Saturday, January 31, 2009
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.
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...
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.
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!
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.