The examination of "leopard" hairs at the recent CFZ Weird Weekend by Lars Thomas, is well known now amongst those with a crypto-interest. It is also well known that hairs were found by another group other than the CFZ, The Wiltshire Phenomena Research group. You can read what the WPR said about it in a previous article on this blog.
All well and good you might say. Leopard hairs found in the UK countryside and confirmed as such. Of course this doesn't confirm the existance of leopards in the UK, as there is no way of knowing how the hairs got there, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. (I've also read today that the CFZ have got a second expert to view the hairs and they too confirm the original identification)
In this months Fortean Times, there is the following short article "New Evidence for Big Cats"., by Lars Thomas. Here he describes the evidence he examined, mentioning both the CFZ and the WPR.
Here is where it unravels very quickly, not with the CFZ but with the WPR. To such an extent that the WPR has now ceased to exist and has renamed itself as "The British Anomalistic Research Society (BARsoc)".
Why has this happenned you may well ask. well it appears that the Fortean Times article caused a bit of a storm within the WPR, with the sceptics being very unhappy that their organisation was by association being linked with a report that the evidence found proved that big cats existed in the UK countryside. With the leaders of the group, altering their blogs and comments and laying the blame at a small 4 man crypto group known as the "Four-teans", (nice pun and name). It seems that the WPR group that found the leopard hairs was part WPR and part Four-teans. From what I can gather, and it is a very mixed up situation, the WPR are very much a sceptic based orgnisation. This is of course very different from a sceptical organisation. The last thing sceptics want is evidence to prove them wrong. Being sceptical however means that you are prepared to accept evidence and alter your beliefs accordingly.
The fallout of all this is a lot of messy accusations aimed at the Four-tean group from the WPR, leading to a rebranding of the WPR to the BARsoc and a distancing of them from the finding of the hairs, even insinuating the hairs were deliberated placed there by the Four-teans.
Now from what I can see, the Four-teans have actually done nothing wrong here. They were all upfront and never made any outrageous claims. They seem to have fallen foul of the political crossfire within the WPR. Now I feel slightly responsible here. It was my article about the WPR that lead the CFZ to admit more than one group found hairs at the Weird Weekend, and so lead to the WPR getting equal "billing" on Lars Thomas Fortean Times article. I'm sure if I had never written about the WPR then I very much doubt if tthey would have appeared in the FT article.
In the last few days I have been contacted by the Four-teans who feel very agrieved at the way they have been treated by people they once thought of colleagues or friends. They were in a bit of a quandry of how to reply to all these accusations, feeling they didn't want to post anything on their site, because they were already getting heaps of accusations by emails. I offered to put up their reply on this blog, and allow any reply comments to be placed here. This would both allow them them to put up their defence, whilst not causing problems on their own site.
Their reply along with links can be found below.
One final point, regarding the WPR and their name change to "The British Anomalistic Research Society". Now I'm sure people have realised by now, I don't hold with pomposity and people trying to look more important and academic than they really are. Well so does the British Government. There are rules and regulations regarding names you can use when describing an organisation or company. Especially the words "British" and "Society".
The Companies House Website says the following about the use of these names.
"British" - If you wish to use the word at the beginning of your company name you would need to show that the company is pre-eminent in its field by providing independent support from a representative body, trade association or government department.
If the word is used elsewhere in the name, you would be expected to show that your company is substantial in relation to its activity or product and that it is eminent in its own field.
The company’s registered office must be in England and Wales.
"Society" - To use this word the company should normally be limited by guarantee with each member having one vote, and include a non-profit distribution clause in the articles of association. If the company is limited by shares its articles would still need to include a clause stating each member had one vote and also a not for profit distribution clause.
Now I hope the BARS before they get the new T-Shirts printed have got all the relevant approvals from the government. I will be checking up in this in the near future.
Here is the defence from the Four-teans. I will be happy to post any reply from the WPR/BARS.
Longleat Forest Leopard Hair. The Defence.
Since the news of a hair, identified as being leopard, came into the mainstream blogs last Thursday (9th Sept) after being mentioned in Fortean Times, it has caused a veritable storm. Most of the blogs are highly critical of the four-teans group, with suggestions of fraudulent activities including planting the hair, manipulating the results etc. It has also been suggested we used the Wiltshire Phenomenon Research group (now defunct and renamed as BARS, British Anomalistic Research Society, a phoenix which has risen from WPR) as the respectable vehicle to push our ambiguous claims. In actual fact we were not claiming anything, we leave that to others better qualified than ourselves. The accusation that were accusing Hayley Stevens of conspiring to ''cover up'' the truth is, quite frankly, ridiculous! what truth? We never claimed anything! In addition the Longleat find seems to have become inextricably linked to the Huddisford woods finds.
Most of the events reported would have been easily provable before the WPR website was torn down. If anyone wishes to contradict them they are welcome to, we know we are telling the truth. The four-teans feel badly let down by WPR, with two of them not even knowing about the Longleat events. The case in fact had nothing to do with the four-teans at all, and you would have thought anyone visiting our website would have found it strange it wasn’t even mentioned aside a short paragraph at the end of the blog on the Huddisford Wood findings. But apparently they didn't, obviously preferring instead to believe we had stitched up WPR.
The news unleashed a veritable shitstorm onto the four-teans site, with derogatory
comments being unleashed via the ''contact us'' feature. So to put the record straight, here are the full facts.
Colin of the four-teans was also a member of WPR. Hayley, its co-founder, advertises herself as the rather friendly sceptic. Initially just paranormal investigators, the decision was taken by WPR, with no direct encouragement, to branch out into other areas; one of these being cryptozoology.
Having heard reports about sightings of big cats in the Wiltshire area and in particular a recent one in the vicinity of Longleat Forest, Hayely asked me if I would be willing to lead a WPR expedition into Longleat Forest to investigate the claims. I agreed and asked if it would be ok for Perry to come along also, not because he's a better tracker, fraudster, or anything else you care to mention, but because he only lives 45 minutes up the road and had never been to the Forest as he doesn’t drive. Please note then that
the head of WPR (or BARS) thought up the investigation and planned it. As an
added bit of interest for the group I also asked along Marcus Matthews, who is a
local author and researcher; he knows all the local sightings, as most are reported directly to him. Marcus was to take us on a short walk round the footpaths and point out to us where the most recent sightings had actually occurred. Duly, the news that WPR were to investigate the claims of big cats in Longleat Forest was announced on the front page of their site, with the further announcement that all findings by the group would be reported after the investigation.
We arrived at the woods on the day in question and parked up. In attendance were: Hayley, Sharon and Charlie of WPR, (Charlie is Hayley's younger brother, so I would class him as WPR) myself ( WPR but also four-tean) Perry (four-tean) Nadia (Perry's partner & driver) and Marcus Matthews. The stroll round the footpaths took longer than anticipated, perhaps an hour and a half, with various prints in soft ground looked at and dismissed. Arriving back at the car park, Marcus took his leave, which left just five of us. It was I or Perry who suggested (but I can’t remember which one of us) that we now went off track into the forest itself. Hayley and Sharon however were reluctant for whatever reason and chose instead to stay behind at a cafe across the road. This meant just three of us entered the woods. We were in the woods I would estimate for, approx, another one and a half hours. Various things were examined and for the most part dismissed. One thing we did come across was a tree with scratch marks about seven feet up the trunk, which is indicative of big cat, although we took photographs we even dismissed this as we felt it wasn’t clear cut enough, and could have possibly been caused by deer rubbing their antlers. We did decide water and food within the woods was plentiful, we saw loads of evidence for the presence of deer, rabbit, fox and badger.
It was as we were starting to make our way back that we came across a definite trail of something that had pushed through the undergrowth. The track made through the undergrowth was approx two feet in height, making a definite tunnel-like effect. Investigating further it was noticed just opposite what-ever-it-was had pushed through, was a four strand barbed wire fence. Sheep wool was prevalent on the strands; but standing out like a sore thumb amongst all the white was a single black hair. We didn’t know what it was but it was collected as per procedure with latex gloves and placed into a sealed bag. The find I should point out was in a totally different part of the wood to where we had walked earlier.
We arrived back at the cars and met back up with Hayley and Sharon, showing them
the find. The same evening WPR reported the investigation findings on their website. ALL operatives were referred to as WPR personnel. The hair find was also announced with the statement that it was hoped to be tested. Yes, I work for Rentokil and we have a research and development department. I managed to get it tested but obviously Rentokil are not really geared towards identification of such things; I did however manage to get an identification of felid, which wasn’t too exciting as it could have come from a tom cat at the nearest farm. And there for a few weeks the matter rested. I can’t remember if the ID of felid was ever announced on the WPR site; if pushed I’d say it wasn't, although there was an update on the case posted on WPR. This brings us to the weekend of the CFZ conference in Devon. This weekend is well documented in our blog so I’m not going into any further detail here. It's not as easy as you may think getting a hair tested for positive species identification. I had no idea how to do it, and as Hayley was to find out when she wanted a second opinion: just who do you ask without having to pay extortionate fees? Museums, zoos or universities are just not interested. However I knew Lars Thomas would be able to do it for me, especially as luck would have it he was actually going to be doing a lecture on hair identification at the conference. This is actually a hobby of Lars; he has thousands of hairs from different animals in his
As we now know, it was identified as “...not maybe, not possibly, but definitely Leopard”. This is where it gets interesting for me. I, of course, reported by text immediately to WPR. It was announced with caveats on the site (second opinion etc). So it was still a WPR case. Hayley made enquiries for getting a second opinion, but came across the same problems I had had: Just where do you get a hair tested?
On the 9th September the Fortean Times carried the article about the Huddisford Woods findings (one cat scat contained over 20 leopard hairs); yes the four-teans were implicitly involved in this. WPR were also mentioned by Lars for the Longleat find; he mistakenly attributed all of us to WPR and made the erroneous connection to the Huddisford finds, and so the trouble began. To my mind WPR at this point panicked. Up until this point all the reporting on the site on the investigation had been reasonable,
sensible, and not biased one way or the other, as of course it should be. Once the Fortean Times piece was published the site was obviously going to generate a lot more hits. It is, of course, only right that any cryptozoological evidence should be questioned, but not with unfactual statements and innuendo's against an innocent group.
A front page headline on the WPR site announced “Have you come to the site because of the leopard hair announcement in Fortean Times? If so click here”; this then took you into Hayley’s blog, where she was announcing “I’m not saying the hair was planted, but...” or “I’m not saying Lars mixed up the samples, but...” No, she may not have been saying that... but! we feel the idea was certainly being planted into people's minds, deliberately or not. Worse still was the fact that she announced the unfactual information into sightings of a big cat in the area: The statements though once again spun a negative aspect onto the case. In fact, on the 18th of August on her own blog Hayley had stated: ''We’ve also recieved numerous eye-witness reports of big cats in the same area so this is a case that is still being worked on''
The blog obviously provoked a lot of comments with ALL comments being in agreement with the facts (sic) presented by Hayley. Then it got worse. I posted a reply onto the blog regarding a few points; when, to my dismay, I re-read Hayley's original blog only to find she had changed a large part of it. Gone was the assertion of only one sighting, gone were a few other statements too. This is moving the goalposts to a high degree; in fact I would call it cheating! Changing your original blog facts because someone challenges them successfully is at the least underhand. The announcement was then made that this wasn’t in fact a WPR case at all! No, it was in fact a four-tean case. Oh right! I see!
The investigation was announced on the WPR site as a WPR investigation, reported
on the site as being conducted by WPR members, findings reported as WPR findings, but when the going gets a bit tough announce “it's nothing to do with me guv”; and so four-teans, two of whom know nothing about it anyway, get vilified with phrases like “consider it likely to be outright fraud by four-tean group”. And god knows where our supposed claim of “undeniable proof” came from. I also love the quote “And in such a small area, and such a large predator requiring food, I’m sure we’ll have it captured or killed within weeks if it’s really there. Let’s see what happens” We will? Is this person getting a team together then, to clear up the mystery? I doubt it, or maybe I just don’t
This is a link to above quotes:
As well as the above and the remarks on the WPR site, as mentioned before, derogatory comments were being thrown at the four-teans on their own site which hadn’t even announced or claimed anything. I challenged Hayley by private email about trust in members, the response being that unless she had seen, or experienced something herself she couldn’t be sure it was true. Not much point in sending members out whilst sitting drinking tea then really, in fact not much point in having members at all!
Interesting philosophy, and if that’s what you live by then fair enough, but I believe she in fact broke her own rules by stating a “fact” on the blog by quoting the study of Nowell & Jackson. ''In their IUCN survey, Nowell and Jackson suggest male home territories vary between 30–78 km2(7413.2 acres – 19274.2 acres), but just 15–16 km2 (3706.5 acres) for females'' and of course the forests around Longleat are not nearly that large.
Really? Where did she pull that from? The internet no doubt, but wherever it was from, was she there? Did she take part in the study? How does she know it's true and factual?
In fact the study is likely to be correct, but guess what? The study would have been into the leopards’ natural habitat, where a lot of their territory is savannah; prey is sparsely spread and constantly on the move. A UK cat would not have far to travel at all to get a meal. The deer population in the UK has exploded in the last 10 years, not to mention badgers, foxes, rabbits etc, all easily available to a predator, in fact they’re spoiled for choice. They even have road kill. Why travel?
After a couple more emails between Hayley and I, WPR pulled down their site and all evidence of what I’m saying here has gone. But it is all the truth and I challenge anyone to contradict it. If they do, so be it, but we know the truth of what is being written here.
I have also managed to retrieve an archive of the WPR site relating to the Longleat study from Google to back up my case; please click on the link to read further.
And here is the link to the Original blog piece that was posted
Unfortunately, it's the only archives I’ve been able to find relating to the WPR Longleat case, but I haven’t given up on finding more. The changed blog of above will I suspect be lost forever, as it was only online a few hours before the site was removed. This original blog though, even before the revised one, disowning all responsibility, provided the first signs of the WPR distancing themselves from responsibility in the first sentence!
Notice as well on this original post the errors and inconsistencies for such an important piece, knowing there would be massive hits owing to the Fortean Times article ''Firstly I should point out that Perry & Colin are from the Four-Teans and were simply joined by some members of Wiltshire Phenomena Research'' With the following sentence though, she was saying in fact the hair was found by WPR, contradictory I feel! ''Secondly, included was the hair sample that Wiltshire Phenomena Research found in Longleat Forest earlier this year'' Yes, thats what people had come to the site to find out about!
It went on to say '' When Colin took the hair sample to the Weird Weekend with him it
had already been tested by Rentokil (a team member works for the company) and the analysis had come back saying that the hair was feline. The ''team member'' who works for Rentokil is actually me, so looks like i'd suddenly become a WPR team member again rather than a four-tean!
Then came the errors in facts such as ''One single leopard hair does not, in my opinion, prove that a leopard is living in Longleat forest. I would expect there to be other evidence too. Scat, other hairs, prints, carcasses…'' No one had claimed it to be proof, and we agree it proves nothing. In addition we had spent a total of 3 hours exploring a small part of the forest, half that actually in the forest off track; so maybe in such a short space of time it's not that suprising ''other evidence'' wasn't found. We got lucky finding anything at all. Other evidence has in fact been found by different researchers. ''The forests are not that large and the cat sightings have been of dark coloured cats during the day. Leopards tend to be nocturnal, though daytime sightings are possible'' misleading, as recent studies by radio tracking have shown that forest Leopards are more inclined to be both diurnal and crepuscular (active during the day, and active during twilight and dusk) ''There has (been) one sighting at night time on a road near the forests, but an exact date for this is not known'' Untrue. The sightings may or may not be erroneous but there are some, and their documented. In fact over the last 10 years or so around 50 well documented sightings have occured around the area at different times of day. ''Not to mention that close by is the Safari Park who would probably be aware if there were cats prowling the locality, which they aren’t'' Did someone ask them then?
If they did i'm unaware of it. (edit; A post on facebook on 17th Sept, six days after this statement, has stated '' have just had an interesting email from the head warden at Longleat Safari Park who said'' "I would have to question that a single hair was found on a fence could be confirmed as a leopard." This would suggest to me that no contact was made before. It would of course be evidence against any presence of a big cat. That's fine, once again I must reiterate four-teans were not claiming anything)
It may also have been helpful, just to balance things up a little, to have included the direct quote from Gary Mantle who is Head of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. In a recent interview he said; ''I have never said this before, but we have enough credible sightings for me to believe we have Big Cats in Wiltshire''
As said earlier four-teans feel badly let down by this episode. We once again must stress that the four-teans have never claimed anything, even with our Huddisford finds. We will always seek the truth in cryptozoology, rather than wishful thinking. A successful debunk is welcomed, there are always more mystery animals that could just possibly be real to investigate. We would also like to add that we as a group have made no financial gain whatsoever from either the Huddisford or Longleat finds, nor are we planning to. I hope this blog goes some way towards putting the record straight and re-establishing some trust. We would be happy to receive comments.