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

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

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

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

GUEST BLOGGER TONY LUCAS: Bats put in the bite

Tony Lucas is one of our New Zealand representatives. We first published his work in the 2008 Yearbook when he wrote us an overview of New Zealand cryptozoology. New Zealand is a particularly fascinating place because of its zoological isolation from the rest of the world. Tony has a peculiar story to tell about bats...


The following news report appeared this morning reported by Newstalk ZB a national Radio station:


Bats attack in Rotorua
6:50AM Monday February 02, 2009
Source: Newstalk ZB
Read

There are reports of bats attacking two men in Rotorua. Taxi driver Ngaia Monaham says two men jumped in her car near Amohia Street just after 3.00am Monday. She says they told a bizarre story of being attacked and bitten by bats. Monaham says she did not believe them at first but than noticed they had bite marks on their arms. She says she and another taxi driver went back to Amohia Street with a torch and found hundreds of bats flying around in the trees.
sourced from Newstalk ZB


I rang Newstalk ZB and was told that the matter had been referred to the Department of Conservation who were investigating the report. When I spoke to a representative of the Rotorua Department of Conservation he said that if the animals involved were bats, at this stage it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.


The Bats are nocturnal and would not be echo locating and therefore hard to find with detectors.

They would have to wait until dusk to check the area with bat detectors and see if any results came up with anything. If there are bats in the area it would be highly unusual as it is not pristine bat habitat as they like forested areas which the location provided certainly does not provide.


They were however obliged to check it out.


New Zealand bats are realatively small and totally insectivorous, there are only two species of bat native to New Zealand, the third species that was here is now long extinct. The Short Tailed Bat - Mystacina tuberculata and Long Tailed Bat – Chalinolobus tuberculatus. Both are highly endangered and conservation efforts are currently in progress to try and save both species from extinction.


The bats weigh about 8-11 g and if these were bats I find it hard to conceive that they would do the damage to a human they are supposed to have done.



The DOC worker I spoke to seemed to be of the opinion that the whole incident was one of misidentification and was skeptical that bats were actually involved.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Wouldn't it be fantastic if it were the supposedly extinct species of bat....

NORMAL SERVICE WILL BE RESUMED BLAH BLAH BLAH

Today has not gone according to plan. We have had a string of technical problems including a laptop that has died, a flat tyre on the daihatsu, and the total failure of the Bravenet web statistics aggregator. That means that although the web counter is working, the stats analyser isn't and it appears that we have had no visitors at all for the last few days. I know full well that isn't trye, but it doesn't help us in our analysis programme.

Last week, by the way, the best number of hits on the bloggo was just over 1,600 on monday, and we averaged over 800 for the rest of the week. Not bad when we have only been in operation for a few weeks. It is, however, frustrating to be continuing to post new material without being able to tell how many people are reading it.

The new episode of `On the Track` is also taking a little more time than I had hoped, but will be finished within the next hour or so. How long it takes to embed, compress and upload before you can see it is anyone's guess, but I can confidently predict that you will have it by tomorrow lunchtime.

It is, I think, the best episode yet, and I very much hope that you will all enjoy it.

Expect a few more new features both on the website and on the bloggo within the next few days. 2009 is shaping up to be a lot of fun...

GUEST BLOGGER RICHARD HOLLAND: A cuddly cryptid

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..

I have just one mystery beast sighting of my own. But it wasn’t very impressive. It was rather small and cuddly, in fact.

Early spring last year I went to take another look at an important holy well local to me in North-East Wales. Ffynnon Degla (St Tegla’s Well) at Llandegla in Denbighshire had been little more than a damp hole in the ground for more than a century but in its day (up to the early 19th century) had been an important pilgrim site and a bit of a cash cow for the parish church, since it was believed to cure epilepsy (providing you took part in an elaborate ritual involving the transference of the disease to a chicken and, of course, coughed up a coin or two). The well has recently been cleared and restored, so it’s now a basin in the ground rather than a damp patch and since there’s not very much to do up here, this seemed like an exciting enough attraction for me to bother driving the all-of 8 miles to visit the site again.

The experience was not exciting enough to keep my interest for more than about 46 seconds, however, so I then went for a stroll through the fields which skirt the River Alun into which Ffynnon Degla drains. It’s fairly nondescript county just here: open grass fields, some with cows or sheep, a few patches of woodland and scrappy plantations, also a few farms and cottages dotted about in between. Llandegla is on limestone and about 250m above sea level, although higher ground and moorland (standing on gritstone and shale) is to be found east and west a few miles away.

Strolling along in rather muted light, I spotted a critter some way ahead of me on the path. Now unfortunately, I’m useless at judging distances (my old driving instructor was driven mad by this trait, I seem to recall); suffice it to say it was close enough for me to easily spot and follow it but sufficiently far away for me to at first mistake it for a bird before realizing it was actually a mammal. When I first saw it, I thought it was a grouse or maybe some exotic pheasant that had lost its tail. That gives you an idea of the size, and also the shape: dumpy, low to the ground.

But the reason I assumed at first it was a bird was the colour. It was red. I mean: RED. Not chestnut or foxy reddish but Red Panda red, Bandicoot red. It trotted ahead of me on the path, with a kind of lolloping gait. I couldn’t see its legs. And for some reason I can’t for not recall the length or shape of its tail. All I can give is useful negatives: it didn’t have a brush and it didn’t have the white flash of a rabbit’s tail.

I was effectively driving the critter. It was aware I was there and if I stopped it would trot more slowly, but since it still kept moving, I considered it advisable to try and keep up with it just in case it turned its head. And the bastard didn’t, so I never saw it in profile. All I saw was its back and bum.

Well, there you are, a furry red thing with a dumpy shape which trotted and/or lollopped. Ultimately, I lost sight of it, ran on and realised it must have at last found a hole in the fence and had escaped into a scrubby bit of land which provided it with plenty of cover. I stood there for ages hoping I’d get another glimpse but I didn’t. I suppose I could have camped out there with big binocs but Richard Freeman I ain’t: I’m more of a spend-time-in-a-library-with-loads-of-dusty-folklore-books-and-a-cup-of-tea kinda guy.

Finally, in the hope that you haven’t already dozed off or clicked away from my one feeble foray into cryptozoology in the (rather damp) field, I need to ask a question: are there such things as brindle foxes? Twice now I’ve caught a fox in my headlights here in my home village of Gwernaffield in Flintshire and am convinced it’s brindle, or dare I say it, tabby. But much darker than most foxes or indeed tabby cats. So, is it just a trick of my headlights, or have we a rather unusual fox padding about our village?

GUEST BLOGGER ALAN FRISWELL: Dragon tales and monkey business..

Alan first came to my notice when he turned up at our stall at last November's Unconvention. He was clutching a box that had once held a plastic Christmas Tree. He thrust it at me, and said "Here's your mermaid".

I vaguely remembered Richard F having said that one of his mates had offereed to make us a feegee mermaid, but I had forgotten all about it. Sad to say, so many people offer to do stuff for us, and then fail to deliver, that I had got into the habit of treating all such offers cum grano salis, but the advent of Alan shows that I should not be such a cynical old sod. Now he has become a guest blogger..

While I’ve read what must be thousands of books on Fortean subject matter since childhood, and would--in my more self-aggrandizing moments--consider myself to be something of an amateur cryptozoologist, I would feel very uneasy spouting off about big cats, lake monsters and alligators up the U-bend with any pretence of authority in the company of professionals such as Jon and Richard.

My real ‘trade’, if you will, is special effects, particularly stop-motion animation, and I do know a bit about that. So I thought you might be interested to hear about how a cryptozoological expedition that led to the discovery and classification of a new species, was subsequently responsible for the creation of the most famous fantasy film in cinema history.

In 1912, P.A. Ouwens, a Dutch scientist based in Java, had travelled to Indonesia after reports of living dragons had spread to various small islands in the region. Although a man with a conservative interest in zoology, the accounts of giant reptiles capable of killing goats and cattle, and occasionally human beings were too compelling to ignore, and Ouwens embarked on a full-scale dragon hunt (I bet Richard would have liked to have been around for that one). Eventually arriving on the island of Komodo, Ouwens was amazed to discover that the dragon legends were, at least in part, spectacularly true, and the giant monitor lizards were appropriately named Komodo dragons, subsequently becoming Varanus komodoensis.

These deadly animals are possessed of tremendous strength, and are capable of bringing a human being down with ease. They tear chunks of flesh from their prey by holding down the victim with their front feet, and dismember it by biting down, and twisting their powerful neck muscles. If this wasn’t bad enough, their jaws are swimming with bacteria of extraordinary virulence, and a single bite can precipitate fatal blood poisoning in hours.

These creatures really do qualify as monsters, although those of us who love this stuff can also see great beauty and magnificence in these living prehistoric beasts.Fast forward to 1926, and W. Douglas Burden, the naturalist and explorer, lands on Komodo with the American Museum Natural History expedition, successfully capturing two of the great dragons. Their arrival, and establishment in the Bronx Zoo ends in disaster, as the creatures sadly languish and die in the alien environment.

One of Burden’s friends is the filmmaker Merian C. Cooper. Cooper, a real-life Indiana Jones-type character had an extremely colourful past as a soldier and adventurer, and had established himself, along with his partner Ernest B. Schoedsack as a highly successful producer of outdoor movies, set against the often savage backdrops of primitive cultures and the brutality of untamed nature.Cooper is enthralled by Burden’s tales of the primordial world of Komodo, and begins to formulate a film theme that would capture all the thrills of the ‘lost world’, and the excitement of bringing some great monster back to civilization. He searches for a name, a word that would, by itself, conjure up the atmosphere and sensibility of lost lands and times.

The name Komodo gives him his inspiration, and from it, he creates the name Kong. Originally, Cooper was actually going to film Kong on Komodo, and get in amongst the dragons. His intention was to enlarge them photographically, to make them appear dinosaur-sized. At this point, the lizards were the ‘stars’ of the project, and according to an interview with Fay Wray in the 1960’s, Cooper had always wanted to have a monster climb a skyscraper, but in the original script, he had intended to have two giant Komodo dragons climb--not the Empire State building, but the Chrysler Building.

It was only in subsequent adjustments to the story that he realised that the ‘monster’ needed more anthropomorphism in order to engender audience sympathy, so Kong became a giant gorilla, for which Cooper intended to use a man in a suit.While trying to raise finance for Kong, Cooper was employed as a trouble-shooter at RKO studios, being given the job of assessing movies in production, and their viability at the box-office.

He views a film called Creation, a lost-world-type film involving the discovery of dinosaurs in an underground valley, and cancels the project, believing that because of the uninspired storyline it lacks the necessary vitality and interest to make it a hit. The technical work however, amazes him, and he falls in love with the process of stop-motion animation. Asking the special effects designer Willis O’ Brien, if it would be possible to create a giant ape with the same techniques. O’Brien demonstrates that the model animation process will make anything possible, and Cooper realises that the whole of Kong can be made in the studio; that the giant reptiles can now look like real dinosaurs, and--fortunately, I’m sure you’ll agree--that the giants of Komodo can be left in peace. The rest of course, is history.

King Kong, through the genius of Wills O’ Brien, became the ultimate classic of fantasy storytelling. Carl Denham, the intrepid filmmaker who travels to Skull Island and brings Kong back to civilization is directly based on Cooper. The film inspired thirteen-year-old Ray Harryhausen, who through his own work has influenced almost every special effects technician working today, including yours truly. So we have a lot to thank those old Komodo lizards for. Not only for providing us with a glimpse into a spectacular--and terrifying--primeval past with their own awesome presence, but for being directly responsible for the most iconic and influential monster movie of all time.

Thanks chaps! An account of Burden’s adventures can be found in: Dragon Lizards of Komodo: An Expedition to the Lost World of the Dutch East Indies,available on all good Amazon websites.

GUEST BLOGGER RICHARD FREEMAN: Whatever happened to museums?

Guest Blogger time for Richard Freeman again. He is still up in the frozen north - well Tyneside, actually, and is not due back until mid week. However he left us a few articles to be going on with including this splendid rant about the decline of museums...
I love museums, especially the more old fashioned ones. Dust cases with Victorian specimens, collections of skeletons and skulls, collections of mounted tropical insects looking like faded jewels, odd things floating in jars of formaldehyde, zoological booty from expeditions long since passed. I don’t like the modern museum with its interactive computer displays. Give me echoey rooms full of that unique ‘museum smell’ and dark corners hiding god knows what.

The little museum at Ilfracombe is one such box of delights. It displays bezoars (cows furballs) alongside huge stuffed pythons and a pine martin so old its fur has turned white.

The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery once had an amazing collection of stuffed specimens and fossils. The crowning glory to countless generations of school children was a life sized Tyrannosaurus rex. However, this wonderful collection has, in recent years, been broken up. None of the fossils or zoological specimens remain, heaven knows what happened to the lovely Tyrannosaur model. All had to make way for collections of local pottery, stuff on the industrial revolution and history of the Black Country. What was once one of the best museums in the country is now a crushing bore.

This small-minded parochialism seems to be spreading in museums. My own very dull and depressing hometown of Nuneaton once had a splendid little museum in Riversly Park. There was not much natural history in it but there was a fascinating ethnological collection including a great display of Eskimo artefacts. There was also an impressive collection of objects from darkest Africa and the South Seas.

Last year on a trip back to Nuneaton to visit my folks I decided to drop by the museum. Imagine my surprise and horror to see its marvellous collection gone and replaced with displays about local author George Elliot that were so mind bindingly banal that they beggared belief. Another room had a history of mining in the area.

None of the staff at the museum knew why the change had happened so I wrote to the curator. She wrote back telling me that a decision had been made to concentrate on things of ‘local interest’. Her definition of ‘interest’ and mine are at odds. Why must museums be obsessed with local things? It makes them introverted, dull and lacking in scope.

With the world in the state that it is we need now, more than ever, to foster our children a love and wonder of nature. To see natural history swept away by boring, local, recent, human history makes me sick.

There are still real museums out there displaying real, interesting stuff. These places need protecting from ‘modernisation’ and the whims of committees, focus groups (were there ever any people more unfit to pass judgement on anything?) and town councils.

GUEST BLOGGER JAN EDWARDS: The Strange Case of the Weardale WereHog

We have been in contact with Jan for ages, and it is with great pleasure that we welcome her aboard, not only as a guest blogger, but as a Co. Durham representative for the CFZ. With Davy Curtis already at the helm in the country, the two of them will make a dream team par excellence...

Not exactly a crypto-beast, but close.

She was tiny – when I first saw her she could be cupped in the palm of your hand... if you ever dared. You see, although she was only a baby, she had nerves of steel and a huge chip on her shoulder.

We called her Rosy, in the hope that having a pretty name would calm the beast within. Some hope! Within the first 24 hours she had sunk her teeth into so many hands that she was greatly feared... so muggings here was delegated as her primary carer; to be approached with the greatest of caution.
Thankfully she did not need bottle feeding. Being THAT up-close-and-personal with her would have been more than even I could cope with. You see, even though I had cared for everything from weasels to raging bulls, this tiny baby hedgehog was scary.
She would launch herself from where ever in the hutch she was rooting about in – sinking her tiny needle-teeth deep into any protruding finger she came across, growling ferociously.
She was an Autumn Orphan... a baby hedgehog who was born too late in the year and who needed help to make it through the winter. We get several every autumn, and generally, all it takes is a square meal a day, somewhere warm to sleep... and somewhere warm to be released in the springtime. Generally, hedgehogs in care only need a dish of food once a day and their cage kept clean. They try not to interact with humans – indeed they generally curl up and refuse to move till they know it is safe. In the past 10 years, I have cared for over 300 hedgehogs.... however, no other hedgehog has acted like this one.
In the fullness of time, Rosy grew from being a one-palm hedgehog to being a two-hand-big hedgehog, and on a warm April night I had the pleasure of watching her wander off into the darkness of her first night of freedom.
The next morning, a scene of devastation met the eyes of a local farmer. 2 of his sheep were found dead on the hillside, close to where the hedgehog was released.... Was this the Curse of the Weardale Werehog?

Jan Edwards, Head of Animal Care
Farplace Animal Rescue - the no-kill animal sanctuary
Farplace, Sidehead, Westgate, County Durham, DL13 1LE
tel: 01388 517397 mobile 07860 523434
Registered Charity number 1126812
Registered Company number 4397258

GUEST BLOGGER CORINNA DOWNES: Whale meat again

George W Bush really was a nasty little sod. Even in the last few weeks of his administration he was engaged in talks to undo the global moratorium on commercial whaling and extend unprecedented authorisation to the government of Japan to kill whales off its coastline and in international waters. Wildlife Extra has the Whole Story but Corinna is incensed..

So, in the final throes of its reign, the Bush Administration organised some closed-door meetings and discussions with the Japanese Vice-chair with a view to reaching a compromise over their whaling activities. It seems that this would have legalised Japan’s ongoing ‘scientific’ research activities, which would even stretch its ‘scientific’ fingers to include a whale sanctuary.

Hmm, now according to my dictionary the definition of the word sanctuary is: A reserved area in which birds and other animals, especially wild animals, are protected from hunting or molestation. Does this mean, then, that this word does not exist in the Japanese language? Well, of course yes, it does. So, I can only assume, then, that it means the complete opposite in Japan than it does in every other country of the world.

Since the global commercial whaling ban came into force in 1986, Japan came up with the idea of doing some scientific research into whales. The Embassy of Japan in Australia issued the following explanation for the annual slaughter:

“In order to obtain appropriate scientific data for the proper management of whales, only using non-lethal research method is insufficient and lethal method is required:

While certain information can be obtained through non-lethal means, other information requires sampling of internal organs such as ovaries, ear plugs and stomachs. For example, while the population age structure and reproductive rates of land mammals can be determined by observation over a long period of time, such is not the case for whales since they spend most of their life underwater. In this case ear plugs are needed for age determination, ovaries are needed to establish their reproductive rates, and stomachs are needed for the analysis of their food consumption (whales might have consumed large amounts of fish, so as to give an adverse impact on commercial fisheries and the balance of the marine ecosystem).

Of course, the lethal research method is only applied to whale species which are already determined as abundant, and the small take for research purpose will not produce a negative impact on overall stocks of those species.”

Well, over 15,000 whales have been killed in the name of this scientific research. And you can, perhaps, visualise how much meat is left over after the relevant bits and pieces have been removed. And, perhaps, you can also guess where this meat conveniently ends up. It has, after all, been eaten in that part of the world for the best part of 2,000 years.
Waste not, want not eh?

EDITOR'S NOTE: The latest whaling news is that the outgoing Icelandic government has increased their whaling quota as well. Iceland is already bankrupt financially. It looks like it is also bankrupt morally. See you in the gutter guys. I hope you like it there.