|Cryptozoology, BioForteana, Zoological Oddities, Unusual Natural History|
You may discover recent reports of mystery animals. If you are fortunate enough to receive a report within a day or two of the sighting, you will want to do some field work. (Networking comes in handy for receiving "hot" information.)
What will you be looking for? When you arrive at the site (after receiving permission from the property owner), get a feel for the lay of the land. What habitats surround the sighting area? Is it forested or marshy, farmland or residential? Where are the nearest bodies of water? Do you see signs of wildlife? You can use this information later when using maps to track sightings.
The next step is to look for evidence of the animal's presence. This may include:
Note everything in detail in a notebook. If possible, photograph all evidence. You will want to place an object such as a pen, coin, or even a ruler in the photograph to show the size. Collect hair and stool samples (after photographing it), but it is very important not to touch any of it with your bare hands. Use tweezers or philatelic tongs for hair samples. You can collect stool in sandwich bags.
You may find law enforcement officers at the scene, especially if the incident involves loss of property or a car accident. Obviously, don't get in their way. Once they have finished with their investigation, and you have the property owner's permission, the field is yours. The officers may be willing to let you know the results of their investigation. This could be very informative, especially if they acquire blood and hair samples. Their lab results are not 100% accurate, but they are usually reliable.
What can you do with stool or hair samples? Try to get them to a cryptozoologist for scientific examination. With stool samples, a scientist can look for parasites and run a gas or thin-layer chromatograph. (Johnson, Belden, and Aldred's "Differentiating Mountain Lion and Bobcat Scats" in the Journal of Wildlife Management (Vol. 48, No. 1 (1984): 239-244.) describes how chromatography is beneficial.) With the proper equipment, DNA can be extracted from hair samples. With the DNA, the species of the animal can be determined. If it is from an unidentified animal, it may be possible to determine related species. Most larger universities have the equipment to do this, and the procedure uses about $50 to $100 in supplies. Unfortunately, the many projects that most professors are working on keep them from helping investigators on a regular basis. A grad student may find the project interesting, though.
Unless you have some background in tracking, you probably won't track the animal very far. If you do find tracks, make casts. The most common method of making casts is to pour plaster of Paris into a form (set around the track). You may wish to investigate the possibility of using plastic or foam casting materials.
Record in detail the eyewitness' report. If a witness took a photograph of the animal, ask if you can make copies from the negative. Be sure to get permission from the witness before publishing the photo.
What if you find an area that has had recent cryptid activity? There are many people who go out looking for bigfoot and other creatures. There are others who state that field research is fruitless, but circumstances may be favorable in your case. Each cryptid requires different techniques, but here are a few points to consider: