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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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Thursday, February 26, 2009

TONY LUCAS HAS GIVEN US ALL A PRESENT...

Tony Lucas has been as good as his word. He has sent us an enormous cache of New Zealand press cuttings of cryptozoological interest. I have seen none of these before, and they are a great addition to our archives. You can download them from:


Our online archive of press cuttings is getting quite sizeable now, and we are desparate for an indexer. If you feel like giving us a few hours every week, please get in touch. The CFZ needs you!

I BET YOU CAN'T GUESS WHAT THIS IS...

I bet that even our American readers who are birdwatchers will have difficulty identifying this weird little hybrid. OK, with that opening sentance I have given far too much away - it is a bird, it is from the United States (Indiana if that helps) and it is a hybrid. But what is it?

I have always been interested in natural hybrids (rather than man made, or human induced ones) and I have certainly not heard of this little fellow before. To find out more...

http://www.birdchick.com/2009/02/guest-blogging-day-2-lynnanne-fager.html

TIM MATTHEWS: Joke, hobby, interest or science - the cryptozoological crossroads

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.


We are in new territory. The CFZ is making remarkable progress because we have been able to bring a diverse group of people together, get them working as a team and start to make a real difference not just within the cosy world of Cryptozoology but within local communities and beyond. Indeed, on the internet, we have the potential to reach anyone. And we are reaching new people all the time.

This has not always gone down too well with vested interests who want things to remain as they are, or have been, or who seek to make Cryptozoology their own personal cash cow. Others fear Cryptozoology becoming mainstream and seek to remain a big fish in a small pond. This selfish thinking has bedevilled this thing of ours since Heuvelmans first started writing about it….

It is fascinating to speak with people who are new to the subject because they approach it from so many angles. Often, because of his workload, Jon Downes puts the new people on to me to determine see where their interests lie - this is a vast subject - and how we can help them get the most from their involvement with us.

What emerges, through the long conversations I tend to have with “new recruits”, is that, despite all the information we put on the websites and blogs, there are serious misperceptions out there; about what we, what we stand for and what Cryptozoology is.

To an extent one has to generalise about this because it is impossible to include everyone’s comments, but many of my correspondents seem to believe that this subject is the “rare species version” of the X Files. They either hope or believe that we are, or should be, nattily dressed investigators in flash cars with the latest technology at our disposal as we intrepidly run through the woods chasing monsters with teams of supporters watching monitors in real time.

This, of course, is not the case, but when Cryptozoology is seen as an adjunct to science fiction we have more work to do than we might have initially expected. True, some of us initially became involved with the CFZ because we’d been done UFO or Paranormal research or had investigated or taken an interest in an unusual case involving animals (animal “mutilations”, “abductions” or big cat sightings for example). Happily, most of us (!) have grown up and our interests have diversified or, even, specialised.

What is the function of Cryptozoology? What is it for and what is the CFZ for? As the CFZ grows it is true to say that we speak for the vast majority of Cryptozoologists and are involved with the majority of active Cryptozoologists. Nevertheless, there are very few people actually out there doing anything. Much of the support for the subject is passive and fickle. A harsh lesson to learn but a realistic appraisal based on recent experience.

The CFZ website has an outreach and educational function which is why we do not spend the vast majority of time talking about Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. Yes, these subjects are of marginal interest but the quality of evidence relating to them is poor. It is surprising that people are still so interested in them when we have so many stories available via CFZ and natural history websites that suggest that rare, little known and rediscovered species are found almost weekly and that there are new species being discovered as often. And yet, despite their importance, we are still fending off questions like, “what do you think of the Patterson Bigfoot film” or “what about Nessie?”

Sometimes, it is more interesting to ask why people are so interested in these things when we consistently show that Cryptozoology is much more than repeating and regurgitating questionable data about supposed “famous cases“. It seems that we have a job of education to do and the CFZ accepts this role. Ufology has Roswell, the Paranormalists have their medieval castles and hooded monks and, until recently, Cryptozoology has been tied to “Bigfoot and the Hendersons“. Things have now changed…

The CFZ is moving in a new direction. At heart, we are a community of amateur naturalists. That, of course, means we are a broad church, but looking at the subject in this way keeps us firmly rooted in reality and in science. Indeed, I suggest that we have little or nothing in common with Mulder and Scully and everything in common with Durrell and Attenborough. We probably always did. That is the key to understanding who we are and where we are going and this must be emphasised and repeated as often as possible. If you want to sit on a hillside looking at aircraft lights and pretend that you’re seeing alien spacecraft then please go elsewhere and leave us alone! If you want to chase ghosts then please sign up to Most Haunted and volunteer to be fooled at their next live TV show!

If you want to indulge your love for nature and all her mysteries then your place is with us. If you want to find the mysterious in the world around us you needn’t look far. If you want to understand about Life on Earth there is no better way to do this by joining the CFZ community.

If you want to be the person to discover a new species or uncover one of nature’s perfect aberrations then the CFZ is the first step on your road to salvation.

Meanwhile, the CFZ is a growing community not only in cyberspace but on the ground as we involve ourselves in all manner of campaigns, groups and causes. It might not be that racey, but you’re more likely to find a CFZ supporter doing a local nature watch, a bit of bird spotting, volunteer work at a local zoo or, even, helping toads across the road! When the CFZ gains charitable status, you will see moving further into community projects and developing the range of activities we offer to the Amateur Naturalist.

Times have changed and we have changed with them. It is more practical for us to be involved in real projects rather than dreaming about getting “that photo” of Bigfoot.

It is, perhaps, that simple……

What Matthew did next

Dear All,

I am now on day 4 of my UK Tour, after my report on Saturday which may well have been prosaic, but also did describe how I found the events at BugFest SW. I returned briefly home for 2 nights. Sunday was uneventful and passed off as you would expect, and with a tidy of my car boot, I was then ready to continue the tour.

Monday, having spent hours trying to do the impossible, I worked out that the “View” from Windows might be very pretty, but I have grown to XPect more from my computers and was very let down. Then started the night of a 1000 feet.

Firstly, while feeding Ragyle (my ever-loving canine sidekick) I found a small mouse in the food barrel, jumped a mile into the area and screamed like a girl; trying to hide behind any available object . On finding none there, hid the other side of Mum. I then left the kitchen while the little rodentine friend was removed.

It is not the mouse itself I am scared of - it is the suddenness of it scuttling. I then went to bed in the hope of an early night to find that every time I put the light out, the munching and scratching and other onomatopoeia round my bed grew deafeningly closer. So having worked out there was nowhere else I could go to sleep, and having spoken to my Kentucky friend, I put my TV and light on very loud and sat, hunched in a ball (that makes you sound like a hamster Ed.) in the middle of my bed.

At 4.30 this morning (Tuesday) I went back online to sort my day out, and emailed my sister to put bait down in my room while I was gone, packed the car and headed off on the latest leg on my tour, which - after a day’s teaching and an evening with a Uni friend and the football - sees me sat in a bunk in Exeter writing this to you all.

I am hoping that while I am in Exeter I will get the chance to meet up with 2 other people who said they might be free for dinner while I am here. When I texted one of these people to find out how she was doing, she sent no reply for ages and then the reply to “ so how is your evening looking” simple said “ TOUGH! X” I have to admit I am not sure what that means, but I hope that if she is having a day that is less “TOUGH” she will be back in touch.

As I have to be up at the crack of dawn tomorrow to go and teach again, I will sign off now and hit the send button so Uncle Jon can read and add this to the Blogosphere. Not that I expect it will get to him much before lunchtime tomorrow as the place I am teaching at, and the Youth Hostel, have WiFi that is very slow!

Matthew

Normal service seems to have been resumed...

FTP access has been restored to the main site, so http://www.cfz.org.uk is now working properly again. Many apologies, once again, for the disruption...

Light at the end of this particular tunnel..

We have been informed by the people who host our websites that FTP access will be restored "later this afternoon". We will believe it when it happens, but when it does will do all the updates to the front page as quickly as possible.

It has to be said, however, that on the whole these people are pretty bloody efficient. We have been with them since 2002 with only a few cock-ups...

We are also hoping for a speedy solution to the log-jam at our printers which is holding up the production of the hard copy version of The Amateur Naturalist #9. However, you can still buy the much cheaper digital version by using the link at the top right hand of this bloggo page.

All sorts of things are going wrong at the moment, and if I was the sort of paranoid conspiracy theorist whho believes in such things I would be convinced that "the man" is out to get me. Of course he's not. But "the man" is notoriously inefficient, and not very bright, and so when (as has happened to me this week) a whole string of people make accounting errors, screw up their procedures, deny us service for no apparent reason, refuse to answer their telephone calls, or suddenly re-route their help-desk through to a call centre in Utar Pradesh where no-one speaks The Queen's English (no, whoops you had better ignore that last comment. These days it is apparently `racist` to expect someone in the HELP department of an English company to be able to make themselves understood to their customers).

So, no. I am not paranoid. I don't think "they" are out to get me. But I am cross, frustrated, and convinced that this poor stupid little country of ours has gone to the dogs.....

Sorry for the rant

New species found in museum

Some weeks ago, Richard wrote a bloggo article about new species which turn up in museums, and cited the descovery of Delcourt's giant gecko as a case in point. Another example of this yndrome happened recently when a 90 year-old collection of Colombian butterflies in the British Museum (Natural History) was re-examined. Amongst the collection from the dry Magdalena valleys of Colombia was a specimen which, when Blamca Heurtas, the curator compared it with a recently found wild specimen was identified as Splendeuptychia ackeryi; a strange little satyrid with unusually hairy mouthparts.

Blanca Huertas is quoted as saying: ‘The collections here at the Natural History Museum are a treasure trove to be explored. We have almost nine million butterflies and moths in our collections, a comprehensive example of the Earth's diversity. But there are many new species still waiting to be discovered, both in museum collections and in the field.'

The lonesome death of the Caribbean Monk Seal

The IUCN Red Data Books make sombre reading. They are the catalogue of those species which are facing extinction I have a copy on the bookshelf by my computer, and read them regularly. Each year of the list of species which has been officially pronounced to be extinct grows longer. In 1996, this sad little list of the damned, was joined by a little-known marine mammal called the Caribbean Monk Seal.

The Caribbean monk seal was a relatively small seal, the upperparts nearly uniform brown, tinged with gray; the sides paler; and the underparts pale yellow or yellowish white.

It was the only member of the Pinnipeds ( seals, sea-lions and walruses), ever to have been found in the tropical New World. The first documented sightings by Westerners took place in 1494 when they are less a personage than Christopher Columbus observed a herd of what he described as “sea wolves” on the coast of Santo Domingo. He promptly ordered his crew to kill eight of the animals for food. This was only the beginning of centuries of horrific exploitation of this vulnerable species which continued up until the 20th century.

Although the creature had actually been known since the 15th century, Museum specimens were not acquired until nearly 400 years later and very little is known about its biology. It appears that these animals preferred shallow sandy beaches for their breeding grounds, and this made them particularly vulnerable to predation from man. While on land they were sluggish and had no fear of man, a trait that permitted their slaughter to the point of extinction. In former years they were used extensively as a source of oil.Apparently, the young were born in early December because several females killed in the Triangle Keys during this time had well-developed foetuses.
The Caribbean monk seal was already rare by the 1700s, because it had not only been hunted for food but it was persecuted by who believe that they were threatening fish stocks but the species just about managed to survive. The last recorded Caribbean Monk Seal in the United States was killed in 1922 off the coast of Key West in Florida and the last confirmed sighting occurred off Seranilla Bank - between Jamaica and Honduras, where a small colony was known to have lived - in 1952.

Monk seals are amongst the most primitive pinnipeds, they are particularly vulnerable to environmental change and encroachment. Both of the other two species - the Mediterranean, and the Hawaiian monk seals are highly endangered and look unlikely to survive unless great efforts are made to preserve the species. In response to recent unconfirmed Caribbean monk seal sightings in areas within their historical range, surveys have been carried out as late as 1993, but to no avail.
However, all may not be quite lost. In an extraordinary new book called Mysterious Creatures George M. Eberhart gives us some hope of that these sad little animals may possibly have survived when he notes that 16 out of 93 Haitian and Jamaican fishermen interviewed in 1997 claimed to have seen at least one monk seal in the previous two years. If this is true - and everybody in the Cryptozoological research community sincerely hopes and prays that it is - then humanity may possibly have been granted a rare second chance to preserve an animal for posterity rather than destroying it.

Watch this space.

GUEST BLOGGER NEIL ARNOLD: The Monster Spider of Stock

It is with great pleasure that we welcome Neil Arnold to the CFZ bloggo with this first guest blog. I have known Neil for fifteen years now since he was a schoolboy with ambitions for adventure and I was an earnest young hippie who merely wanted to start a club for people interested in unknown animals. Nothing much has changed over the years. We are just both a tad older...
When frontman of The Cure, Robert Smith mumbled, “On candystripe legs the spiderman comes, softly through the shadows of the evening sun…”, I’m pretty sure he had no recollection of one Charlie Marshall. Mr Marshall was known in Essex as the ‘spiderman of Stock’, although he was by trade an ostler, but ol’ Charlie, for extra income, decided to cash in on a legend which remains as one of the county’s most obscure.

In 1777, an Arthur Trumble visited Brazil and brought home with him a variety of strange and large beetles and insects and creeping arachnids. Unfortunately, most of these creatures were dead by the time he got off the plane, but one particular specimen was an huge spider which he plucked from the Amazon jungle. Trumble conducted lectures on his expeditions, but one day was horrified to learn that his monstrous spider had escaped, and so was born the legend of the ‘Spider of Stock’. It is alleged that one elderly lady died of a heart attack after spying the eight-legged crawler, but once winter enveloped the area, many who’d become unnerved by the alleged spider’s presence, felt they could breathe a sigh of relief as surely the spider would have perished in the coldest weather.

During the early 1900s, sightings and legend still persisted in reference to an enormous spider which many locals called the ‘ghost spider’. The creature would often spring upon those sleeping and then scuttle out of sight, leaving many to believe that the area of Stock was indeed haunted by this legend.

In 1974 Mrs Gloria Craven from Hedingham saw a spider the size of a dinner plate, slowly creeping up her husband’s jacket sleeve. So terrified was she by the sight that she attempted to batter it with a heavy book, but instead smashed her husband on the back of his neck. This was the last sighting of the monstrous thing.

Charlie Marshall attempted to be a bit of a local Spring-Heeled Jack and steal the thunder of the monster spider. His antics, which he performed for a few coins in his bowler hat, involved climbing up the local church tower, and writhing up the tall, cold chimney of the local pub, where on one occasion he failed to return. It is believed the ‘spiderman’ of Stock died, wedged in one of the chimneys, or indeed the legend, or possibly the ghost of the monster spider, had devoured the imitator, intent on cashing in on the monster legend.

OLL LEWIS: The Nandi Bear

Like the chupacabra, the Nandi bear has become a catch all term for every strange beast seen in a certain part of the world, in this case East Africa - particularly in the Nandi district of Kenya. This has led to an array of differing descriptions being attributed to Nandi bears and makes it easy for knee jerk sceptics to loftily proclaim that because not all descriptions tally it can’t possibly exist. When this happens, it falls to one reasearcher to take the time to untangle the Gorgon’s knot of witness sightings and other evidence from each other. Heuvelmans undertook this challenge in ‘On the Track of Unknown Animals’, attributing sightings to that of ratels, aardvarks, giant baboons and giant hyenas.

Most witnesses report a creature as big as a man with four limbs and a sloping back covered in fur. The creature is sometimes seen ‘standing up’ on its hind limbs, but invariably seems to run on all four legs. Attacks attributed to Nandi bears are usually extremely violent in nature and the creature is said to have a taste for brains, often scalping its victims and cracking open skulls as if they were egg shells. Occasionally witnesses attribute feats of athleticism to the Nandi bear like being able to leap two metre high fences in a single bound and jump to the top of huts. It is also said to emit fearsome noises before or immediately after killing that can strike fear into all but the bravest of men.

Heuvelmans postulated that the reported Nandi bears that bore a resemblance to large baboons could be caused by sightings of a surviving example of Simopithecus (a supposedly extinct gorilla sized ancestor of modern baboons). There is little evidence however to suggest that Simopithecus, now renamed as Theropithecus oswaldi and Theropithecus brumpti, survived into the Holocene. (See picture at top)

However, the sightings of giant baboon-like animals, that make up the bulk of Nandi bear reports, might have been caused by… giant baboons. The average height of a male olive baboon (Papio anubis) is 70cm but occasionally baboons do get reported of a larger size and most baboon species can hybridise with each other. Baboon hybrids have not been widely studied, but there are several baboon populations known to contain hybrids, including several in Ethiopia, and it is certainly within the realms of possibility that some hybrids could be a lot larger than most other baboons. Colonel C.R.S. Pitman reported an outsize race of baboons in the Mabira forest, which locals claimed were as big as men. Eventually he acquired a very large specimen and sent it to the Natural History Museum in London who identified it as an example of Papio anubis.

As well as giant baboons, there are other potentially cryptozoological creatures that have been classed as Nandi bears; the ‘giant hyenas’. In East Africa itself this form of Nandi bear is known as the chimiset or chemosit. In 1928 Captain William Hichens recalled when he had been sent to a Nandi village to investigate the death of a 6 year old girl allegedly caused by a chimiset that had smashed its way though a huts mud wall just to get to her. The village chief informed the Captain that the chimiset usually inhabited a small, forested hill 5 miles from the village and Hichens set off to investigate with his hunting dog.

Captain Hichens’s search was unsuccessful, but one night he set up his tent and went to sleep having tethered his dog to one of the tent poles. During the night Hichens was awoken by a blood curdling scream and the tent collapsing upon him. When he escaped from the tangled mess his tent had become he saw a trail of blood across the sand along the route that an animal, presumably the chimiset, had taken his dog’s body after snatching him. Hitchens later recalled the scream emitted by the chimiset was more frightening than the roar or a lion, the trumpeting of a maddened cow-elephant or a trapped leopard. Alongside the blood trail were paw-prints 4 times larger than a man’s hand, which showed the imprints of claws. The prints reminded Hichens of a lion but without retractable claws and the size was much larger than any lion he had seen, and Hichens had seen some pretty big lions in his time. Hichens followed the trail at dawn with some men from the village and found it led to the forested hill where the chimiset was reputed to live, but he found nothing.

Hichens certainly didn’t think that the chimiset was a hyena, saying that explanation seemed more like an evasion than an explanation because hyenas are as common around African ones as rabbits around English villages. Hyenas cannot do many of the things ascribed to Nandi bears by witnesses like standing on their hind legs and jumping over fences almost 2 metres high, but hyenas CAN account for some sightings. Remains of hyenas twice the size of the common spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) have been found in Kenya. In the late 1950s Douglas Hutton, the manager of a tea plantation in Nandi, shot two such animals and after workers at the tea plantation had viewed them the bodies were left to have the flesh cleaned off them by ants and the bones were sent to Nairobi Museum to be examined. Frustratingly all the museum came back with was that it was a giant forest hyena, which could mean just about anything and didn’t attribute the bones to any known species and did not state whether or not they were the bones of a new or un-described species. Karl Shuker has postulated that some Nandi bear reports may be sightings of the short-faced or giant hyena (Pachycrocuta brevirostris), which is thought to have become extinct 500,000 years ago.

Giant baboons and giant hyenas are both plausible explanations for Nandi bear sightings, but there have also been some candidates that have been proposed over the years that are a lot less likely. Chalicothere were creatures related to horses rhinoceroses and tapirs, that had a sloping back as a result of their front limbs being longer than their back limbs that are thought to have become extinct 3.5 million years ago. It would seem that the only reason they have been suggested as a possible explanation for the Nandi bear is their sloped back. The fact that they are thought to be long extinct and that they were herbivores does count against them. Another suggested candidate for Nandi bear sightings is the Atlas bear (Ursus arctos crowtheri). This is also complete poppycock, not because the Atlas bear is supposedly extinct, although there are occasional reports that may refer to it, so it may yet still exist in very small isolated populations, but because there is no evidence of Atlas bears south of the Sahara desert and also because, despite the name, the Nandi bear is not actually a bear.

THURSDAY MORNING UPDATES

The FTP protocol still doesn't work, so for the second lot of postings I am not able to update the front page of the main CFZ site. However, the posts are continuing, and here is a round up of today's updates:

26th February: CRYPTOZOOLOGY: Tony Lucas takes a look at giant eels in New Zealand
Click here for further details...


26th February: CRYPTOZOOLOGY: Neil Arnold is on the radio talking about monsters
Click here for further details...


26th February: CFZ APPEALS: We need your help. Volunteers please..
Click here for further details...


26th February: CFZ PEOPLE: Matt Osborne on bugfest..
Click here for further details...


26th February: CFZ NEWS: Oll Lewis take's a look at yesterday's news with only one stupid pun..
Click here for further details...

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday's news today

News has been coming in thick and fast to our news blog, yesterday we had:

A record-breaking stingray catch in Thailand, a Brazilian werewolf attack, a plan to magnetise crocodiles, a worm causing a computer to die, a cat that can answer the phone, a frog with 7 legs, Edinburgh zoo talking pandas, Indians after some lions, an international zoo conference in Pakistan, shape changing coral, A beaver turning up in Fife a year early, a horse slaughterhouse bill in Montana, a dinosaur missing link found in Argentina and a critically endangered Saharan cheetah captured on camera.

When I first heard about the Saharan cheetah being filmed I thought that they must have been ‘lion’, until I saw the photos.

http://cryptozoologynews.blogspot.com/