Cryptozoological web sites bring out the animal in us
By: Clifford Pickover
Skeptical Inquirer, March - April 1999

In my last News and Comment piece (May/June 1998), I discussed the proliferation of World Wide Web sites on paranormal phenomena.

Here I focus on one particular category, "Cryptozoology," indexed by the Yahoo search engine. The number of sites in this category has roughly doubled since my last piece, and there are now more than sixty registered sites.

The major categories include Bigfoot (22 sites), Loch Ness Monster (12), and Chupacabra (10), followed by a host of other unusual topics such as Goatmen, Bat Boy, the Altamaha-Ha of Georgia, Nguoi Rung (Vietnamese forest people), the elusive Drop Bears from Australia, Storsjon Lake monsters in Sweden, Beasts of Bodmin Moor (large animals said to be in Britain), and the Zuiyo-maru Carcass from New Zealand (supposed by some to be a plesiosaur).

In case readers are not familiar with some of the lesser known creatures, Bat Boy is a half-human, half-bat said to have been found in a West Virginia underworld.

The Altamaha-Ha is a large, dark water-creature named after the river it frequents, the Altamaha. The local newspaper, The Darien [Georgia] News, has recorded a number of sightings.

Some of the sites treat the subjects with humor and include lurid photos. Others are clearly unskeptical about the creatures they describe.

Luckily for the skeptics, a few sites mention the scientific side of cryptozoology, which is technically the study of newly discovered and rediscovered organisms and hypothetical creatures thought to exist based on the biological dues they leave behind.

While the field is famous for controversial beasts such as the Loch Ness Monster, Sasquatch, and Mokele-Mbembe (the supposedly living dinosaur), cryptozoology includes the scientific study of inconspicuous insects and invertebrates.

One scientific example of a cryptozoological find is the okapi, a short-necked giraffe mentioned in 1890 in the book In Darkest Africa, but not officially recognized by the scientific community until 1901.

The mountain gorilla was reported by an explorer in 1860 but wasn't officially recognized until 1902. Other examples abound.

Cryptozoology also deals with animals that are believed to be extinct, but nevertheless could still roam the earth.

Consider the coelacanth, previously thought to be an extinct fish found only in the fossil record, until 1938 when a live specimen was caught off the coast of South Africa.In the early 1990s, the Vu Quang Nature Reserve in Vietnam was a hotbed of cryptozoological finds. In 1992, a new fish, bird, turtle, and large mammal were found.

The large mammal is called the Vu Quang ox, known locally as Sao La. Previously, scientists had only found a few horns, skulls, and skin samples. Corroborating this evidence were anecdotal reports from hunters about the Vu Quang ox. In June of 1994, Vietnamese scientists finally captured a five-month-old calf.

The term "cryptozoology" was coined by Bernard Heuvelmans in his personal correspondence to colleagues in the 1950s, after the 1955 French publication of his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

Clifford A. Pickover is author of numerous books on science, mathematics, creativity, and computing.

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