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Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Gorillas And On Gathering Hard Evidence Of Sasquatch

    One of my favourites on gorillas. I think those involved in Bigfoot research really need to see film such as this as it might provide some insight into Sasquatch behaviour.

    Note how the Silverback at one point 'charges' the hide used by the cameraman. Throughout this film one thing is quite clear: the gorillas involved know the cameramen are there. Wild living creatures are not going to be fooled by some hide or even people using "scent hide" sprays.  The 'charge' seems almost similar to some Sasquatch approaches to tents -they know someone is inside and it might well just be a "brushing against the tent" to us but to Sasquatch it could mean "Hey -I'm out here.  My area."

    If we accept that Sasquatch exists then we have to accept that it has spent many thousands of years adapting to its environment and being able to know when something is "off" in its habitat.  We have stories of bow-hunters covered from head to toe with camouflage in elevated seats that Sasquatch approach and even sniff out. There are even cases of Sasquatch turning to look at 'hidden' hunters.

    I think those looking for Sasquatch need to change their mindsets. Do not hide your scent.  Let any Sasquatch become familiar with it and take it from there.

    If camping in a known Sasquatch area and if it is believed one is active at the time then a trail cam or two could be set up around the camp.  Putting out bait such as fish, meat or fruit is probably not a good idea if you are in a flimsy tent and in bear country. Note also that bears seem attracted to the petroleum in the plastic casing and have been known to smash trail-cams by tooth and claw. This is rather like bears being attracted to the formaldehyde in refrigerators because it smells ant-nest like.

    In a cabin somewhere it might work.  For one thing a cabin would be fairly secure from bear attack and, in the past, have been fairly good protection in what have been called Sasquatch ‘attacks’.  These attacks may be the Sasquatch asserting its territory and making it clear that it owns this particular area.

    Snellgrove Lake and the cabin located there seems to be one such case.  Stone throwing, pounding on the cabin exterior and even, when no one is there, breaking in and trashing the interior. This raises several possible avenues for investigation and research.

    Firstly, of course, there is the idea of hiring the cabin for a year and record and monitor any possible Sasquatch activity.  A good plan of action for a year would be needed, though it should be adaptable.
    Secondly, there is evidence gathering with no cabin base but outside of fishing season so that humans cannot mess evidence up.  In 2002 I was asked by police wildlife crimes officers to draw up some guidelines on gathering evidence of large, non-native cats.  The following is based on these guidelines and though it refers to large cats it can be applied to Sasquatch.

    For over thirty years, since the sightings of puma (Puma concolor) in the Scottish Highlands and also Wales which first got me involved in acting as a Police Advisor on exotic animals, there has been a problem regarding collecting evidence.

    Firstly, there are many people who set themselves up as “Big cat investigators”.  Most of these people do not even have the basic knowledge of a naturalist let alone the knowledge required to assess sightings of large felids.  Many cases over the years have resulted in what has been claimed to be “irrefutable proof –hard evidence” of what has been termed the “UK Big Cat”.  Newspaper photographs of plaster casts of paw-prints said to have come from such animals have invariably shown claws and tell-tale features of canid tracks.  
    It should be noted that there are good photographs of casts showing details of large felid tracks.
    However, these pieces of “evidence” are treated as belonging to the alleged investigator.  Many such pieces of evidence are unbelievably destroyed once the person jumps onto another subject –I am aware of two cases in which good large felid track plaster casts were dumped in waste bins along with incident reports simply because the person involved had lost interest but was not going to give his “hard work to someone else”.  Also, maps, photographs, plaster casts and much documentation has been destroyed by the families of investigators after their deaths as “just hobby junk”.

    Since the mid-1990s, many people have jumped from investigating unidentified flying objects (UFOs) to delving into the paranormal.  When those subjects prove boring these individuals suddenly find a new interest in “UK Big Cats” –it tends to get them into the newspapers and even onto local television more because it is not so fantastical as, say, UFOs.  “Cryptozoology” is the current new craze.

    I have spoken to these people quite often and it is amazing just how little they know and several even noted that they were looking into why “Big Cats” were not seen in the Winter and had a theory that they might hibernate!

    But even those slightly more credible individuals were unwilling to supply casts or photographic evidence pertaining to exotic felids.  The same attitude applied: it was “their” evidence.

    There were, up until 1998, some thirty plaster casts of tracks held by private individuals that were quite clearly diagnostic of exotic felid ranging from lynx (Lynx sp.), puma (Puma concolor) and leopard (Panthera pardus).   These have all been clearly shown in press photographs.  Such casts would provide good, solid evidence of exotic felids but even the offer to buy some of these casts has been turned down.  Others have vanished along with the no-longer-interested investigators.

    Hair samples have also been shown in photographs, as have alleged scat – shockingly, mainly held in un-gloved hands and with the holders face close enough to taint any possible results that might exist.  Other samples shown in plastic bags are often removed to show TV or press cameras.  Some samples held for ten years or more would be pointless to attempt DNA analysis on. 

    The reason why these samples have not been forwarded to a laboratory is purely cost.  Fresh samples analysed by two labs pertaining to a felid sighted in Lincolnshire did return Panthera pardus DNA but this has only ever been publicised at a local level. That said, the photograph of the alleged ‘big cat’ taken on another occasion is of nothing more than a black domestic cat thus proving why all evidence must be clearly checked because, despite a very good description of a leopard seen at zero feet (just over 3 feet/90cms) from the observer the photograph taken was of a black cat seen from a distance –no one was interested in setting up cameras and leaving them in situ.  So called ‘investigators’ with but also without permission of the property holders camped out in tents and one police officer told me “It was like a mini Glastonbury at times –there was even music from radios!” and, naturally, a reclusive cat is going to be attracted to that!

    Photographs or video footage of felids can tend to suffer from distance between camera and felid or, more often, suffer from the fact that there is nothing to compare the size of the cat photographed/filmed to.  A couple of pieces of video footage do contain such items so we know the cats filmed were large.  In one video clip the cats can be quite clearly seen and there are enough items in the clip (as well as some recorded on video later) to estimate size accurately –as in the Jagouarondi footage from Surrey.

    Of course there are photographs of livestock kills that bear all the characteristics of large felid attacks.  In some cases it has been possible to photographs wounds on horses and ponies (such as “Bianca” at XXXXXXXXX farm) and measure and match said wounds to large felid dentition.  Many farmers have offered to keep sheep or other animals killed by what they claim are large cats so that proper post mortem may be carried out to ascertain the truth.  Sadly, cost and transportation of such animals to a veterinarian willing to carry out this work has been a major stumbling block.

   Work has also been carried out by a university on dentition marks on carcass bones that clearly show a large felid was involved.

    There has been enough evidence over more than thirty years to conclusively prove the existence of specific exotic cat species in the UK.  It is, sadly, of no use after so long and with so many “Big Cat investigators” involved in in-fighting.

    What is needed is a concerted effort to not only film/photograph exotic felids but to gather hard evidence that can be studied and from which DNA evidence can be obtained.

Plan Of Action

    Over the years certain areas have become known large felid “hot spots”.

    Certain farms are frequently visited, have livestock killed by or just passed through by large felids.  Farmers and locals have been more than willing to have investigators keep observation of these areas.  The problem is that felids have not just good hearing and sense of smell but seem able to, via instinct, know when something is different or that people are nearby.  These animals live and survive on their instincts and are never going to show themselves out in the open.

    We have enough evidence in the form of reports from observers and enough has been done to establish geographical territories and note prey animals.  This needs to be backed up by hard evidence.  Hard evidence that it might be possible to gather from known areas frequented by these felid.

    MAP 1 shows a rough idea of ‘Corryn Gwall Farm’ which allows us to show how evidence might be gathered

    Farms tend to be somewhat more cluttered than this diagram shows but it does represent a number of known, regularly frequented farms.  It is necessary to maximise the number of ways in which to gather evidence, as shown in the next diagram.

A-G indicate locations for camera traps able to take daytime/night time images.  As these are usually fastened to posts or other objects it is possible to move them should it seem one particular route is used more often than others.  The beauty of these cameras is that their use is quite flexible.

    A  is fastened onto a tree looking up a rough track approaching the farm.  This is a track that other wildlife may use as animals tend to use “game trails” rather than trudge over or around obstacles in wooded areas.  This camera would need to be focussed at a point where a marker post has been left indicating various heights (30 cms, 60 cms and 90 cms) so that any animal photographed can have its size accurately assessed. 

    B would be focussed on the same track but pointing down the track so that an image of any animal can be captured as it heads toward the farm.  Again, a height gauge post would be placed on the track.

    C is, of course, dependent upon whether there is a convenient pond from which wildlife might drink.   Damp mud could also provide spots from which tracks might be cast.  It is always worth considering placing a drinking point if no pond exists and to make sure the ground around it is always wet.  However, this is all dependent upon the property owner.

    D would be positioned at the front of the house looking up any entrance/approach road.  Large felids have been reported entering/leaving farm courtyards by the main entrance.  It would also show where a felid might be heading so that a camera trap can be moved to that area.

    E camera could be trained on the pond/water source and any wall leading to it.

    F could be angled to take photographs of anything approaching/getting over a back wall or fence.  There are a large number of reports in which felids have jumped up onto  a wall and remained there for several seconds to one minute, looking around.

   G This should be fastened to a tree or post pointed in the direction of any livestock that is reportedly attacked frequently.

   All of these cameras must have a height gauge post in shot but, as noted, all are flexible in where they can be placed.

   In the diagram a short hurdle has been placed across the rough track.  Something around 50-60 cms in height ought to suffice.  The idea is that deer or other animals can walk over or get under the hurdle but that a felid moving over it might leave hair samples behind.  There are a number of ways in which such hair can be caught.  The idea of placing a string of barbed wire across the top is ruled out as there is no wish to injure any animals.

    Favoured methods are:[1] “roughed up” wood that can snag hair, and,[2] double sided tape.  Obviously, the obstacle would need to be checked each morning and any hair collected and placed in a sealed plastic bag.

   The double-sided tape hair snag would also work on a fence or at strategic points along a wall.  Again, this would need checking each morning. So that there is no question as to where hair has been found it is important that, before removal, it is photographed in situ.  Sterile gloves must be worn and any sample placed in a sealable plastic bag marked with date/time collected as well as location taken from. 
   The same applies to any unidentified droppings found.  Farmers and others living in the country tend to know what a fox, deer or badger dropping looks like but it should be a case of “unsure –secure” and a sample collected and bagged as per hair samples.  In addition to this it might be worth placing a marker where the dropping was found for future reference and to see whether droppings are deposited there regularly.
   The importance of photographing any trace evidence before bagging cannot be over-emphasised.

   When it comes to tracks the person checking each day or who lives on the property should be given a guide to tracks of deer, rabbit, badgers, foxes, dogs and felids so that they can eliminate non-felid.

    The idea of a sand-trap located on the property should be looked at.  A 90 cms x 90 cms area covered with 3-4 cms of sand (or substitute material) might solicit tracks so that it can be assessed what is visiting the property.   

   It must be made perfectly clear that even with all of the above it is not a case of evidence of any type being obtained within a few days or even weeks.  We know that certain felids wander their territory so even when they return it is no guarantee that evidence will be obtained.  It might take a year but the chances are improved if the owner of the property has seen the felid or has noted where it seems to go to/come from as they do seem to be creatures of habit at times.

   The cost of game trail cameras and DNA analysis are the big drawbacks unless a backer can be found.

   I think that regular trail-cams can be used but, in the case of Sasquatch, need to be placed higher up a tree (so bears cannot get to them) and angled.  Any number of trail-cams are available but even though they can take a large number of photographs the batteries will die and once the card is full that is it –just after that last image is taken Sasquatch could walk right in front the camera, sit down and peel a grape!  So, every week or so the batteries will need checking and the card replaced.  This adds more human contamination/smell to the area.

   I believe that the best way forward are cameras such as the Raptor Cellular camera system that will capture a photograph and email it to you via a cellular network upon motion-activation.  The built-in camera will capture colour photographs during the day and via a no-flash Infra Red mode at night. All photos are stored on the included UBS Flash Drive and the battery operated system can last several months in a remote location –I’ve heard of several adaptions of these devices to solar energy where a solar panel is placed high in a tree meaning that you can get endless image feed.

   With cameras, hair traps and so on, enough evidence can be gathered to satisfy most scientific minds without the need to kill – though some claiming to be “scientists” have stated publicly that “nothing” will convince them and a couple have stated that even a body “does not mean there is a population.”

    There is another question that needs to be addressed.  Whether to go armed when looking for Sasquatch?  We know nothing about these creatures but if they are similar to gorillas then the chasing/charging at those who encounter them could just be juvenile status posturing.  Gorillas will try to sort out disputes amongst their group without violence if they can.

    However, we have seen via the work of Steenburg, et al, that females have been encountered as well as possible family groups.  If Sasquatch have learnt anything from observing hunters it is that they kill wildlife.  Humans thusly equal a possible threat to young or females.  Any creature that can kill large wild hogs and deer with its bare hands is a potential danger to humans if encountered in the wrong situation or if the human involved breaches some territorial taboo.

    Remember that the Sasquatch hunter is going to be out in sometimes mountainous or hilly forestry making a fast exit impossible. If cornered by a Sasquatch and the animal does not back off what options are left?  I do not advocate immediately shooting any Sasquatch because of “false charging” but I do think that there is some form of protection –after all, Sasquatch seem to have bears in their territories and if you attract an aggressive bear to you…

    The whole point is, however, to gather as much physical evidence as possible –there is no such thing as “too much evidence”!


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