Thursday, 10 April 2014

Still More Big Cats in Southeast Queensland

     In my January post, I quoted a letter from Bruce Thomson, a senior conservation officer with the  Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. I contacted him, and he sent me a follow-up letter dated 28 April 1997. Here, then is the text of letter, except for the names of the witnesses, which I have deleted to protect their privacy.
 *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Journal of Cryptozoology, volume 2

     I have just finished reading volume 2 of The Journal of Cryptozoology, which was dated December 2013, but whose publication was slightly delayed. Being both inexpensive, and the only peer-reviewed scientific journal devoted to cryptozoology, it really ought to be on the to-read list of everybody interested in the field.  (I might add that I am left to speculate as to who is who does the reviewing. Normally, prospective papers are sent to whomever looks like they might possess an expertise in the field. I myself was once asked to review a short paper on koala behaviour, because I had already published on the subject. However, in this case, they would need to find experts who would also be prepared to treat the subject of cryptozoology seriously.)
     In any case, it is clear that the journal is shaping up to solid professional standards, with four excellent papers covering 65 pages of text.

     The first was entitled Three remarkable tales and two challenges for anthropology - an evaluation of recently reported eyewitness accounts of unidentified hominoids from Flores Island by Gregory Forth, a cultural anthropologist who has been studying the societies of the Indonesian island of Flores since 1984. In the process he became intrigued by the folklore concerning small, usually hairy "wildmen", first of all in Flores, then in the remainder of Indonesia, and finally in mainland southeast Asia itself. Here is a review of a recent book he wrote on the subject. Then, of course, in 2004 came the discovery of the fossil remains of the "hobbit", Homo floresiensis, a diminutive offshoot of the human family tree which could, theoretically, give rise to such legends, especially since there is disputed evidence that it may have survived until little more than 6,000 years ago.

Video of Speech at Geelong

     In my post of September 2013, I gave the text of my speech at the Wool Museum at Geelong about bunyips and sea serpents in the local area. The video of the speech is now available, and Dr Waldron has kindly added it to Youtube. You can access it here. Unfortunately, it does take a while to upload.
     If you click on the button underneath to subscribe to David Waldron, you will also be able to access the speeches of the other two speakers: Simon Townsend, and Dr Waldron himself.

Friday, 14 February 2014

The Year of the Sea Serpents, 1934

     1934 was a very good year for sea serpents. Over a period of three months, they put in appearances all up and down the east coast of Australia. Much of the information has been published before, but now Trove has made it easier to uncover the original articles and provide full details. So let us start in chronological order.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

More Big Black Cats in Southeast Queensland

     In my last post, I described sightings of what appear to be "black panthers" in southeast Queensland. They mostly involved witnesses I had interviewed by telephone. This time, it will be necessary only to quote the witnesses' own words from their detailed letters.
     We shall start with Toowoomba (27° 30' S, 151° 57' E), the large city on the top of the Great Dividing Range, just west of Brisbane. The letter was dated 26 March 1997, and it was originally addressed to another cryptozoologist, but I have since contacted the author. His name is Bruce Thomson, and his credentials are obvious.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Big Black Cats in Southeast Queensland

     I've heard them called zoology's flying saucers, because they turn up where they couldn't possibly be, then disappear before any investigation can be done. They are ABCs: alien big cats. In Australia they are big and black, and tend to be labelled "black panthers", a term I shall retain for the sake of convenience, without conceding its accuracy as a formal identification. Reports are particularly common in Western Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales but, at the time I wrote my book (1996), I was able to include only a few cases from my home state of Queensland. Since then, however, more reports have arrived - in most cases by people actively contacting me. You have already heard about the black panthers of Tamborine Mountain, and the "pink panther" of Cooyar. Let us now examine a few more case histories.

Friday, 8 November 2013

The Great North Queensland Tiger Hunt of 1923

     You don't hear much about the legendary marsupial tiger of north Queensland, but it was all the rage in the first half of last century, and even had a semi-official status. It all began with letters to the Zoological Society of London in 1871, after which anecdotes accumulated, until they were collected in 1926 by Albert S. Le Souef and Harry Burrell in The Wild Animals of Australasia. The former came from a prominent zoological family, and was one of the founders of Taronga Park Zoo, while the latter was a naturalist most famous for his work with the platypus. Their material was subsequently republished by Ellis LeG Troughton, Curator of Mammals at the Australian Museum in Furred Animals of Australia, which continued in print until at least the early 1970s. Both books recorded the yet undescribed species as a large cat-like animal, presumed to be a marsupial, of a fawn colour, with black stripes which, unlike the thylacine's, do not meet on the back, and a short face similar to a cat's. Its height was estimated at 18 inches at the shoulder, with a length of five feet, including a long tail. For reference, this is the bottom of the size range for female leopards.
     As these two publications were the major reference material for Australian mammals for nearly fifty years, they carried a lot of weight. Unfortunately, being popular works, they bore no citations, so one is left to wonder where the anecdotes came from. Did they appear in earlier, independent publications, or were the authors informed by private correspondence received in their professional capacity? I do not claim to have reached the original sources. However, with the help of Trove, I think I have got partway there.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Thylacines in Indonesian New Guinea - Further Evidence

     My post two years ago on the possible existence of the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger in the Indonesian half of New Guinea appears to have been extremely popular, and is still attracting comments. So I think it is about time I updated it with evidence from a correspondent called Franz. He has asked me not to publish his last name, but he lives in Vienna, Austria, and has visited the country often for reasons unconnected with his career as a graphic designer. He usually travels with a doctor friend.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Bunyips, Sea Serpents, and Port Phillip

     Last Thursday, 29 August 2013 the National Wool Museum at Geelong had three guest speakers give talks on cryptozoology to a public audience. The first two were Simon Townsend and David Waldron, whose recent book has been reviewed on this blog, and they both gave enthusiastic and informative presentations on their respective subjects. The third speaker was me. I consider it a great honour that they should be prepared to bring me all the way from Brisbane, a distance of more than 900 miles [1450 km] for the purpose, and I hope they found it worthwhile. So here, for the benefit of the other seven-odd billion people who missed out, is the text of the speech.
     For readers outside Australia, I should explain that Port Phillip is the very big, triangular inlet in the centre of the Victorian coastline, with the state capital, Melbourne at the northern apex, and Geelong at the southwest apex. Corio Bay is a sub-bay next to Geelong. All the other sites mentioned are within striking distance of Port Phillip.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

A Trove of Sea Serpents

     Last month I revealed how the digitalised newspapers of Trove can be used to research old "bunyip" stories. This month, I shall demonstrate its use with "sea serpents".

Sunday, 21 July 2013

A Trove of Bunyips

     Everyone in Australia has heard of the bunyip, but since it appears I have more readers in the northern hemisphere, I had better explain. The bunyip is a mythical (?) monster which the Aborigines believe(d) frequents the inland waterways of southeast Australia. The name by which it went varied greatly between tribes, its description was generally vague, and its habits reputably dangerous. What is not often known is that it was reported not only by Aborigines, but by white settlers, every twenty or thirty years during the nineteenth century.
     Interesting though this unusual history might have been, a major difficulty has always been documentation. The original reports were squirreled away in the musty archives of many local newspapers, too voluminous to search. The result was, when I began my investigations forty-odd years ago, I had to rely on secondary sources. Sometimes these secondary sources referred back to the primary source, sometimes not. When I wrote Bunyips and Bigfoots, I was forced to list a number of sightings of which I knew practically nothing, except that I had noted some fleeting reference.
    Fortunately, time brings a change. The National Library of Australia has now digitalised an enormous number of newspapers and magazines up to the 1950, or even later, on a website labelled Trove. As it is easily searchable, I have at last had the opportunity to follow up these stories. It turns out, many reports were copied almost verbatim from one newspaper to another, but I have attempted to cite the original as far as possible. I might add, too, that Andrew Nicholson appears to have beaten me to the Thargomindah Bunyip.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Trouble With Eye Witnesses

     A major drawback with cryptozoology - and a lot of anomaly research in general - is that it has to rely to a large extent on eye witness testimony. Of course, we would like additional evidence: footprints, photos, films, hair and other DNA samples, and - the holy grail - a carcass. But, by and large, before anybody even looks for such evidence, somebody has to see something - and tell us about it.
     Now, eye witness testimony puts people in jail, so it shouldn't be scoffed at. However, as anyone involved in criminal investigation knows, there are eye witnesses and eye witnesses. To put it bluntly, some people's powers of observation and recall are less than adequate. To illustrate, let me share two double witnesses sightings I investigated. Even when two people see the same thing, there still remains the problem of cross-fertilisation, especially if they have discussed the matter before being interviewed, as is usually the case. Certainly, it is always important to interview both separately. Just the same, the bottom line is that two pairs of eyes are better than one. So, with these reservations, let us proceed.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Littlefoot in Australia?

     For a storyteller, there are only so many variations on the human condition you can invent. People with animal heads or other features can always be placed in far off, exotic lands. The wild man, who lives like an animal, can be placed in the depths of the wilds. Giants - well, they are too big to be living right next door. But tiny humans can fit in anywhere, so perhaps that is why such stories abound all around the world. Europe has its fairies and elves, while among the Australian Aborigines, the little hairy men, under various names, take their place. And just as Europeans who still believe in fairies still claim to have seen them, the same is true of the Aborigines.
     For instance, during the Gayndah episode, which I reported in my last post, the term,  jongari was introduced to the white community. Here is what was recorded by the Fraser Coast Chronicle of 10 February 2000, on page 5.
     According to Mally Clarke, anyone who sleeps at the Scrub Hill farm runs a fair chance of hearing the Jongari at night. "One Islander fellow who stayed here once got a real fright," she said. "He was out chasing cows one night and came back shaking because he had seen a little hairy man. We all laughed because we knew what it was."
     Four years later there were three separate sightings. "Someone once rang the police to say they had seen them running across the road from the old drive into the farm," Mally said. "Years ago they would play with the kids. I saw one once and thought it was a monkey because it was all hairy."
     Such legends, however, are completely unknown to the average white resident. So when they claim to see them, I start to take notice.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Weird Little Visitor to Gayndah

     I appear to be out of the loop as far as mystery animal reports are concerned. When the "bear" or "jongari" paid a call to Gayndah, I was the last to be told. Steve Rushton, who lives nearby, heard about it. The message got passed to my friend, Paul Cropper in Sydney, and to Tim the Yowie Man in Canberra. Heck! Even the BBC got into the act before me.
     Gayndah, at 25° 38' S, 151° 36' E, stands inland, in a valley on the Burnett River in southeast Queensland, with a current population of 1745. The story began with an article on page 3 of The Fraser Coast Chronicle of 28 January 2000.

Monday, 11 March 2013

The Cryptids of Mount Tamborine

     I fell in love with Mount Tamborine as a very little boy - when my mother took me down the chasm walk (since closed), and I marvelled at my first sight of a rain forest. Mt Tamborine, at 27½° S, 153° 12' E, a short drive west of the Gold Coast in southeast Queensland, is a fragment of a huge volcanic shield. Crowned with a tourist mecca township on top, it is surrounded by a wide variety of habitats: from rain forest and eucalypt forests, down to pasture land in the valleys. Just the place, in fact, for a wide variety of animal life. And unofficial animal life as well - mysterious black "panthers", and one small, but very strange striped entity. At least, that was what was related to me by musician, Phil Manning in a letter mailed on 27 August 1998. I shall present the full text here,  with no changes except to shorten the names of third parties to their initials.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

A "National Geographic" Cryptid

     As every schoolboy knows, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 novel, The Lost World was inspired by the tepuis: the 100-odd mesas towering on perpendicular cliffs up to a mile above the jungle in the borderland of Guyana and Venezuela. Of course, even as a schoolboy, when I read the novel (twice), I sensed a problem: huge animals require lots of living room, and a "plateau" only 20 miles wide was far too small for a breeding population of even a single species of dinosaur. No, dinosaurs do not, and cannot, inhabit the cloud-masked, rain-soaked, infertile tops of the tepuis. But that does not mean they are not ecological islands, with populations isolated one from the other and undergoing divergent evolution. You cannot throw a net without finding a species of something or other unknown to science. Therefore, we should take seriously any account of unknown species somewhat larger than the run-of-of-mill.
     Take Auyán-tepui, one of the largest of the group, with the distinction of  featuring the world's tallest waterfall, Angel Falls. In 1977 amateur entomologist, Dr Silvano Lorenzoni mentioned leading three expeditions to its summit, and finished his article with the following paragraph:
Moreover, there is one witness who asserts that he has seen three "plesiosaur-like things," about 50 cm. [20 inches] long (with 25 cm. necks) swimming in a river atop the Auyan-tepuy. While this witness can scarcely be called a scientist (he is an adventurer that roams the area digging for diamonds) his statement remains to be one more fascinating piece of information in a jigsaw puzzle that is already taking on a recognizable shape.
Reference: Dr Silvano Lorenzoni (1977). 'Extant dinosaurs: a distinct possibility', Pursuit 10(2): pp 60-61. (This was the official publication of the now defunct Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained.)

     Would you believe? This very same witness again turned up - this time in the august pages of the National Geographic.
     In 1986, the German explorer-writer, Uwe George joined a helicopter expedition to the top of Auyán-tepui.  But first they called on 75-year-old Alexander Laime, whom they found living alone in a termite-eaten shack on an island in the middle of a major river, surrounded by his subsistence gardens. Here was man who obviously had carved out his own little niche, and let the rest of the world go by. "Publicity hound" is not a description which springs readily to mind. But let Herr George tell his story:
     Alexander is a keen student of wildlife on the tepuis, and he insists that on his 1955 expedition to Auyan he encountered three dinosaur-like lizards. Over tea in a corner of his garden he told us he had come upon them while searching for diamonds in one of the rivers on top of Auyan-tepui.
     "They were sunbathing on a rocky ledge above the river," he said. "At first I thought they were seals, but when I sneaked closer, I saw they were creatures with enormously long necks and ageless reptilian faces. Each had four scale-covered fins instead of legs."
     For proof Alexander rummaged through a pile of papers and came up with some drawings that he had made at the time. To me they resembled plesiosaurs, marine reptiles that became extinct 65 million years ago. [pp 546, 548]
     Drawn to scale, they were revealed to be slightly less than three feet long. So what were they? A species of large, long-necked otter was one suggestion. But then one of the scientists in the group pointed out that the rivers up there contain no fish, making it rather difficult for even one otter to survive - let alone three. Also, to the best of my knowledge, otters have furry legs, not scaly fins.
     But, you might ask, whatever they were, why haven't they been seen since? After all, there have been many expeditions up Auyán-tepui, and it is even the site of tourist treks. In that case, you have no idea of the sheer ruggedness of the terrain, and the fact that the summit covers 270 square miles. It was not until Herr George's second expedition that they encountered a mountain lion, or puma. What was it doing there? And it had two cubs, so it wasn't just a transient which had scaled the terrible, steep inclines; there was a breeding population. Yet its chief prey, the lowland tapir would never be able to get up there. And yet ...a third expedition discovered tapir tracks in the same general location on the summit.

Reference:  Uwe George (1989) 'Venezuela's Islands in Time' , National Geographic May 1989, pp 526 -561

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Snarls from the Tea-tree: A Review

Snarls from the Tea-tree. Big Cat Folklore by David Waldron and Simon Townsend (2012), Australian Scholarly Publishing, available here.
     Several years ago, an envelope arrived at my former address, containing photographs of animals which gave every indication of having been killed by a big cat. A quick bit of research indicated that the sender, a certain Simon Townsend, was empoyed in the Victorian branch of the same government department as me. He was most surprised when I pointed it out. Since then, we have been retired, but he has kept up his interest in the topic, and has now collaborated with Dr David Waldron on a new book.
     This is about alien big cats in Victoria and the adjacent parts of South Australia. A couple of areas in other states are mentioned, but not Western Australia. Although the subject is of major concern for cryptozoology, it is not a regular cryptozoological book as such. You will not find a proposition, evidence, or a conclusion. Rather, it is a history and analysis of the phenomenon, and advice on dealing with it. There are 168 pages of text, eight photographs, four pages of index, and 400 end-notes, the greater part being of not-easily-assessible newspaper reports. Whatever else may be said about the book, it cannot be faulted for lack of documentation!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

More Tales of the Australian Bigfoot

     In my last post, I mentioned that not everybody wants to have their name published when they report sighting a yowie. Indeed, I have noticed that the more bizarre a sighting, the more the witnesses request anonymity.
     In 1997 I was able to contact a Mrs Roma Ravn who, with two other associates, belonged to a group called "Omega International 'Research'", dedicated to investigating anomalies near their residences in southeast Queensland. She kindly sent me print-outs of the reports held on the group's hard drive, but without the witnesses identified. When she contacted a few, they reminded her that their stories had been provided under the conditions of strict confidentiality.
     I shall therefore give you the stories essentially as they have been written - not all of them by  Mrs Ravn. By and large, the sites can be located only on maps of the highest resolution, but in general, they belong to the crescent of low mountains west of Gympie, in southeast Queensland. In this area, valleys and other low areas are heavily cultivated or grazed, but the mountains have been left rugged, timbered, and rarely frequented.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Tales of the Australian Bigfoot

     What is more unbelievable: a ghost, a flying saucer, or a yowie? Obviously the last. We know very little about the intermediate state of the soul, we know even less about life in outer space, but we know that a big, hairy ape stomping around marsupial land - and quite undetected by science - is impossible. Bats flew here, and seals swim to our shores. But apart from that, no regular (eutherian) mammal larger than a rat has even reached Australia without human assistance. So you should not be surprised that, when I first heard about yowies, I was sceptical. My scepticism was not lessened by the fact that the main proponent of the legend (not mentioning any names!) was a well known crank. I therefore wrote an opinion for the journal, Cryptozoology debunking the early reports. When it came to my book, Bunyips and Bigfoots, I started the chapter on yowies as an unbeliever, and ended as a believer. As far as scepticism goes, I have been there and done that. Then, after the book was published, new reports started coming in. And since they have not yet been published, or published only in summary, I think it is time to put them on the net.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Carnivorous Plants in Central America?

     The existence of insectivorous plants has long stimulated the imagination with the possibility that somewhere, in some remote corner of the unmapped regions of the world, dwell plants large enough to feed on large, four-legged animals, even humans. The idea as been the inspiration of any amount of fiction - both straightforward fiction, and fiction disguised as travellers' tales.
     Now, although my training has been in zoology, rather than botany, I find a few problems with the concept.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Thoughts on the Lake Labynkyr Monster

     Would you believe it? People in the mainstream media actually look at these sites! Someone at 612ABC, the government radio station servicing Brisbane, was intrigued by this report in the Daily Mail concerning a monster in Lake Labynkyr, of far eastern Siberia. She therefore conducted an internet search for a Brisbane cryptozoologist, and contacted me for an interview. So yesterday I got my 10 minutes of fame giving my opinion on the identity of the beast, as well as fascinating facets of cryptids closer to home. However, it seems a pity to allow all that sudden research to go to waste after just 10 minutes, when most of the world would not have been listening to our local station. Therefore, I have decided to share it with you.

Monday, 24 September 2012

The Whistling, Neck-Spouting Bunyip

     As every Australian knows, the bunyip is the bogey of the bush and billabongs: a mythical monster never seen except in the fertile minds of superstitious Aborigines. But what everybody doesn't know is that, every 20 or 30 years during the 19th century, bunyips were seen and reported by non-superstitious, non-Aboriginal settlers. To be sure, most commentators - and I concur -regard the sightings as consistent with seals which, having slipped into fresh water, have got lost, swum in the wrong direction, and ended up hundreds, even thousands of miles from the sea - even in lakes unconnected to any flowing water. Indeed, around 1850, a seal was actually shot at Conargo (35° 19'S, 145° 09'E), about 900 miles upstream from the sea, and its stuffed remains graced the local hotel for some years.
    But what turned up near Swan Hill in 1947 was certainly no seal. It was really, really weird. Nevertheless, it may have a simple, if unexpected, explanation.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Another Deception Bay Sea Serpent

     The best documented Australian "sea serpent" was an elongated, inquisitive mystery animal which frequented Deception Bay in the period 1959/60. Situated at approximately 153° 7' E, 27° 9' S, not far north of Brisbane, Queensland, Deception Bay is a sub-section of Moreton Bay. Roughly semicircular in shape, it is bounded on the south by Scarborough, the northernmost part of the Redcliffe peninsula, and on the north by Bribie Island. I can never hear the name, Deception Bay without thinking, "monster" because the first time I heard about it was in relation to the monster, not long after I moved to the Brisbane area as a boy.
    In December 1996, I was on talkback radio promoting my book, Bunyips and Bigfoots. When the compere referred to the section on the Deception Bay monster, a Mr Mick Scheirupflug phoned in to say that he also had encountered a strange animal in the bay. One thing lead to another and, that evening, I was able to interview all three witnesses independently by telephone.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

My Coworker's Sea Serpent

     By 2002, word had got around my workplace that I was interested in mystery animals, so one of my colleagues, Toni Womal approached me about an experience she had had as a little girl.
    Our interview took place on 8 August 2002, but the events in question occurred when she was about ten years old, so it was probably 1974, during the summer school holidays ie about January. The presence of a king tide may help to localise it further in time.
    At the time, she was living at Bowen, North Queensland (20° 25' S, 148° 15' E), and went to the seaside with her eight-year-old brother, Stephen and her grandfather, Les Womal, now deceased. They had gone out to a rock, known locally as Womal's Rock, about 100 metres off shore, and while Grandpa was fishing from the rock, the two children amused themselves in a rock pool. It was only about 9 o'clock in the morning, so the weather was still a bit cool, although the day was fine, and would later turn hot.There was a king tide, and the water was choppy. Suddenly, their grandfather, without uttering a word, beckoned to them to come out of the water and stand beside him. He then gestured towards a creature about 100 metres further out. The sighting probably lasted only a few seconds, but it was very vivid. They were all mortally afraid of snakes, so they stayed on the rock all day, until the tide went out, and was about to turn. Then, their grandfather announced: "Get changed; we're going home", and he carried them back to shore. He didn't mention the animal again.
    What was it like? After all these years, it was hard for her to provide more than an impression, but it was essentially a series of vertical undulations. The creature was very wide - perhaps a metre thick - but certainly, its body was bigger than that of their grandfather, who was "a big Island man" (Toni is of Kanaka descent). It was glistening, shiny black,  and rolling like a python. The head was not visible, and it just disappeared. She was unable to be precise about the number of undulations.
     So what was it? Sceptics will have legitimate reservations, considering the brevity of the sighting, the youth of the witness, and the lapse of years. Against this, however, one must put the extreme fear reaction of the mature man accompanying them. No matter how much we pare it with Occam's razor, we are still left with something very big, elongated, and undulating. No fish sticks out as meeting that description. Sea snakes are much, much smaller. And, if her memory is correct that the undulations were vertical, this could only refer to a mammal. Readers will also no doubt be aware that reports of similar elongated, vertically undulating "sea serpents" have been received from all corners of the oceans.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

What Was That Big Fish?

      The megamouth shark is 14 to 18 feet long – a filter feeder not much shorter than the dreaded great white shark – but it remained undiscovered by science until 1976. Fish live in a different world to ours. They do not have to rise to the surface to breathe, and unlike whales and the giant squid, they are not in the habit of regularly getting themselves stranded on the beach. Thus, a large species which is nevertheless rare, might well remain unrecorded for a long time. This may have been the case of the thing which approached the beach in southeast Queensland in the mid-1990s.     On 4 December 1996, I was on talk back radio promoting my book, Bunyips and Bigfoots, when  phone call arrived from a listener, who wanted to report a sighting of a large fish off a local beach. I asked for the telephone number, and the upshot was that I was able to interview the witness by phone that evening.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

An Extraordinary Underwater Sea Serpent

     In the first week of 2003, I was lying in bed at night, when I received a phone call from a Mr Mike Cleary. He was seeking specific information on Australian cryptids for the husband of his niece in the UK. Unfortunately, I was not able to help him. Then he told me an incredible story.
     He has been a diver for more than 35 years. About 10 years or so beforehand he was in a diving bell with a companion off the south-east coast of Japan, checking bottom sites for an oil rig. They were at a depth of 1,700 feet when an unknown creature approached the bell and circled it.
     It was about 25 foot long. It had no visible scales, and the skin changed colour in the light from the bell (which, I gather, is common occurrence at this depth). It swam with horizontal undulations. There was only a single, elongated dorsal fin, extending down the body. I got the impression that it was like an eel's. He couldn't say much about the tail, but didn't think there was a tail fluke.
      The head was like a sea horse's, the eyes like a cow's, and teeth like a barracuda's.
     There was no constriction between the neck and body, but one ran into the other. However, 8 feet from the front was a pair a limbs, about 4 feet long. There was also a pair of hind limbs. I questioned him about this in particular, but he was emphatic that these were not fins, but webbed limbs.
     What sort of creature could this be? The elongated dorsal fin and the horizontal undulations mean it had to be some sort of fish – but what? The obvious choice is some very large eel, or elongated shark – although none, to my knowledge, are of such a size. However, it is the limbs that are the real problem. As you are no doubt aware, the vast majority of fish, the teleosts, possess rayed fins, which could hardly be mistaken for limbs, or even paddles. The largest fishes tend to be sharks, but their fins are also hard to mistake for limbs, and most people – especially divers – would be familiar with them. But there once existed a vast array of lobe-finned fish, of which only a few relic species are now known to exist. One is the Dipnoi, or lungfishes. The other is the Crossopterygians, whose lobed fins evolved into the legs which all land vertebrates now walk on. However, except for the two species of coelacanth, they all went extinct about the same time as the dinosaurs, and were on the way out for a long, long time before that.
     So, if Mr Cleary's perception and memory were accurate, something very strange was swimming around off the coast of Japan.

Monday, 4 June 2012

What Terrifies a Congo Pygmy?

    The Mbuti pygmies of the Ituri Forest in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo are hunter gatherers who live in a symbiotic relationship with the taller agricultural villagers. They hunt small mammals by beating the jungle and driving them into nets, but also go after larger game, such as okapi, and even elephants, with spears. As hunter gatherers, they would have an intimate knowledge of the local fauna. So what is the jungle denizen, which is heard but never seen, which terrifies even these knowledgeable children of the rainforest?

Monday, 7 May 2012

The Yeti of Pakistan. 1

     In India a bandicoot is a large rat, in Australia it is a marsupial. Americans call an elk a moose, a red deer an elk, and a bison a buffalo. In Spain and Portugal a tigre is a tiger; in Latin America it is a jaguar.
    What has this got to do with the issue of this post? Simple. Across the length of the Himalayas there are a host of mutually incomprehensible languages, and consequently a host of different names for a legendary giant primate unknown to science. Westerners have adopted one of these words, “yeti” and translated another as “abominable snowman”, and use these as catch-all terms for the animal. But how do we know that all these words refer to the same thing, or even that they are used consistently in the same language? We know that Reinhold Messner, for example, has made a good case (My Quest for the Yeti, 1998) that a couple of these words refer to the brown bear.
    Therefore, we must be grateful for the work of the late Jordi Magraner, the Catalan-born French zoologist who so meticulously researched the issue in Chitral, the narrow triangle of Pakistan squeezed between Kashmir and Afghanistan. During two expeditions into the region, he managed to locate, and question in their own languages, more than two dozen people who had actually seen the mysterious creature, and obtained information on 63 separate characteristics. He continued to make expeditions into the region, where he was eventually murdered in 2002.
    The following is a translation of his 1991 report. The original was sent to me by Michel Raynal, to whom I am grateful.
    This is a two part post which, like the post on the creatures of the Caucasus, is published in a format such that they can be read in the correct order. 

The Yeti of Pakistan. 2. Eyewitnesses

    Dr Magraner next provided details of three eye-witness reports. The sightings are so explicit, and at such close range, it is hard to see how any mistake could have been made.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

The Creatures of the Caucasus. 1. Background

    In the Caucasus Mountains, which separate Europe from the Middle East, live manlike creatures of which the outside world knows nothing.
    Throughout the “taiga”, or boreal conifer forests which stretch from Scandinavia to the Bering Sea and beyond, come reports of animals not unlike the famous North American bigfoot. However, the creatures of the Caucasus appear to be a little smaller, a little more manlike, and a little more social.
    As the following translation reveals, Russians first became aware of them after hearing news of the Himalayan “abominable snowmen”, and researchers over there still refer to their subjects as “snowmen”. In this field, the leading lights were Boris Porshnev (a brilliant polymath, according to a Russian mammalogist I spoke to), and Marie-Jeanne Koffmann (b 1919), a French-born Soviet citizen, surgeon, soldier, and mountaineer. The interview she gave in 1988 provides some background on her life – though not the six years she spent in prison, a victim of Stalin's last purge.
   Porshnev died in 1972, but Koffmann continued to make personal expeditions to the Caucasus, and in 1991 she wrote a 19-page article in the French journal, Archéologia, a translation of which follows. The Caucasus is a refuge, not only for wildlife from many different zones, but also of ethnic groups and languages, and each language has a different word for the animals. Koffmann settled on the Kabardian term, almasty. This is perhaps unfortunate, since it invites confusion with the almas of Mongolia – which may well be a similar animal, but it is certainly a completely unrelated word. (Note that, in Mongolian, almas is singular; it is not the plural of alma.) She also refers to them as “hominoids”, which simple means “manlike”.
    Because of the length of the original article, this translation is divided into four parts: the background, two posts on eye witness testimonies, and the final one on analysis. They are posted in such a way that they can be read in the correct order. At the end of each part, you can go to the next by clicking on the link at the bottom of the post – or by going to the archives.
    My thanks to Michel Raynal for providing me with photocopies of the original article. 

The Creatures of the Caucasus. 2. Witnesses

    Out of 500 eyewitness testimonies, Dr Koffmann chose to publish twelve. In order to keep my posts within reasonable lengths, I have decided to spread them out over two posts. In reading them, you should keep in mind a number of reservations.
    Firstly, it is unlikely that all of the witnesses spoke Russian. It is likely that many of the testimonies were provided by means of an interpreter. Secondly, this was the Soviet Union. Having a Russian interviewer taking down notes on a clip-board was probably not the best way to get a Caucasian to “open up”. It is likely, therefore, that these testimonies were written up by memory after the interview was terminated. (On the other hand, considering that she had 500 reports to choose from, these might just be the exceptions to the rule. It is evident that some of the witnesses were prominent men.) Thirdly, as European folklorists have discovered, if you visit places where people still believe in fairies, you will find people who claim to have seen them. It is possible, therefore, that some of these stories are fictitious. On the other hand, one must also consider the uniformity of the testimonies across ethnic boundaries, as well as collateral evidence, such as footprints.
    Finally, quite apart from the normal increase in human population, this area has been, and continues to be, the site of bitter internecine strife. In view of this, I can only feel disturbed by noting that very few of these reports date from the 1950s or later. There are also frequent references to their being more common in the past. Is man's closest relative going extinct before it is even recognized by science? (This is a fear expressed by more recent researchers, although close-up sightings are still being reported.)

Friday, 9 March 2012

The Creatures of the Caucasus. 3. More Witnesses


    The account of Zhigunov Khazrail Khamid, 46, Kabardian, brickyard batcher from Baxan.
    “At the end of September 1939 or 1940, I was following the road from Nizhny Kukuzhin to Malka. I decided to cut across an immense field of maize. Scarcely had I left the road, forty yards from it, when I fell upon the remains of an almasty devoured by wolves or dogs. Over a clearing of about a dozen yards in diameter, completely trampled down, the maize was knocked over and ravaged. In the middle of this zone lay the head of the almasty with what remained of the neck. The left half of the neck had been devoured. Up to that day, I did not believe in the existence of almasties. I used to laugh and asserted that they were fables, inventions. That was why I proceeded to the examination of this head with particular interest. Armed with a stick, I turned it over on all sides and, seated on my heels, I examined it attentively. The head was completely enveloped in crop of very long hair which, in the living state, would have probably reached the waist; it was very much entangled and cemented with thistles. This crop of hair was so thick that, when I turned over the head, it remained in the air, like a cushion. That was why I could not discern the shape of the skull. But the dimensions were those of a human skull. The brow was recessive. This spot jutted out a lot (he pointed to the superciliary arch). The nose was small, trumpeted. It had no root, it was like pushed into the face. It was the nose of an ape. The cheek bones jutted out like a Chinese's. The lips were not those of a man's; they were thin and straight like an ape's. I did not see the teeth; the lips were tightly clenched. The chin was not like a man's, but rounded and heavy. The ears were human; one was torn, the other intact. The eyes were strongly bridled, the slit was directed down and outwards. I do not know the colour of the eyes; the lids were closed, and I did not open them. The skin was black, covered with dark brown hairs. The hairs were absent around the eyes and on the area above the cheeks. The cheeks themselves and the eyes were covered with short hairs; they were longer on the neck and chin.

The Creatures of the Caucasus. 4. Analysis

Finally, we come to Dr Koffmann's analysis of the data. You will note, that Dr Koffmann toys with the idea that the almasty may be a relic Neanderthal. This is a popular belief among Russian and French cryptozoologists, but I have explained in another document why this cannot be the case. (This is a PDF document; you will need to scan to page 9.)  However, if you want a short summary of almasty ecology, there is also a translation of one of her Russian articles available.
At the end is appended some correspondence between Dr Koffmann and an eminent specialist on human origins.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Unknown African Pygmies?

    It is now time for a more lengthy translation for those who do not understand French.
    At one point I was receiving copies of Bipedia, a small journal of restricted distribution, all issues of which are now, fortunately, on the web. It is produced by François de Sarre in order to advance what I can only describe as a crackpot theory of "initial bipedalism". However, for various reasons, it has also become a forum for others who are not crackpots (at least not in my opinion), but are interested in the presence of various unknown bipedal primates ("abominable snowmen", if you like). Unfortunately, they have christened their field of research, hominologie, which literally means, "the study of man", and for the objects of their study, have coined the term, hominien. Again, this is unfortunate, as it invites confusion with "hominine", which is the scientific term for man and his nearest relatives: the primate sub-class which includes Homo sapiens. Be that as it may, there does not appear to be any English equivalent to this neologism. Therefore, in this article, the term, "hominian" means what it means in the article, and nothing else.
    It is well known that East Africa abounds in legends of a race of pygmies which preceded the current inhabitants, and the legends may be based on fact. But the following article involves the possible current existence of such pygmies - humans, not animals - in the savanna woodlands of the Central African Republic (CAR). As French is the official language of the CAR, I have retained the French spellings of place names, but have transcribed the native word, toulou into the more English, tulu. The summary of the original article is in English, and I have left it as is. The rest is in French, and once more, I have sought accuracy rather than elegance. Those who which to check it up can find the original article here.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Mythical Beings of Madagascar

     It is about time I went back to making a few translations, to assist those who cannot read French. This article has really nothing to do with cryptozoology as such, but it is still highly interesting. It was sent to me on a French cryptozoological e-mail chat site by Mickaël Séon, who apparently obtained the information from the book by Decary, listed in the bibliography at the end of the post. It concerns what might be called the fairy tradition of Madagascar.
    Madagascar was originally settled sometime in the first millennium of the Christian era by seafarers from Borneo. They either first settled, or received immigrants from, east Africa, whence they acquired half their genes, ten percent of their vocabulary, and the custom of cattle raising. Unlike Africa, but like Indonesia, their staple crop is rice. Their cultural life revolves around taboos and ancestor worship. Indeed, the ornate stone tombs, differing in style throughout the island, make one of the most picturesque features of the countryside, while the homes of the living are of sticks and straw, like those of the first two little pigs. Hence, you will note the reference to the sacred tombs of the Vazimbas.
     The multi-dialect language of the island is related, not to any on Africa, but to those of Indonesia; I recognized a few of the words when I was there. Those who want to know how to pronounce the names in the article properly should check the entry for "Malagasy language" in the Wikipedia. I shall merely provide the following brief guide. The "s" is usually palatal, sounding somewhat like "sh". For some reason, the English "oo" sound is not written as a "u", as in most  languages, but "o". Stress is normally on the second last syllable (in the original French article, this syllable was marked with an accent). However, except in slow, formal speech, unaccented vowels have a tendency to disappear - especially final "a" and "y". The name of the people, Malagasy, is typically heard as "mulla-gush".
     So, now for the article. The Malagasy have dark skin and curly hair, so the attribution to the spirits of pale skin and smooth hair seems to represent an attempt to categorize them as the "others". In a like fashion, the Andaman Islanders, who are stocky, black, curly-haired pygmies, believe that the spirits are tall and pale, with long limbs and hair - like Europeans, in fact. Readers cognisant with European fairy lore will notice some familiar themes eg changelings, the luring of mortals into water to be drowned, and the water spirits who own submarine cattle and marry human males.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Alien Big Cats in New Guinea?

    My wife, Esther has had a much more interesting life than mine, and one day I hope to get it written down. As she explained to me the day we met, she was born in New Guinea of missionary parents, and was carried home from hospital in a native string bag called a bilum. (She might also have added that she was protected from the monsoon by a cape of pandanus leaves, and was carried home over 30 miles of narrow, rugged jungle trails, and by horse and raft across flooded tropical rivers.) Not long after we were married, a lady came to the front door collecting for charity. Noticing that she was carrying a bilum, Esther immediately said, "You come from New Guinea, don't you?" And that was how we discovered that another missionary offspring, also called Esther, was living just a few doors away.
    Esther Ingram has also led an interesting life - not least of all being sent to Australia to start school at the age of five, and being totally unable to speak English, or anything except the local Papuan language. And one of her most remarkable experiences was the one she described to me on 4 October 2003, in the presence of her father, the Rev Ronald Teale, also a witness.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Thylacines in Indonesian New Guinea?

     The thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus) officially became extinct in 1936. In historical times it was recorded only on the island of Tasmania,  but fossils and Aboriginal paintings have been discovered all over the Australian mainland. Its extinction a few thousand years ago was apparently the result of competitive exclusion by the introduced dingo. Fossil evidence has also been found on the island of New Guinea, which its extinction presumably had a similar cause. However, in the early 1990s, an amateur researcher called Ned Terry told of visiting an unidentified mission station in West Iran and hearing reports of an animal strikingly similar to the thylacine. (See Bunyips and Bigfoots pages 112 - 113.) Then, in 1997, small, contradictory paragraphs started appearing in the world press about its presence in the Indonesian half of the island. About this time, I managed to renew my acquaintance with an old friend, Gerry van Klinken and was surprised to discover that he was now the editor of Inside Indonesia.
     Gerry was kind enough to go an internet search for me, and was able to discover what appears to have been the original article which started the ball rolling. It was from Suara Pembaruan ("Voice of Renewal"), a Protestant newspaper with good connections in Irian Jaya. The information itself appears to have originated from the local Indonesian governor. Here then is the translation. I might add that, although Gerry helped me with the vocabulary, the responsibility for the translation is mine, and I have aimed for verbal accuracy rather than elegance.

 Suara Pembaruan Tues. 25 March 1997

Predator resembling "Tasmanian Tiger" Found in Interior of Jayawijawa

 Jakarta 25 March A wild predatory animal resembling the former Tasmanian tiger has been found by a community in the interior of the Jayawijawa Regency. The animal, which normally lives in groups in fairly large numbers, [and] previously thought to be extinct in Australia and New Zealand, its countries of origin, has been discovered alive and roaming the Jayawijaya Range. Regent Head of District Level II, Jayawijaya, Jos Buce Wenas has revealed the discovery of a species of tiger to Pembaruan by telephone at Jayapura, Tuesday (25/3). He said that a species of tiger strongly suspected to be a rare animal of the Tasmanian tiger family, has been proved to have been discovered in the Jayawiyawa district.
Because of this, the regent asks for equipment to check [for it] in the field. It is evident that this animal exists and is real, but the inhabitants are not brave enough to capture the said animal. A wild animal which lives in groups and always attacks the inhabitants' livestock cannot be killed by the inhabitants of the place because they consider it will cause disasters," said Wenas. Extraordinary Sumatran and world tiger expert, as well as an expert on rare animals, Jansen Manasang, said that based on data which has been known long before this that there have never been tigers in the Irian district. Pembaruan proposes to answer the question mid-Tuesday in regard to the groups of tigers found in Irian Jaya. If it is true that a tiger has been discovered in Irian Jaya, this would appear to be an extraordinary miracle, he said.

Suara Pembaruan Wed. 26 March 1997

Wild animal found in Jayawijaya suspected to be a marsupial predator.

Yogyarkarta, 26 March The wild animal very similar to a Tasmanian tiger found in the interior of Jayawijaya Regency, Irian Jaya (Pembaruan 25/3) is suspected of being, not a tiger, or even a Tasmanian tiger, but rather a species of carnivore belonging to the family of marsupial predators. That opinion was expressed by a wildlife expert of the Faculty of Forestry, Gadjah Mata University (GMU), Dr Ir Djuwantoko to Pembaruan in Yogyakarta Tuesday evening (26/3), when asked for his comments on the discovery of an animal previously thought to be extinct. He could be certain that the said animal was not a tiger, because the said Javanese animal is a big cat, possessing a solitary character or nature i.e. it prefers to live by itself. Tigers only come together briefly during the mating season, after which they go back to living alone, except for the female suckling her young. In contrast, the predator found in the interior of Jayawijaya, as reported by Regent Jos Buce Wenas, has a body around a metre high and it always lives in groups. Another characteristic, among others, is that it has tusks, four legs and like a kangaroo it carries its young in a pouch found under its belly. In Tasmania it is shaped like a wild dog with a pouch. "Such features really belong to a marsupial predator which once lived in Australia or New Zealand," he said. He confirms that the said wild marsupial, based on data possessed by the mammalogists at LIPI, once lived in Tasmania, but was clearly not a Tasmanian tiger. However, there now remain only rumours because it is extinct. This is a matter for Australia and New Zealand. To discover a marsupial predator in the Jayawijaya Range, especially around the Kurima tableland, Oksibil and Okbibab, continued Dr Djuwantoko, is not extraordinary, because the continent of Tasmania, New Zealand, Australia and the island of New Guinea could once have formed one large archipelago, indeed [they] still are a single ecological zone. Similarly, in the case of Java, Sumatra, Borneo and Malaysia up to Kinabalu many species of flora and fauna are the same. 
Fortunate. Furthermore, he said, if it true that the wild animal is still found living in groups in Jayawijaya, then it is fortunate for Indonesia because in other areas it is already long extinct. If it is indeed true, it means that the habitat in Jayawijaya is still able to support it; however, the authorities must immediately take action before it is threatened with extinction as in the other areas. After having established that the animal exists, it would be best that the authorities immediately form a expeditionary team to perform a detailed investigation into where the said animal might exist, its population, source of food, shelter, the range of movements attained, its various habits, and so forth.

My Comments: Jayawijawa is the name given to the part of the central mountain range of West Irian (now Papua province) next to the PNG border. Oksibil is located at 5°06'S, 140°40'E. Fossils of the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, have been found in mainland Australia and Papua New Guinea - but not New Zealand, which is outside the Australasian biotic zone. At present the only known land predator in New Guinea is the local version of the dingo.
    On mainland Australia, there exists a certain amount of "thylacine fever", with a tendency for uncritical witnesses to report mangy dogs and brindled dingos as "thylacines". This problem, fortunately, doesn't exist in Indonesia. Indeed, much of the confusion in the newspaper account, which Dr Djuwantoko tried to rectify, was due to the assumption by the journalists that a "harimau Tasmania" would be a real (feline) tiger. It is not certain if Dr Djuwantoko's description i.e. tusks, pouch etc, is based on another source of information, or whether he was simply assuming it was a thylacine. The thylacine label appears to have originated with the missionaries - and with good reason. The mammals of New Guinea, like those of Australia, are marsupials, rather than placentals.
     Just the same, it is important to point out another possible source of error. You cannot just walk into a Melanesian village and get the inhabitants to talk freely to you - especially not if you are their colonial master. (And Indonesian rule in western New Guinea is the sort of thing which gives colonialism a bad name.) Only someone who has gained their confidence can achieve that. It is likely, but not certain, that the missionaries could claim that sort of rapport, but the information has been passed through the intermediary of the regent.
    This is important because, it is obvious that the story has gained a lot in the telling - or else the animals could not be thylacines. Thylacines were not known to live in groups, and were never a metre high. That would be comparable to a real tiger.
    One final point to note: the geography of New Guinea makes it a vast complex of ecological islands, with every mountain and valley forming an isolated ecosystem. Every zoological expedition to the island produces new species, though admittedly usually small to medium-sized ones. To discover a remnant population of thylacines in New Guinea would not be as extraordinary as it would be in Australia.
Addendum: Dr Shuker has provided an up-date here.
I myself have just provided an up-date here.

The Possum Book

I am pleased to provide a link to a website of a friend of mine, Robyn Tracey, who has written a fascinating story about her dealings with brush-tailed possums in the outer suburbs of Sydney. You can download the book for free, or read it on the site. Go to: The Possum Book.