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, December 20, 2007

CFZ Annual Report 2007


Dear friends,

Counting up on my fingers, I realise – with a start – that this is the fourteenth annual report that I have written for the membership of the CFZ. Every year since 1994, during the first week in December, I sit back and reflect upon the events of the previous twelve months, and then attempt to put them into writing.

This has been a tumultuous year, both for the CFZ and for me. On a personal level, just over two years after we met, Corinna moved in with me full-time in April, and we married on 21st July. This is, therefore, the first annual report that I have ever written as a happily married man. But the advent of Corinna has not just meant that my years of turmoil are over, but she has been faced with the monumental task – almost akin to that of cleaning the Augean Stables – of bringing order to the chaos that was the CFZ administration. And she is doing a magnificent job. We have spreadsheets, accounts, databases, and even a franking machine (although those jolly nice people at the franking machine company have still not given us the facility of printing our logos on outgoing mail). It is an epic task, but – assuming that we survive the forthcoming recession intact – one that has already to bear fruit.

One of the most important results of our newfound efficiency is that, at last, we are beginning to attract corporate sponsorship.

The first of these sponsors was Travis Perkins, who very kindly donated about £800 worth of timber, which has been used in the construction of the museum, and the second is Capcom – one of the world’s leading computer game publishers – who very kindly sponsored our November expedition to the South American country of Guyana.

But more of that later.

Work on the museum has been hindered by the bloody awful weather. It is wryly amusing to look back and realise that in April we were told by those in the know, that 2007 was going to be the hottest, and driest, year on record. In fact, it was anything but! We had hoped that the museum was going to be – to a certain extent at least – ready for visitors in time for the Weird Weekend. As June, July, and August were almost unrelentingly horrible weather-wise, practically no work was able to be done, and so the revellers who attended first our wedding, and second – a month later – the Weird Weekend, were confronted by a dilapidated, and rather unsavoury-looking building site. However, the floor is complete, the electric supply has been installed, and the aviary block is 95% complete. There is a hell of a lot more to be done, and it still looks like an unsavoury building site, but we hope that the vast majority of work will be completed by the spring. However, it will be eight months late, at least, and between £5,000 and £8,000 over budget.

However, it will be the only institution of its kind in the UK, and will be open to the public on selected days during 2008. We can announce the first four days of these: the last weekend in June as part of the Open Gardens project, and the Weird Weekend on the third weekend in August. Otherwise, it will be open by appointment only, and - all year round - to all members of the CFZ.

We are also proud to be able to announce our involvement with a major conservation initiative. Chirs Moiser, who has been a member of the CFZ permanent directorate since 1995, has just bought a zoo – Tropiquaria at Watchet in Minehead, north Somerset. Corinna is a partner with Chris and with Jane Bassett in this venture, and owns a small but significant share of it. My greatest hero, the late Gerald Durrell (1925 – 1995) used to quip that his second wife Lee, “only married him for his zoo”. There have been a lot of parallels between Durrell and myself. Indeed, just before Christmas last year, BBC4 broadcast a documentary about him. I was sitting in bed, unwell, watching it with Mark North sitting at the foot of my bed eating cake. As more and more details emerged about Durrell’s views on life, and relationships with other people, Mark began to laugh so much that he nearly choked on cake crumbs. As I wrote in my autobiography, however, in every way Durrell dwarfs me. He was a giant of a man, both in his achievements and his failings. Whereas his achievements are so vast that they will forever leave mine looking insignificant in comparison, the same can be said about other aspects of his life. However, it is mildly amusing that where he claimed that his second wife married him for his zoo, I have married my second wife who is part-owner of one. There is a lot of work to be done with Tropiquaria, but their 2007 breeding successes with Jamaican boas, pancake tortoises, and northern helmeted curassows are something which can only be admired, and they are projects with which the CFZ is very proud to be involved.

Our publication schedule has continued apace this year. We are particularly proud of four books:

· Monster: The A-Z Zooform Phenomena by Neil Arnold
· Big Cats: Loose in Britain by Marcus Matthews
· Man Monkey by Nick Redfern
· Extraordinary Animals Revisited by Dr. Karl P.N. Shuker

The first two books have achieved a legendary status amongst the crypto-investigative community. Neil’s has been in the offing for two or three years, and is the largest and most comprehensive run-down on zooform phenomena around the world that has ever been attempted. Marcus’ book has an even longer history. It was written in the mid-1980s, and is the most comprehensive study of British big cats from pre-history to about 1990 ever to have been published. Researchers have known about this book for many years, and we are very proud to have at last been able to publish it.

Nick Redfern’s book is the first volume ever to have been written on BHM phenomena in Britain, and Karl Shuker’s book is the long-awaited and very welcome update to one of his best-loved and most obscure works. We are very proud to announce that we shall be publishing a whole string of books by both authors, which will include both updated and revised editions of their classic – and often long out of print – books, and entirely new volumes. Expect the next books by both of them in the New Year.

We are also very proud to be able to announce that the CFZ Yearbook series has been re-started. After a hiatus of three years, the 2007 Yearbook was published this spring, and the 2008 Yearbook – which will include this annual report – will be published within the next few weeks.

2007 also saw us publishing the second Big Cat Yearbook published by the Big Cats in Britain [BCIB] research group. This invaluable series includes in-depth reports on every known big cat sighting in the UK over a twelve-month period, together with essays from many of the luminaries in the field. It was particularly pleasing that the 2007 volume included a piece by Di Francis – one of the seminal researchers into big cat phenomena in the UK, and a researcher who has – sadly – fallen beneath the radar for the last few years.

For 2008 we are very pleased to announce yet another series. This will be of approximately 40 volumes and will be a county-by-county guide to the mystery animals, zooform phenomena, and animal folklore of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The first volume which covers Tyneside and Northumberland has been written by Mike Hallowell and will be published early in the New Year. Other volumes have been commissioned from Karl Shuker, Nick Redfern, Richard Freeman, Jon McGowan, Neil Arnold, Garry Cunningham, Oll Lewis and myself, and several of these will be published in 2008.

This summer we also launched a magazine called Exotic Pets. This does exactly what it says on the tin, and is intended to foster responsible animal keeping. We believe that under the current political climate, it may not be long before all exotic pet keeping has been hounded out of existence by the Animal Rights lobby and this increasingly disagreeable government. We believe that this will be a very bad thing, because the work of the amateur naturalist is irreplaceably valuable. Remember, that Darwin, Mendel, Gosse, Wallace, and, of course, Gerald Durrell, were all, basically, amateur naturalists. In the broadest sense of the word, so are the CFZ. Amateur naturalists are those people who do what they do un-constrained by the forces of finance or peer pressure.

Successive governments culminating in the shower who are presently strutting along the corridors of power have inflicted immeasurable damage upon the British way of life. They have turned our television companies from being the best in the world; national treasures who produce the world’s greatest documentaries, dramas, and current affairs programmes, into a pathetic, shambling affair whose only remit seems to be to provide ‘bread and circuses’ to an increasingly moronic viewing public. They have turned our education system into a fatuous joke, and they have instituted such a draconian ‘nanny state’ that most of the things that once made Britain great are now nought but a vaguely embarrassing memory. We feel that one of the major roles of the CFZ in the 21st Century is to enthuse successive generations into rediscovering the joy of discovery of the natural world which my generation had as children. Natural history was a national obsession for about a century from the 1850s onwards, and had it not been for this national obsession, much of what we know about the natural world would still be a mystery. We believe that with publications such as Exotic Pets and Animals & Men that we are doing our own little bit to redress this balance, and we hope that you will agree with us that what we do is indeed a valuable thing.

This year’s Weird Weekend, which took place on the third weekend in August, was a great success. It raised over £1,500 for CFZ funds, and attracted nearly 200 people from across the world. It was very encouraging to see how many of these were children who are becoming enthused by what we do. This year’s speakers included Grigory Panchenko – the world’s greatest expert on the almasty of the Caucasus – whose appearance at the Weird Weekend was his first speaking engagement in the West. Other speakers were Larry Warren, Peter Robbins, Richard Freeman, Oll Lewis, Nick Redfern, Jonathan McGowan, Matthew Williams, Mike Hallowell, Dr Charles Paxton, Adam Davies, Dr Darren Naish, Chris Moiser, Paul Vella, Ronan Coghlan and myself.
Next year’s event will once again take place on the third weekend of August and confirmed speakers so far are: Adrian Shine, Mike Hallowell, Nick Redfern, Lee Walker, Matt Salusbury, Geoff Ward, Richard Freeman, Ronan Coghlan, Paul Vella and myself. Tickets will be going on sale in early January, and we strongly urge you to book your places early and also to book your accommodation in good time. Last year every B&B and campsite for miles was chocker.
In October this year we launched yet another new proejct. ‘On the Track’ is amonthly web TV show hosted on our CFZtv website which provides an overview of cryptozoological news in general and CFZ news in particular. The third episode was posted in early December, and initial viewing figures of about 1,000 a month are very encouraging.

In November, for the fifth year in a row, the CFZ undertook a major foreign expedition. This year’s excursion was to Guyana and was sponsored by Capcom. The five-person team consisted of:

· Richard Freeman (team leader)
· Dr. Chris Clark
· Jon Hare
· Lisa Dowley
· Paul Rose

Paul Rose is perhaps better known to his legions of fans as ‘Mr. Biffo’, the one-time head honcho of the Channel 4 teletext video game magazine Digitiser. He is better known these days as a humorous journalist, and TV script writer. Richard and I have been massive fans of his for years, and it was a great joy to us both, when, in May, he became a member of the CFZ. During the sojourn in the little explored grassland savannah of southern Guyana, he quickly became an integral part of the team, and whereas he intitially only went along because he had been commissioned to write a major book about the CFZ, he told me on the telephone the other night that he is now firmly ‘hooked’, and will be joining in CFZ activities for many a year to come.

The expedition went in search of information about three unknown animals:

· The didi (pronounced dai dai) – a bigfoot type creature.
· The giant anaconda
· The water tiger (a little known aquatic cryptid)

We found out a lot of information about all three species, but also came back with a wealth of data on two other cryptids as well. These are – as far as we are aware – completely unknown outside Guyana:

· A race of tiny red-faced pygmys
· A very small species of cayman

The team also secured the first ever video footage of a very recently discovered species of bright green scorpion, and were the first Europeans to visit some remote mountain caves which contained ancient burials.

Early in the New Year we will be publishing the expedition report written by all of the members of the team, and containing hundreds of unpublished photographs. We will also be releasing a full length documentary on CFZtv as part of our ongoing commitment to making the results of our investigations freely available to anyone who is interested.

Our other expedition this year was on a much smaller scale. However, in June, we returned to the Lake District, and in conjunction with our good friend Kevin Boyd, we spent four days in what turned out to be an ultimately fruitless hunt for eels. Back in 2002 we launched ‘The Big Fish Project’ which was initially a survey of extremely large fish from around the world, and the folklore surrounding it. However, in the last few years, this has morphed into what is perhaps the most important research project that we have ever done. With every new piece of data we become more convinced that the vast majority of so-called lake monsters from across the Northern Hemisphere are in fact enormous eels. Although the European eel (Anguilla anguilla) has been known for millenia, and has been a species of important economic concern for an equal time, surprisingly little is known about its biology. It was only well within the past 100 years that the details of its life-cycle were discovered, and various other important aspects of its biology are still being revealed. It was only in the past few years, for example, that it was discovered that a surprisingly last proportion of the European eel population stays offshore, and never actually enters freshwater, and it was only just over a year ago that it was discovered that the closely related species Anguilla japonica spawns and dies in the Marianas Trench near the Phillippines.

In our own little way, we have made a couple of potentially momentous discoveries within the field of eel biology. We have photographed eels far bigger than they are meant to grow, hidden away in the rather unpleasant intersteces of a run-down northern English holiday resort, and we have discovered historical evidence which suggests that the two currently known morphological varieties of the European eel are relatively recent, and appear only to have evolved in the past couple of hundred years.

Our investigations into the population dynamics of the European eels in lakes where monstrous specimens seem to have been reported will continue, and we hope that we shall eventually be successful in securing specimens, which we can take back and measure their growth rates under laboratory conditions.

Financially this has not been a good time for the CFZ. Every project that we have listed in this annual report has come in significantly over budget. Whereas we are very pleased with having secured the sponsorship deals described above, and the two smaller sponsorship deals from the Farmer’s Arms in Woolsery, and the Cairngorm Brewery Company, for the Weird Weekend, we are disappointed that our other requests for sponsorship have been fruitless. Running the CFZ is an increasingly expensive business, and whilst none of the directors are paid anything for their time and effort, we have increasingly been forced to draw upon our own private resources in order to keep the organisation afloat. I have romped through the money I inherited from my late father, and there is very little left.
Historically, we have funded the CFZ by doing contract design work, website building, and freelance journalism for a number of clients. During my father’s final illness two years ago, we were forced to cut back on outside work, and by this summer we only had one regular client left. We severed ties with this client after an unfortunate and highly embarrassing incident which took place over the Weird Weekend. None of it was our fault, and everybody who knows the details has been appalled and disgusted by our ex-client’s behaviour. However, this means that the only income we have comes from occasional articles for Fortean Times or Beyond, and sales of our own publications. The CFZ is in the worst financial position in which it has found itself since 2001, and with our new premises in the North Devon countryside, our overheads are higher than ever. We would be very grateful for any fund-raising ideas, potential sponsorship concepts, or any other ways that we can – as the late Sir John Verney once said – “keep both ends of the wolf from meeting at the door”.

However, all in all it has been a fantastic year. We shall draw a discreet curtain over the unfortunate events alluded to above which left us £500 a month worse off, and with our late client still owing us £2,500. We shall also draw a discreet curtain over the disgusting behaviour of NatWest Bank in closing our bank accounts for no valid reason, and we will do our best to forget the car crash which nearly killed Corinna and myself in September. But all in all, from where I am sitting, the future looks pretty rosy.

Thank you for your support over the last twelve months. Together we will continue to prove the truth of Bernard Heuvelmans’ famous axiom that “the great days of zoology are not done”.

Here’s to the future.

Jon Downes,
Director, CFZ
Woolsery, North Devon

19th December 2007

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