The Centre for Fortean Zoology was founded in the UK in 1992 - nearly 20 years ago. Over the past two decades it has expanded to become a truly global organisation. We opened our American office in 2001, our Australian office in 2009, and now - in our 19th year - we are proud to welcome CFZ Canada to the CFZ global family.

Thursday 13 June 2019

The Need for Fieldwork

I often hear it said that one is not a "real" cryptozoologist unless they go out into the field.  I'm here to tell you that is simply not true.

The nature of Cryptozoology is to find, understand, identify, protect, document and protect species that are, as yet, unidentified.  To do this, a researcher has to be familiar with many different sciences-most importantly biology, linguistics, and ecology.  To be a successful, respected researcher this requires a great deal of work.  There are thousands of "semi-discovered" species;  beasts that have been seen but not yet identified.  To understand each of them would take a lifetime.  A good researcher must choose his favorite and fully do the work.  It's not enough to just be interested.

Bigfoot researchers, the good ones, can tell you the pros and cons
of the Patterson-Gimlin film, for instance.  They have learned about cinematography, climate, zoology, and many more disciplines.  To make a legitimate claim of being a "Bigfoot Researcher" one doesn't have to go camping at all.  If the researchers choose to do fieldwork, it should only be undertaken after become very well versed in the area.  In addition to all of the reports, s/he would have to know the terrain, the dangers, and the patterns of the sightings. S/he should understand primates, of course, but also a bit about the psychology of the witness.

Too many people drag a tent and a trailcam into some cool woods to "research".  All too often this means taking some friends, building a fire and downing a few beers.  That sounds like a great time!  But it's not research.  In fact, it almost guarantees you won't experience anything cryptozoological at all.  It certainly does not fit the definition of  "research".

Another example is Mothman.  No good hypothesis has ever been brought forth for this strange beast.  In the interest of "research", thousands flock to the West Virginia Mothman Festival in the hope of meeting reality TV personalities involved in "the research".  Here's a tip; reality TV has very little reality.  Virtually everything is "reenacted", scripted, and edited.  The next tier of "researchers"go to the Mothman Museum, see a couple of documentaries, then "investigate" the TNT area where mothman was sighted in the 1960's.  While slightly better, they really are not researchers, but rather "enthusiasts".  Most don't even know that Mothman has been seen worldwide for centuries, and continues to be seen pretty much everywhere EXCEPT Point Pleasant, WV.  The better group of researchers will probably be found in the local library, the state archives, the farm museum, or Chicago.  This group will be trying to understand the psychology of a witness, the physical limitations of the proposed beast, and so much more.  None of them will be hanging out getting autographs from Josh Gates.

Fieldwork should be one of the last methods a crypto researcher should take on.  Before taking off to the woods, ask yourself these things:

  1.  Is this the time of year when sightings have occurred?
  2.  What kinds of animals are in this area?
  3.  Has fieldwork been done at this site already?
  4.  Do you have permission to be on this land?
  5.  What will you do if you DO have a sighting?

Additionally, be safe.  No fieldwork is useful if you get injured.  Be sure to have at least one other person with you (but probably not more than four on site) and reliable communication.  If there is no cell service, take a radio.

Good research in the field requires good equipment as well.  Don't waste your money on a FLIR.  Instead, pack your kit with a good camera (not your phone camera).  Make sure you have sound recording equipment.  Skip the trailcam, that's for when you are NOT in the field.

Take a pen and paper.  Make lots of notes.  Take gloves, both disposable and heavy duty.  Take some ziplock bags for living specimens and excrement and some paper ones for tree branch clippings.  Take photos of what you are collecting BEFORE you collect them.  Be sure you have plenty of water and something to drink it out of.  A first aid kit is a must, including treatment for insect, animal, and snake bites.  Take plaster (and something to mix it in and with) for molds of footprints et al.  Use sunscreen, preferably odorless.  Packaged wipes, lip balm, and toilet paper will also make your trip a little more pleasant.  Take a trash bag and leave the area just as you found it.

Too many throw a backpack of food and water in the car and take off to the woods.  These are not researchers.  These are enthusiasts, or maybe even investigators.  There is no problem with that, not at all, as most good reports come from enthusiasts.  Words matter, however.  Don't call yourself a "researcher" unless you research.

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