Mystery animal 'captured'

05/30/04 -  The Courier-Tribune

By Kathi Keys, Staff Writer

ASHEBORO - Bill and Gayle Kurdian are always seeing raccoons, foxes, deer, opossums and squirrels in their rural eastern Randolph County yard.

But, not their latest mammal visitor - who they captured on film. It's an image that has baffled them and N.C. Zoo officials and others.

Those seeing the photograph of the animal suggest a jackal or a fox or a crossbreed. Jackals, foxes, wild dogs and wolves are all in the same canidae family of carnivores.

"Its body is 16 to 18 inches like a fox, its rear is taller than the front and its tail is about two feet long, like a cat's," explained Bill Kurdian about the mysterious animal which has been visiting their yard since late January.

He describes the soundless creature's movements as a "trot."

"It's just an unusual animal."

The wildlife enthusiast, who's vice president of Matlab in Asheboro, puts out dry corn for wildlife to eat, so regularly spots other animals. The only other animal he's spotted eating with it is a fox. "They sniffed each other," he recalled.

"I've seen it quite a few times now ... just before I took the photograph of it I saw it two nights in a row and then once in the morning about 6."

And it appears it's now nursing. "It must be a female, because she's nursing. It would tickle me to death if she shows up with babies."

Kurdian first spotted the animal about the time another mysterious creature was spotted in the south Asheboro area.

A home video of a big black animal touched off a flurry of police officers, sheriff's deputies and zoo staffers to that area.

This animal turned out to be a big housecat, according to the director of the Eastern Puma Research Network recognized by several law enforcement agencies for its expertise.

This latest creature does not resemble any large black housecat.

When Kurdian first spotted the newest mystery animal, he said he called the zoo to inquire about any missing animals or their knowledge about any exotic pets being loose in the area, but was told there weren't any.

Guy Lichty, the zoo's associate curator of mammals, told Kurdian that he'd be interested in seeing a picture of the animal.

Last week, Kurdian set up his wildlife camera - camouflaged photographic equipment which is motion sensitive and takes a flash picture. That night he captured the animal on a 24-exposure roll of film, along with many, many pictures of deer eating the corn.

The feeding area is about 30 feet from the Kurdian house. They can see the animals eating the corn from a bathroom window.

On Friday, Kurdian took an 8-by-10 inch color photograph of the animal to Lichty at the zoo.

The zoo curator, who also consulted with other staff members, suggested it could be a crossbreed, but was uncertain exactly what the animal is. (Lichty could not be contacted Saturday for comment.)

On Saturday, Kurdian showed the photograph to a neighbor who also didn't know what it was and had never seen the animal in the neighborhood.

Kurdian is a long-time member of the Wake County Wildlife Club, affiliated with the N.C. Wildlife Federation, and a hunter and fisherman.

"I know about North American animals, but I don't know what this is."

Wait!  It's a ... :  Unidentified creature stumps experts

06/03/04 - Greensboro News Record, NC

By Mark Brumley Staff Writer
News & Record

ASHEBORO -- First of all, this is a real newspaper, not a grocery-store tabloid.

So, the story you're about to read is true.

It starts with Bill and Gayle Kurdian throwing out dried corn for the wildlife in their neck of the woods in eastern Randolph County, and an odd-looking creature taking them up on their hospitality early last winter.

"What in the world?" Bill Kurdian asked himself when he saw the animal for the first time.

About the size of a fox, but with short brown hair and a long cat-like tail, it looked more like an animal in a National Geographic spread out of Africa than any critter native to the woods of central North Carolina.

He's seen the creature off and on since about Christmas, with it wandering up several nights in a row, then disappearing for awhile.

Though Gayle Kurdian could vouch for her husband, when Bill Kurdian talked about the animal, people scoffed that it was just a dog.

"Everybody thought I was crazy," said Kurdian, the vice president of Matlab in Asheboro.

But Kurdian, an avid outdoorsman, got proof.

He captured the animal on two frames of film on May 20, using a motion-sensing camera that his wife gave him for Christmas.

In one frame, the animal was photographed from the front as it approached. The second frame caught a side view of the animal facing the camera.

Kurdian called Guy Lichty, a curator of mammals at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro. But Lichty couldn't help based on just the description. So, as soon as he got his film developed, he couldn't wait to show it to Lichty. But Lichty and other curators were still unable to conclusively identify the animal.

Lorraine Smith, another curator of mammals who looked at the photo, said it might be a grey fox that has lost much of its fur, possibly because of parasites. But, she stopped short of total certainty.

"You learn with animals that you don't provide an absolute," Smith said.

There's speculation that it might be an exotic animal that got away from its private owner or was set free. It could also be a hybrid, Kurdian was told.

It's the second time this year that zoo curators have been called on to identify a strange animal sighted in the area.

In January, some people reported seeing an unidentifiable creature in southern Asheboro. Someone later trapped a large feral cat in the vicinity.

Zoo spokesman Rod Hackney joked that he wished North Carolina could put Randolph County's talent to work finding bizarre creatures for the zoo.

"Maybe we could increase attendance," Hackney quipped.

Kurdian still hopes that someone can identify his mystery animal. He's trying to catch it alive so the zoo or the N.C. State vet school can run blood tests.

"I'm not going to kill it," Kurdian assured folks.

"I don't think it's a vicious animal," he said. "It's just interesting."

 Contact Mark Brumley at 625-8452, Ext. 231, or mbrumley@news-record.com

Everyone's got an opinion on photo of mysterious creature

06/10/04 - Greensboro News Record, NC

By Mark Brumley, Staff Writer
News & Record

ASHEBORO -- Bill Kurdian is not alone.

Although he might be beginning to wish he were.

Since he shared his story and photograph last week of an unidentified fox-like creature he's seen sporadically since early winter in the backyard of his eastern Randolph County home, seven other people in Randolph, Guilford and Rockingham counties have come forward, claiming identical sightings.

Kurdian snapped his photo May 20 using a motion-sensing camera.

Lorraine Smith, a mammals curator at the N.C. Zoo in Asheboro, said she believes Kurdian's creature is a common grey fox that has lost much of its fur, possibly due to a heavy parasite infestation.

But not everyone is convinced.

"This thing has gotten real interesting," Kurdian said Wednesday.

"I've gotten calls from Washington, California and everywhere."

He's even been contacted by "Proof Positive," a new version of the old "Unsolved Mysteries" TV show, about possibly doing a segment.

The animal in Kurdian's photo looked so strange that some people asked if the photo had been altered.

They wondered if someone had electronically spliced a fox, a cat and deer together.

Kurdian said the only thing he's done to the original picture is had it enlarged so people could get a better look at the animal.

"The picture you see is exactly like it came off the camera," Kurdian said. "It has not been doctored. It's not a hoax."

Kurdian's photo has given birth to a foxy phenomenon that hasn't stayed caged in the Piedmont Triad area: It has grown legs and wandered North Carolina, the U.S. and the world via the Internet.

Between June 3, when the story first appeared on the News & Record's Web site, and Tuesday, the last day that figures were available, the story received 49,749 page views, or "hits."

Six people who read the story online sent e-mail to the News & Record and said they had seen similar creatures in Wilmington, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, New York and Oregon.

The frontrunner in the "Guess the Mystery Animal" game sparked by Kurdian's photo is the maned wolf, which is native to South America.

Coming in a close second is the jackal. There are three species, all native to Africa.

Contact Mark Brumley at 625-8452, Ext. 231, or mbrumley@news-record.com

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