The Top Cryptozoology Stories of 2005
Welcome to this year’s Top Stories in Cryptozoology. It was quite a year, and perhaps captured best by the headline used on Mark Baard’s article in the November 1st issue of Wired News, "America Goes Cryptozoology Crazy."
From the Associated Press to Downeast Magazine, from Boing Boing to Business Wire, from Maine Things Considered to Coast to Coast AM, from Giant Robot to G4tv’s Attack of the Show, from the Maine Sunday Telegram to Fox TV News, from the Southern Illinoisian to the Daily Egyptian, from CNN to the Voice of America, from ESPN News to the Anomalist Newsline, from the Lewiston Sun-Journal to The New York Times, bloggers, correspondents, and reporters were talking about "cryptozoology" more than ever before in 2005.
In the 1940s, the Scottish-born zoologist Ivan T. Sanderson began using a word he coined, “cryptozoology,” to describe a new discipline of science that investigates hidden, yet-to-be-discovered large animals. In the late 1950s, after a decade of correspondence with Sanderson, Belgian zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans began formalizing “cryptozoology.”
My own personal discovery of cryptozoology began in March 1960, thanks to an encounter with Yeti and encouragement from my mentors, the late cryptozoologists Sanderson and Heuvelmans. After forty years in this pursuit, in 2000, I decided it was time to start an annual tradition of reviewing the top stories involving cryptozoology.
These annual picks are cryptozoological events, which became newsworthy during the previous twelve months (even though they may have happened in an earlier year). They have garnered the most media coverage and caused the most discussions that touch on cryptozoology. Furthermore, I point to, marginally, other news that should have perhaps received more press and broadcast notice.
Here’s my list of the top ten cryptozoology stories for 2005, ranked by most significant first (with each heading in bold for ease of scanning through the list):
(1) The Rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker
When I commented earlier in the year on the rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis), I called these birds, "flying coelacanths." This, of course, was a reflection upon the media storm created in the 1930s and 1940s when the "living fossil," the 65 million year old supposedly extinct fish, the coelacanth was found off the coast of Africa in 1938. A similar wave of interest followed the news that a single, male ivory-billed was "discovered" by scientists in Arkansas. Sure, these woodpeckers were only thought extinct for a little over 60 years, since a photograph of a Cuban example in 1948 was believed to be the "last one." But the recent news of the not-so-extinct ivory-billed zoomed around the world, creating the biggest stir of the year in cryptozoology.
The public announcement was made on April 28, 2005 (although like so many cryptid discoveries the groundwork was done months before). One male ivory-billed woodpecker had been verified by multiple sightings and videotape, in the Cache River and White River national wildlife refuges through the work of the Big Woods Conservation Partnership, led by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University and The Nature Conservancy. Over a million dollars went into the rediscovery, with the Big Woods group buying up houses around the "search area," and keeping their quest and real estate purchases a secret.
Cryptozoology, the subject itself, became more well-known due to the ivory-billed woodpecker media treatments. The Cornell University news service, for example, ran this first paragraph in one of their releases on the discovery: "Until recently, the ivory-billed woodpecker was like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster — a famed creature that for years eyewitnesses claimed to see but that science could not substantiate."
As Cornell reporter Krishna Ramanujan noted in May 2005: "When it comes to cryptozoology — the search for and study of animals that are only rumored to exist — any claim requires strong proof. And the scientific establishment met the smattering of sightings [of the ivory-billed woodpecker] with skepticism."
In the 2005 book, The Grail Bird: Hot on the Trail of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker , Tim Gallagher told of how George Lowery, director of the Museum of Natural Science at Louisiana State University presented two blurry photographs of an ivory-bill woodpecker at a 1971 ornithology meeting. Those attending the presentation ridiculed Lowery. "These were shot with a cheap Kodak Instamatic camera and have some of the typical Bigfoot/Loch Ness monster fuzziness," Gallagher wrote.
In each photo, a bird sat on a different tree but had the same stiff posture, and the bill was hidden. Skeptics claimed the bird was a carved decoy or a taxidermy mount. Such sightings created a situation, said Gallagher, in which the ivory-billed woodpecker crossed into "the Bigfoot realm."
What happened was that those that said they has either seen the ivory-billed or considered the possibility the birds might still exist were roundly ridiculed before this year’s rediscovery announcement.
But things have now changed. Cornell’s Ramanujan wrote: "Perhaps, finding the ivory-bill will offer some consolation for those who are still chasing Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster."
If you read closely the Science and other media announcing the discovery, it does sound exactly like the debate you find in many a cryptozoological treatise. Discussion of a frame-by-frame analyses of the one bird filmed is detailed to such a level that the scientists talk of the "1.2 seconds of flight" in which the video reveals "11 wing beats." Three times, the search team documented the significance of the "series of loud double-raps," perhaps that of the ivory-billed woodpecker’s distinctive drumming.
How can this not be compared to the hunt for Sasquatch? The media breathlessly mentioned that in more than 7,000 hours of search time for the ivory-billed woodpeckers, experienced observers reported at least 15 sightings of the ivory-bill, seven of which were described in the Science article. Documented was the factoid that only one bird was observed at a time, so the searchers didn’t and don’t know whether more than one inhabits the Arkansas area of the quest. It all sounds so familiar.
The world now realizes that this woodpecker still exists after over 60 years of being "extinct." In the media discussions that followed of the ivory-billed woodpecker’s announced rediscovery, the topic of "cryptozoology" gained a little more respect.
[Could 2006 hold another cryptid avian surprise rediscovery in store for us, that of the Imperial Woodpecker? Click here for more of this developing information.]
(2) Filming of the First Live Giant Squid
From the way the media described the squid-related events off Japan, you would have thought that the giant squid (Architeuthis) was first discovered during September 2005, instead of them being first described in zoology in 1857. The New York Times was so bubbly about this
giant squid news they employed the word "cryptozoology" at least three times in one week in their articles and editorials about the giant squid photographs.
Late in 2005, I was often asked by the public and the media about the "new discovery" of giant squids. Of course, taking the pictures was important, but giant squids – formerly floundering in folklore as the Kraken – have been a well-established species after over 50 stranded on the coast of Newfoundland in the 1870s, and one attacked a minister and boy in their dory near those Canadian shores in 1873. Nevertheless, the filming of the first live specimens of Architeuthis was a monumental news story, comparable to Ruth Harkness bringing back alive the first giant pandas in the 1920s.
On September 27, 2005, Japanese researchers announced they had taken the first live photographs ever of a giant squid and released over 500 images taken at the end of October 2004. The photo sequence, taken at a depth of 900 meters (nearly 3000 feet) off Japan’s Ogasawara Islands, showed the squid zeroing in on bait placed there for them, and then one giant squid surrounding the bait in "a ball of tentacles."
Scientists were able to locate the most favorable location for finding the giant squid by following the movements of sperm whales. One tentacle was recovered and the DNA proved it was from an Architeuthis. Tsunemi Kubodera, of Tokyo’s National Science Museum of Japan and Kyoichi Mori of the Ogasawara Whale Watching Association reported their observations in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.
(3) New Homo floresiensis Discoveries
Henry Gee, the editor of Nature, in an editorial entitled "Flores, God and Cryptozoology," forever tied the finding of the "Hobbits" to cryptozoology. He wrote: "The discovery that Homo floresiensis survived until so very recently, in geological terms, makes it more likely that stories of other mythical, human-like creatures such as Yetis are founded on grains of truth….Now, cryptozoology, the study of such fabulous creatures, can come in from the cold."
In March 2005, an independent team of international scientists backed Australian scientists’ 2004 claim that the bones of Homo floresiensis found on the island of Flores is a valid new species. The Australian scientists’ skeptics had said the bones are only those of a diseased human, similar to how the first Neanderthal was dismissed as an old, diseased Cossack soldier.
Publishing in Science, Dr. Dean Falk from Florida State University used cat-scans to generate a three-dimensional image of the Homo floresiensis‘s brain. Results showed it was not a deformed human or someone suffering from a brain disorder known as microcephaly. The brain scat showed it completely unlike that of a pygmy, a modern pygmy, or a chimpanzee, among others. The Homo floresiensis brain had a very well developed frontal lobe, she noted in her formal study.
Meanwhile, skeletal material was described and discussed from eight other Homo floresiensis, putting to rest that the first discovery was merely of an individual anomaly.
Also, during 2005, the original discoverers were more open to discussing their initial sense that Homo floresiensis might actually be closer to Australopithecus than Homo. Speculation as to the linkages of Homo floresiensis to Australopithecus was there from the first. Dr. Peter Brown, Dr. Mike Morwood, and others on the original team had this thought from the start, and it remains as part of their ongoing considered analysis of the finds.
Looking back to 1955, in the writings of cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans, he bravely (for his time) wondered aloud if reports of small hominids in Africa were australopithecines. There is even a scientific article in 1945, by London University’s Dr. W. C. Osman-Hill, which speculated that historically remembered "little people" in south Asia might one day be be found to have been based on relict diminutive representatives of Homo erectus.
This was long before we knew about Homo floresiensis or the contemporary tales of Ebu Gogo. Osman-Hill studied similar folklore, for example, of the Nittaewo, the three feet tall hairy hominids of ancient Ceylon (Sri Lanka). The Nittaewo were mentioned by Pliny in the first century. they were said by Osman-Hill to have existed, at least, to the end of the 18th Century before being exterminated by "modern" humans through methods that mirror how the humans of Flores talk about killing off the Ebu Gogo (via fires at the entrances of caves).
Homo floresiensis is part of cryptozoology’s interest in these tales, folklore, and legends.
(4) New Animal Discovered in Borneo
On December 5, 2005, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) announced that they have discovered, from Borneo, the "first new carnivore to be found in the region since the Tonkin otter-civet emerged in Vietnam in 1930." Also, the WWF said it would be the first new mammal to be specifically found on the island of Borneo since the Borneo ferret-badger in 1895.
The new carnivore was found in Kayan Mentarang National Park in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo.
According to reports in The Times of London and other sources the "only evidence that exists are photographs taken by an automatically triggered camera on a jungle trail in Indonesia in 2003. Infuriatingly, a large leaf obscured the creature’s face as the shutter went off."
The photographs showed an unknown, red-furred creature with tiny ears and distinctive markings. The mystery animal’s pictures were initially taken by WWF field researchers in 2003, but the photos were kept unpublished by the WWF as research continued. The animal is slightly larger than a domestic cat with dark red fur and a long bushy tail. It was photographed twice by a night camera trap.
The new mammal "discovered" in Borneo, naturally, comes to the attention of cryptozoology and an analysis based on a broad review of what is ethnoknown about similar cryptids is helpful in revealing the “new” Borneo animal’s possible identity.
Soon after the announcement of this "new" animal, via the blog at Cryptomundo.com, I posted that through comparison with other evidence from the region, there is a good case to be made that the new Borneo animal is the allegedly extinct (since 1955) Hose’s Palm Civet (Diplogale hosei). It does seem more proper to say this is the probable "rediscovery" of an extinct form, the Hose’s Palm Civet, than the finding of a new one.
But the case remains open, as to the final outcome of this story. Further news on the new or probable rediscovered animal from Borneo has not been forthcoming, as of the end of the year.
(5) First Cryptozoology and Art Symposium at Bates College
During the weekend of October 28-29, 2005, the respected liberal arts institution, Bates College, Lewiston, Maine, held "Cryptozoology: Out Of Time Place Scale." Bates’ Museum of Art brought together a host of internationally known artists and cryptozoologists to discuss the interrelationship between the two fields. It was the first time in an academic setting that "under the umbrella of cryptozoology" there was and would be a formal effort "including a symposium, exhibition, book and film series," as the official website noted, "to explore a pursuit where the disciplines of science and art share a mutual focal point, a desperately desired visual encounter."
The Bates College symposium was the kick-off for the forthcoming 2006 exhibitions in Maine and Kansas, and included lively panel discu
ssions on art and cryptozoology, as well as a keynote on the history of cryptozoology by Loren Coleman, a Sea Serpent talk by author June O’Neill, a museum lecture by Bates College Museum of Art director Mark H. C. Bessire, and presentations by artists Mark Dion, Sean Foley, Ellen Lesperence, Jill Miller, Rosamond Purcell, Jeffrey Vallance, Alison Ferris, and Nato Thompson.
The symposium was a success on many levels for Bates, and the national media discussed this Bates College symposium more than any other speaking event ever held in conjunction with their Museum of Art. Details from articles by Scott Taylor in the Lewiston Sun-Journal on the symposium were summarized by the Associated Press’ David Sharp and disseminated internationally. The press coverage was widespread. Even the tee-shirts by the single-monikered artist Berg have become a valuable collector’s item from the gathering.
It was this event that stimulated Mark Baard of Wired News into examining the field, and reporting: "Popular culture is currently going cryptozoology crazy."
(6) Bobby Clarke’s Manitoba Bigfoot Video
At dawn on Saturday, April 16, 2005, a Manitoba ferryboat driver named Bobby Clarke was doing his job when he noticed something "big, black figure," "a massive creature" on the opposite bank of the Nelson River, about 300 meters away. Clarke had an old camcorder on board to record any wildlife he saw, so he picked it up and took two minutes and 49 seconds of videotape of what many say is a Bigfoot. He showed it to hundreds of locals at his friend, Georgina Henry’s house in Norway House, Manitoba, before he sold the first rights to screen it to the program, A Current Affair.
Bigfoot researchers were dismayed to hear the Native Canadian had sold the footage to television, but then Clarke merely said that he wanted to make a little money off all the interest in his footage, just as much as the next guy. He made no outrageous claims for it, and was curious about what the creature might be.
Clarke told the Globe and Mail that he "has been nervous ever since seeing the creature, especially when he takes the ferry to the side of the river the creature was on."
Despite a well-publicized A Current Affair expedition to Manitoba to search for the Sasquatch, and keep the story alive, no results were forthcoming. As fate would have it, the entire news magazine was cancelled by Fox Television a few weeks after the Clarke Bigfoot affair was no longer current.
Meanwhile, another video, the Sonoma footage surfaced in northern California thanks to an office employee Mark Nelson who says he encountered a Bigfoot on November 14, 2005. Unfortunately, some details in the retelling of the eyewitness account allegedly have shifted, the investigation of this blurry video has been unsatisfactory and not promising.
Other Bigfoot stories for the year included Matt Crowley’s little discussed discovery of artificial artifacts in footprint casting that might overturn the notion of "dermals" in track casts, and the Bigfoot-bison hair story, that did become big "news." In July 2005, the finding of a strand of Sasquatch hair near Teslin, Yukon followed a series of sightings gained the most press attention. The anticipation of the DNA tests became high drama in the media. David Coltman, a geneticist at the University of Alberta, finally determined that the sample was from the hair of a bison, not Bigfoot. Privately, in an interview with me, Coltman noted further that it was bison hair from a treated rug, and thus he felt certain what was happening was an attempt at blatant hoaxing.
As far as the best, most well-attended Bigfoot conference of the year, once again, the honors go to the Texas Bigfoot Conference at Jefferson, during October 2005. It was spread out over two days, included international speakers such as Paul Cropper on the Yowie, over 500 people attended, and had more families, more ethnicities, and more children there than at any Bigfoot conference ever held before it.
(7) Bigfoot Bounty
During mid-October 2005, a proposed $1 million reward for a photograph of evidence leading to the live capture of Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman (Yeti) or the Loch Ness Monster was discussed by the media, and caused quite a stir. Initially, the Bigfoot Bounty was to be used to announce Creature Appreciation Week later in the month, by the producers of the Duel Masters Trading Card Game.
However, some concern was raised by attorneys at Duel Masters/Wizards of the Coast. The Hasbro Toys subsidiary feared some cryptozoologists-in-training could get hurt in the frenzy to find and photograph one of the creatures or the evidence of one of them. Therefore, on October 16, the company had the Bigfoot Bounty withdrawn even before it was formally offered.
As I, Loren Coleman, was quoted by the Associated Press: "The media story on this bounty has caused an unprecedented worldwide frenzy in which, apparently, Duel Masters felt a monster hunter could have gotten badly hurt in the race for the million dollar bounty. No one wants that."
Rather than offering a reward for what was being misunderstood as the capture of one the cryptids, Wizards of the Coast’s Duel Masters then launched a photo contest on October 24, for either photographs of the creatures or evidence of creatures, such as footprints, not tied to any capture requirement. The grand prize, to be awarded in February 2006, is $5,000, with other levels of prizes totally another $4000.
The story had many positive benefits and raised awareness regarding the protection of cryptids around the world, including reviews of old laws against the hunting of Bigfoot and Nessie. Furthermore, an old Swedish law against capturing lake monsters was declared no longer valid.
(8) Mystery Photos of Cryptid Felids and Fish
It was twelve months of more talk of mysterious cryptozoological photographs.
The biggest story concerned photos that were never published. In March, 2005, unpublished photos of a supposed living Tasmanian thylacine were all the thrill in the Australian press. The Tasmanian Government appealed to a Victorian man, who claimed to have photographs of a live Tasmanian Tiger, or Thylacine, to make them available for forensic examination.
The man’s brother – described only as a tourist visiting from Germany, reportedly stumbled across the animal, presumed extinct for almost 70 years, earlier this year in the Tasmanian wilderness. The man said his brother had used a digital camera to snap two pictures showing the animal’s distinctive striped back. The photographs were briefly shown lto the director of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Bill Bleathman, and a wildlife biologist with the state’s Department of Primary Industries, Nick Mooney, who agreed the fuzzy images probably did show a Tasmanian Tiger.
But when further examinations were denied, claims of a hoax or a clever computer enhancement surfaced.
The Australian media quoted Col Bailey, an amateur Tasmanian "tiger hunter" for 37 years since his own sighting in 1967, as saying he was "very skeptical" of digital pictures, not only because he had seen too many fakes, but because he has even fabricated his own to prove how easy they are to make.
After all the media attention, the German tourist simply went underground.
Meanwhile, another photograph of a large black cat killed by an Australian man was shown all over the internet during the year. Lots of questions about whether it was a a "Giant Black Panther" (a cryptid) seemed to be overturned when DNA analysis o
f the only remaining body part, a long tail, was analyzed. The results showed it was from a feral domestic cat.
Finally, on the new Cryptomundo.com blog site, launched in October 2005, the biggest interest so far, across other media, was stimulated by the debate over the identity of the animal shown in the "Name the Mystery Fish" posting. Over 90,000 hits occurred in less than a day at the blog, and continued to cause a minor cryptozoology media event of its own through the end of the year.
(9) Disney Yeti Expedition
During the fall of 2005, a team of Walt Disney World officials and more than 20 scientists would spent two months in the Himalayas, gathering geological and cultural data that they’ll use to authenticate Disney’s newest Animal Kingdom attraction, Expedition Everest. The cornerstone of the 2006 attraction is the legend and folklore surrounding the Yeti, the Abominable Snowmen , so this research trip collected authentic data.
Disney created a partnership with Conservation International, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit nature-and-wildlife preservation group and a joint partner on other Animal Kingdom initiatives, for the Yeti expedition. Disney contributed more than $2 million to the group — money it has used to expand its Rapid Assessment Program, the research method used during the expedition to the Himalayas.
Preliminary results from the expedition were being integrated into the design of Disney’s on-line exhibition, and included materials and discussions with local residents about their relationship with the Yeti.
In the related new field of 2005 cryptotourism, which overlapped into expeditions and cryptozoological vacation-treks, of note, three others should be mentioned: the Center for Fortean Zoology’s Operation Death Worm to Mongolia with a tour company, the North American Ape Project’s explorations in the Pacific Northwest funded by a documentary film channel, and a Bigfoot group’s pay-per-person mini-camping trips around various parts of the USA. Also, an unfortunate episode developed in which a Las Vegas promoter was allowing people to purchase views of his website with the promise a reportedly captured Bigfoot would be produced in one week, then one day, and, of course, actually, not at all.
(10) The Laotian Rock Rat is Discovered at a Meat Market
Just as the 1998 discovery of the Indonesian coelacanth occurred due via a chance find on one of these rare animals in a meat market, the discovery of the Laotian Rock Rat (Laonastes aenigmamus) happened in a similar fashion. An alert member of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society spotted the rodent on sale for cooking meat, at a Laotian food market. It turned out to be not only a new species but also the first member of a new family of mammals to be identified in more than three decades. It was named "a stone-dwelling puzzle-mouse" or more popularly, "the Laotian rock rat."
It was a good year for newsworthy new animal discoveries. Two new lemur species were described, new DNA studies verified the existence of three separate right whale species, three long-missing Angolan birds were rediscovered, a new lungless salamander was found in Korea, and the clear, 100 years in coming, discovery of the Brazilian sulfur-breasted parakeet. Also, another megamouth shark (apparently #25) was recovered.
The Year of 2005 was good for cryptozoology.
Two other cryptozoologically-oriented lists for 2005 are:
Other "Top Cryptozoology Stories" of recent years can be found by clicking on the following years:
© 2005 Loren Coleman.