WELCOME TO THE CFZ BLOG NETWORK: COME AND JOIN THE FUN

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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Thursday, February 12, 2009

RICHARD FREEMAN: Kakapo Lazarus

A male owl parrot or kakapo named Rangi who has not been seen, or recorded, for 21 years has just been rediscovered. The bird was found on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island, just off Stewart Island, by ranger Chris Birmingham after he heard the distinctive male booming noise.Investigating further he saw by a leg band that this kakapo was one of four males released onto the island sanctuary in 1987, but had not been seen since. Rangi’s return not only boosted the kakapo population to 91, but his genetics as one of 24 founding kakapo males from Stewart Island could further increase the critically endangered birds' gene pool. The Kakapo Recovery programme has also had success with artificial insemination. A female kakapo laid two fertile eggs after she was artificially inseminated by Dr Juan Blanco, a world renowned expert in the area of wildlife reproduction.

In 2008, seven chicks hatched on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island. Unfortunately, one did not make it. They were transferred to special facilities in Nelson to be hand-raised after not enough rimu fruit ripened on Whenua Hou/ Codfish Island for their mothers to feed them.

So far this season 19 or the 30 breeding age females has mated. Mating will continue until the end of February.

WELCOME BACK MY FRIENDS TO THE SHOW WHICH NEVER ENDS...



Richard and I are in London next thursday doing another gig at the Grant Museum.

Fresh from searching Southern Russia for the Almasty – a creature believed to be a relict descendent of Homo erectus – scientists from the Centre for Fortean Zoology return for another captivating event at the Grant Museum. The Centre’s Director Jon Downes and Zoological Director Richard Freeman, will describe this recent trip – launched at the Museum last year – and report the evidence they found for the mystery hominid and eye-witness accounts they recorded.Having travelled the world in search of “hidden creatures” including Mexican goat-suckers, the African dragon Ninki-nanka, and more familiar beasts like Nessie, Richard and Jon will give a guide to planning such voyages; how to choose a study species, get funding, what and who to take along, who to talk to when you get there and what to do when you get home. Following the talk, join us for a free glass of wine in a private view of the Museum.


What's more Corinna and Max will be there, as will various other CFZ bods. So don't be square be there. And afterwards you can buy me a beer...

GUEST BLOGGER OLL LEWIS: Megalo-who?

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..

In my last blog, I wrote about the sightings of great white sharks in British coastal waters, but there was one species of shark far more fearsome than Jaws himself. That shark was megalodon (Carcharocles megalodon). Megalodon is perhaps the largest predatory fish to have ever lived, with the most reliable estimates of the shark’s length (estimated from the size of the shark’s teeth) standing at been between 17 to 18.2 meters (56 - 60 ft). This not only dwarfs the great white shark but is even longer than the largest extant fish, the whale shark; the largest known specimen of which measures 12.65 meters (41.5 ft). Megalodon’s jaws were so large that a man could easily have walked through them; it’s teeth measured up to 18 cm long.

Megalodon became extinct around 1.5 million years ago, a mere blink of an eye in terms of geological history, and many of the creatures it is known to have preyed upon, sperm and bowhead whales for example, are still extant. The sharks are thought to have become extinct as a result of climate change, when the sea level dropped at the start of the ice age. This cut the sharks off from the warm estuaries which had acted as breeding sites and nurseries for their young. As well as that, many of their prey species retreated to colder waters which were too cold for the megalodon. The megalodon was a highly specialised predator, so when most of the large mammals it preyed upon were no longer around, the species would have found it increasingly difficult to feed itself, which would have caused a large drop in numbers. This would have made it even more difficult for these, probably solitary, animals to find mates.

Some, however, contend that relict populations of megalodon could still exist in, or close to, the present day. As evidence for this witness reports of sharks much larger than any known species and/or exhibiting strange behaviour are often sited. Sadly these sightings are usually secondary accounts from un-named witnesses. The most often quoted eyewitness account of a supposed megalodon was recorded by John Stead in his book ‘Sharks and Rays of Australian Seas’ (1963):

“In the year 1918 I recorded the sensation that had been caused among the "outside" crayfish men at Port Stephens, when, for several days, they refused to go to sea to their regular fishing grounds in the vicinity of Broughton Island. The men had been at work on the fishing grounds — which lie in deep water — when an immense shark of almost unbelievable proportions put in an appearance, lifting pot after pot containing many crayfishes, and taking, as the men said, "pots, mooring lines and all". These crayfish pots, it should be mentioned, were about 3 feet 6 inches in diameter and frequently contained from two to three dozen good-sized crayfish each weighing several pounds.

“The men were all unanimous that this shark was something the like of which they had never dreamed of. In company with the local Fisheries Inspector I questioned many of the men very closely and they all agreed as to the gigantic stature of the beast. But the lengths they gave were, on the whole, absurd. I mention them, however, as an indication of the state of mind which this unusual giant had thrown them into. And bear in mind that these were men who were used to the sea and all sorts of weather, and all sorts of sharks as well. One of the crew said the shark was "three hundred feet long at least"! Others said it was as long as the wharf on which we stood — about 115 feet! They affirmed that the water "boiled" over a large space when the fish swam past. They were all familiar with whales, which they had often seen passing at sea, but this was a vast shark. They had seen its terrible head which was "at least as long as the roof on the wharf shed at Nelson Bay." Impossible, of course! But these were prosaic and rather stolid men, not given to "fish stories" nor even to talking about their catches. Further, they knew that the person they were talking to (myself) had heard all the fish stories years before! One of the things that impressed me was that they all agreed as to the ghostly whitish colour of the vast fish.”


I’m inclined to agree with Stead that if nothing else the size of the beast is most likely a wild exaggeration, but I’m not at all convinced that the ‘shark’, if indeed the fishermen were telling the truth, was a shark at all. Where they mention ‘water boiling’ over the animal this sounds more consistent with the crocodilia; several species of which produce low pitched growls while in shallower water. When growling like this the water looks as if it is boiling above the animals back. This is not something sharks have ever been recorded doing and it is highly unlikely that a species of shark would evolve that would be capable of this. Despite this sighting often being used to back up claims of megalodon surviving to the present, the only thing in the passage that even suggests the creature the fishermen saw was megalodon is the size of the animal. Stead himself does not suggest megalodon as a possible candidate for the identity of the animal.

Personally, I think that megalodon went extinct long ago, and there is little evidence to back up claims of possible surviving relict populations, but this is one of those occasions where I would be happy to be proved wrong.

A little bit of history in your tank

At the beginning of the 21st century there is an enormous variety of fish for the aquarist to choose from. One of the most exciting parts of my job is when I receive a dealer's list which includes newly discovered species which haven't even been given Latin names. I have been keeping tropical fish since I was a boy in the mid-1960s, and on a whole, the fish that I started with are those still used by beginners today.

I suppose if I had thought about it - and I have to admit that until I came to write this article I hadn't really - I had imagined that these myriad living jewels were of the home aquarium had been known to science for for many many years, even if they hadn't been commonly kept as pets until the technology to allow them to be so, had been developed.

How wrong I was. It turns out that some of the fish most popular with aquarists are actually relatively recent discoveries. In many ways it could be said that the proliferation of tropical fish species known to science is actually a direct result of the expansion of what was once a mildly arcane rich man's hobby into a multinational industry worth tens of billions of dollars each year.

Take the neon tetra for example. Although it is found in its untold millions in the Rio Putumayo - one of the tributaries of the Amazon, it was not actually discovered until 1936 when a French animal collector called A. Rabout noticed them by accident whilst he was actually trying to do something completely different! He was canoeing along the river when he saw a large shoal of these ridiculously beautiful fish. He scooped about half-a-dozen up in his hat, and the rest is history!

He sent them to Chicago's John G. Shield Aquarium where they were given a Latin name Paracheirodon innesi in honour of the famous pioneering and aquarist, William T.Innes whose seminal work on tropical fish in the 1930s has been my favourite fish book for four decades. The popular name was a topical one because the psychedelic glare of neon lighting had only just begun to make its presence felt on the American consciousness. For many years the precise location of the natural habitat of these tiny fish was a closely guarded secret! It seems strange today, when you can pick up this lovely fish for a handful of pennies, to look back at the days when neon tetras were so highly sought-after that a single specimen could cost more than all the other fish in a collector's tank.
The names of fish can often give a clue to the date of a species discovery. Like the neon tetra, Cichlasoma biocellatum - a particularly pugnacious species of cichlid is the proud possessor of a topical name which ties down the discovery date nicely. At any other time its common name would have been the same as its Latin name - the twin eyed cichlid. However, at the time of its discovery in 1909, C Tate Regan, the man who fished the type specimen out of the Rio Negro, was a boxing fan and named this plucky little cichlid after Jack Dempsey the famous boxer. As Dempsey didn't rise to fame until after the First World War, and didn't reach his legendary status until the 1920s, it appears that its common name arrived some years after its discovery.
Years ago I remember telling my father about this legendary fish, and he told me how - whilst a sailor on shore leave in New York during the war - he had drunk with the famous boxer at a bar he had bought after his retirement in 1940.
Even the Guppy - possibly the most ubiquitous tropical fish in the world was only discovered in 1856 when Julius Gollmer, a German pharmacist living in Caracas caught some colourful little fish which he eventually sent back as part of a shipment of animals to the Berlin Zoo. The first delivery of these fishes brought to their discoverer an inordinate amount of praise and a gratuity of hundred Reichstaler. However, the 16 dead guppies preserved in alcohol stayed on the shelf of a German museum for several years before they were finally named. For some reason, although both male and female guppies had been sent, only the females were described, and it wasn't until 1866 when Reverend John Lechmere Guppy sent both males and females back from Trinidad that the notable degree of sexual dimorphism which has made these lovely little fish perennial aquarium favourites ever since, was noted and the fish named after the good Padre of Trinidad.
If it hadn't been for the ineptitude of the experts at the National Museum of Germany then the tiny fish which has become one of the most famous Aquarium denizens of all time would have been called The Gollmer!
The Cardinal Tetra is a surprisingly recent discovery. The type specimens were found in the Rio Negro only three years before my birth in 1959. Once again, it is very tempting to draw links between the invention of new technology for the fish keeper and the discovery of a number of new species. The invention - in the mid-1950s - of the under gravel filter revolutionised fish keeping around the world. It was the first truly biological medium for ensuring water purity and it has - with some degree of justification - been described as the most important technical advance in the history of a hobby. There is no doubt that the discovery revolutionised fish keeping and led to a renewed level of public interest. This in turn drove the movers and shakers of the aquarist community to search out new and exotic creatures which they could display for the public edification. The Cardinal Tetra was one of these. The common name comes from a fanciful idea that they resemble the colours worn by a high ranking prelate of the Roman Catholic Church, and the scientific name - axelrodi is a none too subtle nod to one of the market leaders in the global fish keeping industry.
It is sad to note that within only a few years of its discovery these fish were being described as becoming a threatened species in the wild.
When examining the literature surrounding the discovery of so many of these species, one realises quite how important the global Aquarium industry has become. Most of the creatures described in this article were, indeed, discovered a result of market forces led expeditions whose only remit was to discover more species suitable for introduction into the Global Pet market. However, there is another paradigm which is almost equally prevalent. This is where a species - plecostamus sucker mouth catfish are a good example - is discovered by a scientific team sent out by a university or museum. These (now ubiquitous) fish were mostly discovered in the 1930s, but were not introduced into the aquarium trade for some decades. The species is captured, named and then forgotten until - almost by accident - it is "rediscovered" by an industry who has decided that it is ripe for exploitation.
In some cases it is possible to see how the integration of certain fish species into the popular market place comes as a result of human politics. The Spanish American war at the beginning of the 20th century not only changed the political map of the world with the Philippines, Puerto Rico and several other places coming under American rule, but was instrumental in a number of Central American species - including platys and swordtails being introduced to the domain of the home aquarist. The expansion of the British Empire in the 19th century led to the discovery of gouramis as pet fish - originally in the ornamental pools of the Raj, and later as exhibits in the first British tropical aquaria.

The pages of the history books, which tell the story of aquaculture, make uncomfortable reading. Like so many branches of Human Endeavour they tell the story of how mankind rapes, abuses and finally denudes whole sections of the planet on which we have been privileged to evolve. Nowadays the industry likes to feel that it is far more ethical than it has been in the past. Indeed, that is generally the case. However, it is important with fish keeping - as with everything else - not to lose the sight of the lessons of history. Although sometimes the story of the discovery of a species - like the Guppy - merely reveals a mildly amusing insight into the human Psyche, on other occasions - such as the cardinal Tetra - the story is a far less edifying one, and furthermore one which we as hobbyists would do well to take heed of.


GUEST BLOGGER TANIA POOLE: PLENTY TO SEE IN CENTRAL VICTORIA

Tania turned up at the Weird Weekend a few years ago having travelled all the way from Australia for the privelige. She is a jolly nice young lady with an enduring interest in things fortean and things zoological, and it is a pleasure to welcome her aboard the good ship bloggo..

While I sometimes think that I live in a boring place, where it seems there are not enough cryptid sightings to warrant an expedition, I really think I just don’t admire it properly. This landscape is so vast I don’t know where to start! Here in Central Victoria, we are declared a Temperate Zone, it does get very dry and as we have seen this past week, fires are the worst threat. Over 200 estimated dead Victorians over one weekend is a very rare thing to see, and this is the worst in white Australian history!

But since my teens I have always wanted to know what lives in MY area? What cryptids skulk through the Golden Plains of west, central and south-east Victoria? Well, the cryptid seen the most is the Big Cat, with the occasional exception of something really strange and rare. We all have some ideas that in this area, Big Cats are possibly here because of the result of circuses ending and animals being released, or the story of US air force army mascot let go after WW2. But still there has not been any real evidence of a deceased one found, and that is why the news will occasionally broadcast a segment on the mysterious out-of-place Big Cats in rural Australia, usually interviewing Mike Williams who discusses the presence of ABC’s, while loyally sporting a CFZ t-shirt. But through my own research over the years, and stories I have heard, there are some very juicy accounts of ABC’s and even thylacines in this fine state of ours. Of course there are Yowies too, but I don’t have many Victorian local stories of Yowies (even though at the Weird Weekend 2006, I hounded Paul Cropper for reported sightings of Yowies in the Otway State Forest, South-West Victoria’s rainforest region already famous for its glow-worms and unique carnivorous black snails (Victaphanta compacta).

But the reports of ABC’s are plentiful in Central Victoria, and where I live, (just outside Ballarat) you hear of many crossing roads in front of motorists, and farmers finding mutilated sheep and cows with strange claw marks on their backs. There are of course plaster casts of paw prints, scat samples, and fur. Most of the articles I collected in the 1990s indicate that it would be rare from anyone in the regions I mentioned above to have NOT seen an ABC of some sort. Shiny eyes in headlights and deep snarling sounds when someone walks on their property at night. From the book of Tony Healy and Paul Cropper, Out of the Shadows comes the tale of a woman, who, when stationed as a Land Army girl during WW2, knew that the Americans kept a mountain lion with four cubs which they had to get rid of. They were released near Hall’s Gap in the Grampians. An account I have heard from a friend since then was of a man who does horse riding tours through the Grampians. One day he took the horses out to find a new track to take tourists on. At one point the horses stopped and would not go any further. Up ahead, the tour guide saw big yellow cats sunning themselves on large boulders.

And then there are the personal accounts I have heard from people over the years with stories from all over Victoria. Often I will be with many friends and acquaintances who tell me stories of sightings. While ABC sightings are common enough, other stories I have include Thylacines and a couple of Yowies.

One is of when I was 12, back in 1989. I was on a primary school camp in Gippsland, and a bus driver took us kiddies down to Wilson’s Promontory. On the way we stopped on the side of the road to approach some kangaroos and emus. While the others busied themselves chasing rather large Eastern Greys, I stood back and heard the driver tell my principal about the time he was driving a bus down Wilson’s Prom one night and a thylacine crossed the road in front of his headlights. I remember his description – ‘dog like and sandy coloured, with the stripes on his lower back and stiff tail at the end.’ It was no mistake. That had to be a Tasmanian Tiger. Wilson’s Promontory is famous for Thylacine sightings. I have an article where a pilot in a light aircraft saw one on one of the Promontories beaches.

Another story comes from Central Vic, near Castlemaine. My very good friends (who are like second parents to me) in Guildford/Tarilta area of the Loddon River have a story to tell about a thylacine sighting sometime in the mid to late 1970’s. They had bought some property in the Box-Ironbark forest on the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park, but before their house and sheds were built, their friend spent a night out there his car alone. In the night he heard a noise and turned on his headlights only to see a stripy, sandy dog, with a ‘gape larger than any dogs.’ What amazed my friends was that he was completely unaware of what he had seen, and must not have known anything about the now extinct Tasmanian Tiger. While they sat with their mouths dropped open after the tale, their friend stayed perfectly ignorant and still does today. They decided not to tell him exactly what he’d seen.

My friend Chris told me about his teenage cousin seeing a Yowie of some description in Anakie, just outside my hometown of Geelong. He was playing basketball in his driveway, and saw in the neighbouring field, a large hairy man running towards the forests of the Brisbane Ranges. The boy spent the rest of the day inside, frightened out of his wits, his mother very confused with his behaviour.

I also recall my mother telling me only a few years ago that a Yowie had been seen near the suspension bridge in the Tarra-Bulga National Park.

My housemate and friend told me today about the Talbot/Maryborough sightings. The stories got so popular he remembers in his early teens, in 1989, seeing a ‘Puma crossing’ yellow road sign complete with picture of big cat profile on it on the road between Talbot and Maryborough. It was very well done, as if the council put an official one up, ‘It only lasted 12 months then someone pulled it down.’

But the most recent unreported ABC story I have, happened only a few weeks ago to my friends, again those who live in the Guildford/Tarilta area. My friend was out on his bushland property at night without a torch, with his two fearless basenji dogs with him. He heard the padding of large footprints near him in the dark, and the ‘fearless’ basenji’s who love to chase foxes, took off back to the house very frightened. Whatever it was got closer and began to snarl at my friend and while he had no time to get a torch, he proceeded to cry out and bang on corrugated iron sheets to try to scare the thing off.

With ABC’s, I’ve no doubt that only a third of the sightings out there are being reported, I’ve no doubt that some people who live in the country here see things twice, even three times. But it certainly is not boring out here. There are always new stories to hear and hopefully, one day, something to see!

A DEATHBLOW FOR CREATIONISM AS THE VATICAN ENDORSES DARWINISM

Read what the Daily Telegraph has to say

The Daily Telegraph announced today that "The Vatican claims Darwin's theory of evolution is compatible with Christianity". This stops just before an official Papal Bull endorsing Darwin, but it is the next best thing, and by admitting that evolution should not be "dismissed" and stating that it is entirely compatible with the Christian view of Creation, the Vatican is not just saying what Christian freethinkers like yours truly have been saying for ages, but has hopefully delivered a swingeing death blow to the burgeoning Creationist and Intelligent Design movements.

The Daily Telegraph continued by quoting from two senior Roman Catholic authorities:

"Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said while the Church had been hostile to Darwin's theory in the past, the idea of evolution could be traced to St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas. Father Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti, Professor of Theology at the Pontifical Santa Croce University in Rome, added that 4th century theologian St Augustine had "never heard the term evolution, but knew that big fish eat smaller fish" and forms of life had been transformed "slowly over time". Aquinas made similar observations in the Middle Ages". Monsignor Ravasi also pointed out that 50 years ago, Pope Pius XII described evolution as a valid scientific approach to the development of humans.

Next month there is even a Papal backed conference marking the 150th anniversary of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, at which Intelligent Design will be described as a "cultural phenomenon" rather than a scientific or theological issue. And Marc Leclerc, who teaches natural philosophy at the Gregorian University, has stated that too many of Darwin's opponents, primarily Creationists, mistakenly claim his theories are "totally incompatible with a religious vision of reality".

This is all very good news for science and for common sense, and we sincerely hope that sincere Christians across the world will follow the Papal lead, and shun the superstitious drivel spouted by Creationist leaders, who secretly hope for a totalitarian theocracy. Muslim religious leaders have already accepted the concept of an ancient universe, and now, it seems that Christian leaders have done likewise. We applaud them for it, and await further developments with interest.

A STUDY IN SCARLET

I doubt whether there is a single reader of this bloggo who doesn`t know the answer to the next question. How many species of British snakes are there? “C`mon Jon there are Three!” I can hear you shouting from your homes around the country and you are right. Except that a hundred and fifty years ago, many people believed that there was a fourth species – Vipera rubra – The Scarlet Viper. Across areas of southern Dorset, especially those surrounding Lulworth Cove and Corfe Castle there were sightings of adders quite unlike their cousins recorded elsewhere in the country – they were bright red.

These animals were quite well known to scientists of the time and were mentioned in all the natural history listings. They were described as being slightly smaller than other adders but were seen as being a distinct and very beautiful species. In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries the taxonomy of British wildlife underwent a massive shakedown period and quite a few previously distinct species lost their taxonomic status and were relegated to being mere colour morphs or regional races of well known creatures. However it is the geographical location of the creature that has always puzzled me.

Relict populations of two mainland European species of reptile actually do live in that area of southern Dorset. The Sand Lizard and The Smooth Snake live here and if a rare and hitherto unknown species of British viper were to be living anywhere in the UK it would probably be here. With the recent advances in DNA fingerprinting it would seem to be a relatively easy task to find out whether the Victorial Naturalists were right all along and the semi legendary Scarlet Viper of Lulworth Cove is indeed a distinct species after all. However, the problem is that we can`t actually find a specimen….

Ironically, although the creature was a well known one, and many specimens must have been taken for various collections we haven`t, to date at least, been able to find a specimen in any of the natural history collections. So friends. Do YOU fancy securing a little piece of zoological immortality for yourself? If you have the time or the energy pester your local museum or natural history society. Examine their records. Someone, somewhere must have a specimen of the elusive Scarlet Viper pickled in a bottle in their basement. All we need are a few tissue samples for DNA analysis and we can lay this enduring and fascinating zoological mystery to rest once and for all. For more details e-mail me on jon@eclipse.co.uk