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, May 13, 2009

THE BIG THREE: Colin Higgins


One of my favourite guest blogs over the last few weeks has been Colin Higgins from Yorkshire, who - incidentally - was the winner of the compy in January's `On the Track`, where he won my everlasting admiration by recognising Surabaya Johnny by the ever lovely Marianne Faithfull. He also went on the lash with Shane McGowan back in his student days, and is obviously a very fine fellow...

Big Three - Scary Beasties at Home

Giant Pike

One winter’s day I sat in boat with a very successful pike angler and posed the question, ‘Are there any 50lb pike in the UK?’ Without any hesitation he replied, ‘no’. An unambiguous response from a man familiar with 30 lb fish - a size many fishermen spend a lifetime searching for unsuccessfully.

Yet despite his dismissal of the idea history is full of tales of giant Esox, some almost twice as big as our fifty, many undoubtedly mythical, other with a provenance more compelling. Official rod-caught records from these islands are all inside the half-century weight, while the largest known European pike checked in at 67.1 lbs. Beyond these attested figures captors and weights are fuzzy but beguiling: The Great Pike of Whittlesea Mere, Mr Holmes of Wargrave’s pike, Mr. J. J. Dempsey’s Boatman’s pike, The Irish Constabulary pike, The Knock Ross pike, Owen Owen’s pike, The Lough Derg pike, topped by a monster of 90 lbs killed with an oar.

Modern giants are usually found in large waters, typically reservoirs stocked for trout fishing. Stock fish eaters tend to be fast growing, short-lived individuals whereas pike necessary to meet the size of legend thrived on neglect - or at least neglect by anglers and fishery proprietors.
One of the principal food targets for large pike is smaller pike, a fact ignored or forgotten by riparian owners who set nets to catch big predators in the belief they’re protecting trout and salmon stocks. The converse is the case with a large number of small pike eating their way rapidly through the food chain, a situation going some way to ensuring the giants of yore are no longer to be found.

Ah, you say, but are people safe having a quick dip or will we be devoured by a freshwater shark? Incidents of pike attacking humans appear when a pond has somehow been denuded of prey fish, inviting the starving esox to make fast and loose with a bather’s limbs. None are fatal but bites are painful. Pike have been known to bite the noses of horses and cattle, including a case where the frightened beast ran panic stricken across a field with the fish attached, as well as dogs and cats.

While I’m more hesitant than m’learned mate in limiting the potential size of domestic pike I’d bet on other species as likely fodder for lake monsters legends.

Black Dogs

I know, I know. We’re supposed to be sticking to animals that have a chance of existing not bugbears, spooks, zooforms and the products of imagination or Brown Ale. Yet if out of place felines, why not corporeal - or at least momentarily solid - giant canines?
A lot of postulating has accreted around black dogs and into the Fortean consciousness; they are guardians, place spirits, remnants of old religions, tulpas of a former age. Each notion as good as the next but I’m interested in the recurring motif; a dog in a nation familiar with dogs but excessively large, mostly black and associated with roads and tracks.

Each year the family travel to Hodsock Priory, an historic house in North Nottinghamshire and sometime home to the Sheriff of Nottingham (a mental image of Basil Rathbone in tights is never far away) for the wonderful display of snowdrops. I’m always ready for new growth at that time of year and the grounds are festooned in a mass of small white flower heads poking through seemingly dead winter ground. It’s as good a place as any to top up on hope and ponder the numinous in nature but a strange incident took place here in early summer. On 11th May 1991 at 2.14am the road nearby was subject to what appears to be an archetypal black dog sighting.

Victoria Rice-Heaps’ was travelling from her boyfriend’s house when the car headlights picked out two eyes some distance ahead of her small Fiat and she slowed to a crawl. She had grown up with dogs all her life but what emerged was notably different. “It had very shiny fur and a short coat, the nearest thing I’ve seen to it in size was a Great Dane, but it had a good 18” over a dog of that breed. It’s ears were erect and it appeared to be dragging something quite large across the road.”

Another vehicle approached and the driver of a red Montego estate wound down the window to ask if anything was wrong. Victoria wanted to know if he could see the animal? “At this moment he shouted ‘Oh Jesus’ and sped off into the night.” By the time she looked again the dog had disappeared.

As ever such reports have to be taken on face value but of all the creatures reported Black Dogs are one of the least likely to suffer misidentification. Are BDs be any more unreal than big cats and other crypto fauna, or a different manifestation of the same thing?

British Great White Sharks

The greatest marine predator of them all in local waters? No definitive proof of British GWS and the poor creatures are becoming scarce in the Atlantic but certainly possible. One was recorded from the mouth of the Loire, another caught off La Rochelle and in the west from the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in Newfoundland, so England is potentially within their territory. Prof. Compagno in ‘Sharks of the World’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) catalogue extends the Great White’s range to include the English Channel, North and Irish Sea, though without specific evidence.

Periodic tabloid madness, usually to coincide with the summer season has tales of half-bitten seals or dodgy video footage of GWS in British waters, almost certainly Porbeagles or Mako. Even so a few such reports seem better informed and fish caught in nets are larger than might be expected for Mako. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find concrete evidence Carcharodon carcharias had been noshing on local pinnipeds, particularly when you consider a tropical nurse shark has been photographed by divers off Alderney and comber and louvar have been caught on the south coast in these globally warmed times.

They are my Big 3 this week, ask again Jon and they might be different!

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