Skinwalker Ranch

Secret of Skinwalker Ranch: Alpaca Controversy, My Thoughts On The Show And Owner Brandon Fugal Speaks Out

25 May , 2020  

By Joe Murgia – @ufojoe11 on Twitter

Episode 6 of “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch,” will forever be known as “the alpaca incident.” A pair of adult alpacas, Lionel and Jed, were introduced to the most studied, paranormal hotspot in the world. Knowing the violent history of the ranch, my first thought focused on these cute, helpless animals being thrust into a potentially, dangerous situation. But after the episode aired, I discovered alpacas are a lot tougher than I realized and many ranchers use them as guard “dogs” to protect their livestock, including sheep, goats, turkeys and sometimes, even cattle. With sheep and goats, alpacas tend to bond quickly. But any thoughts I had of buying and bringing home one of these adorable creatures were quickly extinguished when I learned many of the males (even if gelded) will try to mate with the sheep and have accidentally injured or killed many of them in the process. I don’t own a sheep but with a dog and cat at home, that was a dealbreaker. 

Their best traits are excellent hearing, eyesight, alertness and a protective instinct that can sometimes lead to them kicking and stomping an invading coyote, fox, wild dog, and in rare cases, cougar. 

Astrophysicist and lead scientist on the ranch, Travis Taylor Ph.D, explained the reason for bringing in a new type of animal and it had nothing to do with protection. “We decided to see if our drilling operation, coupled with the introduction of an exotic type of animal, would help trigger some kind of strange or unusual phenomena.” Digging, or in this case, drilling, on the ranch has been frowned upon going all the way back to when a previous owner, Kenneth Myers, bought the property around 1933. But was that related to oil rights or an alleged curse the revenge-seeking Navajo put on the Ute tribe? Ranch superintendent, Thomas Winterton, suffered a serious brain injury after digging on the ranch and Dr. Taylor received radiation burns not long after opening a door that lead underground. 


Ten-year-old Lionel the Alpaca Meets Ranch Caretakers, Kandus and Tom

Ranch caretaker Kandus Linde added, “we thought it would be interesting to just see how they (the alpacas) react to the ranch and how the ranch reacts to them. We’re hoping it sheds light on things we hadn’t really looked into before, researching-wise.” As I watched Linde interact with her new friends, I could tell it was love at first sight. And she wasn’t alone. They might be the cutest animals on the planet. 

Ranch Dog William and Four-year-old Jed the Alpaca

Ranch owner Brandon Fugal said he liked “the idea of introducing new types of animals to the property in order to see if that will stimulate different types of interactions with the phenomenon. And it’s something that will hopefully bring new insight.”


Both Linde and fellow ranch caretaker, Tom Lewis, expressed their wish to experience something anomalous that the ranch has been known for. “It will be interesting to see if the ranch changes or if [the alpacas] pick-up on anything different. Hopefully, they’ll react if they see something out of the ordinary. But the only thing is they’re not known to be very vocal,” explained Lewis. As soon as I heard that, I knew we were going to hear them vocalize and probably not in a good way. It felt like we were being set-up with a little foreshadowing, as reality shows tend to do.

The next morning, Lionel and Jed were attacked by something or a group of somethings. Lionel escaped harm but Jed had multiple, bloody wounds on his backside, legs and torso. Lewis said he heard screaming that he hadn’t heard before and knew they were in distress, so he ran into the pen and encountered a pack of animals that were “just chomping on this alpaca.” Linde said, “they looked like dogs but they varied in size. Like a whole group of something, eating him, alive. Like, that’s what it looked like.” Lewis recounted how one attacking animal in particular wouldn’t move off of Jed even after the caretaker ran into the corral to chase him away and had to throw a stick to get the “very aggressive animal” to run off.

During a conversation with veterinarian, Dr. Nelson Duncan, who was called out to tend to Jed, Lewis brought up the Shermans, the family that owned the ranch before billionaire Robert Bigelow, who bought it in 1996 and who subsequently sold it to Fugal in 2016. “[The Shermans] had some stories about big animals that they saw, that they didn’t know what they were. They had cattle mutilations,” Lewis explained to a quiet Duncan, who was aware of the alleged, anomalous history of the ranch. Fugal was also aware of the experiences the Shermans had while they owed it and explained, “They had beasts or entities that could only be described as the skinwalkers of old. These giant, wolf-like creatures that would appear to them. They were terrorized.”

Dr. Taylor reacted to the attack. “Although we hoped that the presence of the alpacas, coupled with our digging, might trigger some strange phenomena, we thought the pen we had them in would protect them from harm. After what happened, we decided to move them to a safer place.”

Not gonna lie. I was upset when I watched this scene. For an animal lover such as myself, hearing Lionel and Jed scream was tough to take. As soon as it became apparent Jed was injured, my ex-wife, who was watching with me, walked out of the room and vowed never to watch the show again. I know other people who did the same. She has since changed her mind. This ranch has a history of a calf allegedly being attacked by a large wolf and unknown forces (orbs) supposedly killing three ranch dogs and turning them into piles of “grease.” Plus, there have been at least ten suspected cattle mutilations on the ranch over the decades. And don’t forget the injuries to Winterton and Dr. Taylor that occurred while digging and opening up the door that lead underground, respectively.


Early on in the episode, the team asked Fugal if they could start digging, and he said, “I was hesitant. We’re always concerned about disturbing the earth because we’ve seen bad things happen. We’ve had people in the emergency room with serious injuries that, frankly, to this day, remain unexplained.” So it’s hard for me to believe nobody involved (cast or production crew, including executives) considered the possibility the alpacas would be vulnerable and in possible danger from “something,” even if it was just an errant, strong electromagnetic field or radiation. It would be one thing if Lionel and Jed were able to speak and said, “Hey, we love this place. Skinwalker, Spinwalker. That’s all a bunch of nonsense. Just feed us.” But animals can’t talk, so they had no say in the matter. I think that’s what upset people the most.

Up until this point in the show, a pack of wild dogs seemed to be the culprits. The next scene was in the command center with Lewis, Linde, chief security officer, Bryant Arnold, aka “Dragon,” and chief scientist and physicist, Erik Bard, Ph.D., going through footage of the attack. Lewis, who fought off the attackers, said, “The only thing I can put my mind to is it’s a dog but it’s a big dog.” The next shot is Linde immediately jumping in and saying, “No.” It’s a quick edit so not sure if she was responding to Lewis’ dog comment or it’s edited to look like that and she was responding to something else. The show was clearly trying to get us to consider the possibility it was more than just a pack of dogs or coyotes. Cue the scary music, which is prevalent in almost every episode. Linde added, “like you could see the way he moved and the color.” Lewis’ comments kept us guessing. “Yeah. It’s hard to say exactly what, you know, bit them.”

Skinwalker Caretakers, Tom Lewis and Kandus Linde

When the footage was being shown and you could see and hear Jed and Lionel in distress, running in circles and being attacked, it’s obvious Linde was uncomfortable. Unless she’s an Academy Award winner in hiding, that’s real emotion. Despite what some folks on social media felt and what I said in my tweet, there’s zero doubt in my mind anybody expected this to happen and the cast were legitimately upset about it. I’m sure the crew felt bad, too. I’ve been in that situation when I worked on “The Vet Life” (I shot most of this incredible diagnosis and graphic surgery) and can tell you, seeing injured or vulnerable animals is not fun.

As they watched the surveillance footage again, Dr. Bard chimed in and said, “So this is an animal that doesn’t hesitate to attack not one but two animals that are as much as, maybe one hundred eighty-five, two hundred pounds.” Again, the implication: It’s out of the norm. Dragon did his part to make it seem even more mysterious. “You know what’s crazy about that? Is you would think if it was just normal animals, you’d (Lewis) come running out, they’d scatter. I’m really glad, whatever it was, it didn’t turn on you guys.” Was it a skinwalker? A giant wolf, like the Shermans encountered? We’re being encouraged to consider such anomalous possibilities. Because, if it was a normal animal, it would have run off at the sight of a human, right?

As they were watching footage of the alpaca pen from right before the attack, on the camera that had a clear shot of the crime scene, Dragon says, “Well, the unfortunate thing is this camera went down not too long after what we’re looking at right now.” So, the camera went down right before “something” pounced on Jed. This is important because the ranch has a history of electronics (like cameras) going down for no reason. The National Institute of Discovery Science (NIDS), which featured a team of scientists put together by Bigelow to study anomalous events, experienced this, too. They had cables torn out of three of their security cameras and another camera, pointed in the direction of those cameras, inexplicably showed nothing out of the ordinary. So when I hear a similar story with the current group, I take note. 


After the show was over, I was hoping for more insight, so I checked out The Skinwalker Debrief@skinwalkerpod, a video podcast that dissects each episode every week and includes various cast members. It’s hosted by “Skinwalker” executive producer, TJ Allard and features  Maureen Elsberry and Jason McClellan. This episode also included Dragon, and he addressed the camera going down. “It’s unfortunate that our camera went down at that time or wasn’t fixed on the pen at the right time.” Okay, so did the camera go down or was it not pointed in the right direction, at the right time? There’s a huge difference. Was the camera taken out by the phenomenon or did somebody screw up and not point the camera in the right direction? I also think it’s fair to at least ask if clear footage does exist but it wasn’t included in the show because it would clearly show wild dogs terrorized Lionel and Jed and the mystery would be solved. But that would mean we were being lied to and I have no evidence to back up that accusation. Footage of the attack from another camera was shown but it’s not clear enough to tell what type of animals were involved. Some folks online accused the production of blurring that footage so we couldn’t make out the attackers. 

Later on in the podcast, Dragon had a different take than what he said during the episode, which was, “If it was just normal animals, you’d (Tom Lewis) come running out, they’d scatter.” On the podcast, that turned into, “Tom came out and and chased off what, you know, in my estimation, was a pack of just reservation dogs. We see those come around in packs. They’re dangerous. They come at people. When wild dogs get together, they’re pretty dangerous. Based on what their reports were and what little footage we were able to capture, that’s my feeling, that’s my estimation.” End of mystery. He added that the vet who worked on Jed speculated it, “could have been a mountain lion, it could have been dogs, it could have been coyotes. There’s a number of not crazy, dire wolf-type creatures that live in the area that could have done that damage to the alpaca.” After Dragon finished, Allard said, “Yep.” But why wasn’t the information about reservation dogs and speculation from the vet included in the show? Be honest with your viewer and you’ll have a loyal viewer. Episode 7 of “Skinwalker” was down over 100,000 viewers. Was that because of the alpaca incident in Episode 6? Impossible to know. And by the way, it’s not just wild dogs that can injure and kill alpacas.

Back to whether or not anyone could have predicted the alpacas being attacked. Dragon said that during the time he’s been on the ranch, they haven’t lost any animals except the cow seen in episode one and seven. They’ve had cows out there every single year (since Fugal bought the ranch in 2016) and witnessed coyotes chase them and mountain lions kill deer and elk on the property, but no mutilations. On Twitter, ranch superintendent Thomas Winterton  explained the thought behind where Lionel and Jed were kept. “We put the Alpacas in the corrals because it was so close to the house and command center and we assumed it to be the safest place for them their first night.” In an interview in June of 1996, previous owner Terry Sherman explained that many times, when they had a specific type of UFO sighting (smaller UFOs flying in and out of several “doors” in the sky), a mutilation would occur a day before or after. And they had an area where the cattle were safe. “If we get the cattle up by the house, there’s about a fifty-acre field up here by the house. We move the cattle into there and we’ve never lost anything out of that field,” he told researcher Linda Moulton Howe. Is that the same place the alpacas were kept? If so, did Fugal and the team at Skinwalker know this was a safe spot?


After the attack, the alpacas were moved to a safer location on the ranch where the team felt they’d be protected from predators. But is there really a safe place on Skinwalker Ranch? So it was nice to hear Dragon explain that, “shortly thereafter, we realized that just because it was Skinwalker Ranch, that they probably needed to go to a different place. And later on said, “Jed is living happily in another ranch.” That’s good to hear and I think it’s the right move.

At the end of the episode, Lewis talked about errors that were made. “I like to learn from my mistakes and so we wanna move them to a much more secure location and prevent anything like this from happening again.” Glad Dragon clarified they’re no longer on the ranch.

Dr. Bard explained, “This is something that we can monitor, we can data log, and be on the lookout for suspicious activity, as perhaps, more of our animals may be subjected to whatever it was. “

Linde added, “It was horrible to hear those alpacas screaming and know who was in trouble but not know what was causing the harm. I don’t know what was in that pen with them. I just know something was, and it was bad.”

And Fugal ended it by saying, “With all of its beauty and stunning landscapes, Skinwalker Ranch, at its heart, is truly a mysterious, haunting place. And I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that we see such disturbing events happening on this property. What is at work? I wanna get to the bottom of that.”

For a few weeks leading up to this episode, I had been communicating with Fugal via Twitter DM. As I said earlier, after this episode aired, I tweeted my displeasure.

Fugal saw my tweet and reached out.

I care about your opinion regarding the recent episode, and wish to respond.

My Final Thoughts

Fugal and the Skinwalker Ranch team may disagree with me but I think bringing the alpacas to the ranch was not the best move. Then again, hindsight is 20/20 and I don’t believe Fugal, Winterton, Arnold, Lewis, Linde or the scientists thought Lionel and Jed were in danger. And I also don’t think it was animal cruelty to bring them there. However, I doubt any new animals will be introduced to the ranch any time soon. After what happened, why take that risk again?

In his interview with George Knapp, Fugal said that with Skinwalker Ranch, “we truly may have the greatest science experiment of our time.” I agree. And on some level, so did James Lacatski, the DIA scientist who, after having an experience at Skinwalker, urged former Senator Harry Reid to study the ranch. But that study also included the Uinta basin and other hotspots riddled with various paranormal phenomena, in an attempt to understand the big picture of UFOs. And that’s why I care so much about the show and how the ranch is portrayed. In the overall view of what this might represent for humanity, I think it’s extremely important. If I didn’t give a crap, I’d just treat it as entertainment and not spend time writing 4500 words about one episode. As Knapp and Kelleher noted in “Hunt for the Skinwalker,” those others hotspots (Yakima, Dulce, Sedona, etc…) are intriguing and similar phenomena have been reported, but they haven’t been investigated to the same degree as Skinwalker Ranch.

I’ve been shooting reality shows since 2002 so I have some unique insight into how they’re shot, edited and produced. Are we seeing some “selective” editing to make things seem more dramatic? Yes. I would have liked a documentary or news-style instead of what we see, and for the show to air on network TV, backed by a news division like CBS News and “60 Minutes.” But that’s not the world we live in. That’s fantasyland. Most folks think this is a bunch of nonsense and until scientific papers are published and more scientists get involved, that’s not going to change. Fugal could have funded a show on his own and put it on YouTube but how many people would have watched it? On History channel, they’ve averaged close to two million viewers every week and hopefully, once each episode is over, many of those viewers are intrigued enough to dig deeper into the history of the ranch. So, for now, I just hope for a second season and the editing is tweaked a little bit so it gives us a more accurate view of what happens there on a daily basis.

Fugal, a giant in the commercial real estate world, is extremely active on Twitter and that’s not something I expected to see. He responds to rude trolls, inquisitive skeptics, confident debunkers, excited fans and anybody who has a question about the show or ranch. And he does it with class. It’s nice to see and 100% not the norm. Plus, he’s also acknowledged the limitations and challenges a show of this format represents and he’s very open and honest about it. Once again, in my experience, that’s not something you will see with 99% of the shows on television. I love what previous owner, Robert Bigelow, has done for the fields of parapsychology, consciousness studies and UFOs but he plays his cards very close to his chest. Fugal is the complete opposite and I love it. The fact that he reached out after seeing my tweet and apologized if the alpaca attack upset my ex-wife, says a lot about him. We couldn’t ask for a better owner of the ranch. And for the folks who think he’s doing this for money? Go look up how successful he is and get back to me. It was ludicrous when people accused Robert Bigelow of being in it for the money and it’s ludicrous to accuse Fugal of the same.

Ranch Superintendent, Thomas Winterton, is also active on Twitter and said that while he thinks, “overall, Prometheus has done a good job to find a balance between watchable and scientific, I still cringe at some parts.” Once again, that kind of honesty is refreshing and unique. And then we have Bryant Arnold, aka Dragon, on the “The Skinwalker Debrief” show. He spilled the beans on what he thought injured Jed, while at the same time, the show made it look like a mystery. I highly urge people watch the Debrief for a more realistic look at what’s been happening at the ranch.

One thing that bothered me was when executive producer Allard said he wished people would watch the Debrief if they wanted to see how Arnold really is as opposed to how he comes across in the episodes with quick clips that focus  his facial expressions and reactions. But why not portray Arnold differently on the show instead of selectively editing to make him appear a certain way and focusing on any and all conflict? Co-host Maureen Elsberry said people online don’t understand that Bryant is working and not just running around with his guns. Well, to me, that’s the fault of the editors and producers and can be rectified if they rely more on a documentary style instead of manufactured drama. A few million watch the show. The Debrief has 1500 views on YouTube.

My suggestion to everybody is to watch the show and follow it up with the Debrief. If you have issues with the editing and hyping of drama, just take a breath and jump on Twitter to discuss your frustrations. Also, read “Hunt for the Skinwalker” and the “Great Utah UFO Display” by Salisbury. But don’t harp on it. We already know there are problems with the show format. Learn what you can from each episode and then take it from there.

That should excite everybody. I think interesting things are coming in the near future and I urge folks to take it down a notch when criticizing the show. As you can see, I have issue with it, too but I’m also realistic about what can be done about it. In the meantime, enjoy the back and forth from Fugal and the team. The masses haven’t caught on yet as to how important this place may turn out to be. But if they ever do, the cast is going to be swamped with media requests and fans wanting to interact with them. It’s kind of like when your favorite band plays a small club. You get to see them in an intimate setting and interact after the show. But once they hit it big and start playing arenas, all that goes away. Until that happens, take advantage and drop them a line or question on Twitter.

For many of the folks who created this show and cast who work on it, it’s just another way to pay the bills. Sure, some may be intrigued by what they’ve seen, experienced or felt on the ranch but for me and so many others, it’s part of an obsession with the unknown and big part of our lives. So, if you see one of us being extra critical about “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch” or “Unidentified,” just know that we’re not doing it because we’re trolls or nitpickers. This is important to us and we want to see it done right so the whole world can learn about these subjects and take them seriously. I know some will read this and say I’m being too tough on Fugal and the team and others will say I’m not being tough enough. But these are my true feelings and opinions and I didn’t write anything to get a reaction or to create drama and more clicks. Could I be wrong about some things? Yes. No doubt about it.

A lot of the Skinwalker stories are just anecdotes. But what drew me in from day one was the quality of the people who had the experiences. When an astrophysicist, a biochemist and a rocket scientist are your main witnesses from the past, and the current team features another astrophysicist in Dr. Travis Taylor, a physicist and a physicist/surveillance system expert, it’s something I think might get the attention of other scientists who can speak openly about Skinwalker and not fear being ostracized. Hopefully, that happens in the near future. Nobody knows what’s causing the various phenomena at the ranch and basin. Is it a portal to other worlds or is it a transient, natural source of electromagnetic energy causing folks to get injured and in some cases, see and hear some very odd things? Like everybody else, I want to learn as much as I can about it, get the truth and see the mystery solved. I look forward to Episode 8 and hopefully, Season Two.


© Joe Murgia and, 2018-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Joe Murgia and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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