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Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

WHAT A LONG STRANGE TRIP IT’S BEEN – PART ONE

It’s been several weeks since I wrote in this blog, but – as I often say – so much has happened, that I think I can be forgiven.

Last weekend, Corinna and I went to the Festival of Fishkeeping at Hayling Island in Hampshire. We were there more in our capacity as deputy editor of Tropical World magazine (and his missus), than for any other reason, but several events of interest took place.

Back in March, the two of us visited the British Tarantula Society Open Show at some eminently forgettable, and particularly grey and wet, corner of the West Midlands. Although the traffic was dreadful and the weather was worse, we had a spectacularly successful day. Amongst other things, we made contact for the first time in years with a geezer called Graham Smith – an old friend of the CFZ, with whom we had lost contact a long time ago. Graham is one of the leading lights in the invertebrate keepers community, and we had a long and fruitful discussion about a number of projects on which we want to collaborate, including the possibility that we shall launch a new magazine aimed at those who eschew gerbils, guinea pigs, and pussy cats, and would rather keep unusual pets.

Over the intervening seven months, the idea has begun to grow in an organic manner. However, it wasn’t until the Weird Weekend in late August that events conspired to make me cross enough to actually start the ball rolling, and put my nebulous plans into action. As many of you know, we have an open house policy, and so when some people wandered into my garden, grimaced at me, and introduced themselves as folk planning to set up “an animal attraction”, we sat them down and listened to what they had to say. When we heard that they planned a return to the bad old days of exhibiting animals as some sort of freak show, and that they had no interest in breeding, conservation or educational work, my hackles began to rise.

At Hayling Island we ran in to another old acquaintance of mine – a jolly nice chap called Chris Newman who, for many years, has been one of the leading lights of the herpetological community. For some years now he has been mounting a campaign to try and thwart the attempts by so-called animal rights pressure groups to end private reptile keeping in the UK.

I realised then that, especially as the CFZ have an ever growing collection of exotics, that we use as part of our on-going commitment to education (and also because we are keen amateur herpetologists ourselves), we need to throw ourselves into the fray alongside people like Chris Newman. When we are confronted my feckless idiots like those we met at the weekend who seem hell bent on treating our fellow inhabitants of spaceship earth as if they were merely easily expendable adjuncts to a third rate theme park, we have come to realise that it is up to people like us to give a positive image to exotic pet keeping, and provide a forum where the subject can be openly discussed, and where information on keeping unusual pets can be readily available.

During the weekend, I managed to fulfil one longstanding ambition. As regular readers will know, from 1989 and 2001 the CFZ were proud owners of a two-toed amphiuma called Cuddles. What is an amphiuma I hear you ask? (Actually I don’t, but I am indulging my whimsical side for your entertainment). There are three species of amphiuma – heavily specialised, and primitive, salamanders. They are almost exclusively aquatic and look like long fat eels with teensy weensy stubby legs. Cuddles was four foot long when she died, and I have been frantically looking for a replacement ever since. Through the kind offices of Chris Newman, I am now £60 poorer, but the proud owner of a pair of three toed amphiumas called Gumbo and The Moog. (Don’t ask me, ask Corinna). They are only about 18” long at present, but I am confident that they will eventually reach their full size of nearly a metre.

My employers, Simon and Debbie Woolstencroft of Tropical World magazine, were kind enough to allow me to put my new acquisitions on the stall, and I am very glad that they did.

So many people were interested in these bizarre and strangely beautiful (in an ugly sort of way) animal that it’s confirmed for me – as if any confirmation was needed – that a magazine covering the more obscure herps, inverts, fish, and indeed other exotic animals that can be kept as pets, can only be a good thing. It will be written by hobbyists for hobbyists. The aim – like everything else the CFZ does – is not to make money, but to do it because it is simply a good thing to do.

Watch this space.