If We Don't Search, We Shall Never Discover
Passion and cryptozoology go hand in hand. Enthusiasm and zeal fill my mind and body when I think about getting into the field in pursuit of real, flesh-and-blood animals waiting to be discovered.
Did excitement dwell within me, you might wonder, when a game warden and I trekked for hours in the mud on a hot midwestern afternoon in 1963, looking for signs of a black panther? Was it fun during the nights of cold in that tent in the Trinity-Shasta area of California, as I tracked an elusive BIGFOOT through those forests in 1974? Was it enjoyable to experience the biting rain on myself and my lads, Malcolm and Caleb, during the daylong soaking we received in an open boat on Loch Ness in 1999?
Needless to say, the answer for a cryptozool-ogist is "Yes!" With a fervor that flourished in another time, groups of women and men spend their todays searching for cryptids that may tomorrow be new species, pursuing creatures that may not even exist, looking for animals that the thinnest of evidence says are real, and listening to rumors and tales of others just over the horizon. The late Bernard Heuvelmans wrote in 1988: "Cryptozoological research should be actuated by two major forces: patience and passion." While he may have never caught a single cryptid in his life, he knew all too well about the search.
Cryptozoologists are reliving a time two centuries ago when all of zoology was in an age of discovery. This field preserves the spirit of those days. But by the beginning of the twentieth century, zoology seemed to have slipped into a period in which new species were fully revealed only as a circumstance of taxonomy and cladis-tic debates were far in the future. Animal discoveries were incidental, certainly not the true mission.
That would all change, first with a quiet tradition of examining the curiosities of natural history beginning at the end of the nineteenth century, as seen in the writings of, for example, Philip Henry Gosse and Francis T. Buckland. With the advent in the twentieth century of a modern generation of zoology authors, such as Willy Ley and Henry Wendt, the time was ripe for a renewed interest in fauna whispered about but not acknowledged. It was then that two gentlemen came along whom I knew personally and who would inspire a fresh cohort of searchers.
Ivan T. Sanderson, a Scottish zoologist living in the United States, wrote an article for the January 3, 1948, Saturday Evening Post titled "There Could Be Dinosaurs." In France, Belgian zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans read this essay on the possible survival of extinct animals in Africa, and it changed his life forever. Sanderson had trekked through tropical jungles (we call them rain forests now) in South America, Africa, and Asia. Heuvelmans had spent years reviewing the scientific literature and gleaning the zoological treasures hidden there. In the 1995 revision of his On the Track of Unknown Animals (pp. XXIII-XXIV), Heuvelmans expressed the stirrings he found inside himself that would call for a release in cryptozoology:
In the 1950s, I was an angry young zoologist, indignant at the ostracism imposed by official science—we would say today the scientific Establishment—on those animals known only through the reports of isolated travelers, or through often fantastic native legends, or from simple but mysterious footprints, or the recital of sometimes bloody depredations, or through traditional images, or even a few ambiguous photos.
Instances of this sort were, in fact, quite numerous. These were attested to by files, often quite thick, which in general gathered dust at the bottom of drawers or, at the most, were considered as "amusing curiosities." It would have been much better to term them "the secret archives of zoology," or even, since they were in some way shameful in the eyes of correct thinkers, "the Hades of zoological literature." It had in fact been decreed on high and, moreover, in a totally arbitrary fashion, that only those species for which there existed a representative specimen, duly registered in some institution, or at the least an identifiable fragment of a specimen, could be admitted into zoological catalogues.
Lacking this, they were banned from the Animal Kingdom, and zoologists were morally constrained to speak of them only with an exasperated shrug of the shoulder or a mocking smile.
To propose devoting a profound study to sea-serpents, the Abominable Snowman, the Loch Ness monster, or to all such-like, amounted to straightforward provocation. Furthermore, no scientific publication would have accepted it for printing unless, of course, it ended with the conclusion that the being in question was the result of popular imagination, founded on some misapprehension, or the product of a hoax. As for myself, however, in spite of my status as professional zoologist and my university degrees, I dreamed of delivering all of those condemned beasts from the ghetto in which they had so unjustly been confined, and to bring them to be received into the fold of zoology.
Independently, these men—one of the field and one of the library—would invent the same word and go on to become the mutual godfathers of cryptozoology, the study of unknown or hidden animals. The new science would formalize and rescue "romantic zoology" from the days of discovery during the Victorian era, bringing it into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Heuvelmans's books, On the Track of Unknown Animals (1958) and In the Wake of the Sea Ser pents (1965), and Sanderson's Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life (1961) became the canvases on which many of us first saw the beauty of the pursuit.
While I was growing up, I had a strange notion that I wanted to become a naturalist, in the oldest meaning of the word. Instead, I did one better: I became a cryptozoologist.
There are many different kinds of cryptozoologists. Some do fieldwork, some do archival research, and others are chroniclers. The field is open to a wide variety of disciplines because the essence of cryptozoology is multidisciplinary.
You can become a cryptozoologist in many ways, but applying for the job through a newspaper advertisement is not likely to be one of them. Nobody hires a cryptozoologist to investigate whether a cryptid in a nearby lake is really there. Instead, cryptozoologists tend to seek positions that give them some freedom to pursue their research, whether in university careers (Grover Krantz, Roy Mackal, Jeff Meldrum, myself), in wildlife management roles (Bruce S. Wright), in government service (Mark A. Hall), or as editors and writers (Ivan T. Sanderson, Bernard Heuvel-mans, John Green). I teach at a university, consult, research, and write. I believe my accountant puts "professor/author" on my tax forms. Various educational backgrounds (anthropology, linguistics, zoology, biology, and especially other life sciences) are helpful, and other talents and training go into making one a cryptozoologist.
In 2002, while discussing a case of newly discovered tracks in Pennsylvania, Mark A. Hall and I were identified by the media as "cryptozoologists" and "scientists." It is usually someone else who labels cryptozoologists as scientists, and this incident led to an exchange between Hall and myself on this matter. As Hall noted:
Science is done by people who are paid to perform science and they are the scientists. However, we are amateur scientists in the old sense of the phrase. The sciences grew out of people who were amateurs who established something new. "Amateur" in the modern sense is not so complimentary. When looking backward, scientists can be understanding about the value of amateurs in their fields, such as the expert in rattlesnakes (now dead) who wrote what are considered the best books on the subject. Or E. A. Hooton who was a top name in primates even though his degree was something like English literature. . . . Our culture is going to determine whether we are scientists, not us. At present someone sees us as scientists. It is not my inclination to say that they are wrong.
The example of J. L. B. Smith is also worth noting. Smith was a chemistry professor in South Africa when, one could say, cryptozoology discovered him in 1938 by mere chance when a young museum curator asked him a question about a peculiar fish, which turned out to be the first living coelacanth discovered. Smith was an amateur ichthyologist who became an amateur cryptozoologist, and in 1952, he caught the second coelacanth through cryptozoological methods—by talking to locals, looking for the animal where they said it might be found, spreading the word that he was interested, and applying all his passion and patience to a fruitful end.
Cryptozoology entails a vast amount of important but tedious work, such as searching through newspaper microfilm, library archives, or researchers' old files: not all of the work is spent in hot pursuit of animals in the field. There is also the labor of tracking down witnesses and double-checking their credibility. But the ultimate goal is thrilling. To be seriously involved in chasing mystery animals and investigating extraordinary incidents that have happened to ordinary people is, indeed, exciting.
Modern cryptozoology is also international in scope, thanks to Vietnamese, French, Russian, Spanish, and other non-English-speaking researchers, and it is seen today as the study of the evidence for hidden animals. This definition emphasizes the forensics that have become so important to cryptozoology—for example, casting footprints, gathering hair and fecal samples, and collecting relevant cultural artifacts.
Can You Study to Become a Cryptozoologist?
I am sorry to say that very few cryptozoology classes are given. I taught a full-credit one in 1990 and since that time have used large doses of cryptozoology in my 100-student university course for juniors and seniors on documentary film. Today, no formal cryptozoology degree programs are available anywhere. So my advice would be to pick whatever subject you are most interested in (primates? felids? native tales? giant squids? fossil humans?) and then match it up with the field of study that is linked to that subject (anthropology, zoology, linguistics, marine science, paleoanthropology). Pursue that subject, pick the college or university that is highly regarded in the field, and you just might develop a niche in cryptozoology. I studied anthropology and zoology, then moved on to a more psychologically based graduate degree to understand the human factor. I also took doctoral courses in anthropology.
Existing zoology and anthropology departments cover many subjects, and there is no reason why cryptozoological topics cannot occasionally be addressed in such venues. In addition, more and more professors are opening their minds to cryptozoology and hominology. Some young people who grew up with SASQUATCH are, believe it or not, becoming professors, and a few are involved in cryptozoology. This is a good sign, and it makes it easier to pass on environmental concerns (habitat loss can thwart animal discoveries) to a new generation of students.
Several departmental courses around the country have already included some cryptozoological topics, and guest speakers have occasionally been invited to lecture. Such choices at universities are still rare, but cryptozoology in the twenty-first century appears ready for a growth spurt.
With passion and patience, more animals will be discovered and more cryptozoologists will be born. You could be tomorrow's Ruth Harkness, the discoverer of the Giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), or Hans Schom-burgk, the discoverer of the Pygmy hippopotamus (Hexaprotodon liberiensis).
Loren Coleman, a cryptozoologist for over forty years, is adjunct associate professor at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. He is the author or coauthor of seventeen books, the most recent being Tom Slick: True Life Encounters in Cryptozoology (2002) and The Field Guide to Lake Monsters and Sea Serpents (2003). His Web site is http://www.lorencoleman.com.
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