May 21, 2022 I Nick Redfern

Are the Bigfoot Creatures Shapeshifting, Paranormal Entities?

It may come as a surprise to many to learn that one of the world’s most famous monsters – Bigfoot of the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere – is a shapeshifter. As controversial as it may sound, reports of strange, unidentified apes that have the ability to take on numerous guises – all around the planet, never mind just in the United States – abound. There is absolutely no doubt that Rendlesham Forest, in the English county of Suffolk, is most famous for a series of sensational UFO encounters that occurred across the period of December 26-29, 1980. Multiple military personnel, from the nearby twin-bases of Royal Air Force Benwaters and Royal Air Force Woodbridge, reported seeing strange lights in the sky – their accounts can be found in an official U.S. Air Force document of January 13, 1981, titled “Unexplained Lights.” It was written by Lieutenant Colonel Charles I. Halt, the Deputy Base Commander at Bentwaters. Other saw UFOs beaming lights down to the weapons-storage areas – which were the secret home to nuclear weapons. `There are even accounts of some of the airmen seeing small, humanoid figures with cat-like eyes – aliens, perhaps. It’s a far less known fact, however, that Rendlesham Forest has its very own shapeshifter. Its name is the Shug Monkey. Like most shapeshifters, it is a creature which terrifies all those who encounter it.

(Nick Redfern) Multiple mysteries in Rendlesham Forest: UFOs, mysterious apes and a gargoyle

Sam Holland, who I spoke with in 2001, encountered the Shug Monkey as he walked his little dog through the woods back in 1956. Holland described the monster as a veritable chimera: part monkey, part dog, part ape and part bear. That it had a length of around ten feet demonstrates it was no normal, or even known, animal. Fortunately, neither Holland nor Harry the dog were harmed by the lumbering creature, which, after briefly glaring at the petrified pair, vanished into the woods. A near-identical animal was seen seven years later in the same stretch of forest by a woman named Peggy Cushing; the only difference - a very significant difference - being that the animal suddenly changed into the form of a hideous, bat-winged gargoyle, and which soared off into the dark skies above! Notably, Cushing said that as the beast changed in shape, there was a shimmering effect surrounding it.

Adding yet another component to the story is an account which comes from monster-hunter Jonathan Downes. He is the director of the British-based Center for Fortean Zoology, and someone who accompanied me on my 2004 expedition to Puerto Rico in search of the legendary Chupacabra; a story I told in my 2015 book, Chupacabra Road Trip. Downes described, in his 2008 book, Island of Paradise, how in 1996 an old girlfriend of his had shown him a very interesting piece of film footage of unidentified paw prints found in a certain area of muddy ground in Rendlesham Forest, a year or two earlier. They closely resembled the prints of a cat; but of what variety no-one could say. What could be said, however, is that they were far bigger than the kinds of prints that would be left by even the largest lion, tiger or leopard. Of course, there is nothing roaming the wilds of the United Kingdom of such a size. Or, at least, there shouldn’t be any such beast on the loose. There have, however, been multiple encounters in Rendlesham Forest with what have become known as “Alien Big Cats,” or “ABCs.” But, not even they can boast of being the size of the animal that left the prints studied by Jonathan Downes. 

Moving on, we have the saga of Tom Potter, a local man who was witness to a large monkey-like animal seen in Woodbridge in the early hours of a 1987 morning. I met Potter in December 2000, and right in the heart of Rendlesham Forest, when a 20th anniversary party to celebrate the 1980 UFO landing was held there. As Potter drove to work at around 4:30 a.m., and as he passed the fringes of Rendlesham Forest, he caught sight of a creature that was not dissimilar to a chimpanzee. In fact, that is exactly what he thought the creature was, as he slowed his vehicle to a near-halt and watched it amble along the road at a leisurely pace. That is, until it suddenly stopped and turned to look at Potter; whose vehicle, at the time, was moving at a speed of barely a couple of miles per hour. According to Potter, the “chimpanzee” dropped onto its four-limbs, was briefly lit up by a white light, and took on the form of a sleek and shiny black cat. It then suddenly raced into a nearby field and was not seen again. 

The idea that Rendlesham Forest could be home to numerous unknown animals – such as Sam Holland’s ten-foot-long beast, Tom Potter’s “chimp-cat,” and Peggy Cushing’s nightmarish gargoyle – is absurd. In all likelihood, and particularly so when one takes into consideration the testimony of Cushing and Potter, we are dealing with a creature which is not limited to one physical form. A supernatural chimera, one might justifiably suggest. An intriguing and thought-provoking afterword: with multiple animal forms seen roaming around Rendlesham Forest – and for decades - what does all of the above say about the famous UFO encounter of late December 1980? While it is not impossible that extra-terrestrials – from a faraway star system – may have touched down in the woods all those years ago, the more logical answer to the riddle is that the UFO events were also the result of shapeshifting, but on this occasion the phenomenon chose to take on the form of E.T.  Which begs an even more thought-provoking question: into what form will the shapeshifting intelligence of Rendlesham Forest turn into next?

(Nick Redfern) Shapeshifting creatures on "Ghost Road"

Encounters with mysterious, glowing balls of light, ones that have the mystifying ability to change into the forms of strange and savage creatures, are not unknown in the United States: it’s far from being a solely British phenomenon. A classic example is the large body of data that surrounds a certain huge area of forest in Texas. As someone who is proud to call the Dallas-Fort Worth area his home, I am all too well aware that many people think and assume that Texas is just one big desert. In reality, however, that’s far from the case. Yes, West Texas is extremely flat and filled with almost endless fields of cotton. And, it’s also true that South Texas has its fair share of harsh and scalding landscapes. However, Central, North, and East Texas are very different: they are dominated by thick forestland which extends for miles and miles…and miles. Indeed, a 2011 Forest Inventory and Analysis report prepared by the Texas Forest Service revealed that Texas’ woods ran to 62.4 million acres, and which cover almost forty percent of the state. And it’s to one particular area of dense woodland that we have to turn our attention to. Its name: the Big Thicket.

Located in the Piney Woods area of East Texas, the Big Thicket has a most apt moniker: it is a huge, 83,000-acre area of woodland. “Dense” barely begins to describe the massive, forested environment, which is home to numerous wild animals, including alligators and bobcats – as well as to other creatures of a very odd kind, as we’ll soon see. Running through the heart of the Big Thicket is a long, thin, and incredibly sandy old road called Bragg Road. That’s not what the locals call it, though. To them, it is known as Ghost Light Road. There is a very good reason for this: for at least three centuries, people have reported seeing weird, small balls of light flitting through the trees late at night. But, we’re not talking about anything quite as down to earth as fireflies. These particular lights vary in size from – approximately – a tennis ball to a beach ball. They also exhibit evidence of intelligence: witnesses describe the lights approaching them, even circling them, in what is occasionally perceived as a playful fashion. Such is the interest that the lights provoke in the people that live there, and in visitors too, a historical marker has been erected at the start of Bragg Road and which details the strange story of the lights.

The late Rob Riggs was one of the most learned figures in the Bigfoot research field and someone who spent a significant portion of his life living in the Big Thicket area. Riggs collected numerous reports of the mysterious ghost lights, dating back to the 1800s. But, Riggs did far more than that: he also catalogued an astonishing number of reports of what seemed to be Bigfoot and large, black leopards. I say “seemed to be” for a very good reason. While most people who have reported seeing large black cats, and who have had hairy wild-man type encounters in the Big Thicket, the vast majority are content to conclude they encountered animals of the type that very few ever get to encounter. But, not all of them. A small body of individuals have sworn that the large cats and the hairy humanoids – when spotted by the astonished and sometimes terrified onlookers – vanished before their eyes. We’re not talking about them making hasty getaways into the woods. Rather, we are talking about the “animals” – in an instant – changing form from big cat and Bigfoot to a small, brightly-lit globe of light. The ghost lights that have been staple parts of the area for centuries, of course.

(Nick Redfern) Rob Riggs, the late explorer of Texas' mysterious Big Thicket

Three such reports surfaced in 1977, and from entirely unconnected people: two encountered the Big Thicket man-beast, and one the paranormal panther. All three witnesses – whose accounts were collected by Ernie Sears, a now-deceased UFO researcher, swore that, in barely a couple of blinks of the eye, and as the creatures realized they had been seen, they became as still as statues. Then, rather incredibly, they shrunk in size and transformed into small balls of light that vanished into the trees. A near-identical incident occurred on Bragg Road itself in 1998, when a group of campers encountered an immense Bigfoot – in excess of eight-feet in height – which vanished in a flash of light and that left just one tell-tale card: a golf ball-sized globe of light that hovered around the immediate area for around twenty or seconds and which then fizzled out of existence, and amid what was described as an electrical crackling noise. I had the good fortune to meet one of the campers at the June 11, 2005 Texas Ghost Lights Conference in Austin, Texas.

Finally, in 2007, one of the mysterious big cats was seen by a wildlife officer, as it drank from a small pool of water deep in the Thicket. The woman – who I met on a 2009 trip to the Big Thicket and who prefers anonymity - knew all the stories of the area’s resident “black panther,” but didn’t really put much faith in the accounts. That is, until she saw it for herself. And she saw much more than that: as she stood, transfixed to the spot, the immense cat turned nonchalantly in her direction, and was suddenly reduced to a glowing ball that melted into the pool, amid a great deal of steam – suggesting the light was extremely hot. In view of all the above, it’s no wonder that the Big Thicket has developed a reputation as one of the most paranormal places in all of the Lone Star State.

Nick Redfern
Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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