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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Sunday, May 10, 2009

THE BIG THREE: Glen Vaudrey

Glen is one of the newer additions to the bloggo family. He wrote to me out of the blue last year to ask wherther we wanted a Western Isles volume in our Mystery Animals of Britain series. We argeed that we did indeed want one, and commissioned him. What we were not expecting was such a bloody good writer and all round nice guy, who - by the way - is writing several other volumes for us...
What a challenge it is to think of your favourite three cryptids (that are likely to be found), there are just so many to consider. Nevertheless I managed to whittle down my selection to three very different animals, the land is represented by a mystery sloth, the seas are championed by a big shark and the avian world is proudly represented by an elusive flightless bird.

The Mysterious Sloth

The jungles of South America undoubtedly hide many things from the great lost cities of gold that seemingly lured Colonel Percy Fawcett to his doom to the giant snakes that he so eagerly noted in his journals.

Today’s sloths are restricted to the trees but it has not always been the case for back in the late Pleistocene period there existed a number of ground dwelling sloths with the giant ground sloth Megatherium americanum coming in at a very impressive 20 feet, while the Patagonia cave dweller Mylodon darwinii was in possession of a coat of reddish brown hair that concealed a skin dotted with dermal ossicles, these tiny nodules of bone would give the sloth a hidden layer of body armour. This possibly bullet proof sloth is widely believed to have died out around 8,600 years ago. It walked with its clawed feet turned towards the centre of its body.

While the Mylodon may have vanished from the jungles of South America there appears to be a cryptid that has taken its place - the Mapinguari. Standing 5-6 feet tall, with long reddish fur and feet that appear to be turned backward, it reportedly twists palm trees to the ground so as to be able to get the palm hearts that would otherwise be out of reach. It is also famed for the foul smelling stench that it releases when threatened.

In 1930 a hunter going by the name of Inocêncio became separated from his friends while on an expedition up the Rio Uatumã, Pará State, Brazil. Unable to find his way back to his friends before nightfall Inocêncio settled down for the evening. His sleep was interrupted during the night by loud cries coming from a thickset, black man-like figure that was standing upright next to a fallen tree. It appeared to Inocêncio that the creature was heading towards him and, perhaps understandably, he started to shoot at the mystery animal. Shooting several times it is quite likely that Inocêncio hit the animal on more than one occasion, despite being shot the animal headed off back in to the jungle well away from the scared hunter. Was its ability to walk away from being shot a result of poor aiming or a bullet proof skin?

The big shark

If you thought the sharks in the Jaws films were big they were tiddlers compared to the ancient Carcharodon Megalodon. Today the largest known living shark is the whale shark known to reach a length of 50 feet closely followed by the basking shark at 40 feet, both these sharks unlike the Megalodon are harmless plankton eaters. The largest confirmed measurement of a carnivorous shark, a great white caught off Malta, was a still respectable 23 feet. The length of Megalodon varies greatly depending on the source starting at 45 feet up to a whopping 120 feet, with such a variation perhaps somewhere in the middle would be a fair estimate of the true size, even if it was at the small end it would still be twice the length of the largest great white. The Megalodon was first swimming the seas some 50 million years ago in the Tertiary period and is widely believed to have swum off this mortal coil some 1.5 million years ago but like all good extinction dates this is open to question. In 1875 the oceanographic vessel Challenger dredged up a pair of Megalodon teeth from the seabed at a depth of 14,000 feet. When these two teeth were dated in the late 1950s the Russian scientist D.Tschernezky declared the oldest tooth to be some 24,000 years old and the younger of the pair to be just 11,000 years old, still not immediately recent but enough to make this marine predator a contemporary of homo sapiens, is it little wonder early man stuck to the land.

But it isn’t just a few odd teeth that suggest a longer term survival of the Megalodon for in the last 100 years there have been plenty of sightings of very large sharks. In 1918 Australian fishermen reported a sighting off Broughton Island; they watched a giant shark swallowing 3 feet wide crayfish traps, pots and mooring lines. The fishermen gave measurements ranging from the 115 feet to a staggering 300 feet, while these figures may well be open to question the men were all sure that they had not seen a whale shark but rather a shark reminiscent of a very large great white.

In 1933 Loren Grey sailing 100 mile northwest of Rangiroa, reported sighting a shark some 40-50 feet in length with a head 10-12 feet wide, again this witness does not consider his sighting to be that of a whale shark.

Pacific island tradition talks of a mysterious Lord of the Deep, while the title may be Lovecraftian this undersea lord isn’t Cthulhu, it’s a great shark up to 100 feet in length, its upper surface grey with the rest of its body pale white. Does the Megalodon still swim unreported in the depth of the world’s oceans

Flightless bird

Long before New Zealand was home to hobbits it hosted a whole flock of flightless birds. The largest of these, the Moa, came in a variety of types, the largest reaching an impressive height of over 11 feet. All was going well for these flightless birds until humans finally made it to New Zealand around the 10th century (perhaps Megalodon had grown bored of a diet of Peloponnesians at that point and had decided to let the odd boat load past). Between hunting and a change to the habitat the moa officially became extinct in 1800. While the giant moa died out there have been sightings of one of its smaller mystery relatives the Roa-Roa.

Descriptions of the Roa-Roa reveal a kiwi-like bird around the size of a turkey sporting a grey, blue or spotted plumage, a small head on a long neck, sharp spurs on its feet and a middle toe measuring up to 14 inches and a call similar to the kiwi.

Reported to be found on both the North and South Islands, the majority of the sightings however have come from the South Island. In 1880 seven year old Alice Mckenzie claimed to have touched a big navy blue bird at Martins Bay, Milford Sound, South Island. The bird was described as being around three foot tall with scaly legs and three toes on each foot. Eventually the mystery bird had had enough of Alice’s attention and began to attack her, understandably not enjoying the experience she ran off back home and by the time her father returned the bird had vanished, luckily for the bird I suspect.

In the 1890s a sighting of a moa-like bird took place in Brunner range, again on the South Island, this sighting was made by a group of school boys who watched the bird as it crossed a road.

Racing forward to 1963 a scientist reported seeing a large moa-like bird in the brush in Northwest Nelson State Forest Park, South Island.

Reports go quiet again until the 1990s when a spate of sightings are reported however some of this recent wave of sightings have been acknowledge as hoaxes, which unfortunately muddy the waters as bit.

Is it possible for a bird the size of the Roa-Roa to go unnoticed in New Zealand? It could well be, after all a number of out of place moose are loose in the South Island and despite their size they are proving decidedly hard to spot, with that in mind what are the chances of finding this elusive turkey-sized mystery bird

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