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.

Monday, 12 November 2012

What’s in Your Kit: In the Field

It’s again the slow time of year for Fortean animal reports in the Great White North, so it’s time to look at some basic stuff.  First in line is what should be in your kit for a one day on site investigation.  This is not the kind of investigation where you are camping out, trying to lure a cryptid, or sitting around observing.  This is the sort of trip where you have a reported event and you go see what evidence you can collect.

So what do you take with you?  The first is an open mind.  A good investigator has no preconceived notions of what the event entails.  By witness testimony, you can rule out some things, though.  Obviously if it is a suspected Sasquatch sighting you would not need tools for an Ogopogo investigation.  If your site is woodsy rather than sandy, you can choose specific tools for that environment.  Generally, though, you should not go to the site assuming that what the witness experienced is a cold, hard fact.

Most sightings of cryptids in Canada are related to Bigfoot.  Because of Canada’s wide range of terrain, your kit has to be varied.  Always bring a camera and an L shaped ruler.  Always bring pen and paper for your notes and observations.  If you have a sound recorder that would be helpful as well, as you never know when you will catch some unusual sounds.

In a forested area, bring a small saw.  If you have evidence of twisting in branches, a standard “sign” of Bigfoot activity, remove the whole section of the branch and bring it back for analysis (after taking photos of course!). This will allow you to further study it as new questions come up.  You should also have a good tape measure so you can measure how tall the evidence is off the ground.  Be sure you have all the appropriate permissions to not only be on the land, but to remove sections for evidence.

Another type of evidence that frequently presents itself is biological in nature.  Bits of hair or fur, and often feces, can be collected for analysis.  It is important to document the location photographically, as well as any smells.  Take wide shots as well as close ups of all specimens.  To retrieve them for further study, you will need several “tools”.  First, a pair of poly gloves—disposables are best, as you will not need to clean them thoroughly before each investigation.  Nothing should be touched by hands that are not covered.  This is not because the samples will harm you, but rather because you do not want any human cells to be integrated with the samples.  When collecting hair samples, get all of the samples you can with either a gloved hand or with tweezers.  If you use tweezers be certain to wash them thoroughly before collecting the next sample to avoid cross contamination.  You should also have appropriate containers for specimen collection.  Ultimately, you would want small glass jars with a cork or metal lid.  These can be hard to find, and often expensive, so if you will be returning to the lab/your home within 24 hours, placing specimens in plastic bags with zipper closure is fine.  Do not leave your samples in these bags, however, as the plastic will leave chemicals in your specimen when exposed for a long time.  When you get back to your home, put your sample in a glass jar (mason jar, etc) for long term storage.
When collecting scat, it is best to collect a very small sample of “pure” scat (without large pieces of food, etc) for dna analysis.  Again, small jars or plastic bags can be used.  Gather enough so that you have some to transfer to a microscope slide.  This is best done with a tongue depressor or Popsicle stick; one that has not been used for anything else and is not dyed or painted.  A good second choice is a standard butter knife, but be sure to clean it thoroughly when you are done and don’t integrate it back into your regular dinner set!  When doing scat collection it is also a good idea to put a silica pack into the bag or jar to help dry the sample.  These can be bought cheaply in bulk, or simply saved out of purses and wallets, as they are often inside when purchased new.  One packet should be plenty for a small sample.  Larger samples would require more packets.  Leave the silica inside the packet.

Also in scat, it is possible you may find bits of undigested food.  This is important, as it gives good clues about the diet of the animal.  If you find grass, for instance, it is a good probability the sample will turn out to be bovine, or feline, or any of several other types of grass eating animals.  If you find evidence of feathers or bones, you are likely looking at an omnivore or carnivore.  Try to retrieve these bits (separately) as well so you can get an idea of where the animal feeds based on what he eats and where that can be found.
Identifying biologicals can be tricky.  Most hair samples will have to be compared under microscope to see if they are structurally the same as humans or wilder animals.  This doesn't require a powerful microscope.  It should be easy to see differences in shaft construction.  The DNA found in scat can be tested to see if it is human or non-human in a simple home test.  If it tests non-human, compare the sample to known animals to see if it matches something common to the area.  If it tests human, it’s best to forward the sample to a professional lab for a better DNA breakdown.

Casting equipment for making impressions is a must have.  I pre-measure my plaster of Paris into Ziploc bags in amounts that can be easily mixed in a water bottle.  Generally a large water bottle can be half emptied and the powder mixed into the bottle, given a good shake, and poured out onto the print.  Remember to also bring something to “frame” the print to keep the plaster from running over the flat land.  I use gardening edge, cut to a reasonable length, and push it down into the ground at least three inches from the print.  This allows me to make a sturdy cast.  You can also use the sides of a cardboard box or anything with a side that will stand up to the wet plaster.  Be sure to leave plenty of room between the print and the frame.  If you are casting in snow, it may be helpful to bring “snow impression wax”.  This is an aerosol that you spray the print with (several times, with a minute or so between sprays) and costs about $15 a can.  If you don’t do this, the gypsum in your plaster will speed the melting of the print and drastically alter the outcome.  As gypsum hardens, it emits a small bit of heat.

If you are investigation a water based cryptid, be sure to bring jars to collect water samples.  You likely will not get biological evidence from the cryptid, but from what is in the water you may get an idea of what sort of beings can survive.  If possible, collect a soil sample from under water at least four feet from shore to get an idea of what the base of the system is made of.

Additional items in your kit would be generally for protection and comfort.  A basic first aid kit should be carried by at least one person on your team.  This should include items for everything from insect and snake bites to broken bones, a good length of rope, as well as salves and wound cleaning items.  Some teams bring a bottle of rubbing alcohol both for the first aid kit and for sterilizing evidence collection tools.  A rain poncho (even if rain is not expected) takes up very little space and can be used not only for protection from rain, but also to sit on or make shelter from.  Hiking poles or walking sticks may be helpful if you are going deep into the woods.  Insect repellent is a must, no matter the season.  Seasonal protection, like layered clothing, winter boots, large brimmed hats, and appropriate jackets should be considered.  Sunscreen is a must in all daylight outdoor investigations, no matter the season.  A good quality “Swiss Army Knife” is a must, as it has many of the needed tools included as well as a knife, which may come in handy.   A GPS or at least a compass is helpful.  In Canada it is also a good idea to carry bear spray.  Consider bringing binoculars and ALWAYS have a waterproof flashlight and communication equipment.  For communication, check to make sure there is cell service for the area (there likely will not be) and make alternate arrangements to reach emergency help if you cannot call out.

Last, but certainly not least, bring food and water.  It doesn't have to be a lot, just enough for emergency rations.  If your team should get lost, you will need to stay hydrated until help arrives.  Granola or “power” bars are great for field work as they give energy as well as basic nutrition.

Fieldwork can be great fun and an excellent adventure.  Never go alone.  Never go without telling someone outside the team where you will be and when you expect to return.  Be prepared, though, and be safe.  

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