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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, February 21, 2010

IVAN MACKERLE: Man-eater or only killer?

I have always been passionately interested in learning about all sorts of monsters and creatures from the animal world hiding in the remote and unexplored places of our planet. And even though I have known that it is not at all easy to track them down, I have tried to do that many times. When I once read about a man-eating tree that grows yet undiscovered by science in the Madagascar rainforests and that can entrap a human in its branches and then gradually consume it, I rejoiced. It is not an animal, which could hide. The tree grows on the invariable place all the time and so it can not flee, can it? I was certain that this time I would solve the mystery and uncover the green monster.

"At the bottom of the valley and near its eastern extremity, we came to a deep tarnlike lake about a mile in diameter, the sluggish oily water of which overflowed into a tortuous reedy canal that went into the recesses of a black forest composed of jungle below and palms above. A path diverging from its southern side struck boldly for the heart of the forbidding and seemingly impenetrable forest.


My interpreter Hendrick led the way along this path, I following closely, and behind me a curious rabble of Mkodos, men, women and children. Suddenly all the natives began to cry “Tepe! Tepe!” The sluggish canallike stream here wound slowly by, and in a bare spot in its band was the most singular of trees. Imagine a pineapple eight feet high and thick in proportion, but a dark dingy brown, and apparently as hard as iron. Eight leaves hung from the tree, each about elf feet long, and tapered to a sharp point. These leaves hanging thus limp and lifeless, dead green in color, had in appearance the massive strength of oak fibre.

A clear, treacly liquid, with highly intoxicating properties, trickled from the centre. A series of hairy, green eight feet long tendrils stretched out in every direction. Suddenly, after the natives had offered up prayers to the tree, they encircled one of the women and forced her to climb its trunk. When she stood at the top, surrounded by its dancing tentacles, she bent down and drank the treacle-like fluid, then became wild with hysterical frenzy. But she did not jump down, as she seemed to intend to do. The atrocious cannibal tree came to sudden savage life. With the fury of starved serpents quivered a moment over her head, then as if instinct with demoniac intelligence fastened upon her in sudden coils round and round her neck and arms. Her screams were replaced with a gurgling moan. And now the great leaves slowly rose and stiffly, like the arms of a derrick, erected themselves in the air, approached one another and closed about the dead and hampered victim with the silence force of a hydraulic press.


The retracted leaves of the great tree kept their upright position for ten days. When I came by one morning, they were prone again, with the tendrils outstretched, and there was nothing but a white skull left at the foot of the tree."

That is how German traveller Karl Liche described his eyewitness experience in a letter to Polish savant Dr Omelius Fredlowski at the end of the nineteenth century. The letter was published in several newspapers and magazines and attracted a great deal of attention.

It was first published by German popular magazine Graefe und Walther of Karlsruhe in 1878 and then by Indian Mail published in Madras. New York based World and Australian Register followed in 1880 and a year later the story appeared in Antanarivo Annual and Madagascar Magazine published by missionaries in Madagascar. The discovery of a man-eating tree, however, went unnoticed by botanists as well as travellers, and so it slowly fell into oblivion.

Searching begins

A new wave of interest was created by a Sunday supplement of American Weekly published on Sept. 26, 1920 even though it did not bring any new information but a dusted-off and dramatised version of Liche's letter that ran accompanied by a cartoon of a naked blonde entrapped by thorny leaves of the terrible tree. The article, however, inspired Michigan governor Chase Salmon Osborn to a trip to Madagascar to this botanical anomaly.

Osborn had criss-crossed Madagascar but did not find the tree anywhere. All natives he met, however, had allegedly told him about the tree. American Weekly published his travel experience in October of 1924. And for the third time, American Weekly returned to the subject in January 1925. A story titled `Escaped from the Embrace of the Man-eating Tree` described an expedition of traveler W. C. Bryant to one of the Philippines islands where he had discovered human skeletons in branches of a strange and unknown tree.

These articles, though, met with a harsh reaction from botanists. "Carnivorous plants entrap and consume only insects the size of several millimetres," they raged. "A man or a bigger animal can never become their prey."


Science magazine American Botanist closed the unmerciful criticism saying: "Field and forest do not teem with poisonous plants and animals. They are far more peaceful and harmless than the streets of any city. If there is such a plant as those have been described in tabloid press, we hereby offer ten thousand dollars for a living specimen."


Hard to say whether it was a prospect of the reward or just a desire for an adventure that in 1935 took former British army officer L. Hearst searching for a man-eating tree to the Madagascar rainforests. And even though he had not met natives of the Mkodo pygmy tribe who would have taken him to their worshiped tree, he was not quite that unsuccessful. He met with a tiny black hillman who assured him that the Devil tree does trap and devour human victims and that secret religious rites and tribal sacrifices are offered to it even today.

This encouraged Hearst who then spent four months on the island searching for the trees until he finally found huge carnivorous plants. The natives managed to keep the man-eating tree Tepe out of Hearst's attention but he still brought back photographs of large pitcher plants swallowing small rodents and photographs of some sort of unknown trees that were surrounded by skeletons of larger animals. He, of course, could not bring living specimen of the trees because he would have needed at least a truck to do that.

The scientists, however, did not accept his photographs as proof and accused him of forgery. That made Hearst return to the jungle. However, this time he did not come back. He died under mysterious circumstances somewhere in the area of succulent Harpagophytes in the southeast part of the island. And that was where we started our search.

Surrounded by insidious tendrils

We had thought that we would be met by the same impassable green jungle as in Africa but the dry spiny bush that we got into here was perhaps even worse and less passable. The vegetation was dominated by raffia very well accustomed to the dry climate and by huge baobab trees that were scattered among thorny scrub. The landscape looked as if it was not on the Earth.

The area we were in was covered by thorny giants growing out of bright red sand. There were Euphorbias with thirty-centimetre thorns as well as strange-looking octopus trees which resilient branches were covered by thorns in such a way that the leaves were almost invisible.

Passing through such countryside is extremely strenuous even with a machete. The thorns immediately tear up your clothes and scratch up your body. After a few tens of metres of a march through this terrible vegetation you have to return, bleeding. That is one of the reasons why there are still hidden so many undiscovered plants.

And it is true that there live also carnivorous plants, mainly the so-called pitchers, which are equipped with strange pots they use to entrap their prey. The prey is lured in by sweet nectar extracted on the lid and other parts of the pitcher and once it touches the inner slippery surface it falls inside without a chance to climb out. The prey then drowns in the slimy liquid and is gradually decomposed by the digestive fluid of the plant.


Pitchers of the known Madagascar carnivorous plants are, however, no longer than 30 centimetres, which means that insect, maximally smallest animals, is their only prey. And even more, the trapping mechanisms of these plants are only passive.


According to Liche's description, though, the man-eating tree was catching its prey actively. It had apparently grabbed the prey with some sort of tendrils and then captured it with its leaves. In that case, it would have resembled carnivorous plants from the family of flytraps or sundews. Even those, however, trap only insects.

At the south end of the island that so mysteriously swallowed Hearst we can find plants though that are dangerous to bigger animals and even to humans. Not that they could eat them but they can entrap them and hold them in their branches. Those are very peculiar plants that don't live anywhere else in the world. They thrive in the thorny bush that covers most of this area. They lie in wait among other prickly succulents resembling cacti the size of a house and surrounded by bushes with long thorns and leaves sharp as razors. They indeed lie in wait because they need to thrust their hooks into the skin of a living creature. But again, not to suck its blood as a vampire, but to spread its seeds this way.


One of those plants is a very precious Harpagophytum grandidieri. The locals call it andridritra or a tree with claws. It has very long and resilient branches that hang in a massive tuft reaching to the ground and at the end bear capsules with seeds. The capsules are egg-shaped equipped with very sharp back hooks. Unlike our burs that attach to clothes but don't hurt skin, capsules of harpagophyt can easily get stuck in skin. When the seeds ripen, the capsules readily fall off and attach to animals that then carry them away. In doing so the animal, however, suffers immensely because the hooks are tearing up its skin whenever it moves.


Until the seeds are ripe, the seed capsules hang on tight to the branches. If the wind swings the branches, they can coil around a passing animal or a human being, closing them in a perfect clasp. If the victim tries to break free it ends up being a fly caught in a cobweb. With every move it makes it becomes even more entangled with more hooks attaching on. It is entrapped in a painful grip and usually dies without outside help.

We were looking for a tree, though, that not only entraps its victims but also eats them up. Whenever we meet natives we did not miss a chance to ask them about the trees but they just kept on shrugging their shoulders. The "devil trees" dangerous to humans certainly grow here but they are mostly fady, which is Malagasy for taboo, meaning a certain restriction or a ban which disobedience is punished by supernatural forces. A place where such a tree grows is sacred and is off-limits to a white man.

Luckily our Malagasy guide Pascal was a university graduate and did not fear ghosts. He was very successful in dealing with the natives and often managed to elicit precious information concerning the tree from them.

Trouble with native keepers


Our jeep was bobbing over tree roots and deep holes of a narrow path leading through the middle of the forest. The dark had fallen already and we were beginning to grow nervous. To be entering natives' sacred area in the night was not too wise.


Even over the noise of the engine we could hear the sudden yell. It sounded like a high-pitched female scream but we knew too well it was bad news. It was the combat cry of the Antandroy tribe. We became alert and soon caught the glimpse of white shadows running between trees. And in a moment figures in white robes with spears in their hands ran down to the road. Pascal was encouraging our Malagasy driver to go faster but with little luck because of the rough road.


All of a sudden yelling people were running along our car and two even managed to jump on the rear bumper. Through the rear window we could see their grinning faces. Fortunately the road straightened up and the driver could speed up, which forced our pursuers to jump off. After a while all of them disappeared in the darkness.


The sacred territory that we had entered without the natives' permission was protecting one of the "devil trees." It was a tree that lived in many legends and was worshiped by natives from the wide area. Allegedly the tree's trunk is the incarnation of the soul of a local king who until today demands human sacrifices from time to time. The tree is the centre of inexplicable phenomena and mysterious deaths. Was it the legendary "man-eating tree" that we had been searching for, for several weeks?


After another fifteen-minute ride through the dark jungle the trees got thinner and then we saw it. It stood in the middle of a plain and it indeed looked scary. Its dark ragged silhouette with unnaturally twisted branches stood erect against a moonlit sky. We could see immediately, though, that it was not any to the science unknown man-eating tree but a plain baobab.


It is a rare tree that grows only on Madagascar but except its unusual appearance and ability to live extremely long, it is not mysterious in any way. It is not anywhere near to being dangerous to humans, further more to eating them.
The death of a man whose body had been allegedly found here recently torn into pieces we explained as an attack of the tree's worshipers and the sacred territory guards who had threatened us too.


It was getting close to midnight and strange screams and voices started coming from the forest around us. And the cause of the noise was not probably only the harmless lemurs as both Pascal and our Malagasy driver got nervous. It was about time we got out of there.

Finally on the trace


"Among the devil trees that we worship are also those that can really kill a man and sometimes even on a long distance," told us a white-haired old man from a little village.

"How is that possible?" we wondered.

"Go to the Kinkony lake and there you will learn their secret," he said with a mysterious smile.

The journey there was awful: deep holes, huge rocks and unbelievably steep slopes. In the Ananalava village that had a few reed-roof huts we were welcomed by a throng of villagers who enveloped us and pairs of black hands started touching us with a curiosity. There probably had not been many whites before us.


When Pascal asked them about the devil trees their faces turned into stone, though. And so we unpacked our presents: cheap costume jewellery, T-shirts and pens. In a moment everything was back to normal and the natives started their tales.


The trees are called kumanga and are really very dangerous. They don't eat humans or animals but they are so poisonous that they can kill even on a long distance. Especially when they are blooming. A cloud of poisonous air from the blossoms can extent fairly far in a calm. Birds that sit among their leaves fall dead to the ground and animals that want to hide in the trees' shade die instantly.


Our photographer Jiri Skupien showed a sceptical smile on his face. A man standing right next to him noticed the grin and nodded: "Many doubting Thomases already paid for their haughty carelessness. Demonstrating their bravery they smelled the blossoms and in a moment they lost their consciousness."


It occurred to me that perhaps the occasional discoveries of skeletons of people who had lain down in the shade of the poisonous tree made some of the locals think that the tree had trapped its victim, ate it and then spat out the skeleton.


When we asked them to take us to the nearest kumanga they were shaking their heads, warning us not to go there. It might not end well. We tried to explain to them that we had come here from a far away country just because of those trees and that we knew a way to protect ourselves from them. That was actually true. Our expedition diver Danny Mackerle wanted to use his mask and breathing apparatus to get with camera all the way to the dangerous tree. We pulled out more presents and after a while a young man climbed into our car. He decided he would take us to the tree after all.

Under branches of green killer


A sandy road winds through thick green bushes and a couple of times we have to turn on the four-wheel drive to get through. The car keeps on digging through the sand until we finally have to get out and walk. We apace take a few gulps of warm water, throw our backpacks on and go. Already on the way, the villager gives us our last lesson. When we are near the tree we cannot eat or drink. Unfortunately he does not know whether it is blooming right now or not. He has not been there in a while. We are burning with impatience and again discuss our strategy in approaching the tree once we get there.


And then finally we are there. Kumanga's green top is peeking behind a group of palm trees. If we were on our own we probably could not find it. I take my binoculars out and scan the tree's branches. I can't see any blossoms, which means there is no immediate danger. We are carefully coming closer while sniffing the air. The air is clean; no trace of any smell. The mask can stay in the backpack. There are two bird carcasses decomposing under the tree and spine vertebrae are sticking out of a turtle shell lying nearby. I would like to find skeletons of bigger animals but no luck. Maybe their instinct warned them in time.


The local is bending a tree branch to show us large hard pods. Only recently those were the deadly blossoms. I pick one to take with me and put it into a plastic bag.


Everything is calm; no drama is taking place. I was expecting we would be putting our lives atstake. I was a bit disappointed. We are several months away from seeing new blossoms and experiencing poisonous air. Not even the locals know when the tree will bloom again. It blooms irregularly and it largely depends on rain.


Kumanga is, however, severely poisonous even now. We have to be very careful and not touch it too much; not even the leaves.


The villager is telling us that about a year ago a herd of cows wandered near the tree and started grazing on its juicy leaves. All of the animals fell dead in a few seconds.


Loss of the cattle made the natives decide to get rid of the murderous trees and they burned some of them down. We could see their work of destruction on the nearby clearing where remains of burned and blackened trunks were still protruding to the cloudless sky.



Perhaps we were the last white men who could see the legendary killer trees with their own eyes and film them because they don't grow anywhere else. Even on Madagascar the last few specimens grow only in this area. And so, after all that search and all those stories we had heard, we were feeling a bit sorry for those feared "devils." And the man-eating tree? Maybe it has met with the same fate.

Resources

Mackal Roy P., Searching For Hidden Animals, p.248 (London 1980)
Kulik Sergej, Kogda duchi otstupajut (Moscow 1981)
Arkady Fiedler, Madagaskar, okrutny czarodzej (Poznan 1969)
FATE Magazine, December 1950, p.13, Steve Benedict: Man-eating Trees, p. 13
Strange Magazine, 1993, No. 12, Shuker Karl P.N.: Mystery Plants of Pray, p. 9,49,51.
Endavour, vol.35, No.126, p.114, Yolande Heslop-Harrison: Carnivorous plants a century after Darwin.

RICHARD FREEMAN: The folklore of Morris Dancing

During a recent clear-out of the CFZ archives I found this, written nine years ago when Richard and I were doing freelance work for a folk music record label.


MAIDS, MOORS, AND MONSTERS:
THE FOLKLORE OF MORRIS
By Richard Freeman

Few people who have seen Morris men dancing on a village green or in a pub garden can realise the complexity and antiquity of the dance they are witnessing. The pleasant spectacle has a history that stretches back thousands of years and is peopled by grotesque and sometimes disturbing characters. Morris is a dance of gods and monsters, of forgotten rituals, and secret brotherhoods. Once you have studied the background of Morris you will never look on this 'quaint' English custom in quite the same way again.

One of the commonest explanations for the name 'Morris' is that it is derived from 'Moorish.' Some Morris men, such as those in the Cotswolds town of Bampton, dance with blackened faces, possibly representing the Arab foes from the time of the crusades. We must remember that in those days an average Englishman had never set eyes on a non-European. Hence, a dark-skinned man would be a thing not easily forgotten.

In England true Morris dancing is confined to the counties that fall under what was the kingdom of Saxon Mercia. This includes the Cotswolds and the Welsh borders. Danish Mercia and Northumberland have the radically different sword dances (although many still retain mummer-type characters) so it is to pre-Christian Britain we must now turn.

The Morris dance seems to have links to the Celtic goddess Rhiannon, a fertility goddess, queen of the underworld, and the mother of Celtic heroes. She is one of the many manifestations of the triple-faced goddess who can appear as a maid, a mother or a hag. This reflects both changing seasons and the 3 ages of womanhood. Rhiannon is usually portrayed as a beautiful young woman in white, adorned with bells and ribbons. She is the 'fair lady' in the rhyme `Ride a cock `oss`

Ride a cock `oss to Banbury Cross
To see a fair lady upon a white horse
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
She shall have music were ever she goes.

Rhiannon was linked to fertility cults and fairs held on Beltane at Crouch Hill in Oxfordshire and on April 13th at Giant`s Cave. The Morris men`s attire may have been inspired by Rhiannon`s. The first proto-morris dances in England may have been held at these fairs. The dance was probably a form of ritual worship and the garb, that of priests of Rhiannon. After the Christanisation of England such events would have been dammed as 'witches sabbats' and the like. To survive they had to change.

The ancient rituals carried on in disguise. A good Cotswolds example is found at the town of Charlton on Ottmoor. The Celts paraded a figure of Blodeuedd, the flower maiden created by Gerydion to be the wife of Lleu in Celtic mythology. Under the Christians Blodeuedd became the Virgin Mary and her rituals a dance. In later centuries the rite incurred the wrath of the puritans who destroyed a fine figure of the Virgin that graced St Mary`s church. The dance and procession survived, however. Today a female figure is made from branches and carried through the streets on May Day.

On May Day the Morris men of Oxford are accompanied by a gigantic verdant figure; a towering wicker framework covered in a shaggy coating leaves and vines. This is the Green Man or Jack-in-the-Green, one of the dramatis personae of Morris. He is an old archetype, a spirit of the woods and wild places. He is seen as a protector of the wilderness and forest. One Celtic tradition was the battle of the Oak King and the Holly King who fight with clubs for dominance. The Oak king wins in spring the Holly King with the onset of winter. His transition into the Christian era was seamless. He graces many churches and cathedrals in the form of bosses, carvings and miserycords. Here he is generally portrayed as a green face spewing leaves and vegetation. There are many Green Man pubs whose signs show a vegetable giant, usually wielding a great club.

Another important character is the fool. Most Cotswold Morris teams are accompanied by a jester, clown or fool. Usually he is armed with a bladder on a stick. His purpose is to remind us of the essentially silly nature of existence with his capering. Self-mocking he often plays other characters like old men and the doctor in mumming plays. It is often the fool who is killed and resurrected. Despite his clownish nature the fool is the leader of the whole affair. We can track his geniuses back to various trickster gods. Most pantheons have such a deity who delights in chaos and pranks. These include Loki in Norse mythology, Pan from Greece and the Coyote from the legends of the American Indians.

Many Cotswold Morris dancers have a sword bearer who dances outside of the ring with a cake impaled upon a large sword. He gives slices of the cake to all women in the audience. Some have suggested that the sword bearer is of Phoenician extract. The Phoenicians traded with the ancient Britains for tin and had several settlements. They also practised human and animal sacrifice. In the city of Carthage hundreds of victims were butchered to appease Bal-Hamoron, god of the city. Victims would fall into the bloody upturned palms of a gigantic statue of the ram-horned god. This sacrifice was not alien to early Morris men. A stag was hunted on Whitsun in the forest of Wychwood and its flesh eaten sacramentally by the Morris men.

One could easily write a whole volume on the folklore of Morris and I have only scratched the surface. What seems to us now a jolly bit of fun on a sunny day once had deep religious meaning. Within the dance hide many mysteries like the beasts of the wild wood and only by pushing deeper in to the tangled forest that is the Morris dance can we begin to unravel them.

I DON'T BELIEVE A WORD OF IT, BUT ITS RATHER WELL DONE



'GIANT' ANACONDA PICTURE

Recently Lindsay wrote about this photograph of a supposed giant anaconda from Brazil. Both Richard and I had seen the picture before but never in this quality or with the writing on it. However, as Richard writes: 'It's a green anaconda; you can tell from the belly markings. It does look very big but there is nothing to tell you how far away from the camera it is.'

CFZ ARCHIVING PROJECT: General Forteana Part 2


As you know, Oll has been working on the archiving project since early February 2009 and he is now working on a general mish-mash of a section known as `General Forteana`. This second trenche has a number of strange animal attacks, a vampire rapist, ghosties and UFOs as well as other bits and bobs. Good stuff.

HERE

LINDSAY SELBY: Nessie sighting?



People know of my interest in cryptozoological things and this was sent to me. It was found in an old library book that had been sold on. It is dated 2/12/92 and looks like it is from The Inverness Courier or other Scottish northern newspaper. It is strange because most people say Nessie has a small head but this sighting says 'A huge round head rose time and again out of the loch-each time revealing a thick dark mass below' and 'It had a big black round head which was visible all the time and every 10 metres or so it would rise itself about 4 feet out of the water.Under the head there was a thick dark neck'







So, if it wasn't Nessie what was it?

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday's News Today

http://cryptozoologynews.blogspot.com/

On this day in 1997 scientists announced the first successful cloning of a mammal from an adult cell. The cell was taken from mammary tissue and the clone was named Dolly after the famously busty country and western singer Dolly Parton. I suspect that the opportunity for a weak pun was one of the motivating factors in the project.

And now, the news:

Some 'Dinosaurs' Evolved from Birds?
Cat Food And Ants Fight Cane Toads
The elephant soap opera
What Animals Can Teach Us About God
Mahila Kalasala celebrates Frogs Liberation Day
With upswing in backyard chicken trend comes a few headaches
At-risk animals can use your old fur coat

Give up old coats; it’s ‘fur’ a good cause.

MYSTERIOUS CARCASS WASHED UP IN NEWFOUNDLAND

Neither local residents Warrick Lovell, Rich Park, Basil Park, or anyone else it seems, knows what the big creature found dead on a beach here this week might be.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Corner Brook intends to check out the Lower Cove site today, hoping to find some answers for the question of many curious onlookers who went there to see for themselves what Lovell found during a Wednesday afternoon walk on the beach.

“It would be nice to see if anyone knows what it is,” says Lovell. “First I thought it was a seal washed up (on the high tide earlier in the day), but when I went down to check on my boat that evening, I walked over to see and then I knew it wasn’t a seal.

Read On

Thank you to Lindsay Selby for her sleuth-like ability at hunting out stories that I would otherwise have missed....

ALAN FRISWELL WRITES..

Hi Jon.

Reading your blog regarding casting the dog skulls, you can go to any art shop in Texas and purchase a can of silicon rubber. The instructions to mix it will be on the box. Then build a box from cardboard that the skull will fit into--with about an inch or so of space all the way around-- and stand the skull on a small piece of modelling clay--plasticine--so that it stands above the bottom of the box by about an inch. Pour the rubber so that it completely covers the skull and fills to the top of the box. When it is set the box should be completely filled with a solid block of sillicon in which the skull is encased.

Gently take the block out of the cardbord box, and take a scalpel--also available from the art shop--or a sharp craft knife, and cut the block of rubber in half, then pull the rubber back, so that you can pull the skull free. Don't worry about stretching the rubber; it will simply pull itself back into shape. You can also buy casting plastics from art shops, which also will have mixing instructions. Put the two halves of the rubber mould back into the cardboard box and turn it upside-down. Take the bottom of the box away and you should have a hole in the rubber where the plasticine stand was. Pour the casting mix into the mould, and 'slush' the box around so that the resin fills all the cavities, then pour in the rest so that it fills to the top. When it sets you can pull the mould apart and you should have a perfect cast of the skull.

If it was happening over here, of course, I could do it for you. If you need any other information, please let me know. Incidentally, why didn't you ask me about this directly in the first place?

Cheers,
Al :)

The answer to your last question, Alan, is that I am an idiot. I should have thought of you straight off. Thanks to everyone else who wrote in.

RICHARD FREEMAN WRITES

I have created a dream tour in a competition with Wanderlust. If enough people vote for it myself and two others go on the trip. My tour is an expedition in search of the thylacine in Tasmania. Vote for it here

http://createyourownadventure.com/tour/OgRaFTPPVMzI/

Many thanks,

Richard

LINDSAY SELBY: The Heavenly lake Creature

Heavenly Lake is in a remote region of the Jilin Province of China on the border of the Ryanggang Province of North Korea. The lake is also known as Lake Tianchi, Chonji Lake in Korean (Heavenly Lake in English). It lies in a crater at the top of Baekdu Mountain. It is the highest crater lake in the world, at 7,180 feet (2360 metres) and with a depth in places of over 1,200 feet (400 metres). A large unknown creature has been reported seen in the lake for many years. It has been described as a large greyish-black animal, about 30 feet(10 metres) in length with a horse like head.

The first sighting appears to be in 1903 when one reportedly attacked three people. It was described as a huge buffalo-like creature that roared and retreated underwater when they shot at it.

In August 1962 there were reported sightings of two creatures chasing one another through the water.

In 1968 a Jilin Province Weather Report Department staff member, Chou Fon Yin, was visiting the lake when he saw a wave emerged from the northeastern side and then two black points rose out of the water. Chou using binoculars to get a closer look said that the two black spots were two large creatures swimming side by side. He described them as black and grey in colour with very dog-like heads. Their movement in the water left a wake 21 feet (7 metres) long.

In July 24, 1994 a group of more than 40 tourists, including a Japanese university professor (no name given), all claimed to have watched and photographed the monster as appeared on the lakes surface for almost 30 minutes. Also in 1994, a Chinese State Media report quoted a sight-seer by the name of Meng Fanying who stated that he watched the creature leap from the water in a seal-like fashion, 30 feet off shore.

In July 2005, the China Daily published a report about a 52-year-old man, Zheng Changchun, who with his daughter and his son-in-law saw and video-taped the creature. Zheng was quoted as saying they saw a strange, black object emerging from the water and he grabbed his video recorder.

In September 2007, Chinese news reporter Zhuo Yongsheng shot a 20-minute video of several creatures swimming in three pairs. He said they were seal-like, finned creatures that spent around an hour and a half swimming in the lake. "They could swim as fast as yachts and at times they would disappear under the water. It was impressive to see them all swimming at exactly the same pace, as if someone was giving orders," he said. "Their fins - or maybe wings - were longer than their bodies."

The Reuters report from 1994:

09Sep94 CHINA: MONSTER OR MERMAID IN CHINA'S HEAVENLY LAKE?.BEIJING, Sept 9 (Reuter) - Will China's Heavenly Lake become as famous as Scotland's Loch Ness?

With sightings of a blond-headed creature -- or perhaps a "black thing as big as a bull head" -- to go on, officials at Lake Tianchi (Heavenly lake) in northeast China's Jilin province have started establishing study societies and collecting videotapes and photographs of a strange swimming object, Xinhua news agency said on Friday. The official news agency said eyewitnesses had seen a creature moving as fast as a walking man twice in the past two weeks. "At 3:25 p.m., September 2, it was clear and the swimming creature surfaced its blond head and swam from north to southwest in the lake for ten minutes before it submerged, according to Kim Taik, deputy secretary-general of the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefectural People's Political Consultative Conference," the news agency said. Kim said the creature stirred up waves two metres (six feet) high. Xinhua quoted a travel guide who was taking a group of Korean tourists to the lake as saying she saw a large black "thing" swimming in the lake. It said local people have given accounts of sightings and taken pictures of a mysterious lake-dwelling creature since the beginning of the century. The creature is not China's only mystery -- reports of a man-beast "Wild Man" periodically spring up from around the country.

(c) Reuters Limited 1994 REUTERS NEWS SERVICE

It may be my reading of the reports but it sounds like some sort of seal. The roaring one from 1903 could have been a bull seal as they have a mane and it would look like buffalo. The fins are interesting as I believe some whales have huge fins. So could it be two different types of creature; one a seal-like animal, the other a whale-like creature? The lake is deep enough for them both to live there but there is little information on whether the food stocks would be sufficient.

MAJOR FEATURE ARTICLE ON "HOBBITS"

Many thanks to Paul Cropper, one of our Australian correspondents, and co-author of a couple of magnificent crypto books along with our old mate Tony Healy.

Paul is in the habit of sending along interesting cuttings and articles to his friends and colleagues, and whenever possible we share them with you.

Download here

LIZ CLANCY: Three Owls Report - UPDATE

Three Owls Bird Sanctuary has been forced to close. According to their website they received a letter from Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council telling them they had to obtain a zoo licence in order to continue to operate, despite the fact that the sanctuary and hospital are not a zoo!

The Rochdale Observer recently reported that the 'complaint' made about 3 Owls as an unlicenced zoo was made by (believe it or not) the Born Free Foundation. This information came from a council spokesperson. However, Littleborough (near Rochdale) resident Peter Reed contacted Born Free, whose legal department 'strongly refute any intention to close this or any other sanctuary or animal hospital.' The charity did make enquiries about the licencing of 3 Owls and similar institutions but insist they did not complain about any of them.

Mr Reed's letter can be found in this morning's edition of the Rochdale Observer (Saturday edition), as well as others about the matter.

So it's the end of an era and we're not even sure exactly why! Whatever the truth, the closure of the sanctuary and hospital is causing unnecessary upheavel for all concerned: the birds are having to settle into new homes and the paid staff are now jobless. According to the website two are now even homeless!

A petition has been started with the intention of changing legislation so that other sanctuaries do not have to go through this situation. It can be found here:


http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/birdsanctuary/

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday’s News Today

http://cryptozoologynews.blogspot.com/

On this day in 1953 Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the structure of DNA.
And now, the news:

Evolution on the march
Conn. city paid bills for cop who shot chimp
My baby is a snake
When it was born, its dad gave it a rattle.