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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 08, 2009

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHARLES - but congratulations are not necessarily in order

The other day I was in London, and - as I have done regularly ever since my grandfather first took me in 1964 - I went to the Natural History Museum. As you walk in, and walk past the 85-ft dipolodocus skeleton that has captivated generations of schoolchildren since it was donated to the museum by Edward VII in 1905, there is a flight of stairs facing you. On the first landing there is a white stone statue of a stern, but kindly looking man, who is reminiscent of one of the guitarists of Z.Z Top. His name is Charles Robert Darwin, and he would have been 200 years old this week. Together with Karl Marx, Mahatma Ghandi, Che Guevara, and John Lennon (and a handfull of others) he unquestionably one of the fathers of contemporary ideology. Not contemporary science? I hear you ask. Whats's he got to do with a couple of Communists, an Indian barrister, and a pop singer?

Of course Darwin is one of the founding fathers of modern science, together with Gregor Mendel, Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, and the two guys who first discovered how and why DNA works, but he was more than that. His findings have effected the very way we think, and the very structure of the social heirarchies in which we live. No wonder he is revered and reviled in almost equal measure.

So what has he done wrong? Or, depending on which way you look at it, what has he done right?

Darwin came from a distinguished family. His maternal grandfather was Josiah Wedgewood of pottery fame, and his paternal grandfather Erasmus Darwin, was a naturalist who - in many ways - foreshadowed his grandson's most famous discovery by about 60 years. In his 1818 book Zoonomia he wrote "when we observe the essential unity of plan in all warmblooded animals, we are led to conclude that they have been alike produced from a single living filament." It may be archaic language, but it basically stated what his grandson was to become famous for elaborating upon; That all life on Earth is derived or descended from a single common ancestor.
The trouble is, that for thousands of years three of the major religions of the world have believed a very similar thing. The Muslims, the Jews and the Christians, are described by Muslims as Ahl al-Kitāb or The People of the Book because their sacred texts basically have much of the five books of Moses (the Torah or Pentateuch), and the book of Psalms in common. Muslims even revere the Injil which recounts much the same events as do the four Gospels of the Christian New Testament. Followers of these three religions, (and a host of lesser faiths) also believe that all life on Earth derives from a common source: They believe that the omniverse and all that is within it was created by God.

The Book of Genesis (which is common to both Christians and Jews says that God created the Universe in six days, and rested upon the seventh. Whilst the Qu'ran is less linear, and the references to the creation are scattered throughout, it includes the lines "Throned above the waters, he made the heavens and earth in six days." A 17th Century Anglican Bishop of Ireland, using relatively simple mathematics and a well-thumbed copy of the Old Testament calculated that Creation had begun on the night preceeding 23 October 4004 BC. These calculations used The Bible as their base, and as The Bible was the literal word of God then anyone who questioned this data, let alone suggested that it was completely wrong, and that the birds of the air and the beasts of the field had appeared as part of a gradual period of evolution over many millions of years, was guilty of blasphemy.

Not a good career move.

So, when Erasmus Darwin wrote Zoonomia he was treading on thin ice, and when his grandson published his most famous work in 1859, he was rushing headlong into serious trouble. But the ironic thing is that he was not the only, or even the first person to espouse the theory of evolution through natural selection. Like Elvis Presley with rock and roll a century or so later, he just popularised it and became the figurehead for a dangerous new movement.

The irony is that during his younger days Charles had not been particularly impressed with his grandfather's writings, and is described as having been "indifferent" to the similar ideas of a Frenchman called Jean-Baptiste Lamarck who was a contemporary of Darwin's grandfather. He studied medicine at university in Edinburgh, but like so many freethinkers before and since he neglected his studies and spent much of his time about his leisure pursuits. His particular leisure pursuits largely involved the popular study of natural history.

His father was annoyed at his neglect of his medical studies, and sent him to Cambridge with the idea of becoming a parson. This time his studies were more successful, and he qualified in 1831. Something which is not widely known is that during his years at Cambridge he became involved in the Natural Theology movement, the precursor to today's Intelligent Design movement; a group of scientists who believe that the diversity of the natural world could be explained by the creator God intervening in nature, by working through his own natural laws.

However, once he qualified he had no idea what to do with his life, and to use modern parlance he was pretty much a drop-out. However, on the recommendation of one of his Natural Theology mentors from university he got the gig of ships naturalist, and a gentleman companion to the captain of HMS Beagle, a navy survey ship and the command of Robert FitzRoy. Again to use modern parlance, Darwin was on subsidised gap year. The journey was planned to go down the coast of South America, round Cape Horn, and back home via Tahiti and Australia. The before it was supposed to last just over two years. Instead it lasted five.

Everywhere he went, the young Darwin found things to interest him. In South America he found fossils of the long lost megafauna. On the Galapagos Islands he found a strange range of remarkably similar species, and noted that although each island had finches and giant tortoises, on each island they were subtly different. In the Cape Verde Islands he studied the complicated stratigraphy and finally came to agree with the people who had used this as supportive evidence for the great age of the earth. In Brazil he saw, for the first time, the dazzling diversity of life in the rainforest. In Tierra del Fuego on the very southernmost tip of South America he came across truly primitive human beings, and in Australia he found a range of mammals so unlike those that lived in the rest of the world that he could hardly believe it.

In 1836 he returned to London a hero, and one of the first scientific celebrities. A pop naturalist, if you will. He worked hard publishing his books and making publicity appearances worthy of a present day pop star, and like so many pop stars he soon succumbed to the pressure, and collapsed with what a modern-day publicist with no doubt describe as nervous exhaustion. These days he would have been banged up in The Priory for a few weeks. In the mid-19th century that just wasn't done, so he went to Scotland to collect fossils, and eventually came back to London and married his cousin.

Over the next few years Darwin became a true polymath studying everything and anything that took his fancy, but more and more he became obsessed with the very nature of biological diversity and its causes. Slowly, due to insights gained from his work in many different fields of zoology he formulated his theory of evolution through natural selection. In 1844 he wrote to the eminent botanist Joseph Hooker that to have come up with the theory that so many people would believe was contrary to the word of God felt like it he was "confessing a murder”. Hooker replied “There may in my opinion have been a series of productions on different spots, & also a gradual change of species. I shall be delighted to hear how you think that this change may have taken place, as no presently conceived opinions satisfy me on the subject.”

He worked on his magnum opus for years, and took almost too long about it because in 1844 a book called Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation was published anonymously. It was a massive bestseller and suggested that the whole of Creation had been a long drawn out, gradual process, and just before he went public with his theory in 1858, a fellow scientist called Alfred Russell Wallace shocked him by sending a paper describing the process of natural selection in startlingly similar terms to his own. Eventually the two scientists collaborated on a joint presentation of their two papers to the Royal Society, and in 1859, his book On the Origin of Species was finally published. It became a massive bestseller, and neither Darwin nor science itself was ever the same again. Darwin was lionised to such a degree that when he finally died he was one of only five 19th Century nonroyals to be given a state funeral.

However, strange as it may seem, the controversy over whether what Darwin said counts as blasphemy still rumbles on today, 130 odd years since his death. And this is where I, and many people like me, feel that we as a society are in desperate danger of going horribly wrong.

Now, before we go any further, I want to learn by the mistakes of another one of the seminal fathers of contemporary ideology that I sited at the beginning of this article: John Lennon. In 1966 he was quoted out of context as having said that his band the Beatles "were more popular than God".

This brought him death threats, financial censure, and may even have led indirectly to his death. I don't want to go down the same root. Don't be daft, I hear you say. This is 21st century England - things like that don't happen here. Sadly, they do. Only a week or so ago Sir David Attenborough, doyen of natural history television for half a century or more revealed that he had received death threats because of his support for Darwinism. These death threats come from a peculiar bunch of people called Young Earth Creationists who, despite all the evidence to the contrary, support the late Bishop Ussher in his assertion that the world is only 6000 years old. They must be nutters, I hear you say. I had think that they probably are, but they are influential nutters with powerful friends. So powerful, that if the people of the United States had not shown enough good sense to vote for their current president, the most powerful man in the world would have had, as his deputy, a militant creationist in the shape of Sarah Palin.

This is the point where I don't want to follow in the footsteps of John Lennon, or indeed Sir David A. I am a scientist and author. I have tried to leave my religion and my politics out of my work, but it is no longer really possible to do so. So I must nail my colours to the mast. I am a Christian, and I believe in God. I just don't believe that He created the universe in six days 6000 years ago, or that He has continually intervened in the process of natural selection across the natural world ever since. I see no problem with reconciling my belief in evolution through natural selection, or, indeed, my belief that the universe was created through a Big Bang 13 billion years ago give or take the odd millennium. I merely believe, if I may draw up on a cultural metaphor that nobody who has ever bought a box of fireworks will forget, that the Almighty lit the blue touchpaper. I make no apologies for digressing. I already receive enough e-mails telling me that I am a heathen who will burn forever in a pit of sulphur! And my personal religious views don't really affect the rest of the world, because not only do I have no political power in the world, I have no great desire to get any, and I will never be put in a position where I can have my finger on a little red button that could precipitate Armageddon.

Sarah Palin very nearly did.

And Sarah Palin is a Creationist who believes in the literal truth of The Bible as the Word of God. This doesn't just mean the Book of Genesis, but it also means the Book of Revalation. And, if it hadn't been for the appallingly bad campaign organised on her behalf, a better running mate for President or perhaps the lack of an economic crisis in 2008, Sarah Palin might have been Vice President; a woman with massive global reach and influence. To an extent, her election would have been the result of the same kind of thinking that is anti-science, and anti human progress.

At a time when we are faced with massive economic problems and, it seems, a world that is falling to pieces and where religious and political extremists have all the simplistic messages and mass appeal it is easy for people to be seduced by their message. This means that, in contrast, we have to realise that the universe, and our place in it, might seem mysterious but that it can be quantified and explained in a logical, progressive way of which Darwin, Ghandi, Lennon and fellow thinkers would have been proud.

And the most frightening thing is that even in this country, despite all the incontravertable evidence to the contrary, there are still people who want Creationism – which despite anything they try to tell you is truly nothing but superstition – to be taught as a viable alternative to evolution in schools. And there are people within our own community here in the part of England where the CFZ live who are making that happen. Just put `Creation Biology +Somerset` into Google and see what comes up!

Charles Darwin is 200 years old, and congratulations are not necessarily in order.


ROLL OVER `EXOTIC PETS` AND TELL `THE AMATEUR NATURALIST` THE NEWS

18 months ago we started a magazine called Exotic Pets which did basically what it said on the tin, and covered ummmm exotic pets really. It has been a moderate success, but for a number of different reasons we have decided to knock it on the head.

However, don't be distraught, because the magazine will live on albeit under a different name. As of issue seven which (I sincerely hope) will go to press on tuesday, the periodical will be called The Amateur Naturalist.

To put our reasoning in a nutshell, as far as we are concerned the keeping of exotic animals as pets is only ethical if done in a spirit of investigation, and so rather than publishing a magazine which could be interpreted as merely encouraging people to keep such animals for their novelty value, we are now nailing our ethical colours to the mast.

However we are delighted to be able to announce that the production values are going to be considerably higher. It will no longer be printed in-house but will be manufactured - like our books - by those jolly nice folks at LightningSource. It will be substantially longer (at about 100pp rather than 60pp) and although there will be a small price hike this will not effect current subscribers.

And, as we announced with Animals & Men last week, it will be available in two different formats. A perfect bound paperback, and a pdf download (people who buy the former automatically get a free copy of the latter).


So, all good news then I think




GUEST BLOGGER NIGEL WRIGHT: Where paranormal worlds meet

Nigel was an integral part of the CFZ from about 1997 until about 2004, when family committments on my behalf led me to translocate to North Devon, and family committments for him meant that he couldn't donate as much time as he had used to. For years he was my PA (fulfilling much the same role as Matty Osborne does on occasion) and we drove around the country having adventures and doing odd things. If only as a guest, it is nice to have the old bugger back on board..



(PS The picture is me, him and Graham in the early spring of 1998)


When Jon asked me, very kindly, if I would like to write a guest blog for him, I must admit that, given the amount of different types of paranormal events I have researched and investigated over the years that I have been involved in the subject, I was slightly at a loss as to the subject matter of this blog. At last, having settled on the subject to be written about, some ware in the back of this tired old brain of mine, there lurked a comment that had been written about me, during my active time with the CFZ. I had been described as the “straight man” of the team! Hum, there IS a recommendation. So, given this glowing reference, I will attempt to begin!....

I had begun my own quest for the truth of things unknown after a boyhood encounter with a UFO. The fascination with this particular branch of the paranormal lasted for many years, until I went to live at Powderham, near the river Exe, in Devon. I found myself in the rather fortunate position of living in a very haunted house. Thus began my second string of interest in things out of the norm. In 1997, I by chance, met Jon and the rest of the great Guys (and Girls!) of the CFZ, so my life then acquired yet another line of paranormal interest, that of cyptozoology. It was during the research stage of writing Jon’s and my book (The Rising Of The Moon) that we both began to understand that there was a possibility of definite connections between many different types of so-called “paranormal” activity.


Take for instance, where ghosts often reported to have occurred, so did UFO reports. A certain area of paranormal activity would, more often that not, contain more than one type of event. These areas of activity are situated all over the world. They seem to occur in random locations, with no obvious connection of reason. But, as Jon and I researched deeper into these strange areas, we discovered what maybe the missing link, as it were, as to why these places are blessed with such an abundance of paranormal activity.

Almost without exception, these areas of increased activity were or had been areas of religious activity, of many faiths and beliefs. It seems to make no difference what type of ceremonies occurred at these locations; the effects are the same, an increased rate of many different types of paranormal activity. In the book Jon and I gave one possible explanation for this increase, but I’m afraid that you will have to read the book for that one! My main point in all this is to state the belief that ALL types of paranormal activity have common root cause. The clues are there to see in the excellent research being done today, by hundreds of very dedicated researchers, all over the world. There often occurs a measurable fluctuation in EMF activity in both ghost and UFO events, for instance.

Just what is the root cause?....Well I don’t know! If I ever find out, then I will sit right down and write a book about it. (Any chance of publishing it Jon?). But, on a more serious note, it really is important that we find this cause, because it will enable us to not only explain some of the great mysteries of all time, but it might even enable us to venture much, much further than we ever dared too imagine. Here’s hoping!..

CFZ IN JUVENILE PRODUCT PLACEMENT SHOCK

I have been sitting on this story for ages, and I have no idea why. Last year, before he left school, my nephew David Braund-Phillips (who by the way is rather poorly at the moment, so everyone send healing vibes) appeared in his school production of Blood Brothers - a sombre play by Willy Russell about a lower class floozie who gives away one of her children to a manipulative woman from further up the social scale.



It had its moments, but one of the most amusing bits for me was to see David practising CFZ product placement by wearing a Guyana expedition tshirt throughout.



THAT, dear boy is why you are my chosen heir as ringmaster of this bloody circus when I finally become too incapacitated, and suffle off this mortal coil to the great cryptozoological meeting house in the sky, where I shall drink with Sanderson and Durrell and carry on arguing with Heuvelmans like we did in his lifetime.


Get better soon david. Your old uncle misses you!

CFZ PEOPLE: Commiserations to Gavin

We would all like to send our commiserations to CFZ member Gavin Lloyd-Wilson on the death of his cat `Spock` aged sixteen. I know that I am meant to be a scientist and all that, but I am ridiculously anthropomorphic (in the old fasioned sense of the word, not in the modern sense meaning something to do with the so-called `Furry Fandom`) and I consider my dogs and cats to be little people in furry coats, rather than domesticated snall carnivores, so Gavin, mate my heart goes out to you.

Just remember that Spock is in pet heaven which is a fantastic place where our departed pets can do all the things they liked to do in real life like defacate in the wrong places, bite people, turn out rubbish bins, and chase each other noisily....

JAN EDWARDS: Mass Murder in the Pennines

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...


There was something in the barn... something that had a taste for warm blood, fresh flesh, and the thrill of the kill. Something that was frightening even the rats.

It began with the suspected murder of a rabbit. He was found badly injured – multiple bite wounds the only clue to what had happened. When I picked him up, terrified beyond comprehension, something scurried out of sight under the hay bales. By the time we got back from the vets with the corpse of our pet, it was too dark to investigate further, but we moved the other rabbits and guinea pigs from the barn.

By the next morning, a duck had been killed and part-eaten.... followed over the next week by other small and feathered friends, including both the budgies which were in an in-barn aviary. No clues to the culprit were found at the scene of the crimes, but it was clear that something had to be done.

The obvious first stage was to move all the 200 bales of hay out from the hay-loft, and then re-stacking them under cover. This took most of the day and resulted in nothing more than a few pulled muscles and the total absence of a predator.

Whatever-it-was, however, seemed to have been disturbed. For the next few weeks, nothing bad happened... except that the rats moved back in. The rats were ok though – at least we knew where we were with the rats. Rats steal eggs, attack newborn chicks, nest in the hay bales.... they are predictable. The Thing that had attacked my animals was not a rat...and it seemed to have gone. Of course, I am going to tell you it came back.

It did.

I was so convinced that IT had gone, that I put the rabbits and guinea pigs back. I wish to any available deity that I hadn’t, but hey... hindsight is wonderful.

The bunnies and piggies had lived safely back in their home for some weeks. All seemed good.... then one morning I found the slaughtered guinea pigs, three of them with their necks broken by a single bite, and a half chomped bunny.

Feeling sick to my very soul, I buried my friends, and moved the scared and vulnerable witnesses indoors – they have never gone back, and I have better defences now. But I saw the beast that I think was responsible, running away from the barn and into the neighbouring fields, in the general direction of the river. It was ferret-like, but larger than your average ferret. It ran like a ferret too, and it MAY have been a very big male feral ferret. But it was very dark, maybe black, and I am pretty sure it was a mink. I am also sure that if it WAS a mink, it didn’t live too long after it left my barn.

They love rivers, and the river Wear, snaking its way through the valley, is perfect Mink country. They take over the tunnel systems of riverside bunnies, water voles, kingfishers... in fact any riverside hole will do them. In areas where they take over a river system, there is no hope for the resident wildlife. But the river Wear - especially here in the upper reaches of the river – is teeming with wild things.

Water voles plop into the white-water rapids... dippers do their thing from their sh*t-stained river-rocks... bunnies continue to burrow on the banks of the water..... the whole ecosystem of the upper river is vibrant with life. If anything more sinister than a weasel lived here, this lot simply wouldn’t do.

It’s been 3 years now since The Thing caused such devastation here. The barn is now home to several feral-ish cats and a small flock of sheep. All the small-n-furries, and all birds are now living elsewhere in safe, secure, purpose-built accommodation. It might have gone for good, but I can’t take the chance again.



Jan Edwards, Head of Animal Care
Farplace Animal Rescue - the no-kill animal sanctuary
Farplace, Sidehead, Westgate, County Durham, DL13 1LE
http://www.farplace.org.uk/

TIM MATTHEWS: Animal Rights and Wrongs

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. This article on the Animal Rights Movement looks likely to be one of his most controversial postings yet.


I was talking to an animal rights activist at an event in Manchester many years ago. It was supposed to be a protest against some supposed “Animal Auschwitz” as the organisers termed it but it ended up in a riot as the local police got stuck in to the front of the march after the militant types at the front tried to deviate from the planned route. As people were running in all directions it occurred to me that this was not getting anybody anywhere and the debate about so-called “animal rights” had turned into someone’s war against the establishment, the Police and society in general.

“We want a world where animals are able to roam free, where they have total liberty,” said the man in question, his snarling face and overall demenour suggesting that his claimed love for animals had been overtaken by a hatred for humankind. “Animal abusers” came in all shapes and sizes from, at the extreme end of the movement, “evil people” keeping pets, “scum” who ran zoos “for profit at the expense of animals” through to “animal abusers and modern day Nazi scientists” who did “Frankenstein type experiments on helpless animals so that rich women can look nice in their make up”. This sort of language was not, and is not, uncommon within the animal rights movement.

So why am I even writing about all this? Well, for several reasons the first of which is our love for animals. We understand their, and our, part in the overall scheme of things and we seek to balance the needs of people with animals with nature. As amateur naturalists we seek to protect and preserve not only rare species, but endangered species and also those whose habitat is threatened by climate change, the “need” to build new housing estates on green and brownfield sites and by the short-sightedness of industry and business that seeks profit at any cost.

There is clearly a balance to be worked out, between caring for animals and giving them respect within the natural order of things but not being blind to the fact that, since humans were primitive hunter gatherers, we have used and needed animals for food, for clothing and for survival. It is as natural for people to hunt animals as it is for them to care for and protect them. Yes, it is a conundrum and we certainly deal in shades of grey when it comes to our fractious relationship with the animal kingdom.

The problem with animal rights is that, one might argue, they have no rights at all. You might come to this conclusion based on your theory of their place in the world but you can get in serious trouble is you keep pets and fail to look after them properly. Many animals do, therefore, have legal protection and calls for their protection from abuse, ill treatment and also as experimental subjects date back until the mid 1800s at least. Indeed, the British Union Against Vivisection is at least 100 years old and has been at the forefront of campaigns against animals being used in experiments.

Back in the late 1970s my friends and I were walking around town one Saturday afternoon and came across an unusual stall featuring some awful pictures of animals in cages with their hair shaved off and all manner of similarly horrible graphic media. We’d never seen anything like it; an animal rights stall in the centre of a small, middle class, English market town! Radical stuff for sure but many of us signed the nice ladies petition against the evildoers back at the lab who were, they said, using animals to test make up, cigarettes and other products. A few weeks later, I remember receiving a letter from the company against whom we had made our collective complaint. Obviously they had taken the protest to heart, put the names and addresses of their petitioners on a database and sent them personalised letters. Obviously, even then, companies were very aware of the negative publicity directed towards them by the animal rights movement, then in its infancy.

It all seemed to obvious. Scientists were out of control, government regulation was failing and inadequate and, to cap it all we learned, posh people in traditional outfits were riding about the nearby countryside hunting down poor innocent foxes. You see, it was black and white. “We”, whomever we were, we right and they were wrong.

Things were not that simple and for many years, whilst occasionally reading an article about some action undertaken by animal rights militants, a protest against fox hunting or some news about the latest outrage involving animal experimentation, I took little interest and no part in any of it. It just wasn’t me and I’d rather have a fight at the football on a Saturday afternoon in any case!! That was my way of rebelling. Other young people were into the Punk/Crass and Animal Rights movement. They had their subculture and we had ours. Theirs was political, ours was subcultural!

Meanwhile, the militants got more militant and, throughout the 1980s, very few people within the scientific community were prepared, or able, to defend their work in terms of animal experiments. The arguments in favour of animal experiments and animal testing were lost, largely because most people believed that these experiments were to do with make-up and cigarettes, not with curing illness and similar research…

It got the stage where anyone involved in such research, no matter how marginally, could not be entirely sure of their personal safety, as a young generation of rebels (using animal rights as their platform to kick back against society in general encouraged by Anarcho-Punk propagandists and animal rights fanatics) became DIY terrorists and started to burn laboratories down, “rescue” animals and invade farms in “daylight inspection raids” where up to 200 militants would arrive at a premises break in, damage as much as they could and release animals in some cases into the wild!

This last type of action tended to suggest little knowledge of, and less care for, animals. Most of those animals released and, in their mind, “rescued from evil”, died in captivity as they simply couldn’t cope in the wild. Others, rescued and transported to networks of supporters ready to take in animals used in labs, would struggle with the moral burden of taking more and more animals and yet not being able to cope with them for reasons of time, space and cost.

One obvious example of the stupidity shown by members of the Animal Liberation Front was a raid on a mink farm in the 1990s where many mink wer set free, only to die a horrible death in the wild. (You might I suppose believe that this was better than ending up as an item of clothing, but that’s the whole point of introducing this subject.)

So, the ideology went, it was OK to “save” animals at the expense of humans and the DIY terrorists would happily cause millions of pounds of damage through improvised incendiary devices and small-scale bombs. The fact that, in nearly every case, people weren’t killed was more the result of luck than design and the intent to maim was clear despite propaganda to the contrary.

And what if the experiments will save your relative or friend? I suggest that this is perfectly moral. After all, the argument goes, animals are really here to serve us rather than the other way around…Many of us have personal experience of this debate. It’s therefore real, not theoretical. There is clear evidence that some animal testing has resulted in medicines that can help people cope and/or recover from serious and long term illness and disease:

A Royal Society report stated in 2006 that: “We have all benefited immensely from scientific research involving animals. From antibiotics and insulin to blood transfusions and treatments for cancer or HIV, virtually every medical achievement in the past century has depended directly or indirectly on research on animals.” (1)

I was surprised to discover, through a little research, that a number of high profile diseases had been cured or combated through animal testing and these include Penicillin, TB, Meningitis, Asthma Inhalers (that my daughter Freya uses), the Polio vaccine, Insulin for diabetes and many more.

The debate has now shifted; a group called Pro Test, created to speak out in favour of the Oxford Biomedical Facility, a new animal research unit, campaigned for the lab, for animal testing and, in its words, “the irrational arguments of anti Vivisectionists“. The bullying tactics of the animal rights extremists, carried on from experiences gained at high-profile protests against the Huntingdon Life Sciences Laboratory (and which had met with only mixed and occasionally effective Police/State action until a number of major enquiries and arrests several years ago) were seen to fail as thousands of highly intelligent students met the animal rights mafia head on - on the streets and in debate. The momentum has now shifted and a number of high profile scientists have put their weight behind Pro Test campaigning and these include Professor Robert Winston and The Royal College of Physicians.

I am tempted to suggest that the Countryside Alliance, that did so much to campaign against the current government’s outlawing of hunting with dogs, is but one part of a wider concern for the countryside, for tradition and for ecological balance. This is our constituency, just as those concerned about animal welfare should find a natural home with the Amateur Naturalists of the CFZ. So too should students at University likely to offer support to groups like Pro Test. These are all our people and we should try and get them on board because we are traditional, zoological and ecological.

In terms of foxes, yes they do attack farms and livestock and we cannot expect farmers to sit idly by whilst this happens. Do we need hunts? Well, even if you dislike the idea of the hunt, of the traditional English scene of the huntsman with his pack, you may rest assured that fox numbers are not affected by hunting because hunts are largely ineffective at catching them (!), that fox numbers will naturally replenish in short order and that, in any case, you are more likely to come across foxes in an urban environment than in the country, if recent evidence is anything to go by. (Every night you can see urban foxes here in Manchester. True scavengers, they operate with stealth and are a wonderful sight to see. They live locally and cause little if no harm to us..apart from the occasional ripped open binbag!!)

Animal rights extremism is the voice of yesterday’s failed militant but the moderate, thoughtful, considered and moderate Centre for Fortean Zoology, and the CFZ Alliance would seem to be the ideal vehicle for the concerned animal lover…..


(1) See, http://www.pro-test.org.uk/MAAR.pdf

PRESS RELEASE: Do Giant Snakes still crawl the earth?

For Immediate Release
2009-02-08

DO GIANT SNAKES STILL CRAWL THE EARTH?

The scientific world was rock recently when the remains of eight gigantic snakes were unearthed in a Columbian quarry. Measuring 43 feet, Titanoboa cerrejonensis was among the largest fossil snakes ever to have been uncovered. You might think such monsters must surely be restricted to the dim, primordial past – but you would be wrong, say a group of Devon-based scientists.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology is the world’s only full-time scientific organization dedicated to the investigation of anomalous or undiscovered species of animal. The group has tracked gigantic serpents all across the globe.

Zoologial director Richard Freeman, a reptile specialist, says:

"Stories of monstrous snakes appear in most cultures, but there may be much more than ancient legend in these tales. In the year 2000, I explored the rivers, caves and jungles of Thailand. I interviwed a number of witnesses who claimed to have seen a huge snake, known as a naga. The animal lived in water and bore an erectile crest on its head. In Sumatra the tribespeople spoke of encountering vast horned snakes in the deep jungle.

“Such creatures are not restricted to the tropics. Whilst in the Caucausus mountains of Russia, we were told of a 33-foot-long species of snake that inhabited marshy areas of the former Soviet Union."

However the most promising accounts come from South America, says Richard.

"In 2007 we travelled to Guyana on the track of the giant anaconda. Our guide, Damon Corrie, was an Arawak Indian chief. He told us of a titanic anaconda inhabiting a remote lake. It was so huge that he hunters who saw it fled in terror. They pointed out a 30-foot tree to him and said the snake was far larger. The anaconda in question would have been in the region of 40 feet!

"Frustratingly, due to adverse weather conditions, we could not reach the lake where the giant snake dwelt. More recently, very large anaconda have been reported closer to Damon's village in the grasslands of Guyana."

The CFZ is currently looking for sponsorship, so that Richard can lead an expedition to return to Guyana and travel to the lake in question.

"We know where the lake is, so we will not have to search too wide an area. The creature is a 'sitting duck'. We hope to head out this spring or summer, funding permitting," he says.

"Because anacondas give birth to live young, rather than laying eggs, they have severed their last link with land. Very big ones spend most of their time buoyed up in the water."

But such large snakes can prove dangerous. As recently as the late 1990s, an anaconda thought to be 45 feet long devoured Daniel Menezes in Soa Paulo Brazil as his father Joao looked on helplessly.

Pictures are available. For further details, or to arrange an interview with Richard please telephone Jon or Corinna on +44 (0)1237 431413

NOTES TO EDITORS

* The Centre for Fortean Zoology [CFZ] is the world’s largest mystery animal research organisation. It was founded in 1992 by British author Jonathan Downes (4 and is a non-profit making (not for profit) organisation registered with H.M. Stamp Office.
* Life-president of the CFZ is Colonel John Blashford-Snell OBE, best known for his groundbreaking youth work organising the ‘Operation Drake’ and ‘Operation Raleigh’ expeditions in the 1970s and 1980s.
* CFZ Director Jonathan Downes is the author and/or editor of over 20 books. His latest book is Island of Paradise, his first hand account of two expeditions to the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico in search of the grotesque vampiric chupacabra.
* The CFZ have carried out expeditions across the world including Russia, Sumatra, Mongolia, Guyana, Gambia, Texas, Mexico, Thailand, Puerto Rico, Illinois, Loch Ness, and Loch Morar.
* CFZ Press are the world’s largest publishers of books on mystery animals. They also publish Animals & Men, the world’s only cryptozoology magazine, and The Amateur Naturalist, Britain’s only dedicated magazine on the subject.
* The CFZ produce their own full-length documentaries through their media division called CFZtv www.cfztv.org. One of their films `Lair of the Red Worm` which was released in early 2007 and documents their 2005 Mongolia expedition has now been seen by nearly 50,000 people.
* The CFZ is based in Jon Downes’ old family home in rural North Devon which he shares with his wife Corinna (52). It is also home to various members of the CFZ’s permanent directorate and a collection of exotic animals.
* Jonathan Downes presents a monthly web TV show called On the Track (http://cfzmonthly.blogspot.com/) which covers cryptozoology and work of the CFZ.
* The CFZ are opening a Visitor Centre and Museum in Woolsery, North Devon.
* Following their successful partnership with Capcom www.capcom.com on the 2007 Guyana expedition, the CFZ are looking for more commercial sponsors.

EXTRAORDINARY PHOTOGRAPH: Narwhal migration

This image was posted on one of the usenet newsgroups today. It is from a new BBC nature series called `Great Events`, and shows a pod of narwhals during their migration. Bob Rickard, founder of Fortean Times drew our attention to it, saying that it was a picture to "gladden the hear5t of any fortean" and we cannot but agree with him, and so we are posting it here to gladden your hearts as well..


GUEST BLOGGER OLL LEWIS: This shark, swallow UK whole

Apart from the fact that his puns are terrible and he has an obsession with the more surreal side of Internet culture, Oll Lewis hasn't put a foot wrong since we started this bloggo-thing. Because of his interest in things aquatic he has been co-ordinating the lake and sea monster news for the CFZ for some years now, and as regular readers of this bloggo will already know he is letting this obsession spill over online..

Ten years ago this summer the London’s press descended upon the Cornish seaside town of Padstow. The cause of this cockney cavalcade was the alleged sighting of a great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) by local fishermen. The media circus stayed for a few days, perhaps expecting the bodies of half eaten swimmers to turn up on the beach and some ‘Jaws’ style panic to start among the holiday makers. They certainly geared up for this, the Sun’s article was typically over the top suggesting that it was only a matter of time before this 15 foot long killing machine started to devour surfers JUST LIKE THE MOVIE!!!

The shark was not seen again, the journalists got a few days at the seaside and a few stories and Padstow got a bit of free publicity, enticing more tourists to come to the picturesque town, every body won. As a result of this it has become almost an annual occurrence that sometime during the summer, when parliament is in recess and stories are thin on the ground, the newspapers will send a journalist or two to cover the latest sighting of a great white shark off the British coast. The cynic in me wonders why all the summer great white sightings seem to happen in nice little seaside towns in the South West and great whites are never seen in the sort of cities in the north that seem to fill most tabloid journalists with a sense of fear and dread. In recent years several of these sightings have been exposed as hoaxes including a film that showed film of a great white shark taken off the coast of Cornwall according to the fellow who sold it to the Sun. The same man revealed that this he had filmed the sharks off the coast of South Africa, not Cornwall, to the Daily Star a few days later.

It’s tempting to dismiss all this as just tabloid hyperbole, but could great white sharks really be living around the British coast? There is no reason why they couldn’t be, the nearest confirmed populations are only in the Bay of Biscay and British costal waters are warm enough for their survival, thanks to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. Britain’s costal waters are also home to plenty of potential shark food (fish, pinnipeds and other aquatic mammals) and several other species of shark definitely feed around our coasts. However, just because a place would make a good habitat for an animal it does not necessarily mean that the animal is there. For example Indian Elephants would have little trouble surviving in Mexico, but geographical barriers mean that the species has never and, save for interference from man, never live in the wild in Mexico.

Eye witness sightings can be mistaken; many of the claimed great white shark sightings around our coasts are based on the fact that someone saw a large triangular fin jutting out of the water and assumed it was Jaws himself. This can account for the majority of sightings but not for the 1999 Padstow sighting. The shark was seen by a party of experienced fishermen, who would certainly be able to see the difference between a great white shark and other large sharks and marine mammals they would encounter regularly in the area. The fishermen were able to get a very good look at the shark and accurately estimate its size because it came within five foot of their boat. One large species of shark they would certainly be familiar with would be the porbeagle shark, a large porbeagle would be landed a little way along the coast from them near Boscastle in 2002 weighing 484 lbs (219.5 kg). One of the fishermen, Mike Turner, had even been a fisherman in South Africa, where he would have regularly encountered great white sharks.

Other possible evidence of great white sharks around the UK coast surfaced in late December 2007 when a lifeboat crew in Sherringham, Norfolk found a gory surprise waiting for them on their slipway; a freshly killed grey seal with a huge chunk bitten out of it. The seal had been bitten from the underside and serrated tooth marks were seen in the wound. Close up photographs of the wounds were examined by Dr Ken Collins of the National Oceanography centre in South Hampton, who confirmed that the bite was likely to have been made by a large shark that came in fast and attacked the animal. Dr Collins said a great white shark was one of a very small list of possible suspects, and not one that could be discounted.

Looking at the evidence it seems that great white shark do inhabit the costal waters of Britain, but are not here in large numbers. Personally, if I was taking a swim in the seas off Britain I’d be more concerned about pollution than great white sharks.


SOMETHING SINISTER IN THE BATCAVE

We received an email this evening from a chap called George Clappison asking us whether we had heard about something called `white nose syndrome` which has been described as the greatest threat ever to bat populations in parts of the United States.

We had, vaguely, but sent Max Blake to investigate further..


Something wicked this way comes. Every so often, an infection or disease comes along, spreads like wildfire and decimates its host species. Examples include the transferable cancer which affects Tasmanian Devils, and this, White Nose Syndrome, a fungal disease attacking bats, whose effects include white fungal growth around the nose area, and death, probably from starvation. Pups are falling more often from the cave roof where WNS is in residence, adding further numbers to the total. New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Massachusetts are currently the six US states affected by the fungus. The death percentages in different sites vary from 80-100% mortality, a horrific total. A number of bat species are affected, including the Indiana bat, which is protected by the Endangered Species Act.


Scientists have no idea if the fungus is transferred by bats, or by people; that little is known about it. It could be being transferred by cavers, but this is not certain. Spring and summer are the prime times for bat activity: these states will have an absence of bats twittering in the sky. Good news for flying arthropods though I guess...
This is the government website responding to WNS

http://www.fws.gov/northeast/white_nose.html


This is the National Speleological Society website regarding WNS

http://www.caves.org/WNS/WNS%20Info.htm

GUEST BLOGGER OLIVIA McCARTHY: Mammoth body art

When I was a boy in Hong Kong, the local TV Channel used to show the Bing Crosby Christmas show at various completely inapproproate times of the year, and I always remember how the Crosby clan used to sit around the open fire, roasting chestnuts and looking highly embarrassed as Bing would introduce each of them in turn to do some sort of party peice. I have become posessed by the spirit of Bing.

Because each time that one of my family comes to visit I inveigle them into doing a guest bloggo. Last week it was my darling eldest step-daughter Shoshannah, and this week it is the bloggo debut of my darling younger step-daughter Olivia, who has become fascinated by yesterday's mammoth tusk story, and - not entirely to my surprise - has her own inimitable take on it. Aren't you all agog to see what happens when my brother the vicar comes to stay?

So apparently, some time last year (brilliant accuracy, that) a guy named Johnny found a 14ft mammoth tusk after it was washed out of a permafrost (I had to Google what that was, I don’t know these things.. if anyone else is as clueless as I am, ‘permafrost’ is soil at or below the freezing point of water for two or more years) during a flood.
A lot of you will have seen the picture already, but, because I’m a really generous person, I’ll show you again:

Now, that’s an effing big tusk.

Anyway, it’s always nice to know that certain things remind certain people of you.. perhaps a song or a location. For example, my delightfully insane stepdad, Jon Downes (some of you may have heard of him!) saw this picture of a fossilised mammoth tusk and thought of me.

Why, you say? Short answer: because I have piercings. Long answer: Some of them are stretched (I currently have 7.1cm worth of metal/air through my flesh) and sometimes I wear jewellery made of water buffalo horn/bone. Before I get the animal rights debate thrown at me – the jewellery comes from water buffalo that are already dead. Jewellery (ie hand-carved necklaces, earrings and jewellery for stretches) is made so as not to waste any part of the animal. Good jewellery companies will source their materials legally and ethically.

Anyway, back to the whopping great tusk that that bloke up there is holding. Those of you with stretched piercings (Google images gives some brilliant examples: hurrah and woo and cartilage!) might well own some plugs/tunnels made from buffalo horn or bones. However, how many of you own jewellery made from fossilised mammoth ivory? If you do, I’m jealous. Some of this fossilised ivory jewellery can sell for around 500 US dollars per pair. Worth every penny/cent, in my opinion.

Jewellery makers take regular trips to Indonesia, and other countries, to source the fossilised tusks from antique shops, where it was (in most cases) previously used by tribal peoples for ice picks and other tools. The work that goes into making this jewellery is astounding – they are all hand carved and they are beautiful. Check out the ‘Mammoth Stock Designs’ from this company http://www.diabloorganics.com/.

My general aim in life is to own jewellery made from fossilised mammoth ivory. Yes, I aim low.. but then I’m more likely to succeed than those of you that wish to be astronauts or Santa.

And thus this rather poorly written blog entry was born.. all because when my stepdad sees pictures of fossilised mammoth tusks, he thinks of me wearing such a thing through a hole in my ear. Huzzah!


GUEST BLOGGER RICHARD HOLLAND: Animals that aren’t

Once again we hand you over to 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’ve had a few communications now from readers of my Paranormal magazine concerned that it has become overly biased towards cryptozoology. Although this is something I’m prepared to address, I am surprised to find that readers seem to consider anything which apparently bears fur or feathers falls under the remit of the cryptozoologist.

In the current issue there is an article by Janet Bord – who first highlighted the concept of ‘animals that aren’t’ in her (and Colin’s) 1980 book Alien Animals – on winged humanoids. And Jon Downes – who came up with the nattier phrase ‘zooforms’ for the same thing – writes a review of the British star of that particular show, the Owlman. In a previous issue Janet recounted some of the more outré features of some Bigfoot stories: glowing red eyes, telepathy, impervious to bullets etc. I consider none of these articles to be on the subject of ‘cryptozoology’. Not even crypto-cryptozoology.

Clearly it’s the duty of the cryptozoologist to take a peek at such stories just to make sure there isn’t anything there to interest him/her. But although they might feel that Owlman was just a sighting of a big owl which freaked out a couple of kids creeping round a creepy church at twilight, or that Mothman was just a big crane that swooped on a car, and that both yarns grew in the telling… it’s not really their place to go on about it. Officially, I mean. It’s not really their job. Once glowing eyes and human morphology and sudden disappearances and bullet-proof skin etc etc become part of the description, surely it’s time for the cryptozoologist to move on? By all means chase after Thunderbird: if it exists, it’s a bird (or better still a Pteranodon). But Mothman?

The other way round is OK: looking at the folklore of exotic peoples in exotic places to determine whether some of their mythology may refer to undiscovered exotic beasties. The hoped for result in those cases is something zoological, not parasychological: something of flesh-and-blood you can give a Latin name to (preferably one incorporating your surname!).

The reason I highlight this is that there is a danger of the very proper study of Cryptozoology becoming confused – yea verily, polluted – with Spookology (a term I’ve just coined and now feel rather fond of). Batsquatch is not an indigenous species of North American ape that’s also evolved big bat wings so that it can fly up and pick the choicest bananas from the equally undiscovered North American banana tree. And Black Dogs aren’t black dogs (except when they are, in which case, who cares?). They are SPOOKS, fit only for the attention of the Spookologist.

And let’s face it if you trekked into some steaming jungle hoping to find an unknown species of big lizard only to find yourself confronted by some supernatural monster that was on a spree from Yoh-Vombis or Unknown Kaddath you’d crap yourself.

And no zoo would take it. (Shamblerfromthestars freemaniensis anyone?)
Over, once again to the divine Ms F. Charming as usual, she is taking up cudgels on behalf of an obscure little wading bird that looks set to go extinct without anyone really noticing....


The thing I noticed quickly when researching about this little bird is that whilst most places described the Great Auk as the last European bird to become extinct when really it was the Canary Islands Oystercatcher in 1981. The Slender Billed Curlew (Numenius tenuirostrisis) in danger of joining this bird, with no one noticing and many people not caring.

Websites would probably still say it was the Great Auk that went most recently.

This Curlew is a bit of a mystery bird, its breeding grounds are still unknown although it is thought they are in Siberia somewhere, Siberia being a big place there is still hope that their breeding grounds are in a place humans have not yet taken over.

The other big mystery is why they are in such decline, of course the usual suspects of habitat loss, hunting and egg-collecting (the bane of such rare birds) apply, but these curlews were fairly common even in the 19th and early 20th century, into the 1970’s flocks of 100 birds were recorded. Perhaps one of their food sources have vanished, or maybe the dwindling gene pool had a catastrophic effect.

The curlew shares unfortunate characteristics with the Dodo, it is a plump bird and one which is not normally inclined to flee from humans, along with being tastier than the unlucky Dodo this means that hunters (even those who do not know what the bird is) find it an attractive target. One such hunter coming upon the hidden breeding grounds could wipe out a huge percentage of any remaining birds.

The thought of the slender billed curlew vanishing forever is a dreadful one, not least to those who have actually seen it. Simon Barnes in an article for The Times said – “It doesn't feel right. I really don't feel happy about the possibility that I have seen a bird that is now extinct. Well, it is not right that any one should, but since it's me that saw it, on a brief but rather dazzling trip, the whole thing has become oddly personal. I feel almost guilty: as if I shouldn't have seen it, as if my viewing of it somehow contributed to its downfall.”

Seeing a species that may become or may already be extinct brings home the reality that once the last one has gone there will never be another. And that the disappearance of even this one little wading bird is as much a tragedy as the death of the last Great Auk

Wikipedia Factfile: The Slender-billed Curlew, Numenius tenuirostris, is a critically endangered bird in the wader family Scolopacidae. It breeds in marshes and peat bogs in the taiga of Siberia, and is migratory, formerly wintering in shallow freshwater habitats around the Mediterranean.
This species has occurred as a vagrant in western
Europe, the Canary Islands, the Azores, Oman, Canada and Japan. The only time it was seen in North America was in Crescent Beach, Ontario, Canada in 1925.


CFZ PEOPLE: The world welcomes Emma Naish


E-mail from Darren Naish received late last night: "I am very happy to report that Tone and I have a beautiful, perfect baby girl: little Emma. Emma arrived at 9-43 on Saturday morning (Tone's contractions started at about 5am), and - despite the recent bad weather and treacherous driving conditions - we had a totally uneventful trip into the hospital with no danger from ice. So far Emma has done an awful lot of sleeping. I am still somewhat bewildered by the whole ordeal, but very very happy to be a dad twice-over. "

Congratulations and much love to Darren, Toni, baby Emma, and Will (Emma's big brother)