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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Thursday, May 28, 2009


I have known Graham for twenty odd years now. And when I say odd, I mean odd. However, the bloody man never ceases to amaze me. He is an eminently capable fellah, as Bertie Wooster once remarked to Stilton Cheesewright about Reginald Jeeves, and he can turn his hand to almost anything around the house and grounds.

Biggles, as you know, has been making bids for freedom over the last few weeks, and has escaped succesfully on several occasions.

So, it was time for all good men (and for `all good men` read `Graham`) to come to the aid of the party )and for `party` read `boundry hedge`), because what had once been a boundary hedge was nowadays no such thing.

My father, and my grandmother before him, had been keen gardeners, but round about the time of my mother's death in 2002 the old boy gave up interest in the garden, and basically neglected it.
What had once been a hedge was in a sorry state, but as this picture shows Graham, never having been a hedger of any description, making a bloody convincing job of it....

MIKE HALLOWELL: Smelt Like Tyne Spirit

Brilliant! Great, eh? Spiffing! Amazing! Smelt are back in the River Tyne! I couldn't believe it! Good old smelt!

Mind you, I didn't know exactly what a smelt was, but its great to have them back anyway. Smelt and chips! Fried smelt and onions!

Seemingly, at one time the River Tyne was filled with smelt, had smelt coming out of its ear holes. Then they took the hump at the pollution and went somewhere else. Probably the Wear. But now they're back, and we Geordies have something to sing about.

Apparently, officers from the Environment Agency – God bless 'em, I say – had a quick plodge in the river to see if there were any other Swimming Things in the water other than salmon, dolphins and the odd leviathan or two. And indeedy-doody there was – bucketfuls of smelt.

Now the smelt is a funny old fish. It's not economy-sized – only reaching 25cm on a good day, apparently – and has a nice silvery set of scales. However, the interesting thing is that vegetarians and vegans can eat smelt without getting a guilty conscience. Why? I hear you ask, pray tell me!

Well, it's like this. The smelt looks like an ordinary fish, but is most peculiar in as much as it smells distinctly like cucumber (seriously). This means that if vegetarians and vegans shut their eyes they can pretend that they're actually eating cucumber and delude themselves into thinking that its okay. Now I'm the first to admit that there are one or two minor flaws with this theory, the main one being that the smelt is not really a cucumber, but a fish. To get around this difficulty I am going to propose that we reclassify the smelt taxonomically as a vegetable. Let's face it, it wouldn't be the first time.

Take the Chinese, for instance. (On second thoughts, don't take them; there are bloody millions of them and in any case where would we put them?). The Chinese eat this thing called a sea cucumber, which is an echinoderm of the Holothuroidea class. It's actually a slug-type thingie, but if zillions of Chinese people call it a cucumber then they can't all be wrong, can they? The Chinese also eat this delicious stuff called crispy seaweed. Except that it's not seaweed. Its cabbage. Or sometimes lettuce.

My point is that if we can call all these other things something they're not then why can't we do it with the smelt? My mate smelt a smelt (sorry) once, and he reckons that it really does smell like cucumber. However, to differentiate between smelt and, say, a sea cucumber we need to call it something else. I was thinking of something like a Sea Onion, a Sea Croissant or a Sea Cheesecake. It's not very conventional, admittedly, but it is creative.

Anyway, whatever the reason for their departure the smelt are now back in the Tyne, cucumber fragrance and all. I'd be interested to hear of any other animals that are called things that they're not, like the sea lion, which doesn't look like a lion at all to me, although it does look unnervingly like my paternal great-grandfather. I think this is probably just a coincidence, though, as you'll see by the photograph that accompanies this blog.

NEIL ARNOLD: All Bizarre Creatures Great & Small Part Two

I have known Neil for fifteen years now since he was a schoolboy modwith 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 the Rochester Gazette & Weekly Advertiser, Tuesday July 19th 1831 Number 539 (Extracted from the Stirling Journal)

ENORMOUS SKATE – A skate of extraordinary dimensions was exhibited here on Saturday last. The gross weight was no less than 126 lbs, length measured 6 feet 8 ½ inches, and in circumference 11 feet 2 inches. It was captured in the stake nets off Hopetown House, a few miles on this side of Queensferry. The natural history of the skate presents a variety of singular facts, and not the least remarkable of its properties is that it can be preserved for an indefinite period without the application of salt…’

From the Rochester Gazette & Weekly Advertiser, Tuesday November 1st 1831 – Number 554 (Page 2) Extracted from the Kendall Chronicle

A SINGULAR CREATURE – On Sunday last, as William Musgrove, resident in Kirkland, was raking a stroll with one or two friends in the vicinity of Whitbarrow Scar, accompanied by a couple pf famous vermin hounds (we have his own authority for saying they are the best in all of England!) one of the dogs took the drag of what Musgrove thought at the time might be a martin or perhaps a fox. They ran this drag to about two miles when coming to the Scar they halted, and from their motions, which were as well understood by their master as if they had spoken the Kings English, Musgrove was convinced that the game was at hand, of whatever description it might then turn out to be. He and his friends therefore proceeded forthwith to assist their quadruped allies, and after some little difficulty succeeded in dragging the object of their pursuit from his romantic hiding place, when strange to say, it turned out to be a racoon! The captive stranger was in capital condition and was brought home by Musgrove in high glee. From appearances the animal had been in the neighbourhood of Whitbarrow Scar for a considerable time, to which seat of freedom he probably found his way from – caravan of wild animals, or from the caresses of some travelling foreigner.’

From the Rochester Gazette & Weekly Advertiser, Tuesday November 15th 1831 – Number 556 (Page 3)

‘The king presented to the Zoological Society the entire contents of his menagerie, now deposited in the Tower. They amount to almost thirty in number and include four lions, three bears (the large bear is an extraordinary animal), one black wolf, three blood hounds, five leopards and three hyenas.’

OLL LEWIS: The Big Three


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..

When I was asked to compile a list of the three cryptids that interest me the most I had to think long and hard. There are, after all, a lot to choose from so cutting that down to a list of only three was tough. It means that I have to leave out several fascinating animals, including giant dragonflies. I actually saw a giant dragonfly nearly 10 years ago and reported my sighting to an entomology professor at the university I was studying at the time who was quite adamant that I must have been mistaken. But anyway, I digress, eventually after much thought I’ve settled on the following three cryptids:

Out of the three cryptids I’ve picked gwibers the least likely to actually exist. All but a few witness statements have faded into folklore and the creature sounds quite unlike any known to science. Gwibers are snakes with wings most often found in Wales but occasionally popping up in other parts of Britain. Descriptions of the animals vary greatly from account to account: Some gwibers, particularly in North Wales are depicted as humungous scaly beasts with leathery wings that can swoop down from the skies and carry whole sheep, where-as in South East Wales they are more often described as small beautiful feather covered farm yard pests.

Could such an unusual animal exist? It’s quite unlikely that they’d exist exactly as they’ve been depicted if the did because the evolutionary history of snakes doesn’t include feathered or winged creatures (at least as far as we know) but sightings could have been based on things people mistook for snakes or garbled accounts in folklore. I know it seems like a bit of a cop out but if gwibers do exist rather than just assuming that they are snakes that have somehow sprouted wings it might be just as possible that they are something else, like the aforementioned giant dragonfly with a liberal dash of exaggeration thrown on top.

Afanc are crocodile like lake monsters that have been seen in bodies of water all over Wales since at least the end of the Roman Empire and were probably seen even longer ago than that. It’s not just Wales where they are seen either, a large number of escaped crocodile reports that make their way into British newspapers when there are not enough stories about former reality TV stars going for a drink (in an actual pub, where people drink (!)) to clog up the real news from getting through are probably not sightings of crocodiles but of Afanc.

Afanc have suffered from an identity crisis though: they are not some hitherto undiscovered indigenous British species of crocodile, surviving dinosaurs, aquatic dwarfs, beavers or whatever the hell that big brown thing was that they called an afanc recently in the otherwise brilliant BBC adventure drama Merlin. Afanc are giant pike, not just pike that have grown a bit bigger than normal, really huge pike.

One place I’ve studied is Langorse Lake near Brecon in Wales. Langorse has had legends told about the afanc there since the dark ages at least and the creatures were so well known in the lake it even had poems writain about it by Lewis Glyn Cothi in the 15th century. Tales of large pike have persisted in the area into the modern day from a close encounter with a massive fish by Mike Tunnicliffe in the 1980s to a water-skier being hospitalised after he was attacked by a giant pike in the 1990s. The heaviest pike ever caught on a rod and line in Britain was caught there by O. Owens in 1846, the pike weighed 68lbs, remarkable considering the upper size limit for pike in the UK is meant to be around 47lbs. An even bigger pike was found washed up dead along the shore of the lake a few years ago. Only the skull, or mask remained and that measured 18 inches in length, the estimated weight of the pike is roughly around 90lbs and it could have been anywhere between 6-10ft long. A real monster if ever there was one.

Nandi Bear:
I feel almost as if I’m cheating by picking Kenya’s Nandi bear for my list because it is almost certainly more than one cryptid. Most descriptions of the Nandi bear say that the animal is at least as big as a man, but with four limbs and a sloping back covered in fur, the creature is sometimes seen ‘standing up’ on its hind limbs but invariably seems to run on all four legs. Attacks attributed to Nandi bears are usually extremely violent in nature and the creature is said to have a taste for brains, often scalping its victims and cracking open skulls as if they were egg shells. Occasionally witnesses attribute feats of athleticism to the Nandi bear like being able to leap two meter high fences in a single bound and jump to the top of huts. It is also said to emit fearsome noises before or immediately after killing that can strike fear into all but the bravest of men.

However, when Bernard Heuvelmans started researching the cryptid for ‘On The Track Of Unknown Animals’ he soon came to the realisation that not every witness was describing the same animal. A number of sightings were likely misidentified ratels and aardvarks but amongst the sightings were what appeared to have been giant baboons and giant hyenas. One theory held by Heuvelmans was that the giant baboon sightings were caused by ancestors of the modern baboon thought to be extinct, another theory is that hybridisation between some species of baboon can result in much taller individuals than the 70cm norm. One such hybridised baboon population has been discovered in Ethiopia. Giant hyenas are spotted in Kenya every so often and a tea plantation owner in Nandi shot two giant hyenas in the 1950s that were reportedly twice the size of normal hyenas. The bones were donated to Nairobi Museum to be analysed where they presumably remain to this day. Frustratingly the museum could not, at the time, clarify the species of hyena, or indeed define whether it was a new species, and simply classed the bones a ‘forest hyena’.


This may look like an old corner bath that we picked up for fifteen quid from the recycling centre, indeed that is exactly what it is, but it is also the new, improved, summer accomodation for Gladys and Cuthbert.

As regular CFZ afficianados will be aware, Gladys and Cuthbert are two large turtles that were donated to us by Darren Naish's boss back in the days when Darren was still a PhD student.

Gladys is a red eared slider - the common terrapin of the pet trade that since the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze of nearly 20 years ago, has become a relatively common sight in British waterways. The film and spinoffs were unaccountably popular with the younger generation (who are now in their mid-30s) and many of these nice little reptiles were purchased as pets, and then released into the wild when they got too big.

Cuthbert, however, is another matter. He is a completely unknown species of emydid, and as far as we are aware he is the only one in captivity.

Now they have a swish new pond. We saw the bath at the recycling centre weeks ago but couldn't find a way to get it back to the ranch, until someone pointed out that Dave B-P my dear nephew is not only learning to drive, but has a van in which to do it.

All we had to do was to provide a qualified driver to ride shotgun, and the rest was history!


Europe has a new newt. A subspecies of the southern crested newt has now been given full species status. Triturus arntzeni was for years thought of as a subspecies of Triturus karelinii but has now been raised to full species.

Congratulations Bulgaria, Rumania, Greece and others

The news was published in a paper called:

Multiple nuclear and mitochondrial genes resolve the branching orderof a rapid radiation of crested newts (Triturus, Salamandridae)G. Espregueira Themudo, B. Wielstra, J.W. Arntzen Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 52 (2009) 321–328

It is always good to hear of new species discovery,
even when those discoveries are made in a laboratory rather than as a result of an intrepid hike into a jungle somewhere, and suchg discoveries also imply that evolution does indeed take place faster than people would otherwise think.


Alan first came to my notice when he turned up at our stall at last November's Unconvention. He was clutching a box that had once held a plastic Christmas Tree. He thrust it at me, and said "Here's your mermaid".

I vaguely remembered Richard F having said that one of his mates had offered to make us a feegee mermaid, but I had forgotten all about it. Sad to say, so many people offer to do stuff for us, and then fail to deliver, that I had got into the habit of treating all such offers cum grano salis, but the advent of Alan shows that I should not be such a cynical old sod. Now he has become a guest blogger, and furthermore a guest blogger who's output is often so elegantly macabre that I have started hassling him to write us a book..

Yesterday I wrote to him thanking him for his help in finding the person behind the dead mermaid pictures. This morning he replied, as always, giving me much food for thought

Hi Jon.

You're very welcome. I first head about Juan Cabana a few years ago, and while his work is very admirable, it must be a real bummer stinking of fish and formaldahyde while you're trying to chat up girls in the pub. As you might have imagined, I've done a fair bit of taxidermy work myself in the past, and it can get very grisly trying to peel bloodstained fat from the inside of skin layers, and boil bones.

The fake mermaid and the pictures of the 'blackfella' have made me wonder if it might not be a wizard wheeze to invite the regular bloggers to create their own 'hoax' image of a favourite crypto-creature. Kind of like the Big Three, perhaps the Fake Three! I'll certainly make up some pictures, and we could even have a small competition--the winner being the first to guess how they were done. If nothing else, it should certainly sharpen the bloggers critical faculties when viewing putatively 'real' photos. If you would like, we could also put up some of the most famous crypto-images that have been taken in the past, and try to finally confirm them as either fake, or indeed--and why not--authentic.

Food for thought, anyway. I'll deliver another blog soon, the epic tale of how someone who was a theatrical pirate, part-time magician, Elvis impersonator and wannabe graphic artist nearly became part of an expedition to discover the legendary lost tribe of Epping Forest, living wild in the woods since World War II. It's gripping stuff, and--needless to say--completely true.


Al :)


The cast of the stage version of Allo Allo which I have to admit to having always found mildly irritating as a TV programme, have had an encounter with the Loch Ness Monster.

Or at least that's what their publicist says:

The crew of the Jacobite Queen witnessed highly unusual readings on the ship's sonar screen, somewhere between Dores and Urquhart Castle.
According to captain John Askew, it was the first-time in his 15-years working on the loch that he successfully picked up images of this kind on any of the Jacobite fleet's sonar screens. The images have now been sent for scientific analysis.

An expert in sonar who has been studying Loch Ness since 1973 couldn't explain the sighting.

"This has got me puzzled and has every appearance of a genuine sonar contact," said Adrian Shine, of The Loch Ness Project.

"The fact there's five items on the screen can be explained, as a single object often appears again as an echo. This certainly adds to the Loch Ness mystery and will be the subject of further investigation."

This is only the second LNM encounter of the year of which I am aware, and the big question has to be "Is it True?" We have already seen several instances this year of cryptozoology, or at least quasi-cryptozoology being used as an advertising medium, and one wonders whether this is another case of that. The stage version of the unfunny sitcom was showing at the Eden Court theatre in Inverness, when the cast conveniently decided to take a day out on the Loch.

However, it is hard to imagine that a researcher with the reputation of Adrian Shine (pictured left with Richard and me at Loch Ness in November 2005) conniving in such chicanery, so either he has had the wool pulled over his eyes (and he is a wily old bird, and I personally think that unlikely) or the encounter is a genuine one.

This proves the point once again that one does not have to be culturally significant in order to see monsters...

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday’s News Today

Yesterday’s News Today

Here’s the latest cryptozoology news and, as I’m still on a diet instead of a biscuit of the week you’ll have to make do with a fascinating fact (well I was running out of biscuits anyway):

Woodlice were once eaten (and presumably can still be) as a cure for upset stomachs due to their high calcium content.

Now, while that digests, here is the news:

Tokoloshe myth could be wired to brains, say neurology experts
Earthrace may take on Japanese whalers
Giant dinosaurs 'held heads high'
'Stunning' fossil goes on display
Keepers mauled by white tiger in New Zealand
Jake's (very) narrow escape

Ah, a news story about a dog, this gives me the perfect opportunity to post my favourite shaggy dog story as today’s pun. Sadly the joke, although great, is a bit on the long side and I think Jon would possibly kill me if I wrote the whole thing out here, so please enjoy it at this link: http://www.innocentenglish.com/best-funny-jokes/longest-joke-ever.html