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, May 19, 2009

NEIL ARNOLD: Crypto Stories From The Illustrated Police News Part 3

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

From 1877 – FEARFUL ENCOUNTER WITH A BOA CONSTRICTOR: ‘A very terrible story reaches us from Texas. A lady, the wife of a merchant named Wilkinson, was, while on the borders of a forest, attacked by a huge boa constrictor, which wound itself around her body, evidently with the intention of crushing her to death. Mr Wilkinson was aroused by his wife’s piercing shrieks, and hastened at once to the spot. Happily, he did not lose his presence of mind, and he at once proceeded to attack the hideous reptile. At such a time moments seem ages. Mr Wilkinson severed the head of the reptile from its body, besides inflicting other injuries. Mrs Wilkinson, during this double encounter became insensible, and it is anticipated that the shock to the system is of so serious a nature that a long time must necessarily elapse before she can hope to recover from the effects of the trial she has undergone.’

From 1876 – A GIRL SEIZED BY A GORILLA: We have received a short report of an incident which occurred a short time ago in Western Africa. Our correspondent gives the following account :- ‘Mr and Mrs Osgood, a Canadian merchant and his wife, have been travelling through several parts of Western Africa. Mr Osgood had betaken himself to the woods, accompanied by a guide and native servant, his object being to shoot wild fowl. His wife and daughter were left on a spot upon which the party had encamped some hours previously. While Mrs Osgood was engaged in domestic duties, her little girl Clara, who was chasing butterflies, uttered a loud scream and her mother was horrified at seeing her clasped in the arms of a monstrous gorilla who was about to bear off. The unhappy lady was perfectly frantic and luckily her husband, who was not far distant, was attracted to the spot by her cries. One barrel of his gun was loaded, he took steady aim, and the whole charge of shot entered the back and posterior of the gorilla, who dropped the child and scampered off, howling in pain.’

THE BIG THREE: Michael Woodley


This evening it is the turn of Michael Woodley, CFZ Press author, star of last year's Weird Weekend, and all round good egg...

My favorite cryptid has to be the merhorse, or if you will 'Cadborosaurus'. If ever there were such a thing as a 'model' cryptid this would have to be it. It perfectly represents the nexus between all of the distinct strands of evidence that should ideally combine to inform cryptozoological research. The historical literature on this cryptid dates back to the 16th century writings of the Swedish ecclesiastic Olas Magnus (after whom its tentative binomial 'Halshipus
olai-magni' was coined by Bernard Heuvelmans), and folk-knowledge of this cryptid appears to be both ancient and culturally diverse. It has to its credit an impressive pedigree of sightings between the 1600's and the 1960's, of which 37 were considered to be 'certain' by Heuvelmans, and then of course there is the Naden Harbor 'Caddy' carcass photograph unearthed by Bill Hagelund in the 80's and made famous by the writings of Paul LeBlond and Edward Bousfield in the 90's, which may well show the remains of a genuine merhorse. Such are the compelling qualities of the data on this cryptid, that Darren Naish, Hugh Shanahan and myself recently published the first 'mainstream' peer-reviewed technical appraisal of it along with its crypto-pinniped cousins the long-necked sea-serpent and the Tizheruk in the pages of the journal Historical Biology. The merhorse may be the catalyst for a far more serious and nuanced scientific interest in cryptozoology than that which has come before.

The Almas are another cryptid kind that fascinates me. Again here we see the enmeshing of various distinct kinds of evidences which combine in this instance to paint an intriguing portrait of a currently unaccounted for hirsute hominid at large in central Asia. Heuvelmans and his colleague Boris Porshnev considered the Almas and their ilk to be 'Neanderthaloid wildmen' and coined a veritable thesaurus of binomial synonyms for them. The theory that they might be relict Neanderthals or Homo erectus is interesting of course, but perhaps the most tantalizing possibility is that they might turn out to be a new species in the genus Homo, the scientific and normative (ethical) implications of which would obviously be enormous.

Finally we come to the Mongolian death worm, a cryptid of such extraordinary characteristics than it can't possibly fail to excite the imagination. Here we have a venom spewing, electro-shock discharging, blood red colored 3-5 foot long 'worm' resembling a piece of cow's intestine which sounds like it belongs in the sort of bad B movies that always ended up getting riffed to pieces on Mystery Science Theatre 3000 back in the 90's. Despite its unlikely combination of traits,
reports of this cryptid (which didn't really enter the cryptozoological limelight until the early to mid 90's) are remarkably consistent at least as far as the deadliness of the cryptid is concerned, and span a respectable stretch of time. Although sightings are few and far between, the witnesses are eclectic and even include a Mongolian premier. It is my belief that many of the characteristics of this cryptid have been either blown out of all proportion or made up entirely. I once suggested some years ago in an article written for the CFZ Yearbook that it might be a new legless caudata (Salamander) species which breeds in the moister, southerly regions of the Mongolian desert and migrates north. Of course I know that Richard Freeman disagrees with me on this one! Ultimately however, only time will tell what is behind the legend of the Mongolian Death Worm.

FOLLOW UP: The Owl Advert

Several people including Kelly from Canada and dear old Nigel W, wrote to point out to me that the mini movie about the owl which shone beams of light from its eyes was actually a complicated advertising stunt by http://www.smamot.com/en/ to flog something called a `smart monitor` which looks far too complicated for someone as dumb as me to understand.

Using a cryptozoological mini movie to sell consumer electronics is a sophisticated and interesting concept, and one which I must admit I find rather impressive..

PRESS RELEASE: 2009 Weird Weekend

Once again, this August, the tiny North Devon village of Woolfardisworthy becomes the weirdest place in the land, as people from all over the world converge upon the Community Centre for the tenth annual Weird Weekend.

The Weird Weekend is the world-famous annual fundraiser for the Devon based Centre for Fortean Zoology – the world’s largest mystery animal research group, and is three days of fun for all the family. There are lectures, films, music and theatre, and the world’s leading experts on a whole range of mysteries.

Highlights this year include:

An Australian naturalist who has spent his life researching the yowie – Australia’s version of the yeti. He even changed his name by deed poll.
An English author now living in Dallas who has uncovered one of the strangest stories of post war USSR: That Stalin hoped to breed a race of super soldiers who were part human, part gorilla.
A much-respected UK investigator tells the strange story of the Big Grey Man of Ben McDhui – a mountain in The Cairngorms

But the Weird Weekend does not just provide a forum for well-established researchers to present their research. MAX BLAKE (18) will be making his conference debut this year with a fascinating account of how creatures unknown to science can turn up in the pet trade. What’s more he will be bringing some of these animals along with him.

There is also a whole programme of events for children; something which makes this event unique. “Unlike other conferences on these subjects” says organizer Jonathan Downes, who celebrates his 50th Birthday the same week as the event, “the Weird Weekend is aimed at the whole family, and at the general public as well as the specialist researcher”.

“The Weird Weekend has become a real community event over the past few years” he continues. “Last year the eldest person through the door was 87, and the youngest only 2”.

It is not just a fundraiser for the CFZ. Local charities also benefit, and it is a showcase for several environmental and animal welfare groups.

The Weird Weekend takes place from 14-16th August 2009, and advance weekend tickets are on sale at £20. For more details telephone Jon or Corinna on 01237 431413


This is a young Komodo dragon that I photographed at London Zoo a couple of years ago, and a species which continues to surprise. Only a few years ago specimens in several zoos reproduced parthogenetically, and now it turns out that thes pecies is venomous.

For years accepted wisdom had always been that the only two venomous lizards in the world were the Gila monster and the beaded lizard, two closely related stumpy beasts from the deserts of the southwestern United States down as far south as Guatamala. As far as I was aware until about ten minutes ago this was still the case, and I was just about to write an "Everything We Know Is Wrong Bloody Hell" piece until I decided to check my facts. The report in The Australian reads in part:

...the lizard uses sharp, serrated teeth to open gaping wounds in its prey into which the venom easily flows. The wounds naturally bleed profusely while compounds in the venom increase blood flow and reduce blood pressure, inducing shock in the victim. They findings debunk a common belief the dragon's prey is killed by deadly bacteria in rotting food stuck in its mouth. "Their teeth are shiny white and their gums pink. They are remarkably clean animals," said Dr Fry, who worked with captive Komodo dragon's in Singapore.

But it also included this tell-tale line:

Komodo dragons lack the grooved-tooth venom delivery system found in other varanids.

What "grooved-tooth venom delivery system found in other varanids" I thought to myself, and did a little digging. Ten minutes later I found a learned paper published in letter form in Nature only three years ago, and entitled Early evolution of the venom system in lizards and snakes. I quote:

Here we report the presence of venom toxins in two additional lizard lineages (Monitor Lizards and Iguania) and show that all lineages possessing toxin-secreting oral glands form a clade, demonstrating a single early origin of the venom system in lizards and snakes.

Bloody Hell. I thought to myself, and carried on reading:

Demonstration that the snakes, iguanians and anguimorphs form a single clade provides overwhelming support for a single, early origin of the venom system in lizards and snakes.

And what's more, there is even a cryptozoological aspect to the story, because it turns out that:

What's more, new research shows that the mega-meat eater probably inherited its "biggest" and "most venomous" mantle from its extinct Australian ancestor, the 7m-long dragon, Megalania, The Australian reports.

And the story ends:

"Australia's Megalania was probably the largest venomous animal that ever lived," he said.

So, I very nearly managed to do what I set out to do at the beginning of this article. I haven't posted an "Everything we knew was wrong" article, but I have posted an "Everything I knew was wrong" article which is the next best thing, because if you can learn something interesting and enlightening each day, like I just have, then life is still definitely worth living.


OLL LEWIS: Yesterday’s News Today


Another day and time for another update of the latest cryptozoology news stories. Brace yourselves ladies and gentlemen.

Hope for Edward the randy emu
Bee population collapse 'could be saved by British species'
Minnesota Zoo lets bears raid campsite
Meet real creatures over May half term
Dolphins seen trying to kill calf

Why do bears have fur coats?Because they'd look odd in a sou'wester.