What the Hell is Cryptozoology?

Over the last two weeks I’ve taken it upon myself to become educated in the field of Cryptozoology and Cryptid Animals. Though I know there is no shortage of crack pots or gullible idiots who will believe anything, I was amazed at how many people carry the title of “expert” believe in animals that (at best) don’t exist or (at worst) are hoaxes. So then I got to thinking, “What IS Cryptozoology specifically  What does this study actually mean? Is there a school for study? Where can somebody get a degree? What qualifications must an expert have in order to be “recognized” as an expert?”

What is Cryptozoology?

Wikipedia defines it as pseudoscience involving the search for animals whose existence has not been proven. This includes looking for living examples of animals that are considered extinct; animals whose existence lacks physical evidence but which appear in myths, legends, or are reported; and wild animals dramatically outside their normal geographic ranges.

Cryptozoology is not a recognized branch of zoology or a discipline of science. It is an example of pseudoscience because it relies heavily upon anecdotal evidence, stories and alleged sightings.

Yes, you read that right. Cryptozoology is NOT a recognized form of science because it does not follow the scientific method.

As well, Cryptozoologists tend not to be interested in discovering new species of insects, invertebrates or other “mundane forms of  life (which scientists in multiple fields have stated there are plenty to find) but rather are intent on proving the existence of  “megafauna”  like living dinosaurs, Sasquatch  and the Loch Ness monster.

The History of Cryptozoology

“A procession of the damned.
By the damned, I mean the excluded.
We shall have a procession of data that Science has excluded.”

- The Book of the Damned

Charles Fort – Though not a true Cryptozoologist I know many people would start screaming at me if I didn’t make a small mention about Charles Fort. A student of the strange, Charles Fort first started cultivated his school for studying strange phenomina with his “Book of the Damned” which was published in 1919. It  chronicled such things as UFOs, odd weather, strange disappearances and yes, creatures that had been thought mythical. Fort believed that scientists were close minded and that science was just another religion. Today, the Fortean Times Magazine carries on his legacy of exploring those things that science has cast off as ridiculous.

AC Oudemans - The book The Great Sea Serpent written by Dutch zoologist, Anthonie Cornelis Oudemans in 1892 is considered by many to be the first cryptozoological research. Durring his long career, Oudemans had discovered several species of insects and the Black Crested Mangabey primate. In his book, Oudemans hypothesized that sea serpent sightings were all linked to a previously unknown species of seal that he had named Megophias megophias. He proposed that it was a seal almost 200ft long, and that the males had manes like a lion (yes, giant sea lions). There is nothing in modern science to suggest that this creature ever existed though some Cryptozoologists still hold out hope.

Bernard Heuvelmans – The actual term “Cryptozoology” was first used by Belgian-French zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans in 1955 who stated that this study should be undertaken with “scientific rigor”, an open-mind, an  interdisciplinary approach (multiple sciences) and attention should be given to local, urban and folkloric sources because they usually have some truth to them.

In 1968 he came across the body of a man-like creature fozen in a block  ice on public display. The Minnesota Iceman was one of the attractions in a touring carnival and Heuvelmans was sure it was a new species of Neanderthal. He dubbed it Homo pongoides and wrote a lengthy paper on how he believed it was a missing link in our evolution and that this particular specimen was shot and killed during the Vietnam War.  A year later, the Smithsonian Institute examined the Iceman and spoke with the owner, Frank Hansen. Hansen confessed that in 1967 he paid a California company to make the man for him out of latex and hair. He then froze it in a block of ice. Since Iceman was a harmless sideshow attraction, it continued to tour into the 70’s.

What does it take to become a Cryptozoologyst?

According to Education Portal you do not need to have a degree in any field to be a Cryptozoologyst. None. You can be a high school drop out and call yourself a Cryptozoologyst…. at least to a point. The whole reason people claim the title of Cryptozoologist is to be able to claim that fantastic creatures exist, and get somebody else to fund their “research” (though usually this pursuit is self funded). Pursuing college-level training could lend credibility to any cryptid findings especially if the Cryptozoologist seeking help from an institution with a respected reputation.

As an example, let us take a look at the man who launched a Kickstarter in 2000 to lead a team of four experts (none of them accredited scientists) in search of dinosaurs and other unknown species in the Congo jungles. Stephen McCullah, says he has spent some time doing humanitarian work in South America and studied biology at Missouri State but there is no mention of him earning a degree.

 “…we anticipate discovering hundreds of new insect, plant, and fish species during the course of our research and work in the area. There is also the legitimate hope of discovering many reptile and mammalian species as well. We have received reports from week to two week expeditions in the region of eye witnesses seeing canine sized tarantulas, large river dwelling sauropods, and a species of man eating fish (which was recently discovered on river monsters).” Actually that fish is a 50kg. piranah and the show, River Monsters, is about real animals that are scary, not cryptids.

McCullah was so sure that he would find all those new creatures that he offered to name the creatures after any backers who offered $500 or more as an incentive to his Kickstarter.

If it were a late night infomercial I think it would sound something like this…”Yes, you too can have a dog-sized tarantula named after you. Just send $500 and we’ll promise to name a strange creature after you if we actually find one. But WAIT! There’s More! If you are a company and pledge $10,000 you will be named our official sponsor and all expedition members will wear clothing with your company name on it. Don’t wait, act now before this offer becomes….. extinct!”… I wish I was joking about the sponsor thing.

Hmm… honestly, I find myself looking at the picture of McCullah flashing gang signs, the distinct lack of any academic credit to anybody on his team… and my immediate thought is “This has to be a scam. How could anybody possibly believe this guy?” But they did apparently. He surpassed his goal and earned $29,000. In fact, there were rumors circulating that the Discovery Channel was even going to film his three month expedition and make it a new show.

Now, I’m not shocked that the Discovery Channel would be interested in McCullah’s expedition because they haven’t put out any REAL scientific programming in years. But, as far as the reputable news sources go, my personal research into this pseudoscience has also  taught me that if the Cryptozoologist has a pitch that sounds convincing enough, then even the most respected news sources won’t question the validity or even the logic behind the claim. The Huffington Post of all places wrote,  “One thing’s for certain: [McCullah] will have to bring enough equipment. Capturing a living dinosaur may require some very big nets.” Big nets that very well may have been stolen. After only three days in the jungle the expedition was called off due to theft and lack of funds/poor financial planning.

Going back to schooling…

If you do decide to pursue some form of a degree program, the Salisbury University recommends that you get training in zoology or biology and that you work at or volunteer with a zoo, aquarium, museum, or a non-profit conservation group. As well, get used to public speaking and paper writing because this is your primary way of obtaining funding… Kickstarter aside.

So far, UniversalClass.com is the only place in the United States that offers a certificate program. Cryptozology 101 is a $60, six month online course designed for hobbiests.  Upon completion, students will earn a Continuing Education  Certificate. Here is their video on the course as well as the class goals.

By successfully completing this course, students will be able to:

  • Define cryptozoology.
  • Summarize the origins of cryptozoology.
  • Summarize the famous cryptozoologists.
  • Summarize the existing species that were once cryptids.
  • Summarize which species were previously thought to be extinct.
  • Summarize what keeps unnamed species hidden.
  • Describe what bigfoot is and compare and contract various evidence of its existence.
  • Summarize the history of sightings and evidence of the Loch Ness Monster.
  • Summarize the history of sightings and evidence of the Chupacabra, Mokele-Mbembe, Thunderbird, Mothman, Jersey Devil, and Dover Demon, and
  • Demonstrate mastery of lesson content at levels of 70% or higher.

UniversalClass.com also offers certificates in Paranormal Investigation, UFOs, Wicca, and Psychic Powers.

Famous Cryptozoology finds

So the next question is, are there any creatures of folklore or myth that have actually been proven true? The answer is, quite a lot in fact. Here are a list of the most well known animals.

  • Okapi –  The first the world knew of the okapi’s existence was a brief hint in Henry Morton Stanley‘s reports while searching for the now famous Doctor Livingston in 1887. In 1903 Sir Henry Johnson (British explorer, botanist, linguist and colonial administrator) came into the possession of an okapi carcass. He had it shipped back to England.
  • Komodo Dragon – Lieutenant van Steyn van Hensbroek of the Dutch colonial administration heard rumors of  a “land crocodile” in Komodo and went in search for it. In 1912 he sent a photo, a skin and other items to the Zoological Museum at Bogor in Java. The director wrote a paper on these items and it was published worldwide.
  • Giant Squid – Aristotle was the first to write about the giant squid back in the 4th century BC, even giving a measurement of approximately 15ft long. Since then we have known of their existence and have been learning more and more about them as technology would allow. In July of 2012 the first footage of a giant squid in it’s natural habitat was taken and subsequently aired on the Discovery Channel in January of 2013. Because giant squid are found in every ocean it is believed they are the source of many legendary creatures such as the Scandinavian Kraken and the Greek Scilla.
  • Spot-bellied Eagle-Owl -  This bird lives in the jungles of Laos, Burma, Thailand, and India. The Spot-bellied Eagle Owl had once been thought to be the  ulama “Devil Bird” of Sri Lanka because of it’s human-sounding cry. In fact, in July of 2001 it was proven beyond a doubt that all sightings and recordings of the “Devil Bird” were in fact the Spot-bellied Eagle Owl.
  • The Hoan Kiem Turtle – The Vietnamese had a legend of a giant turtle who gave to the Emperor a magic sword in order to help fight the Chinese and win Vietnam their independence. Once that goal was achieved, he gave the sword back to the Turtle God and named the lake Han Kiem. In 1967 a fisherman netted a giant turtle in Han Kiem lake and beat it to death with a crowbar. Now it’s body is preserved in a nearby temple. There are also two living specimens in a Chinese zoo.
  • Mega Mouth Shark – This is an extremely rare filter-feeder shark (like the whale shark) that was first discovered in 1976. The shark had become entangled in the anchor line of a US Navy vessel off the coast of Hawaii. Since then only 55 specimens have been caught or spotted.

The next question is, were any of the animals discovered by those carrying the title of Cryptozoolgist?  The answer is none. All of these animals were either discovered by accredited scientists, or stumbled upon by normal people. Cryptozoolgists were never involved.

But what about those famous cryptids? So much time, money, and effort has gone into these legendary creatures. Have any accredited scientists taken a look at them. The answer is yes:

  • Big Foot –  
    • The footprints that were found in Bluff Creek CA were created by Bulldozer Operator Raymond Wallace in 1958.
    • In 1967 special effects professionals Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin hired a friend of theirs to dress in a monkey suit and pose for the now famous Big Foot footage.
    • In 1924 four miners were attacked by what they described were mystical beings from another dimension with psychic powers that looked like ape men. In 1983 it came out that some pranksters decided to harass the poor miners by throwing rocks at their house and planing footprints in the surrounding area 
    • In 2007 a hunter claimed his tree-cam took a picture of a Bigfoot. Turns out it was a bear with mange.
    • In 2008 Rick Dyer and Matthew Whitton posted a video on YouTube of a dead Sasquatch and collected $50,000 for it. Upon examination of the carcass experts found it’s head was hollow, the hair was not real and the feet were made of rubber. The two men then admitted to the hoax.
  • The Loch Ness Monster -
    • Scientists had been observing large warm objects moving on the bottom of the loch with the use of sonar. Later studies indicated that these large “objects” were in fact underwater waves that were heated by the mild vulcan activity of the area.
    • Nessie was proven to have never existed in 2004 by the BBC using using satellite tracking and 600 separate sonar beams.
    • The famous “surgeons photo” was created with a toy submarine and a sculpture of the neck and head.
  • Yeti
    • All samples of hair, footprints, or captured/ killed animals have proven to be hoaxes or misidentified indigenous creatures.
    • The Pangboche Hand that actor James Stewart helped smuggle out of Nepal turned out to be completely human due to DNA testing.
    • In 1954 the “Yetti scalp” was discovered and later proven to be the rump of an antelope.

So, in conclusion, Cryptozoolgy is not a science. Cryptozoologists by and large ignore science and logic because it gets in the way of their “findings”. Dinosaurs are dead (no duh), and if you have a sexy enough pitch you can get people to give you money.

With that said I would like to turn your attention to the blog of one, very interesting Cryptozoolgist that lives in my home town of San Diego. Doctor Josh Finney (he is a doctor, that’s how you know it’s legit) has captured some pretty interesting photography in and around the Miramar area. You can read all about it and make your own conclusion at JoshFinney.com. In fact, I’d like you to leave your comments either on this blog or on Doctor Josh Finney’s findings below. I want to know what you think and if you are a believer in the unexplained.

One response to “What the Hell is Cryptozoology?

  1. The legitimacy of the “cryptozoologist” depends on each person claiming the title. There is another institution offering degreed work in cryptozoology: the American Institute of Metaphysics in Atlanta, Georgia. I am working for the title and do not go chasing off after every sighting and tale. However, some of the sightings and tales have not been compellingly dismissed. Until they are, the opportunity to locate and document a new species is enough to draw those of us who are interested.
    As far as beetles and assorted microinvertebrates, one must note that even Dr. Heuvelmans suggested a size protocol for cryptids. You are correct that cryptozoologists are not looking for new insect species. They are looking for the strange, exotic, and unexpected. In that category I place Eastern cougars, the Colorado grizzly, the Tasmania thylacine, and any other animal extirpated or extinct that is still being sighted. Many cryptids are officially discovered because the local populace is familiar with a creature that has not yet been accepted by mainstream science due to a lack of acceptable documentation. That’s where a credible cryptozoologist can step in, or any trained field biologist.
    Don’t lump us all into the quack pile just because we hope to find something for which few people imagine a potential existence!
    Check out the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization for some intriguing material.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s