|Cryptozoology, BioForteana, Zoological Oddities, Unusual Natural History|
Basics of Investigation
The most important tool in your investigations is your mind. How you interpret the data you receive, how you apply skeptical criticism, and how you maintain an open-minded approach will all determine the validity and accuracy of your research. You must be willing to listen to people even if you don't agree with them. You must be willing to apply critical reasoning to theories. Just because a fact seems to corroborate your favorite hypothesis doesn't mean you have settled the matter. Never throw out a possible explanation just because the dreaded "authorities" came up with it. Many investigators toss out the "escaped exotic" scenario without realizing how many exotics are in their area and how many of them escape or are abandoned. I once picked up a 5-foot-long reticulated python that a Dayton, OH, resident found in his front yard. The best rule of thumb is to be aware of what others think, how animals act, and what is going on in your area.
The next significant tool will be your files. An investigator must keep information in a neat, concise format that allows quick and easy access. The files hold everything from eyewitness reports to newspaper clippings to bibliographies.
While much of it will be kept in "hard copy," as the actual clippings and articles, you may want to consider keeping some of it in a computer (backed up with copies on disks). I've found that keeping some files in my hard drive allows me to find material much quicker than if I had to go through sheets and sheets of papers. All I have to do is bring up a specific document and use the search mode. It takes some effort to type or scan everything in, but the benefits are worth the time taken to do it.
As a suggested filing system, a good base for expansion of your own ideas includes:
When you find a newspaper or magazine article relevant to your investigation, file it accurately and specifically. If you find an article on panther sightings in the 1800's in Ohio, don't file it under "Panther Sightings." That is too broad, and the file may become crammed with articles. Instead, file it under "Ohio, Panther Sightings, 1800's," or another specific name.
When you find and clip an article for your files, include with it the name of the article, the author's name, the name of the magazine or newspaper, the date of publication, and the page number. This will help other researchers find the article and confirm its origin.
Certainly, you will want to keep a small notebook on your person whenever possible. New ideas and opportunities can appear anywhere.
To organize sightings, find a good topographical map of the area. Make note of the landscape. Where are the nearest waterways and forested areas? How large are they? How close is the sighting to residential areas? If it is very close, there's a good chance that several people saw the animal. For a good article on this subject, see Michael Frizzel's "The U.S. Geological Survey: An Invaluable Technical Resource for Forteans and Anomalists" in the February 1989 INFO Journal, p. 19+.
Keep track of every address that you may need in the future. Write down the names of all local wildlife experts whenever a newspaper features them. You can look up the phone numbers and addresses. You may need them in the future, and it's better to have the details on hand, rather than wasting time looking them up.