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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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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

THE BIG THREE: Max Blake

A FEW WEEKS AGO WE ASKED VARIOUS BLOGGO REGULARS TO TELL US WHAT WERE THEIR TOP THREE FAVOURITE MYSTERY ANIMALS... AND WHY

As much as I would love to talk about cryptid cockroaches and beetles, sadly there is a deficit of information on any of these. A bit sad really that by the general crypto-crowd anything weighing less than 5kg or not being the largest species in its group is ignored and neglected. It is also very true that the small animals are where the most success will be had in finding and describing new species, but, I expect this would all be too easy. So, without further pratting around, here we have my big three.

1. Lake Iliamna’s giant fish. This huge lake is the 7th largest in the US, but for years there have been gigantic fish reported, each one usually over 20ft long with long bodies, fish-like tails and a dull aluminium sheen. Sightings are infrequently reported, but each time they are it is usually by wildlife biologists, pilots, sport fishermen or locals; all people that you would expect to either get a good view, or know what they are talking about. The best theory describing what they are is that they are huge sturgeon; ancient fish, so well adapted to their life style that they have not really changed for hundreds of millions of years. The largest species, the beluga sturgeon, used to get to 20ft long, but this size is not considered to be wholly viable these days as the largest ones have all been fished out. Weights of over one ton were recorded, but a large one for a fisherman to bag currently would be a couple of hundered kilos; still very large fish. The largest supposed size was nearly 3 tons!, about twice the size of an average hippo. It’s sheer size would make the beluga the best candidate for the giant fish, but...

Beluga are a Eurasian species, and do not occur in North America. There is an American version of the beluga though, the white sturgeon, which the record catch stands at 800kg from 1912. A fish half this size was found dead on the shore of Lake Washington in 1987, so big specimens are still out there. White sturgeon are found in other Alaskan lakes, so thus I think the explanation for the giants is this:

In the last interglacial period, rising water levels allowed some white sturgeon to enter into Lake Iliamana. They were locked in when the water level fell , and here in isolation they have grown huge. The lake’s massive size means that there is easily enough food to support huge fish, and a lack of predation (particularly from humans) has allowed the fish to get above their maximum size thanks to a large fish and crustacean population (there are few certified fish above 4 feet in the lake), allowing the sturgeon to eat their fill of fish. At the sizes they are, they will be ancient fish, lurking in the lake depths out of the reach of anglers. They have got to be the most interesting freshwater cryptid out there, mainly because a very rational explanation can be found which leaves no loose ends.

2. And now, a cryptid that hid for over 100 years, which was found with the use of modern technology and patients. In 1862, Darwin himself examined a species of orchid, which, because it held it’s nectar at the end of a very very long tube, could only have been pollinated by a moth with a proboscis 12” long. He was ridiculed by his peers for his suggestion, but he still held on to his idea. The trouble was, the species may have died out before it’s discovery; only 10% of Madagascar’s (where the orchid was found) forest remains, so any population of the moth must be tiny. But modern day scientists are certain that this is the only way that the plant could be pollinated. Indeed, 41 years after Darwin’s prediction, the moth was captured and named Xanthopan morgani praedicta, praedicta after Darwin’s prediction.

You can see the very first video footage of the species here, but be aware that they get a lot of their facts wrong: http://www.boreme.com/boreme/funny-2008/darwins-comet-orchid-p1.php

Obviously, this is a superb cryptozoological success story, but it ends not here. In 1991 it was hypothesised that a moth with a proboscis 15” long must exist due to an orchid with an even longer pollen tube. The orchid and the moth come from Madagascar, and hopefully the moth will indeed be found, someday.

3. Finally, another cryptid which is certain to exist, the Alien Big Cat. When I first got involved with researching these animals I set out to get hold of some pretty definitive evidence for their existence. It didn’t really take long to get it! Livestock kills, too clean for a dog and of animals too big for a badger or fox to bother with, are the best evidence of their existence that can be commonly found. Yes, everyone wants to take “that” photo, but it is going to be hard to get. Next year, when I have got hold of a pretty serious lens for my camera, I intend to be doing a lot of staking out, sat in freezing cold fields looking out for big cats!

Looking at the evidence that I have accumulated, one or two kills seem to be very categorical to me. The first was the kill I found at Stoke St. Michael, in the field next to the one in which most of the kills had been in. When I found the body, the abdomen was still warm and the eyes had not been taken out yet, suggesting a very resent kill. The neck was pulled back over the spine and there was a gaping hole in the abdomen, from which most of the vital organs had been removed. But, there was no mess. The body had not been dragged anywhere, and the legs and head had not been damaged in any way. A dog would not have been so clean cut.

The other was a deer kill. Again, the neck was bent back over the spine and the eyes were intact. Again, the body was warm. Some of the meat from the leg had been removed, but fur from the body had been taken off to leave a hole of skin intact. The cat had been disturbed and had left the deer where it was. If it had not been disturbed, more fur would have been removed and a hole to the internal organs would have been opened up. A dog would not have bothered pratting around and would have just opened the abdomen right up.

The reason that few good pieces of photographic evidence exist is because the photographers who want to take a photo go about it in completely the wrong way, and the general public who are most likely to see a cat don’t often carry a camera around with them, or in the short time they see the cat they are too shocked to take a photo. With technology advancing however, it will not be long until a proper photo comes to life.

1 comment:

Neil A said...

I think there are quite a few decent 'big cat' photo's out there, but not everyone of course wants to come forward and see their mug splashed over the newspapers. It's always about respecting the witnesses, but I totally agree that there are 'researchers' out there, who in between working in the local supermarket, would give their right arm to get a photo which in turn would not only give them an ego erection, but possibly portray them (in the dodgy tabloids anyway) as the greatest hunter of all time.
Like you said Max, much of this research is conducted badly, and often hilariously. It took me about five years to get a sighting of a black leopard, and I felt privileged, but not once did I slap camaouflage gear on, or set up high-tech cameras. For me, this kind of research reminds me of those fishermen who have bait-boats to lure big fish, hardly putting in the work.

Good luck with the research.