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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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Saturday, May 30, 2009

THE BIG THREE: Richard Freeman

A FEW WEEKS AGO WE ASKED VARIOUS BLOGGO REGULARS TO TELL US WHAT WERE THEIR TOP THREE FAVOURITE MYSTERY ANIMALS... AND WHY. AND NOW WE ARE INTO THE LAST THREE.....

And now its time for Richard Freeman, my closest collaborator in the CFZ. WEe have been working together now for thirteen years, and lived together for much of that time. He is the Zoological Director of the Centre for Fortean Zoology and an all round good egg...


The Dragon

No prizes for guessing this would be my number one choice. Dragons and their literal existence is somewhat of an obsession with me. But `wait` I hear you cry, dragon legends worldwide are probably based on a number of different creatures. Well yes, in that sense I suppose this choice is a bit of a cheat. The dragon is indeed many things in many lands.

  • In Europe it is a bat-winged flame spewing, knight devouring monster with scales of steel or a poison-spewing serpent large enough to coil about a hill or crush a church.
  • In Asia it is an antlered celestial rain god whose breath brings life.
  • In Africa it is an elephant devouring, blood-sucking monster with a crested head.
  • In Australia it is a swamp dwelling, man-eating lizard from dreamtime
  • and in the Neo-Tropics it is a feathered serpent that brought music to mankind.

But what of the dragon today? Dragon sightings still occur around he globe. Asia in particular has a rich tradition. From eyewitness accounts I have built up a picture of a serpentine monster of vast length. It has scales of dark green or black that have rainbow sheen like oil on water or crystals refracting light. It has a head shaped like a horse’s in outline with an errectile crest on top. Some witnesses speak of four short legs and two bat-like wings. It appears to be some kind of huge reptile.

The Thylacine

This creature has interested me ever since I saw he famous film of ‘Benjamin’ as a boy. It looks just amazing, a wolf with stripes that is actually a marsupial! Like everything else in Australia it is wonderfully weird.

Called the healthiest extinct animal in the world there have been over 4000 recorded sightings since he date of it’s supposed ‘extinction’. These have come not just from Tasmania but from mainland Australia and also New Guinea. It has been seen by a zoologist and a park warden and has also been filmed. How many other cryptids can boast that? The late Peter Chappell (an excellent zoologist and bushman who had seen the animal himself) showed me a frame-by-frame brake down of a thylacine filmed in 1971. It was no fox or dingo.

If only one cryptid exists then this is it. Not only is it the most likely to exist it is also an icon of conservation and mankind’s inhumanity to his fellow creatures. A magnificent beast.

The Yeti

The best known of the mystery apes but one of the least encountered due to the remoteness of its habitat. There may be three distinct kinds: a small one possibly related to the Sumatran orang-pendek, a medium size one that may be a mainland for or orang-utan and a giant for that may be a surviving Gigantopithecus blacki. It is this last, giant form that is the most interesting to me. Imagine coming face to face with a ten-foot bipedal ape able to hurl a boulder with the east that you would throw a cushion. The giant yeti is the very essence of wildness and remoteness and this is why I chose it. The thrill of knowing there are still unexplored places inhabited by amazing creatures. The wind piping down from the Tibetan peaks and stirring the dark forests. A high pitch mournful, cry echoing down the remote valley. The finding of giant tracks and the uneasy murmuring of the Sherpas. The yeti is the lifeblood of adventure and discovery.

PAUL SCREETON: The Gornal Monstrosity

It was a creature more evil-looking than anything the inventive brain of an autjor of horror stories could ever hope to conceive.

If Truth be stranger than Fiction then you needlook no further than the "Gornal Monstrosity" for unquestionable proof.

Just another Gornal legend, you may be tempted to scoff. Believe me it is no legend. People to whom I have spoken have seen it, handled it, and recoiled from the sheer loathsomeness of this 'Thing' which was a direct contradiction of all the laws of orderly Nature.

True, this horribly grotesque creature is no more. Who, on earth would wish to preserve such a vile specimen of flesh and blood? But we do have faded photographs to prove that this was no figment of a distraught imagination.

Let me outline the relevant facts.

Herbert Stevens was a jobbing farm labourer who hired out his skills to local farmers. Work must have been a little scarce because in the mid-1880's Herbert was working as a 'Night-sile mon' for Sedgley U.D.C.

For those who are too young to comprehend I shoud explain that a 'night-sile mon' was one one who cleaned out earth-closets in those far-off days before deep sewerag and flush lavatories. It was an unpleasant and smelly job, hence the need to do the work in the small hours of the morning.

Herbert was busily occupied with the task of employing one particular earth closet. He lowered his long-handled earth ladle into the messy, murky depths. In the dim light he thought that he saw something move. "A large rat", he told himself.

The creature was still moving around in the scoop when Herbert brought it to the surface.

Much to his astonishment he could see that it was certainly no rat. He peered closer. in many ways it resembled a new-born child. Then he began to realise that the grotesque form was something, the like of which, he had never seen before..

He cleaned the 'thing' up as best he could then hurried around to the local doctor. Doctor St. Ballenden. The monstrosity was still showing faint signs of life. Dr. Ballenden quickly sent for two specialists but despite their efforts at ressucitation, the 'thing' expired.

Herbert took it to his home in New Street, Gornal Wood. Older Gornal readers may recall the Stevens family of New Street. Mrs Stevens sold fish and chips, grey 'pays', grorn puddin' and faggotts from the spotlessbrew-'uss which was attached to their cottage.

But back to the monstrosity. In the seclusion of his home Herbert was able to examine it even more closely. He could scarcely believe the evidence which lay before him.

The creature had eight legs, four tails, three bodies, eight teeth, a miniature elephant's trunk at the back of its head, a dog's upper jaw, the lower jaw of a pig, and four ears. A pinky-silvery fur covered it's body and during it's brief life it had surveyed the world through two pairs of eyes.

That, of course, was a century ago, but for many years afterwards the monstrosity was preserved by the Stevens family.

Sixty-six years old Jack Stevens, of Ladbrook Grove, Lower Gornal, is a grand-nephew of Herbert. He confirmed that he had seen and actually handled the 'thing' many times. "It was no more than nine or ten inches long", he told me. "And however much you examined it it was difficult to believe that such a monstrosity had ever existed".

Active pensioner, Mrs. Vera Beardsmore, who lives in Plank's Lane, Wombourne is old Herbert's grand-daughter. She is a cousin of Jack Stevens, and she, too, has vivid recollections of her grand-father's loathsome keepsake.

She, too, has handled it, examined it and, as a young child, she has recoiled from the sheer horror of it's loathsomeness.

Moreover, in her well-documented family scarp-book she has preserved an actual photograph of the creature. Two photographs, in fact. They were taken by a relative and depict the front and back view of the 'Thing'. Unfortunately, the pictures are not of the quality one would like but they still show sufficient detail to indicate the grotesqueness of this barely believable freak of nature.

From the recesses of their memories some readers may be able to verify the existence of the 'Gornal Monstrosity'. Herbert Stevens often hawked it around the Gornal and Sedgley pubs. Urged on by curiosity many people made the pilgrimage to see it at the Stevens' home in New Street.

Somewhat understandably the 'thing' suffered an ignominious end. It came to be regarded by succeeding members of the family as a creature of ill-luck and sometime after old Herbert's death it was thrown on to the fire, where, aided by the draw plate it was quickly reduced to little more than a memory.

Do you remember the old horror films about werewolves and vampires and such creatures. At the end of those films, and to prevent us from having nightmares, a comforting voice would try to reassure us that ''That there were no such things''.

Well as far as the Gornal Monstrosity is concerned "There was such a thing".

* Note: This article originally appeared (exactly as reproduced) initially in Black Country Bugle for December 1985. It was monitored by Paul Lester to Paul Screeton, who reproduced it in his magazine Folklore Frontiers, issue No. 34 of December 1998.

MORE ON THE PAINTED LADY MIGRATION

The following, compiled by Paul Batty, is taken from the latest edition of the Entomological Livestock Group monthly newsletter which arrived in my e-mail inbox this morning:

PAINTED LADY MIGRATION (C.cardui):

Since the first news of the mass northwardly migration of cardui, mentioned by Neil West & others in France & Spain, theweather has been poor here in the UK, but it's improved a little and reports from all over the UK are now coming in.

Sunday 24th May was a very nice day here and the migratingPainted Ladies had reached central England - Barry Ottewell reported seeing a dozen or morepassing through his garden near Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. Since then, dozens of reports have been coming in.

Tim Jenkins writes... "Re. Painted Ladies I have seen a dozen plus in Coventry, all belting northwards without stopping".

Andy Green writes... "Single Painted Lady in my Garden at Little Sutton Lincs. 26th May but no Red Ad's yet.".....

Rupert Witherow e-mails.... "Painted Ladies - At Bucklebury between Reading & Newbury yesterday, 25May, in one field I counted 4-6 per minute non-stop throughout the afternoon from 1300-1730and still going strong then. Sometimes it got up to 10+ per minute. Mostly singles, butsome in 2's & 3's. Only occasionally one would stop to refuel, but a whole field of buttercups and other wild flowers was completely ignored. All flying due North and really steadily".

David Longdon wrote.... "Painted Ladies flying through North Norfolk today heading towards the coast literally hundreds - its going to be a bumper year I hope" (24th May).

Also from Norfolk, Andrew Freebray mails..... "Further to our colleagues reports in the ELG list a couple of issues back regarding the migration of Vannessa cardui (Painted Lady) through France, I wonder if any other member witnessed today's migration. It is Sunday (May24th) and after watching the Monaco Grand Prix on the TV (well done Jenson!) I sat out in my back garden in mid Norfolk and in a strip of approximately 20 yards wide and bounded byhigh sycamore trees I noted 131 cardui between 3.20 and 3.45pm after which I gave upcounting. The butterflies were all flying North at a height of between 20 and 40 feet and the migration continued at much the same rate until 5.15pm with only a few stragglers thereafter. Given my somewhat restricted viewing theatre the mind boggles at the possible numbers of this butterfly flying over Norfolk today and should we be blessed with a decent Summer this may turn out to be a cardui year".

Phil Lewis writes..... "Have seen at least 3 today in Abingdon and Oxford - good news!!!"

Terry Sparks writes... "For the record, 5 Painted Ladies passed through my garden in north Wiltshire in just over 1 hour thismorning - 24th"......

Malcolm Beeton tells us there were "Six painted ladies yesterday morning Sunday 24th May! on a lavender bush in Bushey Hertfordshire at 09.30 am."......

Tim Huggins adds.... "On Sunday morning in Diss, Norfolk I watched C.cardui streamingthrough a friends garden. I lost count but reckon they were going through at numbers in excess of 100 per hour. It was very purposeful, contour-hugging flight at 5 - 15 ft above ground level and all heading N/NW, a bearing that will probably take them to Scarborough!".

Pete Friedrich writes.... "There's Painted Ladies by the shedload in my neck of the woods - it's been a spectacular sight seeing them covering the Ceanothus bush and Red Valerian in my garden during this weekend" - [Clacton, Essex].

David Longman (Southampton) sent me a text (Yep, Batty does have text from time to time) to say that there were loads of P/L's passing through that afternoon (25th) six at a time and the odd Silver Y (Autographa gamma).

Mark Jenkins writes.... "Loads of Painted Ladies in Buddleigh Salterton Devon, at the weekend, coming in off the sea, feeding on the plentiful Valerian in town and on the cliffs.Also fair numbers seen when travelling back to Dorset in the early evening." Many, many more sightings.... If I've not mentioned yours, sorry...

I and my colleagues here on the CFZ bloggo sincerely suggest that you join the Entomological Livestock Group. It is a massively worthwhile thing with which to be involved:

NEIL ARNOLD: The London Leopard Fiasco

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...


Wow! News travels fast. A colleague of mine at the Southwark News in London contacted me recently after a man walking his dog had an interesting encounter on March 16th 2009 which read as follows:

“Just walking my two dogs late this evening (at Peckham Rye) when one of them started acting strangely near the back of the garden area. Then something came out of the shrubs and started to walk across the path into the picnic area. At first I thought it was a fox, then realised it was actually bigger than my dog, which is a young Labrador. Its tail was long and thin, curling up over its back and it had sandy-coloured fur with a leopard patching. It dawned on me that this was some kind of wild cat, then seconds later a second one, smaller, appeared alongside it and they both turned and headed up the path towards the wooded area.”

I was naturally intrigued about the sighting as I have covered much of London and the south-east for many years, but what mystified me, and also made me giggle more than anything was how my comments in response to the sighting, which I covered on my Saturday Strangeness column for Londonist.com, were picked up by the ‘big cat brigade’, namely Mark Fraser of Big Cats In Britain. I simply stated that I didn’t believe the witness had seen the normal spotted leopards as, in all my years of research across the south, I’d never received any consistent sightings or evidence to suggest such cats were out there. Black leopards, yes. But normal leopards, no. In fact, the witness could well have seen anything from a lynx, as I’ve seen lynx with slender, but not overly long tails, or something smaller such as a serval. I had no reason to believe it had been a pair of leopards. And no further sightings have emerged to suggest so.

The next moment, Cryptomundo website featured my article, and Scotcats (Mr Fraser) was quick to react:

“BCIB archives have several reports of spotted leopards in the UK, and even a picture to boot.”

In my article I also commented that I was the UK’s only full-time researcher into sightings of ‘big cats’ which also touched a raw nerve.

He commented: “I would also assume that people like Di Francis would have a little amusement as not being classed as a full-time big cat researcher here in the UK.”

I found this pettiness a little sad considering only a few months previous I’d written a post speaking of such ‘ner-ner-ner-ner-ner’ attitudes in the world of UK ‘big cat’ research. At the end of the day, to comment on my own research and then be criticised for it kind of shows how silly this has all become. The criticism also emerged on the Big Cats In Britain blog, under the childish headline, ‘Dooh they say no reports of spotted leopards’. Of course, the ‘they’ Mark was referring to was little ol’ me, and then the post began with, “Again we come across an author who claims there are no reports of spotted leopards in the UK.”

The ‘author’ of course being me.(and whilst it was actually nice to be called an author rather than something nasty,) I’d just like to finish by saying, Mark, I actually think it’s good that you’ve constructed the website for people to report sightings nationwide. I also respect Di Francis and her work, if it wasn’t for her books many ‘researchers’ out there wouldn’t be doing what they are today. But considering my opinion on normal leopards in the south was based on my research, and never did I say anything regarding the rest of the UK or your research, it’s crazy how such a detail has irritated you. But then again, I guess that’s what plagues this kind of research, it always has done. It’s going to go on forever. As many groups etc, emerge from the shadows of the mythical British Big Cat Society, it’s clear that it’s Ufology all over again. And proof also that it’s not about the cats, but the catastrophe of petty politics within a field that should be fun. The gloves are off…the anoraks are on.

If anyone has any grievances with me, my mobile number is 07851602853. Surely this can be dealt with by being adults ?

RICHARD FREEMAN: Yokai exhibition at the Royal Academy

UTAGAWA KUNIYOSHI, JAPAN’S MASTER OF THE MACARBRE AND MONSTEROUS

Richard Freeman

Anyone who knows me will tell you I have an obsession with Japan, and in particular it’s folklore. My next book ‘The Great Yokai Encyclopaedia’ (due out later in the year) is an A to Z of Japan’s monsters. Japanese monsters or yokai are mindbendingly weird, but I won’t give too much away here, you will have to buy my book!

The Royal Academy of Art is currently (until the 5th June) holding an exhibition of the work of Utagawa Kuniyoshi, one of the most celebrated Japanese artists of all time, and one who excelled in painting yokai.

Of course, as a yokai obsessive, I had to go. In fact I visited the exhibition twice. It was an eye-popping experience.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi was born in 1797, the son of a silk dyer. By the age of twelve he was producing impressive drawings that caught the attention of the renowned artist Utagawa Toyokuni whose studio he joined. He worked in the Ukiyo-e style of woodblock art. Ukiyo-e, or ‘The Floating World’ was a genre that transended the mundane, everyday world. It revolved around pleasure, entertainment and living for the moment. Kuniyoshi was one of the first Japanese artists to use the more brightly coloured western dyes and paints in his pictures. He was also the first to incorperate western perspective in his work. This made him unpopular with critics. He was, however, massivly popular with the general public. So much so that there were even Kuniyoshi pirates who did knock-offs of his prints!

Kuniyoshi had a number of themes to which he returned again and again. One was great warriors from history and legend. He painted the heroes of the Chinese classic tale The Water Margin in spectacular action poses. He was also fond of painting beautiful women from history, folklore and from contempory life. But it is for his grotesque monsters and ghosts that he is most famed.

A nuber of pictures depictiong yokai were on show in the exibition. One of the most spectacular shows the horrific Gashadokuro, a giant cannibal skeleton. It is 90 feet tall and created from the bodies of those who died in famines. Gashadokuro bites the heads off its victims and its coming is heralded by a ringing in the ears. The painting depicts a story from the 10th century in which a provincial worlord called Taira-no-Masakado led a coup against an outpost of the central government untill he was killed by his cousin Sadamori. He was dismembered and beheaded as a warning to others.

Taira-no-Masakado’s head carried on living. It leered and laughed and eventualy flew away. His daughter, outraged at the treatement of her father’s body, prayed at the ancient Kifune Shrine in Kyoto untill her outrage was given form in a in a monsterous skeleton.

In another picture we see the renowned hero Yorimasu doing battle with the Nuẽ, a sort of Japanese Chimera. The Nuẽ has the head of a monkey, the legs of a tiger, the body of a tanuki and the tail of a snake. In 1135 the Emperor Konoe whilst at his palace in Kyōtō began to suffer dreadful nightmares. He became very ill and it was noticed that a black cloud appeared on the palace roof at 2 am each morning. The Minamoto hero Yorimasu shot an arrow into the cloud. Out of the dark miasma fell a dead Nuẽ.

Yorimasu threw the weird carcass into the Sea of Japan. The body washed ashore in a bay and the locals, fearing a curse buried it. The mound under which the Nuẽ lies is still there today, but to my knowledge no one has ever excavated it.

Yorimasu features in another spectacular work by Kuniyoshi in which he battles the titanic earth spider or Tsuchigumo. Once the great Yorimitsu fell ill and was confined to his mansion in Kyoto. He had many servants so it did not bother him that he did not recognize the boy who brought him medicine at midnight. But as the days drew on Yorimitsu became more and more ill, and suspected the boy of poisoning him.

One night Yorimitsu attacked the boy and slashed him with his sword. The youth spat a vast web about the warrior and bound him to the bed. One of Yorimitsu’s lieutenants heard the commotion and ran to his aid. He met the boy in the corridor and once again the strange youth sprayed out a giant web, pinning the man down whilst he made his escape.

The boy was tracked to a cave, where his true form - that of a giant spider - was descovered. The monster was overcome and slain. At the monster spider’s death it’s vast webs disintigrated and Yorimitsu’s strange ailment vanished.

Another story has the Tsuchigumo manifesting as a beautiful woman leading an army of yokai. Yorimitsu and his friends do battle with the bestial hord. Yorimitsu hacks at the woman and her followers vanish as if an illution. The hero follows the woman to a cave were she transformes into a monsterous spider. After a desperate struggle Yorimitsu slashes her asunder. Even in death the Tsuchigumo vomits forth hundreds of spiders the size of human infants from it’s innards. Yorimitsu and his retainers claim claim total victory only after having made sure every last one is slain. Yorimitsu was wielding a sword named "Kumokirimaru" (spider-cutter).
Both stories feature in the exhibition. In the former we see the earth spider, its bloated body covered in eye-like markings, bearing down on the hero and entwining him in its web. In the second we see the Tsuchigumo vomiting forth, not just spiders but a whole army of spirits and monsters.

In another jaw-dropping picture we see a whale-sized fish shashing the boat of the samuri Minamoto no Tametomo. Winged bird men or tengu swoop down to snach him from the waves that are engulfing his wife and child.

From a cryptozoological view point the most intresting painting was Asahina Saburo and the crocodiles. It shows a Japanese warrior in battle with two crocodiles on a beach in Japan. Crocodiles are not native to Japan but are known to the Japanese as wani. In fact the huge Indo-pacific crocodile has been known to occasionally stray into the waters around the southernmost Japanese islands. German traveler Englebert Kaemfer encountered a dragon worshiped in a Japanese temple in 1690. He tells us that he saw…

“A huge four footed snake, scaly all over the body like a crocodile with sharp prickles along the back; the head beyond the rest monstrous and terrible.”

From his description the creature seemed to be a crocodile. He even refers to a crocodile in his description. Kaemfer had almost certainly not viewed a living crocodile prior to this.

However the creatures doing battle with Asahina Saburo have turtle-like fins that make them look more like Mosasaurs than crocodiles. This could be, of course, that Kuniyoshi had never seen a crocodile and was filling in the gaps in his knowlage with his imagination, but you never know.

In a more sedate and muted picture Kuniyoshi depicts Arhat Handaka, a spiritual hero and Guardian of the Buddhist Doctrines, summoning a rain dragon from a rice bowl.

These are only a handful of the monsters that Kuniyoshi depicted in his long career. I would urge anyone in the UK to hurry down to the Royal Academy of Arts and see this amazing exibition whilst you still can.

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday’s News Today

Yesterday’s News Today
http://cryptozoologynews.blogspot.com/

It’s got cryptozoology, it’s got news, it’s got bad puns, it’s got a bit before the news links that nobody reads and today it’s got the song of the week. This week’s song is *asterisk by Orange Range http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uz8QPmcUkyw
And now, the news:

Two boys spot lemur in Calabasas backyard
Society warns cuckoo bird in danger of extinction
Beavers return after 400-year gap
Thrush uses own body as a dam

Bet they’ll be in a ‘thrush’ to move somewhere else now.

A GOOD REASON WHY ALL CRYPTOTYPES SHOULD SUBSCRIBE TO `THE ENTOMOLOGISTS RECORD`

ANTHENE GEORGIADISI SP. NOV. (LEP.: LYCAENIDAE) – ANEW BUTTERFLY FROM LIBERIA
TORBEN B. LARSEN
Jacobys alle 2, 1806 Frederiksberg C, Denmark (torbenlarsen@btinternet.com)

Abstract

Anthene georgiadisi sp. nov. is described as a new species in the difficult complex of the “ red Anthene”, in West Africa closest to A. mahota Grose-Smith, 1887.

It is the smallest species in the complex. The type locality is the newly created Sapo National Park, one of the largest and most important protected areas in West Africa.

Anthene georgiadisi sp. nov. was among 150 species collected during a brief visit by a non-specialist collector, emphasizing the need for continued intensive collecting in the dwindling forests of West Africa.