Thursday, September 27, 2012

Jane Goodall To Speak At University of Arkansas

Renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall will be speaking at the University of Arkansas on Friday, October 5th. She will be giving a lecture entitled “Making a Difference: An Evening with Jane Goodall.”

Goodall is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and a United Nations Messenger of Peace who became well known in the 1960’s for her work studying wild chimpanzees on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika at the Gombe Stream Reserve. Her book, The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior is considered the seminal work on the subject of chimpanzee behavior.

This is a rare opportunity to hear one of the foremost primatologists in the world speak. The lecture will be held inside Barnhill Arena and is part of the University of Arkansas’ 10th birthday celebration for the school’s Honors College.

The event is free and open to the public. If you have the opportunity to go and hear Dr. Goodall speak I highly recommend that you do so.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Cryptids in the Bible Series: Leviathan

Normally, I keep things on this site pretty regional in nature. I concentrate on the goings on here in Texas and the surrounding states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico with the occasional glimpse into interesting happenings south of the border in Old Mexico. However, I’m going to widen things out a bit for this particular entry to discuss a question that has interested me for a long time; are cryptid creatures mentioned in the Bible?

A few weeks ago, I was reading in the book of Job. I’ve always found this Old Testament book very interesting. Whether you believe the book of Job to be a true historical account of events that really took place or just an allegory meant to make a point really makes no difference for our purposes here. What I’m interested in is a creature mentioned and described in great detail in the book. This creature has been the subject of much debate for centuries and may have inspired stories of a terrible monster that is found in the mythology of nearly every ancient culture the world over: the Leviathan.

The Leviathan is actually mentioned several times in the Old Testament. Psalm 74:14 and Psalm 104:26 reference the Leviathan. Of particular interest to me is Isaiah 27:1 which reads:

“In that day the Lord will take his terrible, swift sword and punish Leviathan, the swiftly moving serpent, the coiling, writhing serpent. He will kill the dragon of the sea.” (New Living Translation)

The books referenced above all describe a creature of great strength that lives in the sea: a classic sea serpent in every sense. Leviathan sounds like an animal for which a great amount of respect should be afforded. Most biblical scholars believe that, in Isaiah, the term Leviathan is being used symbolically as a term for Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. While this may be true, the writer of the passage is comparing the Egyptian ruler to what seems to be an animal known to the people of the time; a “coiling, writhing serpent” of great power. The “dragon of the sea.”

While the Old Testament books above make brief mention of the Leviathan, the book that actually goes into the greatest detail about the beast is the book of Job. It gives a very clear picture of the appearance, size, and abilities of the Leviathan.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Job allow me to provide a bit of context. Job is generally believed to be the oldest book of the Bible and has a little bit of everything. Job rises to a position of importance and prosperity only to lose everything (wealth, family, friends, and health) but gathers himself and rises again. The book centers around the eternal conflict between good and evil as Satan spars with God over whether or not Job will turn his back on his Creator if his life suddenly, and without warning, goes awry. Satan does everything in his power to get Job to curse God but ultimately fails, as Job remains faithful. The purpose of the book seems to be to address the age-old question of why bad things happen to good people. It is widely considered to be one of the greatest books in the history of world literature. It is during Job’s low period when he begins to question God as to why these terrible things have befallen him that God answers him sternly. It is during this exchange that the Leviathan is described in great detail. You can read the entire passage in Job: 41 but I’ll hit some of the highlights below.

Job 41: 1 – “Can you catch Leviathan with a hook or put a noose around its jaw?” (New Living Translation)

Job 41: 7 – “Will its hide be hurt by spears or its head by harpoons?” (New Living Translation)

Job 41: 9 – “No it is useless to try to capture it. The hunter who attempts it will be knocked down.” (New Living Translation)

In the passage God is making a point to Job. He is basically saying, “Who are you to question me?” He emphasizes his strength and omnipotence by asking if Job, or any human, can capture, kill, or tame the mighty Leviathan. Whatever Leviathan was it was obviously quite powerful and dangerous. Also, it was clearly a creature of the water. Other more descriptive passages follow:

Job 41: 12-17 – “I want to emphasize Leviathan’s enormous strength and graceful form. Who can strip off its hide and who can penetrate its double layer of armor? Who could pry open its jaws? For its teeth are terrible. Its scales are like rows of shields so tightly sealed together that no air can get between them. Each scale sticks so tight to the next. They interlock and cannot be penetrated.” (New Living Translation)

Now things are getting really interesting. The physical description above is pretty detailed. Based on these passages, most scholars believe that the creature being described is a Nile crocodile. I feel confident most people out there know that the Nile crocodile is a deadly predator. It is a known man-eater. Certainly the assumption that the Leviathan is a Nile crocodile is an understandable and logical assumption based only on Job 41: 12-17. The problem is that the descriptions of the Leviathan do not stop after verse 17. They continue and the features and abilities ascribed to the Leviathan are really quite fantastic.

Job 41: 18-21 – “When it sneezes, it flashes light. Its eyes are like the red of dawn. Lightning leaps from its mouth; flames of fire flash out. Smoke streams from its nostrils like steam from a pot of heated over burning rushes. Its breath would kindle coals, for flames shoot from its mouth.” (New Living Translation)

THAT is pretty wild stuff. It gets more incredible still as the strength of the Leviathan is described.

Job 41: 22-34 – “The tremendous strength in Leviathan’s neck strikes terror wherever it goes. Its flesh is hard and firm and cannot be penetrated. Its heart is hard as rock, hard as millstone. When it rises, the mighty are afraid, gripped by terror. No sword can stop it, no spear, dart, or javelin. Iron is nothing but straw to that creature, and bronze is like rotten wood. Arrows cannot make it flee. Stones shot from a sling are like bits of grass and it laughs at the swish of javelins. Its belly is covered with scales as sharp as glass. It plows up the ground as it plows through the mud. Leviathan makes the water boil with its commotion. It stirs the depths like a pot of ointment. The water glistens in its wake, making the sea look white. Nothing on earth is its equal, no other creature so fearless. Of all the creatures, it is the proudest. It is the king of beasts.” (New Living Translation)

Here is where I feel the Nile crocodile theory loses some steam. The crocodile was widely known even in ancient times and, while a predator worthy of inspiring terror, it was a far cry from the beast described in Job 41. Why would the author of Job ascribe fire-breathing abilities to a crocodile? What crocodile, fearsome though it might be, could ever “kindle coals” with the breath from its mouth? In addition to the fire-breathing qualities ascribed to the Leviathan, the animal is described as all but invulnerable. Again, crocodiles are big and dangerous reptiles and are well armored; however, the statement, “No sword can stop it, no spear, dart, or javelin,” certainly is not, nor has it ever been accurate when it comes to these animals. Crocodiles have been hunted and killed by men since ancient times. Certainly, the phrases “Iron is nothing but straw to that creature,” and “bronze is like rotten wood” do not apply to the crocodile.

It is possible that the writer of the book of Job engaged in a bit of hyperbole when describing the beast known as Leviathan. His point, after all, was to show how powerful and strong God was compared to his follower Job. He certainly makes his point. Still, this doesn’t ring completely true to me. If the writer was describing a crocodile, why would he describe abilities and characteristics that his audience would know this reptile did not possess? Wouldn’t that have hurt his credibility?

I want to ask those of you reading this a favor at this point. I would like any of you who have young children to read the description of Leviathan found in Job: 41 to them and ask them what animal they think is being described. I’d say chances are good they would come up with a candidate within moments:

A dragon.

I must admit that dragon myths have always interested me. How can ancient civilizations in Europe, China, Japan, Central America, and South America, and other locales around the globe all have stories of the same type of creatures? These cultures had little to no contact with one another. What was the basis for these similar legends? Was there an animal, found around the world, now long extinct that is the basis for the dragon myth? If so, is this mystery animal the creature described in the book of Job?

I suppose we’ll never know.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

New Mexico Hunters Attacked by Marijuana Growers

I ran across this disturbing story yesterday and thought I would pass it along.

Two brothers were out hunting earlier this week near Tajique*, New Mexico when they got a bit turned around. They pair were out hunting just before dawn and stumbled onto private land in the low light conditions. It was then that the trouble began.

Torrance County Sheriff Heath White said, “They said they ran right into large marijuana plants and, as they were looking around, four male subjects started shooting at them with assault rifles.”

The brothers, understandably so, panicked and bolted in two different directions. Fortunately, both hunters were able to make their way to safety.

“They are still very scared and very shaken up about the whole deal,” said Sheriff White.

I imagine so.

Authorities moved in shortly after the incident and pulled up about 200 large marijuana plants from the property valued at several million dollars. Police are now on the hunt for at least four men who fled from officers as they raided the property.

Sheriff White warned, “They are heavily armed and very dangerous. They’ve already displayed they will not go down without a fight. That’s very obvious.”

This incident should serve as a reminder to all of us who enjoy visiting remote spots off the beaten path to always be aware of your surroundings. Many are good about making sure they have enough water, food, fire making materials, and a flashlight but how many of us actually consider the possibility of running into hostiles like these two brothers did? Unfortunately, it is something we had better all start to consider.

There are all sorts of bad guys out there. Pot farms are all over the place and not just on private property. These growing operations are popping up in remote areas on government property like National Forests. Here in Texas, I’ve been told such operations exist in the Sam Houston and Sabine National Forests. I’ve also heard to steer very wide of any barges tied up or anchored on the Neches River as there has been a problem with floating meth labs. If all of that isn’t enough, there are still moonshiners out there too. Many would scoff at this notion and say ‘shiners disappeared when prohibition ended. I assure you nothing could be further from the truth. All of these people are committing serious crimes and stumbling upon them could prove to be a fatal mistake.

So, what are we to do? Staying home is not an option. I refuse to cede the most beautiful and wild parts of our country to criminals. That being said, some common sense goes a long way.

Make sure someone knows where you are going and when you expect to be back. Something more specific than, “I’m going camping in the Angelina National Forest,” is going to be needed. What campground? Going into the back country? Leave GPS coordinates. Authorities should know where to start looking should you get lost, hurt, or run into trouble.

Arrange a time to contact someone once you are out of wilderness areas. Be responsible about this and make it a concrete rule. Let your contact person know in no uncertain terms that if they don’t hear from you at x time something is wrong and to send help.

Some will not like this suggestion but I strongly advise you to arm yourself. I do not advocate breaking any laws. Do what you need to do in order to legally carry a firearm so that you can defend yourself should trouble arise. Being anti-gun is fine, I suppose, as long as you don’t run into a drug cartel thug who has no such bias. I would be willing to bet many would change their minds on the subject pretty fast if they or their family were in mortal danger. I do NOT advocate engaging criminals if it can possibly be avoided. Extricate yourself quickly and quietly if it is possible.

Finally, it would be good to know what a marijuana plant actually looks like. That way, if you happen to come across any of these illegal plants you will recognize it immediately and know to get out of the area as fast as possible.

Be careful out there folks.

*I've also seen this town's name spelled Taijique. Not being from New Mexico, I have no idea which is the correct spelling.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Red-Bellied Pacu Caught in Concho River

Another red-bellied pacu (Piaractus brachyomushas) been pulled out of Texas waters.

Two men catfishing in the Concho River near San Angelo hauled in the 8-pound exotic fish this past weekend. The pacu was 21 inches in length.

Often mistaken for their well-known cousin, the piranha, red-bellied pacu are turning up more and more often in Texas waters. Though pacu pack a powerful bite, their teeth are very different in appearance from those of their more voracious cousins. The teeth of the red-bellied pacu are flatter and straighter than those of piranha and used for crushing seeds and nuts and cutting through aquatic vegetation. The teeth of the red-bellied pacu are actually quite human-like in appearance.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials stated the obvious when they said the red-bellied pacu had likely been a pet that grew too large for its tank and was released into the river by its owner.

Michael Price, of the San Angelo Nature Center, is quoted in the San Angelo Standard-Times as saying, “People who buy these fish don’t realize how big they can get."

Indeed, red-bellied pacu can grow up to 35 inches in length and weigh as much as 55-pounds. These fish grow quickly and it doesn’t take long for them to get too large for most aquarium enthusiasts to handle. Many, thinking they are being humane, release the fish into the wild rather than euthanizing them. This is a big mistake as red-bellied pacu have no natural enemies in Texas and can cause real problems for local ecosystems. In addition, releasing any kind of exotic animal into the wild is illegal. Violators are subject to stiff fines and possible jail time.

Please report any illegal dumping of exotic animals to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department immediately. If you have an exotic pet that you no longer want or can care for do not just release it. Contact TPWD instead. They should be able to direct you to someone who will take the unwanted animal off your hands.


Monday, September 10, 2012

The Beast of Bear Creek


The term conjures images of howling bloodthirsty monsters prowling the moors in search of human prey. Thoughts of silver bullets, the full moon, and the painful and horrific transformation of a man into an inhuman beast may come to mind. Many people consider the werewolf to be a European myth that has become part of Western popular culture only via television, comics, and movies. They would be wrong.

Texas and Louisiana actually have quite a rich tradition of werewolf, and other shape-shifting creature, legends. While I believe many have an element of truth to them, it is often impossible to separate what is fact from what is myth and hyperbole. One of the Texas legends that has fascinated me is the tale of the beast of Bear Creek.

Older residents of the Texas Hill Country may be familiar with the story of the beast of Bear Creek. It was widely believed among the early settlers of Kimble County that an old Native American shaman, among the last survivors of his tribe, had the ability to change from his normal human form into that of a large wolf. The old medicine man, it is said, would seek revenge on the white men who had decimated his tribe by transforming into his wolf persona and roaming the countryside at night killing everything from livestock to unfortunate settlers caught outside after dark. Tales of shape-shifters and skin-walkers permeate the folklore of many Native American tribes but what makes this particular example unusual is that many of the white settlers of Kimble County, in particular those near the old town of Cleo, believed the story to be true. So much so, that the image of the beast of Bear Creek, as the monster became known, was immortalized in solid rock.

N.Q. Patterson, who lived in Kimble County during the time when the beast of Bear Creek allegedly roamed the countryside, was a man of many talents. At one time or another he served as the county treasurer, county judge, and tombstone carver. It was his skill as a stone cutter and sculptor for which he is remembered to this day. Patterson, apparently, was unable to satisfy his artistic bent by carving tombstones so he took to carving figures into the limestone cliffs and bluffs near and around Bear Creek. Of the many images created by Patterson, one in particular, has become quite well known. Dubbed the “Cleo face,” due to its proximity to the small town of the same name, the large carving depicted a strange and fierce creature. The figure seemed part human and part animal. The nose was broad and protruded more than that of a person. The lips of the creature were curled back in a vicious snarl that revealed terrible fangs with which it could, no doubt, do terrible harm. The carving was quite large and became very well known in the region. Many came to the conclusion that this was a representation of the old shaman in his wolf guise; the beast of Bear Creek. Had Patterson seen the monster himself? Was he merely basing his carving on the legends he had heard or was the “Cleo face” merely a manifestation of Patterson’s fertile imagination? If N.Q. Patterson ever revealed the answer to these questions I was unable to find documentation of it.

The Kimble County area continues to be a source of some strange creature reports. These days they typically do not involve werewolves and/or shape-shifters; rather, modern day witnesses are reporting out of place mountain lions, black panthers, and the odd-looking hairless bluish-gray canines often dubbed chupacabras by the media. Lost livestock is blamed on one of these culprits more often than not. Odd screams and howls, still heard by the rural residents of the area more often than outsiders would guess, are simply dismissed as coyotes. To my knowledge, no one has reported a sighting of the beast of Bear Creek for a very long time. This is not surprising considering that the town of Cleo is now all but a ghost town. All that remains of the settlement is the rickety structure that was once the Cleo General Store and, directly across highway 2291, a building that, according to the sign over the door, once served as the Bear Creek Community Center. The people are all gone now. Whatever the beast of Bear Creek was, if it was real at all, will never be known.

Patterson’s creation has been a topic of conversation and debate for well over a century now. The “Cleo face” is said to survive, though in a badly eroded state due to years of exposure to the elements, to this very day but sits on private property to which the public has no legal access. Exactly what the carving depicts will remain a mystery. Somehow, I suspect that is exactly the way N.Q. Patterson would have liked it.

*Addendum: I searched long and hard for a photo of the “Cleo face” but came up empty. If anyone knows of or possesses a photo of this carving I would really enjoy seeing it.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Possible Sasquatch Hair Collected by TBRC

The Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy (TBRC) has recently concluded a long-term continuous field research study called “Operation Persistence.” The goal of the operation was to observe and document the local wood ape population. Spanning ninety days and involving more than thirty TBRC investigators, the operation took place in an area located in the Ouachita Mountains in the region near the Arkansas-Oklahoma border. Members of the TBRC have operated in this area for more than a decade, including during 2011’s long-term research study, Operation Endurance.

Over the course of Persistence, investigators collected a large amount of digital and physical evidence. While the digital evidence (in the form of unattended trail-cam photography and audio recordings) is still being analyzed, several hairs collected near the group’s research facility have been inspected microscopically.

Please click here to read the details on the possible wood ape hairs collected by the TBRC.