Tuesday, 23 September 2008


Cryptozoology (from Greek meaning "study of hidden animals") is the study of and search for animals which fall outside contemporary zoological catalogues. It consists of two primary fields of research:

1) The search for living examples of animals taxonomically identified through fossil records, but which are believed to be extinct.
2) The search for animals that fall outside of taxonomic records due to a lack of empirical evidence, but for which anecdotal evidence exists in the form of myths, legends, or inadequately documented sightings.

Those involved in cryptozoological study are known as cryptozoologists; the animals that they study are often referred to as "cryptids", a term coined by John Wall in 1983. Cryptozoology has seen very little attention from the mainstream scientific community because it does not follow the scientific method in attempts to support its claims. Nevertheless, I find it fascinating.

Bernard Heuvelmans, the author of the first and most influential book of cryptozoology, On the Track of Unknown Animals, created cryptozoology as a "science" and separated it from other studies involving anomalies and the paranormal. Earlier writers in the field were more likely to include mythology and folkloric material, and they used the terms "exotic zoology" and "romantic zoology" to describe what they did. Today there are many organizations devoted to cryptozoology, and dozens of books, plus countless individual scientists. Despite this massive amount of interest, most cryptozoologists are underfunded and sink large amounts of their own money into their researches.

Cryptzoologists claim the Pongo was dismissed as folklore, due to lack of evidence and fossils, before being confirmed as the Mountain gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) in 1902. The coelacanth, a "living fossil" which represents an order of fish believed to have been extinct for 65 million years, was identified from a specimen found in a fishing net in 1938 off the coast of South Africa. The Coelacanth is a good case for paying close attention to natives' knowledge of animals: Although the fish's survival was a complete surprise to outsiders, it was so well known to locals that natives commonly used the fish's rough scales as a sort of sandpaper. The 1976 discovery of the previously unknown megamouth shark off Oahu, Hawaii, has been cited by cryptozoologists to support the existence of other purported marine cryptids.

The Vietnamese Hoan Kiem Turtle was previously thought to be a local legend and classified as a cryptid, before conclusive evidence for its existence was accepted around 1998–2002. Similarly, the 2003 discovery of the fossil remains of the Hobbit-like Homo floresiensis, thought to be a descendant of earlier Homo erectus, was cited by paleontologist Henry Gee of the journal Nature, as possible evidence that humanoid cryptids like the orang pendek and Yeti were "founded on grains of truth." Additionally, Gee declared, "cryptozoology, the study of such fabulous creatures, can come in from the cold."

There is a wonderful list of legendary creatures (some of which do not fall into the category cryptids - like Akaname, the Japanese Bathroom Spirit, and Akupara, the Pratchett-like Giant turtle that supports the world in Hindu legend) on Wikipedia.

A list of cryptids can be found at The Cryptid Zoo.

Classic examples of cryptids are the Loch Ness Monster, sea monsters, the Yeti, Big-foot, Pukwudgie, the Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui, the Beast of Bodmin Moor and other assorted big cat sightings from Britain.

So much has been written about the Loch Ness Monster since its alleged first sighting in 565 by St. Columba but it is since 1933 that it has really become popular. During one period of the Loch Ness monster sightings, a traveling circus of elephants passed the lake. Bertram Mills, the owner of the circus offered a sum of £20,000 to capture the monster for his circus. Neil Clark, curator of paleontology at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, says that he probably made the offer knowing that the Loch Ness monster would never be captured.

In fact, the similarity between the 'surgeon's' photo and the view of an elephant is totally irelevant since it fails to take into account the fact that the photo was shown to be a hoax in 1994 (see Wikipedia).

By contrast with the antiquity of the Loch Mess Monster, the first "official" report of a strange presence on Ben MacDhui was given in 1925 by Norman Collie, an experienced climber with all the credentials of a credible witness. He was a professor of chemistry at the University of London. Collie claimed that whilst climbing Ben MacDhui unaccompanied in 1891, he had become aware of another presence following him, although he knew there were no other climbers around. He estimated from the sound that his pursuer was taking steps three or four times the length of his own. Collie ran like buggery without stopping to look back, tumbling down the slope to the foot of the mountasin and never went on Ben MacDhui alone again. The sightings - such as they have been - suggest the Big Grey Man is anything from 10 to 20 feet tall and covered in hair with long arms and legs. Huge footprints in the snow, not apparently made by humans or any known animal were photographed in 1965. They measured 14 inches and the stride covered around 5 feet.

But my absolute favourite cryptid is the giant Inflatable Hedgehog. Reported from the Gobi Desert of Mongolia, this animal is called the zamba zaraa by locals. It is described as looking something like a hedgehog. When threatened, the animal strikes its tail against the ground (an alarm action that is used by many different types of animal) and then proceeds to inflate itself considerably. Reports differ on how big it is after inflation, and range up to the size of a yurt (a small Mongolian tent-like dwelling). There are other creatures who inflate themselves as a defense mechanism, most notably puffer fish. It would be weird, but not impossible, for a mammal to have evolved the same trick. Since the Gobi Desert is one of the least-explored areas on earth, it is plausible that it contains many new species that are just waiting to be discovered. Perhaps the inflatable hedgehog is one of these undiscovered animals, and someday we will be able to see it in zoos!

1 comment:

Spesh 1 said...

Hi John,

How cute are they? And I mean really cute. Even Graham would have to agree don't you think?

Perhaps that is what I have done since I arrived on the island - just wish I could deflate!