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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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Sunday, June 27, 2010

COULD WE HAVE BEEN RIGHT ALL ALONG?

When I started the Centre for Fortean Zoology in 1992 it was mostly to give validation to my own personal researches into the mystery animals of the West Country, but it was also because I felt that the nature of cryptozoology as a whole needed to be redefined.


I have recently come across the term ‘ethnoknown’, first in a post on Cryptomundo and secondly in Chad Arment’s smashing new book on the mystery carnivores of North America. I am surprised I have not come across the term before, and I suspect it is a word of recent origin, or even a neologism like my very own `zooform`. But it is a remarkably apposite term for cryptozoologists, for cryptozoology does indeed concern animals that are less well known; i.e. animals that are known to the inhabitants of an area (even if this knowledge is only in folkloric or zoomythological terms). This is, after all, the very essence of cryptozoology.

The CFZ recently came under criticism from a person who hides behind the pseudonym ‘Highland Tiger.’ He claims that although the CFZ have carried out over 20 expeditions they have come back with no evidence for the existence of any of cryptids for which they have searched. If you are examining these expeditions in cryptozoological terms (and we are of course cryptozoologists) this is simply not true. Each expedition has come back with anecdotal evidence from the people ‘on the ground’, which bolsters what we know of these cryptids as ethnoknown, (but still cryptic as far as the scientific community on the whole is concerned), animals.


One of the things that I have always thought massively important as far as cryptozoology is concerned, and one in which has therefore become one of the watchwords of the Centre for Fortean Zoology as a whole, is that cryptozoology is not the study of monsters.


Whereas the study of ethnoknown creatures can be used to extrapolate the existence of various lake monsters, man-beasts, and other fearsome denizens of far-flung places, it can also be used far closer to home to extrapolate the existence of far less exciting but equally significant animals.


For example, in the first few issues of Animals & Men (now collected together as Animals & Men Issues 1 – 5 In the Beginning (CFZ Press, 2001) and my own Smaller Mystery Animals of the West Country (CFZ Press 1996) I presented evidence for the existence of three ethnoknown mystery animals in the southwest of England.


They were:
  • A British population of the green lizard (Lacerta viridis) in southern Dorset and southern Devon. I hypothesised that they could have become naturalised in the area after having been inadvertently introduced through the south coast seaports into which they had been imported in shipments of fruit and flowers from the Channel Islands where this species has long been resident.

  • Surviving populations of the pine marten (Martes martes). This charming little carnivore was, according to Langley and Yalden writing in 1977, extirpated from its entire English range by the end of the 19th Century. In The Smaller Mystery Carnivores of the West Country I presented evidence that in Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Dorset and Hampshire, and possibly Surrey, this was just not so and that (in some areas bolstered up by artificial and unofficial introduction programmes) this was just not true.

  • Working on evidence from 15th, 16th and 17th Century parish records I concluded that Edward Alston’s 1872 paper on the ‘Specific Identity of the British Marten’ was quite simply wrong. In almost all of its range, M. martes co-exists with another – and closely related – species: Martes foina. The beech or stone marten - or marten cat as it is commonly known - was thought to live in various parts of the UK and Ireland until – with a stroke of the pen – Alston disenfranchised it. Such things happen all the time in zoology. For example, in Hong Kong the one cervid was thought to be the Chinese barking deer, Reeve’s muntjak (Muntiacus reevesi), and was included in all the reference books as such together with photographs undoubtedly of this animal. Halfway through the last decade there was a paradigm shift and suddenly the word from on high was that the only deer living in the former British colony was the Indian or red muntjak (Muntiacus muntjak). I believe that both species, and quite probably hybrids of the two in various degrees of introgressiveness exist there. But this is, of course, another story.

Over the 16 years since I first published these theories, I have to a certain extent been vindicated on two of them.

  • Firstly, the green lizards: sometime during the 1990s Lacerta viridis was split into several species and the ones found in western Europe are now called Lacerta bilineata. The great surprise in the world of herpetology but not to those of us who follow Heuvelmans’s suggestive methodology vis-a-vis ethnoknown animals, populations of Lacerta bilineata were discovered near Bournemouth – a sea port with a regular congress to and from the Channel Islands. The latest accepted thinking is that these animals are of relatively recent introduction, however whether they were introduced deliberately or by accident using a model similar to the one suggested by me back in the halcyon days of 1994 remain – for the moment – obscure. However, I think that I have been fully vindicated and strongly expect similar colonies to be found in the hills above Seaton and Lyme Regis in the next few years. Possibly I wasn’t just justified in the ungentlemanly headline “Told u so!” that I used both in Animals & Men and the late-lamented Pet Reptile magazine, but “I was so much older then, and younger than that now”.

  • The most recent vindication of my personal use of the study of ethnoknown creatures in the UK came in the Guardian on 4th June 2010 when a report by the quango Natural England was discussed. It turns out that far from being extinct, small pockets of survivors have hung on quite successfully in various parts of England and Wales, as well as the areas in Scotland and Ireland where it has always been known to be living. Unfortunately for those who would like to see me hailed as some sort of zoological hero, the furthest south that the Natural England report said that pine martens had been seen was Northamptonshire, but I never particularly wanted to be a hero anyway. Again, I think that it almost certain that I should be proved 100% correct in the next few years. But when this happens, it will be a victory for cryptozoology, not a victory for the CFZ, and that it how it should be.

So what about my third prediction of 1994? Will beech martens be found to be UK residents?

I still think, almost certainly, yes. In the last 15 years the pool frog (Rana ( Pelophylax) lessonae), and at least two species of bat - Alcathoe's bat (Myotis alcathoe), and Nathusius' Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus nathusii) – have been proven to be British residents. The latter bat, by the way, was one that I had hypothesised was a British resident back in 1992.

I think that whilst the question of the existence of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, and the yeti, and even the existence of big cats in Britain may still be questionable a decade from now, the three claims that I made in issue 1 of Animals & Men have certainly been vindicated and will be proof that cryptozoology, as laid down by Heuvelmans himself, is – indeed - a valid discipline because all three of my predictions were based on eyewitness testimony. All three creatures were ethnoknown as British residents.

This, I think, gives all of us who are interested in such things, great hope for the future.

1 comment:

Dale Drinnon said...

I am very much in agreement with Jon on these particulars, except that in my case the accidental discovery of *any* new species is Cryptozoology-the 'Ethnoknown' reports are simply the background literature where we have something to go on. Reports of Bigfoot and Loch Ness Monster count as 'Ethnoknown' in the same reasoning.

For my part, discounting reports of known species from the mass of reports is every bit as vital a part of Cryptozoology, but in such cases the subjects cease to be Cryptozoological in themselves. Thus if phantom big cats are known species, they are never Cryptozoological, wherever they might appear. And finding new species of earthworms IS Cryptozoological. To my mind the vast majority of sightings of all Water Monster sightings worldwide must be discounted as evidence, yet I do believe in the existence of several novel species that fall into that category. but if outsized catfish and pikes of known species are at the base of some of the reports, they are not Cryptozoological, while reports relating to unidentified species of sturgeon ARE. And the bulk of Wildmen reports the whole world over I do not even count as Cryptozoological at all, because the default explanation is that they all belong to the same species as us, not any unknown species.

I am thorougly behind Jon when he says we do not deal with monsters. Indeed , I have had severely negative experiences in connection to that word in the past and I avoid it as much as possible.