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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Friday, March 06, 2009

OLL LEWIS: Barking Up The Wrong Tree

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. However, he alsoi has an obsession with Wales - no, not the big, spouting, there-she-blows type, but the principality..

What can a Prince’s dog tell us about a cryptid? Quite a lot as it happens…

The cryptid in this case is a most unusual creature known as the water leaper, or as Llamhigyn y dŵr in Welsh, and the dog is Gellert, the martyred hound from which, according to folklore, the town of Bedd Gellert in North Wales takes its name.

The Story of Gellert has become the most famous version of the martyred hound story. Prince Llewellyn the Great of Wales was given a puppy by prince John (later King John) of England that Llewellyn called Gellert. As the years rolled by Gellert became Llewellyn’s favourite hunting dog because of the animal’s loyalty and the affection he showed him, so when it was time for Gellert to retire from the pack he was brought home to join Llewellyn’s wife and baby son as a full member of the family. Gellert and the infant got along splendidly and seemed to form a close bond and when the baby’s mother died soon after Gellert was always there to comfort the child.

One day Llewellyn went hunting to catch a dangerous wolf that had been taking farm animals and even attacking people and left his young son at home with Gellert to keep him company. During the hunt Llewellyn found the wolf near to his home and gave chase but eventually lost it. This was an embarrassment for Llewellyn, who was famous for his hunting skills and had promised the villagers that he would bring the wolf’s rampages to an end, so he stayed out until the evening in a fruitless search for the wolf. When he returned home Gellert ran up to his master with his tail wagging and his face covered in dried blood. Llewellyn rushed up to his son’s room where his eyes met with a gruesome tableau. Blood was splattered all over the floor and up the walls, the cot was over-tuned, tapestries, furs and ornaments were thrown asunder and a large amount of blood was pooled all around a suspicious looking pile of sheets.

Believing the dog had murdered the boy, Llewellyn ran his sword though the hound in a fit of rage. However, as Llewellyn drew out the sword he heard his son’s cries from underneath the upturned cot. He ran over to the cot and found his son underneath it unharmed, so he ran over to the pile of sheets and pulled them up, to find out where the pool of blood had come from. It was the wolf Llewellyn had been hunting. After it had escaped it had come to the house and tried to attack the boy, but Gelert had protected the child and killed the wolf after a violent battle. Llewellyn was distraught upon discovering his mistake and ran over to the dieing hound. He held him in his arms and comforted him as he slowly bled to death. As the loyal dog licked his masters hand while the last of its live ebbed away the prince swore that he would build a memorial to the bravest and most loyal of all dogs atop the animal’s grave so that nobody would ever forget what had happened.

Such a nice story, however it’s all a complete fabrication. There never was a dog named Gellert. The tale had in-fact been invented by Bedd Gellert inn owners, the Pritchards, in order to entice tourists to the pretty little town. The towns name is thought in reality to have derived from it being the grave site of an 8th century Christian missionary named Kellert.

So that’s Gellert dealt with but what, you may ask, does that story have to do with the water leaper?

The water leaper was said to have the body of a toad but a tail instead of hind legs and wings instead of forelegs. Local belief in the water leaper was certainly strong enough in the 18th century to prompt shepherds not to use their dogs around the banks of llyn Glas for fear of an over zealous dog herding an animal into the water where ‘something’ would catch hold of it and pull the sheep to its doom.

The only detailed encounter with a water leaper ever recorded in print and was transcribed by John Rhys who was studying the folklore of the area in the late 18th century. The encounter took place sometime in the first few decades of the 18th century; a local fisherman called Ifan Owen, also known as Han, had had an awful day’s fishing;

Whenever Han had cast out that day something had nibbled at his bait and removed it cleanly from the hook without getting snagged on it or pulling at the line. Because Han made his living from fishing he grew steadily more annoyed each time his bait was stolen and eventually, when he could take it no more he moved to another spot, beside a small cliff in the valley.

When Han cast his line out here he felt something pull at his bait almost instantly and, not wanting to lose any more of his bait, he pulled his rod back much more sharply than usual to be sure of hooking the animal that had been getting away with his bait all day.

Having finally hooked his tormentor Han had to pull with all his might to get the creature out of the water. After an epic struggle the monster erupted out of the water it shot off the hook towards the cliff, so fast that, according to Han
“It dashed so against the cliff that it blazed like lightning”.
Han later recounted that if it were not the Llamhigyn then it must have been the devil himself.

Han claimed that both he and his father before him had seen the water leaper on several occasions and in a number of places along this stretch of water and it was said to scream loudly whenever a fisherman was able to pull it to the surface.

Unlike a lot of accounts of strange animals in folklore this sighting was said to have occurred within living memory of the time it was first committed to print. The person who related Han Owen’s tale to John Rhys, who printed it in his 1901 book ‘Celtic folklore, welsh and Manx’, was William Jones, who just happened to be a descendant on his mothers side of the Pritchards, who ran the local pub and hotel in Bedd Gellert and invented the tale of Gellert the martyred hound

The Pritchard family held regular tall-storytelling nights with relatives and friends from Bedd Gellert and the nearby parish of Dolwyddelen. Han Owen was regularly in demand for these nights as he had few equals in the area in his ability to spin a yarn and it was at one of these nights that William Jones first heard Han Owen delivering the tales of his encounters with the water leaper.

Given the dubious pedigree of the tale the smart money is on the water leaper having been one of Han’s tall tales, but you can make up your own mind about that.


I have just invested a speculative $35 in upgrading the page count gizmo on the CFZ bloggo. This is mainly because Max, who is a frighteningly intelligent young man , as well as studying animal related stuff for his A-levels is also studying economics, and keeps on muttering stuff about demographics and record keeping to me.

The truth is, that although I am as obsessive compulsive as the next man, my brain just doesn't work like that, and although Max kept on hustling me to keep records of our daily hit count, I kept on forgetting to, and so - in the end - rather than be bullied unmercifully by a teenager, I paid for the Bravenet upgrade.

What was a jolly fun side effect of this was the utility that shows - in map form - where in the world our readers live, and as I write (early evening on friday) it is mildly amusing to look at the whereabouts of you good folk out in readerland.

Now, I am not at all surprised to find that more of our readers live in America than in the UK, and I already knew that we had readers in the UAE, Australia and New Zealand, but please tell me, who are our readers in:

Iran, Islamic Republic of

and a host of other countries where we seem to have one or two loyal readers. Write to me guys and say hello. The CFZ are always looking for more regional reps, so please get in touch


As regular readers will be aware, I am a fan of Sharon Stiteler over on the Birdchick blog. A few weeks ago she had a competition for guest blogger, and I entered the following piece culled from my 2004 book Monster Hunter. It didn't win, but I thought you guys might enjoy it...

When I was a little boy, in about 1964, my Grandfather used to take me to Salisbury Museum, to see the animals. In the foyer was a stuffed family of great bustards - enormous game birds the size of a turkey which had once lived on Salisbury Plain, but which had been hunted to extinction by the early 20th century. Grandad told me how a charitable trust had been formed to try and reintroduce these magnificent birds to the area. Sadly, this remarkable project had been a signal failure. However, at the time when I visited the museum first during the cold winter of 1963, the project looked as if it was going to be able to succeed, and I remember putting my pocket money, eagerly, into a collecting box for the project and daydreaming happily about the day when these glorious fowl would once again flying over the chalky downs and grassy hummocks of Salisbury Plain. Over 20 years later I am fairly sure that my childhood dream came true.

On this particular occasion, during the early summer of 1997, at the utter end of my mis-spent youth, my friend Richard Dawe and I was driving home to Exeter after selling a boxful of Led Zeppelin bootlegs at a Record Fair in Salisbury. and were driving back along the A303 past Stonehenge with nearly 200 quid nestling in my denim jacket pocket. In 1987 200 quid was quite a lot of money and we were feeling quite pleased with ourselves. I was mentally spending our profits when Richard suddenly grabbed my arm and shouted "What the heck was that??". He was pointing at the sky in front of us where a huge bird could be seen flapping along in an ungainly manner. To this day I am convinced that it was a great bustard. But how did it get there? The only successful breeding project had finally petered out many years before, and the birds had been sent off to a zoo. Conveniently ignoring the fact that I had promised to get back to Exeter in time to collect my wife from work, I explained to Richard how exciting this sighting could turn out to be and we determined to try and follow the bird to wherever it was going.

This was not such a daft endeavour as it might sound. The bird was very large, and was flying very slowly. Just to the west of Stonehenge there is a small coppice. Suddenly the great bird flew off towards the right hand side off the road and flew over the little wood. Just beyond the wood there is a little roundabout. Doing my best to emulate one of the heroes of Starsky and Hutch, I threw the little car up at the right hand exit and careered up the bumpy road in pursuit of the giant bird. We drove for miles, aghast at the stamina of the great fowl which fluttered in an ungraceful and unlovely manner but never seemed either to tire or to make any attempt at a landing. By this time we were so engrossed in our chase that we didn't realise how far we had strayed from our original route. Salisbury Plain is criss-crossed with trackways which lead for miles across the chalky terrain. Many of them are reasonably easy to drive along, and so when it was no longer possible to follow our quarry along the Orthodox roads, we left the road and drove as fast as we could along one of the chalk track ways. I have always thought that Salisbury Plain is one of the most beautiful parts of Britain. Brown hares ran across the path in front of us as we careered along. The little chalk track was fringed by foxgloves and yellow toadflax. Wild orchids grew along the verge, and every few miles, wherever there was a slight hillock, it was surmounted by a small green wig of tatty undergrowth from which, occasionally, a fallow deer could be seen furtively peeking out from between the bushes.

Still the great bird flew on. Still we drove on after it, quite oblivious of the Red Flag which designated an army firing range. It was only when we drove round a particularly steep bend in the track and found ourselves confronted by two armoured cars and a bevy of men wearing battle dress and brandishing machine-guns that I realised quite how much trouble we were in. "Oh crap", I said.

With regret I stopped the car and watched our quarry flap a way out of sight. As the soldiers glared at us I got out of the car to apologise. A fierce looking military policeman came up to us and demanded to know who we were and what we were doing. As I started to try and explain about the great bustard I realised how unlikely it sounded. The military policeman demanded to look in the boot of the car. As I opened it I remembered that not only did it contain nearly 1000 illegal cassette tapes but it was also that temporary home for two plastic machine guns - from a fancy dress party that we had attended a few weeks before - and a human skull wrapped in a plastic bin bag. I had found the skull in a pile of remnants from the days when the hospital where I worked had been used for teaching purposes. It had no doubt once belonged to a pauper who had died intestate in the old poorhouse and who, having no goods or chatels to repossess had ended up having his or her very body taken over by an uncaring state. A century after the long-forgotten pauper had died, his or her skull had found itself in a skip awaiting removal to the incinerator. After checking with that the powers that be I had taken possession of the skull, meaning to keep it as a memento morii, put it into the boot of my car, and promptly forgot about it. I gasped, and half-a-dozen soldiers raised their weapons and pointed them at Richard and me. I continued to bluster on about great bustards, until the grim looking military policeman threatened to arrest us if I didn't shut up.

Britain is probably the only country in the world where I could have got away with anything as stupid as this. Anywhere else in the world I would have certainly been arrested, charged, tried for treason and probably ended up in a secure mental hospital somewhere far beyond the reach of Amnesty International, and where I would probably have spent the rest of my days, and furthermore I would have been the only person there who wasn't sane. As it was, even at the height of the Cold War, British justice and common sense prevailed, and after confiscating the plastic machine guns, and giving us the worst dressing-down I have ever received, they accepted my story about the great bustard and let us go.

Sadly, the identity of the great bird that we had been following and which had nearly got us shot, remains a mystery. However, over the last decade and a half I have been collecting material about the great bustard project. Because, even now, people still occasionally see these birds, it is tempting to theorise that the ill-fated project was more successful than those in charge of it had thought. Because so much of Salisbury Plain is set over for use by the military, if there are indeed small numbers of these magnificent fowl still living there, it is the British Army who has provided a mechanism for their survival. It would be sad if a by-product of the downscaling of the British military in the wake of the end of the Cold War was the final, ignominious extinction of these beautiful and exotic creatures.


I don’t know if anyone here has read “Neanderthal” by John Darnton. It’s a novel, and like all good novels, the author has done a hell-of-a-lot of research in its production. I have only just started reading it, and it will take me a while, because I have 4 other books in various stages of being read (does anyone else do this?)
In its first few chapters, it poses the question What Happened to Neanderthal Man?
Was it a major geological/astrological happening? If so, how come Homo sapiens lived and thrived when Homo Neanderthalensis (or Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, depending on whether you think he was a sub-species of modern man or a separate species) was lost.
The novel dips into the realm of Jurassic Park with the “shock revelation” that pockets of Neanderthal still live on in the high mountains and out-of-reach places in the world, and that some reports of Bigfoot and his kin are mislabeled Neanderthals.

So what DID happen to him? Did modern man engage in genocide/war with Neanderthal? Are we a product of interbreeding with him? Could we have killed all the males and bred with the females, as is common with warring parties? – after all, humans are a violent, sex-mad species.
And suppose.... just for one moment .... that the author is at least partially right, and that pockets of Neanderthal live on. How long before we send missionaries to convert them? How long before they are dragged screaming and kicking into the 21st century? Get their slot on prime time TV? How long before we trade them weapons for drugs, or whatever? Or am I just cynical?


I was chatting to Paul Vella on MSN this morning. Here are some excerpts from our conversation...

Paul Vella says:
I think the solution is 'sheep'
Paul Vella says:
it seems that they bring their back feeet right up to their front feet when they walk and can look vaguely bipedal
Paul Vella says:

Jon D says:
i think there would be lots more damage to the snow and the garden itself if there were sheep in there overnight
Jon D says:
bloody hell
Paul Vella says:
what if there were only one?
Paul Vella says:
here is one in deeper snow where the sheep's belly has dragged through the snow http://www.flickr.com/photos/wheatfields/3276491530/

Jon D says:
Pauly. Can I cobble together excerpts from this convcersation in a bloggo posting?
Paul Vella says:
Paul Vella says:
if it were a sheep, it might explain how it scaled a fence
Paul Vella says:
otherwise, I'm out of ideas now.
Paul Vella says:
But I thought those photos of the sheep tracks were odd - I'd never seen sheep tracks in snow before
Jon D says:
Paul Vella says:
you would swear blind they were bipedal
Paul Vella says:
bears do the same thing, which I think is the most common cause of bigfoot tracks
Paul Vella says:
the hind feet and the front feet create one elongated print

Jon D says:
weird isnt it
Paul Vella says:
very. If it isn't a sheep, then I have no idea


How can I put this without offending you Jon? OK, you've known me long enough, so you know I don't mean anything untoward to you and CFZ.

OK. My theory. Kids. Let's face it. It happens near you, plus, looking at the video, the tracks are near bushes, so a telescopic angular device could have made those track. Also a one legged beast??? Also, that woman was far from convincing, if she had phoned the Sun she would have made a few quid!! I am certainly not saying you are involved with this 'hoax' It screams FAKE!

Nice entertainment though.

I don't agree Dave, but am not the slightest bit offended by your suggestion. I could have been done by kids, but I don't think it was.


1. There were no kids. It wasn't a bad enough snowfall to cause school outages even in these poncy health + safety obsessed days.

2. Apart from us fortean types, no-one has heard of the Devil's footprint mystery these days

3. There was bo sign of human disturbance to the snow until Graham arrived

And the beat goes on.........

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday's news today

It’s news blog recap time and in addition to the normal business of recapping yesterdays headlines (with handy links) and telling increasingly bad puns I must mention that the biscuit of the week is the bourbon cream, I am unaware whether American readers have bourbon’s but if not I should explain that they are like Oreos but with chocolate flavour cream and cuboid to facilitate tea dunking.

Evolution, Ecosystems May Buffer Some Species Against Climate Change
Human overfishing starves dolphins, sharks, seabirds: study
'No proof' of bee killer theory
'I do everything... the bees still die'
World's 'oldest' spider web found
Fish feast frenzy caught on film
Fossilised skull suggests cheetahs evolved in Asia not Americas
Eagle survives crash through truck windshield
Couple drives 170km with cobra in car

There are conflicting reports on the type of car the couple were driving, some say it was a Dodge Viper and others that it was an AC Cobra.


to Gregoire Foster for finding some unwitting (well, I can't actually pretend that I did them on purpose) spelling mistakes. Thanks for being so diligent, Greg, and thank you for caring enough to take the time to e-mail me about them.

Guys, as you know I am not a well man, and sometimes I am seriously struggling in the face of physical diversity when I do the postings, so I know that typos slip through. I am nbot at all offended to have them pointed out to me, so please continue so to do..


There’s an old-fashioned phrase, “there’s method in our madness.”

Today was a day when I went for lots of method, and saved up all the madness for later on.

When I carried the CFZ rubbish bags out into the road Wednesday night, the 4th of March 2009, it was snowing. I was surprised: I thought we’d seen the last of the “Christmas postcard” look, this winter. But I shrugged (mainly to shake snowflakes from my shoulders) – and retreated back indoors and thought no more of it. Until…

Thursday morning, got a phone call at around 0950 from Mrs Wade - a resident of our village - that some strange footprints were in her back garden. I was the only one awake (it had been a long and difficult evening, yesterday), so I grabbed my camera and headed off to have a look.

On arrival, shortly after 10am, my early and non-zoological impression was that the the prints looked like they’d been made by a one-legged deer. Sometimes, people describe an animal that’s missing a leg as “one-legged” when really they mean “three-legged” – and I may not be a zoologist, but I know enough to dismiss the idea of a one-legged deer pogo-ing around the rural landscape.

Mrs Wade recapitulated for the video camera how she’d seen these footprints from her window, had wondered what they were – and had then decided to ring the CFZ.

I was in preliminary investigation mode: rather like Sherlock Holmes, who said it’s a capital error to theorise in the absence of data. So, I just improvised. I’m very unused to studying snowprints, as we don’t get much snow in Devon. Mud, yes. There’s plenty of that in Devon. But mud’s quite a different medium, as sloppy mud doesn’t retain imprint countours and firmer mud doesn’t compact nearly so readily as snow.

Anyhow, the tracks presented a markedly in-line appearance, ie there was no discernable left-right-left-right pattern straddling an imaginary centre line.

I inferred direction of travel from the fact that one end of each track was clearly defined, whereas the other end was blurred. Forward motion of a human in the snow usually shows a well-defined heel print and a scuffed toe impression, so I decided to allow myself that assumption. A working assumption, of course.

The track ran from the far end of the lawn, across the almost-pristine snowy surface (just a few bird prints showed), and petered out at the paved area adjecent to the house, where the snow had already melted. Another linear string of tracks headed back out from the patio area, across the other side of the lawn.

So, with my back to the house, and facing south across the lawn, the inbound track (on my right) approached from the SSW (ie, south-west, but more south than west: a bearing of around 190º, I’d say). On the other side of the patio (my left), the tracks resumed in an arc roughly SSE (bearing 170º) back towards the end of the lawn area. The patio distance between the arrival point and departure point was roughly 20 ft.

Each print was roughly horseshoe-shaped, as if made by a cloven hoof – or two elongated feet close together, that move in unison. A U-shape describes the track quite well; V-shaped equally so. Something inbetween, really.

Devil’s Footprints? Well, the area at the dead centre of each overall shape showed no discernable impaction in the snow. The snow was around 2cm (almost one inch) deep, and a cloven foot would have to have an unusually deep cleft to leave that portion of the snow untouched. However, the sun was already destroying the early-morning evidence, and it was difficult to be sure.

After taking a few pictures, I suddenly had the bright idea of following the prints. Remember, this was 10am in the village of the CFZ, and I’d only had one coffee so far, so I wasn’t firing on all cylinders yet.

I found the garden had a well-defined boundary fencing – nothing that would thwart an intact deer, but definitely one that would make a one-legged deer scratch its head… assuming it had any spare limbs with which to do that, of course…

Following what I felt were the departing tracks, I found they fizzled out at the boundary hedge: snow had fallen on the hedge itself, but none had fallen – or at least none remained – under­ the hedge. So that trail had run cold. As a second-best, I then back-tracked the prints approaching the house, and found they fizzled out in exactly the same manner. However, the snow on each hedge and its associated shrubbery showed no significant disturbance, so I concluded nothing had barged through the foliage since the snowfall.

Inference: something had passed under the hedge? Something pretty small? A Mad March Hare, maybe?

Well, yes - possibly: on considering the matter later on, I decided the entity had not jumped the hedge. There was no snow-scatter (or deeper impression in the lawn itself) that one would expect if something had jumped a barrier several feet high and then landed on the other side. Not that I had ever thought this was seriously the case, but one has to cover all bases – remember, I had set myself the task of gathering data, rather than jumping to conclusions.

Since the snow in the vicinity of the hedge was shaded from the rising sun, there had been little melting, and thus tracks were well-preserved. However, since the snow in Woolsery mainly had arrived on a south-westerly track, approaching the garden from its (roughly) southern aspect, the areas most shielded from the sun had earlier also been well-shielded from the snow! So tracks were better-preserved there, but also less pronounced, since there was less snow to do the preserving in the first place.

If the snow had been borne on a northerly wind, then ingress and egress evidence might have been a lot more conspicuous. Still, there you go: we don’t always get what we wish for, in life, do we?

Observing a crime scene and not jumping to conclusions has been drummed into me by watching many Forensic Detectives shows on Discovery. But I couldn’t help but feel that this was probably tracks of a rabbit or hare. Something that hops with its feet together, anyway. The alternatives – that either a one-legged deer was exploring people’s gardens, or that Woolsery had received its first cloven-hoofed emissary from the Devil – these were both too much to contemplate before my second coffee of the morning!