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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Monday, July 06, 2009

MAX BLAKE: The Gurt Dog returns

Phenomena seem to be of a certain time and place. Despite claims to the contrary, crop circles, for example, are almost exclusively a phenomenon of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Even the classic Loch Ness monster sightings are mostly a post 1933 phenomenon, and `flying triangles` are a very recent affair. But some phenomena that were once relatively common seem to have vanished by the wayside; entombed toads, for example, have hardly been heard of during the last century, and Celtic black dogs - whilst they inhabit the pages of fortean literature, the most recent reliable English sources in the CFZ files are from the 1950s. This has now changed, as Max reports....

Yes indeed, I am back from scampering around the South West hunting for more beer. My quest has taken me to the increasingly eco-conscious Glastonbury Festival, where the mighty cider bus and its cider brandy helped fuel me on dark, err, summer nights; Shangri-la, home of a particularly attractive bipedal panda and more strong beer; and finally, Cornwall, where whisky and lager were the order of the day.

My tale begins a few months ago, in a dark gloomy biology lab. I am pouring over a rat dissection, whilst my partner in the study plays the “famous game” with my name. For those not in the know, this is an odd game whereby you google someone’s name and count how many references there are to them on the first 5 pages of Google. The more famous you are, the higher your score and then you win a prize, usually a small cake.

After we found that my name produces a lot of hits to this very website (try it, get us more hits!), most of which were to do with big cats, a friend shouted across the table that:

“Maybe that was what I saw the other night!”

Hold on! What? This is now the third of my close friends to have seen a big black “something” out on the roads in north Somerset. I asked her to describe what she saw and to draw a quick sketch of it. The description is as follows:

“I was driving home at about 22:30 after taking my boyfriend back to his house. I decided to take the more fun route home via the country lanes that link our houses. Halfway home, a huge black animal walked out of the bushes on my right hand side. I did an emergency stop to prevent myself from hitting it. It’s eyes glowed in the dark, and when it walked over into the front of the car it looked at me straight in the eye. It looked like a huge dog; like an Alsatian but much bigger; bigger than any dog I have ever seen. It had a long tail which curled at the end with shaggy fur. The eyes were huge and crazy, fierce red in colour but in such a way that the animal looked mad. It continued looking at me before it walked off in an odd manner to the left of the car where it melted and merged into the bushes without disturbing anything, something which seemed a hard feat for such a huge animal. I could not see it after it went into the side of the road, the eyes were probably blocked by branches.

“If pushed to give measurements for it, I would say that it weighed over 100kgs, its head was long like a wolves’, whilst it’s total length must have been over 7’. It did not seem threatening, despite the eyes. I did not want to get out of the car to follow it, but it never seemed hostile to me being in it’s area, just dismissive.”

The sheer size of the beast, the red “crazy” eyes and the odd way that it walked and moved into the bushes make me think that this was a phantom black dog. Now, I am hardly an authority on this particular zooform, but does anyone have any idea what it could be? A big cat is right out, the long muzzle and long coat drop this one pretty quickly. If it was a large domestic or feral dog, the eyes would have possibly gone a red colour in the blaze of the car’s lights, but this is a colour that seems liquid, and would be quite different to the crazy eyes described. Surely everyone has seen a dog’s eyes at night when a torch is shone on them; they glow, but not a fiery red. But the odd walk, the way it merged with the bushes on the left of the car and the strange eyes are a bit of a thorn in this theory’s side.

Somerset’s Gurt Dog is the best candidate for the explanation. Usually appearing as a huge dog with shaggy black fur and glowing red eyes, the zooform perfectly matched the description. The Gurt Dog is usually seen by roads and footpaths (check!), at night, and walks either in front of the viewer, or it follows them. It is supposedly benevolent, unlike the malevolent dogs which haunt the rest of the country. It is supposed to keep children safe out on the moors and can guide lost travellers home again. However, in the 60s a black dog appeared to two people, and they both died shortly afterward. Seeing as my friend has not died yet, nor suffered any ill (touch wood), one hopes that the same fate will not befall her.

If we want to make a bit of a jump, this sighting can be explained by the domestic dog theory. The size has been exaggerated due to shock, the odd walk due to a wound or a characteristic of its ‘breed’, and the red eyes exaggerated, again from shock. Then we have a normal dog (feral or not). I, however, feel that this is a bit of a leap too far to explain the sighting. I say that the Gurt Dog of Somerset has risen once more.


About a month ago we brought you a peculiar photo story about a leopard singularly ignoring a small rodent in his cage which brought forth some aaaaaaaaaaaaaw's and some belly laughs. However, I think that you may agree with me that this following sequence of pictures is even more peculiar....

THE CATS OF UPPER MINSTER: PART 16 - “Cat Researchers Gets Clawed!”

The other week, as an amusing one-off , Tim Matthews wrote a silly short story spoofing some of the more ridiculous exploits of various self-styled big cat researchers over the years.

It was so popular that he wrote another one and now - by public demand - it has become a serial. Every few days will see an episode of Timmo's new Fortean soap opera The Cats of Upper Minster. And having read the first few episodes I can confirm that it is bloody smashing and highly amusing. "I'll carry on until it stops being funny," says Tim, and you can't say fairer than that!

“Clearly,” said Danny Milstein, standing in the centre of a massive 500-foot diameter crop circle formation, “There is a meaningful Zen aesthetic at work here and we find the objective clashing with the subject in a struggle for understanding the role of such things within a semiotic counter-cultural environment.”

“Oh, absolutely, Danny,”
said his wife, Janet. “What occurs to me, looking at this creation, is the illusive phenomena we are examining now, whereby the indefinable clashes with the real to create a temporary mystery. I am reminded of the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. At the core of his and our philosophy is a sustained argument for the foundational role that perception plays in understanding the world as well as engaging with the world. Like the other major phenomenologists, he expresses his philosophical insights in writings on art, literature, and politics...as do the circlemakers.”

The mall group of locals standing around hadn’t a clue what the newly arrived members of the FPS were talking about and suspected that they were using long words to try and confuse them all, and seem cleverer than they really were. “Well, that’s all very interesting,” said Alan Davies, in whose field the formation had appeared, “But it just seems like flattened crops to me!”

“Ah yes,” piped up Joe McMenamy, an FPS junkie (as he liked to call himself when he wasn’t writing letters to his MP asking to be considered a “serious researcher”), “But in my view, for the circular artwork to function properly, we need to totally remove ourselves from the equation. Crop circles gain their power from that gap in knowledge about their author. As soon as you claim authorship of a crop circle you drain it of the very thing that gives it its power: its mystery, and it just becomes a mere specimen, just flattened crop.”

“Yes, Joe, you make a good point,"
enthused Chris Milstein, “But this, until recently, has been a curiously English phenomenon and it seems to me that we have a fusion of the real and unreal here; the yin and yang; the positive and negative, as Mother Earth seeks some sort of balance. It could even be the case that the Circlemakers do not fully understand their role within the overall scheme of things.”

“Bloody hell,”
exclaimed Alan Davies son, Mark. “The whole village is filling up with people talking rubbish; either you lot of geeks or those idiots in the camouflage jackets. Even if there is a big cat, it’s just a big cat. I mean, it’s like saying foxes are paranormal or something. When you work on the land, as we do, you see things differently and very realistically. You lot sound like you’ve swallowed a dictionary or just like using big words and that other lot with that comical General character ought to take up paintball or something!”

“Now, look here, young man,”
patronised Milstein. “You haven’t studied these phenomena as I have. I have peer reviewed articles in numbers of scientific journals that ask important questions about the philosophy behind what is going on in a place like Upper Minster. I understand that you resent outsiders, as you see us, but you will appreciate that 30 years or more in this subject gives us a unique perspective on such matters.”

“Unique, my ass,”
countered Mark. “You’re just talking rubbish. Everybody round here knows who the circlemakers are and they are very human. You should do some proper research, mate. It happened in 1990 and it’s happened again. Big deal. The circlemakers, as you call them, are just winding you up and it looks like it’s working, doesn’t it? It’s not as clever, arguably, as Banksy’s art, but it’s obvious who has done it and why. It is also obvious that there is little or nothing in these Big Cat stories but it doesn’t stop you. Meanwhile, we just get on with it and with that in mind, perhaps you’ll get off our land with your friends and let us do what we have done for 400 years...FARM!”

And with that telling off, Milstein, his wife and “team” moved off back to their cars with their tails firmly between their legs. “Bloody peasants,” said Milstein to his wife. “Wait until I write this up for the Journal of Ostension Research.”


Just in:

"I am sad to report that my long-time friend John Keel passed on July 03 at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City after a several month stint in a nursing home near his Upper West Side apartment. Phyllis Benjamin, The International Fortean Organization (INFO)"

I knew he was ill, but somehow one never expected this to happen. John Keel was probably the world's greatest living fortean; a throwback to the glory-days of forteana forty years ago, before it got tainted with the brush of crass commercialism. If only because of The Mothman Prophecies and Disneyland of the Gods I always wanted to meet him. And now I never shall.

Rest in Peace Mr Keel.

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday’s News Today


Monday is Movie Monday on YNT. This week’s film is a classic comedy Laurel and Hardy’s: A chump at Oxford. See the trailer here:
And now, the news:

Prey turns predator
Bat die-off draws U.S. attention
Sound of crickets spreads in Britain
Otter and glow-worms are among protected wildlife
More than a skinny snapper: It's a gator
Pachyderms outperform people in NYC cross-species ...
Animal populations dwindling drastically in Kariba...
15 endangered Sumatra elephants poisoned and shot ...
Pigeons trained as art critics

They’ll be trying their best not to just pigeon-hole the works into genres.


Max Blake demonstrating his enduring love and attraction for endangered species... (MAX: Please note, this is a panda NOT an attractive young female in a mask)


Steve Jones writes:

'By the way Jon, I have problems viewing photo's etc on your blog. Has anyone else reported problems? It started when java updated itself a few months back. I just get placeholders instead of pictures or videos. It only happens with the CFZ site. I wondered if one of the I.T. geeks had changed some settings?'

On another subject (that of shameless self congratulation), I want to pat ourselves on the back for having reached over 1500 blog posts now, and despite the fact that viewing numbers are down from the peak of a few weeks ago at the height of the Peruvian snake saga, we are still getting 20,000 a week (which is about what we got on the first three and a half years of the blog combined)....

At this rate we will be getting a hit-rate of over a million a year, which ain't too shabby. But we will have some more if people like Steve could see the pictures. C'mon techies....