Bigfoot Encounters

Bernard Heuvelmans R.I.P.

© Fortean Times (FT153), December 2001

Bernard Heuvelmans, the "father of cryptozoology,"
died on 24 August 2001, aged 84.

Portrait of the artist as a young cryptozoologist: Heuvelmans,
early in his career, poses
with a friendly flying fox.
Bernard Heuvelmans born in Le Havre, France, on 10 October 1916, of a Dutch mother and a Belgian father. He found he had a love of natural history from an early age. His interest in unknown animals was first piqued as a youngster hy his reading of science-fiction adventures such as Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World. After earning his doctoral degree before World War II with a thesis on the classification of the hitherto unclassified teeth of the ardvaark, he spent the next few years writing about the history of science.

In 1948, Heuvelmans discovered a Saturday Evening Post article, in which zoologist Ivan T. Sanderson sympathetically discussed the evidence for the possible survival of dinosaurs into the present. It provided a focus for his interests and inspired him to seek evidence in scientific and literary sources. Within a few years he had amassed so much material that he was ready to write a book. And what a hook... Sur la piste des bêtes ignorées — published in 1955 and better known in its 1958 English translation On the Track of Unknown Animals — was huge in scope and weight. Almost five decades later, the book remains in print, with more than one million copies sold in various translations and editions, including one in 1995, with an updated introduction.

The impact of the book was far-reaching. As one critic remarked at the time, "Because his research is based on rigorous dedication to scientific method and scholarship and his solid background in zoology, Heuvelmans' finding are respected throughout the scientific community." Soon he was engaged in massive correspondence as his library and other researches continued. In the course of letter-writing, he invented the word 'cryptozoology' (it does not appear in On The Track). That word saw print for the first time in 1959, when French wildlife official Lucien Blancou dedicated a book to the "master of cryptozoology." Over the subsequent decades, Heuvelmans corresponded with cryptozoologists all over the world. By the 1960s, most in the field had improved on Blancou's phrase in honour of Heuvelmans, who was now hailed as the "Father of Cryptozoology."

On The Track Of Unknown Animals: The 'father of cryptozoology' contemplates another trip.
In the journal Cryptozoology, Heuvelmans wrote in 1984: "I tried to write about it according to the rules of scientific documentation." Because of the unorthodox nature of his interests, however, he had no institutional sponsorship and had to support himself with his writing. "That is why," he wrote, "I have always had to make my books fascinating for the largest possible audience." Heuvelmans and his book influenced the investigative work of oil-magnate and cryptozoology patron Tom Slick. Sanderson, who had influenced Heuvelmans, was in turn influenced by him. Heuvelmans served as a confidential consultant, along with Ivan Sanderson and anthropologist George Agogino, on Slick's secret board of advisors.

Heuvelmans was asked to examine the 'Yeti skullcap' brought back by Sir Edmund Hillary's 'World Book' expedition of 1960. He was also one of the first to declare it was a ritual object made from the skin of a serow; a small goatlike animal found in the Himalayas. Heuvelmans' extensive files on the Slick expeditions remained mostly unpublished until he contributed them for inclusion in the 1989 book, Tom Slick and the Search for the Yeti.

On the Track of Unknown Animals was concemed exclusively with land animals. The second of Heuvelmans' landmark works to be translated into English, In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents (1968), was a synthesis of two smaller books on the 'Great Unknowns' of the ocean and the enigmatic giant squid.

In 1968, Heuvelmans visited Minnesota (at Sanderson's invitation) to examine what was claimed to be the cadaver of a an unknown 'primitive' hominoid preserved in a block of ice, the subject of his L'homme de Neanderthal est toujours vivant (with Boris Porshnev, 1974). Other books, not yet translated into English, include works on surviving dinosaurs and relict hominids in Africa. Heuvelmans' Centre for Cryptozoology, established in 1975, was first housed near Le Bugue in the south of France, but in the 1990s moved to Le Vesinet, closer to Paris. It consisted of his huge private library and his extensive investigation files. He was elected president when the International Society of Cryptozoology was founded in Washington DC, in 1982, and held the position until his death. He also was involved with the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club and other efforts for active cryptid studies globally. In a 1984 interview, he expressed the desire to write a 20-volume cryptozoology encyclopaedia, a project that, unfortunately, never came to fruition.

Through the years, without fantare, Heuvelmans journeyed from the shores of Loch Ness to the jungles of Malaysia, interviewing witnesses and examining the evidence for unknown creatures. He produced a few articles along the way and, infrequently, gave news interviews. But, beginning in the 1990s, he began to avoid media events. Although he had made a French television pogamme on natural history mysteries over two decades before, he routinely refused most mainstream interviews in the last decade of his life. For example, when a television network asked in 1994 and I1995, to tape an interview with Heuveltnans about the 'Minnesota Iceman', he would not come to America to do it and then refused to be filmed in France. He also avoided formal meetings; when in February 1997, he was awarded the Gabriele Peters Prize for Fantastic Science at the Zoological Museum of the University of Hamburg, Germany, he was unable to appear to collect the prize of 10,000 Marks (about $6000) and sent his friend, journalist and crytozologist, Werner Reichenbach, to accept it on his behalf.

Heuvelmans' health began to fail seriously in the mid-1990s and he tried, with a sense of urgency, to complete his planned multi-volume encyclopaedia. By 2001, many of us were dismayed to find he was mostly bedridden and in very poor health. In his waning years, he became preoccupied with the thought that no one would credit him for what he had done. He need not have troubled himself; he will always be remembered as the 'Father of Cryptozoology' for his lifelong dedication to the new science, as well as for his personality and scholarship. His unique cryptozoological archive is now with the Museum of Zoology of Lausanne in Switzerland.

Cabinet of Curiosities: Materials in the Heuvelmans Archive at the Museum of Zoology, Lausanne, including the famous "yeti scalp."
It is typical of the man's candour and devotion to his subject that his 1961 visit to Loch Ness plunged him into uncharacteristic doubt. If he should see the monster. He thought, his book and his career might be tainted with suspicion. "If I should have the luck I longed for so much… I should have to make a bitter choice – whether to sacrifice the book… or keep my mouth shut about a report which would be of unusual value coming from a professional zoologist who had made a particular study of the problem."

The Museum of Zoology, Lausanne, welcomes bona fide researchers to the Heuvelman's Archive by appointment only.


1916: born, Le Havre, France.

1955: first book published (Sur la piste des bêtes ignorée).

1960: examined 'Yeti skullcap'.

1962: visted Loch Ness

1967: visited East and Southern Africa.

1968: visited Minnesota to study Iceman.

1969: visited Central America.

1975: Centre for Cryptozoology established in Le Buque.

1993: visited Malaysia

1997: awarded the Gabriele Peters Prize.

2001: died on 24 August.

A Heuvelmans Bibliography
Apart from his 1974 study of the lore and evidence for various types of 'Wild Man' which he co-wrote with the Russian anthropologist Boris Porschnev, Heuvelmans output is solidly his own. He also translated, as well as wrote, books on a variety of subjects including jazz and other African and African-American influenced music — an abiding love of his.
1951 De la Bamboula au Be-Bop: Esquisse de l'évolution de la musique de Jazz (Paris: Editions de La Main Jetée)

1955 Sur la piste des bêtes ignorées (Paris: Pion)

1958 Dans le sillage des monstres marins - Le Kraken et le Poulpe Colossal. (Paris: Pion)

1958 On the Track of Unknown Animals (Landon: Hart-Davis)

1959 Le Jazz (Paris: Marabout/Flash)

1959 On the Track of Unknown Animals (New York: Hill and Wang)

1965 Le Grand-Serpent-de-Mer, le problème zoologique et sa solution (Paris: Pion)

1965 On the Track of Unknown Animals (Abridged & revised edition, New York: Hill and Wang

1968 In the Wake of Sea Serpents (New York: Hill and Wang)

1969 Histoires Et Légendes De La Mer Mystérieuse (Paris: Alibris)

1970 On the Track of Unknown Animals (UK edition of 1965 edition, London: Paladin.)

1974 L'homme de Neanderthal est toulours vivant (With Boris F.Porchnev, Paris: Pion.)

1975 Dans le sillage des monstres marins - Le Kraken et le Poulpe Colossal (Revised edition, Paris: Fran~ois Beauval)

1975 Le Grand-Serpent-de-Mer, le problème zoologique et sa solution (Revised edition, Paris: Pion)

1978 Les derniers dragons d'Afrique (Paris: Pion)

1980 Les bêtes humaines d'Afrique (Paris: Pion)

1995 On the Track of Unknown Animals (London: Kegan Paul International)

© Fortean Times (FT153), December 2001

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