Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sasquatch Classics: The Wild Woman of the Navidad

As rivers go, the Navidad doesn't amount to much. It's not particularly scenic nor is it impressively long or wide. In fact, the Navidad stretches only 74 miles --90 if you count the two creeks that join to form the main river-- and meanders through Fayette, Lavaca, Colorado, and Jackson Counties before pouring itself into its sister river; the Lavaca. The Navidad is not spring fed so it depends solely on rainwater runoff for its flow. Rain can often be scarce in south Texas and, as a result, the Navidad is often too shallow for navigation and its sluggish waters are apt to be clogged with debris.

However, what the Navidad lacks in grandeur it more than makes up for in history and legend. An old Spanish trail that ran from Louisiana to Mexico, known as the Gonzales-San Felipe Road, crossed the Navidad near the present day town of Oakland. The Mexican army, commanded by Santa Anna himself, crossed the Navidad here on April 7, 1836, just a month after defeating a ragtag collection of Texas militia and Tennessee volunteers at the Alamo. It took a lot of money to keep an army supplied and legend has it that Santa Anna was carrying a lot of gold for this purpose. What he had not counted on was the unusually heavy amount of rainfall that spring. The Gonzales-San Felipe Road was little more than a bog and wagons were sinking hub deep into the mud. Gold is heavy and the legend lives on to this very day that, in order to lighten the load, Santa Anna ordered a significant amount of the gold buried somewhere in the vicinity of the river. According to the story, Santa Anna intended to return and retrieve his treasure once he had caught up to and defeated General Sam Houston's army of Texas regulars. Of course, that didn't happen and Santa Anna never returned to the banks of the Navidad River. Generations of treasure hunters have searched for the cache ever since, but to no avail.

The legend of Santa Anna's gold is not the most famous tale centered around this river, however. That honor belongs to the strange legend of the wild woman of the Navidad. The story may very well be the tale of one of the earliest recorded sasquatch sightings in the history of the Lone Star State. While not well known in other parts of the country, the legend has achieved mythical status here in Texas. It goes something like this:

It all began in 1837, shortly after Sam Houston and his army had secured independence from Mexico for Texas by defeating Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto. Settlers who had fled from the advancing Mexican army during the "Runaway Scrape" had returned to their homesteads and were starting over. It was about this time that odd tracks began turning up near various settlements and homes along the Navidad River. There were usually two sets of tracks; one pair larger than the other and always barefoot, so it was widely assumed the prints belonged to a male and a female. Sometimes they appeared in the sweet potato or cornfields where the pair helped themselves to some of the bounty secured by the labors of the sod-busting settlers. No one ever saw this pair. It seemed they took great pains to avoid detection and, other than helping themselves to some of the crops, avoided mischief of any kind. Speculation ran rampant as to who the mysterious barefoot couple could be. Some thought they were runaway slaves while others posited they were children, a brother and sister perhaps, who had been separated from their family during the war for Texas independence and had gone feral. Of course, many assumed they were a pair of wandering Indians. There were holes in all of these theories but it didn't keep many a lively debate from being enjoyed by the locals who defended their position regarding the possible origin of these two mysterious visitors.

A couple of years passed and the barefoot tracks of the larger individual ceased to be seen. The smaller tracks continued to be spotted, however, so it was assumed the larger male had died. Indeed, skeletal remains of what appeared to be a man were found by local hunters when they noticed bones protruding from a pile of sticks and leaves in a wooded area near the Navidad River. Logic seemed to dictate that these remains belonged to the male recluse who had so often frequented the fields of the area.

The tracks of the smaller individual continued to appear in the potato fields of the area unabated. In fact, the visits seemed to increase in frequency. The people of the community wondered if this might not be due to the fact that the "woman" was not as adept at finding game as her mate had been. For various reasons, ranging from a desire to help this recluse to mere curiosity, a plan was hatched by several of the young men in the area to lie in wait and capture the wild woman. One night, as they hunkered down in a potato field, she came. The night was dark but the men claimed they could discern the figure of a woman, apparently unclothed, cautiously approaching their location. When she had drawn near to them they sprang in an effort to capture her with their bare hands. They drew nothing but air, however, as the woman, exhibiting impressive agility, dodged, ducked, and quickly bounded away without their ever laying a hand upon her. No sign of the wild woman was seen for several months afterward.

At length, the wild woman returned though her tactics changed a bit. She continued to visit the potato fields but became more bold and started entering the cabins of the settlers on her visits. The settlers thought that this must be a sign of desperation as she was risking her life by entering homesteads at night while the occupants slept. In addition to owning firearms, nearly all the settlers kept two or more large and fiercely protective dogs. The dogs were the alarm systems of the day and were kept to protect the families from interlopers be they man, big cat, bear, or something else. The wild woman, seemingly, was able to step right over these dogs and enter the premises. Once inside, she would take only what she needed. It was widely reported that she would tear a loaf of bread in two and take only one half. Her motive always seemed to have been hunger. Several times the wild woman had the opportunity to take gold watches, silverware, guns, and powder but never did so. She only took some, never all, of the food. All the while, nary a settler awoke during her intrusions nor did a dog so much as whimper upon her trespasses. This ability to sneak in and out of occupied homes gave rise to much superstition regarding just who, or what, the wild woman actually was. The slaves in particular were greatly disturbed at the prospect of receiving a nighttime visit from the wild woman and took to calling her "that thing that comes."

It was soon discovered that the wild woman would often enter a crib, or storage building, in the area that housed harvested corn. As always, she took only a trivial amount; but the curious felt this was just the way to catch her. All that need be done was have someone hide within the crib and shut the wild woman inside once she had entered. For several nights the watch was kept to no avail. The locals were not discouraged, however, and their patience was rewarded when the wild woman returned to the crib. The man on watch that night was lightly dozing when he heard the soft rustling of the cornhusks. All he needed to do was close the door, slide the bolt, and call out to his friends; however, he was overcome by an unexplainable dread and could not bring himself to stay even one more second inside the crib with "that thing that comes." He cried out in his fear before making his move and the creature tore out of the door with blinding speed. Another opportunity had been lost.

Years passed and the wild woman of the Navidad continued to haunt the fields, homes, and animal pens of the settlers. It is said that she began to take things other than food; a chain, a hacksaw, forks, a pitcher, etc. What she might have done with these things is not clear. The possibility that the wild woman became a convenient foil for those who had misplaced items must also be considered. One thing remained constant, however, and that is that during all her comings and goings never a bark, growl, or whimper was ever raised by even a single dog when she paid her visits. This baffled the settlers and began to weigh heavy on their minds. Just what kind of being was this "thing that comes?"

All of this had been going on for roughly eight years when a crude camp was found in the heavily wooded area near the river. Many of the items that had come up missing over the last year or so were found there. Among the items in the camp was a Bible. Could the wild woman read? No clothing was found and the only bedding was a pile of moss and leaves. Once again, pity for this wretched creature welled up within the hearts of the settlers. How could they just leave this poor woman alone out in the wilderness? It was resolved then and there that this mystery had to be solved. A new plan was devised by the locals that was more systematic and sophisticated than previous plans to capture the wild woman. A number of hunters would form extended lines and drive through the woods with leashed hounds. Other mounted men, lassos in hand, would take "stands" outside the brush line in the hopes of roping the woman once she had been flushed out of the woods and onto the open prairie.

The plan was implemented without success several times. The hunters got a break when a settler found fresh sign of the wild woman and took up positions that very night in the area. Their quarry was, indeed, in the area. It is generally known that hounds bark, bay, and cry in different ways depending on the animal whose scent they are following. That night under a bright moon, the hounds raised a cry that their owners had never heard before. They were on the scent of "that thing that comes." Shortly after the hounds were on the track there came a rustling of brush near one of the lasso men who was waiting outside the timberline. Suddenly, there she was, the wild woman of the Navidad. The creature sprinted out of the brush at an amazing rate of speed. She was attempting to reach another heavily wooded area several hundred yards across the open prairie. The rider spurred his horse to full speed in an attempt to catch the sprinting figure. To his amazement, the rider had to push his mount to a full gallop to get within range of the fleeing woman. He pulled to within lasso range several times but each time his horse, obviously afraid of this strange creature, shied and his throws came up short. Within moments the wild woman reached the safety of the woods and the chase was over.

The disappointed hunters regrouped and the rider who had pursued the wild woman gave his account. He had drawn close to her several times before his horse shied away and had gotten a good look. She had long hair, almost down to her feet, that flew behind her as she ran. She wore no clothing of any kind and was covered completely in short brown hair. The rider had not been able to get a very good look at her face as she only took a few frightened glances over her shoulder at him. The rider said that initially she had been carrying an object of some kind but had dropped it during the pursuit. The hunters spread out to look and found what was described as a club, roughly five feet long. Additional searches were made with no luck. The wild woman of the Navidad had vanished.

In 1850, during a particularly harsh winter, fresh prints were found. Rejuvenated by this find, the hunters were soon back on the hoof. The hounds were quickly on the trail though it was noted their cries were of a more familiar nature this time. To the delight of the hunters, their quarry was treed in short order. Instead of the wild woman, however, they found a black man, completely naked and frightened, clinging to the tree. It was discovered, with the help of a local who had worked in the slave trade, that he was a runaway slave who had escaped from his owner some years before along with a male counterpart. The slave did not speak much English, as he had but recently been brought over from Africa when he made good his escape, but the interpreter was able to discern how his partner had died some years earlier and he had been forced to steal food in order to supplement his diet as his counterpart had been the more adept of the two at capturing game. The slave was taken back to town where he was held for a good while. His feet were measured and found to match the dimensions of the recently discovered tracks perfectly. He was quite the attraction among the locals who wanted a glimpse of "that thing that comes." Public notices were posted in various newspapers throughout the region, but no slave owner ever stepped forward to claim the captive. It was decided to put this runaway up for sale at public auction. He was sold back into slavery and the mysterious nighttime visitations ceased. Likewise, no more barefoot tracks were found in the area. It seemed the wild "woman" of the Navidad was no more.

What is to be made of this tale? My own opinion is that the pair of runaway slaves was responsible for most of the mischief attributed to the wild woman. It was the feet of this pair that made the barefoot tracks found around homes and in the fields of the region. It all makes sense. The visitors who tore loaves of bread in two and only took one half, who stole the hacksaw, chain, silverware, and pitcher were human and not some "thing that comes." The fact that the mysterious pair were escaped slaves explains their desire to remain hidden. The fate awaiting a runaway who was captured was often a brutal one. Many have wondered why these two did not seek help and comfort from the slaves of the region. The fact is they, at least at times, may have sought and received aide. I strongly doubt that the slaves would have been inclined to share this with their owners. It is documented, however, that the two runaways did not speak English well. They, it was learned, were not born on some plantation in the New World but had been sold by their own African tribe into bondage. The language barrier could very well have been enough of an obstacle to keep the pair from approaching the slaves of the area. So, you see, the whole thing was eventually wrapped up quite tidily and the odd goings-on of a decade or more were explained.

Or were they?

What of the description of the wild woman given by the horseman who had pursued her across the plains that night years before? He never backed off his story of an upright hair-covered creature sprinting as fast as his horse at a full gallop. Even at night, and this one was a bright moonlit one, it would be all but impossible to mistake a fleeing human for a hair-covered creature. Remember, too, it was noted that the hounds cried out that fateful night in a manner the hunters had never heard before. They were on the trail of something with which they were unfamiliar. In contrast, the baying of the hounds the night the runaway slave was treed was familiar to the hunters and different from the night in question years before. The rider who pursued the wild woman that night mentioned how his horse would shy away from the figure each time he got close. Why would his horse have been afraid of a human? The creature the rider pursued that night behaved differently from the slave as well once the hounds were on its trail. The hair-covered figure crashed out of the brush at full speed and showed no inclination of slowing down for any reason. It did not seek refuge in the bough of a tree as the slave did. Instead, it crashed headlong back into a heavily wooded area, into which the rider could not follow, and kept going.

I suppose it is possible that the rider who described the wild woman as a hair-covered creature could have been telling a tale to make up for his failure to lasso and capture the runaway slave. Maybe, he figured, he would not look as bad in the eyes of his hunting partners for not being able to successfully rope his quarry if said quarry was described as an unknown ape-like animal with exceptional powers of speed and agility. On the other hand, I believe it is possible that the hunters stumbled upon a sasquatch that night who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This creature was likely not responsible for any of the mischief attributed to the wild woman but found itself flushed from cover from the drive initiated by those seeking her. Maybe, just maybe, that horseman pursued an unknown North American primate across the prairie that night. Perhaps, had the rider's horse had a bit more grit, he would have successfully roped this creature and the sasquatch would be more than a myth today. One final fact should be noted regarding this whole incident. The slave, once captured, readily admitted to all the trespasses attributed to the wild woman. What he did not mention was ever being chased across the open prairie by a lasso-wielding horseman.

Yes, I believe this pair of runaway slaves was responsible for the petty larceny going on up and down the Navidad River back in the early to mid 1800's. I also believe it to be very possible that the creature flushed out of the woods that night was not a human being at all. Whether that fleeing, hair-covered figure was, indeed, a sasquatch we will never know. Like many tales, time has blurred the lines of what is fact and what is reality. Any who could have set the record straight are long dead and gone. We must be reconciled to the fact that we will never know the whole truth behind the legend of the wild woman of the Navidad.

This is one Texas tale that is destined to remain shrouded in mystery.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Bipedal Gorilla

I found this interesting...

It is generally thought that gorillas are not able to walk in a bipedal fashion except for very short distances. As you can see in the video below, this is not always the case.

Is it possible that another large primate might be able to do the same?

Kind of makes you think...

Monday, January 24, 2011

More Giant Crayfish

A reader who saw my post on the discovery of a new species of giant crayfish (Barbicambarus simmonsi) in Tennessee, sent in a photo of his own that shows him holding a very large crayfish. The reader found the crayfish in a creek in Arkansas and wondered if it could possibly be another specimen of the newly discovered species.

He sent me the photo asking my opinion and said that he had sent the photo to the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission hoping to get a positive identification. To my untrained eye, the crayfish in the photo looked very much like the newly discovered Barbicambarus simmonsi; however, other than having a taste for them, I am no crayfish expert. So, I decided to go straight to the source. I sent the photo to Dr. Chris Taylor of the University of Illinois. Dr. Taylor is one of the researchers credited with making the discovery of the new species of crayfish in Tennessee. Both inquiries were answered quickly.

From Brian K. Wagner of the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission:

"The crayfish pictured is the Longpincered Crayfish, Orconectes longidititus, which is endemic to the White River basin . The new species described by Taylor & Schuster in Tennessee is in the genus Barbicambarus and differs from our Longpincered Crayfish in having broader chelae (pincers) and setae-covered (furry-looking) antennae. Both of these species are contenders for America ’s largest crayfish honors, but I think our Longpincered Crayfish is the more attractive of
the two!"

From Dr. Chis Taylor of the University of Illinois:

"Thanks for your note and interest. The animal in the photo is known as the Longpincered Crayfish and is found commonly in the Ozarks. It is indeed a very large species and would give our new species a run for its money."

I would like to thank both Brian Wagner and Dr. Chris Taylor for taking the time to reply to these inquiries. It would have been very easy, and far more typical, especially of a government agency, to just ignore the emailed question. Neither did. I appreciate that very much. It speaks well of them.

So, it seems that the crayfish my reader found is not another specimen of the new species Barbicambarus simmonsi but, instead, a Longpincered crayfish (Orconectes longidtitus). According to the Missouri Conservationist website, the Longpincered crayfish can have a body up to six inches long and pincers and claws almost as large as its body. This species is thought to live only in the White River Basin of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. Up until a week ago, the Longpincered crayfish was considered to be the largest crayfish in the United States.

While the new species, Barbicambarus simmonsi may be larger than the Lonpincered crayfish of the White River Basin, those who reported it as being twice as large as any other known North American crayfish may have been guilty of a bit of hyperbole. As Dr. Taylor himself said in regard to the crayfish in my reader's photo, "It (longpincered crayfish) is indeed a very large species and would give our new species a run for its money."

While it would have been fun to have helped in establishing the range of a new species, the fact that the crayfish in the photo is not a specimen of the Barbicambarus simmonsi is not bad news. In fact, it is good to know that there is not one, but two, species of enormous crayfish out there.

My thanks to the reader who sent in the photo.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

New Species of Giant Crayfish Discovered in Tennessee

A new species of giant crayfish has been discovered in Tennessee. Yahoo News has posted a story by Reuters that documents the discovery.

The new species, dubbed Barbicambarus simmonsi, was found under the largest rocks in the deepest parts of a well-explored Tennessee creek and proves that there are still undiscovered animals to be documented right here in the U.S. The new species is easily twice as large as any other crayfish found in North America. Scientists are a bit baffled as to how these crayfish remained undiscovered for so long.

"This isn't a crayfish that someone would have picked up and just said, 'Oh, it's another crayfish,' and put it back," said Univesity of Illinois aquatic biologist Chris Taylor, one of the researchers.

"You would have recognized it as something really, really different and you would have saved it," said Taylor. He added, "This thing had not been seen by scientific eyes until last year."

Scientists first became aware a giant type of crayfish might exist in the area when a local man sent Eastern Kentucky University biologist Guenter Schuster photographs of a giant crayfish he found along the banks of Shoal Creek. Initially, it was assumed the photo was of an unusually large specimen of the known species Barbicambarus cornutus; a crayfish that can grow to be lobster-sized. The extraordinary size of the crayfish in the photo and the fact that the specimen was found in Tennessee, far north of the recognized home range of Barbicambarus cornutus, piqued the interest of researchers. When they learned that a Tennessee Valley Authority scientist had discovered a similar specimen just a few miles from the site where the photo was taken they decided to investigate themselves. Two specimens were discovered the first day of searching.

Alasdair Wilkins, the author of an article documenting this discovery on the website added the personal comment below in his write-up:

"It's very rare to find a completely new species that's this big and distinctive, particularly in a well-studied part of the United States that has been under pretty much constant academic investigation for the last fifty years. Cryptozoologists might want to savor this moment - this is probably the closest real scientific equivalent to finding mythical creatures like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster that they're ever going to get."

I don't understand how Mr. Wilkins can be so sure of that. I would be willing to bet that he would have scoffed at the notion of a giant crayfish just one week ago. I will be the first to admit that there is a big difference between an aquatic lobster-sized crayfish being able to remain hidden and undiscovered and a large upright hominid, like the sasquatch, being able to do the same. If there is one thing I have learned, however, it is that nature is full of surprises.

I prefer to give the final word to Guenter Schuster who said, " We spend millions of dollars every year on federal grants to send biologists to the Amazon, to Southeast Asia -- all over the world looking for and studying the biodiversity of those regions but the irony is that there's very little money that is actually spent in our own country to do the same thing. And there are still lots of areas right here in the U.S. that need to be explored."

Schuster makes a great point. If our universities, museums, and government would spend some of that grant money in our own backyard...well, there is just no telling what they might find.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

TBRC Meet & Greet This Saturday in Corsicana, Texas

I just wanted to remind everyone that the TBRC will be holding a "Meet and Greet" this Saturday, January 22, at the Gander Mountain store in Corsicana, Texas.

There will be several presentations, highlighted by TBRC member Lyle Blackburn's talk on the Fouke Monster, that I think will be very enjoyable and informative.

These public meetings are a great chance to meet TBRC members and ask any questions you might have about the group's mission statement, methods, potential membership, and/or bigfoot, in general.

Unfortunately, due to a personal conflict, it looks like I won't be able to make this meeting. There will be a number of TBRC members present, however, that will be glad to visit with any and all who are present.

My best...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Touching Base

Just wanted to touch base with everyone and apologize for not posting anything for the past week. I have not been idle, however.

Years ago I had what I thought was a great idea for a children's book. I have thought about it off and on ever since. Many times I thought to myself that I really should try to write this story. I have spent the last week doing just that. I know that a week isn't a very long time to write a book but, again, it is a children's book and not a novel. Also, like I said, I have been thinking about the story for years. Once I actually sat down at the keyboard it flowed pretty well. I wrote most of it in two days and spent the rest of the week tweaking it and editing for grammar, spelling, etc. I'm still not completely done but have gotten the story to a point where I think it is a pretty good first draft.

I have done more than just write it; however, I've actually sent the first draft to an illustrator. He thought my concept was a good one and has agreed to work with me on the project. I'm pretty excited by the whole thing.

Needless to say, the story does relate to the type of content I post on this site. I will update you all with more details as the project moves forward. In the meantime, there is more than enough going on out there to keep me busily writing for this site. I'll have something new posted within a day or two.

My best...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How Big Is The World Record Gar?

We Texans like to believe that everything is bigger and better here in the Lone Star State. While that is not always true, it does seem to be the case when the discussion turns to world-class alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula).

What got me thinking about big gar was a story I stumbled upon over at the "Fishing Fury" site. There is a short post about what was considered to be a potential new world record gar caught with a bow and arrow back in May of 2009. The post mentions that the big gar was caught by Johnny Morris, of Bass Pro Shops fame, with the help of the Garzilla guide service in a private lake near the Trinity River. The Garzilla Bowfishing Guide Service is listed as being physically located in Elkhart, Texas so I assume the big fish was taken somewhere in that general vicinity. According to both sites the fish went 8' 3" in length and weighed in at a whopping 230 lbs.

Alligator gar records are difficult and a bit confusing to research. Just give it a try and you'll see what I'm talking about. I found dozens of sites that listed the weight and/or measurements of THE world record alligator gar. There were nearly as many different lengths and weights listed as there were sites. It reminds me a bit of the way boxing has a half a dozen organizations that sanction champions in each weight class. I saw at least a half dozen listings for THE record fish. Some based the title on the length of the gar and some on the weight. I even found one site that listed the world record based on girth (that's a first). On top of all that confusion is the fact that there are different world records for fish caught on rod and reel, bow and arrow, and "other means", which basically means via trotline, jug line, or cane pole. You also have records for the largest gar caught by a senior citizen angler, the largest gar caught by a junior angler, and the largest gar caught in private waters. There certainly seems to have been a whole lot of "world record" alligator gar caught over the years. So, what's the deal? Was the alligator gar caught by Johnny Morris back in 2009 a new world record or not?

The one thing that nearly all of these "record" fish I came across had in common was that they were caught in Texas. That being the case, I decided to peruse the Texas Parks & Wildlife site to see what they had to say. The TP&W currently lists three fish as state records. The official record alligator gar taken on a rod and reel in Texas is a 279 lb. monster pulled from the Rio Grande River back in 1951 by Bill Valverde (no length was listed for this fish). The state record for an alligator gar taken with a bow and arrow is an 8' 0" long 290 lb. specimen taken in July of 2001 on the Trinity River by Marty McClellan. Finally, the recognized state record for an alligator gar taken by "other means" is an 8' 0" leviathan caught on a trotline back in January of 1953 by T.C. Pierce, Jr. that tipped the scales at 302 lbs. This beast was pulled from the Nueces River in South Texas. These were the officially recognized state records as of January 12, 2011.

It seems the gar taken by Johnny Morris is not recognized as the Texas state record much less the world record. Of course, the Texas Parks & Wildlife is recognizing state records based on weight not length. The Morris fish may well be recognized as the longest gar taken in Texas but, if so, the TP&W site does not mention it. I'm guessing this is why the original story escaped my notice. The fish might have been submitted for record consideration but came up short, or light, as the case may be.

So, which of these fish is recognized as the world record alligator gar? The answer may very well be none of them. In my previous research for other gar posts, I found a site that listed the world record alligator gar to be a fish taken from the Saint Francis River in Arkansas in the 1930s that weighed in at an astounding 350 lbs. Yet, even this monster might not be the real record. Take a look at the photo below. I have heard this fish was caught somewhere in Mississippi in the 1920's. I believe the photo to be genuine but don't know if the location or date of the catch listed is accurate.

To be honest, when it comes to which fish should truly be recognized as the world record alligator gar I am more confused than ever. What has become clear, however, is that Texas truly is the home of some of the largest freshwater fish in the world. So, if you are looking to haul in a world record alligator gar this is the place. Not only do we have the best fishery on the planet for these giants but there seems to be at least a half a dozen different ways for your gar to be recognized as THE world record.

How could you ask for more than that?

Monday, January 10, 2011

California Thylacine?: Addendum

Bill Warren, the gentleman who purchased what may be the pelt of the ostensibly extinct thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) has sent a brief response to the article, written by TBRC Chairman Alton Higgins, entitled "California Thylacine?" and posted here on this site back on November 22, 2010.

You can access the article here or just hit the "guest blogger" label in the right margin to review the original post. In the article, Higgins posits that the pelt Mr. Warren has purchased is actually that of a zebra duiker (Cephalophus zebra), a small (9-20 kg) antelope that lives in the dense forests of West Africa. The zebra duiker is a spectacularly colored and marked animal and is listed as endangered. Alton did a very nice job of comparing the available photos of Mr. Warren's pelt to those of photos of zebra duikers as well as to known photos of thylacines.

Higgins, while not completely ruling out that the pelt is thylacine in origin, came to the conclusion that the skin is most likely that of the zebra duiker. He wasn't alone in reaching that conclusion. A gentleman identifying himself as a Col. Bailey from Tasmania wrote in and said, "You are so right. This is indeed the pelt of the Zebra duiker from Sierre Leone. The striking similarity to the thylacine pelt has previously lead many astray." This Col. Bailey claimed to have been involved in the analysis of the Emmerich photos, alleged to be of a thylacine, as well. To be fair, I have no idea if this gentleman is who he claims to be as this message was left as a comment to the original article. So take it for what it is.

A gentleman identifying himself as Bill Warren left the following comment today: "I am Bill Warren and I have written reports from various experts on the Tasmanian tiger and they agree my skin is a Tasmanian Tiger. The stripes on my skin are shorter than a duiker. My skin is much longer. My skin is soft when you run your hand against the grain." Again, to be consistent, I have no idea if this is in fact the real Bill Warren. I have reason to doubt it is not either so, again, take it for what it is. I replied, as you can see in the comments section below the original post, that I hope he is right and the pelt is that of a thylacine. I did ask if he had made the skin available for DNA testing and if any museums or universities had stepped up to help make this happen.

Mr. Warren, if you are reading this, I would like to say again that I, and I think I can safely speak for Alton Higgins as well, hope you did find the skin of a thylacine. It would be a spectacular find. The points you mention about the pelt being larger than a duiker, the stripes being shorter than those of a duiker, and the texture being different could all be valid but, obviously, you have the advantage as neither I, nor Mr. Higgins, have had the opportunity to inspect the pelt in person. Higgin's assessment of the pelt was made on comparison of photographs only. I would be glad to publish some or all of the written reports you possess from scientists who have examined the pelt. It could go a long way toward removing the doubts that persist out there.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Chinese Wisdom

"What is the smartest animal? The one you cannot find."

- Chinese Proverb

I actually don't know if this is an old Chinese proverb or not. This quote was part of an email I received through the TBRC website. I thought there was much wisdom in it. I hope you agree.

My best...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Cougar of Sierra Blanca

The picture below was sent to me by a reader who, noting the unusually dark color of the cougar, wondered if it, and others like it, might not be responsible for black panther sightings in Texas and other areas of the country.

According to what I've read, this cougar was taken in far west Texas near Sierra Blanca. Sierra Blanca sits in the Trans-Pecos region of the Lone Star State in Hudspeth County (see graphic below). This is an area of the state which is recognized by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department as having a breeding mountain lion population. That being the case, a mountain lion in the area is not out of place. The coloration of the lion, though, makes it a somewhat unusual specimen.

The animal in the photo is unusually dark for a cougar but far from the dark black color reported by witnesses who claim to have seen a black panther. Having said that, I can see where a dark cougar, like this one, could easily be misidentified as being black in color at night or low-light conditions.

I don't feel this cat satisfactorily explains black panther sightings across the state. Cougars as dark as this one are rare to be sure as this is only the second photo I've come across of one this dark; however, these cats go through phases when their coats are thicker or thinner depending on the time of year. No doubt, this affects coloration. Still, this cat is unusually dark. Since this coloration, seemingly, is seen only sporadically it can't be the basis for all black panther sightings; many of which that have occurred in broad daylight. In addition to that, this cat's coloration is still far lighter than the truly melanistic cats described by many witnesses.

The question that may need to be asked is this; if cougars can get as dark as the individual animal in the photo above could they get darker still? If so, then the black panthers of Texas might not be an impossibility after all.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Lake Nasworthy "Monster"

Ok, I admit that title is a bit sensational but early last month a news report out of San Angelo caught my eye. The report, written by Michael Price and published in the San Angelo Standard-Times details an incident involving the "Lake Nasworthy Monster." This "monster" has been described as a large reptile roughly six feet long cruising the depths, and occasionally the shallows, of Lake Nasworthy.

Lake Nasworthy is a small municipal lake located in San Angelo. The lake is named for John R. Nasworthy who sold the land the lake is located on to the city. The lake was built back in 1930 by the Texas Utilities Company to provide water for the city of San Angelo. The lake is small encompassing only 1,380 acres and is a mere 29 feet deep at its deepest point. It hardly seems a likely location for a monster. Even so, reports of a large animal in the lake have persisted for at least a decade.

Mr. Price, who is the Executive Director of the San Angelo Nature Center, stated in his piece, "Before my hobby of herpetoculture brought me to the Nature Center this decade, I had heard rumors of an enormous (always at least 6 feet long) reptile that would patrol the depths of Lake Nasworthy." He added, "This tall tale has been brought to my attention at the Nature Center a few times but never as seriously or as dangerously as this past week."

It seems two San Angelo police officers visited the Nature Center, which sits on the eastern shore of Lake Nasworthy, to see if all of their alligators were present and accounted for. A concerned citizen had reported that he had shot at a large creature in the lake and was worried about the safety of the people of San Angelo.

Mr. Price pretty much dismisses the possibility of an alligator, be it an out of place wild one or an escaped pet, outright. Instead, he theorizes the person who reported the sighting actually had seen a large flathead, or yellow, catfish (Pylodictis olivaris) or a longnose gar (Lepisosteus osseus). Both species can reach lengths of 4-5 feet and are present in Lake Nasworthy. Mr. Price also suggests the possibility the report is an outright hoax.

Who knows what, if anything, was actually seen in Lake Nasworthy on this particular occasion? The fact is, however, that reports of something big in the lake have persisted for a decade or so. This leads me to believe that something big does, or did, live in the lake. I'm not suggesting there is a "monster" in the lake by any means; however, I do think dismissing an alligator as a possibility might not be wise. It is true that San Angelo is outside recognized alligator habitat. So is Cross Plains, Texas but an alligator was killed there back in August of 2009. You can read that account here. The Cross Plains alligator had made a home in a stock tank on the property of one Dick Vestal. Vestal speculated that his reptilian squatter had been a pet that grew too large and dangerous for it's owner and had been released somewhere near his property. Whether the Cross Plains gator was wild or a released pet is irrelevant. The point is, wild or not, an alligator was making a home for itself in a stock tank in West Texas. Is a similar scenario impossible in San Angelo? I don't think so.

I'm not suggesting the citizens of San Angelo should be afraid to enter the waters of Lake Nasworthy. I do think simply dismissing the possibility of the "Lake Nasworthy Monster" being an out of place alligator could be a mistake. You just never know. Many stranger things have happened.

What swims in the waters of Lake Nasworthy? Probably nothing unusual or exotic; however, if you live in the area and frequent the lake it might not be a bad idea to keep a camera handy. After all, you just never know.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Back To Work

I hope that everyone had a restful and peaceful holiday. I pretty much stepped away from everything and just recharged. I kept my eye on things and have several topics I would like to address but nothing too earth shattering seemed to take place during my short hiatus.

I have been biding my time a bit and waiting for deer season to close. I want to get a few game cameras out into some areas of interest in East Texas. I am not a fan of being accidentally shot by some hunter so I have waited. Also, with increased human activity in some of these areas there is a greater chance of having one of the cameras vandalized or stolen. The season ended in most regions of the state yesterday so the plan is to get out to the areas I'm interested in shortly. I am going to specifically dedicate one camera to the pursuit of a big cat photo. I would love to show cougars are indeed making a comeback and, of course, getting a black panther photo would be the ultimate reward.

While hunting season puts a bit of a crimp in my camera trapping it does tend to bring more sighting reports into the TBRC. This is always interesting and I hope this trend continues this year.

Also, I have been sitting on a photo for a long time that I have almost worked my nerve up enough to share on this site. Don't get too excited. It is a classic blob squatch in most ways. It is far from definitive and whatever the photo shows is partially obscured by a tree. Unlike most such shots, however, it is in focus. What you can see is pretty clear. I am going to attempt to enlarge the photo a bit in order to get more clarity before I post it. Like I said, don't get too excited. It is not the shot we've all been waiting for. It is what it is but I figure there are people that might like to see it...and, yes, I took the photo myself.

Here's to hoping that 2011 yields some interesting photos and evidence supporting the existence of some of the mystery animals of Texas.