Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

Dr Karl Shuker's Official Website - http://www.karlshuker.com

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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

AT LAST - MY VERY OWN MYSTERY ANIMAL SIGHTING!

Did I see a wallaby (i.e. like this specimen photographed elsewhere by me a year or so ago) on the loose tonight in the wilds of Walsall, England - or something far stranger? (© Dr Karl Shuker)

I dimly remember reading somewhere, a long time ago, veteran cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans stating something along the lines of how pleased in one sense he was that he had never personally seen a mystery animal, because if ever he did do so, it would destroy his objectivity when attempting to assess future anecdotal cryptozoological evidence. (Since writing this, I have been informed by Australian correspondent Malcolm Smith that it appeared in Heuvelmans's 1968 book, In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents, and that he was referring specifically to the Loch Ness monster - thanks for looking this up for me, Malcolm!). I know how Heuvelmans felt, because apart from encountering an anomalously large praying mantis in South Africa a few years ago (click here for full details) and an unusually sizeable curly-coated taxiderm mole in junior school (click here), I had never seen a mystery animal myself – until tonight, that is. For this is when I had two close-up (albeit very fleeting) observations of a creature that in spite of my decades of field observations of wildlife throughout the world coupled with my professional training as a fully-qualified zoologist and my lifelong fascination with animals of every kind (the more exotic and unusual the better), I was (and remain) completely unable to identify.

So now, gentle reader, in the hope that you may have better luck in doing so, based upon the information that I shall provide, here is my account (while the details are still fresh in my mind) of what I saw a mere 4 hours ago – i.e. a few minutes before midnight on the evening of Monday 15 September 2014.

T'was a dark and stormy night…  Sorry, couldn't resist that! Seriously, however, it was indeed a dark night, and it had been raining heavily earlier too, but the rain had now stopped. I had been to a quiz in a pub on Lichfield Road (A461) just outside the town of Walsall in the West Midlands, England – and no, I hadn't drunk anything alcoholic! – and was now driving back home along Lichfield Road heading towards Walsall town centre.

Just before midnight, I was approaching a series of small side-roads on the left-hand side of Lichfield Road, with a petrol station a little further along on the right-hand side, and a crossroads just beyond that with a large side-road branching off to the right, leading to the Walsall suburb of Pelsall (if fellow Fortean writer Nick Redfern is reading this, he will know exactly where I am describing, as he once lived only a mile or so away, in Pelsall itself.)

A brown hare Lepus europaeus, native to England (public domain)

As I was coming up to the left-hand side-roads as mentioned above, travelling at no more than 30 mph, my headlights lit up a stationary object positioned on the centre-line markings of Lichfield Road. I thought at first that it may be a large rock or even possibly a cardboard box or something that had fallen from a car or lorry. As I drew up to it, however, just a few feet away, the 'thing' suddenly moved, away from my car, and heading across the right-hand side of the road to the kerb.

In the fleeting moments when it was fully illuminated by my headlights (my sighting only lasted about 5 seconds at most), I was able to observe that it was a creature about the size of a wallaby or a large hare (why I am using these particular animals as size comparisons will become clear shortly), it was light/medium-grey in colour (or at least it appeared so in the headlights' beam), and it had long shaggy hair (this feature was very visible). Its head was long, but I didn’t spot any ears (hence I am assuming that they were not large or otherwise distinctive). Similarly, I do not recall seeing a tail, so possibly this was not of conspicuous size either?

In any case, by far its most distinctive feature was not morphological but rather locomotory, because when it moved away from me across the road, it did so in a very distinctive, eye-catching manner. Instead of simply running or scurrying, it moved via a series of low, hunched, quadrupedal bounds, revealing that its hind limbs were powerful and seemed larger than its forelimbs. This mode of locomotion resembled that of various Australian wallabies seen by me close-up in various zoos, bounding around on all fours, and seen at greater distance in the wild Down Under too. It also called to mind the movements of hares that I have encountered in the wild here in Britain, though these bounded in a much faster, more active manner than this creature did. Moreover, although hares only sport very short tails, they have very large noticeable ears, and they do not have long grey shaggy fur. Wallabies, conversely, do have grey fur in some species, but it is not long and shaggy, their ears are quite large, and they have very long, conspicuous tails.

An Australian Bennett's wallaby in quadrupedal stance (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Furthermore, even if this mystery beast were indeed some species of escapee wallaby on the loose (long shaggy fur notwithstanding!), where had it come from? Over the years, a sizeable number of wallabies have absconded from captivity throughout Britain, and some have even established naturalised colonies here, but there are no zoos or wildlife parks in the specific area where I saw the animal documented by me here.

Another possibility is an escapee mara or Patagonian cavy Dolichotis patagonum, a fairly large South American rodent with big ears and long legs that looks superficially hare-like, has brown-grey (but not long and shaggy) fur, is commonly maintained in captivity in Britain, and has been known to abscond from time to time. Again, however, there is no likely origin for such a creature in this specific location. Reeves's muntjac deer Muntiacus reevesi, native to China but existing in naturalised form in many parts of Britain, are known to live in the wild in this vicinity, and are around the same size as the creature that I encountered, but they do not have long shaggy fur and do not move in this manner. I even wondered whether it might be an injured or deformed dog or fox (it bore no resemblance whatsoever to a cat), but it did not seem ill or in pain, and its mode of locomotion, although unusual, did not appear abnormal or forced in any way. Instead, it seemed a totally normal facet of its behaviour, and enabled the creature to move swiftly and easily.

A mara, hare-like in superficial form (© Jagvar/Wikipedia)

After registering my initial sighting of this mystery creature, I naturally wanted to stop the car, get out, and pursue it on foot, but I couldn't do so because, frustratingly, I had a car tailgating me – had I braked and stopped dead in my tracks, this car was so close behind me that it would very probably have driven straight into the back of mine. So I was forced to drive on for a little way until, just past the garage on the right, I was able to find a left-hand side road to turn into and shake off the car behind, which duly carried on along Lichfield Road. So I was then able to perform a u-turn on that road and head back along it to where I had seen the creature.

When I approached the spot, I caught sight of it again, now standing stationary on the grass verge on the right-hand side of the road. This of course had been the left-hand side when I had been driving along the road earlier and had originally spied the creature squatting in the middle of the road. Consequently, for it to be where it was now, it had evidently re-crossed the road during my brief journey onwards when attempting to shake off the car behind me.

A male Reeves's muntjac – a naturalised Chinese species in much of England nowadays, including the West Midlands, but not possessing long grey shaggy fur (© Margoz/Wikipedia)

I stopped the car and watched it from the opposite side of the road (which is only a single carriageway), hoping to get a better look at it this time, and although my car's headlights were now not trained upon it, I could clearly perceive its long shaggy fur, which even without headlight illumination still appeared grey in colour, thereby indicating that this was indeed its pelage's true colour. Within just a few moments, however, the animal began moving along the verge, via the same low, hunched, quadrupedal bounding movements, until it came to a small side road named Wilsford Close, and disappeared into it. I started the car again at once, and was able to drive straight across Lichfield Road into this side road without having to pause for any traffic. Wilsford Close proved to be a very short cul-de-sac (blind-ending road, with no exit at its far end), consisting of a high wall running along the length of its left-hand side and a series of front gardens fringing the length of its right-hand side. All of the gardens led up to houses and were open, i.e. none was closed-off with gates, and there was no sign of the creature, which meant that it must have concealed itself in one of these gardens, but which one, and where? As they were all large, and as it was additionally concealed by the cover of darkness, the creature could have been anywhere.

Needless to say, it did not seem the most sensible option from a legal perspective to commit trespassing by stalking around other peoples' gardens with a torch but without asking permission. Equally, it would have wasted far too much time knocking on their doors to ask each home owner in turn if I could explore their garden. In addition, the chances are that they wouldn't have allowed me to do so anyway – after all, a complete stranger claiming to be looking for a mystery animal in a person's garden during the dead of night is unlikely to receive the most cordial of receptions from said garden's owner! Consequently, albeit with great reluctance, I had no option but to abandon the chase for 'my' elusive cryptid. True, I did drive back out of Wilsford Close and wait in my car near its entrance for a while, just in case the creature did re-emerge, but it didn't.

So here is where my story ends, in unsatisfyingly inconclusive manner – an all-too-familiar feature in cryptozoological encounters but no less frustrating for that. Any thoughts concerning the animal's possible identity would be welcomed here. As someone who normally has no problem whatsoever in identifying living mammals (or birds), if not always to the precise species then at least to their basic taxonomic grouping (genus or family), the fact that I am unable to do so with this creature (even when taking into account that I only saw it very fleetingly and at night) is nothing if not surprising and, indeed, very disconcerting for me – especially as I have seen foxes, a badger, all manner of dogs and domestic cats running around at night and have always readily identified them. If pressed to say what it reminded me of most closely, I would have to say a huge, wallaby-sized (but not wallaby-resembling), very shaggy-furred (and possibly tail-less or only very short-tailed) rat, yet which moved with the gait of a wallaby, albeit one less given to vertical bounds than a typical wallaby. I would also greatly appreciate receiving news regarding any other sightings of a similar beast that may have been reported lately from this locality. Thanks very much indeed!

Google map showing Wilsford Close (arrowed), just off Lichfield Road or A461 (© Google, 2014)


STOP PRESS 19 September 2014 - A SOLUTION TO THE MYSTERY?

As I have already noted, if I had to say what my mystery beast most resembled I'd nominate a huge rat but which moved somewhat like a wallaby, via a series of short crouching bounds. Sitting here at home tonight, reminiscing about my sighting, I suddenly remembered a thought that had momentarily popped into my head when I saw it the first time as it moved away from my car, but which I had promptly forgotten afterwards. Namely: "That looks like a coypu!". My surprise at seeing the creature must have consigned this thought to the back of my mind ever since, until tonight. As soon as I recalled it, however, I started researching the coypu, paying particular attention to the appearance and described gait of this very large, notable species of non-native rodent.

Known in the fur trade as the nutria, the coypu Myocastor coypus is a species of large-bodied, short-tailed, semi-aquatic rodent that superficially resembles a giant rat (it averages around 3ft in total length), but is sufficiently distinct taxonomically from rats and indeed from all other rodents to require housing within a taxonomic family all to itself. It sports brown bristly guard hairs that protect its very dense grey under-fur (much prized in the fur trade), and although native to South America, it has been maintained and bred in fur farms in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa for its valuable pelt. During the early 1960s, however, a number of specimens escaped in the East Anglia region of England, where they found this region's marshy freshwater wetlands very much to their liking, and soon began breeding very prolifically, becoming a major invasive pest species due to destructive herbivory and profound burrowing behaviour. After reaching a peak population of around 200,000 individuals, the coypu was subjected to an intensive government-sponsored eradication programme, and was officially declared exterminated within the UK in 1989. However, a number of unconfirmed sightings have been reported since then, and very occasionally a specimen has actually been obtained - leading to speculation by some researchers as to whether there might possibly be a small but viable population still out there.


A coypu with wet fur, making it look greyer than it would do when dry (© Petar Milosevic/Wikipedia - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3-0 Unported Licence) 

Checking out images of the coypu online, there is little doubt that this species resembles my mystery beast more closely than anything else that I know of. True, its grey dense under-fur is normally concealed by its bristly brown guard hairs, but pictures of it newly-emerged from water show that it appears greyish (and very shaggy) in such circumstances, because the wet guard hairs are matted together in clumps, thus exposing portions of the under-fur beneath, which appears shaggy due to its soaking in water.

What makes this trait even more interesting and pertinent is that after doing some more research concerning the area where I saw the creature, I discovered that it contains not only fields, open spaces, and even a small nature reserve (the Lime Pits Nature Reserve), but also some very large pools and the Rushall Canal. If the creature is indeed a coypu, such a location as this offers a very compatible habitat for its continued survival. But that is still not all.


A coypu with drier fur, but still readily showing it to be long-haired (© Silverije/Wikipedia)

Checking up the coypu's gait, I found consistent descriptions online stating that under normal conditions this species moves slowly on land with "a crouching gait", but if disturbed it will "bound rapidly away". This is of course a perfect description of the mystery creature's movements as witnessed by me. Moreover, the coypu normally emerges from its burrow and becomes active just before sunset, and returns to its burrow just before sunrise, thus corresponding with the time that I saw it.

Taking all of the above into account, I therefore offer a coypu as a tentative but plausible contender for my mystery beast in terms of both morphology and movements. But if this is truly its identity, one major mystery still requires a solution - where has the coypu originated? Coypus have certainly been maintained in zoos here in England in modern times, as well as in fur farms. Has there been a recent escape locally in the Midlands, or might such an event have occurred elsewhere but with the coypu subsequently making its way here, possibly following the canal system in its search for the river plants upon which it feeds? Obviously, all of this is highly speculative, but for the first time since Monday night, I feel somewhat less disconcerted regarding my failure to identify straight away this most unexpected mystery beast.

A fair-furred coypu in captivity - not relevant to my sighting but still interesting in its own right (© Norbert Nagel/Wikipedia)

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40 comments:

  1. Here's a link to Google maps showing the A461 near the junction with Meadow Close (on left) in Street view to see the area where the sighting was:
    https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@52.6147153,-1.9546265,3a,75y,208.35h,75.13t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1soOtoXSqn5nuOa3uHrZyjBQ!2e0

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    1. Meadow Close is just two side-roads along from Wilsford Close, i.e. just a few yards further along Lichfield Road from Wilsford Close.

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    2. If you move the yellow man figure up two side-roads on the Google map linked to above by BobSkinn, you will be at Wilsford Close and will see its road name and the high wall running along its left-hand side.

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  2. Perplexing and most interesting.

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  3. My first thought was one of the giant breeds of domestic rabbit, but the problem with that theory is that most of them have very long ears (even longer than those of typical wild rabbits). Did you see any additional features the second time you saw the animal?

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  4. Have you considered domestic rabbit breeds? Maybe it was an escapee from whichever house it returned to. Lop ears, or ears tucked neatly against the neck may have been concealed by shadows.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JvK6r8lRSA

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    1. As a teenager, I had a mixed-breed giant black rabbit (called Black Bun, after a comic strip character that was a black rabbit) as a pet, so am familiar with how they look and move, and the creature I saw on Monday night neither looked nor moved like any kind of rabbit - but thanks for the suggestion.

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  5. Some sort of conventional animal that is deformed/injured and forced to move like this? Some dogs learn to walk on two legs like this...

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    1. Its movements seemed too 'normal' and too adept for it - at least in my opinion - to have been injured in any way.

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  6. Wonder if there are any escaped Pademelons. Smaller than a wallaby and probably closer in size to the native hares. They are shaggy. The darkness might obscure the smaller ears and tail. Coloration can vary.

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    1. I'm not sure whether there are any pademelons in captivity anywhere at all in Britain at the moment - I can't recall seeing or reading about any here in modern times, and there are certainly none in any zoo/wildlife park in the Midlands.

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  7. Sticking with the macropods, small ears, thicker fur... tree-kangaroo? Bit of a long shot, I know! ;-)

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    1. The same comments apply here as for the pademelon suggestion, and having seen tree kangaroos in captivity overseas, I can confirm that the creature on Monday night looked nothing like one, but thanks for the ideas, much appreciated.

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  8. I dimly remember reading somewhere..."
    I remember exactly where. It was the footnote on p 31 of In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents, Rupert Hart-Davis edition, 1968:
    "For instance I have spent much time in the last few years scanning the sea and even the dark waters of Loch Ness. 'And what if I should see one?' I thought - and it was not a comfortable idea. For if I should have the luck I had longed for so much, it could only seem too good to be true, and my whole book would be suspect. I should have to make a bitter choice whether to sacrifice the book upon which I had spent so many years' work, or to keep my mouth shut about a report which would be of unusual value coming from a professional zoologist who had made a particular study of the problem.

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    1. Thanks Malcolm! I knew that if I mentioned this statement by Heuvelmans, some kind soul would take the trouble to look it up for me - I was more interested in getting my sighting into print asap, while it was still fresh in my mind, rather than taking up time looking through a number of possible sources for Heuvelmans's words and risking my memory of my sighting fading while doing so.

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  9. Karl
    Must have been an exciting adventure !
    I wonder if the animal was a chinese water deer ? They do a peculiar bunny hop which can seem very mysterious. I expect they are sometimes mistaken for giant hares for the same reason.
    I dont think an appearance in a built up are need be ruled out either.

    Two other candidates could be a racoon dog or racoon, i hear the latter are being seen more frequently in the UK.

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    1. Indeed it was, albeit a very brief one. The long shaggy hair rules out a Chinese water deer straight away - this, and its mode of locomotion, were the two aspects of the creature that I saw most clearly. 'm not aware of any raccoon dogs having escaped or been reported in the UK, and it didn't resemble a raccoon at all. Indeed, the problem is that it just didn't look like ANY mammalian species I know of, and I know of just about all of them, having had a lifelong interest in the diversity of world mammals, everything from tenrecs to tuco-tucos, fanalokas to falanoucs, blesmols to binturongs, etc. That is why I am so thoroughly mystified, coupled with the fact that this anomalous creature turned up in so mundane a location as Walsall, not the deep Congolese forests or some other remote location.

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  10. Very cool, Karl! I have heard of wallabies on the Cannock Chase. Plus, on a couple of times when I lived in Pelsall, deer traveled from the Chase to the fringes of Pelsall (on what is called the North Common area). So, if deer can make it, maybe a wallaby too...

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    1. Indeed, but the problem is that 'my' creature just didn't look like a wallaby, due ti its long shaggy fur, which was very clearly visible in both of my brief sightings of it, and no sign in either sighting of any tail. If anything, it looked like some form of gigantic shaggy rat, but a rat the size of a wallaby?? And its hunched bounding seemed different from a normal rat's scurrying movements. Very strange indeed.

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  11. Hey Karl, here's a 2011 story I kept on file of deer in Pelsall itself:
    http://www.expressandstar.com/news/2011/12/23/oh-deer-%E2%80%93-rudolph-and-pals-on-loose-in-pelsall/

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  12. Or (a la Wallace & Gromit) The Curse of the Walsall Were-Rat? lol

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  13. How about a smallish wild boar? One of the secretary's at the now-defunct Chase Post newspaper saw a boar cross the road somewhere over the Cannock Chase back in the early 2000s or late 90s.

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    1. Hi Nick, No, it didn't look or move like a boar at all, but as noted in my Stop Press, it certainly resembled and moved like a coypu - and judging from a further comment here, I'm not the only person who has seen one in this area.

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  14. How about something like a wolverine? They have quite shaggy fur. And their run can be quite lolloping.

    The issue of the shaggy fur seems to be a real sticking point in identifying this beast. Daft to ask someone who's undoubtedly one of the best people available at identifying animals and their characteristics, but is it absolutely impossible that the shaggy fur couldn't be an optical illusion caused by the way your headlights picked out the animal's fur?

    Otherwise, two possibilities seem likely to me. It's a common enough animal that you would easily identify under ordinary circumstances, but became cryptic due to the light quality and specific angle of sight in relation to the creature. This doesn't seem likely due to the length of time your encounter lasted. Or it's a truly exotic animal, something you would think so unlikely in that time and place that you're brain simply is not retrieving past experience of it for comparison, even though you must have seen at least images of every mammal known. That also doesn't seem likely. But, if we concede that one or the other is likely true, it puts into a perspective the encounters of others with far less experience of animals.

    If the only other alternative is that an entirely unknown, quite large, yet apparently not very shy, species of mammal lives in the British countryside, I think that is a possibility we have to regard as least likely.

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    1. I've seen wolverines moving around their spacious enclosure at the Cotswolds Wildlife Park last year, and they didn't move anything like this animal, nor did they resemble it. The animal was genuinely grey, as my second sighting of it was without the use of headlight illumination and it still appeared grey. Moreover, I could still clearly discern its long shaggy fur, watching it while wearing my distance/driving glasses, so this was not an artefact or optical illusion but a genuine feature of its pelage.

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  15. Could it have been a bandicoot? Not the long eared bilby species but one of the short-eared genera. Some, like the Western bared bandicoot have relatively small tails.

    The only other possibility I can think of would be some sort of hystricognath rodent. As far as I know only domestic cavys and porcupines have long fur but maybe one of the mountain species of agouti?

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  16. If you really want to find out what you saw I would suggest a few things you can do . Go back to those houses in the day and talk to the people that live there . Explain who you are , explain that you are investigating a sighting of a unusual species of wildlife . Most people are all to willing to help identify wildlife when they learn it is in their area . Look in the garden areas for tracks , damaged vegetation from opportunistic foraging . If you find any it is a good start . ask the people to call you right away if they have a sighting of their own . check for scat , if it eats it leaves scat . People love to help in science projects , it will open some doors for your project . remember , science is generally based on reproduced Constance .search for it .

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  17. In the October 2003 issue of Bigfoot Co-op (now defunct), an article of mine titled "Cop-Cams, Helmet-Cams, and Sunglass-Cams" was published. I observed that the dashboard cameras being increasingly used by police cars would likely eventually capture footage of a Bigfoot crossing a road. (Such an incident occurred a couple of years back in Georgia, although it wasn't good enough to be definitive. Presumably a better case will come along.)

    I also urged researchers to wear helmet-cameras (and sunglass-cameras, when available) when out in the field.

    In February 2012 in Bigfoot Times I reported on an ear-mounted, always-on video-camera, controlled from a smartphone. I pointed out that it would have captured many fleeting encounters that Bigfooters have not been able to photograph. It's name is the Looxcie2--it costs about $200, from www.looxcie.com.

    A little over a year later, four well-known Bigfooters in the woods, not heeding my advice, had a multi-witness sighting that they didn't manage to photograph. If only . . . .

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  18. Karl, I live on the Butts not far from the Arboretum island. Late in the summer of 2013 after a stormy couple of weeks I had a similar sighting to yours. I exercise my dogs on the Mill lane nature reserve, forty odd acres of partially wooded land with a stream running through it between Ryecroft cemetery and the Lichfield road. There is a heavily overgrown, rarely visited strip of land between the stream and the rail track that is accessible to the stretch of Lichfield road near the hotel and garage across an open field. I saw a squat, shaggy brownish creature from maybe thirty yards away, and it was at least as big as a twelve pound terrier. At first I thought maybe the animal was a Muntjac (I've seen them over there occasionally), but it was too low to the ground and it bounded off far from elegantly as soon as my dog started to pursue it. It ran through the thick undergrowth down the steep banks of the stream, and shortly afterwards I heard a distinct splash. With some difficulty I managed to clamber down the bank, where my dog was still racing back and forth, but the bank is lined by scrub Willow, long grass and dense brambles, so predictably I couldn't see anything. There is enough dense vegetation there to hide the burrows of something like a Coypu, and nearby are many bullrushes on boggy land and the waterlogged ditches lining the railway that may provide a food source - the existence of a small population there wouldn't surprise me. If you are not familiar with the area and you want me to show you where I saw the animal I would be happy to oblige.

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    1. Hi David, Thanks very much for your fascinating account. It may be the same animal - if so, it's a year older now than when you saw it. I know the Arboretum area well, so I think I'll pay a visit there soon (I have a nasty shivery cold right now, so I'll get rid of that first).

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    2. I used to use the path in question regularly while exercising my old bull terrier, who is now deceased, as he was aggressive with other dogs, but I haven't walked down there since last winter. I did a little exploring yesterday. The path (from the Mill lane entrance next to the rail bridge, which is very well concealed) is overgrown with brambles; halfway down you would think you were in the middle of a primeval forest - perhaps nature has a way of protecting its little secrets. As I was wearing jeans and a t shirt I suffered a lot of nettle stings. Next time, wearing more suitable clothing, I will tackle the path from the Cartbridge crescent end (the way in there is directly beside the railway bridge), and I will keep you informed of anything interesting I stumble across.

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    3. Thanks David, I greatly apprciate this!

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    4. Ok, here goes. This afternoon I foolishly kidded myself that the Cartbridge crescent end of the path would be easier to access because there are less trees and, I thought, only thistles and nettles to contend with. I thought wrong. The first twenty yards or so were passable, broken bramble stems informing me that someone had trodden the path recently, and the beer can strewn ground under the trees betrayed the fact that local youths are using the cover as a secret drinking den. As I got a little further I found that no one had ventured further for some time. The brambles had knitted together over the path, and the act of trying to pass a few yards left my legs scratched through my jeans. I guess the only way to travel along that path is to take a scythe. It looks like I'll have to try the Mill lane end of the path again, the brambles there aren't so enthusiastic, they have to compete with the tree canopy overhead for light, and a pair of secateurs should be adequate to get to the heart of this intriguing strip of land.

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  19. Indeed, these coypu appear to 'hop' as they bound away. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hYsm0J-rZQ I should have thought to suggest a coypu. Travelling as a passenger to Peterborough from Wells-Next-The-Sea in Norfolk, I could have sworn I saw a coypu watching the road from a grassy stream bank. Believing them to have been exterminated, and not realising there had been sightings in recent years, I convinced myself it was merely a simulacrum, having observed it only briefly. Perhaps I should reassess that conviction. Could it be coypu are still thriving, and spreading across the midlands?

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  20. I'm from Louisiana and we have coypu(we call them Nutria Rats) all over the place. From your description I would think that's your animal. Only discrepancy is the fur color although I'm sure it's possible that there are variants depending on the region they're inhabiting. They're are native to South America so they have thrived and become a majorly invasive species in Louisiana because we lack a major predator for them. I am inclined to believe that it would be just as easy for them to get a nice foothold anywhere really, we call them Nutria Rats for a reason, very adaptable and procreate at break neck speed.

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  21. Hi Karl. This post got me thinking. At the beginning of the post you describe the creature as "Its head was long, but I didn’t spot any ears (hence I am assuming that they were not large or otherwise distinctive). Similarly, I do not recall seeing a tail". Now the tallies well with a description my mother gave of an unknown animal my mother spied whilst leaving work at Manor Farm Country Park in Hampshire. After some discussion she identified the beastie to be Capybara.. No tail or ears visible and the somewhat back heavy gait? Now I realise that they are not grey but could the low light have washed out the colour somewhat maybe? Also there have been previous sightings in the midlands(and at least one in Hampshire!). Anyhow just a thought! On a side not I found and photographed some pug marks from a large cat in a local woods, wider than the palm of my hand and no claw marks. I would be happy to email you a copy if you are interested? Phil.

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  22. Hi Phillip, No, definitely not a capybara - I've seen capybaras up close at a number of zoos many many times, and my mystery beast was nothing like one - legs far too short, mode of movement entirely different too. The closest match is definitely with a coypu, indeed I have no doubt now that this is what I saw, especially after watching videos of coypus online.

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