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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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

RICHARD MUIRHEAD: Chinese Giant Tortoise

Richard Muirhead is an old friend of the CFZ. I have been friends with him for 40 years now, since we were kids together in Hong Kong. He is undoubtedly one of the two best researchers I have ever met; he and Nigel Wright both have what Charlie Fort would have no doubt called a wild talent; a talent for going into a library, unearthing a stack of old newspapers, and coming back with some hitherto overlooked gem of arcane knowledge. Twice a week he wanders into the Macclesfield Public Library and comes out with enough material for a blog post..

The other day Jon wondered why I wanted to know about Ming Dynasty era tortoises in China.Today all can be revealed.

For a few weeks now I have been reading the late Martin Booth`s autobiography `Gweilo A memoir of a Hong Kong childhood` (2005) in which the author describes his 3 years in Hong Kong with his mother and father,who was helping the allied war effort in Korea. Booth and his parents arrived in Hong Kong by boat in June 1952 and for a while he and his mother stayed in a Kowloon hotel.The following summer, Booth and his family explored the New Territories (that part of the mainland that had been added to the already existing part of Hong Kong in 1898 for 99 years. In the end returning to China with all the remaining land mass and islands in 1997.) in the vicinity of a place called Kadoorie Beach. I remember a Kadoorie Farm when I lived in Hong Kong between 1966 and 1985,but I do not remember the zoo that features in Booth`s account.

Booth says,that a mile or so beyond the sign to Kadoorie Beach,they came to `The Dragon Inn` where they ate. Then: `The bill settled,we went to look at a tortoise the size of a half barrel that was said to have been hatched in the Ming dynasty. A notice stated rather obviously: A Tortoise Several Hundred Years Old;it occurred to me that it would have to be in a country where eggs could be a century old. The poor creature lived in a concrete-walled enclosure about four times its size, with a trough of stale water and a pile of bedraggled greens. At least it had a roof to protect it from the searing heat of the sun.

Disturbed by these conditions, I suggested to my mother that we either set up a tortoise protection society or come back that night and kidnap it. Her reply was that the car boot could not take the weight,with which I had sadly to concur. However, I was permitted to sit on it to have my photo taken (1).

I have put those last 5 words in italics (not in the original) because there is a possibility for someone to look into this further and track down that photograph and see if it can be determined what species of tortoise it was or is. The Chinese navigator Zheng He and his admirals would have sailed close to the Seychelles,where presumably they picked up the tortoise egg from which the Hong Kong tortoise emerged after their return journey. Unless there were giant tortoises elsewhere in Asia at that time along the route of the huge junks? The junks that passed the Seychelles in 1421 were on their way to Sofala near Maputo in modern Mozambique. The Ming Dynasty spanned the years 1368AD-1644AD.

A Chinese document, the Wu Pei Chi,mentions a navigation platform at the Seychelles and also,in Hong Kong,stones with concentric circles were found by Gavin Menzies,the author of `1421 The Year China Discovered the World`(2002) at Wong Chuk Ha, Chang Zhou and Po Ti (2) indicating where the fleet had watered and harboured.

Now obviously there is no conclusive evidence here that the 1950s Hong Kong tortoise did originate from Ming Dynasty Seychelles but the clues are tantalising.

(1) M.Booth Gweilo. A memoir of a Hong Kong childhood (2005)p.165.

(2) G.Menzies. 1421 The Year China Discovered The World (2002 p.175.

If a New Zealand based cryptozoologist is reading this could you please contact me as I have some information from this book by Menzies that might interest you.

Interestingly, there is a rock formation on Po Ti (presumably Po Toi island,Hong Kong) called “Tortoise Climbing Up A Mountain.” (see Wikipedia)

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