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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Friday, September 18, 2009


Good old Dale. I don't know where he finds these things, but he posted it the other day, and it is absolutely priceless.

Well done dude....


Puppets have come along was since the Wooden Tops and Rag, Tag and Bobtail. Walking with Dinosaurs, the spectacular, if not 100% accurate BBC series was recently turned into a spectacular live show employing the most astounding puppetry I have ever seen.

I recently took my girlfriend Lisa and her son Mitchell at the Manchester MEN Arena. 15 life sized dinosaurs were created for the show that cost 10 million pounds and is currently on a worldwide tour.

The smallest are remote controlled puppets, medium sized ones are worn like suits by actors and the larger dinosaurs are vast mechanical contrivances operated via a driver in a chassis and two remote control operators.The effect is startlingly real with muscles bulging and every scale and skin tone clearly visible.

The show lasts over one and a half hours and is broken into three segments. In the Triassic we see a female plateosaurus, a pro- sauropod defending her young from a flesh eating liliensternus, but it is not just the dinosaurs that are on show, contemporary vegetation is also created in a unique way with inflatable plants that differ for each period. Continental shift is suggested by large chunks of the scenery being heaved apart.

In the Jurassic section we are treated to a confrontation between the spectacularly plated and spined stegosaurus and the savage carnosaur allosaurus. aceous beginning with a pack of utahraptors squabbling over their kill. We also see the emergence of flowering plants. A huge marionette of the giant pterosaur ornithocheirus was lowered from the ceiling and a moving background showed its migratory flight. Two horned torosaurus (ceratopsians closely related to the better know triceratops) lock horns and battle it out as the club tailed, tank like ankyloAlso taking to the stage was the shows largest dinosaurs the huge brachiosaurus towering over 40 feet tall.

The best section of the show was the cretsaurus watches. Final the star of the show a 43 foot tyrannosaurus rex emerges to frightened squeal of children. It truly is an awesome creation and looks as if it is about to snatch an audience member from their seat and swallow them whole. This most ferocious of dinosaurs is show not only as the most fearsome predator ever to walk the earth but also as an intelligent animal that cared for its young.

Walking with Dinosaurs Live has now finished is UK run and has moved elsewhere but the show is so good that it is bound to be resurrected at some point. If it returns to the UK then make sure you see it. It’s the closest thing to seeing real dinosaurs (apart from birds and come on seeing a duck isn’t the same as seeing a t.rex is it?) you will get until someone invents time travel.


Chad Arment recently circulated this:

The PDF document here:


Includes discussion (in ch. 16, pdf document page 172-3) of Peruvian folklore of the Segamai, which the authors suggest are similar to Mapinguari stories.

OLL LEWIS: The Adventures of Marmaduke Wetherell, Adventurer.

Previously… After the missionary camp he was employed to protect was massacred by creatures unknown, Captain Ignatius Pryce teamed up with the mysterious and charismatic Marmaduke Wetherell to track down the dangerous creature known as the Nandi bear in order to clear his name. Unfortunately things do not run according to plan. Part 1, A Mission to Die can be read here: http://forteanzoology.blogspot.com/2009/08/oll-lewis-adventures-of-marmaduke.html

Captain Pryce had to admit the odds were not stacked in his and Wetherell’s favour. What had he been thinking? With the benefit of hindsight it was clear to him it had been a bit of a mistake to follow a creature that had massacred the whole camp of missionaries he’d been hired to protect into a forest that was quite likely the creature’s home territory. No, a bit of a mistake was an understatement. It had been an almighty balls-up and an error of judgement to follow a creature that had massacred the whole camp of missionaries he had been hired to protect; and with only a revolver and an oil lamp he had not checked to see how little oil was left, in the dead of night, under the guidance of somebody he had only just met. Yes, that about covered it. It had of course been an even bigger error to curse when the oil had run out because that had alerted at least five of these ‘Nandi bears’, as Wetherell had called them, to their presence. Even in daylight this would have been a tricky situation, but at night and with only the meagre light of Marmaduke Wetherell’s pipe to cut through the forest’s gloom it was a hopeless situation.

“Well, how true is your aim?” Wetherell whispered with his back to Pryce.
“I am a good shot, but generally that is when I can see the thing I’m shooting at.” Pryce hissed back desperately.
“I believe I may be able to help with that.” Wetherell took a cylindrical object from his belt and held it near to his pipe. Suddenly, what appeared to be an over-long wick caught light and he handed it to Pryce.
“Now,” said Wetherell in calm, hushed tones, “We should have the element of surprise, as I doubt they will expect their prey to fight back.”
“Are you insane?” Pryce demanded in a sort of whispered shout. “There are five animals out there with claws strong enough to disembowel elephants. As soon as I shoot they’ll see the light from this candle you’ve just handed me and we’ll be dead.”
“I assure you, this plan cannot fail. There’s two of them in the tree about 20 feet to your left.” Wetherell said calmly.
“I am not as quick a shot to be able to take out two of them at once, and I still can’t even see them!”
“I did not say to use your gun, old chap, that is why I gave you that stick of dynamite. Now if you could be a good fellow and for the love of God, throw it over to that tree before it blows us both up…”
“Wha – Dynamite?! You are insane!” Pryce spluttered before throwing the dynamite at the base of the tree. Wetherell pulled Pryce into a ditch just before the explosion tore through the trees.

“Ha! The blaggards were not expecting that! Two against three evens up the odds!” the big-game-hunter shouted as splinters of burning wood and leaves rained down. Quick as a flash Wetherell withdrew a machete from the opposite side of his belt to where he had got the dynamite from, and stood up. From the relative safety of the ditch Pryce saw Wetherell throw the machete at something then purposefully stride off in its direction.
“Good show. Two against two now! Oh, by the way, Ignatius, you won’t want to stay in that ditch. I can hear a pretty large-sounding one headed your way.”
Pryce did not have to be told twice and followed Wetherell’s suggestion. He regretted calling the man insane, now; thanks to Wetherell they had evened the odds in less that a minute. Pryce felt sure that as long as he stuck with Wetherell he’d survive this.

“The one I just dispatched was the wounded one. The other two won’t be as easy, especially as they’ll now have worked out that we are a threat. You run the way we came and when one gives chase, shoot behind you. I’ll deal with the other,” Wetherell ordered.
“Gives chase?” queried Pryce, alarmed.
“Indeed. They won’t want to let us get away; I do believe we’ve killed all the females,” Wetherell mumbled, trying to hold his pipe between his teeth while using both hands to aim the large gun he was holding.
“How am I meant to run when I can’t see two feet in front of my face? This is madn – ” Pryce started to protest before he heard a branch crack behind him. Adrenaline coursed through Ignatius Pryce’s blood stream, and as the world outside of his head slowed to a trickle, he realised that he only had two courses of action left open to him: one was to die and the other was to follow Wetherell’s plan and run. “I’ll meet you back at the camp!” Wetherell shouted as Pryce tore off back along the game trail.

The adrenaline was driving Pryce now. His muscles burned. His heart pounded in his ribcage. His lungs were dry and sore. The only thing he could do was to keep running. If he stopped now he would never be able to start again. If that happened, the creature following him would catch him, then he would die a painful death. Maybe he should stop. At least then this pain would stop. There was suddenly a sharp jerk; something had caught his thigh – the creature? No, it felt like thorns. Pryce pulled away from the thorns and felt a sharp pain. The pain was followed by a throbbing in his leg and a seeping liquid that even without looking Pryce knew was blood. He took a few more steps forward and stumbled over a branch in the darkness. The adrenaline was starting to wear off now and even though he could hear the creature crashing through undergrowth just yards behind him it was taking all of Pryce’s concentration to block out as much of the burning in his muscles as possible and maintain his speed. It wasn’t working especially well though and the rate his blood was pouring out of the gash in his leg didn’t help matters either. To keep his mind off the burn of his muscles Pryce started to consider what he could use as a tourniquet when he had shaken off the creature. Had he been concentrating more on what little he could see of the path ahead he would not have tripped over a tree root when he heard the almighty boom of Wetherell’s big gun going off elsewhere in the woodland.

Pryce tried to pick himself up off the ground but his legs simply wouldn’t allow it. His lungs also took advantage of the hiatus in the proceedings and started off a chain of wheezing and panting as Pryce lay face down in the mud that made his windpipe feel as if it was being stabbed again and again with a long sword. The creature let out another of its unnerving guttural roars. It would soon be upon him. Before now he had always thought it was a cliché when people said that your life flashed before your eyes before death, but as past glories and regrets played out in his minds eye, Captain Ignatius Pryce mused to himself that sometimes clichés are just that because they’re true.

He remembered being told off for breaking his father’s brass monocle as a child and trying to blame it on the kitchen boy. He remembered the horror of the trenches and having to crawl through barbed wire, unexploded bombs and the mangled bodies of his friends in no-mans-land… That had been an ironic name for the strip of land between the two trenches; you could hardly move in some parts without stepping on a putrefied bit of something that had quite definitely been part of some man once. He remembered marrying Lucy and seeing his boy, Thomas, for the first time. He had been so proud and even pictured the time he would take the boy to his first museum. Sadly that was not to be; the next memory that came flooding back was of the worst day of his life. It was not long after he had killed the man-eating tiger while stationed in India. He had been called to the General’s office to receive the news. The General, an old friend of Pryce’s, had tried his best to soften the blow, but there was only so much you can lessen the impact of telling a man that his wife and baby son had been found murdered back home and the house had been picked clean. Pryce’s family had never trusted banks so as well as coping with the death of his loved ones he had been rendered virtually penniless, all in one day. He had resigned his position within a month to take on the high risk and high pay of a mercenary. If he could find the man that had killed everything he held dear, he would have no hesitation in shooting him stone dead.

Suddenly something clicked in Pryce’s mind. Of course, ‘shoot’ – he still had his service revolver! If this creature was going to take him down he certainly wouldn’t go without a fight!

Pryce rolled over onto his back and pulled himself up against a tree. His legs still refused to allow him to stand and he was still panting, but he could sit against the tree, at least and that offered a better prospect than getting slit open face down in the mud. Even better than that, the forest’s canopy had thinned slightly and although there was still hardly any light he was at last able to make out faint differences in shadow, which gave him a fighting chance of being able to shoot the thing.

Deep in the forest the boom of Wetherell’s gun rang out again and Pryce noticed one shadow, not to far from the path, jerk slightly as if it was suddenly looking behind. Pryce fired three shots towards the shadow in quick succession, but the shadow jumped backwards and the shots sailed past. Pryce cursed. He only had two more shots left in the revolver. He would have to be a lot more careful than that. The shadow had melded back into the others in the commotion so Pryce concentrated on the forest’s dark tableau, scanning the scene for signs of movement. He carefully aimed the gun, making only slow short movements so that the creature wouldn’t notice the gun being pointed at him a second time. Pryce gently squeezed the trigger and the bullet shot out to meet its target. Or not – the shadow jumped to the side and the bullet went whizzing off into the undergrowth. The creature’s silhouette stood up to its full height and tilted its head to the sky before starting another guttural howl. Pryce seized the opportunity to fire off the last of the bullets, which hit the creature in the chest, toppling it to the ground, mid-roar.

“That, my friend, is what you get for showing off!” Pryce shouted, before using the tree to pull himself up.
Now his legs were feeling a bit better Pryce was able to stand while he ripped off the leg of his trousers to tie around the cut on his thigh in order to stem the bleeding, and selected a sturdy looking branch to help to take the weight off the injured leg. The next task would be to get evidence of this strange creature’s existence. None of the authorities in Nairobi would believe his account of the events at the camp with only his word that these things even existed. The best outcome he could hope for would be ending his days in an asylum and the worst (and probably the most likely) outcome would be dangling at the end of a noose. People might blame some sort of delayed response to the shock of his wife and son being found decapitated and the theft of everything he owned or worse, he was sure wagging tongues would accuse him of their murders too. He would not have that. Besmirching his own name was one thing, but tarnishing the memory of Lucy and Thomas? He couldn’t let that happen. Pryce cautiously approached the spot where the creature lay and took his hunting knife from his belt.
“One of those massive claws should be enough to convince anyone.” Pryce muttered under his breath.

Suddenly, another boom from Wetherell’s gun sounded out and Pryce stopped mid-hobble. The sound had been deafening; the gun couldn’t have been fired more than 20 feet away, which meant…

“Change of plan, dear boy,” shouted Wetherell as he burst out of the undergrowth. “RUN!”

Pryce did not have to be told twice and somehow managed to find enough power left in his legs to keep up with Wetherell as he careered down the game trail.

“What,” spluttered Pryce between puffs, “happened?”
“Well,” said Wetherell, who seemed to be keeping his composure remarkably well given the circumstances and still had his pipe held between this teeth, “You remember we heard five roars?”
“Yes” Pryce wheezed.
“Well, it turns out that not all the animals roar. Quite fascinating, really; there seems to be some sort of social hierarchy, similar to a feudal system; really quite remarkable. Almost human-like, as it were.”
“How… many?” Pryce huffed, clearly uninterested in the prospect of a lecture on animal psychology at this present time.
“Oh, about thirty more, give or take.”
“Give or take? For God’s sake, man! It took all I had to kill one of those things!”
“You killed it?”
“Yes! Shot the blighter as he was roaring.”
“Ah.” Wetherell started to slow down and a look of doubt and inquiry crossed his face. “Where did you shoot it?”
“What does that matter? In the chest if you must know.” Pryce said, starting to get rather angry. Between them he and Wetherell had dispatched at least three of the blighters in the deep forest, not that you could see much there. Why did he seem so doubtful that Pryce had taken one out single-handedly? Was his ego that big that he couldn’t comprehend that other people could be just as capable as he?
“Oh, the chest. Well, jolly good show. Well don,.” Wetherell said and sped up again, having regained his composure. “Incidentally we’ll have to turn off to the right about here. You’ll be glad to know it is downhill from here if we are where I think we are.”
“How are you able to stay so damn calm? There are thirty of those damned beasts following us!”
“Simple: I know something they don’t.”
“And what is that, then?” asked Pryce.
“Safety is just around the corner.”

It turned out Wetherell had been talking literally because when they turned off to the right Pryce saw light coming from a sesquiplane that appeared to be floating on the river. As he got closer to the plane he could see that it was a most unusual-looking machine, like some strange half-boat, half-fighter plane hybrid.

“Like her? Ain’t she a beaut?” crowed the scruffily dressed and bearded American in the pilot seat. “1922 Fokker B.1; only two were ever made.”
“I’m sure Captain Pryce would be very interested to learn about your plane Mr Riley, but I’m afraid time is rather of the essence. We need to get airborne fast,” said Wetherell as he grabbed hold of the plane’s wing to help pull it ashore. Pryce helped to pull the plane too and Riley put down the plane’s wheels. It only took about two minutes to get it on to the beach by the river and the propeller started up and soon they were in the air.

“Well, that went as well as could be expected!” shouted Marmaduke over the noise of the motor and the wind buffet.
“ARE YOU MAD?!” shouted Pryce “We were nearly killed by those things and God alone knows how we outran them!”
“But we did! And don’t you see? Not only did we find out so much more about them but we can prove the Nandi Bear exists! And people the world over will know our names!” Wetherell shouted over the din.
“NO! We can’t prove it because we have no evidence other than our say-so! The second that camp is found the authorities are going to be looking for the culprit! They have records in Nairobi of exactly which mercenaries are employed where! I’ll be prime suspect! I was almost able to cut off the thing’s claw before you decided to lead thirty of them right in my direction!”
“Can I tell you about my plane yet?” Riley piped up from the pilot seat between the two men, hoping to defuse the argument.
“Shut up, Riley!” shouted Wetherell and Pryce in unison.
“Anyway,” said Wetherell, “Who says we don’t have proof? The camera never lies!”
“You have a camera? Oh, thank God!” said Pryce.
“Yes, and flash powder, which is also how I found out there were more than those five Nandi bears.”
“Well, now you have your evidence I guess you two can stop yelling. The name’s James; James Riley. Now, I know your surname’s Pryce so I’m guessing you’d be Welsh, What’s your first name?”
“Well, my Grandfather was Welsh but not me; I’m from Kent. My name’s Ignatius.”
“Well, close enough. Say, boss, where we heading?”
“It looks like we’ll have to go to Nairobi before anywhere else, for Captain Pryce to make his report to the authorities,” Wetherell answered.
“And the fact that it’s the nearest place where there’ll be newspapers who want to buy those photos would have nothing to do with it?” Riley said with a wry smile.
“Well, I can’t say that isn’t another advantage, dear boy!”
“Look, if you’re going to be selling those photos then good luck to you,” Pryce piped up, “But we need to show them to the authorities first!”
“But, of course; you have no reason to worry, Captain Pryce.”

“No, I have every reason. Who is going to want to hire me after this? Everybody I was meant to be protecting was killed before I was even able to get one shot at the culprit. I’ll be penniless; I don’t even have enough money to get a ship back to England.
“I might be able to help you out there,” Wetherell said slowly.
“In my line of work one encounters certain… perils. And you’ve already proved yourself more then capable by being able to dispatch that Nandi bear – ” Wetherell, was interrupted by Riley bursting into a fit of coughing that caused the plane to buffet slightly on its course. “Are you quite alright Riley?”
“Yeah, boss, just a frog in my throat is all.”
“Well, try to stay focused. Anyway, Captain Pryce, I would like to offer you a job as my bodyguard,” Wetherell concluded.
“Let me see… Not a chance!” Pryce answered.
“I do hope you change your mind; you are a most capable fellow, and I do pay well if that’s any incentive.”
“Sorry but no. I’d rather end my days penniless. I have had more than enough danger in my lifetime. It was a miracle I even survived the war! Three times they sent me over the top! Three times with bullets and shells firing in every direction, and that was before you took the mines into consideration! India wasn’t much better, with all the local uprisings there.”
“Anyway guys,” said Riley in an attempt to change the subject again, “The sun is coming up. I’ll bet you’ve never seen a sunrise from a plane before, Iggy! It’s one of the greatest sights you can ever hope to see.”

Riley’s attempt to get the men to stop arguing worked perfectly as all three men squinted in the dawn and watched the shadows disappear from the African plain. From their vantage point in the air they could see a herd of impala being woken by the sun’s rays and a single large bull elephant walking towards a watering hole where long-legged birds stood in the shallows.

“You’re right, Riley,” conceded Pryce as he watched the stunning vista unfold. “I would never have dreamed how stunning things can look from up here.”
“Too right; look at all those animals. See those giraffes over there? Say, boss, what’s the plural for giraffes? Is it like giraffes or can you just say giraffe no matter how many there are like sheep?”
“Hmm? Oh, either is fine.”
“And them birds flying in front of the sun; huge, huh? Bet you’ve never seen birds this big in England!” boasted Riley.
“They do look odd; quite a strange shape for birds too, and there’s so many of them, it’s a surprise that they don’t block out the sun,” said the awestruck Captain Pryce.
“I don’t want to alarm either of you gentlemen but those are not birds,” said Wetherell. “They’re Kongamato!”
“Konga-what now?” Riley answered.
“Gigantic carnivorous pteropus – ” started Wetherell before Riley cut him off.
“Again, what the hell are they?”
“A giant bat; a bat that eats birds.”
“Not big ones, I hope, as there coming right for us!” shouted Pryce.
“I’m afraid so,” Wetherell answered.


Conservation International says that endangered lemurs are being killed for bush meat on Madagascar. They have released pictures of crowned lemurs and golden-crowned sifaka that have been killed. The latter is one of the top 25 most endangered primates in the world. Most of its small population lives near the town of Daraina in the north of Madagascar.

Since violence erupted in January following disputed elections and a coup, lawlessness has meant an increase in the bush meat trade with lemur meat being sold to restaurants as a 'delicacy'.

Park rangers have left their posts after being threatened by gangs, and after most international aid has been suspended there is little money for conservation.

Dr Russ Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and an authority on lemurs, says the practice needs to be stamped out quickly: "The poaching of lemurs can increase the 'taste' for lemurs and result in an increase of the illegal hunting of this animal, especially if the market for them grows.

“More than anything else these poachers are killing the goose that laid the golden egg, wiping out the very animals that people most want to see, and undercutting the country and especially local communities by robbing them of future ecotourism revenue."

Earlier this year, following looting and violence, Marojejy National Park was closed.
The park has now reopened but there are fears that locals who used to rely on income from visitors and international conservation may turn to logging and poaching.

MAX BLAKE: Kakapo conference

This little bit of tasty news bypassed me when it first came out last week, but it is so cool I will write quickly about it. Sirocco, a cock Kakapo (New Zealand night parrot) who has been hand-raised, is travelling to Auckland Zoo to raise awareness about this species's fragile state (124 Kakapo are currently in existence) and will be available for public viewing from the 14 – 23th September (6pm - 9pm). If anyone reading this post lives in or near Auckland, we would love to see a report of the event!



Well, folks, I honestly thought that I'd have run out of ideas by now but I think I have this editing lark cracked! Today I'm going to big up the other posts, which are all MOST fascinating, particularly Oll's on Happy Families - nope, it's not a run-down of life at Myrtle cottage....

However, leaving the most exciting thing till last, and tying in with Scottie's post about the Blue Dog of Texas, conclusive photographic proof of the existence of the Blue Dog of Heywood has been captured by yours truly, being modelled by my assistant for this week, Mr Leo Carney.


Scottie Westfall is an invaluable addition to the CFZ family. Over at his blog http://wildlifemysteries.wordpress.com/ he does much the same sort of fringe natural history as we do, and his is one of the few blogs (along with TetZoo and the Birdchick) that I read avidly. He has been following the ongoing debate about the hairless blue dogs of Texas which have been the subject of CFZ investigations since 2004, and has thrown another piece of information into the investigative melting pot:


He writes: "Hairless Village dogs in Latin America - they exist as far north as Mexico. Perhaps some of their genes have trickled into the coyote population, and then the Mexican coyotes with these genes wandered into Texas."


If you were interested in the wonders of the natural world during the 19th and early 20th centuries there were two places you could visit to feed your appetite for knowledge. The first of these was your local museum, where you could marvel at fossils and taxidermy of exotic animals like tigers or crocodiles. If you had a particularly good museum in your city it might even have mummies in it. Museums were there to encourage the public into gaining an education in history, the arts and the sciences for the ultimate advancement of mankind so there was a good chance you might learn something too. The second option had far less lofty ideals; it existed to make money and entertain. It was known by a number of names like the travelling show, the sideshow, the circus and the freak show.

Exposing the great unwashed to actual science or encouraging them to further study mattered little to most sideshow operators; in fact many of the attractions were designed to contradict popular scientific understanding. Put yourself in the mind of the average punter. Which attraction would you be more likely to pay money to see: something you could see in your local museum any time you wanted or a horse that can do maths by tapping its foot? My money would be on perhaps a little over half the people asked the question picking the horse purely because it’s not the sort of thing you see every day, but I bet a load more people would go for the horse if on posters there were taglines like “Science said it was IMPOSSIBLE, but it was WRONG!” screaming out at you. I know I’d certainly go and see the horse, then, if only to confirm to myself that the scientists were right and the horses ‘maths’ was no more than it following hand signals from its trainer.

Any and every scientific discovery and law was fair game so long as exploiting a dramatic-looking supposed contradiction could make a fair amount of publicity in the press and turn a profit for the show owner. So after the publication of Darwin’s theories of natural selection it was only to be expected that there would be sideshow exhibits that appeared to contradict his theory. That sideshow became known as ‘The Happy Family’ and was copied many times around the world. A Happy Family exhibit was when animals were placed in a pen with their natural predators with the animals showing very little animosity to each other, even drinking from the same water dish without batting an eyelid. Exhibitors of Happy Families would often draw attention to the fact that if their exhibit was to be believed, nature was certainly not red in tooth and claw and that Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ claims, which were at the time considered the main driving force of speciation, were based on a falsehood. Needless to say this patter worked very well in large cities where the closest you got to nature was occasionally finding a nest of rats in your mattress; but not so well in more rural areas and smaller towns where the punters were more likely to see just how red the teeth and claws were first hand. Of course the exhibits didn’t actually disprove any scientific theory; they even misinterpreted the meaning of survival of the fittest in the first place; but people were intrigued by the mix of predator and prey living in harmony.

The most famous example of The Happy Family was part of P. T. Barnum’s Greatest Show On Earth of which the shows 1892 guidebook boasted:

‘In this cage will be found cats playing harmlessly with mice; dogs, foxes, monkeys and rabbits peacefully eating food out of the same dish without harming each other; owls, eagles, vultures watching the frolics of squirrels, bats and small birds, their usual prey, without making an attempt to capture or kill them.’

Certainly, if the guidebook’s claims were true then it was a most remarkable exhibit, if not rather crowded. Barnum claimed that the animals were not unhealthy or drugged but there was a secret as how the predators lost their will to kill prey and the prey lost their fear. As part of his publicity, and knowing that his exhibit would have to stand head and shoulders above those of other shows Barnum started to claim that his exhibit was the original Happy Family. This was untrue as the Happy Family had been a British invention. Francis T. Buckland recorded two Happy Families in London in 1852; one at Charing Cross and the other at Waterloo Bridge. Both exhibitors claimed to have been the originators of the exhibit to Buckland so even Barnum’s claims of originality were unoriginal. It is highly likely that Barnum visited one or both of London’s Happy Families on one of his visits to England and being the showman that he was, easily worked out how the effect was achieved.

The great ‘secret’ to making a Happy Family exhibit was to just pick the laziest and most docile individual animals you could find, keep them very well fed and remove any animal that didn’t get along with the others. Even better results could be had by raising the animals together from infancy. With enough money, time, skill and luck a showman could put together an impressive exhibit filled with exotic animals that was sure to impress anyone who came to see it, throw in a bit of humbug about how “Science said it was IMPOSSIBLE, but it was WRONG!” on the posters and you have a surefire hit.

There are still several Happy Family exhibits around today. Until at least the 1990s there was even one in Coney Island, New York, and most work on exactly the same principles. Thankfully, though, most modern Happy Families have a more educational, ecological basis than in their heyday and give greater space and better living conditions to the animals and the practice of grouping animals that would not co-exist in the wild has had its day. The modern successor of the happy family exhibit are the exhibits in zoos and aquariums that attempt to recreate natural ecosystems and habitats and these are usually free of carnivores, lazy and well fed or not.