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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Thursday, May 20, 2010


Ken Gerhard will today take receipt of a blue dog carcass, road-killed somewhere near Fayetteville, TX. It will be stored in Naomi's long-suffering freezer. What happens then, we don't know. Watch this space!

MIKE HALLOWELL: Devil's crabs

Two years ago my book Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Northumberland & Tyneside (CFZ Press, 2008) informed readers about a cryptid called the Cleadon Big Cat, a terrifying sea monster at Marsden Bay called the Shony and a fascinating entity known as the Giant Lobster of Trow Rocks. Since then I've written up stories about a desiccated mermaid on display in a barber's shop and a weird man-beast from Hebburn known as Blue Eyes, not to mention a huge, hairy hominid said to wander Cleadon Hills after dark.

Now, South Tyneside is the smallest Metropolitan Borough in the country and you'd think its residents would be pleased to brag about one cryptid, let alone seven. However, against all the odds it seems another cryptozoological conundrum may have to be added to our rich and varied folklore.

Two years ago whilst chatting to Ronan Coghlan, I purchased a copy of his book A Dictionary of Cryptozoology, (Xiphos Books, 2004) and have to confess it's one of the most fascinating tomes I've ever come across. Now, here's the funny bit, and for those of you who are of a delicate disposition I'd advise you to avoid reading the following paragraph and simply skip to the one that succeeds it.

My writing partner Darren W. Ritson paid me a visit last week as we had quite a bit of work to do on a book manuscript we're working on. Suddenly I felt a sudden urge to pay a visit to the Little Boys' Room, as they say, and had a gut instinct that my sojourn there might be somewhat protracted. I tend to get bored sitting on the loo, and so I made a quick detour into my study to find something to read whilst nature took its course. On a whim, I settled upon Ronan's book.

As the muscles in the lower part of my torso set about their business, I fascinated myself by imbibing strange tales of the Antarctic Narwhal, the Hairy Fish and the Sherwood Forest Thing. Then, without warning, my eyes were drawn to a short entry entitled, South Shields Crab. As I only live a very short distance from South Shields and have written literally hundreds of articles concerning its Fortean history, I must be forgiven for becoming somewhat excited. After a brief distraction with something soft, strong and very, very long – you've seen it on the TV ads, so kindly refrain from making up sordid jokes, if you don't mind – I decided that the matter would have to be looked into further (Look, I've told you; no sordid jokes).

According to Ronan, the possibility exists that a hitherto unrecognised species of crab might be living off our coastline, although he does acknowledge that it could just possibly be, "a colour variation of a known species."

Well, I've heard tales about these mystery crabs before, and they fascinate me.

Some years ago I had several engaging conversations with the late archaeologist Evelyn Waugh-Almond (she was alive then, for the record) and she told me that just off the northerly aspect of Marsden Bay, at the rocky outcrop known as Velvet Beds or Camel Island, there were "crabs living unknown to man".

Now back in Victorian times, Velvet Beds was a favourite pic-nic spot. Hordes of mothers, fathers and their offspring would go there with meat pies, ham sandwiches and tubs of potted brawn to take in the sea air, which was said to be most efficacious in the treatment of the humours and, if you were unfortunate enough to have them, the vapours. At that time the rock was covered in a thick carpet of lush, dark green grass which supposedly felt "just like a bed of velvet" under one's feet. According to tradition, that's how the rock came to be known as Velvet Beds. The grass has all but gone now – only a few tufts remain – and most folk refer to the rock as Camel Island due to the fact that rapid erosion of the striated Magnesian limestone has left it looking like a camel's hump.

But there's another tradition, which espouses the idea that the rock gained its name from the large number of velvet crabs which inhabited the waters around it.

Evelyn told me that the crabs "unknown to man" looked like velvet crabs, but were taxonomically different. They were alleged to have a "nasty disposition" and were extremely aggressive. This, plus their distinctive red eyes – also possessed by velvet crabs, I've been told – led to them being given the alternative monikers of Devils Crabs and Witches Crabs.

One correspondent told me that the crabs at Velvet Beds can grow to a width of 14 inches, which makes them far larger than the average velvet crab. To my knowledge, none of this size have ever been caught. Trevor Wilkinson, another reader of my WraithScape newspaper column, told me that they can grow to "enormous size". Just how enormous he was unable to say.

Ronan references Animals and Men as his source for the story, but doesn't give a particular month or year or provide the issue number, so I'm hoping Jon Downes might be able to provide some more detail on this cryptozoological enigma. I've put out a call to all South Tyneside's craberati, hoping that someone might come forth with a photograph, a specimen or at least an anecdotal tale or two.

As for me, I've learned a valuable lesson; even when you're sitting on the Great White Throne doing what comes naturally, cryptozoological enigmas are, like that soft, strong and very, very long roll of toilet tissue, never far from your grasp…

LINDSAY SELBY: Tales of Living Mammoths

There have been many tales about living mammoths. This is in part due, I am sure, to the fact that some frozen specimens found look as if they died recently as they are so fresh. With scientists talking about regenerating a mammoth clone a la Jurassic Park, I thought I would dig up some of the living mammoth stories.

In the 1580s the Stroganoff family sent a band of Cossacks to hunt down a group of bandits in Siberia that had been stealing from their mines there. The leader of the expedition, Yermak Timofeyevitch, reported that beyond the Ural Mountains he met a "large, hairy elephant." The natives told him that the Kingdom of Sibir considered the giant animals a part of its wealth; they were valued as food and called "mountains of meat."

In 1873 an article appeared in the Zoologist containing an interview with Cheriton Batchmatchnik, a Russian convict who escaped from Siberia and claimed to have encountered living mammoths in a valley of the Aldan mountains.

Batchmatchnik had been convicted of smuggling and had been to the mines of Nartchinsk, Siberia. He escaped and travelled southwards, heading for the Amur river in the hope of reaching China. He ran into a band of Cossacks so he turned north and got to the gorges of the Aldan mountains when winter arrived. Following herds of migrating animals, he hoped to find shelter. Instead he claimed he found a hidden valley, hemmed in by cliffs on all sides and he descended to find the valley to be warm and fertile. There was a lake so he made camp beside it and lit a fire. When night fell some huge animals approached, attracted by the fire. Frightened, Batchmatchnik fired his pistol into the dark, causing a stampede. Come daylight he discovered large tracks and a well worn track leading to the water. He looked for somewhere safer to shelter and found a cave. He said when he entered the cave there was a full grown mammoth already in residence. He described the animal as 12 feet (4 metres) tall and 18 feet (6 metres) long. It was covered in reddish wool and black hair. The curving tusks were about 10 feet (3 metres) long.

In the coming days Batchmatchnik saw about twenty mammoths in the valley. All were adults and he saw no calves. They were peaceable animals who were never aggressive to him and indeed took little notice of him. He also claimed to have seen a dragon-like creature that lived in the lake and preyed on animals that came there to drink. He described it as 30 feet (10 metres) long with fangs and covered with scales One morning he saw this 'dragon' attack a mammoth. The reptile sized its victim and tried to crush it it in its coils. After a long struggle the mammoth managed to pull itself free and get to safety. Batchmatchnik eventually left the valley and found his way back it civilisation, and on his return the Russian officials seemed to believe his story as they pardoned Batchmatchnik due to his 'services to science.'

A Russian hunter claimed to have seen a pair of mammoths in 1918. This story was recorded by M. L. Gallon, the man in charge of the French Consulate in Vladivostok during the year 1920. Gallon claimed that the hunter did not understand what he meant when he referred to the beast as a mammoth, but the hunter simply maintained that it was similar to pictures of elephants he had seen. Although Gallon shared the story with friends when he returned to France later that year, he was not persuaded to publish the account until 1946. The report can be found in Heuvelmans book, about page 550, depending on which edition you read.

"In the second year I was exploring the taiga, I was very much struck to notice the tracks of a huge animal, I say huge tracks, for they were a long way larger than any of those I had often seen of animals I knew well. It was autumn. There had been a few big snowstorms, followed by heavy rain. It wasn't freezing yet, the snow had melted, and there were thick layers of mud in the clearings. It was in one of these big clearings, partly taken up by a lake, that I was staggered to see huge footprints pressed deep into the mud. It must have been 70 cm across the widest part and 50 cm the other way, so the spoor wasn't round but oval. There were four tracks, the tracks of four feet, the first two about 4 m from the second pair, which were a little bigger in size. Then the tracks suddenly turned east and went into the forest of middling-sized elms. Were it went I saw a huge heap of dung; I had a good look at it and saw it was made up of vegetable matter.

Some 10 feet up, just where the animal had gone into the forest, I saw a sort of row of broken branches, made, I don't doubt, by the monster's enormous head as it forced it's way into the place it had decided to go, regardless of what was in its path.

I followed the track for days and days. Sometimes I could see were the animal had stopped at some grassy clearing and then gone on forever eastwards. Then, one day I saw another track, almost exactly the same. It came from the north and crossed the first one. It looked to me as if they had trampled about all over the place for several hundred m as if they had been excited or upset by their meeting. Then the two animals set out marching eastward one following some 20 m behind the other, both tracks mingling and plowing up the earth together. I followed them for days and days thinking that perhaps I should never see them, and also a bit afraid, for indeed I didn't feel I was big enough to face such beasts alone. One afternoon it was clear enough from the tracks that the animals weren't far off. The wind was in my face, which was good for approaching them without them knowing I was there. All of a sudden I saw one of the animals quite clearly, and now I must admit I really was afraid. It had stopped among some young saplings. It was a huge elephant with big white tusks, very curved; it was a dark chestnut colour as far as I could see.. It had fairly long hair on the hindquarters but it seemed much shorter on the front. I must say I had no idea that there were such big elephants. It had huge legs and moved very slowly. I've only seen elephants in pictures, but I must say that even from this distance (we were 3000 m apart) I could never have believed any beast could be so big. The second beast was around, I saw it only a few times among the trees: it seemed to be the same size.

It sounds like a fantastic tale. Heuvelmans suggested a couple of reasons why the story sounded so fantastic. a) the hunter got caught up in his tale and added some details which are an exaggeration , but these don't effect the basic veracity of the account b) Gallon inadvertently added details in his recording of the account., especially if it was a story for publication. (Plus the story being retold many years apart would suffer from the Chinese Whispers effect and get distorted over time and of course it may not be true. )

There was a least one definite hoax which appeared in a 1899 magazine article, published in McClure’s Magazine, in which the author purported to have, during a trip to Alaska, stalked, trapped and killed a living woolly mammoth .In October of 1899 McClure's Magazine ran a story by Henry Tukeman. Called "The Killing of the Mammoth" it began with a letter penned by a recently-deceased man named Horace Conradi which released Tukeman from his promise to keep the slaughter of what may have been the last living mammoth a secret. Some extracts:

Tukeman's story began in the untamed wilds of Alaska in 1890. There was little in the way of creature comforts, but Tukeman decided to stay the winter in Fort Yukon. One day during his stay he was showing some pictures of African animals he had hunted to an Inuit named "Joe" who, when Tukeman turned to a picture of an elephant, became very excited. Joe already knew of such a creature. He had seen one himself, up there in Alaska!
Joe's run in with the beast had occurred many years before while he was out hunting with his son. They were looking for beaver and other game when they had come across a huge animal, the Tee-Kai-Koa, bathing in a lake. It was a living woolly mammoth. Joe's son shot it but did not kill the behemoth, and afraid of what such a great beast might do when wounded the two Inuits rushed back home”.

“When the following summer melted the ice and snow they were on their way.The trip was arduous but Paul and Tukeman soon found signs they were on the right track. They found a cave "paved" with the numerous remains of mammoths. Surely there would living ones nearby, and the bones provided Tukeman the chance to test the strength of the firearms he had brought for the hunt..On August 29th the hunters finally found their prey, yet they did not immediately try to gun it down. Joe had said that the mammoth he say followed the smoke from the gun his son had fired. Perhaps, Tukeman reasoned, mammoths were attracted to the smoke so that they could stomp out any forest fires before they really got going. “

“When the trap was set in the autumn the mammoth was drawn by the smoke and tried to stamp it out. Everything was going as planned. Paul and Tukeman did not waste their chance. They fired, over and over again, until blood oozed out of scores of bullet wounds in the animal's flesh. The Tee-Kai-Koa was dead. Paul and Tukeman skinned their prize and collected its bones, but by that time winter was setting in. They would not be able to leave until the following spring. Tukeman had hoped that the remains would be purchased by a great museum in Europe or America but Conradi, the man who put a gag order on Tukeman until 1899, offered a much larger sum than Tukeman could otherwise hope for. The plan was for Tukeman to stay silent while Conradi presented the mammoth as a discovery he had made himself.

A subsequent article meant to set readers straight on mammoths (reprinted in the Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution) a McClure's editor wrote;

Ever since the appearance of that number of the magazine the authorities of the Smithsonian Institution, in which the author [F.A. Lucas] had located the remains of the beast of his fancy, have been beset with visitors to see the stuffed mammoth, and our daily mail, as well as that of the Smithsonian Institution, has been filled with inquiries for more information and for requests to settle wagers as to whether it was a true story or not. Tukeman's story was a work of fiction.

However articles continued to appear:

Portland Press. “Do Mastodons Exist? – Good evidence that at least one species still lives.” Decatur Daily Republican. Decatur, Illinois. Monday, March 29, 1897. "The Portland (Me.) Press of November 28 publishes a long conversation with Col. C.F. Fowler, late of the Alaskan Fur and Commercial company, in which he gives very clear evidence that in the interior of Alaska many mastodons still survive. He first discovered among some "fossil" ivory collected by the natives two tusks which showed evidence of being recently taken from the animal which carried them. On questioning the native who sold it to him he was surprised to receive a full description of the immense beast which had been killed by the natives, a description fully identifying the animal with the mastodon. Col. Fowler quotes Gov. Swineford, of Alaska, as having also investigated this matter and as being satisfied that on the high plateaus of that country large herds of mastodons still roam unmolested by the natives, who fear them greatly. The Alaska News also admits that the evidence of their existence is too strong to be denied." For other news paper reports including the full text of this see: http://www.cryptomundo.com/

It is not impossible for a Mammoth to have survived but unlikely. The climate has changed and the food sources have changed so it would have to have evolved somewhat. Still the stories are wonderful and fired up the imagination of many who read them.

Heuvelmans, Bernard (1959). On the Track of Unknown Animals. New York: Hill and Wang.
Newman, Edward. 1873. The Mammoth Still in the Land of the Living. Zoologist (London) Série 2:8:3731-3733.


Not only did he give us a generous donation, which as we said yesterday has paid for the battery strimmer we needed to maintain the bit of verge near Fairy Cross where we discovered a colony of early purple orchids, but after reading yesterday's blog thanking him, he wrote: 'my late mother was a member of the Royal Botanical Society, where she exhibited her watercolour paintings, and so it is a fitting cause!'

What a nice guy!


I think that I would probably feel sorry for myself if I had been dragged away from a nice warm kitchen yesterday morning, taken to the vets and operated on, only to return sans testicles. Poor boy.

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday's News Today


On this day in 1502 the island of Saint Helena was discovered. Saint Helena was once home to the world’s largest known earwig, Labidura herculeana, which measured over three inches in length. The earwig has not been seen since 1967 so can be classed as extinct but it is still (just) within the realms of possibility that it may still be alive in remote areas of the island.
And now, the news:

Two adorable newborn baby beavers were shown to the public for the first time today
Habitat loss is big risk to Ireland's wildlife
Thieving crows are a pain in the butt
'Artificial life' breakthrough announced by scientists

That’s life….


I want to say thank you very much to Paul Haresnape who sent us a generous donation of $80. As is usually the case, we have spent it already - it paid for the remainder of the battery-operated strimmer that Graham will be using to maintain the little piece of waste ground at Fairy Cross where we discovered a small colony of early purple orchids.

The Devon Highways people have been good enough to allow us to maintain this piece of ground rather than just having it mowed to the quick by a farming contractor, and now, thanks to Paul and the two donations from earlier this week, we shall be able to do so. There is even a few quid left over to go towards protective goggles and a flourescent jacket, which the Health and Safety bods tell us is a mandatory requirement.

Thank you, Paul