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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Wednesday, January 14, 2009


This Guest Blogger malarkey, that I came up with by chance, mainly because I couldn't think of anywhere else to put Max's fascinating article, seems to be taking off. Catch a load of this! Richard Freeman, Zoological Director of the CFZ, was so impressed by Max's article yesterday that he decided to write a companion article explaining how unknon animals in captivity is actually nothing new...

The idea of people keeping unknown creatures in captivity may sound surprising but it’s not without precedent. The creature Max has been looking into are invertebrates, all relatively small but sometimes much larger creatures can make it into captivity unknown to the ‘experts’.

Wombwell’s Travelling Menagerie AKA Mr George Wombwell’s Royal Menagerie was one of a number of mobile zoos that toured the UK in the 18th and 19th centuries. The first was run by a man named Pidcock back in 1708. They consisted of wild beasts in cages that were horse drawn around the country from town to town. The set up seems odd to us today and must have been stressful to both the horses and the animals they transported. Escapes were commonplace and a number of people were recorded to have been killed by wild animals that absconded from these zoos on wheels.

Entertainment rather than education or conservation was the driving force. Animals were often mislabelled or given odd names such as ‘Prerie Fiend’ (heaven only knows what they really were. Wombwell’s had among its beasts, creatures labelled as ‘tiger wolves’. These may have been thylacines. I have theorized that the ‘Girt Dog of Ennerdale’ that terrorized Cumbria in the early 19th century, was an escaped thylacine. The description of dog like beast with tigerish stripes that lapped the blood of its victims fits the thylacine remarkably well.

In 1855 Wombwells exhibited the first captive gorilla in Europe. The lowland gorilla had only been discovered in 1847 by Thomas Staughton Savage. Only skulls and pelts had made it to European museums. The Wombell ape was, for a long while mislabled as a chimpanzee. Acording to zoo historian and education officer Malcome Whitehead, the gorilla was at first fed on roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and beer! If I’d had been around back then I would have been dressing up in an ape skin and applying for a place at Wombwells.

Even further back early zoos may have been behind some of the stories of legendary beasts in Britain.Confusion and controversy surround this legend on the Suffolk / Essex border. Both the town of Bures and the village of Wormingford lay claim to the story as their own. In a 19th century translation of a document from 1405, the story is told of a fearful dragon that had a hide impenetrable to arrows and which disappeared into the marsh after having caused “much hurt”. It dwelt in and around water and had four legs and a long tail.

Wormingford begs to differ, saying that the creature resided there and was finally killed by Sir George de la Haye.

The description of this dragon sounds very like a crocodile. Indeed, many think it was such a beast that got free from the Royal menagerie at the Tower of London and made its way to Suffolk. One can readily imagine the fear a 20-30 foot reptile would have struck into the hearts of the peasants.
An escaped exotic is probably behind the St Leonard’s Forest dragon of 1614.This wild briar is a part of the once vast forest of the Weald. In 1614 a limbless serpentine beast appeared here. It was some nine feet long that killed both man and beast with poison that it ‘cast forth’. For a while it became infamous in the area. It was said to raise up its head and look in an arrogant manner about itself. The creature fed on rabbits. It sounds very much like a cobra, possibly brought back from abroad by a traveler or merchant and which subsequently got free.

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