Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Big Cats in Texas: Readers Have Their Say

No topic generates more interest and reader feedback on this site than the subject of big cats. I have received more email regarding black panthers and cougars than all other topics combined.

Why the excitement over big cats? It is pretty simple. According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, breeding populations of wild mountain lions are found only in the Big Bend Trans-Pecos region and deep south Texas in close proximity to the Rio Grande. Yet, sightings of these big cats continue to roll in on a very regular basis from other parts of the state.

The excitement over black panthers stems from the fact that state and federal agencies do not recognize that they exist at all. The official stance of said agencies, which includes the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, is that there is no such animal. Period. People raised in the river bottoms and other rural areas of the Lone Star State would hotly dispute this claim. Many of these people don’t even know, much less care, that science fails to recognize the existence of black panthers. To them, the big cats have always been around and are no big deal. They are just another “long-tailed cat.” Sightings of these animals are not all that unusual in their mind.

I have discussed this topic several times but my intention here is to let those who’ve contacted me speak for themselves. Below are some of the emails I’ve received from readers regarding big cats, tawny and black, seen in places they just aren’t supposed to be.

My friend described to me a sighting of what I think is Jaguarundi last week in Palo Pinto.
While searching the internet for other sightings came across your blog. Have any other similar reports?
I will call him Monday and get the details about time, place etc. He described very clearly to me a tawny colored, cougar like cat with a long tail. Crossing the road around a lake, and waiting in the grass roadside while they looked at it.
Your blog is very interesting to us outdoor types! Can't wait to see what you find next.

Ft. Worth
July 17, 2010

I saw a very large sleek black cat this morning around 3:30a on Park, just east of Ohio (on/near the parkway). It could have been a panther. I didn't realize how big it was until it spotted me, looked around for a few seconds trying to decide what to do, and then torn off across Park. The cat was so fast, it crossed the entire street (six lanes plus the median) in less than 2 seconds. It was a thing of beauty!

August 15, 2010

I thought you might find these two quick stories interesting. My uncle is an HVAC technician, and was working on an AC unit on top of a building over off Cockrell Hill in Dallas . If you’re familiar with that area, much of it just a few years ago, was undeveloped hills, bluffs, forests, and prairie land. This was a newer building he was working on, and just below the building, he had a good view of the backyard of a house (he says about 40 to 50 ft away). He noticed something moving through the backyard, and to his surprise, when he looked to see what it was, it was a mountain lion! He said it walked through the yard, drank a little water from the swimming pool, and then leaped the 6 ft fence and made it’s way down into a creek that ran alongside the house on the other side.

My uncle is from east Texas and is very familiar with wildlife. He is certain that what he saw was NO bobcat, as it was much larger and had a long tail.

August 26, 2010

we saw what I would place my hand on a Bible and swear was a black panther cross our field. We were on the family farm out in Edgewood , TX while he was telling us this. From the woods, a black panther came crawling out (almost as if he was stalking something… or maybe trying to hide because he heard us talking), crossed our field, paused, and then sprang quickly into the woods on the other side. We couldn’t believe it. We watched it for a good 30 seconds, and I even watched it through binoculars, as my east TX family always keeps a pair handy when we’re having a fish fry outside… just because we enjoy watching all the critters that come across the field…. Which are usually just coyotes. But we have NEVER seen or even heard a panther before. We know they’re out there… we’ve seen prints, and some friends down the road in Van have seen them… but we couldn’t believe one was crossing our property… in broad daylight!

August 26, 2010

Yesterday morning I was sitting on my back porch drinking coffee and watching my deer feeder which is about 40-50 yards from my house. Time was 6:30 am. I picked up my binoculars to make sure they were sighted in when I saw a dark form move into the area right behind my deer feeder. My first thought was, it was a deer. It was not a deer but a large dark colored cat. The cat walked across the opening and back into the woods. I would guess the cat to be 30-36 inches tall and weigh around 50 pounds with a tail that had to be 2-3 feet in length. We live back in the woods of East Texas between Hardin and Hull Texas. I watched the cat through my binoculars for 10-15 seconds. I don’t care what the biologists say, I know what I saw. At work this morning a couple of other people have witnessed similar cats in the past.

November 22, 2010

My father says what he saw in the Big Thicket in the 1960s while clearing a pipeline right-of-way was decidedly BLACK. As he describes it, "It was black as coal..."

January 6, 2011

I just happened upon your post. I have two things for you. 1. My dad used to manage a Pilgrims Pride chicken farm just outside of Betty Texas. This would be considered a rural area, north of Gilmer Texas. Often times he would have to walk the chicken houses in the early morning around 4am and 5am in the morning. Several times he would see a big black cat scouting around the 4 chicken houses. He was able to get a plaster of one of the paws. The paw was about 4 to 6 inches in width, with large pads and claws. We were never able to get a picture of the cat however.

January 30, 2011


I am a big fan of your blog. I wanted to let you know about a sighting today between Naples and Hughes Springs in Texas. We have 45 acres that sit on the Cass County and Morris County line. It is mostly wooded and bottom land with a creek and part of an old catfish farm. Our neighbor went out to check our hog trap around 4pm today. When he was almost to the trap a large cat bolted out behind the power pole and ran into some brush. He said the cat was as big as his old Lab who weighs between 80-90 lbs. He stressed that it was very heavy or thick

March 23, 2011

I believe I saw a large black cat on the Mineral Wells Rails to Trails bike path today. I was riding along and spotted about 20 feet in front of me a large, black animal. Lanky, with a long tail and short ears. My first instinct was that it was a cat, but I thought how could that be??...It was moving slowly and deliberately. It saw me and slipped into the woods. I guess I got a little frightened as I rode by and decided not to stop and investigate further - but I really wanted to. I was trying to convince myself it was a dog..but I believe I saw a cat.

August 22, 2010

Two people I know have seen large black cats near Quitman, TX and another heard the screams of what sounded like a panther. One of my friends who saw the big, black cat was able to pull out binoculars and take a closer look. Maybe not a panther, but it was definitely a large, black cat.

September 2, 2010

My husband (not prone to flightiness...) saw a large animal three doors down from our house, and went to investigate. The animal was large...Great Dane sized according to my husband, and he would know as we live with two Great Danes. The animal was sauntering (his words) down the sidewalk, and when he heard my husband come out the front door, he/she stopped, turned to look at him for about four or five seconds...and turned back around, continued at a leisurely pace, and then disappeared into the side yard area of a home four doors down. My husband described the coat as "mottled" but black. This was at 2 pm on a sunny, sunny day. He remembered the tail, which was exceptionally long, and plush. And while he still thought it was a dog, when it turned to look straight at him, there was NO doubt it was a cat...a very very very big cat...so he simply walked slowly backwards to the door, went in the house and shut the door behind him.

September 7, 2010

We actually have had two sightings in our area of East Texas (Anderson County). The first was about a year ago, when my husband and I were driving home down backroads in the afternoon. We saw a large black creature running through a pasture on the right side of the road. As we got closer, it darted across the road and disappeared into the brush on the left side of the road. As it crossed, there was no doubt whatsoever that it was a large cat. I had thought it must be a large dog when we first saw it in the pasture, but seeing the long tail and the fluid way that it was moving gave away the fact that it was, indeed, a very large cat.

The second sighting was just two days ago. My brother-in-law was mowing the sides of the dirt road we share when he saw a very large brown/black cat with what he thought were stripes of some kind run across the road in front of him. He said that it was definitely much larger than a bobcat, and had a long tail.

Having seen one with my own eyes, I know for a fact that there is some sort of large dark brown or black cat in East Texas that is NOT a bobcat or mountain lion.

October 18, 2010

5 Miles Out Side Of Quitman on FM 69 (Wood County)

Last night my son and I were driving home and right by our house a HUGE black cat ran in front of the car and stopped in our neighbors yard. It was the size of a Great Dane. HUGE! We went up the hill and back down to take another look and it was gone. The neighbors went out looking but he was gone. The cat was sleek black and slim with a long curved tail...for sure a large cat and as large as a Great Dane. Incredible! I know it wasn't a feral pig by it's slim shape or a bear...it was very much a cat.

The neighbors said that there was a Giant black cat a couple of years back that killed some chickens and some guy watched it come in to his yard and snatched his puppy. But then it went away...now he may be back. And in the woods behind my house....neat and kind of scary! He was just so big...I just can't believe we saw it!

November 24, 2010

Argyle, TX (South of Denton). Verified by 3 people at the same time while out walking. Sighting from 20 yrds away. Cat was no more than 300 yards from I35W. Large black cat standing between 2-3 feet tall disappeared into the brush near sundown. Could not tell if it was spotted or not, certainly black though. Long tail, certainly not a dog or bobcat.
Also verified w/ a local builder at a separate time in the same neighborhood except that he saw 2 cubs w/ her.

January 11, 2011

(Arp, TX)Smith County

On three separate occasions three people including myself over a 6 year period have seen a large black cat on my property. When I say large I mean the size of say a Mastiff with a long tail at least the length of its body. I have plenty of domestic cats around and am very familiar with the movement of them as well as dogs etc. This was defiantly a large cat. Moved way to smooth and fast for anything else. Not to mention how it could jump and spring over my fence. The most recent spotting was about a month ago at dusk while putting out hay for our horses. We spotted the cat laying on the back side of my pond. We got to within 40-50 yards from it with the tractor and it jumped up and ran off. The fence line that runs with the edge of my property is very heavily wooded so there are plenty of places for him to hide. All of my surrounding neighbors with farm land have said they have seen one as well. I have never had a problem with any of my animals being harmed with the exception of one newborn colt that mysteriously disappeared the night it was born and its bones showing up a week later in my hay pasture (I blame that on coyotes) but it could have been an easy meal for the cat.

January 22, 2011

Just outside Hubbard, TX
Description: 2 long-tailed large cats sighted at dusk. 2-3 feet at the shoulder.
Dark gray/tan/brown---not really sure b/c of lighting.
Certainly not a bobcat nor a dog.
Feces of large cat discovered afterwards (leaves scraped together w/ feline feces on top).
Paw prints quite larger than grown woman's hand.

March 3, 2011

Location: Hubbard, TX
Description: Large gray cat sighted crossing road outside of Hubbard, TX mid-afternoon, no doubt not a dog, not a domestic cat. Too large in size. Tail full length of the cat's body

March 3, 2011

I guess by now you are getting the idea. I have at least three dozen other contacts claiming to have seen cougars or black panthers in various locations across Texas.* What are we to make of all this? Are all these people making things up? Are they all misidentifying some other animal? Are they all escaped exotic pets? These explanations are all very hard for me to swallow. I think there may very well be large black cats of some kind out there. What are they?

Only time will tell…

*It should be noted that many of those who shared their stories did include their full names. I have labeled all senders as "anonymous" so as to protect their privacy.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

National Geographic Special: "The Hunt for the Abominable Snowman"

A friend just alerted me to an upcoming special on the National Geographic Channel. The program is called “Hunt for the Abominable Snowman” and is scheduled to air on Sunday, April 3 at 9:00 p.m. eastern time as part of the network's "Expedition Week." The program will look at the yeti legend and compare it to that of the sasquatch in the Pacific Northwest.

I must be a glutton for punishment as the last bigfoot special I watched, “Sasquatch: The Definitive Guide,” was a HUGE disappointment. I thought the trailer for this program looked promising, however.

Cross your fingers…

Thursday, March 24, 2011

North Carolina "Bigfoot" Video

I wasn't going to even bother posting on this subject but have had several emails asking about or mentioning it so I thought I would quickly post my thoughts.

A gentleman named Thomas Byers has come forward with a very low quality video of what he is insisting is a sasquatch crossing the road in front of his truck somewhere in Rutherford County, North Carolina.

Simply put, the whole thing is an obvious hoax. If Mr. Byers isn't trying to pull one over on all of us then someone successfully hoaxed him. There are many things I could critique about the video but I really don't want to waste my time. It is so obviously fake that I can't believe anyone would put any stock in it.

If you want to view it yourself you can see it over at the Cryptomundo site. I can't bring myself to put even a screen shot of it up here on my site.

Onward to more worthwhile things...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mystery Predator Roaming Bell County

According to a report by Waco television station KXXV there is a mystery animal roaming southwest Bell County that is “ravaging livestock.” You can read the KXXV write-up and see the video report that was aired here.

More than 40 goats have been killed and devoured along a rural stretch of Briggs Road south of Maxdale. While it is clear as to what is happening to livestock in the area there does seem to be some confusion as to just what animal, or animals, might be responsible.

“It is a coyote or a coyote cross,” said County Commissioner John Fisher.

Farmer Dale Fisher disagrees. “No, I don’t think it’s a coyote,” he said. “It’s either a wolf or a mountain lion.”

George Fox, president of the Assisi Animal Refuge, added, ”People say it’s a dog, some people say it’s a bobcat, some people say it’s a coyote…what is it?”

Bell County trappers have been setting traps and snares along fence-rows trying to catch the predator to no avail. Local ranchers and farmers are hoping the mystery animal will soon be trapped or shot as they are suffering financially.

“Right now goats will bring in about $1.92 per pound,” Dale Fisher said. He then echoed the sentiments of others in the area by adding, “It is a nuisance but it is a costly nuisance. We just don’t need that right now.”

I find the story interesting but am guessing, based only on what I see in this report, that nothing more than a pack of coyotes is responsible. Having said that, others are convinced it is something larger. If there is some evidence suggesting this I haven’t heard about it or seen it. I would like to know if there have been tracks of something bigger than a coyote located on these properties or if something larger than a goat has been killed.

This is happening almost literally in my back yard. I would be happy to help in the attempt to identify this mystery predator via game camera. If anyone in the area happens to see this post and would like me to come put up some cameras please feel free to contact me via email at texascryptidhunter@yahoo.com.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cryptid Caution Concerning Cameras?

Below is an article written by my good friends, and fellow TBRC members, Daryl Colyer and Alton Higgins regarding the surprising wariness of coyotes around game cameras and how this trait might cause us to rethink how we attempt to go about getting a photo of other elusive and/or rare animals like the sasquatch. It is good stuff. I hope you enjoy it.

Cryptid Caution Concerning Cameras?

By Alton Higgins and Daryl Colyer

Since April 2006 the TBRC has maintained camera traps placed in areas noted for sasquatch activity. Our stated hypothesis was that sasquatches could not know what cameras were and should have no more reason to avoid them than any other species. The fact that dogged scientific research efforts the world over were experiencing success in documenting endangered animals served to encourage confidence in the strategy, despite the overwhelming odds when considering the vastness of the habitat and the probable rarity of the target species.

The cameras were placed in as close to wilderness conditions as it is possible to find in East Texas and the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas and Oklahoma, and six months or more often passed between visits to the long-life units. As photos accumulated into the thousands, TBRC researchers noted what seemed to be an odd fact: one of the most abundant large species, the coyote (Canis latrans), was represented in just a tiny fraction of the pictures, less than one half of one percent. Baiting the traps with scent lures did not make a difference. Then, in the early part of this year, we ran across a journal article addressing this very issue which gave us considerable cause to reevaluate and reconsider our hypothesis regarding the plausibility of cognitive camera-trap avoidance by sasquatches. Succinctly, we no longer rule out the possibility that the sasquatch purposely avoids camera-traps in remote wilderness environments.

Animals living in the Nature Conservancy’s Dye Creek Preserve, located in the foothills of the Cascade Range in California, were studied to better understand coyote wariness. The preserve was closed to the public and, as described by the authors, “Coyotes on the preserve were not hunted and generally represented an unexploited population.” Remarkably, results indicated that the dominant coyotes, the alphas, were never photographed inside their territories during the three-year study. This was not the result of animal departures; Alphas continued to stay in their territories while avoiding the cameras. Betas and transient coyotes—thirty-eight individuals in all—were successfully photo-captured.

The authors noted that, “Alphas are probably the only coyotes that are truly territorial in terms of defending and fully exploiting their space.” They regularly traverse their entire territories. These animals “actively tracked human activity within their territories and presumably gained information about camera stations as they were being set up.” They “were cautious of camera stations because of their association with humans and not simply because they were novel.” Such observations and the related data oblige us to reconsider our views regarding the predicted apathy of sasquatches to camera traps.

The TBRC mission does not include photographing coyotes; we are after a much more elusive animal. Regardless of the opinion one may favor regarding the cognitive capabilities of sasquatches, it stands to reason that if certain coyotes living in near pristine environments exhibit an innate aversion to human objects, then it is indeed conceivable that Operation Forest Vigil camera traps, placed as they are in exposed positions, may be thwarting the documentation of more than just coyotes.
This kind of avoidance behavior may not be characteristic of the sasquatch, but it represents a biologically feasible problem, and it is one that can be addressed. Revisiting feasible camera placement strategies may only shift the odds for success by a fraction, but every potential advantage, no matter how small, should be pursued.

One of the difficulties faced by the TBRC’s Operation Forest Vigil camera teams is presented by the American black bear (Ursus americanus). Unlike coyotes, black bears exhibit great interest in deployed camera traps, as discussed in the Camera Trap Vandals article available at the TBRC web site. After suffering the loss of thousands of dollars worth of equipment, the TBRC was forced to employ customized heavy-duty steel protective boxes for each of the cameras. In addition to making the deployment of cameras in remote areas much more labor intensive, the added security equipment made the units even more visually conspicuous. Of course, this was not seen as a research impediment at the time. However, with regard to the possibility that prominent camera trap setups might serve to ward off wary species in wilderness settings, this represents an obvious challenge.

Because of the incredibly acute olfactory abilities of bears, simply hiding camera traps without the bulky protective steel boxes is not seen as a practical option. However, it may be possible to redesign the boxes to be more compact and to attach to trees with lag bolts, a course of action the TBRC is currently pursuing.
Smaller camera traps would facilitate concealment. Most of the cameras used by the TBRC are made by Reconyx. While Reconyx makes the most highly rated game cameras on the market, they are not particularly compact. Comparative research of the capabilities of Reconyx with some of the smaller brands now available, perhaps in side-by-side field trials, needs to be conducted.

Based on the experiences of the scientists studying coyote wariness, camera traps should be deployed as quickly and quietly as possible. When combined with the need for protection from bear damage, this is no easy task. Safe and secure does not go hand in hand with quick and quiet. Regular relocation of cameras may also be a strategy to consider employing. If the activities of camera placement/maintenance teams are detected by resident animals, the camera may be rendered essentially ineffective at that location.

Short of placing cameras inside of trees or camouflaging with natural materials such as bark, which would probably be torn off by inquisitive bears, the protective camera boxes need to be camouflaged in ways that are compatible with the bark of native trees. Ideally, sharp edges and angles could be replaced with more natural looking rounded angles and sloping sides to better blend in with the contours of tree trunks. Another possibility would be to deploy camera traps in the ground or in rocks. Even placement of small trees with camera traps housed in them might make for an undetectable setup.

Some of these actions can be implemented more quickly than others. Even if the sasquatch is indifferent towards game cameras, these changes would make the deployment of cameras faster and easier, while further reducing the chances of losing expensive equipment in the event that units are discovered by people. Having said that, it does seem reasonable to proffer that if we can significantly increase our photo-captures of coyotes—with a likely continental population into the millions—then we can enhance our odds of photo-capturing the sasquatch, which many argue has a population of a few thousand at best.

*Originally posted on the TBRC website and reproduced here with permission.

Sequin, E.S., Jaeger, M.M., Brussard, P.F., & Barrett, R.H. (2003). Wariness of coyotes to camera traps relative to social status and territory boundaries. USDA National Wildlife Research Center, Staff Publications. University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Can. J. Zool. 81: 2015-2025.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Sign of the Times

I have returned from Spring Break and am in the process of getting back into my normal routine. I had a good time in New Mexico. Nothing very exciting was seen or heard as far as wildlife but I spent some quiet time in the woods of the Lincoln National Forest. It was good for my soul.

I will post some photos soon but, in the meantime, thought I would share this photo with you.

This sign is on a forest service road in the Sam Houston National Forest of SE Texas. I do not know the story behind it or who posted it. Is it just a joke? Maybe. It kind of makes you wonder though.

More soon...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Monster Great White of Cojimar

When one thinks of great white shark habitat several areas of the globe spring to mind. The waters surrounding Australia would probably top the list. Close behind would be the coastal area off Dyer Island, South Africa and the cool Pacific waters off the northern California coast. Other areas like the northeastern Atlantic coastline of the United States or the waters off of New Zealand, Japan, or Chili might be mentioned. Very few would think to mention the Gulf of Mexico as great white shark habitat. Fewer still would guess that one of the largest, if not the largest, great white sharks ever caught would have been pulled from the warm waters of the Gulf. That is precisely the case, however.

As I have mentioned here before, the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) does, at least infrequently, prowl the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. This would include areas off the Texas coast as far south as Corpus Christi and Padre Island. These big fish are present often enough to warrant recognition from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. If that revelation makes you a bit nervous just wait…it is about to get worse.

Early one morning in June of 1945 six Cuban fisherman set out from Cojimar, probably best known as the town where Ernest Hemingway wrote his Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Old Man and the Sea, in a 14-foot wooden skiff to fish for their standard fare of tuna, dorado, marlin, and, yes, sharks. Little did they know what they were in for that day.

The group took their small craft out about three miles from the coast and dropped their baited lines hoping to get into a large marlin. Several hours passed with no fish showing even a hint of interest in their bait of fresh ballyhoo. The fishermen noted that other boats in the area did not appear to be having any luck either. They may have thought this unusual but probably not. Anyone who has ever fished knows there are days when, for no readily apparent reason, nothing bites. That is, after all, why it is called fishing and not catching. At about 9:00 a.m., however, the reason for the lack of action became clear as a huge dorsal fin sliced through the water near the skiff.

These were experienced men who fished for a living. This was no hobby. They had seen many sharks but nothing like this specimen. They knew that, if they could land the beast, it would fetch a handsome price. They had no tackle suitable for tangling with this monster so they improvised by braiding several lines together then attached that to a wire leader and shark hook. They baited the hook with half a tuna that was bitten in half by a smaller shark the previous day and tossed the rig into the water. One has to wonder what went through their minds as the great white shark approached the bait and they realized that the fish was much larger than their boat.

The shark took the bait and began taking line. No man alive could have landed this fish using his hands only. Knowing this, the men had tethered the line to several palangres. Palangres are small wooden rafts or floats that are used to add buoyancy and resistance to help wear down large fish. If you saw the movie Jaws you will remember when the fishermen attached large yellow barrels to the shark in an effort to tire it. This is exactly the same principle that was employed by the Cuban fisherman that day.

More than an hour passed and it seemed the great fish was tiring. The fishermen retrieved line and prepared to harpoon the shark. When the great white was within 20 feet of the boat it suddenly made a run straight at the keel of the boat. It struck the small craft with incredible force and began biting the keel. Wood splinters flew in all directions. The shark retreated, circled, and prepared for another run at its tormentors. The fishermen, feeling there likely would not be another chance, readied their harpoon. They were successful in harpooning the great fish but this didn’t stop the attack. This time the great white took a bite out of the rudder. The fish continued to fight mightily for a great while but finally expired and was brought back to shore.

According to records the great white, dubbed “El Monstruo de Cojimar,” measured in excess of 21-feet in length and weighed an astounding 7,100 lbs. The size and weight of the Cojimar shark has been hotly debated ever since. Some, based on photo anaylysis, say the shark was closer to 16-feet in length and that it was never officially weighed at all. Regardless, it is one of four sharks, along with an Australian specimen caught back in the 1870’s near Port Fairy that allegedly measured an astounding 36-feet in length, a New Brunswick, Canada fish that is said to have been even bigger at 37.6-feet in length caught in the 1930’s, and, most incredibly of all, a great white caught by a Portugese trawler just west of the Azores that was said to be a mind-blowing 41.2-feet in length, that are generally thought to be the contenders for the title of largest great white ever.

While the accepted maximum size of the great white shark is roughly 20-feet, sightings of larger sharks continue to come in from time to time. One of the most impressive recent sightings is of a huge shark that bit another great white measuring 11-feet long nearly in half off Stradbroke Island, Australia back in October of 2009. The smaller shark, a substantial fish itself, was hooked on a baited drum line and was a sitting duck for the much larger great white. Even more recently, a “dinosaur-sized” great white was seen attacking and “swallowing a man whole” off a South African beach in January of 2010. Huge sharks do still troll the oceans of the world. And, yes, that does, at least occasionally, mean the Gulf coast of Texas.

It is true that no specimen approaching the size of the monster great whites mentioned above have been seen off the Texas coast; however, this species does show up off our beaches from time to time. If more typical great whites have been seen off our coastlines then there is no reason to think that a larger specimen might not make a periodic appearance as well. A monster made it to Cuba, after all.

Cuba just isn’t that far away…

*This will likely be my last post for a week or so as I will be on the road quite a bit for a while. I will be taking a trip to the mountains of New Mexico with my family for the better part of a week and taking part in a TBRC exercise in SE Oklahoma after that. I'll post photos of both trips once I get back.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Royse City ISD Elementary Presentation

Yesterday, TBRC Chairman Alton Higgins and I had the opportunity to visit with a group of 4th grade Gifted and Talented students at Davis Elementary School in Royse City, Texas.

We were invited by teacher Kristi Fout to make a presentation to her students on the possibility of the sasquatch being a real animal and making a home here in Texas. The students are currently studying enigmas and Mrs. Fout has incorporated the bigfoot phenomenon into her curriculum. The enigmas unit was described as follows:

Students will investigate a naturally occurring enigma, an unsolved
Mystery. Each student will have an opportunity to explore in depth
An enigma and hypothesize possible solutions. In their explorations,
Students will use scientific research processes.

This is the sort of thing I really enjoy doing. I think it is important, a responsibility even, that we take every opportunity to present the topic of bigfoot to the public in a serious and scientific manner. It is important for the public to realize that there are serious minded individuals out there who are taking a scientific approach in an attempt to document this animal.

The students of Davis Elementary were great and asked some very good questions. They were engaged and actively participated during the presentation. Alton and I really had a great time with them. I would like to thank Mrs. Fout for inviting us to speak. It was a pleasure and a privilege.

*Photos taken and published with the permission of the Royse City ISD

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Sad and Confusing Saga of the Eastern Cougar

In a bit of sad and, to some, confusing news the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declared the eastern cougar (Puma concolor couguar) to be extinct. The cougar was once widely dispersed across the eastern United States. It was all but wiped out by the turn of the last century, however. Hunting, many states paid bounties for dead cougars, and a huge drop in white-tailed deer populations, conspired to kill cats in vast numbers. But were these cougars completely extirpated? Federal officials think so. They made their decision based on their conclusion that no breeding populations of these big cats are left in the eastern United States. They added that the eastern cougar subspecies has probably been extinct since the 1930s.

There are several things about this declaration that people find a bit confusing. If experts have long agreed that the species went extinct in the 1930s why are they just now declaring the eastern cougar extinct? I understand the need to be cautious when declaring an animal extinct but if, as is widely believed by wildlife biologists, the last eastern cougar was killed in 1938 it seems enough time would have passed long before now for federal officials to be as sure as they ever could be this big cat was gone. Did it really take 73 years to make such a determination? Adding to the mixed messages is that the eastern cougar was placed on the endangered species list in 1973; 35 years after the alleged last individual was killed. If this cat was extirpated in the 1930s why add it to the endangered species list in 1973?

The answer is pretty obvious…people kept seeing them. They are seeing them still. Hunters and outdoors enthusiasts have long held that there is a small, but very much alive, population of cougars living in the eastern U.S. The eastern cougars, they claim, are simply extremely secretive and cautious and have eluded detection. The elusive nature of this animal has given rise to its reputation as a “ghost cat.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service admits to confirming 108 sightings of mountain lions in the eastern region of the country between 1900 and 2010. That doesn’t sound like an extinct species to me. So, how does the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service explain these sightings? The answer is a familiar one, I’m afraid.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service fully believes that some people have seen cougars,” said Mark McCollough, an endangered species biologist who led the agency’s eastern cougar study. “We went on to evaluate where these animals would be coming from.” The conclusion reached was that all the cougars seen from 1900 to 2010 were either escaped pets, were released from captivity, or migrated in from western states. Once again, the “escaped pet” theory, the pat answer that seemingly all wildlife officials go to when a, according to them, out of place cat is seen somewhere they don’t feel like it should be, has reared its ugly head. This just doesn’t seem like a viable explanation to me. Escaped or released pets might be responsible for one or two-dozen sightings but 108? Cougars kept as pets simply don’t have the skill set to survive in the wild. In my opinion, they wouldn’t last long enough to be spotted that often. In addition, the wide spread practice of keeping big cats as pets just wasn’t that common in the early 1900s. How many people could possibly have been keeping cougars as pets during the early part of the 20th century? If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had mentioned a circus train derailment as a possible explanation then they would have covered the entire gambit of lame explanations for the sightings of cougars in this region.

In fairness, the researchers, along with other organizations, did make an effort to document the existence of the species in the northeast U.S. No sign of the eastern cougars were found. The sentiment is simply that if they still existed, some sign would have been located. “A breeding population of eastern cougars would almost certainly have left evidence of its existence,” McCollough said. “Cats would have been hit by cars or caught in traps, left tracks in the snow or turned up on any of the hundreds of thousands of trail cameras that dot eastern forests.” The failure of the Eastern Cougar Foundation, that spent a decade searching for signs that the “ghost cat” still roamed the region, was also cited. The organization, having found no evidence, has changed its name to the Cougar Rewilding Foundation, and shifted its focus from finding evidence that cats still exist in the region to advocating the restoration of the cougar to its pre-colonial habitat. The Foundation’s president, Christopher Spatz, said, “We would have loved nothing more than for there to be a remnant population of cougars on the east coast…we’re not seeing (evidence) because they’re not here.”

Many disagree with that assessment and firmly believe that wild breeding mountain lions still roam east of the Mississippi. Numerous sightings could be noted here to support the position that the cougars still exist. I’ll focus on the sighting of one Ray Sedorchuk instead. Sedorchuk, a freelance writer, avid hunter, and outdoorsman had a sighting of a cougar in rural Pennsylvania just last June as the cat crossed a road in front of his truck. “I could see the body, the tail, and the head, the entire animal, perfectly. It’s not a bobcat, it’s not a housecat, it’s a cougar,” he said. “It’s a sleek animal. It ran low to the ground and stealth-like. It moved with elegance.” Sedorchuk had always been skeptical of eastern cougar accounts in the past, despite two of his friends insisting that they had seen one, but no longer. “I believe they are here, without even thinking twice about it,” he said. “I believe there aren’t that many but there are enough where they can get together and breed.”

Further clouding the issue is the question as to whether or not the eastern cougar ever existed at all. There are a growing number of wildlife biologists that think there is no discernible genetic difference between the eastern cougar and the lions west of the Mississippi. If so, then the biologists who claim the cats still being see in the eastern portion of the U.S. are of the more typical North American cougar (Felis concolor couguar) are right; however, the issue of whether there are wild breeding populations in the region remains. The question of where the Florida panther (Felis concolor coryi) fits into all this really begins to muddy the waters and I will be gracefully avoiding that issue today.

The whole situation is curious to me. Why would the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service list an animal believed to have been extinct for 35 years on the endangered species list? They must have thought there was at least the outside chance some eastern cougars had survived. If that is the case, how can they now, despite ongoing sightings of cougars in the east, be so sure that these majestic cats are gone now? Why can’t the question of whether the eastern cougar and the North American cougar are the same species be conclusively answered? We may not have a live eastern cougar specimen but mounts and hides are certainly available and candidates for DNA testing. In discussing all of this with a friend of mine I brought up these same questions. His answer was simple and may be the most likely to be correct.

“It’s the government, man.”

Sources: Yahoo News, Science Daily

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My "Blobsquatch" Photo

I’ve started and restarted writing this post several times over the last year or so. I’m just really not sure what to write, or even if I should write, about the photo below. I have taken a pretty hard line in the past on people and/or organizations who present bad photos as proof positive that the sasquatch does exist. The bar for photographic evidence is set very high. This is how it should be. A “blobsquatch”, which is basically what the photo below is, just won’t do it. I do think that, while they don’t meet the criteria for establishing proof positive, some photos are more compelling than others. In my mind, and I admit to possibly being biased as I was the photographer, the photo below falls into this category. So, how to present this? I think the best thing to do is just to tell the story of the sequence of events that led to the photograph being taken and leave it at that. Understand that I do not know what is in the photograph and make no claims as to what it might be. Simply, since I found it compelling I thought some others might too. Here goes…

In May of 2005 I had a sighting of what I believe to be a sasquatch in the Sam Houston National Forest of SE Texas. I won’t get into the details of the actual sighting as I’ve done that before and the details are available under the “my sighting” tab and on the TBRC website here. In August of that year, just three months after my visual, I returned to the SHNF. I made several trips back to the area during the weeks and months after the sighting. These trips predate my membership in the TBRC and took place during the time when I had decided I was going to attempt to find out what it was I saw and confirm, mainly for myself, once and for all, whether this animal was real or not. Three other men accompanied me on this trip including my brother and the friend who was present that night in May when a large, hair-covered, bipedal figure was seen on a remote forest service road.

We had been in the forest a couple of days. We had not seen or heard anything unusual. The trip had been decidedly unpleasant. It was brutally hot during the day and the nights were warm, sticky, humid, and buggy. On our last afternoon my brother and I took a walk in a low-lying area not too far from a creek. The area is heavily wooded and was colored a brilliant green as all the plants and trees were fully out. Palmetto palms are plentiful and there is a thick canopy provided from the hard woods growing in this bottom area. To move about requires a lot of meandering around various obstacles like deadfalls, vines, thorns, marshy areas, etc. The bottom line is that it is difficult to get around down there. My brother and I walked to this area hoping to get into a shady spot and escape the brutal heat. We were right in that there was a lot of shade but the overhanging canopy seemed to hold the humidity in like a sauna. Even so, we decided to stop and rest for a while before heading back to camp.

We had been down in this area for roughly 30-40 minutes when I noticed movement over my brother’s right shoulder roughly 20 yards away. I wish I could be more specific about what I saw but that is all I can really say. I had a 35mm film camera in my hand and immediately raised it and snapped a photo. I did not take time to aim or zoom. I simply raised the camera and snapped the picture. I caught a fleeting glimpse of something moving at about a 45-degree angle away from our position (picture a clock and an object moving from the center of the face to the 2:00 position). My brother turned immediately but whatever had been there was out of sight and he saw nothing. We did both hear the sound of something moving through the palmettos and leaf litter for a few seconds and then silence. We stayed still for another couple of minutes to see if we could hear more movement. When nothing happened we walked to the area where I thought I had seen something move. We sniffed around for quite a while but found nothing that indicated anything had ever been there. Shortly, thereafter, we returned to camp. As I mentioned, the camera I had at the time used film. It was not digital. That being the case, I had no idea what, if anything, I had captured. I did take the film in to be developed within a day or so of getting home but did not actually make it in to pick it up for a couple of weeks. Upon viewing the pictures, I was intrigued by the photo I took over my brother’s shoulder. Something large and dark appeared right in the middle of the photo. It is significantly darker than the surrounding vegetation. I think, and, again, I might be biased here, it is clear that whatever it is it is not a tree or stump. The contrast in how dark it is as compared to the trees and plants in the foreground and behind it is significant. Why would this tree or stump be so much darker? One friend who viewed the picture posited that it might be a burned tree stump. While controlled burns do take place in this area from time to time there was absolutely no sign of one having taken place in the recent past as of the taking of this photo. If that had been the case, other trees surely would have exhibited charring as well. I can’t imagine any sort of fire where only one tree was scorched. In addition, if the dark object had been a stump or tree it would have still been present when my brother and I examined the area. No such charred tree was there. I believe the dark object in the photo is what I saw move over my brother’s shoulder. I can’t prove it but that is my opinion.

I’ve enlarged the image and zoomed in on it closely. I still don’t know what it is. At some point enlargements begin to do more harm than good. Get too close and it looks like nothing or, depending on your mindset, anything. The picture proves nothing and I make no claims as to what it shows. My brother and I made no size comparisons to try to decipher the size of the object at the time as we had no access to the image. Remember it was a 35mm film camera I used. At the time I wasn’t sure I had managed to photograph anything at all. I’ve revisited the general site many times but can’t be sure I’ve ever managed to get back to the exact same spot. The area has flooded multiple times since this incident took place and it looks different every time I visit.

So, there you have it. The story of how I attained my very own “blobsquatch” photo. I can’t say with any certainty what, if anything, this picture shows. Some will look at this and just blow it off as a blackened stump. After all, you have only my word that there was no such stump there. Others will clearly see…something else. What was there I can only speculate upon. Make of it what you will.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Thank You

I just wanted to post a brief note of appreciation to those of you who continue to visit this blog. February was the most successful month ever for the Texas Cryptid Hunter site. 10,643 people visited the site and read 16,118 pages last month.I find this particularly impressive since February has only 28 days. Compare this to the numbers from March 2010 where 1,461 people stopped by and read 2,716 pages.

The growth in readership has been astounding to me. I know the numbers above pale in comparison to some other sites out there but that is ok. Honestly, when I started this site I wasn't sure anyone would find it or read it at all. One thing I did want to make sure of was that whatever popularity the site attained would based on its own merits. I have not done much in the way of self-promotion. The growth that has taken place has occurred almost exclusively through the cyberspace version of "word of mouth." I think that is the best way.

I think another reason the site has done well is that I post about a lot of different subjects. I really don't think of the site as a cryptozoological blog as much as I think of it as the blog of an amateur naturalist. I am certainly fascinated by cryptid matters but am also interested in all wildlife and ecological issues. I like the fact that one day I might write about the sasquatch and the next post could be about alligator gar, white-tailed deer, or feral hogs. I think the fact that I have a wide range of interests helps the site appeal to a broader base than the typical "bigfoot site" does.

Speaking of bigfoot, I have a new post almost ready. It concerns a photo I took back in August of 2005. I should have it up, if not today, in the next day or so.

So, again, thanks for stopping by from time to time. I hope you will continue to enjoy the site and recommend it to others. I would also appreciate any who would care to become followers of the site or "like" it on Facebook. As always, comments and emails are always welcome. Disagreeing is ok. I ask only that you keep it civil. I do try to answer all my emails but understand that the volume has increased greatly over the last year and I may not be as quick to reply as I used to be (darned day job...).

My best…