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Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Friday, February 13, 2009

GUEST BLOGGER NEIL ARNOLD: On the trail of the big cat... researcher

It is with great pleasure that we welcome Neil Arnold to the CFZ bloggo with this first guest blog. I have known Neil for fifteen years now since he was a schoolboy with ambitions for adventure and I was an earnest young hippie who merely wanted to start a club for people interested in unknown animals. Nothing much has changed over the years. We are just both a tad older...

Since I was nine years old I have believed in monsters; whether they be the nine-headed hydra from fantasy films or hulking, hairy humanoids said to roam the wastes of Tibet. I’ve always wanted to hunt for these mysterious creatures and, in 2007, I realised my dream when, after twenty-years of research into reports of exotic cats in the countryside, I gave up the day job to pursue them. Before that I was Mr 9 to 5, stuck in a job. Despite several fantastic encounters with large cats and a handful of similarly terrifying incidents the job came first.



I can tell you that there is nothing as precious as experience and nothing more satisfying and rewarding than actually seeing a big cat in situ.


As a child, I used to read about how flying saucers were visiting the planet. I thumbed many a book and magazine on the UFO subject and was astounded by the number of researchers who were rather less than they seemed; they spent more time bickering and squabbling than actually getting out there and investigating! After about a year of this I gave up, bored by the UFO community and the ‘anoraks’ within it who’d spent a lifetime behind a typewriter, then a computer screen telling us what could and couldn’t be. They formed a clique, a group of self-proclaimed ‘experts’ who gave Ufology such a bad name that today it is viewed as a hobby less appealing than train-spotting.


Fast forward to the 1980s and reports were circulating of several sheep being slaughtered on the moors of the West Country. Big Cat Fever had hit the nation and the headlines for real, even though twenty years before the Surrey ‘puma’ had captured distracted the attention of journalists. The ‘80s was a time when everything seemed sincere. Naturalists and zoologists were genuinely befuddled by elusive felids roaming the countryside. Such was the novelty of this mystery that no-one really thought about the possible future implications. At the time I was a teenager excited by the possibility that some kind of huge cat was prowling the woods at the back of my home. I took it upon myself to investigate...

I traipsed across treacherous and foggy marshes, clawed my way through brambles, thickets and thorny. I was shot at, threatened by mysterious cults and, although I always despised the music of U2, I sympathised when Bono yelped, “But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” Those words rang true through my soul.


To become a full-time author, speaker and researcher into sightings of big cats around Kent, Sussex and London has been a privilege. I have been fortunate to have seen, at the time of writing, a black leopard – quite possibly the same individual on three occasions. I have also seen a lynx which took two years to track, as well as a puma and a smaller cat I couldn’t identify. Despite this, in all my years of research there is one thing I have yet to find; another decent researcher who can wrench themselves from the anorak brigade, throw away their toys, and get on with an investigation.

I have known several researchers over the years who have dedicated a lot of time to studying large cats in the wild. Many of these have given up the ghost, either bored by the petty politics that seems to come with the territory, or simply fed up of being the brunt of so many ridiculous comments so that their once hardened shells have crumbled. Big cat research in the late 1990s and now, is no different to Ufology. It is a situation involving fickle individuals, many of whom sit behind PCs and say what can or cannot be. Many refuse to speak to others outside their clique. Others are so desperate to see a cat that, in their impatience, they flit around the countryside like some speeding nomad, quite sure that the cat they are seeking may be toying with them. These elusive researchers exist on jealousy. They are green with envy of others to the extent that they require no camouflage to hide in the local woods. Tragically, research into big cats will never really become respectable unless the government, or other official bodies, get involved full-time. If they do, they won’t require the help of local researchers.

Genuine researchers seem far more elusive than the cats themselves. As with Ufology, I have become so disillusioned by the situation that my best advice to a budding big cat enthusiast is to stick to your guns, work alone, keep your head low and dig in. You’ll uncover a treasure trove of information that hopefully you can one day leave behind so that others may learn. It doesn’t need a front page of The Sun or ITN News coverage to make you better or more genuine explorer than anyone else. You don’t need to become part of a clique, or to become an anorak adorned in camouflage, whilst clutching your cuddly toy panther, to become a good researcher.

In a world with an “every man for himself” attitude, I’ve always found it best to do my own thing and just get on with it. True, some people don’t like this or my views, but it is always amusing to watch them squabbling and bickering, running around as if the ‘mystery’ owes them something. At the end of the day, it seems as if everyone wants that close up photograph, or even that dead specimen to say, “Ner-ner-ner-ner-ner, I’ve got a better one than you”. Yet, the realisation is this; these cats will outlive us all. They were here before us, and if it wasn’t for them most of the people out there trying to see one wouldn’t have such a hobby.

This is not a perfect world and there will never be a coming together of investigative souls, because there are too many egos at work. I guess that is what makes, or should I say, relegates the British ‘big cat’ situation to nothing more than a more modern version of Ufology. Stake-outs, conferences, shouting matches, accusations, petty politics.

Remember this; it doesn’t matter how many Zoologists you know, or whether your dad is an expert tracker, your own sighting will come with perseverance, patience and a little modesty.

This article is not a war cry but simply a way of encouraging people remove the trappings, to take off the war-paint, look in the mirror and ask whether, for them, there is any difference between UFO-spotting and ‘big cat’ watching. There should be a huge difference! The latter is, supposedly, the study of exotic felids roaming the country, not a Crypto version of Professional Wrestling’s Royal Rumble. One theory thrown over the top rope, one researcher quitting after being bullied, one accusation spat at an old friend! The fight ends when there is no-one left in the ring and the title they are all fighting for slinks off back into the shadows and awaits the next clique - off stage in a locker room donning more camo-face paint and slipping on the anoraks...

9 comments:

Richard Freeman said...

"It is a situation involving fickle individuals, many of whom sit behind PCs and say what can or cannot be. Many refuse to speak to others outside their clique."

Never a truer word were spoken!

NZ Cryptozoologist said...

My god Neil in this blog was never a true word is spoken.
It is the same as you which you raise which last year nearly caused me to give up my research completely, to the point of taking away my files,books, and everything on my walls. It also affected my health majorly.
The main thing that gets in the road of serious research is ego. I have had theories, ideas and articles used by others with no acknowledgement of where those ideas came from. I have learnt now and keep those closely guarded until I am ready to release them.
I straddle both sides of the this fence as I also investigate the UFO phenomena, I'm running two websites one New Zealand UFOs and one on New Zealand crypto zoology. I find egomania prevalent in both fields.
There are however some of us who can no longer get out in the field for good reason.
I myself can no longer get out on the field due to 2 factors. Firstly lack of money with a family of 8 to feed, medications to get and the ever increasing cost of medical care in this country it does not allow funding for research purposes. Secondly I am disabled to the point where I have to use a walking frame at times and most of the time at the very least a cane.
Bouts of my illness can lay me up for weeks and severe swelling in my hands only allows me to type using voice dictation software.
So some of us are genuinely confined to a computer research.
This in many ways is no less valuable than field research as long as you have others who are willing to go out and do the research for you, I am fortunate that I have good friends willing to do this.
I have a good friend who specialises in big cat sightings here in New Zealand so if I hear anything along those lines the information is passed to him and then relayed back to me. This information then goes on to my site and credited to him.
You are however perfectly correct egotism is one of the things that I feel will eventually kill this field of research as it tends to put others off becoming involved.
Besides how is the scientific community going to take us seriously when we can't even help bickering among ourselves, attention seeking, media seeking and commercialising the whole damn thing.
Yes I would like to make some money, I would like money to continue my research, perhaps create an outreach program as New Zealand Cryptids are not even known within our own country.
Essentially I am in it for the science and to get the word out to the public.
I unlike most am lucky in the fact that I have an income due to my disability and can afford the time to devote myself entirely to research.

Well now I have stirred up a hornets nest, possibly like last time I make such comments. I shall sit back, watch the fireworks and let egos take their course and go a little further in destroying what could be a very respectable science.
My accolades to you Neil for speaking the truth, one thing most people cannot stand.

Well done, now to pull up a chair and break out the popcorn.

Regards
Tony Lucas
New Zealand Cryptozoologist

Wade G. Burck said...

Mr. Arnold,
Brilliant, Brilliant statement!!!! "This article is not a war cry but simply a way of encouraging people remove the trappings, to take off the war-paint, look in the mirror and ask whether, for them, there is any difference between UFO-spotting and ‘big cat’ watching. There should be a huge difference!"

Wade Burck

BigcatsOxford said...

"Genuine researchers seem far more elusive than the cats themselves. As with Ufology, I have become so disillusioned by the situation that my best advice to a budding big cat enthusiast is to stick to your guns, work alone, keep your head low and dig in. You’ll uncover a treasure trove of information that hopefully you can one day leave behind so that others may learn. It doesn’t need a front page of The Sun or ITN News coverage to make you better or more genuine explorer than anyone else. You don’t need to become part of a clique, or to become an anorak adorned in camouflage, whilst clutching your cuddly toy panther, to become a good researcher.
It is a situation involving fickle individuals, many of whom sit behind PCs and say what can or cannot be."

Too true Neil. Unfortunately

Meeeow said...

Just needed clarification on your following quote "Yet, the realisation is this; these cats will outlive us all. They were here before us".
Do you believe that these cats are all leopards/lynx/puma? And if so are you trying to say that all these cats have always been here in this country, giving that you state they were here before us? Also if as you say, they will outlive us all you must also believe or have proof that these cats have established a breeding population? Your reply to my queries will be much appreciated.

Neil A said...

Thank you for all the comments. Meeow (terrible name by the way!), with regards to my statements, I meant that such animals were here long before us researchers,and will be long after. These cats are not all from the animals released in the '60s and '70s, and evidence/records of sightings suggest that the earliest sightings date back centuries and not decades. Lynx may have hung on in small numbers. With regards to my own research in Kent/London and Sussex, I receive many reports of animals with cubs, proof that there are substantial numbers out there to continue well into the future. I also believe, based on my research, that we ARE daeling with black leopards, lynx and puma, I've seen all three in Kent.

There is a genuine naivety towards as to how these animals got here, but there's no real mystery at all I'm afraid. I also appreciate (NZ Cryptozoolohist) that some people genuinely can't get 'out there' to research sightings, and that's understandable, but there's also a hell of a lot of know-it-all's who continue to take second hand info, create mythical statistics and say what can and cannot be from behind a computer. That's why it's such a fickle section of research, and at times a very funny one, but also sad that it comes to this.

The people responsible for this kind of egomania know who they are.

I am always happy to help anyone with a genuine interest, but the point of the post was to just let genuine researchers know that you are better off digging in, following your heart, and devoting your own time to research rather than giving it away for exposure and the mighty dollar.

Meeeow said...

Thank you for replying to my post. First of all I must ask, surely NONE of the cats seen today are any of the cats allegedly released in the 60's and 70's as they would not have survived this long. They would not have even lived this long in captivity let alone in the wild. I can see how the Lynx may have survived longer than we once thought, as it was already established here in this country. I just wondered how these different species of cat that would not usually come into contact establish a breeding territory while all competing for space. As you said yourself you have seen all three in Kent alone, do they stay away from each others territory? How do they know how to meet other leopards/puma/lynx to breed without crossing into another territory? Do you think that they may cross breed? Also I wondered if you had considered the possibility of the black cats that are being seen being some kind of large feral species or hybrids rather than all being mel leopards? If you believe that they are all mel leopards then do you think we have a greater population of them than the country that they belong to, considering that they are supposed to be endangered and rarer than the usual spotted? Thanks.

NZ Cryptozoologist said...

Thanks for the reply to my comment.

all i can say is I couldnt agree more - we are definately on the same page.

Neil A said...

Meeow, despite being rarer than the 'spoyyed'leopards in places such as Kenya, black leopards were obtainable in the '60s in the UK. As far as I'm aware there are hardly any reports of normal leopards in the UK.Such animals live for around 17 years, and yes, any released in the '60s would have died out, except of course if they'd met others, which has happened.
The leopard, puma and lynx all establish their own territories, but in the UK, despite some vast moorlands, dense woods and forests, there is the possibility of territories overlapping.Based on evidence in the south-east, we are NOT dealing with large feral cats, although I'm aware that such felids have been sighted further north and also in Australia. As for hybrids, well, certainly in the case of domestic cat/jungle cats.