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, October 24, 2010

NEIL ARNOLD: Interviews Mike Williams & Rebecca Lang Regarding ‘Big Cats’ in Australia

Neil Arnold Interviews Mike Williams & Rebecca Lang Regarding ‘Big Cats’ in Australia:

1) Firstly, thanks for agreeing to the interview...the new book is fantastic and I must ask, in the book you put forward theories that the exotic cats in Australia may have been introduced by mascots or escaped from circuses, but one thing rarely mentioned in the book are exotic cats as pets. In the UK in the 1960s large cats were purchased in abundance, mainly as cubs. Was this situation not echoed in Australia or was the country not as swingin' in the '60s as it was here ?
No, chiefly due to our very restrictive quarantine laws. Although the country was "swinging" it was certainly not swinging with large exotic cats as pets. The over-riding fear has always been that anything exotic can escape and never be found in the bush here as the areas are just too dense and rough...and dangerous.

2) You have accumulated some startling evidence in the book; why do you think the authorities continue to ignore the evidence?
Just standard lethargic public servants. I am not sure what it’s like in the UK, but if you cannot make it in the private sector here, you gravitate to the public sector.Most of the authorities here are completely clueless about any form of evidence; they change jobs all the time, go to a lot of meetings, send memos and basically cover their own arses.We have had staff from the NSW Department of Primary Industries asking us about DNA testing labs. We have sent the depts emails asking specific questions.

Around one year later on average we will get an email that doesn’t answer the questions and segues into idiocy and false statements. We will correct all the points and return the email. Around 6 months later we will receive another email from someone else telling us that since our first email was answered the case is closed. One govt department's investigations into data manipulation involved them contacting the actual guy in the department whom we had complained about. They asked him if his department had done anything "dodgy" and he said no. End of the "investigation". After three emails you become a "vexatious complainant" and then your emails just go into some in box in Alaska.

3) If a child is attacked, and possibly killed by a large cat in Australia, what do you think will come of such an incident?

At this stage of the "game", they would require a video of the attack or else they would pin the blame on dogs. Sarcasm aside, they don’t accept either secondary evidence, or primary evidence. They never investigated the lioness shot dead in the bush in western NSW in 1985 – the elusive and much sought after ‘body on the table’, so to speak.

4) You mentioned Golden Cats in the book, although these were rarely kept as pets, or in circuses, and yet there are hardly any mentions of lynx or bobcat in the book. Have there not been any reports of such animals?
We were interested in the golden cat because of the crazy idea that some of these animals might have come across with early Indonesian traders who have been visiting the northern tips of Australia for possibly thousands of years. We were speculating that these animals could have crossed with early Felis catus lines – escapees from Dutch shipwrecks.The only ‘minor’ problem with those theories was the lack of evidence! We also speculated about hybrid vigour/adaption etc, which might have lead to larger animals and could explain the colour variations seen here. We have had reports of bobcat-type animals but they appear to be describing a short-tailed and muscular Felis catus.

5) Do you believe witnesses are definitely seeing jet-black cats, or simply not taking note of the rosette pattern which a melanistic leopard produces in its pelage ?
Jet black for sure, but the lack of rosette reports has always been troubling.

6) There are mentions in the UK, Australia and US of black pumas, even though a melanistic puma would appear black dorsally and have a dirty cream/pale underside (melanistic pumas would not be uniformly black all over). Do you believe melanistic pumas exist in Australia or anywhere?
We would love to believe that a melanistic form of puma exists as it would help us explain a lot of reports, but there is still zero evidence for their existence.

7) Do you believe animals could escape a zoo or circus and live in the wilds of Australia? I ask this because usually an animal kept in captivity would be tracked down and either shot or caught.
Yes we do believe animals could easily live largely undetected in the wild here. You are right about the zoo or circus to a degree, but private collections would be another matter entirely. However, if an animal was released from a private collection or was lost/escaped, all the owners have to do is report that the animal has died and been buried/disposed of. No one from any department comes and physically checks that this is true – and that’s AFTER the laws were tightened. In our book we recount the recent example of a pygmy hippo that appeared to have been living quite well as an ‘escapee’ from a private collection in the Northern Territory. Pygmy hippos are not renowned for their stealth, so if a large water-loving mammal can live happily undetected in the Australian bush, why not an exotic cat?

8) It's interesting that in Australia there are some truly monstrous feral cats - how do you think these have come about ?
Another unknown...we’re not sure why ‘just’ the environment here would force this issue. Why not elsewhere? Cats are incredibly adaptable predators that thrive in all kinds of conditions. Not many people realise that cats can survive for long periods without water, subsisting on the liquids (blood) they get from their prey. While Australia may seem quite an inhospitable environment for a cat, quite the opposite is true. We would love to see the nuclear DNA sequence one day to see if there is anything odd in the male line, such as a golden cat.

9) Do you think the overly large feral cats explain most black leopard sightings even though whatever its size, a feral cat doesn't resemble a black leopard.
They could certainly explain some of them, especially at a distance when dealing with looking up or down a slope, but about three video sequences filmed in the last 20 years clearly show animals that do not conform to Felis catus morphology. The rest of the videos often show an animal that looks cheetah-like in shape, with a small head, often having pointed ears, which would seemingly rule out anything from the Panthera genus.

10) Have there been any reports of screaming cats, a noise which a puma would make?
Yes, especially from Western Australia and central Victoria. However, just to muddy the waters further, these sounds are often heard on farms where black cats are being seen.

11) In the book there aren't many mentions of animals with cubs - do you receive many reports of animals with cubs?
Very few.

12) How far do you think sightings go back in the history of Australia concerning large, exotic cats?
Around the middle of the 1880s, which is roughly the time the first circus menageries started touring the country.

13) Do you believe inadequate research the world over is hindering the situation and relegating it to folklore ?
Yes and no. Inadequate due to lack of time and money, for sure... The research needs more tangibles like DNA, primary and secondary evidence - like the recent successful hair and DNA analysis that identified Leopard hair from the Huddisford Woods in the UK. It’s unfortunate that too often many of these sightings become a part of folklore despite their basis in fact.

14) It seems highly unlikely in my opinion that Thylacoleo carnifex still roams the Australian bush. Do you believe it still exists and if not, what are people seeing?
Yes, we agree that it is highly unlikely – it’s highly improbable. But having said that, it’s still possible. If it does not exist, then we cannot explain the large six-toed prints (and we are aware of polydactlyl Felis catus) or the witness descriptions of animals that have a box-like ‘possum’ head of the marsupial lion. Researcher Steve Temby filmed several sequences of animals in roughly one location over several months, and claims to have caught a Thylacoleo on film in one sequence. His footage was taken over several hundreds metres away from the animal with a normal low resolution video camera. He was adamant that through his high-powered binoculars he could see that the animal had a huge boxy head, unusual prominent canines and thick, strange legs. Yet the video shows what looks like a large cat moving around. Steve Temby also stated the gait of the animal was very odd. If Thylacoleo is still roaming Australia, we cannot explain the lack of "modern" Aboriginal art, Aboriginal folklore or even early settlers’ reports. The whole thing is very messy and very strange.

15) Lions would often seek a pride and large prey. Do you believe witnesses genuinely report lions in Australia or are they mistaking a puma for a lioness?
We have had very few lion-type reports (lion vocalisations come in sometimes). And yes, witnesses could confuse a puma for a lioness. Lions are a much more social animal and generally don’t care about being seen – a behaviour that proved costly for the Broken Hill lioness, which was spotted and shot by the side of the road.

16) Have you had any personal sightings of a large cat?
I (Mike) watched an animal through a starlight scope that moved with the speed of a cheetah, with a similar body shape and the fluidity of a large cat. Rebecca observed a black fox moving across a paddock, which she initially thought might have been a cat.

17) What's been your most intriguing investigation?
Probably the "Emmaville Panther", where we tracked down the skin of the animal shot by Charlie Leader, which we discuss in the book. We really thought we would crack that one with the DNA. The formaldehyde used to preserve the skin killed that Sherlock Holmes moment for us.

18) What other mystery animals roam Australia?
There’s a steady stream of big cat, Thylacine and yowie reports always coming in. Bunyip reports have virtually dried up – it’s likely the animals responsible for these sightings were seals.

19) What are your opinions on the yowie?
We think the odds of any ’undiscovered’ giant bipedal beast like the yowie/sasquatch/yeti sharing the same rough morphology and appearing on almost every continent a bit hard to fathom. We think it’s unlikely the ‘manimal’ is flesh-and-blood, but that’s largely based on the Australian experience. Just what it is we don’t know. We have interviewed numerous witnesses, lived in a yowie ‘hot spot’ and written about the phenomena for Fortean Times. We find the whole subject very interesting.

20) I have on record a handful of stories pertaining to phantom black dogs, or hellhounds, from Australia. Do you believe these legends can also melt into the 'big cat' situation?

21) What other felidae are reported in Australia ?
Other than what we have chatted about, there are very few reports that don’t fit into any of these pigeon holes.

22) Have hair samples, faeces etc, been analysed by authorities and proven to belong to an exotic cat?
No, but then again they rarely if at all engage in such analysis.

23) For every genuine report you receive, how many crazy people contact you?
For every 50 reports we will get one weirdo. We’ve been stalked, harassed on the telephone and been the victims of character assassination. It’s not easy being sane and interested in mystery animals.

24) Do you believe the thylacine still exists?

25) If authorities the world over admitted that large cats exist in places they shouldn't, what effect do you believe this will have on the eco-system, if such animals become a recognised species?
I think the animals exist in places they should not and damage those eco-systems regardless whether authorities recognise this problem. If they are recognised here (I cannot talk for anywhere else) then nothing will change. The media would trumpet ‘Big cats exist!’ Everyone would say "I always knew it" and change the channel to sport.

26) If the authorities admit to such animals being out there, do you believe they'll have to attempt to exterminate every cat?
Here? It would be impossible. Whatever the animals are, they do not go to trees if dogs chase them – in fact, the dogs are normally running the other way. The terrain is too thick and wild for tracking by humans and we do not have trained dogs here. Australian authorities simply don’t have the resources to deal with big cats – we lack general expertise. Add to that these cat-like animals don’t eat baits and don’t step into cages or traps and seem to have a canny sixth sense when it comes to infrared devices on cameras.

27) Do you know of anyone at the present who legally owns a large cat in Australia?
28) Any plans for another 'big cat' book, or possibly a book on other Australian mystery animals ?
We’re presently working on re-issuing a big cat classic with a new foreword. We also have a few other mystery animal book ideas in the pipeline.

29) Do you believe that the witnesses who came forward in the book to say they'd been attacked by a large cat, were genuine ?
Genuine, yes; attacked by a big cat, no. They just don’t have the kind of injuries meted out by large exotic cats. Swipes from leopards, lions, tigers, jaguars and the like would leave the injured party with shredded flesh hanging from their arms, not superficial cuts and bruises.

30) What does the future hold for the 'big cats' in Australia?
Hopefully a body on the table – indisputable proof of the big cat in Australia. Thanks for taking the time to write these questions and for the ripper review!

Mike and Rebecca

JOANNE BOURNE: Translation of French YouTube documentary on the almasty (Part Three)

A few weeks ago we posted part one of Jo Bourne's translation of a YouTube posting of a French documentary about the almasty. Ten days later we posted part two. We continue with part three...

Voiceover: It was once again evidence found by a shepherd that enabled a young biologist from the university of Karkof[????] to observe an Almasty on the 29 Aug 1991 in this stable.

Shepherd: He came and asked if the Almasty came here sometimes, and it was here he saw one for the first time. I showed him in the stable the horses with plaited manes* and I asked him who did the plaiting and why. Patchenko spent the night here. He slept over there, and the horses were tied up here.

[His words are translated into French] “I fell asleep and was still sleeping when the Almasty came into the stable. I was a few metres away from him. It was dark, but through the opening by which he came the moon shone. It was a full moon on that night. [Before I could see him; avant je na’i pu le voir – the French translation is clearly audible but makes no sense ] he was standing upright near a horse. He was plaiting its mane. And as far as I could judge, its arms at the minimum reached his knees.

But I repeat I didn’t see his knees. His fur hid half of his body. I heard him emit sounds. Not words, but more of a murmur. I had a camera with a flash, but no battery. I couldn’t find them. [Then why is he sleeping in the stable, if he’s not prepared???-Jo] After all is said, I think that the Almasty belongs to a branch of man’s ancestors.”

Voiceover: Gregory Patchenko is a member of the Society ??????? [ de Russi, Dr Koffman is President. At 74 years old, she’s never been fortunate enough to see the Almasty, the object of her quest.

A seasoned mountaineer, Marie-Jeanne knows the subtlety of the mountains [sorry, this entire paragraph is rather clunky; the original is pointlessly poetic in the grand French documentary manner], and each corner of the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic that she is so fond. Her name is nearly as well-known as that of the Almasty. In the Caucasus she has also known the terrible years of the Second World War as captain of a Red Army mountain battalion. And by chance of numerous observations of wild men gathered over a long period by the Professor Boris Porchnev, who she collaborated with. She knows better than most the dossier of relic hominins. In the different Caucus republics multiple witness statements reinforce her certainty, even if the restraint of the investigator cannot bring irrefutable proof of the Almasty’s existence, she speaks of it in the conditional. And it’s towards new tracks that she takes us, rendezvous manqué de quelques jours avec l’homme a semele de vent [fundamentally this means the Almasty was here a few days earlier].

M-J K: There’s a [???? Plantaire?] very marked. I see a [sorry, she has got an accent and is talking into the footprint with the river in the background. If I translated this I’d be guessing]

Perhaps he stopped here. [more indistinct dialogue] The only thing we can do now is go up and down the stream, because here, we can’t get out. We want proof, direct or indirect of the Almasty’s existence, but obviously it isn’t enough for science. We must have the creature’s body or bones in our hands.


Voiceover: Even without a photograph of the Almasty, we must resign ourselves to leaving Kabardino-Balkaria. We find Andre in Moscow, studying the prints.

Foot specialist Andre finds the last set of footprints more convincing than that of Maray de Hip Soco [need a map for the location].

Andre: Using this method we can see that the way the foot is placed is the same as that of a human. This form is for us characteristic of a relic hominin. [he speaks in English, and thinks there is a similarity between the prints and those of a Neanderthal]. I think it’s a very positive result for this expedition.

Voiceover: And if the prints are really those of an Almasty, our witnesses won’t have imagined things and their reports would become credible.


[with hat] He was this size

About this size…

Lady with scarf: He was bigger than me

Voiceover: Was it a woman?

Woman: No, a male

Man: They emit sounds but nobody understands them

Bobblehat Physically he’s strong, around 2-2.10m. And a bit stooped, with bent legs, and arms, too.

Last man: I called like that, for no reason. And I thought, what is this, there are no man here… [

Voiceover: The solitude accompanies the footsteps of the investigator who digs new paths for science. Dr Koffmann follows her research far from knowing [un anime de ces pert: that’s what it sounds like; can’t make a sentence out of the individual words]. In a time of science and technological development that demystifies our origins and turns our future upside down, dreams become our last place of adventure. Of its kind, the Almasty deserves to exist. An invisible cousin survives [xxxxxx] a legend of all those who refute its existence.


A year or so ago Alan Friswell, the bloke who made the CFZ Feegee Mermaid and also the guy responsible for some of the most elegantly macabre bloggo postings, wrote me an email. He had an idea for a new series for the bloggo. Quite simply, he has an enormous collection of macabre, fortean, odd and disturbing magazine and newspaper articles, and he proposed to post them up on the bloggo.

Now I have to admit here that I’m not particularly critical of taxidermy, or those who practice it. To be honest, I’ve done a bit myself, and as long as endangered species are not being threatened, and the process is being carried out for ‘honest’ reasons--educational for instance--then I don’t have a problem. But this article/advert is so funny--and slightly disturbing--that I’m not too sure where to start.

The guy in the first panel has what appears to be half the duck population of North America around his neck, and the living room in the last panel that looks like a set from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, complete with a (baby?) leopard stretched over the fireplace. A being promised that if I buy their super whiz-bang booklet I’ll be given specific instructions on how to mount birds? Over to you….

MIKE HALLOWELL: Northern Long-tailed White-hooped Squirrel

The other day I was told an interesting tale by a reader of one of my newspaper columns, informing me of a curious encounter she had whilst out shopping. I've had a few curious encounters myself whilst getting the groceries in; normally with police officers, obnoxious children and those seeking donations for obscure charities. I have never, however, had an encounter with a cryptid as this woman allegedly had in the vicinity of her local Netto store.

Her tale goes something like this: at 4.30pm last Wednesday she parked her car and walked towards the entrance of the supermarket, fully intending to purchase a range of exotic fayre with which to please her spouse and offspring, of which she had one of the former and three of the latter. Her mission was interrupted, however, by the appearance of a decidedly odd thing. The thing, she said, was something like a large gerbil but it had a very long tail and two white hoops encircling its nut-brown coat. The creature – which I have provisionally named Geordicus loonyata, or the Northern Long-tailed White-hooped Squirrel – scampered off in the direction of ASDA (possibly preferring their two-for-one deal on frozen peas) and was never seen again.

To all CFZ bloggers and readers, I would make an appeal: can you tell me what this creature was, what the hell it was doing in Tyneside and most importantly, would I be given a bloody big reward for catching it? END

GRAHAM INGLIS: Yesterday's News Today

Today's crop of stories on the News Blog are:

Rare stingray caught off Shetland
Family Ties Bind Desert Lizards in Social Groups
Rats killing off Pitcairn's rare Henderson petrel
China to Search for Elusive 'Bigfoot'
Disease Decimates UK Frog Populations
Turtles most affected by Michigan oil spill

MARIA CLANCY: Cannibal King

Yale researchers believe T. Rex may have been a cannibal, eating its rivals after fights to the death. Palaeontologists realised bite marks on Tyrannosaur fossils could only have been made by other rexes, and by feeding rather than fighting. They most likely wanted to take over their rivals' territory and food sources, and took the defeated rex as the first of many free meals.

Liz indulges in a bit of shameless self-promotion

Totally unrelated to Fortean Zoology but the power going to my head yet again, I thought I'd share the link to the youtube channel for mine and Paul's film company: