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 has 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.
Addendum: I have since discovered a fuller report, and have translated several more testimonies here.

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.
    P.S. I note that on 22 July 2019 she turned 100 years old. She now lives in Paris.

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 a 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.