Thursday, March 19, 2009

Eastern Cougars: The Myth Continues

Cougars, mountain lions, pumas, panthers, catamounts, whatever you wish to call them, do not exist east of the Mississippi river. Well, except for south Florida and there's only 50 or so of those. Yes there may have been some sightings in West Virginia, Virginia, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and yeah there's Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and even Maine and Delaware (yes, even in all three counties of Delaware). But, rest assured, all of these accounts are false. They are either bobcats, house cats or maybe just dogs. Well, there could be a couple of loose cats out there. Most likely these are escaped or dumped exotic animals. We don't keep records of these types of things, but we're sure it's completely explainable this way. Either way, mountain lions do not exist in any state east of the Mississippi (again, except Florida). That's our statement and we're sticking to it.

The above is the typical response you will get from any eastern state on the status of mountain lions from their respective wildlife or Department of Natural Resource officials. They all categorically deny the possibility of any number of cougars populating any state in the east. Despite growing numbers of sightings as well as evidence of sign (tracks, scat, hair, mauled prey) officials still have a list of excuses as long as a mountain lion's tail. Typically the response is a loose exotic pet. OK, so where did it come from? Don't they keep records on who owns these "pets"? No, no, what you saw was a bobcat, common mistake. Why do they always assume that the hunter who has seen bobcats before always mistakes a bobcat for a cougar (or even the person who has never seen either who perfectly describes a cougar from the color down to the long tail...umm, bobcats don't have much of a tail to brag about).

On the flip side of this argument one can agree that despite the numerous sightings in various parts of different states there does not seem to be any large population of these animals in the east. There has yet to be a carcass of a cougar from a vehicle strike anywhere on the eastern U.S. and this argument does provide the example that there is not a strong population established. DNR officials frequently track various animals to keep track of population as well as disease and other factors. These DNR officials are not coming across much in the way of evidence concerning cougars (or are they?).

There are many out there that feel that this denial is part of a larger conspiracy. Conspiracy? About cougars? Apparently many people feel DNR agencies do not want to pay to have to manage cougars and that denying their existence (or getting rid of them without our knowledge) keeps them from stretching their budget. Speaking of budgets, let's take that one a step farther. The state makes a killing, no pun intended, on licenses and related items spent on hunting seasons. If a predatory species were introduced (or found its way) into the ecosystem it would cut into the deer population. There is currently 600,000 estimated deer in Ohio (2006) and no natural predators other than humans (and vehicles). A cougar (or even wolf) population in the state of Ohio would provide many headaches and lost money for DNR folks so their denial is understandable, but is it possible for cougar to exist east of the Mississippi?

Let's consider the possibility: Did cougars once call this area home? Yes. Why are they no longer around? Hunting was the biggest culprit over the last 200 years. Other factors were changing land into farming area and depletion of food sources (mainly deer) in the mid to late 1800's and into the early 1900s.
But, aren't there plenty of deer running around now? In 1904 in the state of Ohio there were no deer. It took a few decades of natural re-growth as well as restocking programs to bring the deer back to Ohio. The same followed suit in a number of neighboring states. Now that the food source has been re-established, doesn't it make sense that a top predator is making progress toward reclaiming its former territory? Another possibility may be because of another predator; the wolf.

Wolves were driven from the U.S. the in many of the same methods as the cougar, but were even more feared as they traveled in packs and consumed more kill than cougar. Wolf populations exist in Canada and extend into Michigan and Minnesota. They were also reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995. Could these expanding wolf populations be driving cougars to areas of less competition?

There are, of course, other theories about how cougars could be in the eastern states. One theory is that they never really left the states east of the Mississippi. Somehow small collections of these animals avoided detection for decades and are slowly branching in every direction. As people sprawl out these animals are in constant search for places to hunt and live in a human-free environment. A second theory is that they have traveled here from the closest known area of thriving population, western North Dakota. Cougars travel amazing distances in short periods of time, mainly in search of food. The roaming theory has a major flaw in that it would be extremely difficult for males and females to mate if they were living hundreds of miles apart and would make it nearly impossible to have thriving populations. Then again, male cougars have been known to have territories as large as almost 300 square miles, but females typically have smaller ranges. Lastly, we could guess that numerous animals escaped or were dumped into the wild and have now somehow bred and created tiny populations. Highly unlikely, but a possibility.

So, what does this have to do with the paranormal? Well, cougars are not necessarily paranormal, but they are actually considered cryptids in the state of Ohio (since they supposedly do not exist here) and any sighting interests those who pursue cryptids. Hopefully this cryptid will eventually be confirmed in some eastern states. It's also interesting that a 9 foot long 160 lb+ creature can go undetected. Confirmation of this animal in Ohio and neighboring states may be a victory for Bigfoot researchers everywhere.

Here is a little more insight:

Eastern Cougar.Org reports that cougars have been sighted in numerous areas of Louisiana in areas which are just to the west of the mighty Mississippi river. I guess the river just mysteriously holds them back from populating the east coast.

Here is a video concerning the recent Chicago, Illinois sighting and eventual shooting of a cougar and the cover-up behind the ongoing saga of these animal sightings in Illinois:

*Deer-vehicle collisions cost an average of $2,600 in medical and mechanical costs. In 2003 there were more than 31,000 deer-vehicle collisions reported.

A sustained group of cougars will help naturally cull deer populations year round and hinder deer-vehicle collisions.

*Source: OurOhio.Org

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pissing in the Wind

I was talking about one of my earlier posts about paranormal groups in Ohio with a fellow group owner when I realized I had made a serious mistake. It seems that he felt I was targeting all groups in Ohio when I said there was a serious lack of communication, networking and growth within the ranks of amateur paranormal groups. He was quite offended since he has spent hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on equipment, books, web costs, travel and other expenses and has spent considerable time putting together a group of diverse approaches and talents. Not to mention he made a big effort to network with my group as well as myself with a number of aspects of his pursuit of the field.

The article wasn't meant to attack those types of groups, the ones who are pulling the silent sled of discovery and those that are helping people in more ways than just documenting their ghostly experiences. I thought to myself, the ones I meant to attack probably won't read this anyway, but the ones who are continuously in search of knowledge and approach probably will. But, I don't feel it was a complete waste of time, the message was delivered like a cannon shot over the bow.

In retrospect, I think I went about things a bit too harsh (the article has since been "cleaned up" a bit) and my rant went over like trying to piss into the wind. I kinda got myself wet for no reason and I would have stayed dry if I had just aimed a little "that way".

While there are dozens of great groups in Ohio making strides in various aspects of science and many of them helping clients through their problems (paranormal or otherwise) there does exist the ugly head of greed and ego that have infiltrated the ranks of amateur paranormal investigators. There also exists a lack of direction with many other groups who are just in it because it's the hot trend and, "Hey, I saw this on T.V. so it can't be that hard!". Well, the same could be said about Jackass and that didn't stop people from imitating that as well.

The other major problem is about science. This is a big one for me and a tender subject for a lot of people out there, especially the ones who feel they are "doing things right". Tools don't make science, technique and approach makes science. Does establishing base readings make EMF detectors more scientific? What do EMF detectors really detect when in reference to ghosts? Like Parapsychologist Loyd Auerbach once said, "You can train a monkey to use an EMF detector, but that doesn't make it scientific."

I gave up trying to solve the riddles of the afterlife many years ago after I walked away from this field after letting politics get to me. I was drawn back into this field by the clients who needed help and guidance. While I continued to focus on helping clients I realized that I needed to also look at my beliefs and practices as well as the data I was collecting about cases whether I had intended it or not. I have since felt as if I have come full circle.

Before I began in this field I was a pure skeptic, I was raised to believe that ghosts and related phenomena did not exist and parapsychology was a pursuit for those who did not understand science. When I got into this field I slowly crossed over into a true believer and seemed to believe just a bit too much about what was going on. I moved into the tool mode and became hidden behind various tools that I paid too much money for and lost touch with the knowledge I had gained from studying parapsychology. I ditched the tools and became focused on the clients, but with that I lost touch with really getting to the heart of what is really happening from house to house and client to client.

I have learned how to balance various aspects and have learned to surround myself with people with a focus in various aspects that help round out a group. Does that make me the best amateur paranormal investigator around? You bet it does! (ego inflation for demonstration purposes only). OK, maybe not and it certainly does not make it enough to make my group the best role model for everyone, but I can admit when I am wrong (after arguing for some time) and I am aware of what we are not doing that we need to work on. In that regard it does make us a little bit better than many groups who are caught up in their own fame or image of who and what they feel they are.

The realization that there will never be just one group that will make a huge discovery needs to be realized in our culture and community. Science is based upon following up on work that others have done, proving or disproving parts or even the whole. Taking what others have done to a new and higher level or a better direction. It's a series of self-correcting moves that helps the overall approach by everyone from everyone and certainly will not be the result of one photograph, one video or one book.

The groups that are fed up with the ego, fame and lack of direction need to take the first step. We need to work together and help refine our discipline. Does that mean we all have to unite and sing camp fire songs together? No. Unity in a scientific field is an impossibility if we wish to create findings. There has to be separate camps of thought and approach, but there also needs to be a little more than strings attaching groups. There should be more of a fabric feel between groups, networks and families binding approaches, findings and data so that we can all learn together as well as continuously raise the bar of standards and information. The competitiveness helps drives for new discoveries, but when the competitiveness stifles people from working together it hinders discovery almost completely.

Comments, concerns, questions and arguments can be directed: Insider

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ghost Photography

The following rant is from my recent newscast on the Grand Dark Conspiracy Podcast:

In a recent blog on the paranormal news insider I spoke about ghost videos, mostly the faked variety, that are hurting the legitimacy of those who are making efforts to put evidence together to help find answers about the subject of ghosts. It seems that photographs have been the same problem for much longer. In fact, since cameras were only available to actual photographers in the late 1800s using plate film to the 35mm age and now in the digital age, there have always been those who have manipulated images to create ghostly photographs. The age of spiritualism brought the first public interest in ghosts and photographs soon followed as a way to manipulate those into believing or shelling out money for more proof. Ghost photographs in the modern era seem to be based on a competitive spirit, each person seems to be in search for the ultimate photograph that can be believed or thought to contain true proof that ghosts exist. This race comprises more than just those who merely misunderstand photographs, are attention seekers, but also include ghost groups who are looking to raise their status level amongst the ranks of their peers.

The scientific slant on ghost photographs is fairly concrete. It is believed by parapsychologists that ghosts are seen as a form of extra sensory perception and therefore is formed by mind-to-mind interaction. The ghostly figures that people see have no mass as they are not really occupying the space that they are seen in. Therefore photographing such evidence is impossible since cameras lack the ability to see through our brains and our eyes as they only see the physical area. This, of course, leads to arm chair theorem about infra red photography, strobe lighting and other methods, that are thought to be able to force a ghost out into the open for lack of a better description, but ignore the fact that ghosts are only perceptions of the environment and are not physical objects. It seems that the age of spiritualism continues as there is a portion of the public that believes anything that will attempt to convince the whole of the same.

Are there photographs that are paranormal? Yes, but it's doubtful that most of the supposed ghost or apparitional photographs that are seen are real. Many are either manipulation or an irrational jump to a paranormal conclusion based upon pareidolia.

What's pareidolia?

What do you see in the photograph to the right? To many you might immediately see the face of some long-haird guy with a mustache and beard. Some might see Jesus and some may actually see a baby with a hat on. Who's right? Well, the trick answer is everyone, but in reality it's just a baby with a hat on. People tend to pick out these visualizations and at times argue against the realistic point of view. Many investigators or hopeful ghost photograph owners jump to their own conclusions and at times lose the ability to see the picture for what it truly is. This also translates over into video as well and is not limited to the ghost crowd.

(payr.eye.DOH.lee.uh) n. The erroneous or fanciful perception of a pattern or meaning in something that is actually ambiguous or random.—pareidolic adj.

Questions, comments can be directed to Insider.