Saturday, March 21, 2009
It is an absolutely enormous collection of bird related clippings which include stories on elephant birds, and thunderbirds, as well as new and rediscovered bird species and a whole host of other things of interest.
Thank you to everyone who has shown interest in helping with the indexing. Today is the first day for a fortnight that I have not felt like an extra from Zombie Flesh Eaters and I shall be catching up with my enormous backlog of emails over the next few days..
The ‘flat snake’, a yokai that may have its roots in reality. Tsuchinoko is reported to be one to three feet long with a dorso-ventraly compressed body. It has horn like ridges above the eyes and dorsal pits. The head is triangular and the neck well defined. It is thought to be venomous. It is described as being black or rust coloured. It is supposed to have an odor like chestnut tree flowers!
In legend it has a liking for alcohol, can speak and can hold it’s tail in its mouth and roll along like a hoop (such stories are common in western snake legends as well). It is also said to progress in a series of hopping motions.
The creature is known as Bachi hebi in Northeastern Japan and tsuchi-hebi. It is also said to live in Korea. This yokai has a long history. Drawings resembling Tsuchinoko on stoneware dating back to the ancient Jōmon Period (14,000 BC to 300 BC.) have been discovered in Gifu and Nagano. An encyclopedia from the Edo Period contains a description of the tsuchinoko under the name Yatsui hebi. Accounts of the Tsuchinoko can also be found in the Kojiki, Japan’s oldest surviving book from 680 AD.
But this is a yokai that is still reported in modern times. In June, 1994, 73 year old Kazuaki Noda was cutting grass with his wife when they came across a huge snake with a thick body like a beer bottle and a head described as being like that of a tortoise.
On May 8th, 2000, 90 year old farmer Sugie Tanaka was out looking for bamboo shoots in Mikata, Hyogo prefecture, when she happened across two metallic coloured snakes with what she described as “tails like rats.”
On May 21st 2000 in Yoshi, Okayama prefecture, a farmer cutting grass saw one of these weird serpents slithering across his field. He said it’s face reminded him of the popular Japanese cartoon cat Doraemon. He slashed at it with his weed whipper but it escaped into a stream. He said he had heard of the creatures before and thought they make a kind of chirping sound.
Four days later seventy two year old Hideko Takashima found the creature’s body lying beside a stream. Government officials collected the body and sent it to Kawasaki University of Medical Welfare to be examined. Professor Kuuniyasu Saton examined and said that the creature may indeed have been the beast referred to as Tsuchinoko in ancient legends but “scientifically speaking, it was a kind of snake.”
If the professor ever established the species or if it was indeed a new species is unknown.
A live Tsuchinoko was reportedly captured in Mikata on June 6th, 2000. It was supposedly put on display in a glass box in the Mikata’s visitor center. It may well have been a hoax to drum up publicity for the Tsuchinoko hunts held each year in the area.
Also in June, 2000. 82 year old Mitsuko Arima saw a Tsuchinoko swimming along a river. She described its eyes as being the most striking feature, saying “I can still see the eyes now. They were big and round and it looked like they were floating on the water.” She added “I’ve lived for over 80 years but I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”
Other supposed bodies of this animal have turned up. In Mikata, (the area said to have the highest concentration of sightings in Japan) a corpse was found by four loggers in the Spring of 2001. The body was actually turned over to the Japan Snake Center in Gunma prefecture, where an analysis was done on it that confirmed it as a common grass snake. Another body was found by a villager near Mikata around the same time in May that year, and it too was turned in to the same center for examination. It was determined to be a rat snake.
Back in 1969 A live Tsuchinoko was reportedly captured in by an M. Tokutake in Mikata. He supposedly captured it with a forked stick and kept it for a couple of days before deciding to eat it.
According to Naoki Yamaguchi, who has interviewed over 200 eyewitnesses and is author of the book Catching the Illusory Tsuchinoko, the specially organized mass searches are of little use. The searchers do not go far enough into the wilderness. Most sightings are by hikers, fishermen and loggers.
If Tsuchinoko is a real creature then it seems probable to me that it is an aberrant species of pit viper (Crotalinae). The flattening of the body could enable the snake to hide in rock crevices. There is a president for thin in reptiles. The chuckwalla (Sauromalus) are a genus comprising of five species of Iguanid lizards of the arid areas of the southern USA.
The Pancake tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri) of eastern Africa has a flattened shell so it can slide into crevices. It is not impossible that Japan, a country with a surprising number of snake species) plays host to an undiscovered pit viper of unique form and one of the most ancient yokai is in fact very real.
They were black white feathers on their wings with black crests. The male had red sides to his crest. The crests curled more than those of the ivory bill. The imperial woodpecker fed by ripping up the bark of dead pines to find burrowing insects and there lava. They like old growth montane forest made up of pines like the Durango, Mexican white, Montezuma and the wonderfully named loblolly pine. They would also feed from oaks.
The imperial woodpecker is believed to have become extinct in the 1950s due to deforestation of its home range as well as hunting both adult birds and chicks for food and quack medicines. Since the 1950s there have been only a handful of sightings. The last know individual was shot in 1959. The last sighting was in 2005.
Most of this bird’s original habitat has gone. Chances of its survival do not look good. But then again we thought that about the great ivory bill.
Moving on around ten years and suddenly punk got political and everyone decided that they'd invented DIY and we weren't talking Sunday afternoon discounts at B+Q and Homebase. We were talking all manner of magazines - some produced with letraset on the kitchen table, others produced using an old fashioned qwerty typewriter and stuck together with loose fitting staples or bits of sellotape that had a tendency to do their own thing.
The days of letraset and printed home brew were, of course, almost ended with the advent of desktop publishing and CFZ Media has sought to use all the very latest means at its disposal to bring you, the reader and consumer, the highest quality publications. It is gratifying to hear the "wows" and "oohs" when our latest book is published and it exceeds the expectations of the customer.
But it is not just about making nice books to make ourselves feel better and/or to see our names on hobbyist's shelves. It is all about helping to raise the scientific credibility of our subject in general and we should all be working to the very highest standards. As some of you may know, we have a working relationship with a leading printing company so there is no limit on the quantity of material we can produce or the quality available to us. It is bookshop standard every time!
I spent five years in journalism, worked as a magazine editor on a number of news-stand publications and produced a number of bespoke B2B publications from cradle to grave so I know how hard it is to get everything right and yet the CFZ is doing this, and better every time.
It is not a job that just one person can do and the effort involved, especially on specialist publications where there are many Latin names to get right (!), is tremendous. Hundreds of man hours were dedicated, for example, to the production of Neil Arnold's fascinating new book on Mystery Animals of Kent. This book was especially long as Neil, a noted expert and activist in terms of tracking down the ever elusive native British big cat, had written one of the most in-depth manuscripts ever handled by the CFZ. Dozens of photographs and news clippings were included as well and it simply doesn't do him justice to call his book a "labour of love" because it asks difficult questions about some of the amateurs out there seeking to claim Big Cat Research as theirs.
The tale began when the corpse of a half eaten ewe was discovered on the fells above Ennerdale Water. The victim was soon followed by others, as the culprit killed evey night. Farmers and shepherds patrolled the hills, but the creature remained unseen.
Such was the quantity and ferocity of the attacks; that natural predators, like foxes, were discounted. As local farmers became worried, posses of men and dogs scoured the area. But the beast evaded them. It never attacked the same flock on consecutive nights. Its uncanny elusiveness caused superstitious ramblings among the villagers. More fuel was added to this growing fire when the beast began to show some disturbing eating habits. Many carcasses were left mostly uneaten, but the blood had been drained from their wounds, as a vampire would do.
Finally, someone caught a glimpse of the creature. A shepherd watching his flock at dawn saw the killer, but its description brought even more confusion. It was like a tawny-coloured dog, with dark, tiger stripes. quite unlike anything he had ever seen before.
The Dalesfolk argued over the identity of this strange beast: as to whether it was a wolf, or a lion, or a tiger? Some even believed it to be a supernatural entity, touting its love of blood as 'proof'. Around this time the name 'Girt Dog' was coined. Another queer attribute of the 'Girt Dog' was its effect on normal dogs. Fell sheepdogs would cower in its proximity, and refuse to follow its spoor. More proof of its diabolical nature, whispered the locals. Hunting dogs were brought in to replace the sheepdogs and a pack was collected to hunt down the killer. After days of hunting, the pack finally tracked down the 'Girt Dog' and forced it to break cover. It tried to run. but the hounds soon caught up with it. the 'Girt Dog' turned on its pursuers with unbelievable savagery, killing several hounds swiftly. The rest at the pack scattered in terror and the monster escaped. Obviously no normal dog could have caused such a bloody rout.
The farmers changed tactics and littered the hillsides with poisoned sheep cadavers. The'Girt Dog', however, disdained carrion, preferring to rend and slay amidst the living flocks. As the bodycount rose, rewards were offered for anyone who could end this reign of terror. Once a group of armed men had the beast encircled. The creature charged at one of the men, who lost his nerve and threw himself aside. Unfortunately. an elderly man, Jack Wilson, who was also quite deaf, was collecting firewood close by. The 'Girt Dog' ran straight through his legs and bowled him over. Jack swore that it was more like a girt lion than a girt dog.
Professional huntsmen were called in. but had no more luck. The 'Girt Dog' led many on a wild goose chase. Up to 100 mounted men with packs of dogs failed to catch it. Finally. on September l3th 1810, the 'Girt Dog' was surrounded and shot. Incredibly it escaped despite its wound and ran towards the River Ehen. Here it was found cooling its injury and ran once more to Eskat (Eskett) Wood. where it made its last stand. Flushed from cover, mortally wounded, the huntsmen's dogs closed in and tore it to shreds.
What little was left of the bizarre predator was sent to Keswick Museum, and mounted as a specimen. Sadly, Keswick Museum closed in 1876 and no record was kept of what happened to the exhibits. So ends this weird tale. What are we to make of it? well, we have some intriguing clues.
The 'Girt Dog' displayed some characteristics which were very unlike any dog. All the witnesses described it as being striped. There are no striped dogs, but this animal must have sufficiently resembled a dog to have been given the name 'Girt Dog'. The animal drank its victim's blood, while often leaving the flesh untouched. All canids eat the meat of their prey. It terrified ordinary dogs, and easily killed hunting dogs, even when outnumbered.
Only one animal could account for these descriptions - the Thylacine. The striped coat and blood drinking behaviour of the marsupial wolf is well known. Tasmanian hunters described how it could bite through a dogs skull with ease and Sir Richard Owen described it as "the most fell beast of prey". This hypothesis may seem fantastic at first, but let us examine some facts.
The thylacine did not suffer from serious persecution until the 1860s. In 1810, it was still a common animal. In Tasmania, where many were kept in captivity, there were no laws governing zoos at the time and although there were only a few sedentary zoos in Britain in the 1800s; there were many travelling zoos. These appalling institutions consisted of caged animals being carted around Britain by horse-drawn carriage. This must have been a terrible ordeal for both the exhibits and the horses.
Perhaps the best known of these was the infamous Wonbwell's Travelling Menagerie. As well as the stock-in-trade such as bears, lions, tigers and monkeys; Wonbwell's also exhibited rarer animals, such as snow leopards. It is even thought that they possessed a gorilla, without even knowing it! Apparently mis-labelled as a chimp. It would have been the first gorilla in Britain, (gorillas were as unknown as yetis until the 1840s). Zoological accuracy was not a high priority in these establishments. It is not out of the question that a travelling zoo had thylacines in its collection, and that one of them had escaped in the Lake District in 1810. Remember there was no television or radio then and many people were illiterate, especially in the countryside. Most people knew nothing of natural history beyond their own country, hence the confusion the 'Girt Dog' caused.
Enquiries at the new Keswick Museum drew a blank. As did those at other Lake District museums, Libraries and Historic Societies. No records of the whereabouts of the stuffed specimens were kept. One hopes that the museums stock was sold on, rather than just thrown away.
Very little of the 'Girt Dog' would remain now, but it isn't beyond all hope that somewhere, in some dusty basement or attic, is still a skull labelled 'wolf' or 'dog', which has too many incisors and opens far too wide to be either species.
Time for you daily round up of cryptozoology news as posted upon the CFZ news blog by the hard working Mr Wilson. Also by my increasingly vague and random time-table of things to recommend it’s more or less tea time, so this weeks tea is Russian Caravan tea, enjoy. Now for the news:
Meet Robo-Croc: Ten-foot crocodile gets four metal plates and 41 screws in his head after reconstructive surgery
Crypto-zoologists seek to discover the unlikely
The Ice Age Didn't Affect Irish Frogs
DNA study: Diversity low among seals
Female Mammals Select Only the Right Partners
Elephant dies at Disney's Animal Kingdom
When ‘conservation’ is not in the animal’s best interest
Eating the enemy
Dog eats $400 in cash
Pink elephant is caught on camera
Salami... 'It's a bit of an animal'
'Large cat-like creatures' may be prowling around Palisades
DNR: Loose panther unlikely
Jellyfish a cure for mozzies
Giant prawn was king of the early seas
The CFZ news blog, now featuring hard-core prawn.