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, May 28, 2009

OLL LEWIS: The Big Three


Apart from the fact that his puns are terrible and he has an obsession with the more surreal side of Internet culture, Oll Lewis hasn't put a foot wrong since we started this bloggo-thing. Because of his interest in things aquatic he has been co-ordinating the lake and sea monster news for the CFZ for some years now, and as regular readers of this bloggo will already know he is letting this obsession spill over online..

When I was asked to compile a list of the three cryptids that interest me the most I had to think long and hard. There are, after all, a lot to choose from so cutting that down to a list of only three was tough. It means that I have to leave out several fascinating animals, including giant dragonflies. I actually saw a giant dragonfly nearly 10 years ago and reported my sighting to an entomology professor at the university I was studying at the time who was quite adamant that I must have been mistaken. But anyway, I digress, eventually after much thought I’ve settled on the following three cryptids:

Out of the three cryptids I’ve picked gwibers the least likely to actually exist. All but a few witness statements have faded into folklore and the creature sounds quite unlike any known to science. Gwibers are snakes with wings most often found in Wales but occasionally popping up in other parts of Britain. Descriptions of the animals vary greatly from account to account: Some gwibers, particularly in North Wales are depicted as humungous scaly beasts with leathery wings that can swoop down from the skies and carry whole sheep, where-as in South East Wales they are more often described as small beautiful feather covered farm yard pests.

Could such an unusual animal exist? It’s quite unlikely that they’d exist exactly as they’ve been depicted if the did because the evolutionary history of snakes doesn’t include feathered or winged creatures (at least as far as we know) but sightings could have been based on things people mistook for snakes or garbled accounts in folklore. I know it seems like a bit of a cop out but if gwibers do exist rather than just assuming that they are snakes that have somehow sprouted wings it might be just as possible that they are something else, like the aforementioned giant dragonfly with a liberal dash of exaggeration thrown on top.

Afanc are crocodile like lake monsters that have been seen in bodies of water all over Wales since at least the end of the Roman Empire and were probably seen even longer ago than that. It’s not just Wales where they are seen either, a large number of escaped crocodile reports that make their way into British newspapers when there are not enough stories about former reality TV stars going for a drink (in an actual pub, where people drink (!)) to clog up the real news from getting through are probably not sightings of crocodiles but of Afanc.

Afanc have suffered from an identity crisis though: they are not some hitherto undiscovered indigenous British species of crocodile, surviving dinosaurs, aquatic dwarfs, beavers or whatever the hell that big brown thing was that they called an afanc recently in the otherwise brilliant BBC adventure drama Merlin. Afanc are giant pike, not just pike that have grown a bit bigger than normal, really huge pike.

One place I’ve studied is Langorse Lake near Brecon in Wales. Langorse has had legends told about the afanc there since the dark ages at least and the creatures were so well known in the lake it even had poems writain about it by Lewis Glyn Cothi in the 15th century. Tales of large pike have persisted in the area into the modern day from a close encounter with a massive fish by Mike Tunnicliffe in the 1980s to a water-skier being hospitalised after he was attacked by a giant pike in the 1990s. The heaviest pike ever caught on a rod and line in Britain was caught there by O. Owens in 1846, the pike weighed 68lbs, remarkable considering the upper size limit for pike in the UK is meant to be around 47lbs. An even bigger pike was found washed up dead along the shore of the lake a few years ago. Only the skull, or mask remained and that measured 18 inches in length, the estimated weight of the pike is roughly around 90lbs and it could have been anywhere between 6-10ft long. A real monster if ever there was one.

Nandi Bear:
I feel almost as if I’m cheating by picking Kenya’s Nandi bear for my list because it is almost certainly more than one cryptid. Most descriptions of the Nandi bear say that the animal is at least as big as a man, but with four limbs and a sloping back covered in fur, the creature is sometimes seen ‘standing up’ on its hind limbs but invariably seems to run on all four legs. Attacks attributed to Nandi bears are usually extremely violent in nature and the creature is said to have a taste for brains, often scalping its victims and cracking open skulls as if they were egg shells. Occasionally witnesses attribute feats of athleticism to the Nandi bear like being able to leap two meter high fences in a single bound and jump to the top of huts. It is also said to emit fearsome noises before or immediately after killing that can strike fear into all but the bravest of men.

However, when Bernard Heuvelmans started researching the cryptid for ‘On The Track Of Unknown Animals’ he soon came to the realisation that not every witness was describing the same animal. A number of sightings were likely misidentified ratels and aardvarks but amongst the sightings were what appeared to have been giant baboons and giant hyenas. One theory held by Heuvelmans was that the giant baboon sightings were caused by ancestors of the modern baboon thought to be extinct, another theory is that hybridisation between some species of baboon can result in much taller individuals than the 70cm norm. One such hybridised baboon population has been discovered in Ethiopia. Giant hyenas are spotted in Kenya every so often and a tea plantation owner in Nandi shot two giant hyenas in the 1950s that were reportedly twice the size of normal hyenas. The bones were donated to Nairobi Museum to be analysed where they presumably remain to this day. Frustratingly the museum could not, at the time, clarify the species of hyena, or indeed define whether it was a new species, and simply classed the bones a ‘forest hyena’.

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