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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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