Thursday, 23 August 2007

Introduction to cryptozoology

The Centre for Fortean Zoology’s eighth Weird Weekend conference of cryptozoology began its Saturday session (18 August) with ‘parish announcements’ and then an introduction to cryptozoology, the science of 'hidden' animals. This was mainly for the benefit of the citizens of Woolfordishworthy, North Devon, who while they had thrown themselves into helping out with WW with great enthusiasm, aren’t cryptzoological insiders.
Goth zoologist and former zookeeper Richard Freeman pointed out that ‘gorrillas were ogres from native folklore until about 1904.’ Before then, it was believed they ‘carried off women to rape them, and used clubs to battle elephants.’
The giant squid has been known since 1861, but only sick ones and dying ones have been filmed. They were mixed up with the Scandinavian folklore of the Kraken. There’s now known to be an even bigger version in the Southern Ocean – the Colossal Squid. Which, says Freeman, “begs the question – what else is down there?”
Prehistoric Australia had some very bizarre animals, including Nototherium – the fossil marsupial rhino, and a gaint flightless predatory duck. The early European settlers encountered the thylacine, also called the Tasmanian tiger or Tasmanian wolf. This dog-like marsupial was seen as a mythical vampire creature by early European settlers, because it ripped into sheep and drank their blood. It was demonized as a vampiric entity, which helped speed up its extinction. The last one died in a zoo in the 1930s. The mystery animal known locally as ‘dob senga,’ reported in New Guinea fits the thylacine’s description, and there have been recent thylacine sightings in mainland Australia and Tasmania. There could well be surviving thylacines.
An CFZ expedition to Guyana is planned for November, in search of the giant bull eating anaconda ‘manatora’ (literally ‘eater of bulls’) and the Dee Dee, an upright clawed creature that could be a ground sloth.
Alien Big Cat (ABC) sightings in Britain have been up in the last 30 years. Wolves, brown bears, lynxes, wild boars and wolverines were hunted to extinction, and the ABCs are filling these empty niches in the environment. There was a 1980s fad for wild boar sausages, followed by a 1987 hurricane that flattened the fences of the wild boar enclosures. There’s now a population on Dartmoor. Big black cats have been seen in woods two miles from Wolfordisworthy village.
There are cave paintings and ancient Babylonian sculptures of sea serpents. CFZ director Jonathan Downes says of the CFZ’s work, “we have good humour, we have funs while we’re doing it, but we do it in a scientific way.”

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