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, March 05, 2010

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday's News Today

On this day in 1975 the Zapruder film of the assassination of John F. Kennedy was shown to the general public on television. And now, the news:

Tigers chase zoo keepers into pool

Mystery of disappearing stuffed gorilla solved

Switzerland to vote on appointing lawyers for abused pets

Elephant research in Kenya 'washed away' by flash flood

‘Kenya’ believe how unlucky they were?

The Secret Life of the dog

CFZ HQ dog Biggles and CFZ Greater Manchester dog Pal would both agree that a canid is man's best friend but a group of scientists, according to a Horizon programme from late 2009, have started to look into why.

The programme showed various professors from different institutions across the globe testing Fido's various abilities and comparing them with other animals, and it would appear that 'your friends are the family you choose' is true even in our choice of animal companion. Apparently, Rex is actually more intelligent than man's closest relative, the chimpanzee. Dr Juliana Kaminski of America's Max Planck Institute found that chimps at Leipzig zoo did not pick up on commands and subtle communication techniques that dogs responded to immediately.

Dr Adam Miklosi of Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary, found that dog-owners could correctly identify the situation a dog had been in just by a recording of its bark. This led him to believe that, as wolves don't bark, dogs have developed more complex barking in order to communicate effectively with us.

Dr Kubinyi Eniko found that raising 5-day-old wolf cubs as domestic puppies had no impact on their behaviour as adults; they were still 'wolf-like'; leading her to believe that the "Dog is not a socialised wolf at all."

However, according to Dr Greger Larson of Durham University, comparisons of the DNA of wild and domestic dogs proved that genetically at least, dogs ARE just socialised wolves. Mitrochondrial DNA changes little over time and modern domestic dogs all have the same ancestral marker as the grey wolf.

An experiment with silver foxes in Siberia that began in 1959 seems to have the answer, though. Dr Lyudmila Trut and colleagues from the Institute of Cytology and Genetics found that 1% foxes they kept showed no fear or aggression. These 1% were selected to breed and the same method was used over the next three generations. Eventually all cubs were born as docile as a labrador puppy.

A parallel group was bred to retain aggressiveness. Aggressive cubs were then given to tame mothers and vice versa yet the mothers did not influence their adoptive cubs' behaviour. Next Dr Trut's team transplanted 'aggressive' embryos into docile mothers, and vice versa, again with no change in the offsprings' eventual behaviour to copy the 'mother.'

Also, the domesticated foxes, over just a couple of generations, began to vary greatly in the pattern and colour of their fur while the aggressive foxes retained the traditional silver coat. Some domestic foxes developed curlier tails and other 'appealing' or 'cute' attributes, exactly like domestic dogs seem to have done.

Prof. Brian Hare of Duke University has reached the conclusion, therefore, that selecting for tameness means changes in appearance happen. Dogs are perpetually juvenile wolves. Selective breeding for domestication over thousands of years has infantilised a once wild creature. Just as the wolf cubs in Dr Eniko's experiment were cute and playful for the first few weeks of their domestic rearing, so are adult domestic dogs (in most cases), but for all of their lives.

The experts point out that this has made the dog a successful animal. Dogs are varied in appearance and ability, and have spread all over the world because on the whole, their 'childlike' appearance is appealing to humans. On the other hand, the adult/ wild wolves are endangered.

The programme was a real eye-opener. There has been a lot of talk recently about the implications of intense breeding for the health of pedigree dogs. One often-cited example is the English bulldog, which as a breed, has difficulty breathing because of a 'squashed-in' face the breed did not have just a couple of hundred years ago as a working dog, if paintings of the animal at work are accurate.

While allowing us an entry point into the mystery of where our relationship with dogs came from, the research this programme highlighted also reminded the viewer of such current concerns for our pets' welfare. Apparently the susceptibility of certain breeds towards particular ailments and diseases is soon to help scientists combat those same diseases in humans as, despite their wide-ranging physicalities, the canine gene pool is much narrower in variety than ours. While this can only be good news for many humans suffering with long-term conditions, one does worry that the Kennel Club's call for mongrels to become more acceptable pets to illiminate breed-specific health issues may well be completely ignored for the sake of our health.


I recently came across a mention of the Moha Moha while doing research on something else. The quote is from this internet site: http://everything2.com/title/Moha+Moha

'Nessie of Loch Ness has her own publicist. The various mane-necked sea-serpents that swim the Pacific Ocean-- Caddy the Cadborosaurus, Penda, the Old Man of Monterey Bay, the tanihwa-- share a description consistent enough that their possible existence is worthy of further study. The New England Sea Serpent launched a scientific investigation and received an honourary degree from Harvard University. The Kraken managed to swim its way into the text books, in the form of the giant squid (Architeuthis) and the Colossal Squid (Mesonychoteuthis)-- and evidence exists that The Colossal Octopus also scuttles beneath the seas. The Australian bunyip has been the subject of children's books. The Ogopogo has its own theme song, Oscar of Churubusco has an annual festival in its honour, and the Silver Lake Monster, a controversy over whether it was an actual hoax or a hoax about a hoax.'

But nobody seems to recall the Moha Moha.

It's an engaging-looking chimera. Reportedly, this inhabitant of Queensland's Great Barrier Reef resembles a giant long-necked turtle with the tail of a fish. Miss S. Lovell, a school marm from Sandy Cape on Great Sandy Island reported the following, in 1890:

We have had a visit from a monster turtle fish. I send a sketch of it. It let me stand for half an hour within five feet of it. When tired of my looking at it, it put its large neck and head into the water and swept round seaward, raising its dome-shaped body about five feet out of the water, and put its twelve feet of fish-like tail over the dry shore, elevating it at an angle. Then, giving its tail a half-twist, it shot off like a flash of lightning, and I saw its tail in the air about a quarter of a mile off where the steamers anchor...The jaws are about 18 inches in length; the head and neck greenish-white, with large white spots on the neck, and a band of white round a very black eye... The body was dome-shaped, about 8 feet across and 5 feet high, smooth, and slate-grey in colour. Tail about 2 feet, the fish part wedge-shaped, and fin of chocolate-brown. Then beautiful silver shading to scales size of thumb nail.

Her correspondence, forwarded to Land and Water, went on to indicate the scales were perpendicular to the axis of its body, and related a tale of how it had reportedly attacked an Aborigine camp eight years earlier.

The editors of Land and Water suggested it might have been a Fly River Turtle, which has a long neck. They made no attempt to account for size; the Fly River Turtle does not exceed 3 feet in length. Various suggestions have been made for the tail: that a shark or other fish was biting the large turtle's behind, for example. Lovell's letters steadfastly maintained that it was a monster, "half fish, half tortoise.'

Many books in the decades following the only recorded sightings of the Moha Moha have devoted space to this creature. Bernard Heuvelmans's In the Wake of Sea-Serpents, the classic text on marine Cryptozoology, examines all of the correspondence, and identifies contradictions in Miss Lovell's accounts. Heuvelmans also notes that scales perpendicular to the axis of an animal's body are a physical impossibility, if it is to use its tail to any advantage.

Some later writers who have bothered with the tale wonder if Miss Lovell even existed, or if the letters were the product of some anonymous hoaxer. Still, she apparently was consulted by William Saville Kent, assistant curator of the London Natural History Museum, when he wrote The Great Barrier Reef of Australia. He christened the species Chelosauria lovelli 1890. A little over 100 years later, neither devotees nor souvenirs mark the Moha Moha's brief, dubious existence.

Today, even the cryptozoologists avoid mentioning its name.

Bernard Heuvelmans, In the Wake of Sea-Serpents. Trans. Richard Garnett. New York: Hill and Wang, 1968.Lauren Clacher. "Info on Bunyips and Sea Serpents." Lauren's Paranormal Page. http://homepage.powerup.com.au/~paulclacher/bunyipstories.html"

My own interpretation is that Miss Lowell had seen an elephant seal on the Great Barrier Reef, gave a fanciful description of it, and when she was called on that description she became more obstinately certain she had seen the creature exactly as she had described it. Her first descriptions seemed to be more indefinite and her later ones increasingly definite and increasingly peculiar.

Another internet site provides this additional information:

Posted 24 June 2007 - 10:41 PM
IN 1891, the UK magazine Land and Water printed S Lovell's report of the Pacific Ocean moha-moha. She was a naturalist, who had 2 plants named after her.

[emphasis added] The Australian Aboriginals knew it well, where it was witnessed by 2 lighthouse-keepers, 2 other men Lovell and 3 others who signed a statement. It is "moa-moa" in the Pacific Islands [this would appear to be a mistaken reference]. The beast has a fishtail 12 ft. long, a central turtle-shell and long neck. When it lay on the beach of Fraser Island, Queensland, the shell was 5 ft.high. One had invaded an Aboriginal camp 8 years previously and put its legs on the shoulders of a man and knocked him down. In the same article, Lovell described a "womang", unknown then, but now seen as the manta ray. http://www.unexplained-mysteries.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=97010&st=30

I can well believe an elephant seal would be capable of rearing up to such a height that it could knock a man down by its foreflippers. But in that case it is far more likely the man was knocked down by a swipe of its neck. That is the way the seals fight. And he would be pretty much lucky he was not bitten in half in such a case.

MAX BLAKE: Those "big cat" pictures in full

The other day young Max was quoted out of context in a Somerset newspaper, and we covered it here on the blog. He commented on the piece: "My quote was as I wrote it, but they have taken it a little out of context! Basically, it's a non-story. As it says in the quotes from Mr Highfield and myself, we both think it is a large breed of domestic cat, and the mystery in no way deepens!"

Because, no doubt, folk in certain quarters who enjoy sniping at us, will accuse Max of following in the proud CFZ tradition of debunking nonsense stories, as if there is anything to be ashamed of doing that, here are the two original photographs that Max sent us last week.

Big cat, my giddy aunt!