be able to find the around the creek beds.”

- Anonymous

TCH Comment: While it is possible the witness spotted a juvenile cat, I can’t dismiss the possibility of a large domestic/feral cat in this instance. They can get quite large as the photo below of a feral cat shot in Australia shows. Having said that, I believe people, especially those who’ve had a good long look or multiple sightings, know a domestic/feral cat when they see one. A jaguarundi in dark-phase must also be considered for this sighting. One last thing to keep in mind is that Washington County sits just South and East of Montgomery County where there have been some very interesting “black panther” related events (see link above).


“The ones I've seen are a very dark shade of brown and it could be described as a charcoal brown color, the cats were seen and heard twice in 2011 and many more times in 2012 just North Cooper Lake, all the ones I've seen was while I was in my tree stand just before dusk or just after the sun set, I'm always in full scent free camo gear and its during deer season.

I've only told a few people about it and I don't think they really believe me, all I can say to the non-believers is, if you only knew how real the danger is, you wouldn't be going in any woods in Texas without a gun in hand.

Take care...”

- Anonymous

TCH Comment:
The witness did not mention the size of the cat(s) he has seen but if the cats were not huge a jaguarundi must be considered as a possible suspect. These cats are most often a rusty reddish-brown color but the charcoal color is not uncommon. Mountain lions can also be an almost charcoal color as seen in the photo below of a cougar taken in far West Texas.


“I saw a large black cat run across Alamo Parkway in San Antonio on Saturday, August 23rd. It ran across the road in front of my car about 100 feet in front of us.”

- Anonymous

TCH Comment:
Few details here but be careful about dismissing a report that comes from within a large city like San Antonio. Alamo Parkway is located on the far West side of San Antonio outside of Loop 1604 and not far from the Government Canyon State Natural Area. The area West of San Antonio is sparsely populated and remains pretty wild so a large cat of some kind venturing in from this area is not far-fetched at all.


“I lived in San Felipe, Texas a quarter mile from Stephen F. Austin State Park and the Brazos River from 1998-2007. Spotted large black spotted cats on several occasions when we camped on the river bottom. Once we watched a female with two kittens walking the bank across the river from us in broad daylight for several minutes with five witnesses. Stunned us all, the general consensus was it was a jaguar.”

- Anonymous

TCH Comments:
Reports of large black cats have been common up and down the Brazos River for decades. The area near San Felipe is not heavily populated and the river could provide a travel corridor for a large predator. Another interesting fact is the proximity of the sighting to the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge. I think the description of “black spotted cats” is interesting. If this description is accurate, I can see why the witnesses believe they saw a jaguar.


“Northeast Texas, Fannin County. This area known as "The Wildcat Thicket" and also for Sam Rayburn home in Bonham and the Lee - Peacock fights near Trenton, TX. We have seen this black cat with a tail as long as its body on Sept. 25th at 10pm and about a year ago. We also see bobcats, which have longer legs and a different walk.”

- Anonymous

TCH Comment: Another report without a whole lot of detail but the witness does clearly differentiate between the black long-tailed cat he saw and the more common bobcats that make the area their home. The area North of Dallas-Fort Worth up to the Red River is an area that has become a real hot spot for sightings of large black cats.


“I know all of these sightings are mostly in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. However, I live on the Oregon coast and have been seeing what sounds to be the same type of cat. The cat i have seen is about 100 to 120 pounds, i reference this by comparing to our golden lab at about 80 pounds and the cat was considerably larger. The tail was at least 3 feet long and this thing is all black. I first saw it at about 100 yards in the timber and first thought was it was a bear. Then i got a better look at it and knew it was no bear, i grabbed some binoculars and got it in my view just as it disappeared in the trees and all i could see was mid body back. My wife seen it also but without the binoculars. We have been trying to research what it was and everybody tells us large black cats don't exist in Oregon. Well, my wife's folks are visiting us from Washington and we were telling them what we had seen from our back deck and they were receptive but skeptical, until she saw it at about 75 yards on Friday and now she believes us. Her description was at least 5 feet long with a 3 foot long tail and large head and all black. We have a camera set up just waiting to get a photo. Anybody have any ideas?”

- Anonymous

TCH Comment:
I’ve included this report even though it originates far outside of the region in which I live. I think it is important to show that black panthers are not solely a “southern thing.” I appreciate this witness taking the time to share his experience. Please let me know if those cameras catch anything.


“I'm not sure if there is the right place to post a sighting, but this is what I saw.... On September 26, 2013, approx. 6PM, I was almost at a complete stop in my truck as I was going to turn into my property in Bishop, Texas, I noticed something dark moving slowly in the field right across from my location. The field is used to grow corn and cotton( but it has been cleaned for awhile now). The large black panther looking animal, approx. 3 1/2 feet long and about 18" in hieght, continued to walk across the street, right in front of me while I was in my truck, and he came into my property. I say he because the face was very masculine with a flat box top of head, it was not curved from ear to ear, his head was flat, the ears were short/little and pointy, his fur was full/thick, and tail was long and thick from end to end as the width was too. He was black, black, no spots or dark brown. He did not resemble a bobcat. He looked in my direction as he crossed in front of my truck and it appeared his eyes were light in color.

I have 2 dogs, 1 Great Pyrenees and a 1 Catahoula. They were barking and running from one end of the 5 acres I have to the other. The next morning, I had a hen missing and feathers were scattered. What exactly is what I saw??”

- Monika XXXXXXX

TCH Comment:
The descriptors the witness uses include a “flat head,” a “dark” color, “small pointy ears,” and an animal “approximately 3.5 feet long and 18 inches high.” This is a classic description of a jaguarundi. The witness also states that the sighting took place near Bishop which is located in deep South Texas very close to the very limited accepted range of the jaguarundi. I’m guessing that is exactly what this lady saw.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Jaguarundi Photographed in the American South?

I received an interesting photo from a reader this past week. The reader had very little information about the picture but said he thought it had come from a game camera in Mississippi or Missouri. If true, then we may very well have photographic proof that the jaguarundi has spread much farther North and East than anyone ever would have suspected (including me).

The jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi) 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. According to the Mammals of Texas – Online Edition, “Jaguarundis live in the brush country of extreme south Texas in Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, and Willacy counties – where it is rare.” They are not even supposed to get as far as East Texas much less Missouri or Mississippi. IF this photo does originate from either of these two states then it is an important discovery.

There is little doubt in my mind that the photo shows a jaguarundi. Compare the game camera photo to the picture of a jaguarundi in dark phase below and I think you’ll come to the same conclusion. The flat head, long body, small ears, thick long tail and overall weasel-like appearance are present in both photos. The cat in the game camera photo appears lighter, which would be more common than a darker specimen, but that is about the only difference I see.

I see nothing in the photo that would lead me to believe it is a fake of some kind. The only thing that I cannot be sure of is WHERE the photo was actually taken. I have no reason to doubt the story of the reader who sent me the photo. He readily admitted that it had not been his game camera that captured the photo. He stated that he had seen the picture on some sort of hunting forum and thought he remembered reading that it had been snapped in Mississippi or Missouri. If the jaguarundi has spread this far North and East then the species is doing far better than wildlife biologists believe. It would also prove that they are among the most elusive of North American mammals to have moved so far without detection.

If this photo does turn out to have come from Missouri or Mississippi then it could validate at least some of the “black panther” sightings so often reported in Texas and the Deep South. As you can see from the photo of the jaguarundi in dark-phase above, it wouldn’t be too hard to mistake one of these cats for a panther. They are larger than domestic/feral cats with long, thick tails. A quick glimpse of a dark jaguarundi crossing a road could fool almost anyone.

If there is anyone out there who knows the complete story behind this photo please contact me.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Daniel Falconer on Melba Ketchum

"I honestly get the impression Melba thinks she’s fighting the good fight. I don’t think, as some do, that she is trying to scam anyone, nor am I happy to see her being ridiculed. The destructiveness of this all is the worst part. She is just trying to prove what she believes she already knows. But, the study doesn’t do that. What she calls results, other scientists call errors, and her conclusions just make no sense. I don’t for one minute buy the ridiculous notion that other scientists are trying to discredit her for reasons of jealousy or some other agenda. That’s fantasy land. Folks like Disotell would like nothing better than to be part of a discovery as monumental as ultimate proof of bigfoot, but this study doesn’t provide that. It’s flawed, which is why it didn’t pass peer review and why every other scientist with relevant expertise who has looked at it since it was published has called out the same problems. There’s no conspiracy here, just a big mistake that is being compounded with every new piece of publicity it gets. Meanwhile the whole field looks even more foolish."

- Daniel Falconer

Monday, October 7, 2013

Alleged Wood Ape Encounter Reported by Reader

I received an interesting email this weekend from a gentleman who follows the Texas Cryptid Hunter facebook site. It is an interesting account. Read it below.

“This event took place in Camp Wood, TX on the Nueces River.
October 1998

A Friend and I were camping on the riverbed, which we did every weekend.
We were not prepared for the drop in temperature so we decided to head home.
We were both riding on a small 4 wheeler. My friend was driving and I was sitting in a pile of sleeping bags, back packs and tents which were strapped to the cargo rack.

We pulled off the gravel bed and onto a dirt road. As we were passing through a grove of large oak trees, I saw something White stand up from behind a bush.
At this point we were driving very slow. It was too cold to drive fast and I didn't have a good hold on the ATV while sitting on the pile of camping supplies. My first thought was a large white bear. I pointed the creature out, saying, "What is that!"

About that time I was flung from a top the pile. My feet and arms went everywhere! I luckily kicked my friend in the arm and he grabbed my leg to keep me on board. At this point I was hanging off the back of the ATV waiting to hit the ground. Once I realized that I was still on, I opened my eyes just in time to see the "bear" before we turned back onto the gravel bar.

We went back the next morning. The brush line was on the edge of a dry creek bed. Whatever it was seemed to be about 6ft tall the night before but the creek bed was roughly 2ft deep.

The next weekend we went camping with 2 other friends at Roaring Springs. Roaring Springs is about a 20-mile drive from the site where we saw the creature the weekend before. We were Excited to tell our friends our story. However, before we could get a word they told us a similar story!

They were camping the same weekend in Roaring Springs. One of the guys walked into the brush to collect firewood. He walked up to an oak tree and bent over to grab a stick. Something large and white jumped out of the tree and landed directly in front of him! My Friend stood just shy of 6ft and had to look up at the white figure in front if him. He dropped everything and ran back to camp! Their event took place around 10pm.

Roaring Spring is a gated community in the foothills of the canyon.

We were surprised to hear our story told back to us!

Thanks for listening!”

Now, let’s dispense with the bear theory. The witness clearly doesn’t believe what he saw was a bear. This is evident by the way he put the word ‘bear’ in quotation marks in the original email

The account is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, the white color of the creature is unusual. Light colored wood apes have been reported on occasion but these reports are fairly rare. There were two reports about a decade ago that originated out of Newton County that involved a honey-blonde colored sasquatch. The famous Lake Worth Monster was reportedly white. Several NAWAC members have reported a massive grayish wood ape in our main area of study within the last two years. Still, light-colored wood apes are rarely reported making this account unusual.

The second aspect of this report that I find fascinating is the second-hand story the witness relates regarding the experience one of his friends had with the same, or a very similar, creature. The report of the ape jumping down out of a tree near this man is both intriguing and terrifying. Can you imagine the shock this man experienced?

You may be asking yourself, “Do wood apes climb trees?”

I’m glad you asked.

Yes, it seems they do. This really isn’t a new belief. Apes in trees, usually small or juvenile individuals, have surfaced from time to time. Harlan Ford, the man who shot the famous Honey Island Swamp footage years ago, always recommended looking up when an ape seemingly vanished into thin air. Recent events in the NAWAC’s main area of study seem to verify that apes, even surprisingly large ones, can and do climb trees on occasion. The possible reasons for doing so are many. Food gathering, nesting/resting and using trees as observation posts are just a few possibilities.

I want to be clear that the gentleman who sent me this report did give his full name and corresponded back and forth with me several times during the process of getting the story to me. While I can’t absolutely vouch for the authenticity of the report, this man didn’t do or say anything to make me doubt his credibility.

Make of it what you will.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Melanistic Deer

Here's a cool shot of an unusually dark fawn. According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Facebook site, this photo was taken in the Texas Hill Country. The Hill Country seems to have a higher occurrence of melanistic deer than any other part of the state.

Curiously, many black panther reports come out of the Hill Country as well. Interesting.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Expanded Perspectives Interview

My interview with the guys from Expanded Perspectives is now available. We discussed all manner of things but the bulk of the time was devoted to black panthers and wood apes. I think it went well.

You can hear the interview by visiting www.expandedperspectives.com or by downloading the podcast from the iTunes store.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Does A Wolf Stalk West Bell County?

I received an interesting text message last week from a friend who lives out West of Killeen, TX. She and her family own a large piece of property outside of town where, on occasion, some odd things happen. This is the piece of property where I had game cameras up for several months after the media reported a “mystery predator” killing goats in the immediate vicinity.

My investigation of the property yielded no evidence of anything other than coyotes and a gray fox. That being said, I felt that the possibility of a large cat coming through the area from time to time was real. The patriarch of the family has claimed a sighting of a large cat from time to time but he has reported seeing wolves much more often. As you might imagine, I figured that he had likely seen a large coyotes and not a wolves. Red wolves and coyotes are colored very similarly and it is very plausible that someone could make that mistake. This gentleman, however, was adamant that he knew what a coyote looked like and this was no coyote. He went on to say that my argument didn’t apply anyway since what he saw looked like a gray or timber wolf (Canis lupus).

Gray wolves are huge animals with the males averaging right at 100 lbs. with larger individuals not uncommon. They once ranged all over the North American continent and did live in Texas. Though never as common as the Red Wolf (Canis rufus), they were not that unusual a sight in the early days of Texas. While it is nearly universally accepted that gray wolves have been extirpated from the state, reports of sightings do continue to trickle in from time to time. Many in Southeast Texas feel that a small group of gray wolves continue to hang on in the Big Thicket National Preserve. None other than Geraldine Watson, often referred to as the guardian angel of the Big Thicket, claims to have seen them in the region. However, seeing one in Central Texas would be huge news. Many would say it is impossible. However, recent reports indicate that animals roam longer and farther than most would ever suspect (For example, a 104 lb. gray wolf was killed in Missouri in 2009). Could a literal “lone wolf” have made its way here?

About two years have now passed since I first visited this property and while some odd sounds have been heard on the property and a couple of interesting, but blurry, game camera photos obtained, nothing of real note has been captured. That might have changed last week, at least to a degree.

My friend has taken to routinely driving the property around dusk in the hopes that she might spot something unusual. Last week her efforts were rewarded when she captured what looks like a very large canid of some sort in hot pursuit of some cottontail rabbits on video. She used her cell phone to capture the footage and it is a bit hard to make out but something is there. The animal, whatever it is, can clearly be seen in the still shot taken from the footage.

The animal is large and dark, if not totally black. My friend said that she clearly saw a thick, bushy tail that was pointed out or slightly up as the animal ran across her field of vision. This is an important detail. First, the physical description of the tale being “thick and bushy” totally eliminates the possibility of this animal being anything but some sort of canid. The observation of the tale sticking straight out, if not slightly up is also important. Wolves trot and run with their tails pointed straight out behind them while coyotes locomote with their tails pointed downward. It is enough to make you wonder a bit.

I asked her to return to the site where the animal was spotted and measure the distance from the outside of the tire rut on the left to the outside of the tire rut on the right. She reported that the measurement averaged about 11’ 6” at different points in the “road.” Looking at the still taken from the footage you can see that the animal in the frame is quite large. It is not in a perfect spot to get a truly accurate size comparison (isn’t that always the case?) as the rutted road bends back to the left at the exact spot where the animal was crossing. Still, you can clearly see that this was a large animal. To my eye, and take this with a grain of salt, the animal looks like it could easily be 5’ in length nose to tail. If so, this is no coyote.

So, what is roaming this property? I suppose there are several explanations that might be more likely than the idea that a gray wolf has found its way to Central Texas. The first that comes to mind, and the most likely to be true, is that this is some sort of large domestic dog that has gone feral or that lives somewhere nearby and is allowed to run free. The description given of the animal is not unlike that of a German Shepherd. German Shepherds can be totally black in color as well. What I don’t know is how they hold their tails when they trot or run. Some will continue to think that a big coyote is shown in the video. I can’t go with that based on the size and color. Those that live on the property, though, continue to think they have something unusual that comes through from time to time. They hear howling, they find tracks, and now they have video, grainy though it may be. Certainly, the video isn’t clear enough to tell us anything for sure other than a large, dark animal of some kind is, or has been, on the property, but could it really be a wolf?

The animal in the video is probably a large dog… probably. My friend has a game camera out and is hopeful of eventually capturing a photo that proves once and for all the identity of this animal. To this point, however, this unidentified canid remains every bit as elusive as some of the other cryptids I pursue. Sooner or later, we are going to get that photo.

Sooner or later…

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Changing Views on Popular Bigfoot Beliefs

I received a good email this week from a reader who asked me a great question. To summarize, the question was basically whether or not any of my theories regarding wood apes (sasquatches) have changed in the years since I began researching the topic seriously. The answer is yes. Once I thought about it a bit, I was surprised at just how much my views have changed regarding certain aspects of the bigfoot phenomenon and some of the more widely accepted “facts” regarding this legendary creature. I will outline some of the changes in my beliefs below.

Popular Theory: Wood apes are solitary animals along the lines of orangutans.

I used to buy into this theory as most sightings are of individual animals. My experiences, and those of my fellow NAWAC members, over the course of Operations Endurance and Persistence have convinced me otherwise. On numerous occasions we have found ourselves the target of thrown rocks that were being lobbed in from different directions by, admittedly, unseen throwers. We’ve also noted wood knocks, clicks, pops, and even whistles emanating from the woods surrounding our camps, seemingly, in answer to one another. If wood apes are the culprits behind these rock throws, knocks, and vocalizations, and I firmly believe they are, then these animals are not living a solitary life. They are living in troupes or family units. How many in a troupe? I’m sure it varies but I feel pretty comfortable in saying that we have documented activity from up to six individuals within seconds of each other in Area X. I would guess there are others that have remained unheard and unseen. Can I prove it? Not yet, but I firmly believe this to be the case. Wood apes may spread out to forage and hunt but they never seem to be far from each other. This is a big change from what I thought about them just 5-6 years ago.

Popular Theory: Habituation scenarios are a bunch of…well, you know.

My experience, and those of my fellow NAWAC members, indicates that these animals are not the solitary nomads most believe them to be. What we’ve observed may not necessarily apply to all wood apes everywhere but our experiences indicate that the apes in our main area of study aren’t going anywhere. They may move within a home range (how big that might be is subject to debate) but do seem to have a core home area to which they always return. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it is to mate, maybe it is a nursery where they give birth and raise infants, or maybe it is because this particular group of wood apes is boxed in by human settlements or even other ape troupes. Whatever the reason, the apes we are studying do not leave. Since this is the case with the apes in our area of study, I can no longer merely dismiss the possibility of other apes in other locales behaving in the same way. This makes habituation scenarios possible. I still believe that many reported habituation reports are nonsense (the Mary Green claims, for example) but no longer can I just summarily dismiss reports of habituation without first taking at closer look at the claims.

Popular Theory: Wood apes avoid game cameras.

I know, I know. Believe me I realize how ludicrous this sounds on the surface but there is something to this claim. The NAWAC, dating back to its old TBRC days, has invested upwards of $50,000 on top of the line game cameras over the last decade. We have absolutely nothing to show for it. I always assumed we just didn’t have enough cameras to adequately cover an area and left it at that. Over the last years, however, two events have changed my mind. First, the NAWAC invested approximately $6,000 on a surveillance system that utilizes infrared technology and placed it on a structure in our main area of study. What we discovered was that ape activity remained steady when the surveillance system was turned off and came almost to a complete standstill when it was turned on. Theories as to why are debated intensely within our group but there is little doubt among most of our members that the surveillance system seems to “turn off” the apes. This is driven home by the fact that some Operation Persistence teams, exhausted by a week in the bush with little to no sleep due to the continuous bombardment of the camp by rocks, would turn on the surveillance system so that they could sleep unmolested. Most game cameras these days use a combination of infrared and motion sensing technologies just like the surveillance system. Whatever it is that bothers the apes may be present within these cameras as well. Possibly, it is simply the apes have seen us put the cameras out and associate them with humans and, so, avoid them. Other animals do this. See the NAWAC article Cryptid Caution Concerning Cameras, for one such example. Some members felt the cameras must emit some sort of low-level frequency that the human ear is unable to detect but the apes can hear. The group had a study done by a bioacoustics lab that seems to quash this theory. You can read the results of the test in the article Testing of Game Cameras for Sound Emissions. To summarize, I don’t know why apes avoid these cameras but the anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that they do. In no way do I think these creatures understand what a camera is or what they do. Despite this, they seem to treat them like the plague. I realize skeptics will have a field day with this. I understand. I was once one of them. Simply, it is what it is.

Popular Theory: Apes use wood knocking to communicate.

I was very dubious about the wood knocking phenomenon for a long time. I had never heard a wood knock, nobody had ever observed an ape beating on a tree with a stick, and, honestly, some of the folks pushing the idea of wood knocking were not people whom I considered credible. I came around soon enough, however, once I seriously got into wood ape research. The NAWAC’s main area of study has proven to be a priceless learning ground and it proved itself again when it came to clearing up the question of whether or not apes use wood knocking to communicate. I have heard knocks, some very loud and close, that are clearly wood on wood. They were often answered by other knocks coming from different locations. Often, NAWAC members hear clear wood knocks upon entering the study area. It is as if there is someone, or something, acting as a sentinel, a watchman, if you will, watching the road in whose job it is to alert other apes when someone arrives. I can’t say for sure that wood apes are behind the knocks, as I’ve never seen one engaged in the activity; however, I have seen an ape in this area and have been there when knocks were heard, seemingly, in response to some sort of movement or activity on our part. The evidence, as circumstantial as it may be, points to wood apes being the culprits behind wood knocking. The bottom line is something with hands has to be behind wood knocking. There is no known animal in the woods of North America capable of producing these sounds. What does that leave?

Popular Theory: The Sierra Sounds were hoaxed.

The first time I heard the Sierra Sounds recordings I laughed out loud. It was simply the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. The Sierra Sounds are a series of audio recordings allegedly captured in the Stanislaus National Forest by Ron Moorehead and Al Berry in the early 1970’s. Moorehead and Berry claimed they had captured audio of a troupe of sasquatches vocalizing. The recordings ranged from relatively tame whoops to the infamous Samurai-like chatter that has so often been ridiculed by skeptics. My tune changed a bit when I visited with a witness who claimed to have seen a wood ape in the Big Thicket National Preserve several years ago. He also claimed to have heard the creature vocalize in a way that reminded him of a badly dubbed Kung Fu movie. He was credible and convincing. Later, the NAWAC captured strange chattering during Operation Endurance in the summer of 2012. The chattering sounds are eerily similar to some of the Sierra Sounds recordings. I stop short of saying the Sierra Sounds recorded back in the early 1970’s are real. I simply don’t know. What I can tell you is that I no longer blow them off as an obvious hoax. I’ve heard things too similar to say that now.

Popular Theory: Wood apes are almost totally nocturnal.

This theory seemed to make sense to me. It would help explain why these huge creatures were not seen more often. Certainly, hunting and moving about at night would lower the odds of their being seen by humans. Later, this idea was validated in my mind when I witnessed a wood ape in the middle of a forest service road in the Sam Houston National Forest in May of 2005… at 3:15 a.m. What I have found in the years since is that this is simply not true. I’ve talked to dozens and dozens of witnesses and the accounts are equally split between daytime and nighttime sightings. The NAWAC has documented literally hundreds of events and more than a dozen visuals over the last two years in our main area of study. What is clear is that the apes are every bit as active during the day as they are at night. Again, it is possible that troupes of apes in other locales may have different habits but based on what I know, wood apes are not strictly, or even mainly, nocturnal.

Popular Theory: Wood apes have eyes that glow at night.

I always assumed researchers who reported eyeshine had misidentified some other known animal. Eyeshine is dependent on the presence of a thin layer of tissue directly behind the retina called the tepetum lucidum. The tapetum lucidem reflects visible light back through the retina, which increases the amount of light available to be picked up by the photoreceptors in the eye. This greatly improves night vision. This process also creates the eyeshine effect with which most are familiar. Very few primates have a tapetum lucidum; humans do not and neither do any of the known great apes. The only primates that I’m aware of that have a tapetum lucidum are some of the prosimians, the Sportive lemur, for example. This being the case, and believing the sasquatch to be an undocumented great ape, I felt that the eyeshine so commonly reported had to be a simple case of misidentification (folks believing sasquatches are primitive humans would still have been in agreement with me since humans do not possess this feature either). Observations over the last few years have changed my opinion on this. The eyes of the wood ape are, seemingly, quite large and produce a very bright eyeshine. This phenomenon has been observed by NAWAC members time and time again. The colors of the eyeshine reported have ranged from orange, yellow-gold, red, to green. The varying colors reported don’t bother me much as eyeshine color often depends on the angle at which it is being viewed. It would appear that the wood ape does have a tapetum lucidum. This would seem to fly in the face of my assertion earlier than these animals are not nocturnal. Again, it is what it is. I still do not believe that the eyes of a wood ape glow without a source of external light. That would be unprecedented in the animal kingdom. Having said that, it doesn’t seem to take much light for these animals’ eyes to light up very brightly. The apes seem to be aware of their own eyeshine to some degree as well. Often, they are spotted observing our camps at night and once they realize we are looking back directly at them, they will duck their head as if to eliminate the beacon that is their eyes. It is really quite amazing. Maybe they are just hunkering down in general in an attempt to avoid detection but it sure seems that they are aware that their eyes give them away. So, yes, wood apes do exhibit very bright eyeshine.

I like to think that my opinions on these animals and their behavior and characteristics haven’t changed as much as they have evolved. I hope this is the sign of an open mind that simply goes where the evidence leads. The evidence has led me to some pretty improbable conclusions; however, I do think it is important to differentiate between what is improbable and what is impossible. I guess you could say that about the very existence of these creatures; it is improbable. That is inarguable. But is their existence impossible? No, not at all.

I have no desire to try to get anyone to “come around” to my point of view. I just wanted to point out some of the ways that actually researching, being a member of a credible group full of other researchers, and direct observations have caused me to give second thoughts to many aspects of this mystery and let you know what my point of view is on some of these theories.