Saturday, April 20, 2013

Waxahachie Black Panther Update

I was able to get up to Waxahachie last Sunday to check on my cameras. To summarize, the property owners have had a series of sightings, though none in the last month or so, of large cats on their property. They have reported seeing at least two different big cats. One, judging by their description, is a mountain lion. The other cat, described as being 4-6 feet long, weighing between 80-100 lbs., and very dark, if not black, in color is more problematic. As readers of this blog know, “black panthers” are not supposed to exist; at least not in Texas. This particular cat acted in a particularly menacing manner when the property owner walked from her porch and turned a corner around a horse trailer to come face to face with it. Various incidents and sightings, not just by the property owners but neighbors as well, have continued since then though on a sporadic basis.

As you can imagine, I was anxious to get up there to see what, if anything, my cameras had been able to capture. The cameras had been in place for a little more than 5 weeks and I was hopeful that I would have an image of a big cat. I met fellow NAWAC Investigator and friend, Justin Horn at the property and the two of us, along with one of the property owners, began “making the rounds” to check on the cameras.

When we arrived at the location of the first camera we were amazed at just how much the vegetation had grown up. It was literally waste high in spots. I realized right away that this was going to cause some problems in identifying any small to medium-sized quadrupedal animals that might have been photographed. I feared I was going to have a lot of shots showing only the backs of any animals that might have moved through the area. That concern turned out to be, mostly, unwarranted. The real problem caused by the taller vegetation turned out to be the sheer number of false triggers it caused. The cameras, during the day, are activated by movement. The swaying of the now much taller grasses and weeds triggered hundreds of events on the camera. It has taken me the better part of a week to go through them all. Camera 1 did yield a couple of interesting images. The first was of a small/medium-sized animal of some sort running at a pretty good clip away from the camera. There are actually two animals in the video. The first appears in the upper left hand portion of the frame at the very beginning of the video. It appears only briefly before moving out of the frame to the left. Several seconds later is when the second animal appears. I’ve shown the video to several people. Opinions have ranged from raccoon to feral cat. I would welcome your opinion. The video is below.

Camera 1 also captured an image of a weasel-like animal moving right to left across the trail. I was a bit puzzled initially as to what it might be. It is dark except for some light markings around the face. I thought it might be an otter but the tail seems too bushy. Again, I showed the video to some qualified folks and got a range of opinions. Otter and weasel were mentioned but I have come to agree with one gentleman who said what I have video of is a solid black skunk. Skunks with no stripes do occur and, back in the heyday of the fur trade, their pelts were quite valuable. It is possible that the skunk does have stripes and the camera angle is not quite right to view them but I honestly don’t think that is the case. I think this is a solid black skunk.

The question would likely have been answered if the camera had activated sooner. As you can see, the camera failed to activate until the skunk was almost out of the frame. This slow activation is a real problem and can be observed in the video of the coyote below.

Notice how close the coyote is to the camera. The animal was practically on top of the camera before it managed to get going and take the shot. This slow activation practically guarantees that no photos of an animal moving at even a moderate speed is going to be captured on video; especially if the animal is moving perpendicular to the camera. So, what to do about this issue? My cameras are not cheap but would certainly not be considered “top of the line.” I have budgeted to get a decent number of cameras in the past but think I am going to change tactics and go with more expensive models in the future. Though I’ll have fewer cameras, and the higher dollar models have shortcomings, too, I think I’ll get better results.

Camera 2 yielded no useful shots at all. It did yield hundreds of false triggers along with a couple of videos of a squirrel, an armadillo, and some birds. I was really disappointed that this location didn’t produce more action. Worse, the camera acted a bit funny and didn’t cooperate when I tried to reprogram it after putting in fresh batteries. I decided to leave it in place and give the spot one more try. Also, I didn’t want to invest too much time in relocating the camera when I was none too sure it was even working properly. Again, discouraging.

We trekked on to camera 3, which was located adjacent to a fairly large pond. This camera is one of my older Cuddebacks. This is an old warhorse of a camera that has been deployed for most of the last decade in spots ranging from the Big Thicket of SE Texas to the Ouachita Mountains of SE Oklahoma/SW Arkansas. This model does not have video capability but still takes pretty nice color photos. This is the only camera to capture a cat. The bobcat photos below are not what I was hoping for but do show that the camera is in good working order. This location didn’t produce many events so we decided to move it to a spot near the rear of the property.

We placed camera 3 near another pond that is all but hidden from view from anywhere on the rest of the property. You really have to be right on top of it before you realize it is there. Waxahachie Creek runs by only 50 yards or so from the pond. The thin strip of land between the creek and the pond create a funnel of sorts that, I’m hoping, wildlife uses to move from one side of the property to the other without fear of detection. I really wanted to put camera 3 on a game trail somewhere in this “funnel” but was running short on daylight. That being the case, I decided to place the camera back at a spot near the hidden pond. We had located a lot of tracks around this pond along with some very interesting scat. The scat was of a pretty decent size and full of fur and bone fragments. It was on top of a large rock on the banks of the pond. Justin took a photo of the scat and I compared it to photos of cougar scat online. They look pretty similar to me. Take a look for yourself below.

I plan on checking my remaining two cameras north of Temple soon; possibly as early as tomorrow. If I find they have not produced anything unusual I will likely pull them. If I do, I may deploy them on the Waxahachie property.

Again, my efforts have failed to yield the photo/video of a long-tailed cat I’m hoping to capture. I did, however, very much enjoy the experience of getting out and enjoying the outdoors with a good friend, interacting with friendly folks (property owners) I likely would never have met had I not pursued this rather unusual hobby, and get a glimpse into the behavior of wildlife that most folks don’t ever enjoy. I also had the opportunity to enjoy a fine meal of fried catfish at the Catfish Plantation in Waxahachie. Supposedly, this is one of the most haunted buildings in the great state of Texas. Nothing spooky occurred but the food was good.

That, my friends, makes for a pretty good day.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Activity Update

I wanted to take a moment and update everyone on my recent activities.

Yesterday, I made a trip to Waxahachie to check on my cameras. If you recall, this is a piece of property on Waxahachie Creek where numerous big cat encounters, along with some horse kills, have taken place. I am beginning the process of viewing the videos shot by the game cameras now. At first glance, it doesn't look like I have any cat footage but won't know for sure until I go through the 200+ thirty second videos.

Also, I will soon be providing an update on the initial analysis that has been conducted on the black hairs sent in to me by a man who claims to have hit a large black cat with his vehicle in Central Texas a while back. I know that I've been promising this update for a while but was hoping to wait until the initial results were confirmed by a second party. I am running into some difficulty there which I will explain in the post to come.

So, now you know I haven't just been sitting idly around. More to come soon.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Texas Bigfoot Conference Videos Available For Viewing

The NAWAC is pleased to be able to bring to you the following video presentations from the 2013 Texas Bigfoot Conference.

First up, Brian Brown, NAWAC member and producer of The Bigfoot Show podcast, gave conference attendees a taste of the data and experiences the NAWAC collected during last year's Operation Persistence with "In the Valley of the Wood Ape."

Next, we have been granted special permission by Bill Munns to make available his presentation, "The Patterson Gimlin Hominid: Extraordinary costume or extraordinary reality?"

Finally, at the end of the conference, NAWAC member and Texas Cryptid Hunter blogger Mike Mayes moderated a panel discussion of all presenters based on questions submitted by audience members.

I would invite all of you to view these video presentations. If, however, you can only view one, I suggest strongly you watch the video of Bill Munns' presentation. NAWAC Chairman Alton Higgins had the following to way about it, "All three videos are good, but the Bill Munns presentation is really terrific, the result of years of research by a man with decades of experience as a Hollywood makeup artist. He talks about the famous 1967 film of a bigfoot that we've all seen and presents compelling reasons for its authenticity. Nothing else like it on the Internet."

Videos can be viewed here.

Take a look and let me know what you think about these presentations.

My best...

Monday, April 8, 2013

Is the Collection of a Wood Ape Specimen Necessary?

Should a wood ape specimen be collected in order to prove the existence of the species to science?

This question elicits passion like no other when it comes to the subject of the sasquatch. It is the equivalent of topics like gun control, abortion and same sex marriage in the political arena. Very few are ambivalent about the issue. Opinions are strong and emotions run deep when it comes to this particular subject. Often, the debate degenerates into name-calling and boorish behavior. This is unfortunate, as I can understand points on both sides of the issue.

I came to the conclusion a while back that the taking of a specimen was absolutely necessary. What I would like to do now is take you through the process that led me to that conclusion and why I believe it must happen if we are going to save the species. I don’t presume to speak for anyone else. The thoughts presented here are mine and mine alone. There are many who will agree with my position and many who will not. My intention is not to convince anyone to “come around” to my way of thinking though, I admit, it would make my life easier if some did. Instead, I merely want to present my thoughts in a logical manner so that others can see this is not a conclusion I came to lightly.

Science demands a specimen. It is really just that simple. In order for the species to be officially recognized, someone is going to have to bring in one of these animals. I realize there have been a few instances where science has recognized the existence of a new species based on photos or video but these cases are few and far between. They are clearly the exception to the rule. In order to prove the existence of something as fantastic as the North American wood ape, it is going to take a body. Realistically, the sasquatch is on a par with unicorns, dragons and centaurs in the eyes of mainstream science. I held out hope for a very long time that good video and/or still photos would be enough but have come to believe that is not the case. First, these animals have proven incredibly elusive and sightings, on the rare occasions that they do occur, typically are so fleeting that even if a witness is holding a camera they don’t have time to raise it and get a good photo. Game cameras may ultimately get a photo but will it be good enough? Doubtful. The NAWAC invested tens of thousands of dollars in the best game cameras commercially available and kept them deployed continuously for the better part of a decade. While a handful of intriguing images were captured, nothing definitive was obtained. I have come to believe that these animals avoid game cameras. I do not believe they know what they are but think, like alpha coyotes, cougars and other animals, they are extremely in tune with their environment and realize that these cameras are foreign objects. They may even associate them with humans. If so, they probably associate these odd boxes with potential danger. The final nail in the “video/photographs should be good enough” argument is that we actually already have great evidence of this nature and it hasn’t been enough. The chances of capturing video any clearer than that shot by Roger Patterson, Paul Freeman or Harlan Ford are extremely slim. If these excellent pieces of footage aren’t enough to convince mainstream scientists to list the species then, in my opinion, none ever will be good enough.

Again, science demands a specimen because, without a holotype, mistakes can occur and false assumptions can be made. Take, for example, the recent discovery of a new rodent in Sulawesi. It has turned out to be quite unique as, unlike over 2,000 other known species of rodents, the Paucidentomys vermidax lacks cheek teeth. This makes it impossible for this animal to gnaw on its food. This begs the question, what is this rodent subsisting on if it can’t gnaw on nuts and seeds? Scientists examined the contents of a single specimen to find that the Paucidentomys vermidax consumes only earthworms. This is crucial information that could never have been deduced from photographs only. If this rodent turns out to be critically endangered, and conservation intervention is necessary, it is vital that habitat be protected, not just for it, but for what is eats as well. A photo alone would not have yielded this information. Should it ever come to that, well intentioned efforts to protect and preserve this species might not have worked if officials had merely assumed this animal had a diet similar to other rodents. The taking of a single specimen yielded data that will be invaluable to the preservation of the entire species.

Opponents of taking a wood ape specimen sometimes recognize that photographic/video evidence won’t be enough to get the animals documented and, instead, turn their hopes to DNA. Certainly, they argue, a DNA sample, obtained via non-lethal means, would do the trick. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that to be the case either. Forget for a moment the difficulties in collecting such a sample and think about how DNA testing works. DNA is sequenced and then compared to a database of known DNA sequences. Simply put, if there is no match to a known species, and there is no type specimen from whence the anomalous DNA was taken, there is no documentation or recognition. The sample might be cataloged as “unknown,” something that has, I believe, happened before, or an assumption is made that the sample has somehow become contaminated and is, therefore, of no scientific value. Either way, a new species will not be recognized. Evidence of this can be found here. This article, while focusing mainly on herpetology, has obvious applications to the question of whether or not it is necessary to take a wood ape specimen. Below is an excerpt from the linked article:

“Information gathering in science is a careful and deliberate process, and it requires the best effort possible to produce a transparent chain of evidence based on reproducible methods. Three lines of evidence are generally accepted for the proposal and testing of taxonomic hypotheses. First, novel evidence is obtained through field and laboratory work, involving samples (e.g., whole specimens, animal parts, tissue samples) from known phenotypes collected in nature, with precisely known provenance, and associated with the obligatory documentation. These samples are deposited in institutions where their long-term curation makes them accessible to other researchers for subsequent hypothesis testing (see Cotterill 1997 on the value of biological collections).

Second, evidence should be sourced from existing samples in museum collections or from published information (e.g., GenBank), both of which are ultimately obtained as described above.

One or (typically) both of these lines of evidence should be required for taxonomic investigations. They act as a base for further research, so that later work does not have to begin the evidence-collection process de novo. For example, storage of sequence data in GenBank makes these data readily available online. If no records from publicly accessible genetic databases, backed by suitable voucher specimens, are listed in support of a taxonomic decision alleged to have been derived from DNA sequence data, then the decision should be rejected.”

Clearly, this article is saying that taxonomic decisions founded on DNA alone are simply not acceptable. This confirms, in my mind, that classifying something as unprecedented as a New World ape is going to take much more than photographs, video footage, or DNA extracted from questionable hair and/or scat samples. While all of these things can serve as supporting evidence, they can never adequately take the place of a type specimen.

At this point, many may question the need to officially document the wood ape at all. Why not just leave them alone? While I understand this sentiment, this is a recipe for extinction. Why? Habitat destruction. If the North American wood ape exists, then it is surely a rare animal. If we look at other primates, especially the great apes, it would seem safe to assume that wood apes are slow growing and have low reproductive rates. A rare animal that is slow to grow up and reproduce and that can only exist in the ever dwindling heavily forested remote areas of North America is going to be in trouble very soon if deforestation and development do not slow. One simply cannot overstate the affect deforestation is having on the planet’s wildlife. It is one of, if not the, greatest drivers behind biodiversity loss. Once, almost half the continental Unites States and three-fourths of Canada were covered in forests. That is no longer the case. Take a look at the graphic below. It illustrates quite clearly what happened to North American forests between 1620 and 1920.

90% of the virgin forest that once covered the lower 48 states has been cut and isn’t coming back. This habitat has been lost forever. About 80% of the forest that remains is on public land. National forests, state forests, wilderness areas, state parks, national parks, etc. contain much of what is left of our forests. Many would take comfort in this fact but understand that this does not mean that these wooded areas are safe. For example, approximately 80% of the forestland in the Pacific Northwest, the “holy land” of bigfoot research, is slated to be logged at some point in the future. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not completely anti-logging. Much of it is necessary and it is being done in a much more responsible manner than it was in the past. Having said that, there can be little argument that second growth forests differ greatly in make-up from the old growth forests they replace. Also, it takes up to 100 years for a replanted forest to mature. Any species affected negatively by the original cutting of an old growth forest is not going to still be around 100 years later. They are going to be gone. A great example of this is how the logging of what became known as the “Singer Tract” in Louisiana likely was the final nail in the coffin of the Ivory-billed woodpecker.

In my opinion, the wood ape has little to fear from hunters. If it did, a specimen would have been obtained years ago. Rather, the greatest threat to this species is loss of habitat. These animals require vast amounts of heavily forested land that is isolated and remote. Such areas are getting more and more difficult to find. Should these areas disappear, the wood ape, too, will disappear. In order to protect their habitat we must first prove to scientists and government officials that these animals are real. The government will simply not create protected areas that are off limits to logging and development for a mythical animal. It just won’t happen. Bringing in a specimen is the only way to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the wood ape is a flesh and blood animal. I support the taking of one, maybe two, of these animals in order to save the entire species.

As I stated before, I can understand why, on an emotional level, many would be against taking a specimen. Logically, however, I just don’t see how anyone that says they care about the future of this species can make a cogent argument against the necessity of doing so. Labeling those of us who take this position as blood-thirsty murderers is not only mean-spirited but completely off base. Not one person that I know who shares my point of view on this matter wants to take a wood ape as a trophy. They, like me, want to save them. In addition, those that argue that the taking of a specimen will somehow accelerate the extinction timetable need to realize that if the species is that depleted it is already too late.

Nothing would please me more than if someone stumbled across a wood ape body while out hiking in the woods. Ideally, this ape would have lived to a ripe old age before succumbing to natural causes. That way science would have what it needs and no animal would have died before its time. The chances of this happening, while not impossible, are practically nil. I live in the real world and believe if we wait for this ideal scenario to occur we will lose our opportunity to save this species. I believe strongly that attempting to collect a specimen is the responsible thing to do.

It is the only way.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Nobel Prize Winner on the Definition of Science

"Science alone of all the subjects contains within itself the lesson of the danger of belief in the infallibility of the greatest teachers in the preceeding generation . . . As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts."

- Richard Feynman, Nobel-prize-winning physicist,
in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out
as quoted in American Scientist v. 87, p. 462 (1999).