Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Another crypto memory from Hong Kong in the early 1960s

It is pretty much an open secret that my parents and I did not get on, and that my father and I didn't reconcile until a few months before he died. That is ancient history now, but one of the sad knock-on effects is that I didn't have access to the family photos until after his death.

Pictures like these should really have been included in my 2004 book Monster Hunter but I only discovered them recently. It shows a young me (in about 1965) walking hand in hand with my father along one of the footpaths at Magazine Gap on Hong Kong Island. And the picture below is me, solo, at the same place. They perfectly compliment the following story...

Even the most rosy of rose-colored spectacles cannot detract from the fact that the animal exhibits at Hong-Kong botanical gardens of the 1960s were smelly and rather nasty disgraces. They consisted of three or four aviaries, some semi-wild monkeys (more about them later), and five or six rather shabby cages about the size of my living room and that contained a variety of not particularly spectacular zoo exhibits. The exhibits changed fairly rapidly. At the time, my mother intimated that this was because the animals went on holiday. Now, it seems perfectly obvious that this shabby and tawdry little menagerie had a high turnover of exhibits purely because the cages were so unsuitable that the inhabitants died with monotonous regularity.

The ever-shifting population included, at various times, Celebes crested macaques, an elderly and rather moth eaten Asian black bear, some coatis, an extremely large reticulated python, and a large, greenish-brown monitor lizard. From my earliest years, I have been always been fascinated by reptiles, amphibians and fish. As I write this, I can hear my tree frogs singing away in the corner of my sitting room, there is a Nile Monitor called Roger in an enormous vivarium in my bedroom, and the landing is home to a couple of alligator snapping turtles, a red eared terrapin, and a cane toad named “Little Noodles.” This monitor lizard in Hong Kong, however, was the first one that I had seen. I was familiar with Komodo Dragons from programs on television; but seeing a monitor lizard - albeit only three or four feet in length - in the flesh was a true revelation. I remember squatting on my haunches, outside, and gazing at the miserable reptile in awe. It sat there on the bare concrete floor of its cage, motionless for much of the time; though occasionally it would slither unenthusiastically towards the fetid pool of stagnant, green, scummy water that served both as drinking water and its bath.

Having shared a bedroom with a monitor lizard for several years now, I am more conversant with their mores. Roger likes nothing more than to defecate in his water that has to be changed on a regular basis to avoid it becoming an open sewer. This knowledge may help one realize why this glorious lizard was only resident at the Botanical Gardens for a brief period and before - like so many of its predecessors - going on “holiday.”

The upper part of Victoria Peak was encircled with a number of footpaths that partly, or wholly, circumnavigated the mountain. It was my family's practice to go into the countryside for walks on Sunday afternoons; and on one Sunday afternoon in 1967 or 1968, we were walking along the footpath which heads from Magazine Gap into the forested interior of the island.

One of the defining characteristics of the mind of a small child is the way that it accepts everything at face value. Despite having a patchy, but in places surprisingly deep, knowledge of the fauna of Hong Kong I was not particularly surprised, therefore, when during our Sunday afternoon walk, my family was confronted by the very same - or, so I thought, at the time - monitor lizard who had so recently “gone on holiday” from the Botanical Gardens crossing the footpath in front of us. It was greenish brown in color and stared straight at me accusingly, with little beady black eyes, and disappeared into the undergrowth that flanked the tiny footpath.

This incident would probably have been merely consigned to the flotsam and jetsam of my childhood memories if it had not been for another incident that took place a few years later. In the September of 1970, I left the primary school which I had attended since the age of six and began secondary school. I was a pupil at Island School, which had only been founded four years previously, and was - at the time - based in what had been a military hospital on Bowen Rd in the Mid-Levels. It was a strange place with a peculiar zeitgeist. It was popularly believed to have been haunted and the memoirs of its first headmaster, Geoffrey Speke, include amusing recollections of early pupils who had been fed ghost stories by their amahs, and who were old enough to remember how the hospital had been the site of some of the worst atrocities of the Second World War. The invading Japanese troops had massacred, tortured and raped, patients and nursing staff in the hospital and it was widely believed that their ghosts remained. I can honestly say that I never saw anything even mildly paranormal there, but the shadow of its macabre past enveloped the school like a shroud.

I do remember - during the hot autumn of 1970 - being appalled to find the bodies of dog faced fruit bats that had been crucified on the trunks of the huge palm trees and that surrounded the school grounds. It appeared that this was the work of local Chinese building contractors who were working on new buildings for the school and who believed that these utterly harmless creatures were possessed of evil Spirits. However, on the plus side Island School had a zoo. It wasn't a very big zoo, but it was undoubtedly a zoo. It was presided over by a lady called Mrs. Maylett and it included several Gibbons, at least two of the local species of civet, a rhesus monkey, a long tailed macaque, large numbers of birds, some reptiles and some smaller domestic livestock which was beneath my dignity to take an interest in. Dr. John Romer - the zoologist who took over from Herklots in the early 1950s as the leading authority on Hong Kong animals (especially the Reptiles and Amphibians) - was a frequent visitor, and on at least two occasions he donated beasts from his own collection to the Island School Zoo. One of these was a large Burmese python, and the other was a locally caught Chinese water monitor (Varanus salvator).

I'd been vaguely aware for years that water monitors occasionally were to be found in Hong Kong. If I had thought about it - and I am not going to do a Stalinist rewrite of history and imbue my eight year old alter ego with insights that I certainly didn't have at that time - I probably would have thought that the monitor lizard that my family and I had seen a few years earlier near Magazine Gap had been of the species. However, when I saw Romer's magnificent specimen, it became perfectly obvious that the two species were entirely distinct. The water monitor is a distinctive lizard with a rather beautiful pattern of yellow dots that has given it the alternate name of golden water monitor. It is also a much more delicate creature than the slightly chunky lizard that I had seen both in the botanical gardens and - albeit for a few seconds - in the wild. The Water monitor is the only member of its family in Hong Kong, or indeed in most of China. If the animal that I had seen was not a water- monitor, what on earth was it?

Much to my joy, nearly 30 years after my original sighting, I discovered supporting evidence for the existence of a hitherto unknown species of large monitor lizard in Hong Kong. Over the years I have been collecting bound copies of The Hong Kong Naturalist. Sadly, it has become prohibitively expensive in recent years. A complete set was sold very recently for over £14,000. However, I have been collecting individual volumes as and when I can, and I have photocopies of many of the more interesting articles from the remaining volumes. One of these - amazingly - contains an account of the capture of a lizard that appears to be an unknown species of monitor, from Victoria Peak.

On the 21st January 1930 a lady walking along Lugard Road was frightened when she saw what she thought was a “miniature crocodile.” With the help of a passing policeman, some Chinese coolies, and a “Japanese gentleman who was passing” they cornered the creature. With great presence of mind the un-named Japanese Gentleman took off his coat and threw it over the animal. The lizard later allowed itself to be dumped in a sack and to be taken to a Police Station and ultimately to the Botanic Gardens where it “was placed in a cage.” The creature was examined by Dr Geoffrey Herklots, the most famous naturalist then living in Hong Kong. His description read thus:

Total length - 22 feet 10¼ inches, head: 6 inches, tail: 1 foot 6¼ inches.

Breadth - At neck 2¼ inches, middle of body 6 inches, in front of hind limbs 2½ inches, middle of tail 1 inch.

Depth - Base of tail 2 inches, groove along back and beginning of tail, ridge along rest of tail.

Colour - Above brown-grey, or deep olive, with yellow spots or hands, below a dirty yellow, neck no distinctive bands,

Eyes - Open and close independently, lower lids move upwards. Iris a marbled pale Vandyke brown with a very narrow white or very faintly yellow circle immediately next to pupil.

Herklots noted that this was only one of several records of strange lizards seen both on Hong Kong Island and on the mainland at the time. It was initially identified as Varanus bengalensis, a species that isn't actually found in China. It was also tentatively identified as an African species - Varanus albiguaris. The surviving photographs, however, suggest that it was not either of these species. It is also certain that it was not the indigenous Varanus salvator so what was it?

Today, exotic animals from all over the world are kept as pets, and escapees undoubtedly can and do become established in the wild; however, the international trade in exotic reptiles was almost non-existent seventy years ago. Therefore, the suggestion that the lizard that died soon after capture was an escaped African Varanus bengalensis can, I think, be discounted.

Unfortunately, the originals of the photographs were destroyed during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during the Second World War, as was the preserved body of the unfortunate reptile. Two rather substandard pictures are all that remain. For what it is worth, however, I am convinced that the animal that I saw, and the creature photograph by Herklots, were of the same species. Precisely what it was remains a mystery.

This is not a shameless plug, but Monster Hunter can be purchased from Amazon at the link below:

RICHARD FREEMAN: Snakes and Freaky Fauna - Part Four: Sea Serpents

I recently brought a copy of Charles Owens’s 1742 book An Essay Towards A Natural History Of Serpents: In Two Parts. The book makes fascinating reading as it was written at a time when science and learning were replacing legend and folklore. The book is full of oddities of cryptozoological interest. This is my fourth collection of bits and bobs that I have found within its pages.


"In Norway we read of two serpents of very large proportion: One of two hundred foot long that lives in rocks and desolate mountains near the sea about Bergen: which in summer-nights ranges about in quest of plunder, devouring lambs, calves, swine and other animals that fall in its way. In a calm seas it ransacks the superfices of the water and devours ploypus (ie a little fish with many feet) and all sorts of sea crabs.Upon the apporoach of a ship this serpent lifts its head above the water and snatches at the mariners. My author adds that it rolls itself around the ship to more effectualy secure its prey. The representation of this you have seen in C.Gesner.

The other serpent is in the diocess of Hammer, about fifty cubits long by conjecture. In Bothnia, on the Livonian Sea, we read of monsterous serpents, with which the shepards of that country are at constant war.

The marine dragon, as Plinny calls it, or the true marine serpent, in the dialect of Jonstonus, who, in his description of fishes, gives a particular account of it. We have already accounted for monstouroys serpents in the Indies, were some have teeth in the form of a saw, with which they do more hurt than their poison, says the Greek historian.

In Africa there are some large enough to contend with oxen by land and to overturn a three0oar'd galley by water; which agrees in character with those of Norway already described: There we found some of 200 foot long, winding themselves about ships, according to Olaus Magnus, Archbishop of Upsal.

In several Persian islands are some of twenty cubits long and very terrfying to sailors. Such also are seen in the promentory of Carmania, the residence of the Ichthyophagi, a people who feed wholey upon fish. A fine country for such who are inclin'd to keep perpetual lent. Tho' these monsters are born in the deep, yet they are found in fresh water, and sometimes sporting upon the land, were they sleep.

The same author tells us of a terrible battle that heppen'd in Turky, in the time of Bajazet, between land and marine serpents, that continued from morning till night, when after great destruction on both sides the marines fled."

"ALEXANDER, in his tour thro' the Red Sea, says he saw serpents of incredible magnatude, some about 30 cubits long."

GLEN VAUDREY: Mystery Animals on Icelandic Stamps

Glen is one of the newer additions to the bloggo family. He wrote to me out of the blue last year to ask wherther we wanted a Western Isles volume in our Mystery Animals of Britain series. We argeed that we did indeed want one, and commissioned him. What we were not expecting was such a bloody good writer and all round nice guy, who - by the way - is writing several other volumes for us...

Whilst I was carrying out a little side research into Icelandic mystery animals I happened to come across a fascinating set of stamps that have recently been released and the subject of these stamps the mystery animals of Icelandic legend

The set features artistic impressions of the most popular or at least the best known (that is in Iceland) mystery creatures and a right mixed bunch of animals they are. They range from the hard to believe possible, to the you never know there might even be a real animal hidden in the depths of the story.

From the land you will find the Skoffin the ungodly offspring of a cat and a fox, while down on the beach you might find the Shellmonster an animal that is covered in scales, could this be Iceland's own mystery pangolin?

Those sandy shores also played host to the Beachwalker a mystery animal that would be harmless for most of the year but come mating season would become a hazard for your sheep.

There is even a mystery cat the type represented here by the ghoul cat not your run of the mill black cat that like to pose for tabloids, rather Iceland's very own legendary grave robbing feline .

Flopping out of the cool waters of the rivers there is the poisonous reverse fin trout a fish best avoided on your dinner plate if you wished to see another dawn.

Down on the seashore you might find the water cattle wandering in the surf and if you were devious enough they could be tricked into joining your herd, a similar tale is told of the faery cattle that featured in the folktales of the Hebrides. If you didn’t find the water cattle there was always the chance of stumbling across the hulking mass that was the seal mother a big seal that would appear whenever others of the seal family where threatened to save the day like some great superhero with flippers

As benefiting its remote ocean location the waters off Iceland once played host to number of mystery whales the Horse whale, the mouse whale and the red crest. They might well be described as whales but could they actually be based upon descriptions of sea serpents at least one the Horse whale shares the horse head and mane that is so often attributed to Merhorse sightings

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday’s News Today

Yesterday’s News Today

Welcome to another round up of the latest cryptozoology news from The CFZ’s daily cryptozoology news blog Cryptozoology Online. Today, as well as the news is my song of the week, fear not though, as regular readers will know I’m not going to subject you to my own hideous warblings, mealy point you to a link on the informationsupernet where you can listen to a decent tune of my choosing whilst you sup tea and read the news postings. This week’s song is a charming ditty by the fantastic ‘Super Furry Animals’ called ‘Chupacabras’: http://www.last.fm/music/+noredirect/Super+Furry+Animals/_/chubacabras

And now the news:

Big Cats Down Under
Mike Conley's Tales of the Weird: Legend holds you don't fiddle with rattlers
Three Subgroups of Neanderthals Identified
Rescuers probe cat mystery
Ingenuity of homeless Russian dogs

As they don’t spend their whole lives underground you can’t really call them ‘dog’lodytes yet, but why waste a good pun, eh?

CRYPTO SONGS: Shane picks up the gauntlet

Shane, our North Carolina representative wrote this to me yesterday:

Hi Jon,

It was great to hear from Jon Downes and the Amphibians from Outer Space, in the latest "On The Track".

I was thinking about your challenge to come up with cryptozoological related songs, being the music aficionado that I am. Immediately, some spring to mind. The first is always Synchronicity II, by the Police. Then of course, "Werewolves of London", "Godzilla", "Frankenstein", and "Walk the Dinosaur", by Was Not Was. These are all a bit of a stretch, except for Synchronicity II. So, I will keep thinking.

Take care my friend, and have a great weekend.
Very Best Wishes,

This made me think, and I wrote back telling him that I was not sure where he was going with this, but that I was enjoying it and to carry on..

He replied:

Hi Jon,

I really think that you're on to something mate, with these cryptozoological related songs. The whole CFZ family can play along.

Do you realize, that if you expanded the scope of songs just a little, to encompass fortean related material, then you would literally blow the entire bloody roof off? Some examples are, "Black Magic Woman" by Santana, or Fleetwood Mac, "Ain't Superstitious" by Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart, "Children of the Grave", by Black Sabbath, "Sympathy for the Devil", "Come Sail Away" by Styx, "Season of the Witch" by Donovan, and the list goes on and on.

So, for right now, I will stick to strictly cryptozoologically related songs. I have to say, that my all time favorite in that category, and a very cool, trippy, song, is "Fairies Wear Boots", by Black Sabbath. You have Ozzy on vocals, tripped out lyrics, and cool psychedelic guitar. What's not to love?

Take care Jon. Have A Great weekend.

Very Best Wishes,


P.S. Honorable mention must go to a very cool Queen song, entitled "Dragon Attack".

So, over to you guys. I will start the ball rolling with "Alley Oop" (I think it is spelled like that), which is a song about a caveman. David Bowie pinched the punchline of the song (which was covered by The Beach Boys amongst others, by including "look at that caveman go" in his song Life on Mars, and on his next album started a song by claiming "I'm an alligator"...

But there must me more!

Hoax BHM video

I am 99% certain that this is a hoax. It has to be. But it is a jolly good one. I would LOVE to know how they did it.