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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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

NEIL ARNOLD: The Living mermaids

I have known Neil for fifteen years now since he was a schoolboy mod 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...

As mentioned by James Lloyd, in My Circus Life, 1925. A truly wondrous exhibit being a lady and a gentleman, who, for great novelty, sprang into a glass tank, measuring ten-feet in length by eight-feet in width, and consisting of four-feet of water. The individuals, able to sit and play cards, perform somersaults and even drink milk under water for five minutes, were labelled as ‘The Living Mermaids’. However, this peculiar couple were drunkards about town, and so, unable to find a place to stay, it was arranged for the tank to be drained and the performers to spend the night in the tank (still in their mermaid costumes), which had been bedded down with straw and covered over in rugs which acted as a roof.

After one long and tiresome journey, where the couple had indulged upon a bottle of finest whisky for warmth and fallen asleep, the village the wagon arrived at became one of hysteria. Several people had crowded around the tank, for the spectacle before them was one of mystery and fantasy. Beneath the bed of straw and rugs were two ‘mermaids’ lying peacefully, embraced in slumber. Many local folk were afraid to approach the exhibit for some believed that bears or even monkey’s were housed, whilst an Irishman believed that whatever lay in the tank was dead. A small boy approached the tank, only for a women to scream at him, “Come out of that, ye devil. Do ye want to be eaten alive ?”.

When one of the mer-beings flinched, startled observer almost leapt out of his skin and yelled, “What kind of baste it is at all ?”.

The dozing couple then woke, yawned and stretched themselves, without knowledge of their audience. Wishing to visit the nearest public house, they climbed a ladder, and removed their costumes by the time they had reached the pub. One witness exclaimed to Mr Lloyd, “I have studied natural history. Bedad, I never saw nor read of such animals, for mermaids have tails.”

Mr Lloyd replied, “Yes, but these misbehaved themselves, so I cut their tails off.”

The man replied, “You did right, sor.”

When looking back on the drama caused by the ‘mermaids’, Lloyd wrote, ‘This was the big advertisement for me.’

CFZ ARCHIVING PROJECT: The first trenche of big cat clippings

As you know, Oll has been working on the archiving project since early February, and he has just started the Mystery Cat section. The first tranche is from the early to mid 1990s and includes the original reports of the `Durham Puma`


THE BIG THREE: Colin Higgins


One of my favourite guest blogs over the last few weeks has been Colin Higgins from Yorkshire, who - incidentally - was the winner of the compy in January's `On the Track`, where he won my everlasting admiration by recognising Surabaya Johnny by the ever lovely Marianne Faithfull. He also went on the lash with Shane McGowan back in his student days, and is obviously a very fine fellow...

Big Three - Scary Beasties at Home

Giant Pike

One winter’s day I sat in boat with a very successful pike angler and posed the question, ‘Are there any 50lb pike in the UK?’ Without any hesitation he replied, ‘no’. An unambiguous response from a man familiar with 30 lb fish - a size many fishermen spend a lifetime searching for unsuccessfully.

Yet despite his dismissal of the idea history is full of tales of giant Esox, some almost twice as big as our fifty, many undoubtedly mythical, other with a provenance more compelling. Official rod-caught records from these islands are all inside the half-century weight, while the largest known European pike checked in at 67.1 lbs. Beyond these attested figures captors and weights are fuzzy but beguiling: The Great Pike of Whittlesea Mere, Mr Holmes of Wargrave’s pike, Mr. J. J. Dempsey’s Boatman’s pike, The Irish Constabulary pike, The Knock Ross pike, Owen Owen’s pike, The Lough Derg pike, topped by a monster of 90 lbs killed with an oar.

Modern giants are usually found in large waters, typically reservoirs stocked for trout fishing. Stock fish eaters tend to be fast growing, short-lived individuals whereas pike necessary to meet the size of legend thrived on neglect - or at least neglect by anglers and fishery proprietors.
One of the principal food targets for large pike is smaller pike, a fact ignored or forgotten by riparian owners who set nets to catch big predators in the belief they’re protecting trout and salmon stocks. The converse is the case with a large number of small pike eating their way rapidly through the food chain, a situation going some way to ensuring the giants of yore are no longer to be found.

Ah, you say, but are people safe having a quick dip or will we be devoured by a freshwater shark? Incidents of pike attacking humans appear when a pond has somehow been denuded of prey fish, inviting the starving esox to make fast and loose with a bather’s limbs. None are fatal but bites are painful. Pike have been known to bite the noses of horses and cattle, including a case where the frightened beast ran panic stricken across a field with the fish attached, as well as dogs and cats.

While I’m more hesitant than m’learned mate in limiting the potential size of domestic pike I’d bet on other species as likely fodder for lake monsters legends.

Black Dogs

I know, I know. We’re supposed to be sticking to animals that have a chance of existing not bugbears, spooks, zooforms and the products of imagination or Brown Ale. Yet if out of place felines, why not corporeal - or at least momentarily solid - giant canines?
A lot of postulating has accreted around black dogs and into the Fortean consciousness; they are guardians, place spirits, remnants of old religions, tulpas of a former age. Each notion as good as the next but I’m interested in the recurring motif; a dog in a nation familiar with dogs but excessively large, mostly black and associated with roads and tracks.

Each year the family travel to Hodsock Priory, an historic house in North Nottinghamshire and sometime home to the Sheriff of Nottingham (a mental image of Basil Rathbone in tights is never far away) for the wonderful display of snowdrops. I’m always ready for new growth at that time of year and the grounds are festooned in a mass of small white flower heads poking through seemingly dead winter ground. It’s as good a place as any to top up on hope and ponder the numinous in nature but a strange incident took place here in early summer. On 11th May 1991 at 2.14am the road nearby was subject to what appears to be an archetypal black dog sighting.

Victoria Rice-Heaps’ was travelling from her boyfriend’s house when the car headlights picked out two eyes some distance ahead of her small Fiat and she slowed to a crawl. She had grown up with dogs all her life but what emerged was notably different. “It had very shiny fur and a short coat, the nearest thing I’ve seen to it in size was a Great Dane, but it had a good 18” over a dog of that breed. It’s ears were erect and it appeared to be dragging something quite large across the road.”

Another vehicle approached and the driver of a red Montego estate wound down the window to ask if anything was wrong. Victoria wanted to know if he could see the animal? “At this moment he shouted ‘Oh Jesus’ and sped off into the night.” By the time she looked again the dog had disappeared.

As ever such reports have to be taken on face value but of all the creatures reported Black Dogs are one of the least likely to suffer misidentification. Are BDs be any more unreal than big cats and other crypto fauna, or a different manifestation of the same thing?

British Great White Sharks

The greatest marine predator of them all in local waters? No definitive proof of British GWS and the poor creatures are becoming scarce in the Atlantic but certainly possible. One was recorded from the mouth of the Loire, another caught off La Rochelle and in the west from the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in Newfoundland, so England is potentially within their territory. Prof. Compagno in ‘Sharks of the World’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) catalogue extends the Great White’s range to include the English Channel, North and Irish Sea, though without specific evidence.

Periodic tabloid madness, usually to coincide with the summer season has tales of half-bitten seals or dodgy video footage of GWS in British waters, almost certainly Porbeagles or Mako. Even so a few such reports seem better informed and fish caught in nets are larger than might be expected for Mako. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find concrete evidence Carcharodon carcharias had been noshing on local pinnipeds, particularly when you consider a tropical nurse shark has been photographed by divers off Alderney and comber and louvar have been caught on the south coast in these globally warmed times.

They are my Big 3 this week, ask again Jon and they might be different!

REPORT: Stranded dolphins in Australia


I am very proud of young Jordan Warner. Single handedly, at the age of fifteen, he produced a series of webTV shows on cryptozoology, despite grumpiness and an unhelpful reception from some people who really should have known better. We were so impressed with what he had achieved using Microsoft Movie Maker that we gave him a copy of a more sophisticated editing package - Magix Movie Edit Pro (which is what we use), and were a bit shaken up when he announced that he was so excited about the new package that he was cancelling his show Cryptid Hunt and restarting it next year, edited to higher specifications.

He has just released a few short films only a few minutes long, which are well worth seeing:


The other day I had quite an angry, though perfectly polite e-mail from someone who complained that me blogging on political issues (Ken Salazar refusing to overturn the rulings put in place by the Bush administration re. polar bears) had no place in a cryptozoological forum, and if I were to use the words `Capitalist` and `Scum` again in the same sentance would I kindly remove him from my mailing list. On the same day I received an abusive e-mail from someone claiming that I was `trying to destroy the American way of lif [sic]` and a `Commie`, neither of which are true.
However, at the risk of alienating some of my readers, and I sincerely hope that I do nothing of the sort, I have no intention of stopping blogging on political concerns. Because the world in which we find ourselves living at the end of the first decade of the 21st Century is a partiucularly disturbing one.
George Monbiot writes in today's Guardian:
"Why is the Medical Research Council run by an arms manufacturer? Why is the Natural Environment Research Council run by the head of a construction company? Why is the chairman of a real estate firm in charge of higher education funding for England?

Because our universities are being turned by the government into corporate research departments. No longer may they pursue knowledge for its own sake: now the highest ambition to which they must aspire is finding better ways to make money."
And that is basically what I have been saying for years. And that is why I believe that the CFZ is so important. Because of what we do we are particularly popular with young people, and over the past decade I have found that the quest for monsters is actually a great way of encouraging an interest in the long lost arcane arts of Natural History. And in many cases the CFZ is the first model thatb they have become acquainted with of an organisation who's only reason for existing is to push back the boundaries of human knowledge. Pro Bona Causa Facimus as I believe Cicero said.
So am I going to continue to attack greed, stupidity, and unbridled capitalism without a trace of morals and /or ethics?
Hell Yeah.
And am I going to continue to use the words `Capitalist Scum` when appropriate.
Probably. Sorry guys.

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday’s News Today


It’s time for a recap of the latest cryptozoology news, courtesy of the CFZ’s cryptozoology news blog, but first there is the important matter of the biscuit of the week. In the shop today I came across a thing of wonder, strawberry jaffa cakes. I know that jaffa cakes are technically mere pretenders to the biscuity crown but such a monumental development in the biscuit and related confections world surely deserves a mention and indeed to gain this weeks biscuit of the week title. And now, the news:

Basking sharks return to Cornwall
Hand-beast prints found on isle
It's a Skull, But What Kind?
Whistling orangutan cuts a disc
Injured foal is treated
According to the article the horse was injured in an accident, but no ‘foal’ play is suspected.