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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Saturday, January 31, 2009


Once again our favourite 15 year old film director has surpassed himself. The latest episode is all about Mothman..


Tim was, I think, very brave to say what he did about his own experiences, in his article about the `Oz Factor` which we published this morning. I can appreciate that because, as he alluded in his article, something very strange happened to me almost exactly six years ago, in early 2003. So, for those who are not aware of it, I am republishing a piece I wrote for a popular magazine soon afterwards...

I am a scientist, and although my job entails traveling around the world investigating accounts of mystery animals, I have – nearly always – been able to provide a solid scientific explanation for the things that witnesses have reported. However, a couple of years back – almost three years to the day that I am writing this – I found myself in the position of being confronted with something that I really was unable to explain within any scientific frameworks…..

“What the hell was that?” I shouted as a giant man-like creature ran through the woods before me, illuminated only by the headlights of my Jaguar. It was well over 7 ft in height, thickly built, and was as fast as an Olympic athlete. But it wasn’t human. Was this in the forests of western China? In the foothills of the Himalayas? In the dense woods of the Pacific north-west of the USA? Nope. It was just after dusk, on a January evening, in a country park less than 40 miles from Newcastle city centre.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology is the only professional organisation in the world dedicated to research into mystery animals. In our time we have camped out on the shores of Loch Ness, searched through caves systems in Thailand for giant snakes, hunted Vampires in Puerto Rico, and trekked through swamps in Florida in search of the mysterious `Skunk Ape`. Just before Christmas 2002 we began to receive reports of a giant, hairy, ape-like creatures appearing in isolated tracts of woodland across the United Kingdom. We were sceptical at first, but we could not ignore these reports, and so without further ado we decided to go and investigate.

These things have been seen all over the country, but the biggest numbers of sightings were at an isolated country park – at Bolam in Northumberland. We have been investigating reports of strange animals around the world for 15 years now and we have the equipment to carry out investigations under all sorts of conditions. However, bizarrely, we have never gone on an expedition during an English winter before. However, over the years, we've got quite good at putting expeditions together on a shoestring and with only a couple of days to prepare ourselves.

Within days we were in a pub outside Newcastle with `Naomi` - a forty-year-old housewife who has asked to remain anonymous - and her fourteen-year-old son. `David`. She told us how – in the first week of January – they had been visiting the country park when they had an encounter with “a huge, black figure like an enormous shadow only dark and solid”, and she told us that even though the thing was standing still she had the feeling that it was “rushing at her”.

Another witness, Neil – a young man in his early twenties – reported how he had been night fishing at the lake with two friends. When they saw a giant figure “with shimmering eyes”, staring at them from out of the woods. On another occasion they were camping out when they heard the noise of a huge animal moving through the undergrowth outside their tent. They were too scared to look out, but in the morning their camp was wrecked and their bait was gone.

On our first day at the lake something very strange happened. Every piece of electrical equipment we had with me – including our mobile phones and the laptop computer – ended up with a flat battery, and strange noises were heard in the woods by several of our party. However, nothing could have prepared us for the shock, and thrill, of encountering the `beast` itself. Although our encounter lasted only a few seconds it has become indelibly etched into my brain, and I know it will remain with me forever.

What was it we saw that evening? I am certain that it wasn’t a man. It was too large and too fast. Could it have been an animal? As a scientist, although I am perfectly happy to admit the possibility that huge unknown species of ape can and do live in central Asia, and even in parts of North America, but no matter how hard I try, I cannot believe that there is an entire population of unknown great apes living in modern Britain undetected by man. It has to be something less tangible, a phantasm whose existence is governed by completely different rules of physics to anything that we as scientists presently know. If we could find out what it was, and how it can exist, then science would know a heck of a lot more about the workings of the universe than it does at the moment.

One thing is completely certain, however. Although I have seen many strange things and been to many strange places in my career as a monster hunter those few seconds in mid January was the weirdest thing that has ever happened to me, and I know that I will remember them for the rest of my life.


This has always been a family affair, and it is with great pleasure that I introduce you to today's new guest blogger, my stepdaughter Shosh. I am ridiculously proud of my two girls, and - indeed - I don't think I could be prouder of them if they were actually my own flesh and blood.

Shosh has started on a career in animal welfare, and is in her final year studying Veterinary Medicine at the Royal Veterinary College in London. She also has a cynical sense of humour quite unsettling in one so young and beautiful...

When you tell someone you are studying veterinary medicine at university, at least one of two replies is virtually guaranteed. First is something along the lines of, ‘ah, you’ll be loaded then!’ or ‘you’ll have a licence to print money once you qualify!’ Don’t even get me started on that old chestnut; I’ll write that blog once I’ve finished paying off the £45,000 debt plus interest. The second possibility is an original and highly hilarious comment about sticking one’s hand up cows.
This is why my heart sank when, as a fresher touring the college farm nearly five years ago, I witnessed some final year students all standing up to their shoulders in cows, practising the art of ‘rectalling’. The old cliché had been fulfilled, I thought; this wasn’t going to help matters at all.
So why would you stick your hand up a cow’s arse anyway? To keep your arm warm on a cold day? Sadly not, although I have to say that is an added bonus of the job on a frosty morning.
There are a number of indications for a rectal examination, which include feeling for certain disorders of the gastrointestinal tract and investigating infertility, but the main reason is diagnosis of pregnancy. Pregnancy is of paramount importance in the dairy industry. Obviously, no pregnancy means no calf means no milk means black coffee and dry Coco Pops forever more.
Personally I find diagnosing pregnancy in cows by feel alone bloody difficult, which is worrying considering I am only six months away from possibly doing it for a living. You need a very sensitive hand to pick up a slight swelling of the uterus through the rectum and declare the cow in calf, especially since you are expected to do it from just 35 days after conception. Once I entered the final year of my veterinary education I found myself in that very same lesson, with my hand up a cow’s nether regions, desperately groping for any sign of... well, anything. Meanwhile my fellow students feeling cows on either side of me seemed to be excitedly declaring things like ‘this one is 94 days and 6.2 hours in calf!’ or ‘wow, I can feel the calf’s left adrenal gland!’

I first started rectalling cows as a third-year student whilst seeing practice and I still find it incredibly difficult. Older cows are a tad flabby and you often need arms like Mr. Tickle’s to reach in far enough. Heifers are much easier, but they don’t half squeeze; I recently finished one day of rectalling heifers with a pale circumferential bruise just below my elbow. And either way, you will get covered in shit.

Help is at hand however, for those with a touch as insensitive as mine – the ultrasound scanner! You insert the narrow probe into the rectum and scan over the uterus, looking on the screen for a little white blob of a calf moving around in a collection of black fluid (I have yet to witness a cow turn around and ask for a printout). I was recently allowed by a vet to have a go with this marvellous gadget, and finally I was finding tiny calf embryos all over the place.

However, things don’t always go smoothly, and I was soon stuck with my poor battered arm up a heifer with no sign of a uterus at all, let alone a calf waving from inside it. What do you do when this happens then? “Er....I don’t think she’s pregnant!” I looked imploringly at the vet, who rolled up her sleeves and donned a rectal glove. She was fishing around in the heifer for some time, before declaring that the luckless bovine seemed to have no genital tract whatsoever. I guess freaks of nature like that can happen sometimes. Sadly, it will be the end of the road for that little heifer, as she is no good to a business based around making baby cows. I didn’t know it when I started, but now it seems to me that sticking your hand up a cow’s arse can even become a matter of life or death, and perhaps should not be joked about quite so much!

GUEST BLOGGER FLEUR FULCHER: Battletoads - beleaguered batrachians and ambushed anurans

Over, once again to the divine Ms F. Charming as usual, she is taking up cudgels on behalf of the poor downtrodden amphibians of the planet. They are in crisis - but there is good news as well...

Worldwide things are looking dire on the amphibian front, the Chytrid disease has been spreading fast and there is as yet no treatment, one billion frogs also end up as food for humans each year, or used in traditional medicines and rituals.

Yet there are still pieces of good news from the amphibian world, an expedition by Frontiers has discovered 15 new species in Tanzania’s remote mountain forests. Some of these are bizarre looking, brightly coloured and covered in lumps, bumps and growths. But the most unusual characteristic displayed by the newly found Nectophrynoides toads is that they give birth to live offspring rather than laying eggs.
As well as these toads there is a new type of very cute looking burrowing toad belonging to the genus Probreviceps, unfortunately, this little toad is already in danger from habitat loss, the ecologically important forests in which it lives are rapidly being felled.
The success of this expedition shows the need for more exploration into the more remote forests, valleys and mountains to record and protect the animal inhabitants of these places before their homes vanish forever.

If these adorable lumpy bumpy and burrowing toads are not enough to catch your attention to the plight facing our planet’s amphibians then perhaps the ever photogenic tree frog will do the trick, the new one found in Tanzania is from the genus Leptopelis, and I cannot imagine looking into its huge browny gold eyes and telling it I don’t care about frogs and their kin.

It is unfortunate that there are many types of amphibian that are heading towards the same fate as the famous golden toad, but this does not have to happen, if a cure can be found for the disease, important habitats protected and responsible collecting methods for the food and pet trades enforced then who knows how many new species we will find in the future. If those things are not done then it is almost inevitable that many species of amphibian will disappear before science, (and the rest of us) has even had a chance to see them.


The Great Speciator

I have been keeping exotic species of animal all my life. At the age of six, as a small boy living in what was then the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong, I had my first zoological collection - a large praying mantis, (Tenodera sp) and some caterpillars which eventually hatched out into a small hawkmoth species, most probably (Macroglossum stellatarum) the hummingbird hawkmoth.
My zoo resided in two large glass pickle jars on the bathroom windowsill, and over the next few years it expanded dramatically.
Eventually I had quite a sizeable collection of birds of the air and beasts of the field, and by the time I was nine my tastes in wildlife had been solidified, and my animal collection would have seemed quite familiar to anyone who frequents the CFZ forty years later, in the first decade of the 21st Century.

Amongster the animal groups which I started keeping (and which I still keep today) were various softbills - “birds with relatively soft bills, which feed upon invertebrates and soft plant material and whose young are helpless at birth”. Amongst these were various babblers (see my post of a few days back) and a pair of white eyes.

These are small khaki-ish green birds with white feathers around their eyes. About the size of a robin, they are wonderful little creatures with great personalities (unusual in a flocking bird), but it was only today that I learned something particularly unique about them. form new species faster than any other known bird, according to a University of Kansas (KU) researcher who used modern genetic techniques to answer an 80-year-old question about how fast new bird species can form.

Some island-dwelling white-eyes have long been dubbed "great speciators" for their apparent ability to rapidly form new species across geographies where other birds show little or no diversification, said Rob Moyle, ornithology curator at KU's Biodiversity Institute and an author of a study of white-eyes.Moyle, along with Chris Filardi of the American Museum of Natural History; Catherine Smith of the University of Washington; and Jared Diamond of the University of California-Los Angeles, has been able to reconstruct key aspects of these birds' evolutionary history using genetic analyses.

The authors used DNA sequences and a variety of analytical methods to determine that most of the family speciated at rates among the fastest of any known vertebrate.More than 100 species in the familyMore than 100 species in the family have spread across vast regions from Asia to Africa and to far-flung islands. Despite this ability to disperse over long distances, some species remain separated by water gaps as narrow as 2.2 kilometres and yet show no inclination to cross. "As we started to compile the data, we were shocked," said Moyle. "White-eye species from across the family's range had strikingly similar gene sequences, indicating a recent origin and incredibly rapid diversification".

The authors of the study, published in the prominent journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, assert that traits of white-eyes may have helped them diversify. These include sociability and the ability to survive in a variety of habitats. Some species also may have become more sedentary and unwilling to cross narrow water gaps.


Tim Matthews is one of my best friends, and also - coincidentally - one of the most controversial figures in contemporary forteana. He has been involved with the CFZ for nearly a decade now, raising eyebrows wherever he goes.

Bolam Lake, 2003. A group of investigators, including friends from the CFZ, assembled to investigate sightings of a “monster” seen locally by supposedly credible witnesses.
Sadly, I wasn’t there but I remember a frantic phone call from a clearly shocked Jon Downes telling me, within hours of unfolding events, that “it has been seen by members of the team!” . The real deal. The first time for a multiply sighted creature in the woods! It was there. They all saw it.

They didn’t get it on film.

But they knew it was there because. Because…..

Everyone there seems to have been seriously affected, for a brief time. But by what? The convergence of unusual electric fields? The opening of a temporal zone? Arrival of the Klingons, Dance of the Loomi or the emergence of a Temporary Temple? It is hard to say but the Oz Factor is what we’re really talking about. The term itself came into general use in the early 1980s via author Jenny Randles and has been largely misunderstood as it is difficult to adequately explain what happens to people who experience it. Perhaps the fact she has written so much about it indicates that she hasn’t actually experienced it herself…

So what IS it?

It is when everything goes weird. When your normal state departs to be replaced by a weird sensation of calm mixed with panic, wonder and excitement. It is a heightened state of awareness, super consciousness and of Being Alive. It can be joyful but I would explain it is Awesome and I shall come back to that in a minute. What takes place during “it” is varied from supposed “alien encounters” to deeply religious experiences to encounters with strange beings. It is like being at one with The Source. A man I know well, who had a similar experience, described it as “LSD at one mile an hour”.

This, you may feel, has nothing to do with Cryptozoology and whilst our focus should always be Zoological, it seems that, for some, the Paranormal is never far away.

One night in the early 1990s during a pleasant evening stroll with my dog in a Lancashire village I experienced the Oz Factor myself. It was around 10pm, dark, dry, and suddenly, after an uneventful walk of perhaps two miles through familiar surroundings, all went...odd. Quiet. Deeply Calm. Still, like the lull after a battle; a thousand times more powerful than the discovery of a lake in woods on a winter’s morning. As if you have been here all your life and as if everything is that bit more real….just for a while.

The dog cowered, and, above a bridge perhaps 200ft away, a bright light rose up and appeared to turn into an angelic figure. Trippy stuff for sure and, at the time, I remember saying to myself, “this cannot be happening.” But it was. Without a doubt. In a trance-like state I walked back to my house and went upstairs to bed, at which point my girlfriend came upstairs to see what was the matter because I was behaving most unusually. At the time, lying down, I felt as if I couldn’t move. I was stuck there, paralysed and talking in a strange voice; speaking in tongues no less and this was entirely beyond anything experienced before...

The next day, it was as if the whole thing had never happened and yet I can remember the events to the extent that they are reported above. A convergence of electrical fields? An altered state of consciousness or a reaction to the evening meal? It is hard to know what to say and yet I reject the alien abductions hypothesis because it doesn’t explain what happened. I don’t think it was a ghost or anything similar and my general feeling is that this was something triggered from the outside that affected me. Too much caffeine, as suggested in a news report this week? The result of too much fun at illegal raves or, indeed, the ravings of a madman?

Only you can decide as medical science has nothing to offer beyond questionable medication or classes for meditation to still the awkward mind. As far as Cryptozoology is concerned we still cannot explain the group effect as reported around Bolam Lake in 2003. The weird events described certainly make sense to me despite their open challenge to the natural conservatism of mainstream science. It remains to be seen whether a reasonable explanation can be found but the hunt for mystery animals will, it seems, be associated with Paranormal phenomena as long as we continue to look for them…and as long as "it" keeps happening...

FREE DOWNLOADS: Picture of collectable monster toys, courtesy John "Brojo" Wooldridge.

"Cryptozoology Is Serious Business" by Oll Lewis

The CFZ, as most of you know is a very serious organisation populated by very serious people. However, nobody can remain serious all the time, and there is a fun side to cryptozoology too.

For example there have been loads of cryptozoology related toys released over the years that can help you to indoctrinate your children, nephews or nieces into the fold. Among the many monster toys available are "Monster in my pocket", best-known as a toy-line released by Matchbox in 1990. It consists of small, soft plastic figures representing monsters, and later other tangentially-related characters.the collection contains, as well as traditional horror staples like the wolf-man ghosts and vampires, a number of cryptids like the Loch Ness monster.

Monster in my pocket were very popular when I was a kid so I was greeted by a wave of nostalgia when CFZ member John Woodridge from Montana in the USA emailed us his photographs of cryptozoological toys he’s collected. Among them are also several Japanese monster toys, among them some particularly cool looking ones of mothman that were very reminiscent of pokemon in their appearance.

Pokemon are perhaps my personal favourite cryptozoological toy as I got hooked on the Nintendo game when I was younger, and still enjoy the odd pokemon battle on my Nintendo DS. Many pokemon were based on cryptids and monsters from Japanese folklore called yokai. More information can be read about yokai in Richard Freeman’s encyclopaedia on the subject, being released soon by CFZ Press.

But I digress… take a look at John Wooldridge’s rather smart looking photos:

Friday, January 30, 2009


I'm really pleased to see how the CFZ bloggo has developed. I always intended the CFZ to be a truly community-based organisation. The CFZ is the hub of a truly global community, and the blog, or Cryptozoology: Online, as I suppose I ought to get used to calling it is really beginning to reflect that.

The CFZ, like Fortean Zoology itself, is a broad church. We have currently paid-up members on at least four continents, and from all echelons of a number of different societies. For example, the current membership list includes at least two rock stars, a peer of the realm, several people in prison, two one-time terrorists, a High Court judge, a magistrate, and the `Madam`of a house of ill-repute in New Zealand. I cannot imagine where else one could find such a bizarre cross-section of people. Some of these people are my personal friends, some are people with whom I have a surprisingly close online or telephonic relationship but whom I have never met in person, and some are just names on an XL spreadsheet.

The CFZ has been slowly growing for the last 17 years, but it seems that the new bloggo (I really must stop calling it that, and giving it the proper title) has captured people's imaginations. It has certainly taken me by surprise. So, are we going to rest on our laurels? Are we going to trundle along as we are at the moment? Or are we going to try to become even bigger and better? The latter of course.

So I am putting out an appeal for Guest Bloggers. I am putting out an appeal for Editors. I am putting out an appeal for regional representatives across the world. (In the week since Nick Redfern announced that he was giving the North American representative list a makeover, we have acquired three new North American representatives, and a new British one). But like Morrisey said on his album before last, "America is not the world", and although I can feel my late lamented mother rolling in her grave at the thought, neither is Britain. We have representatives in Australia, we have representatives in New Zealand, but there is a helluva lot more of the globe to cover.

So I am throwing down the gauntlet. We need your help, get in touch. There is an awful lot to do.


Lungfishes are undoubtedly some of the most peculiar fishes known to man. There are several species in Africa, South America and Australia. In addition to gills they have a paired or unpaired lung and they breathe through the mouth. Because of their size (The Australian species grows to over 70 inches) they are seldom kept in home aquaria although they are regularly exhibited in zoos. They do have drawbacks, however. When Richard Freeman was working at Twycross Zoo in the West Midlands and he received a nasty bite from an African lungfish, which, he said was second only in painfulness to being bitten by an anaconda!

From a biological point of view, one of the most interesting things about these singular creatures is that they can and do survive for long periods of time out of water and can travel overland from one pond to another. The African lungfish aestivates, burrowing itself into the earth where it secretes a mucous bag around itself to preserve moisture during the long dry season.

In 1948 Ralph Izzard, correspondent for the Daily Mail and Charles Stonor travelled to Rilo a eastern Himalayan valley in the Dafla hills of Assam. To search for a swamp dwelling monster called the buru. It was well known to the local Apa Tani people. They described it as bluish in colour, 3.5 to 4 meters long, with four stumpy legs, and a lizard like appearance. It seemed almost totally aquatic, emerging only to bask in the sun. They fed by nosing about in the mud and gave birth to live young. They could use their tail as a powerful weapon. Their vocalisations were loud bellows.

British Zoologist Dr Karl P.N.Shuker has hypothesised that the Buru is actually an immense, and hitherto undiscovered species of lungfish. He writes:

“Although lungfishes have external nostrils, they breathe through their mouth, positioned at the very tip of the snout. This intake of air, readily percieved by the movements of its mouth and throat (proving that the lungfish is genuinely swallowing air) can be very audible. The size of the buru was such that if it were truly a lungfish, the bellowing moise reported when its head was visible above the water might well have been the very audible result of its ventilation period”.

Sadly it seemed from Izzard`s expedition that the buru were extinct. The local people drained the lake in which they lived for rice irrigation forcing the animals into the deeper sections. They were finally destroyed by being buried under deep piles of rocks hurled into what was left of the lake by the tribes people. Though extinct in Rilo the buru may survive elsewhere. Other unexplored lakes in the eastern Himalayas may hold such creatures. Identical creatures have been reported from India`s Gir region were they are called jhoor.

Unfortunately so much of the region in which these fabulous creatures may still thrive is beset with political unrest. Many zoologists, however, harbour the hope that investigative teams in the early years of the 21st Century will solve the mystery once and for all qand discover what we strongly believe is the world`s largest lungfish!


It is usually in the winter, and it is very often on the coast of Tasmania, but no-one knows why whales seem to "commit suicide" en masse by beaching themselves - often apparently deliberately..

The latest tragedy of the cetacian nation was the death of fifty sperm whales, which were mostly mothers and calves, stranded on Perkins Island, a remote island off Tasmania's north-west corner.

A few of the whales survived for a day or two on the beach, but any meaningful rescue proved impossible due to their inaccessible location, which can only be reached by boat. The shear size of the whales, mostly weighing between 13 and 20 tons, places a lot of pressure on their internal organs as they are not designed for supporting their weight out of the water. Sperm whales have been successfully rescued in the past, but the shallow water at the site and the weight of the animals made this outcome inevitable.

This is not the only mass whale stranding in the region in recent months. Around 150 long-finned pilot whales died in a mass stranding off Tasmania's west coast in November.

Colombian Hippos - a story not to be sniffed at?

Invasive species - animals which have been introduced accidentally or on purpose from a foreign land, and which now flourish to the detriment of native species, are a conservationists nightmare all across the world. The subject is often broached on these pages, but recently the question came up: "What is the largest invasive species in the world?"

Good old Wildlife Extra posed a similar question, and - I imagine - were as surprised as we are with the probably answers.

Hippopotami in South America? Shurely Shome Mistake???

"Pablo Escobar, the notorious drugs lord, had so much money that he didn't know what to do with it. Amongst other things (A bullring, an airstrip, an ersatz Jurassic Park with half a dozen immense concrete dinosaurs.), he stocked part of his huge estate with hundreds of exotic animals, including elephants, camels, giraffes, ostriches and zebras. He created a lake for hippos and four were released into the lake.

Escobar was killed by Colombian security forces in 1993 and the ownership of the ranch has passed into government hands. All the exotic animals have long since disappeared, except the hippos. The original four founded a herd that now numbers 19, and no one knows what to do with them. They are becoming a pest as they roam the local countryside at night looking for food - One was recently shot by a local farmer some 3 miles away. The hacienda is not securely fenced and the park management does not have the funds to erect a suitable fence, or to feed the animals. "

For more details Read On

Being who we are, I offered this story to various members of the CFZ team, including my friend Charlie. I thought this was a toot of an opportunity; an article not to be sniffed at. However, they all turned it down, saying that they would not be able to stay within the white lines of CFZ protocol, and not make a string of cocaine jokes.

Shame on them!

On the Track of Unknown Terrapins

Friday seems to be chelonian day here at the CFZ Bloggo, and so, in order to compliment the charming article by Glen Vaudrey, here is a reprint of an article I wrote for Fortean Times nearly six years ago....

The late great Bernard Heuvelmans once wrote that "there are lost worlds everywhere ". It is a dictum which has been quoted many times in the last 40 years by cryptozoologists who are determined to prove that many species of new animals still remain to be discovered. It is, of course, true. A multinational marine census which hopes to catalogue all the animals and plants in the world's oceans recently announced that they are discovering an average of three new fish species a week. Even the Zoology of the British Isles - arguably the most well explored place on the planet is in a continual state of flux. Within the last year or so it has been proved that at least two new species of reptiles and amphibians - the pool frog, and the European green lizard are indeed British residents. A fascinating article in the the Herpetological Review even suggests that there may be up to seven taxa of European water frog resident in the UK. It is probable that these are mostly introductions - but in the light of recent discoveries it would, in my opinion at least, be unwise to reject the possibility that at least some of these may well be native to Britain.

However, to return to Heuvelmans's dictum. Unknown animals can indeed be found anywhere, but it I feel that it was very unlikely that when the "father of cryptozoology" made the statement are that he realised that some 40 years later there would be a pair of a bona fide species of unknown animal residing in a home-made garden shed tacked onto the back of a mid-terrace house in Exeter.

In the 12 years that I have been running the Centre for Fortean Zoology I have carried out many investigations into strange, and bizarre creatures. However, I have to admit that many of the higher profile investigations that we have done - and especially many of the TV programmes which we have made about the more media-friendly cryptids such as Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster et al - have been done purely to finance some of the projects which are closer to my heart involving smaller and ( in the public's eyes at least), less interesting animals.

In the early summer, whilst Richard was tramping around the jungles of Sumatra in search of the Orang-Pendek, I had a telephone call from my old friend and colleague Darren Naish. He told me that the university department where he worked had become a home for a number of terrapins, including two which nobody had been able to identify. Would we, be interested in taking them on? Since my youngest days I have been fascinated by aquatic reptiles. The CFZ is home to various of these creatures and I'm always happy to take more. A few weeks later Darren and his boss arrived for lunch, and with them came the three large turtles. The female - called Gladys - is a very large red eared terrapin. These animals have been commonly kept as pets for over 50 years, and while I am very fond of them (and am quite happy to have another one in my collection), her only Fortean significance is that she is a fine example of the species which since the craze for such things which surrounded the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle" movie about 13 years ago has become naturalised in various parts of the UK.

The other two turtles are something else entirely. Both males, Cuthbert and Spots ( no we ain't responsible for the names), appear to be members of the same species. Nobody - not even the keen herpetologists who work and live at the CFZ, nor any of the Zoologists who have visited us in the last six months I able to identify them.

They are particularly attractive looking reptiles. They have broad, flat, heads covered in a striking pattern of grey and brown spots. Both of them have a tendency to turn pink on various occasions. When Cuthbert first exhibited this propensity we panicked. When a semi aquatic turtle wayward turns pink it usually means that it is suffering from serious blood poisoning. We rushed him down to a friendly neighbourhood vet who gave him a course of antibiotic injections, and told us to keep him segregated from the others. This we did, and to our great delight he slowly recovered his normal coloration and carried on eating heartily. A week later he did exactly the same thing again.

They have now been living with us for nearly six months. Spots has exhibited courtship behaviour with Gladys on several occasions and has also become very territorial, forcing Cuthbert out of the water whenever he feels horny. We still have no idea what they are, which is why we have prevailed upon FT to print this peice for us. From the configurations of on their shells and plastrons they appear to be Emydids - from the same family as Gladys and all the other North American fresh water terrapins. However, they don't look reminiscent of any of the known species. Their provenance is very murky indeed. Together with Gladys they were donated to Portsmouth University when they outgrew their homes in suburbia. Because all three turtles are roughly the same size it is - I feel - reasonably safe to assume that they were purchased at the same time, probably from a pet shop. However there is no way of finding out for sure.

They may, of course be either a rare colour morph of the red eared terrapin, or they may be a hybrid which has hitherto been unknown to science. I feel, that because the two unknown animals are so similar that a hybrid is unlikely. However, it is not impossible. Over the past 30 years or so, a large proportion of the red eared terrapins which have been imported into the UK have come from farms in Singapore, the Philippines and Hong Kong. It is not impossible that - if these are hybrids - that they are a hybrid between the red eared terrapin and some Asian species. However, I feel that this is highly unlikely. The best prognosis - in my opinion at least - is that they are either a hitherto unknown North American species, or an Asian species which merely looks like its distant cousins from the New World.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology has never been about trying to prove any theory. Our job is to find out the truth - however prosaic it turns out to be. I am hoping that somebody reading this article will recognise the pictures and be able to tell us what species Cuthbert and Spots actually are. If we have been completely dumb and that they are obviously members of a well known species I apologise to everyone out there in Forteanaland for having wasted their time. If not, then any suggestions from anyone about how we can resolve this mystery will be gratefully appreciated.
To bring the story up to date, "Spots" died in 2004, but Cuthbert and Gladys are now living in their winter quarters - a heated tank in the CFZ Museum. However, this very afternoon I have to go into Bideford for a diabetic eye test, and on the way home Graham and I are going to look at an old cast iron bath which we have been donated. If it proves suitable, it will be manhandled back to Woolsery, and converted into a turtle pond - summer quarters for Gladys and Cuthbert, and our two newly acquired map turtles.
But the main crux of the article remains. What the heck is Cuthbert?


Glen is a very new recruit to Planet CFZ. Indeed, we had never heard from him until a few months ago when he wrote - slightly diffidently - to us, asking whether he could write a volume in our ongoing series The Mystery Animals of The British Isles. We asked him for a proposed synopsis and a sample of his writing, and were overawed by what we received. Here was a man who loved both words and the countryside, and could use one to describe the other in poetic but always down to earth terms. We were beginning to come to the conclusion that here was someone that Bob Marley would have described as a `Natural Mystic`, when the final manuscript arrived, and we knew that we were right. So we asked him to be a guest blogger..
The only sighting of a cryptozoological nature that I can claim to have had was of a turtle, well actually it was three turtles, which used to pop out from the murky depths of the shopping trolley-choked waters of a cutting of the River Irwell, known locally as the Old River, in a town called Irlam.

Many a warm day you could sit in the beer garden of the pub that stands on the riverbank and watch not only the rats scurry about but also out on the still water the three turtles sitting on their own special half-submerged log, what type they were I couldn’t say unless there is a breed out there called the ‘German coal scuttle helmet turtle’. But that was years ago when I was still living in the sunny outskirts of Manchester.

These days my knowledge of turtles is still just as poor but fortunately you don’t need a great deal of knowledge to spot turtle stories in the press. Earlier this month the Edinburgh Evening News (10th January) featured a story about a pig nosed turtle under the delightful if questionable headline ‘Club’s turtle is a real stud’. The article told the tale of Hugo the pig nosed turtle that had for the last six years been living in a tank inside an Edinburgh night club, El Barrio. He might well have lived there for a lot longer if it hadn’t been for renovation work at the club, this meant Hugo had to go and so the plucky shelled fellow has found himself heading off to the Scarborough Sea Life and Marine Sanctuary where it is hoped he will become part of a breeding program.

Now if Hugo had been a marine turtle the future would have been a little different. Last June the BBC website told the tale of two loggerhead turtles that had been washed ashore. The first turtle, with the rather sensible name of James, washed up at Blackrock beach, Bude on the 26 January 2008, with a second one, unfortunately named Dink, turning up a week later on Putsborough Beach, Woolacombe. After five months rehabilitation the two loggerhead turtles were flown out to Las Palmas, Gran Caneria to be released back into the wild.

And what you may ask is the point of this tale? Well it seems that if you are a rescued turtle there is no such thing as Sun, Sea and Sex. You either get the sun and the sea or just the sex.


We received these pictures late last night. They were apparently taken in remote forest in Northern California. I am not going to endorse them or otherwise, and I am certainly not going to tag them as "the real deal". However, they are interesting.

What do you think...

the world is a poorer place tonight...

John Martyn 1948-2009
rest in peace

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Most people know that I was brought up in Hong Kong which was where I first started my lifelong interest in the natural world. Whilst a child I kept several of the Chinese babblers - a large family of Old World songbirds characterised by `fluffy` feathers. They are diverse in size, but mostly resemble large, noisy thrushes. They are a family of which I am extremely fond, and so I am particularly thrilled by today's news that a "new fist-sized, babbler bird species has been discovered in a series of underground caves in China, elevating the hope that the country could find other new discoveries" according to BirdLife International.

Ornithologists Zhou Fang and Jiang Aiwu first saw the bird, dark with white spots on its breast, in 2005 and has since then established its identity as an unknown species. They labeled it the Nonggang babbler, scientific name Stachyris nonggangensis, named for the region of China where the bird was found.


People at the last Weird Weekend will have noticed a bric-a-brac stall incongrously situated between a bookstall and a specialisr publisher.

Behind the stall you would have seen a pretty young lady called Beth, and on the sunday she was joined by two newborn kittens which were - I think - a bigger draw to Weird Weekenders of all ages than anyone except possibly Ronan.

Her name is Beth Tyler-King and for years she has been involved in Wildlife Rescue, first in Bristol, and now in Hartland. She has become a good friend of the CFZ, and like all our friends she has been persuaded to write for the bloggo...

One morning in May 2008 my dogs started barking crazily. It usually means someone is walking up the garden path, so I opened the front door and found a lady called Fiona leaning over my front gate. I walked over to her to hear her say, “Can you take a fox cub”? Would I? I practically hugged her! It has been my life-long dream to hand-rear a cub ever since I played with three of them at an animal sanctuary many moons ago.

Fiona’s partner Adam had a little furry bundle wrapped down the front of his coat. A little head peeped out, her snout littered with scars. Scared eyes looked at me and my heart just went out to this poor little scrap. She could only have been six to eight weeks old. Fiona told me that Millie was profoundly deaf. She also told me that Adam had been driving along a main road five days before and had seen the fox cub running towards him in his headlights, being chased by three boys. He stopped the car and managed to grab Millie (who promptly bit him but he gallantly held on!)

He demanded of the boys what their intentions were but they just shrugged and said “Nothing”. Adam said, “Well she’s coming home with me”. Adam is a hero!

To their absolute credit, Fiona, Adam and their children really turned Millie around as she was snappy and extremely traumatised at first but she became relaxed after a while and slept on the children’s beds at night. However, they were not able to keep her because of their living arrangements. I couldn’t believe she was meant to be with me, being profoundly deaf myself!

The first thing I did was call the vet and I jumped in the van with Millie to take her there.
The vet tested Millie's hearing and confirmed that she was indeed profoundly deaf. I asked for Millie to be vaccinated just like a puppy would be. Millie, although was quite scared, behaved impeccably.

I took Millie home armed with some Advocate (wormer and flea treatment) and proceeded to give her a Tea tree bath. She was amazing, took it all in her stride! I towelled her down and she looked so cute! Like a fluffy ball.

The real battle I had was trying to get her to eat. I scoured the Internet to learn all I could about foxes and discovered that it’s very good for foxes to have a chicken wing every day as part of their diet plus anything that is raw. I drove to my local butchers and bought up all the chicken wings they had in stock plus I stocked up on raw steak, raw liver, raw lambs liver, raw minced meat; you name it, I bought it! And would the little tinker eat any of it? No.

Over the next few days I was practically tearing my hair out at her complete disinterest in food yet she had the energy of a typical puppy. She tore around the bungalow terrorising my cats (all thirteen of them) and once she had done several circuits in this mad whirlwind manner she would then sleep for several hours on my bed looking so endearing.
I bought cat gourmet food, dog gourmet food, (usually about a million pounds for a tiny two inch pot) and yes, she loved the cat gourmet ones but quickly went off these. I then realised I still had a fantastic veterinary product in stock called a/d - a prescription diet usually given to animals recovering from operations or who have no appetite or who need building up. She ravished these with passions and at £1.30 (US$2) for a small tin and getting through four of these a day she wasn’t exactly cheap to keep! Still, it kept me from worrying about her incredibly fussy appetite for the time being, until I could find something she would eat. I did discover though from chance (preparing my tea one night) that she loved grated cheese and cake…..

I took Millie along to several infant's schools and residential homes in the early days of being a cub and she was a source of fascination to everyone who stroked her, many exclaiming they had never “been this close to a real live fox before!” I wanted people to see that foxes, although considered pests by farmers, are beautiful animals at heart and have feelings and fears too.

Millie slept on my bed at night, curling up on the pillow next to mine. My heart just melted when I looked at her and I wondered how anyone could willingly hunt these animals in such a barbaric fashion and willingly watch them being torn apart by a pack of dogs. Surely it would be better to humanely shoot foxes if they are killing livestock than hunting them in this way!

One night I went to get into my bed (Millie was sound asleep on her usual pillow) and I discovered a “puddle” on my pillow that had steeped into the sheets and duvets. Well, no, actually it was a lake! Millie had done a piddle on my bed!
After that I am afraid Millie was banished to the conservatory at night, where she did in fact have her own settee all to herself, plus the use of a TV. To this day she loves it there and firmly considers it her domain. If any of my dogs dare to go in there they are rapidly chased out by a Millie with her ears back, her mouth open and making little funny noises. If I go in there to clean it up she is chasing me around, jumping at my legs as if to say “Leave that alone, oh no what are you doing now, it was fine the way it was, oh no, you’ve completely ruined it all for me now!”

One time, Millie was probably about four months old when I discovered her passion for things in bags. I had been filling in a few holes in my garden using a bag of cement and had half a bag left. I rolled up the brown paper bag with the cement that was left in it and put it on the floor in the conservatory. The next morning I walked into the conservatory and I just could not believe the scene of utter devastation that awaited me, there was grey dust everywhere and I mean everywhere. The mess was colossal. And I looked over to Millie who I am sure looked at me as if to say “What? It wasn’t me it was the cats.”

It took me two hours to sweep, sweep, clean and mop the entire nine metres of flooring. I really did have to laugh though at the thought of Millie throwing that brown paper bag around in the night saying “Whee, look at me isn’t this absolute fun.” Wish I had had CCTV; that would have been hilarious to watch back.

It took me some time to realise that I would have to be so vigilant with the things I left out so most things had to be shut away or nailed down. On one occasion I did leave a brand new bag of cat litter (not opened) on the floor and Millie decided it would be great fun to tear the bag open and spread the contents everywhere. If ever I was unpacking shopping, no matter how quick I tried to be at getting everything in the fridge or cupboards I would invariably go into the conservatory and find a ripped open bag of watercress scattered all over the floor, a bag of peanuts…….

The funniest time was when Millie discovered how to open my food cupboard doors. I had come into the kitchen in the middle of the night to make a cup of tea and in the gloom I could just about make out “blobs” all over the kitchen floor. I turned on the light to see that Millie had decided that she would be helpful and make me a “carpet cake” with the proceeds of my food cupboard. These included an entire bag of sugar, packet of tea bags, rice, cup a soups, oatmeal, jaffa cakes and crackers. Nothing was salvageable. All the packets had been ripped open, the jaffa cakes had been chewed and spat out beyond recognition. I just swept the whole lot up and had to buy some new cupboard locks the next day.

Millie was spayed when she was six months old. The vet who did the operation said she had never operated on a fox before. I stayed with Millie while they injected her with her pre-med and then I went home. When I went to pick her up a few hours later the vet said she had been so good! Think the nurse wanted to take her home! She sat in her cage looking so sorry for herself and quite dopey. I had her spayed mainly to calm her wild urges down, since she will never be able to be released. She had to wear one of those “lampshades” for ten days and she was an absolute angel. She tolerated it so well. It was nice to have no pranks for ten days as she couldn’t get up to much mischief with that lump of plastic round her head!

After Millie was spayed, she started eating like a horse and began to put on much more weight. I discovered she loved tripe so I buy it by the lorry load now for her. She will also eat cat biscuits with great gusto and of course she still has a chicken wing every day.

My mum made Millie two little woolly coats, one red and one white. Because Millie loves it in the conservatory and its impossible to keep her warm out there that’s why she wears a coat, not that she probably needs it of course. I also bought her a gorgeous purple jumper one time with a fluffy collar and a pink jumper too. She moans at me and grumbles when I am fitting new outfits on her but despite her complaints she doesn’t and never has bitten me.
In September last year (four months after Millie arrived) I was given two kittens to hand rear. They were both just a day old, having been found in a puddle. When they were four months old I introduced them to Millie and they are now all the best of friends, often sleeping together and playing together. Sometimes when I give Millie a piece of tripe one of the kittens will literally take it out of her mouth and Millie lets her! I am then running after the kitten retrieving the tripe to give back to poor patient Millie!

Millie has a really sweet nature and I am truly blessed that she is in my life. If I hadn’t have experienced it myself I would hardly have believed that a fox could very happily live a domestic life surrounded by dogs and cats. I hope as I end this little story of Millies first year that I can continue to give her a happy and contented life.

And what has this story got to do with cryptozoology? Nothing. What has it got to do with overcoming peopl'es preconceptions about animals? Everything. I rest my case.


Nearly fifteen years ago, in one of the first issues of our journal Animals & Men I made a manifesto promise. I promised to make our archive of press cuttings and articles available online, for free, to anyone who wanted them. Well, it has taken fifteen years, but today - in a small way at least - we started.

Exhibit One:

This is a picture of a certain Welsh ecologist slaving over a red hot scanner, as he slowly works his way through the CFZ archives. The picture was taken earlier this afternoon, and we are happy to say that the first fifteen scanned clippings from our voluminous archives of lake, sea, and river monsters, and other aquatic anomalies, are now available HERE

The more mealy mouthed amongst you will note that these cuttings are presented in a somewhat willy-nilly fashion. You would be right, but unkind to point it out. At the moment Oll is just scanning them, naming the subsequent files, and then uploading them to basic folders. What we would really like, in a few months from now when there is a significant amount of data with which to deal, for a couple of volunteers who have basic htm coding skills to offer to arrange them into some coherent order on a dedicated blog page.

We are hoping to get some trainees from the government's New Deal scheme, and have a hell of a lot of scanning completed within the next three months. So if you want to be involved in an interesting and useful project, now is your time to volunteer.

We will, of course be keeping you all up to date with the progress of the project.

GUEST BLOGGER RICHARD FREEMAN: Crocodile Cults. Part 3: Australiasia and the New World

Guest Blogger time for Richard Freeman again. As you are probably beginning to guess, the boy Freeman has crocodiles on the brain. He is travelling up to the north of England this week to give a talk at a newly opened spooky bar in South Shields. However he has left us with a treat - a three part article about crocodile cults around the world.

Papuans along the Sepik River in New Guinea credit the crocodile as the great creator of all things. He cased the first dry land to appear from the primal waters. He formed a crack in the earth and mated with it. From that crack, all animals and men came forth. When he opened his jaws, the upper jaw became the sky and the first dawn occurred.

The Itamul people also tell of how crocodiles roamed around the new earth founding villages. They carve crocodile heads on their canoes and statues of crocodile headed men.

Skulls of crocodiles are often kept in men’s cult houses and given offerings of betel nuts. During the initiation of Itamul youths into manhood, they are said to be swallowed by the primal crocodile who spits them out as men. Their shoulders and torsos are subjected to ritual scarification. These, to the uninitiated, are the marks of the crocodile’s teeth.

Crocodiles are powerful totems and the consequences of breaking the totemic relationship can be fatal. A well-known folk hero is Yali of Sor, leader of the Madang cargo cult. Whilst in the jungle a comrade of Yali killed a crocodile. Without the protection of the totem Yalis` friend became lost in the bush and died.

In Northern Australia there is an Aboriginal legend of how the crocodile first came into being. The story goes that a group of people were being transported across a river in a boat. An old man was waiting to be taken across the river. The boat came and went, picking up more people, but ignoring the old man. Eventually he became so angry he leapt into the water and turned himself into a crocodile. From then on crocodiles have always attacked boats.

The Gunwinggu people of Arnhen land believe that the Liverpool River was chewed out of the land by a giant crocodile who rose up inland behind the mountains and proceeded to munch his way out to sea.

Another Dreamtime story has the crocodile or Gumangan and the plover Birik-birik creating fire. The pair travelled together carrying with them the world’s only fire sticks that they rubbed together to create fire. One day they camped by a river and the crocodile decided to go hunting. The lazy plover declined to join his friend so the crocodile instructed him to make a fire whilst he was gone so that they could cook their meal.

When crocodile returned he found the plover asleep and no fire lit. He was so angry that he seized the fire sticks and threw them into the river. The plover quickly grabbed the sticks and flew away into the hills. From then on crocodiles lived near the water and plovers in the hills.

Oddly the bone-idle plover is thought of as the hero of this story for saving the fire sticks!


The Olmec culture of Eastern Mexico had a crocodile deity. It was associated with good harvests. They seem to have passed on crocodile worship to other peoples. The Mayan god of death Ah, Puch was portrayed as a crocodile. Despite being a death god his image is also associated with crops. The Myans saw him as carrying the world upon his back.

Later the Aztecs still held the link between crocodiles and crop fertility. Their crocodile god Cipactli was an agriculture deity. Another crocodile god Tlaloc was thought to be responsible for bringing rain. This last facet is of particular interest when we remember how dragons are associated with the creation of rain and the control of water in the Orient.

William Homes, a 19th century anthropologist, lived with the Chiriqui tribe in Panama. He was able to trace the development of their ancestral crocodile god into a dragon like beast akin to the creatures of western myth. The monster decorated much of their contemporary pottery.

Further south the Montana people of Peru believe that carrying a crocodile tooth protects them from poison. Several tribes from the Pomeroon River basin in Guyana believe that they are descended from caiman. The story goes that the Sun was a keen fisherman and was upset that the fish in his ponds kept disappearing. He appointed the caiman to guard the ponds, unaware that the caiman was actually the one stealing the fish. When he discovered the caiman’s chicanery the sun slashed his back creating his scales. To make amends the caiman offered to give his daughter to the Sun as a wife. The caiman carved out a woman from a tree trunk. His friend the woodpecker hollowed out a vagina for the woman. When the Sun, a snake, emerged from the woodpecker’s hole he realised the woman was fertile. The carved woman bore the Sun twins who ultimately gave rise to humanity.


Only two species of crocodilian occur naturally in North America. The American crocodile, at the very north of it’s range reaches southern Florida. The American Alligator is more widespread but is still confined to the warm southeastern states. There is one well known legend among the Choctaw Indians.

There once was a man who had very bad luck when he hunted. Although the other hunters in his village were always able to bring home deer, this man never succeeded.

He was the strongest of the men in the village and he knew the forest well, but his luck was never good. Each time he came close to the deer, something bad would happen. A jay would call from the trees and the deer would take flight. He would step on dry leaves and the deer would run before he could shoot. His arrow would glance off a twig and miss the deer. It seemed there was no end to his troubles. Finally the man decided he would go deep into the swamps where there were many deer. He would continue hunting until he either succeeded or lost his own life. The man hunted for three days without success. At noon on the fourth day, he came to a place in the swamp where there had once been a deep pool. The late summer had been a very dry one; however, and now there was only hot sand where once there had been water. There, resting on the sand was a huge alligator. It had been without water for many days. It was so dry and weak that it was almost dead. Although the hunter's own luck had been bad, he saw that this alligator's luck was even worse."My brother," said the man, "I pity you." Then the alligator spoke. Its voice was so weak that the man could barely hear it. "Is there water nearby?" said the alligator."Yes," said the man. "There is a deep pool of clear cool water not far from here. It is just beyond that small stand of trees to the west. There the springs never dry up and the water always runs. If you go to that place, you will survive."

"I cannot travel there by myself," said the alligator. "I am too weak. Come close so I can talk to you. I will not harm you. Help me and I will also help you."

The hunter was afraid of the great alligator, but he came a bit closer. As soon as he was close, the alligator spoke again. "I know that you are a hunter but the deer always escape from you. If you help me, I will make you a great hunter. I will give you the power to kill many deer." This sounded good to the hunter, but he still feared the alligator's great jaws. "My brother," the man said, "I believe that you will help me, but you are still an alligator. I will carry you to that place, but you must allow me to bind your legs and bind your jaws so that you can do me no harm."

Immediately the alligator rolled over to its back and held up its legs. "Do as you wish," the alligator said. The man bound the alligator's jaws firmly with his sash. He made a bark strap and bound the alligator's legs together. Then, with his great strength, he lifted the big alligator to his shoulders and carried it to the deep cool water where the springs never dried. He placed the alligator on its back close to the water and he untied its feet. He untied the alligator's jaws, but still held those jaws together with one hand. Then he jumped back quickly. The alligator rolled into the pool and dove underwater. It stayed under a long time and then came up. Three more times the alligator dove, staying down longer each time. At last it came to the surface and floated there, looking up at the hunter who was seated high on the bank."You have done as you said you would," said the alligator. "You have saved me. Now I shall help you, also. Listen closely to me now and you will become a great hunter. Go now into the woods with your bow and arrows. Soon you will meet a small doe. That doe has not yet grown large enough to have young ones. Do not kill that deer. Only greet it and then continue on and your power as a hunter will increase."

The alligator continued, "Soon after that you will meet a large doe. That doe has fawns and will continue to have young ones each year. Do not kill that deer. Greet it and continue on and you will be an even greater hunter." Then he said, "Next you will meet a small buck. That buck will father many young ones. Do not kill it. Greet it and continue on and your power as a hunter will become greater still. " The alligator then said, "At last you will meet an old buck, larger than any of the others. Its time on Earth has been useful. Now it is ready to give itself to you. Go close to that deer and shoot it. Then greet it and thank it for giving itself to you. Do this and you will be the greatest of hunters."

The hunter did as the alligator said. He went into the forest and met the deer, killing only the old buck. He became the greatest of the hunters in his village. He told this story to his people. Many of them understood the alligator's wisdom and hunted in that way. That is why the Choctaws became great hunters of the deer. As long as they remembered to follow the alligator's teachings, they were never hungry.


One of my favourite guest blogs over the last few weeks has been Colin Higgins from Yorkshire, who - incidentally - was the winner of the compy in last month's `On the Track`.

His article on the burbot re-awakened lots of memories of my grandmother (who was a great fisherwoman, as the record breaking chub in the glass case in the CFZ Dining Room bears testament) telling me about this strange fish she had caught in Cambridgeshire in the 1920s.

He emailed me the other day and was full of thanks because I had posted his article. "Dude, it is me who should be doing the thanking" I wrote, "I enjoyed your article immensely. I don't suppose you could do any more for us?" To my great pleasure he did..
In his book on railway weirdness Crossing the Line the folklorist Paul Screeton makes the following observation on the subject of myths:

“Even to the extent of deliberate falsification and invention, such ‘lies’ of a people are not wholly gratuitous. They refer to some strata of communal reality where underlying fears, deficiencies, desires and dreams require exorcising or compensating…it can be a truth without tangibility.”

In an era where strident rationalism seeks to create a binary reality of right and wrong, correct and mistaken, true and untrue, fact and irrational belief, the quotation is apposite.

I am in no way anti-science - you should see how pro-medicine I am in a dentist’s couch awaiting anaesthetic for root canal work - nevertheless I am exercised by the way rationalism is expanding its real estate into ethics, religion and mythology.

I may struggle squaring a modern druid’s claim that he is continuing a lineage going back to the priestly class Caesar saw but support his right to say so, because if science drawn from testable data takes us forward as a species, suspending judgment on those whose beliefs differ from our own surely advances our humanity.

This may have little to do with fisherman’s myths but sometimes you need to get things off your chest and set the scene. Delving into such stories is to peer into murky waters which seldom lend themselves to clear outcomes. Anyway, I failed O’ level biology because I preferred the river bank to school.

Anglers are a superstitious lot. Even hard boiled, card carrying atheists are subject to all manner of instinctive calls on their objectivity when they get a rod in their hands. The vicissitudes of the endeavour, the riverside blanks, the soakings, the misfortune and the rare days of unmotivated plenty lend fishermen (and women) a view of nature as essentially capricious. Many species have been subject to angling’s animistic undercurrents. If Jon permits me I may explore others in future but shall begin with the Tench.

Before the modern era, which for the sake of argument began with the popularisation of specimen hunting in the 1970s, angling publications continued to propagate shibboleths that went back decades if not centuries. Dame Juliana Berners, prioress and sport fishing mother-superior wrote in A Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle (1496):

“A tench is a good fyssh; and heelith all mannere of other fysshe that ben hurt yf they maye come to hym.”

This is the first surviving description of tench as ‘the doctor fish’ a characteristic that’s been tossed around with varying degrees of credulity in angling books practical and nonsensical for as long as anyone can remember.

The reasons for the notion are hard to deduce. Tench are one of the last species to succumb to deoxygenating and I’ve watched them wallow in a silted, road-truncated, weed-choked canal whose only other fauna appeared to be Barbie dolls skinny dipping in its rainbow coloured pollutants.

The tench seemed to rub along together in the only area containing enough water to hold them; that doesn’t explain the myth of the fish’s healing skin causing other species to seek them out.

Other sentiments that have attached themselves to tench, such as the pike’s reciprocal avoidance of tinca tinca as part of its diet for medical services rendered are certainly untrue - tench have been found in many a pike’s stomach (along with rats, frogs, dog foetus, sand martins and even human embryo - but that’s another story).

The best visual evidence I can come up with is a passage by Dr. Tate Regan, icthyologist, in British Freshwater Fishes, (1911) quoted by Falkus and Buller.

“My friend, the late Dr Boedler Sharpe, told me that one day in May he stood on the bridge over the lake at Avington and watched a large Tench lying in the water below; a shoal of Perch swam up and lay round and above the Tench and appeared to be rubbing against him; on being disturbed they swam back under the bridge, but soon repaired again to the Tench and repeated this manoeuvre several times. The meaning of this is obscure, but there can be little doubt that observation of similar incidents has lead to belief in the healing powers of the Tench.”

Use of the pectoral fins in spawning is common to many freshwater fish, especially cyprinids and rubbing contains practical and possibly ritualistic mechanisms but I am at a loss as to why other fish might seek out tench for a quick rub. I welcome any theories or wild conjecture to help nail this one.

One undisputed characteristic of tench is they are growing exponentially, most likely due to the quantity of artificial high-protein ground bait used in still waters by anglers in pursuit of carp, tench and bream. Boilies, balls of exotic flavours mixed with egg and bread paste and boiled have seen the definition of a specimen tench virtually double in weight in my lifetime. The current rod-caught British record stands at 15 lbs and the majority of fish almost that weight have been caught in the last twenty years.

Traditional angling literature often explores the tench’s unseen nature and the still, unchanging ponds with which it’s associated. One of the best evocations of night fishing for tench was by ‘BB’ (Denys Watkins-Pitchford) in a magical passage where he counterpoints the bucolic surroundings with the bombers amassing overhead on their way to Germany.

Next time I shall look at the bizarre lifestyle and legends of the lamprey.

WHAT KNUCKLES DID NEXT...Trapped echidna released into the wild

Regular readers will remember that we have had some interesting contributions in the last week from an Australian lady who wishes to remain anonymous, mainly because her job involves the catching, euthenasing and dissesction of feral cats which are threatening Australia's increasingly beleagured native wildlife. She sent me some gruesome (but very interesting) pictures of a feral cat dissection that I will not be publishing, mainly because each morning as I prepare the day's posts I am usually having my vreakfast. However, she sent me a picture story, of three pictures, showing what happened when a non-target species - an echidna - was caught in one of the humane box traps...


The CFZ blogging family would like to introduce you to a new guest blogger: Richard Holland, editor of Paranormal Magazine, and all round good bloke. He intends to be a regular visitor tho these pages, and I am sure that you will all agree with me that this will be jolly good news for all of us..

Of the many hobbies I inflict on my ever-dwindling bank balance is my enthusiasm for bound volumes of wonderful Victorian/Edwardian magazines like The Strand, Pearson’s and Pall Mall, stuffed full as they are of Golden Age illustration, crime and spook stories and contemporary commentary.

One of my favourites is Wide World, which first started publishing in the 1890s. Wide World was packed with adventure stories from the exploration (and exploitation) days of the British Empire, as sterling chaps with enormous moustaches forged their way through jungle, desert and mountainous wastes encountering indigenous peoples and, yes, monsters on their way.

I’ve republished several edited highlights from my Wide World collection in the ‘Unearthed’ section of Paranormal Magazine, many of a cryptozoological nature (or supernature). Two of these were devoted to what the editorial chaps of the early 1900s liked to refer to as ‘Man-Monkeys’. ‘The Hunt for the Man-Monkey’ retold an expedition to Borneo, which included the celebrated Rajah Brooke, to capture a Mai-as, described as an ‘extraordinary animal emphatically distinct from any other variety of the ape family [and] gifted with a really high degree of intelligence’.

Needless to say, rather than capture this splendid hominid, they end up shooting one (the accompanying illustration of the savage-looking beast was a Rider Haggard-style treat). ‘The dead body of the monkey having been skinned and the flesh removed,’ we are informed, ‘the skeleton was brought back to England, where it remains in the possession of the owner of the yacht who had organized this expedition.’ Frustratingly, neither the name of the owner or his yacht is vouschafed to us, however: does the skeleton still exist, mislabeled maybe in some private collection?

The other story referred to the Mudevar tribe, also known as Tiger People, who inhabited the jungles of the Cardamom Hills near the Southern India Malabar Coast. These hairy, dwarfish, ape-like people were entirely new to me. Like the Mai-as of Borneo, they are described as living in ‘nests’ high up in the trees. They used boluses to kill their game, which would include humans if they were lucky enough to get one. For this reason alone, we are informed by the translator of a hill-tribe chieftain’s yarn, they were cheerfully slaughtered by other tribespeople. I believe their former stamping ground has been largely cultivated now, all that jungle tamed. They must be long extinct, or, if they were human, absorbed into the more general Malabar gene pool.

I would be pleased to learn how well-known the Tiger People are in cryptozoological circles. Does anyone have any more information on them? And what of the Wild Man of Borneo’s missing skeleton? The Wide World does feature stories that are patently untrue or exaggerated, although I suspect the editors at the time may have been unaware of this. But the tales of the Man-Monkeys do have the ring of authenticity to me. So, over to the experts at the CFZ!

Richard Holland, Editor of Paranormal Magazineand Uncanny UK.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

GUEST BLOGGER IVAN MACKERLE: Hunting for the Elephant Bird

We are very pleased to welcome the legendary Czech cryptozoologist, adventurer, and explorer Ivan Mackerle to the CFZ blogging family. He has been an inspiration to us all, and we were very glad to be able to finally meet him at last November's Unconvention. Today he tells us about an expedition in search of the elephant bird of Madagascar...

Do the pieces of eggshells that people in Madagascar still find today come from the legendary elephant bird? Does the monster still live in the midst of the forest? We were full of curiosity as we set out for an adventurous trip.

Half-ton colossus

"It was about fourteen feet high from the ground to the bill, with a big, broad head like the end of a pickaxe, and two huge brown eyes with yellow rims, set together like a man's - not out of sight of each other like those of a hen.

The skeleton of an elephant bird
compared to the skeleton
of an ostrich
in the Muzeum Tsimbazaza in Antananarivo -
the capital of Madagascar

Its plumage was fine - none of the half-mourning style of your ostrich - more like a cassowary as far as colour and texture go. And then it was he began to cock his comb at me and give himself airs, show signs of a nasty temper...and then he kicked me. It was like a cart-horse. I got up, and, seeing he hadn't finished, I started off full tilt with my arms doubled up over my face. But he ran on those gawky legs of his faster than a racehorse, and kept landing out at me with sledgehammer kicks and bringing his pickaxe down on the back of my head. I made for the lagoon, and went in up to my neck. He stopped at the water, for he hated getting his feet wet, and began to make a shindy, something like a peacock's, only hoarser. He started strutting up and down the beach.”

This is how H.G.Wells, the English classic of science fiction, described the meeting of a shipwrecked mariner with the prehistoric elephant bird. But his story “Aepyornis Island” is not too fantastic. Such a bird actually once lived on the island of Madagascar. People wrote about it in fairy-tales and also in old travelogues. The traveler Marco Polo was told by natives that a bird called the Ruh lived on the island and was similar to an eagle but was much larger. They said it could kill an elephant. It would grasp the elephant in its claws, take it up and than drop it. The bird wold slice open the elephant`s stomach with its beak and eat the entrails.

Giggling scientists

It did not take long for the world to come to believe in the existence of these giant birds. Doubtful voices of skeptical scientists were silenced in 1850 when an Arabic merchant Abbadi brought three intact eggs and several bones of a giant bird to France. It was the zoological sensation of the 19th century.

The eggs, which natives used to find in the bush
had a volume of ten litres

The egg had a volume of ten litres, which equals the contents of approximately one hundred and eighty hen's eggs. During the following ten years the French paleontologists managed to find enough bones to allow them to reconstruct the entire skeleton. It become apparent that - in life -the bird had looked like an ostrich with strong legs. It was three meters high and weighed half a ton. But it could not fly, let alone carry an elephant. But it would still have been dangerous to man. With a blow from its strong beak the bird could crush the human skull, and kill a man with a single kick. Scientists called it Aepyornis, but they could not determine when it went extinct.

At first they thought it was during prehistory, but than they came up with a finding that changed their ideas. They found a bronze ring on the leg of Aepyornis with some mysterious signs. Soon the scholars found out, that the signs on the ring came from the epoch about the oldest city-civilization of India, Mahendzo-Daru – from five thousand years ago. Other findings gradually reduced this date and today it is thought the bird could have lived as late as the 17th century. However, the natives keep worrying the zoologists by saying that the eggs they sometimes find in moors and dunes of the southern part of the island look as if they were laid only recently.

What if the scientists are wrong and the elephant bird still survives somewhere in the far away parts of the island?

Will we find it?

For many years I have been passionately engaged in looking for unknown and supposedly extinct animals, such as the Loch Ness monster or Bigfoot. No small wonder that our group set out to search for the legendary elephant bird. We were an experience-proven group. Jirka Skupien, Jarda Prokopec, my son Danny Mackerle and me. Past objects of our expeditions include the wild man/hobbit nittaewo of Sri Lanka, the potentially dangerous tatzelwurm of the Austrian Alps and the Death Worm of the Mongolian Gobi Desert. Pascal Gui, a native Malagasy now living in Prague, joined us in the search for the giant bird. He studied journalism in the Czech Republic and he speaks Czech well, so he made an excellent interpreter for us.

We wanted to go through the southwestern coast of the island and explore the out-of-the-way places around the mouth of Ilinta River. We were lucky from the very start. A native from Tulear showed us a giant Aepyornis egg. We looked at it with reverence and examined it from all sides. It was truly magnificent. It did not seem to be very old, so we asked him where he had found it. The bird could not be far from the nest. At first the native hesitated to tell us but a bundle of bank notes finally opened his mouth. He pointed at a place on the map in the area of sands near a small village called Androka.

Surprise in the dunes

We were driving for an entire day. The road was in terrible condition with deep holes and huge stones. At some places it reminded me of a hiking trail somewhere in a rock city, or the dry bottom of a river. Occasionally we had to utilize the four wheel drive. There was dry and thorny bush all around us. Finally the bush disappeared and we had a beautiful view – blinding yellow dunes spreading far in all directions. We stopped in a small grove of treelike cacti and raffia palms to build camp. Impatient Jirka grabbed his camera bags and went scouting. We drunk a few gulps of warmish water, took our backpacks and ran after him. Jarda took a spade - just in case there was an Aepyornis skeleton sticking out of the sand. We feel like we were in the Sahara. Our feet sunk into the fine sand, the sun shone mercilessly and hot haze of fata morgana hovered above the dunes.

We separated into an extended order and slowly walk among the hilly sand dunes. I looked for the highest place to be able to see the surroundings and then I heard Pascal shouting. He had found something!

Shells from a broken egg of the elephant bird
layed right on the surface of a sand as if they
had been laid there only recently

We ran to him and could not believe our eyes. The plateau of one long sand dune was covered with a number of shells. They looked like scraps from a porcelain mug but they came from a broken egg of the elephant bird, or rather from multiple eggs. We did not have to dig them out of the sand because they were right on the surface as if they had been laid there only recently. Had young birds hatched out of them? Or had the eggs just been broken by something? We crawled on our knees, and looked for matching scraps. We would have liked to compose at least one whole egg. In our collector´s fervor we forget about the world.

The native woman stopped several feet
from us, and looked at us with curiosity.

“The natives are coming,” said Danny. And they were. A weird procession was walking on the crest of a sand dune – women carrying loads of wood on their heads. They walked upright and as light as if they felt no loads on heads. Sometimes, they carry goods to the market, at other time a bucket with water or a pack of bricks. One might wonder how their thin necks can hold the burden. Their hands remain free so they seem light even with a heavy basket on their head. They develop a noble poise and a charming gait. The women walking on the sand dune stopped and looked toward us. Some of them separated and came down to us. They saw we were whites and wanted to know what we were looking for there. They stopped several feet from us, put aside their plastic buckets with wood and looked at us with curiosity.

“Salam,” we greeted them. The women had a cheerful light in their eyes and started murmuring something. However, our conversational skills came to an end; we did not know another Malagasy word. When we failed to respond, they realised we did not understand and started arranging something. They must have been talking about us because they kept looking at us and laughing out loud. One of them started singing, swinging in the rhythm and wiggling her hips. She playfully smiled at us and uncovered her shining white teeth. She radiated energy and sensuality. Still wiggling, she turned her back to us, rolled up her skirt and pantomimed motions of sexual intercourse. Taken aback, we watched her chocolate brown buttocks.

The other women laughed hard. Our embarrassment seemed ridiculous to them, they must have been accustomed to different reactions from their men. We quickly recovered and called Pascal who was digging in the sand nearby trying to find a whole egg or even bones. He came and translated our “witty” sentences. After a while, conversation was at full speed and our meeting ended with prospect of hope. We were invited to dinner in their village.

Food for the whole village

We arrived to the village before sunset. It was only a few primitive shacks, under coconut palms right on the seashore. Only then did we learn that the girl who had invited us for dinner was the daughter of the village chief. She ceremoniously lit a lamp and brought food – a giant three-kilogram lobster and a bowl of manioc. We were hungry and the fine lobster meat quickly disappeared in our mouths. We were joking about the ironical situation: We did not eat anything the previous night , talked about a simple hot dog for hours and just then we were having a royal dinner that would cost at least thousand crowns in Europe. Lobster is gourmet speciality and we were eating it there to satisfy hunger..

After dinner we were introduced to the chief and got to explain the purpose of our trip. We expected to hear some stories from him indicating that some last birds might be hidden here some places, but we were disapointed. The chief did not confirm it. If someone had seen the giant bird, we would have known about it. He had not even heard the neighbouring tribes talk about it. We are interested at least in legends – so we asked when was the last time Aepyornis lived there. He remembered that in his childhood he used to hear that fathers of their grandfathers hunted this bird. He is said to have been slow and clumsy, so he was easy prey. By rough calculation, we learned it was about one hundred years ago, which is not very long! We regained hopeful that the bird did survive some place well-hidden from people. While the chief´s daughter took away our plates, we made jokes that if the tribes had not exterminated the bird, but rather bred it like hens, they would have enough to eat now. One egg would feed the whole village.

The hideout is empty

The next day we set out for the delta of Ilinta River. It is a large area of forest marshes that is absolutely inaccessible most of the year. Before the trip we read about some weird larynx squeaking being heard here. If a couple of the remnants of this bird species truly survived today, it could only be there. But it was a dry period when we were there and the river was dried up. Thick bushes and trees prevented us from scouting. Our jeep was scratched from boughs and we proceeded very slowly. Quite often we had to turn back and try another road. Finally we realised that walking would be faster. Although we were using a machete, the journey was difficult and exhaustive. It was likely that no human foot had ever trod these places. At night we tried to record Aepyornis´s voice. But we heard no screeches and the tape remained empty. We did not give up and kept looking for some traces during the following days – maybe a print of a big three-toad foot in the sand, a piece of feathers or perhaps some droppings. But we found nothing.

Gradually we realised that such a big bird could hardly be hiding there. The former high forests had vanished and the entire area was covered with thorny bushes and brushwood. The head of a three-meter high bird would stick out of the bushes. At last, we have seen the elephant bird after all. In the museum Tsimbazaza in the capital city of Madagascar we at least got to examine its skeleton.

The former high forests in the land of Aepyornis had vanished and the
entire area is covered with thorny bushes and brushwood.