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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, February 27, 2010

GLEN VAUDREY: Great auks in the Savage World

I am lucky enough to own a first edition 1889 copy of The Savage World: a complete natural history of the world’s creatures. This is a mighty tome. For those who have never seen a copy, I can give you very good clue to what it resembles, and that is a breeze block; it is that big and heavy. Of course it does have better pictures than a lump of building material.

Aside from its potential use as a hefty doorstop, it does give a glimpse into the natural world of the late Victorians. As you may imagine, some animals known today do not feature in it; the Okapi was still to be found, as was the mountain gorilla. But it isn’t what’s missing that I find interesting; rather it is the animals that were still current at the time the book was written, and what if anything we can learn from them.

The first animal to look at is one of my favourites, the great auk; the following is what The Savage World has to say about that bird.

‘The spectacled auk or great auk (Alca impennis) belongs to northern-most Europe. When it is the water it is almost impossible to pursue it quickly enough to get within shooting range, but like the albatross it can be caught with a hook. It is rapidly becoming extinct and, in spite of the extreme high price which either the bird or its eggs command, the museums of the world contain but 34 birds and but 42 eggs. Collections of the bird’s eggs are quite important to naturalists, but the objects sought by THE LIVING WORLD forbid any discussion of so large a theme. The spectacled auk is black above and white below; around and below the eyes are white markings (which give the auk its popular name) and the small wings or flippers are bordered with white on the upper arm’

Bizarrely, despite the fact that this book is from 1889, it appears that the author was unaware that the last known great auk went to meet its maker in 1844, and by the time of the book’s publication the type had long been extinct. That said, there were a few supposed sightings off Lofoten isles in the 1930s but these are widely suspected to be sightings of king penguins that had been released in the area at around the same time.

1 comment:

Syd said...

It makes one wonder, just how many species of birds, butterflies and other creatures would still be around today, if the Victorians had NOT been such avid naturalist's.
I don't recall the details now, but many years ago I read a book by a Victorian naturalist who stated rather proudly, that he had located the last known pair of a certain small bird and SHOT THEM for his collection.