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In its most basic form, cryptozoology means the study of hidden animals, in other words animals that have not yet been proven to exist for one reason or another. These creatures are referred to as cryptids and include some of the most famous creatures on the planet such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. Yet for all it is not recognised as a ‘science’, those who work in the field mostly consider themselves to be serious scientists approaching a field that may be unknown at the moment but will not always be that way.
The first attributed use of the term cryptozoology was by a zoologist named Bernard Heuvelmans, though he himself said the term had come from Scottish adventurer Ivan Sanderson. Heuvelmans’ book On the Track of Unknown Animals was issued in 1955 and was based on a scholarly study from 1892, written by Anthonie Cornelis Oudemans called the Great Sea Serpent. Heuvelmans was adamant that cryptozoology should be undertaken with an open mind, an inter-disciplinary approach but above all, scientific rigor. He believed that sources such as folklore and myths should not be entirely discounted, as there could be a grain of truth hidden amongst the tale.
Another early book was called Exotic Zoology and was written by Willy Ley in 1959. Ley was trained in palaeontology and wrote a number of books about animals, as well as about rocketry (varied selection of topics there!). He discussed creatures such as the sea serpents and Yeti as well as legendary creatures such as the cyclops and the unicorn, all of which he thought could be based on real animals who had been misidentified.
The current authority on cryptozoology is Karl Shuker, a British zoologist and cryptozoologist who had published 12 books and a huge volume of articles on various areas of the subject since the 1980s.
Bigfoot is perhaps the most famous cryptid and while many stories of sightings of the man-ape around the world are dismissed as anything from a normal ape, a bear or a man in a suit, there are enough cases that many experts believe there is some truth in the stories. In fact, there have been stories of these ape-men from around the world, known by different names, going back many generations and is not a modern phenomenon. The basics are always the same; taller than the average male often in the region of 7-8 feet; covered with long hair; having a strong and unpleasant odour around them; large feet; a piercing howl and unsurprisingly, the urge to keep away from mankind.
The Loch Ness Monster is another world-famous cryptid but is far from an isolated case. There are stories of similar creatures, often known as worms or lake monsters as well as sea serpents and have been reported from Norway to the US to Australia. Many experts think these creatures could be leftovers from the time of the dinosaurs, as they resemble a type of dinosaur called a plesiosaur. But until a definitive specimen is capture and scientifically checked, doubters will continue to doubt.
For non-Spanish speakers, El Chubacabra sounds exotic, strange and perhaps dangerous but when the translation comes in – ‘the goat sucker’ – a little less so. This creature first came to the attention of most people in the 1990s though sightings predate this by some 20 years. The reports came from Puerto Rico where livestock was being killed at a prodigious rate of sometimes hundreds per night. Farmers were familiar with local predators and were at a loss to what was killing them – instead of eating the victims or gnawing at them, the creature sucked out their blood through two holes in the neck. When the descriptions came in, the mystery lessened not at all; around the size of a chimp; hops like a kangaroo; has glowing red eyes and a snake-like tongue with sharp fangs and quills along the spine. The sightings also continue to spread geographically into Mexico, Texas and South America. One of the creatures was said to have been caught in Chile and handed to US authorities to study but no results have been released.
If you have ever watched the movie of the Mothman Prophecies with Richard Gere then you know the basics of the story – a strange series of sightings of a creature around the area of Point Pleasant in West Virginia. The book that the film was based on upon was by John Keel and described a creature standing seven feet tall with a 10 feet wide wingspan and grey scaly skin. It had large, red eyes that glowed and made a screeching noise. Its presence also cause interference with radio and TV signals and was even said to have some mind control powers as well as flying at over 100 miles per hour.
For many people, Bigfoot and the Mothman will remain in the category of stories and misidentifications and that is perfectly okay. But it is always worth remembering that at one time we thought the Sun orbited the Earth and that man could never go into space. Today’s science fiction is tomorrow’s science fact and today’s myth could be tomorrow’s new species. Time will tell!