The study of cryptozoology
It is in our human nature to be curious, to explore, decipher and question the world around us and push the boundaries of imagination. Curiosity manifests itself in different ways, from studying exact sciences to venturing in the supernatural realm. Cryptozoology is one of the most fascinating, mind-bending and spine-chilling endeavours that humans have ever embarked on, requiring an open mind to consider all possibilities. But what is cryptozoology and why do we study it?
What is Cryptozoology?
The term ‘cryptozoology’ comes from the Greek terms kryptos (hidden) and zoon (animal), meaning “the science that deals with the study of hidden animals”, or cryptids. More specifically, it studies mysterious creatures whose existence is still being investigated, questioned or disputed. One of the main missions of cryptozoology is to learn the truth about species that are considered to be extinct or species that are officially classified as extinct, but are still believed to have survived somewhere. Moreover, cryptozoology also studies animals that have been sighted in areas that aren’t their natural habitat, such as huge felines spotted in the British Isles.
Last, but definitely not least, cryptozoology deals with the study of mythological and supernatural creatures such as Bigfoot, the Yeti or the Chupacabra. These are mysterious animals, sometimes referred to as monsters whose existence has not been proven, but there are countless eyewitness accounts documenting their presence. Hence the study of cryptozoology has developed the reputation of being an academic discipline that focuses heavily on beings from folklore, urban legends and mythical creatures.
Although early influences date as far back as prehistoric times, cryptozoology as a field was clearly defined only as recently as the second half of the 20th century. The two fathers of cryptozoology are zoologists Bernard Heuvelmans and Ivan T. Sanderson. In 1955, Heuvelmans wrote On the Track of Unknown Animals, a book which influenced this field for decades to come and presented new perspectives for the international community of zoologists. Sanderson’s work, in particular his masterpiece Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life published in 1961, was also a game-changer for those interested in mysterious creatures. These books greatly influenced future generations and encouraged the development of cryptozoology. Apart from Bernard Heuvelmans and Ivan T. Sanderson, other notable cryptozoologists include Loren Coleman, Darren Naish, Karl Shuker and J. Richard Greenwell.
Approach and Tools
J. E. Wall’s was one of numerous attempts to formalise cryptozoology approaches, in the same way other natural sciences have been been codified but “there are no accepted, uniform, or successful methods for pursuing cryptids”. Despite these challenges however, today, thanks to improvements in technology and the widespread availability of surveillance systems and other means of observation, cryptozoology is more popular than ever.
Because the aim of cryptozoology is to find mysterious, hidden creatures, and to prove their existence, the specialist approach relies mainly on the meticulous use of surveillance equipment. Cryptozoologists commonly employ devices such as infrared cameras, motion detectors, night vision equipment, and audio recording equipment in their attempts to capture cryptids on film, to prove their existence and learn more about them. Since cryptozoology is still a developing science, the approach used is quite liberal and the methods differ from cryptozoologist to cryptozoologist. There currently does not exist a universally recommended and accepted set of methodology.
What Defines a Cryptid?
Heuvelmans attributes the term ‘cryptozoology’ to Sanderson, although the word itself predates Sanderson’s works. From this root word, J. E. Wall subsequently derived the term ‘cryptid’ to refer to the creatures being studied. His aim was to coin a neutral phrase free from other implied meanings. In the September 1983 edition of the International Society of Cryptozoology Newsletter, he explained that his “suggestion is ‘cryptid’, meaning a living thing having the quality of being hidden or unknown.” Prior to this, ‘monster’ was the general term used to describe creatures of interest, but Wall found it to be inaccurate, misleading and sensationalist.
The term ‘cryptid’ encompasses many traits and can used for creatures that meet one or more of the following criteria:
- A known animal with unusual variations or anomalies
- Known animals spotted outside their natural habitat, for unknown reasons
- An animal believed to have died off, but seen again. In this category falls recently extinct animals such as the Tasmanian Tiger, or species that became extinct a long time ago, such as the wooly mammoth.
- Mythical creatures based on existing animals (griffin, unicorn, etc.)
- Mysterious paranormal entities that have animal features. Many cryptids fall into this category, for example Bigfoot, Yeti, Mothman, Goatman, werewolves, etc.
Danger, mystery and controversy define most cryptids. Another essential element about them is that they must always be animals or have animal-like features. Other supernatural beings, such as angels, demons, zombies or vampires do not fall under the purview or interest of cryptozoology. Aliens are not considered cryptids either.
Cryptids are usually known to the general public because they often spark controversy and panic in the communities where they are spotted. This can be attributed both to a lack of understanding of these creatures or, in some cases, because they made contact with eyewitnesses who classed the encounter as dangerous or reported on the creature’s fierce appearance. These are just some of the cryptids that have become legendary and whose mystery has yet to be solved.
- The Loch Ness Monster is one of the most fascinating cryptids, both for cryptozoologists and the general public. Sightings of the Loch Ness, nicknamed Nessie by Scottish locals, dates back to 1933 when this large aquatic reptile was seen for the first time and has fascinated the world ever since. Despite numerous photos, reports and research teams sent to investigate Loch Ness, Nessie was never found. Public interest has not waned however, and the search continues while the popularity of the area continues to grow as thousands of people from all over the world come to Loch Ness in the hope of spotting the mysterious dinosaur-like creature.
- Bigfoot, or the Sasquatch, is a mysterious ape-like creature said to live in forests, especially the ones in the Pacific North-West region of the United States. Eyewitnesses describe Bigfoot as a bipedal hairy humanoid, oftentimes as tall as two to three metres. Some say that Bigfoot is the result of ancient alien experiments, while others theorise it could be our distant ancestor, a branch of homo sapiens that broke off and evolved to adapt to their surroundings. Despite continuous investigations in the area, the most conclusive evidence so far proving Bigfoot’s existence are footprints up to 60 centimetres in length and the famous Patterson-Gimlin film.
- Yeti, sometimes sensationally referred to as the Abominable Snow Man, is an animal or prehistoric human reported to live in and around the Himalayas. The yeti features in Tibetan, Nepalese and Bhutanese folklore and culture, where the people of the Himalayan region have accepted its existence as fact. According to eyewitness accounts, yetis are up to 1.8 metres tall and their bodies are covered in thick reddish-brown to black fur. The creature is commonly sighted at altitudes impossible for permanent human habitation, traversing the deep snows with incredible ease and speed. They are also reportedly strong enough to lift up entire yaks, carrying them off to consume. In recent decades, the yeti has also become a topic of interest for international scientists, who say that this creature deserves further investigation because it could be a remnant of a prehistoric human ancestor.
- The Goatman – although this terrifying cryptid is mostly known as an urban legend with sightings spread throughout Louisiana, Maryland and Texas, its origins go as far back as 520 BC. From this point of view, the Goatman is therefore more notorious than Bigfoot or Yeti, with more reported sightings going back in history. The creature is described as a seven-foot-tall humanoid – half man, half goat, with a muscular body covered in fur and a long head with horns. According to folklorists, the first sightings of the Goatman were in Ancient Greece, when people reported seeing Satyrs. Currently, there are several variations of this cryptid: Waterford Sheepman (Pennsylvania), Maryland Goatman (Maryland), Pope Lick Monster (Kentucky), Proctor Valley Monster (California).
- The Jersey Devil is the most enduring legend of the New Jersey area. It all started in 1735, when a poor local woman from the Leeds family was pregnant for the 13th time. Cursing her unborn child, she said that she will give birth to the devil. The stories go that the child was born normally but just a few minutes later, it started morphing into a grotesque, ungodly creature, with the head of a goat, and long, kangaroo-like legs, with bat wings and horns. With a tarrying shriek, it then killed its mother and all of the people inside the house before flying away. The creature continued to haunt the area for centuries, leaving many helpless victims in its wake. The last sighting was in 1909, but the Jersey Devil remains an enduring topic of interest for cryptozoologists.
- Chupacabra (The Sucker of Goats) is a cryptid that supposedly inhabits the South Americas and feeds on the blood of domesticated animals to survive, especially goats. There are several versions regarding the physical appearance of the Chupacabra but in general, it is described as a medium-sized animal with sharp spikes running along its back, from head to tail. It has an oval, alien-like head, large red eyes and only three fingers on each paw. Legend has it that the Chupacabra sightings occur at the same time as UFO sightings and that this creature belongs to a hybrid alien species.
- The Ahools are a relatively new cryptid species that reportedly inhabit the jungles of Java in Indonesia. These mysterious creatures were first seen by Dr Ernest Bartels, who was exploring Java in 1925. According to his report, Ahools are very large winged creatures, although it’s not clear if their body is one of a bat or a primate. They are dangerous, vicious creatures that kill their prey with a single bite and devour them in seconds, being able to lift even large animals into the air. Cryptozoologists are searching the area, suspecting that the Ahools are a prehistoric bat ancestor or an undiscovered bat species.
- The Mothman is a legendary creature seen in North Virginia. Said to have the body of a grown man with the wings of a moth, this mysterious being has been associated with the tragic collapse of the Silver Bridge and locals know it as a dreaded omen foretelling disastrous events. The Mothman has served as a source of inspiration for many books and movies, and continues to be spotted even in recent years.
- Mongolian Death Worm is said to live underneath the sands of the Gobi Desert, hibernating most of the year and only coming out in June and July. Mongolian Death Worms are two feet long and can shoot venom at their prey from afar, killing them instantly. Mongolians also believe the skin of the death worm is so venomous that it can corrode metal, so simply touching it results in certain death. The Mongolian Death Worm has inspired many sci-fi writers, particularly Frank Herbert, but there is no clear evidence of its existence. Several search parties have been sent in to the Gobi Desert to try and locate a specimen, but to no avail, because this cryptid supposedly inhabits the most arid and remote areas of the desert, which are difficult to reach and survive in. Several cryptozoologists have launched the theory that the Mongolian Death Worm could be an undiscovered species of burrowing reptile.
- Giant vampire bat is a cryptid that is not to be confused with the common species of vampire bats that inhabit South and Central America. The giant vampire bat, which cryptozoologists call Desmodus draculae, is believed to be the ancestor of common vampire bats. Measuring an impressive 17 inches, it is said to have fed on the blood of its victims and might have gone extinct because it could not drink enough blood to sustain its huge body weight. Cryptozoologists are investigating caves in Brazil and Venezuela, but bats are one of the species hardest to investigate, because they like to stay hidden.
These are just some examples of cryptids and, as you can see, they tend to be singular creatures. However, in addition to these, there are hundreds of other examples spanning the globe which fall under the category and interest of cryptozoologists, including werewolves, giant anacondas, Kaijin, mermaids and reptilians.
Are There Any Real Cryptids?
Not all cryptids are legends and mystery. In time, the real existence of several so-called monsters have been scientifically proven, solving the mystery of their existence and appearance, including:
- Thylacin, commonly known as the Tasmanian Tiger, an animal native to Tasmania, Australia and New Zealand. Assumed to be more legend than fact, this animal was first formally identified and scientifically described in 1808. By 1930, it had already become extinct in the wild and the last remaining Tasmanian Tiger in captivity died in 1936. In 1982, the species was formally declared extinct.
- Okapi, an animal similar in appearance to zebras, but actually related to the giraffe family. Native to the Congo, it was only discovered by Westerners in 1901. Already extinct in Uganda, its existence in Congo today is now classified as endangered.
- Ivory-billed woodpecker, a critically endangered bird species, was considered extinct until its rediscovery in the early 2000s.
- The giant squid, which has perpetuated the myth of the Kraken, is a huge species of squid that can reach up to 13 metres. Its very existence was doubted for centuries, but in 2004 researchers provided footage of the giant squid in its natural habitat.
- The gorilla is a known species today, but did you know that a live one was not seen until the 1850s? First sighted by the Greek explorer Hanno in the 5th century BC, the existence of the gorilla remained a rumour in the Western world which doubted the gorilla’s existence. That is, until the physician Thomas Savage obtained several gorilla bones while in Liberia and in 1847, published the first formal description of the gorilla. Before his time, the word “gorilla” did not even appear in the English language. The behaviour of the gorilla itself was not seriously studied until the early 1920s.
Who Are Cryptozoologists?
Cryptozoologists are specialists who have a keen interest in cryptids and have made it their life’s mission seeking out and confirming the existence of mysterious, mythical and controversial animals. Their job involves travelling the world in the pursuit of cryptids and documenting their sightings.
Anyone can become a cryptozoologist and formal education is not a strict requirement since cryptozoology is currently not formally recognised as a science. Nevertheless, a background in zoology and natural sciences does help. Some of the world’s most famous cryptozoologists started out as zoologists and found themselves on this career path after personally witnessing peculiar animals or after speaking with people who have.
For more interesting information:
- The Bigfoot category on my blog
- The Science and Mysteries category on my blog
- Hunting for the Yeti!
- Bizarre Cryptids
- Mysteries of the Goatman
- Tales of the Mystical Firebird
- Do Giants Exist?
- Spectacular footage!!!
- 10 Weird Facts About Bigfoot
Please support us so that we can continue to bring you more Dharma:
If you are in the United States, please note that your offerings and contributions are tax deductible. ~ the tsemrinpoche.com blog team