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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Saturday, January 31, 2009


This has always been a family affair, and it is with great pleasure that I introduce you to today's new guest blogger, my stepdaughter Shosh. I am ridiculously proud of my two girls, and - indeed - I don't think I could be prouder of them if they were actually my own flesh and blood.

Shosh has started on a career in animal welfare, and is in her final year studying Veterinary Medicine at the Royal Veterinary College in London. She also has a cynical sense of humour quite unsettling in one so young and beautiful...

When you tell someone you are studying veterinary medicine at university, at least one of two replies is virtually guaranteed. First is something along the lines of, ‘ah, you’ll be loaded then!’ or ‘you’ll have a licence to print money once you qualify!’ Don’t even get me started on that old chestnut; I’ll write that blog once I’ve finished paying off the £45,000 debt plus interest. The second possibility is an original and highly hilarious comment about sticking one’s hand up cows.
This is why my heart sank when, as a fresher touring the college farm nearly five years ago, I witnessed some final year students all standing up to their shoulders in cows, practising the art of ‘rectalling’. The old cliché had been fulfilled, I thought; this wasn’t going to help matters at all.
So why would you stick your hand up a cow’s arse anyway? To keep your arm warm on a cold day? Sadly not, although I have to say that is an added bonus of the job on a frosty morning.
There are a number of indications for a rectal examination, which include feeling for certain disorders of the gastrointestinal tract and investigating infertility, but the main reason is diagnosis of pregnancy. Pregnancy is of paramount importance in the dairy industry. Obviously, no pregnancy means no calf means no milk means black coffee and dry Coco Pops forever more.
Personally I find diagnosing pregnancy in cows by feel alone bloody difficult, which is worrying considering I am only six months away from possibly doing it for a living. You need a very sensitive hand to pick up a slight swelling of the uterus through the rectum and declare the cow in calf, especially since you are expected to do it from just 35 days after conception. Once I entered the final year of my veterinary education I found myself in that very same lesson, with my hand up a cow’s nether regions, desperately groping for any sign of... well, anything. Meanwhile my fellow students feeling cows on either side of me seemed to be excitedly declaring things like ‘this one is 94 days and 6.2 hours in calf!’ or ‘wow, I can feel the calf’s left adrenal gland!’

I first started rectalling cows as a third-year student whilst seeing practice and I still find it incredibly difficult. Older cows are a tad flabby and you often need arms like Mr. Tickle’s to reach in far enough. Heifers are much easier, but they don’t half squeeze; I recently finished one day of rectalling heifers with a pale circumferential bruise just below my elbow. And either way, you will get covered in shit.

Help is at hand however, for those with a touch as insensitive as mine – the ultrasound scanner! You insert the narrow probe into the rectum and scan over the uterus, looking on the screen for a little white blob of a calf moving around in a collection of black fluid (I have yet to witness a cow turn around and ask for a printout). I was recently allowed by a vet to have a go with this marvellous gadget, and finally I was finding tiny calf embryos all over the place.

However, things don’t always go smoothly, and I was soon stuck with my poor battered arm up a heifer with no sign of a uterus at all, let alone a calf waving from inside it. What do you do when this happens then? “Er....I don’t think she’s pregnant!” I looked imploringly at the vet, who rolled up her sleeves and donned a rectal glove. She was fishing around in the heifer for some time, before declaring that the luckless bovine seemed to have no genital tract whatsoever. I guess freaks of nature like that can happen sometimes. Sadly, it will be the end of the road for that little heifer, as she is no good to a business based around making baby cows. I didn’t know it when I started, but now it seems to me that sticking your hand up a cow’s arse can even become a matter of life or death, and perhaps should not be joked about quite so much!

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