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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Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Part of my daily duties at here at the CFZ nerve-centre is the digitization of our clippings archive. It was a few weeks ago that I scanned in articles from a number of national news papers from the day the famous ‘surgeon’s photo’ which was meant to depict the loch ness monster was reviled to be hoax devised by Marmaduke Wetherell. Since that day very few newspapers have taken cryptozoology seriously, using the skewed logic that if there are hoaxes about then EVERYTHING must be in some why phoney or a joke. Now, if you read the CFZ’s output you’ll know that’s not the case, off the top of my head I can think of several examples of cryptozoologists being proved right. Two cases I’ve investigated personally spring to mind: the beast of Baglan and the afanc of Llangorse Lake. People often conveniently forget that its not just cryptozoologists who can be hoodwinked, this can happen to mainstream scientists too. There are numerous cases where respectable scientists and even the whole institutions and scientific disciplines are duped, in some cases a hoax has, for a time, become ‘scientific fact’. One of those cases is that of Piltdown Man.

On the 18th of December 1912 the story broke in several national newspapers of the discovery of ‘the Earliest Englishman’ by an amateur archaeologist named William Dawson in a gravel pit in Piltdown, Sussex. The leading anthropologists of the day and experts from the British Museum were quick to declare the find authentic and the species was given the name Eoanthropus dawsonii, ‘Dawson’s Dawn Man’. The reconstruction of Piltdown Man’s skull was placed alongside that of other early human species and was at the time cited as the missing link between humans and apes that proved Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Although most at the time agreed with the findings there were a few detractors notably Marcellin Boule and Gerrit Smith Miller, who identified the lower jaw as belonging to an ape, and Franz Weidenreich who identified the skull as being that of a modern human and the jawbone being that of an orang-utan. Weidenreich was completely correct in his analysis, but the British scientific establishment were not about to accept his word for it, especially when the discovery of an early hominid on British soil gave them such a patriotic glow and the specimen supported Sir Arthur Keith’s evolutionary theory, that large brains came first in evolution, something which the discovery of australopithecines in Africa did not. Dawson made it even easier for the scientists to accept the hoax as ‘the real deal’ by discovering another specimen just down the road from where he had found the first (what luck!).

The scientists didn’t question the ‘prehistoric’ bone cricket bat found with the specimen (surely the fact that Piltdown man played a sort of proto-cricket was more proof of his English credentials) or Dawson’s other ‘discoveries’ including fake Chinese bronze vases and ‘Roman’ statues. Faked items and accounts of Dawson’s that will be of interest to cryptozoologists include that of a sea serpent in the English Channel, a toad entombed in a flint found in Brighton and a ‘missing link’ between mammals and reptiles that had been constructed as a biological cut and shut similar to Piltdown Man. Over time Piltdown man fell out of favour because it just didn’t make sense when viewed in connection with other hominid finds and it was conclusively proved to be a hoax once and for all in 1953 by the British Museum’s Kenneth Oakly who used his new technique of radioactive fluorine dating to prove the skull fragments were thousands of years older than the jaw fragments.

Whether Dawson, or indeed Wetherell for that matter, intended for their hoaxes to grow to the level they did is unknown, but they both went to their graves without revealing their duplicity to the public. If one views them as eccentric pranksters then you can perhaps imagine their dismay when their jokes became regarded as fact and them being too embarrassed to come clean because of the possible fall out gradually digging themselves deeper and deeper into their holes, if one is not as charitable they can be viewed as malicious idiots who set the course of investigation and scientific understanding back by decades and resulted in otherwise brilliant scientists wasting their careers on smoke and mirrors.

RICHARD "aren't I cheeky?" FREEMAN: Newspaper related hilarity and newspaper website related chuckles.

A few days ago Mark North sent me a link to a story on the Dorset Echo website. It ran as follows.

Jurassic lark for Kingston Maurward students
10:01am Thursday 19th March 2009
By Miriam Philips

A GROUP of 14 student revellers were caught red handed in Dorchester pushing a giant dinosaur model through the town. The Kingston Maurward students were out on a farewell celebration when they embarked on a mission to take the giant model of a triceratops belonging to Dorchester’s Dinosaur Museum through the town.

The triceratops guards the entrance to the attraction in Icen Way, just off High East Street in Dorchester. The students got the model dinosaur over the railings, and were in the process of walking it towards South Street when they were stopped by the police just after midnight on Wednesday.

One of the students emailed the pictures to the Dorset Echo.

He said: “One of the other guys on the course said he’d always wanted to try and get the dinosaur up to the Top o’Town roundabout and wanted to know if we were all up for it. They caught 14 of us in the high street. We’d managed to get it half-way up the street. The police asked us to take it back which we did willingly and I have to admit they found it quite funny.

They were amazed at how organised we were. We drew maps and everything. Loads of people were hanging out of their windows taking photos and no doubt calling the police.”

The police told the students to take the dinosaur back and the students apologised to the museum manager for the damage they caused. The student added: “We were really sorry for causing any hassle and we are in the process of paying for the slight damages that the triceratops sustained whilst we lifted it over the fence.”

A police spokesman said that officers responded to a call from someone in Dorchester saying that youths had taken a model dinosaur from the museum and they were dragging it along the road. Inspector Les Fry of Dorchester Police said it was the first time he had heard of someone taking the dinosaur in the town. The young people involved have apologised to the manager of the museum both verbally and in writing.

“This was an ill-advised prank and I would advise against such action,” he added. A spokesman for the college said: “We do understand that some of our students were involved the taking of the dinosaur. It was a spur of the moment thing. Naturally, as a college we don’t support this kind of behaviour and we have spoken to those involved,” she added.

The manager of the museum, Tim Batty, declined to comment and he said the matter was in the hands of the police. The award winning Dinosaur Museum combines life-sized reconstructions of dinosaurs with fossils and skeletons.

On reading this I joined the Dorset Echo website with mischief on my mind and posted the following comment.

“Triceratops was from the Cretaceous not the Jurassic! Such a wanton lack of research makes me want to vomit with rage! I’m going to have to have a drink to calm me down, as my hands are shaking with rage.” Richard Freeman

Mark got back to me yesterday with a new link. My comic antics had been reproduced in the actual newspaper! A copy is reproduced below for your merriment:

MUIRHEAD'S MYSTERIES: A giant basking shark and three white hares

Richard Muirhead is an old friend of the CFZ. I have been friends with him for 40 years now, since we were kids together in Hong Kong. He is undoubtedly one of the two best researchers I have ever met; he and Nigel Wright both have what Charlie Fort would have no doubt called a wild talent; a talent for going into a library, unearthing a stack of old newspapers, and coming back with some hitherto overlooked gem of arcane knowledge. Twice a week he wanders into the Macclesfield Public Library and comes out with enough material for a blog post..

I`ve been ill in bed most of the day with an appalling cough and cold but fortunately I have a small back log of animal stories from the pages of the Macclesfield Courier from late 1812 to mid 1813: Selling a basking shark for £600 seems alot even by early 19th century standards:

"Another fish of the basking shark species,measuring in length 32ft, girth 19ft,caught off Brighton on Friday se`nnight* (sic), in the herring nets of an industrious fishermen,named Collins-sold next day by Dutch auction,for £600 to some person who mean to exhibit it in London." Macclesfield Courier December 12th 1812. p.3.
This would make it one of the largest ever basking sharks? And if it was not a basking shark, what was it?
"A few days ago three white hares were found in a field of Mr Maws(?)of Hacknew(?) near Scarbro`about one month old."
Macc.Courier June 25th 1813.
* Se'nnight = seven nights (one week), an archaic usage, though fortnight (14 nights, or two weeks) is still widely used


OLL LEWIS: Yesterday’s News Today


Hello, its time for a news update isn’t it? Here we go, the latest happenings from The CFZ news blog:

Arkansas Fights Creepy
Brazen turkeys ruffle feathers at Mich. business
Who gave a home to elephant Sheila?
9-foot dinosaur skeleton is no-sale at auction
Runaway kangaroos on the loose in France

The kangaroo’s owners are ‘hopping’ mad about vandals setting them loose (oh, come on you knew that one was coming as soon as you saw the word kangaroo).


Three new sea-serpents waiting to be discovered

Three new large marine mammals, so-called sea-serpents, are extremely likely to be discovered according to researchers.

In a paper published today, a team of scientists conclude that three new unusual species might await discovery, all of which may belong to the group of marine mammals known as pinnipeds. The best known pinnipeds are seals, sea lions and walruses.

The team used a combination of statistical analysis and eyewitness reports to evaluate the existence of unknown large sea animals.

Led by doctoral student Mr Michael Woodley of Royal Holloway, University of London, who worked with Dr Darren Naish of the University of Portsmouth, and Dr Hugh Shanahan, also of Royal Holloway, the team used two different statistical models to estimate the number of unknown pinnipeds. The paper was published in the academic journal Historical Biology.

“While the low number of three possible new pinniped species matched our statistical expectations, there is a need for scepticism as all known pinnipeds are noisy animals with close ties to land”, said Mr Woodley.

“These pinnipeds would have to possess some exceptional characteristics, if they exist.”

One of the team’s two models suggested that 15 such species might remain to be discovered, however that was regarded as a significant overestimation, Mr Woodley said.

According to the researchers the discovery of several large marine animals during the last 30 years demonstrates that there are sea mammals in existence which have so far remained undiscovered.

Examples of these animals include the Lesser or Peruvian beaked whale, a strikingly marked whale from the eastern Pacific, which was discovered in 1975; the Megamouth, a giant, filter-feeding shark known from tropical seas worldwide, discovered in 1976; and the Indonesian coelacanth, a deep-sea fish with a striking metallic sheen, was discovered in 1998. Omura’s whale, a close relative of the gigantic Blue whale, was only discovered in the late 1970s.

The study of animals that have yet to be verified by science – sea-serpents and similar enigmatic creatures – is known as cryptozoology. According to Mr Woodley, cryptozoological literature includes hundreds of accounts of mysterious large marine animals, many going back hundreds of years.

“Many sightings have been made by trained observers, including military personnel and experienced naturalists,” he said.

“Over the years, cryptozoologists have suggested that several sea-serpents might be unusual types of pinniped.”

Among the best known of these is a creature sometimes called the merhorse. Supposedly a gigantic, long-bodied, deep-water animal 4 to 30 meters long, it is not only known from sightings, but also from a carcass found in the stomach of a whale in 1937.

A second relevant mystery animal is the long-necked sea-serpent, supposedly a plesiosaur-like sea lion with a 2-3 meter long neck. A third creature is the Tizheruk, a semi-mythological seal-like water monster of the Pacific Arctic is described as long-bodied, and with a snake-like head.

“We consider that if such creatures as the merhorse and long-necked sea-serpent exist, they must be extremely rare. They must also dwell in remote and seldom visited regions of the oceans,” said Mr Woodley.

It was actually me who introduced Darren to Michael last August at the Weird Weekend, so I can take some degree of credit for all this.

But that is what the CFZ, and in particular the Weird Weekend is all about. A Conference should be more than just a social occasion; it should be a place where new allegiances are forged and new working relationships made. This proves that the Weird Weekend and the CFZ are doing their job.

LINDSAY SELBY: A big cat blog

My Impressions Of The Big Cat Conference 22/03/09.

I was only able to attend the final day of the conference but all the displays were still up. As I hadn’t been through Middlesbrough, where the conference was held, in over 20 years, it was decided Daughter would drive and I would navigate. We missed the turn off for the hotel and had to turn back (that road wasn’t there last time I came here, I pointed out to daughter who just sighed) but made it about on time.

The room was upstairs ( I believe there was a lift for disabled access), however not wanting to appear an old crock, I struggled up the stairs. Daughter was about 3 miles ahead at this point and had found the room. Walking in ,there was a desk and a lady with a smile ,who welcomed us and assured us we weren’t late. I had to of course buy a Tee shirt...been there ,done that , bought the tee shirt. The room was set out with displays all around the sides and a group of chairs in front of a flip chart. I got daughter taking photos whilst I stroked the model cats. (Well it was Mothering Sunday in the UK).

The day started with people voting, via filling in a chart, with what workshops they would like. All very democratic and nicely done. I noticed there were a lot more men than women present and estimated about 25 people were there, possibly more.
The three workshops organised themselves and we attended the one on: Is there a viable population of Big Cats and if so should we do anything about it?
The two other workshops were: Field evidence -what to look for, and Why is there an absence of bodies and photos. I noticed the field evidence one was all males.

Our workshop seemed to go well and no one seemed to mind me asking questions or taking notes. We came up with the answers you would expect that we need to prove they are here first .It was suggested a computer programme could be set up too look at probability of a population. As they are not causing a problem to humans or livestock nothing need be done.

The other workshops results were also fed back to the whole group.
Workshop Field Evidence - what to look for: Conclusion: problems of identification especially other animals being present. Jonathan McGowan who lead the workshop seemed very well informed and professional.

Workshop Absence of bodies and photos. Conclusion: Low in numbers therefore not many bodies plus they tend to disappear (possibly road cleaners). The use of poor equipment e.g. camera on phone photos not clear enough, and also the shock of seeing something unusual makes the photos shaky.

After a coffee break (as some dispute seemed to be going on over a photo being genuine or not), Two interesting people that I had talked to before coffee did their turn: Brian Percival and Sam Ingleston
These two artists who used their art as part of education, had done a performance art as big cat hunters. They were working with Bolton Museum. This lead to a cast of a big cat footprint being found at Bolton Museum which they used to involve local schools. Schools went big cat hunting and documented local flora and fauna and finding out of place animals. Displays and a book produced won the schools a prize. So Cryptozoology as an educational tool, which I found a great concept. The artists are now also making card and board games to use with groups to produce discussion and are basing one on Big Cat hunting.
Next up was Dr Peter McCue a retired clinical psychologist who talked about Cannock Chase as a hot spot, a window for strange phenomena including big cats. Then we broke for lunch and I chatted to Peter over sandwiches and another interesting man whose back ground was micro biology. It was a very intriguing conversation.

After lunch it was Rick Minter who is a social scientist, who I believe works in ecology. He talked about big cats being out of people’s comfort zone and the difficultly to get people to report sightings. I pointed out that many people would not have said they were coming to this conference because anything seen as an interest in a fringe subject can impact on jobs and family. Unfortunately It was running quite late at this point so we had to leave so missed Jonathan McGowan’s talk on recognising signs of big cats.Our overall impression was that there were good display materials and opportunities to ask questions and discuss aspects of the phenomena, without feeling intimidated. People came to talk to us about who we were and said what they did, and generally made us feel welcome. There was a great enthusiasm about people, and some wonderful characters. We enjoyed the day. Obviously, as in all conferences, there were undercurrents of different camps people belonged to and disputes, but on the whole is was good natured and certainly not as belligerent as some academic conferences I have attended.

GAVIN LLOYD WILSON: Winged Cat Adventure..

I was having an online chat with a friend of mine and we got on to talking about spineless hedgehogs and the like, and he told me that he'd once seen a winged cat but no one has ever believed him. I asked him for more details and his reply was as follows:

The Great Winged Cat Adventure.

The facts are a little fuzzy now, but I'll relate as best I can. This occurred around 4 or 5 years ago. A friend and I had been out one evening and had a couple of drinks, not enough to cloud our judgement I might add and as we wandered back to his house (in Hordle, Hants) on his driveway was a dark coloured, fluffy cat. It showed interest in us as we approached and got up to have a look at us.
It was then that we saw it had what looked like a whole bunch of extra 'material' on its back. We both walked up to the cat to have a closer look and were amazed to see two largeish appendages on it's back. Both of us were fully aware of winged cats and could not believe we had a real example of one right in front if us. We tried to examine the cat but it wasn't too happy with the attention and decided to wander off.
But in that time we were able to touch the 'wings' and as I recall they were firm to the touch (covered in fur of course) and were not symmetrical. I think they emerged from its back close to the front shoulders. Whether they were composed of matted fur or if there were fur covered fleshy growths we couldn't tell. I think they were maybe around 5 or 6 inches in length and about 3 inches wide and reasonably flat.
As I said it decided to wander off and by the time we had bundled in to the house to get a camera and got back out side it had gone. We have never seen it again. No one believes us! There endeth the story.

The images, by the way, are not terribly good, but do show a bona fide winged cat, once owned by our long-standing Surrey representative Nick Smith back in 1998..