- Rats and Bats
Zyzomys pedunculatus. Photo by Michael Barritt & Karen May/Wikipedia.
During mid-January, news from two ends of the world, about rats and bats, gave cheer to premature notices of the extinction of two separate species of animals. In Australia, an Alice Springs survey of the fauna of the West MacDonnell National Park trapped more Central rock rats (Zyzomys pedunculatus), a rodent that had been considered extinct for 40 years until it was rediscovered in 1996. In Bognor Regis, Sussex, UK, a 13-year-old boy spotted a female Greater mouse-eared bat (Myotis myotis), apparently in need of help. Three days after the animal’s rescue, however it died. Nevertheless, the discovery was hailed as “incredible” by conservationists, as the bat was a surviving member of a species not seen in Britain since 1985 and officially declared extinct in 1991.
- Myakka Photographs
On February 4, animal welfare specialist David Barkasy and cryptozoologist Loren Coleman shared with Bigfoot researchers and cryptozoologists an intriguing pair of new cryptid (unknown animal) photographs. The pictures appeared to be good graphic evidence for recent sightings of unknown anthropoids (Skunk Apes) in western Florida. The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department had received the photographs, innocently enough, from an unidentified elderly woman who took them near Myakka State Park around the end of 2000, although they had not been catalogued until 2001. The photographs clearly show a large, upright dark orangutan-like animal among the palmettos, showing eye-shine, and typical anthropoid behavior of fright due to the woman’s flash camera. The woman and her husband had found the creature stealing fruit off of their back porch over a period of three nights. The woman decided to take pictures to get law enforcement assistance in dealing with their “problem.” Other residents had told of being bothered by recent apelike creatures, and Florida, in general, has been the stalking grounds for some 60 years of the Skunk Apes, which even made the pages of Sports Illustrated in the 1970s. During the spring of 2001, newspapers throughout the South (Florida to Texas), various magazines, including the cover story in Fate, as well as radio talk shows and online chatter, debated the merits of the Myakka Photographs. The investigations are ongoing.
- Coelacanths Again
A population of “living fossils,” the coelacanths (Latimerie chalumnae) thought extinct after supposedly dying out 70 million years ago until re-discovered in 1938 near the Comoro Islands off Africa’s southeast coast, were unexpectedly re-discovered off South Africa’s coast late in 2000. They were in the news again in 2001. In February Biologist Philip Heemstra of the JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology, with a preliminary budget of $130,000, was looking for additional funds to study the new population with the help of a small submersible craft. In May, Pieter Venter headed a private diving expedition to find the South African coelacanths, and then caught one of the elusive fish on film, broadcasting the footage on the Internet.
Then, surprisingly, the capture of Madagascar’s fourth coelacanth (nearly 200 had been found near the Comoros) occurred in mid-March, at a site north of Toliara. The fish was a female of almost five and a half feet long (about 1.8 meters in length), according to coelacanth researcher Andrew Cooke.
Later in 2001, coelacanth experts Hans Fricke and Raphaël Plante published an article declaring that the supposed silver coelacanths artifacts from Spain, believed to be over two centuries old and representing a new species of coelacanthiform living in the Gulf of Mexico, were neither old nor Mexican. New studies published in the August issue of Environmental Biology of Fishes showed that these silver figurines were made much more recently, with the Comorian coelacanth Latimeria chalumnaeas a model.
- Monkey Man For a two-week period during May, the so-called “Man Monkey” panic swept throughout India, mostly centered in the township of Ghaziabad, 22 miles north of New Delhi. The attacks of this giant monkey lead to a major media event, which swept from India through the entire English-speaking world. Over one hundred different articles about the phenomena were published during the peak of the activity. More than a dozen people were hospitalized with fractures and severe injuries as a result of the attacks that occurred since April 28, many of them from falls while running away.
In early April, the creature was confined to Vijay Nagar when it started biting sleeping persons. It was then rumored to be a giant rogue monkey. These first witnesses said that they were attacked by a very tall monkey-like creature without a tail. The height of this creature was around 5 feet and it was hairy with large claws. People said that this creature attacked them without any provocation at all. The creature scratched the hands and neck of people mostly asleep late at night.
One witness, Ganesh Jha, of the Maharana Vihar Residents’ Association, claimed he came face to face with the “huge man-monkey” and saw him jump 20 feet (six meters) in the air. “We were taking an evening walk when we walked into this huge man-monkey. The monster sprang up 20 feet from a crouching position and grabbed the branches of a tree and vanished before me and my children could even scream,” Jha told reporters.
From this small village the creature seems to have traveled to neighboring areas of the town of Ghaziabad. As more people grew aware of the sightings, hoaxes and exaggerations occurred. The original very tall monkey-like creature became a half-human with elephant like legs, reddish hands and metallic claws. Later, victims said it was a man with a monkey face, which soon became a masked man.
Although the Ghaziabad Police claimed that there was nothing like a Monkey Man, complaints of sightings, scuffles and looting by the Monkey Man poured into police stations. At least two people died from falls from buildings (scared while sleeping on roofs) and over fifty people were injured.
Finally, on May 16th, the Indian Police in New Delphi, showing two different versions of the Monkey Man, issued a computer-generated sketch. Police said at the time they were no closer to solving the mystery of an ape-like creature, and then finally ended all interest in the reports, saying it was mass hysteria. While the end resulting panics appear to be related to human psychology, some cryptozoologists feel that the beginnings of the case, the initial sightings of a large primate, and may have a zoological basis.
- Sasquatch Footprints Found
The Year 2000 had its “Summer of the Sasquatch.” By comparison, 2001 was subdued, with some rumors and hoaxes of Bigfoot bodies being found, but with little actual genuine activity.
Early in June, northern Ontario officials were investigating reports of Bigfoot prowling around and leaving giant footprints. Tracks 35 centimeters long and 12 centimeters wide were found on the Weenusk First Nation reserve along the south shore of Hudsons Bay, 1,600 kilometers north of Toronto. “It’s definitely not a bear,” said Abraham Hunter, chief of the 260-member band. “I looked at them. They were six feet [two meters] apart, walking.” “It’s just big, shaped like a human footprint, and … further analysis will be required to determine its origin,” said Brett Kelly, a non-believing spokesman in the office of Ontario’s Environment Minister. On June 14, days after the reserve sighting, a provincial Ministry of Natural Resources officer examining old radar stations uncovered an unusual track 150 kilometers east, in a remote area of Polar Bear Provincial Park.
“I was walking through the bush and I looked down and saw this footprint,” said Rick Tapley, an MNR officer with 31 years of experience. “I couldn’t explain what it was. I naturally thought it might be Bigfoot because of the shape of it.”
- Giant Snake Sighted
Mid-year, cryptozoologists attempted to divide mundane escapee accounts from lake monster reports, when an upswing in out-place-appearances of crocodilians caught the public’s interest in the midst of a summer of shark attack stories. The croc captures and sightings were filed from diverse locations, including, for example, downstate New Hampshire (a 2.5 ft caiman), Central Park, New York City (a 2 ft caiman), upstate New York (a 3-4 ft alligator), and off an island in the middle of the Rhine River, Germany (a 5 ft crocodile seen). None were truly cryptozoological. Perhaps the sighting of a giant snake was.
Sometime between July 24 and July 26, Shirley Nikodym and Chris Heinz were walking along the creek near the soccer field on Melgaard Road, Near Aberdeen, South Dakota, at Moccasin Creek, when they saw what appeared to be a large snake poke its head out of the water. The snake ducked back under and began swimming toward the shore — and them. Nikodym and Heinz ran, not wanting to wait around to see what was coming. They thought the snake was pretty big, but all they saw was its head.
Police and animal control officers investigated but could find no evidence of the giant snake. Lack of findings, however, did not calm local residents.
There was at least one other report of large snakes in Moccasin Creek. It came from the 1500 block of South Cochrane Street on July 31 to the police department. But according to Police Chief Ken Schwab, no snake was found.
- Third Elephant Species Revealed
After more than a hundred years of debate, definitive genetic studies showed in August 2001 that a third elephant species does exist. Jill Pecon-Slattery, a genetic researcher at the US National Cancer Institute, said the differences between Africa’s forest and grassland or savannah elephants are “like the difference between the lion and the tiger. It is that large.” The news means, along with the Indian elephant, there are now three distinct species in the world. The forest elephant has been viewed as a subspecies of the African variety but was never considered different enough from the savannah elephant to be classified as a species in its own right. The forest variety is slightly smaller, has rounded ears and straighter, pinker tusks. It is found in the densely wooded areas of central West Africa.
The grassland, or savannah, elephant has large ears, with ragged edges and curving tusks. The Asian elephant has much smaller ears and is widely used as a domestic beast of burden in Asia. Wild Asian elephants are today rare.
Pecon-Slattery’s study, published in the journal Science, recommended an immediate reclassification of the forest type as Loxodonta cyclotis.
- The Father of Cryptozoology Dies
Bernard Heuvelmans, a Belgian zoologist who loved jazz, and the acknowledged Father of Cryptozoology, died on August 22th at the age of 84. Heuvelmans began his interest in the subject in 1948, and within five years he had amassed so much material that he was ready to write a large book. That book turned out to be On the Track of Unknown Animals. Along with his other foundation volume, In the Wake of Sea Serpents (1968), Heuvelmans would reach a worldwide audience and have far-reaching influence. His life’s work has been donated to Switzerland’s Museum of Zoology of Lausanne.
Other cryptozoologically-related deaths also occurred during the year. On March 12, S. Dillon Ripley, 87, died from pneumonia, at Washington, D.C. Ripley headed the Smithsonian Institution for 20 years, was involved in several cryptozoological episodes in his life, including the search for the Spiny Babbler (which he discovered), as well as the search for the Mountain Quail, the Pink-Headed Duck, and the Pygmy Hog (all of which he did not discover). On April 18, René Dahinden, 70, a Swiss immigrant to British Columbia, who first grew interested in reports of hairy giants in the woods of Canada in 1953, then went on to become one of the most colorful Sasquatch hunters of all time, passed away, from cancer, at Richmond, British Columbia. On August 8, Seldon “Pat” Mason, 93, a famous rock and roll booking agent who had Roger Patterson as a client and sang the rockabilly hit “Big Foot Wiggle,” died from natural causes, at Seaside, Oregon. On August 25, John Chambers, 78, the original Planet of the Apes‘ Academy Award-winning makeup artist, succumbed to diabetes complications, at Woodland Hills, California. Chambers will always be remembered in hominological studies as the man who did notconstruct the Bigfoot in the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film. Finally, on December 1, Ronald “Ronnie” Bremner, 60, died suddenly from cancer at Edinburgh, Scotland. Bremner, the son of a modest hotel owner, was partially responsible for making Loch Ness into the epicenter of Cryptozoology, by his efforts as the well-organized, successful cofounder and owner of the Loch Ness Center and Exhibition of Drumnadrochit, and surrounding hotel and gift properties.
- Giant Monkey Sighted
On September 9, in rural Danville, New Hampshire, search parties were engaged in looking for a giant monkey spotted near Pleasant Street and Kingston Road. During a period of two weeks, at least ten monkey sightings were reported to local authorities. Danville Fire Chief David Kimball was among the first to see the monkey running across Kingston Road. Others, like Pleasant Street resident Vivian Wicker, 58, said she heard the monkey hollering outside her home. “It wasn’t a sound I had heard before,” she said, describing the noise as a hooting or a strange howling sound, unlike a dog’s. Wicker heard the sound every couple of minutes. The black monkey reportedly measured about eight feet long from his tail to his hands, Chief Kimball said. Local residents were said to be “getting very nervous about the eight feet.”
On the Monday after the weekend of the local media attention and giant monkey searches, NBC-TV News sent a crew to Danville. The camera people and reporter spent time filming a human-interest story that was scheduled to air the next morning on The Today Show. But it never aired. The date for the scheduled screening was Tuesday, September 11th.
- Australia’s Purple Kangaroo Confirmed
Scientists in Australia, in mid-October, said a mysterious purple kangaroo, thought to be a legend, does actually exist. A biologist named Le Souf claimed to have discovered the species in 1924, but experts ignored his claims. Researchers from Macquarie University in Sydney, however, announced during 2001 that the wallaby does exist and has purple around its neck and on its face. They have called it the purple-necked rock wallaby.
It is not yet known how and why the purple pigment is produced, but it has been found to wash off in rain before reappearing.
Department of Biological Sciences researcher Dr Mark Eldridge said: “No one believed [Le Souf], everyone just said, ‘No, they can’t have purple necks, they must be rubbing themselves on some rock and getting this funny coloration.’ Because it is secreted through the skin, once the animal is dead the pigment rapidly fades, so by the time Le Souf got the specimens back to Brisbane or Sydney from North Queensland, the color had gone. It just looked like a very plain, normal-looking rock wallaby.” Using genetic technology, the Macquarie University team found the animal was indeed an entirely new species.
- Orang-Pendek Hair Found
Late in October, a team of British amateur explorers found evidence of the Orang-Pendek, a creature first mentioned by Marco Polo after he visited Sumatra in 1292. Early analysis showed that samples of hair and footprints taken on the team’s trip to the Indonesian jungle do not appear to come from any known primate in the region. Clumps of hair are undergoing DNA analysis in Oxford, to clarify the genetic affinities of the orang-pendek, which is reputed to look like an upright, five-foot tall ape.
The media ran with headline stories of the “Hair of the Sumatran Yeti” being found.
Adam Davies, an Internet project manager from Manchester, led the expedition to the mountain rainforest near Gunung Kerinci, in western Sumatra. “We are getting indications from the scientists that we may be on to something, and I have no doubt myself that this creature exists,” he said. “We heard its calls, and we’ve discovered a trail that can’t be explained by anything else,” he told The Times of London.
- New Ziphiids Discovered
A general understanding of the family of ziphiids, beaked whales, is virtually unknown, and yet, recent beachings of these sea mammals continue to alert cryptozoologists and zoologists to new species. The Year 2001 was no different. At the late fall meeting of the Society for Marine Mammals in Vancouver, British Columbia, it was announced that a new species of ziphiid has been identified from four incomplete specimens stranded on the east coast of the United States. It is to be named Perrin’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon perinii). In early December, Darren Naish, cryptozoologist and palaeobiologist at the University of Portsmouth, noted that this discovery, from the eastern USA, is quite astonishing. British marine biologist Charles Paxton, writing in 2001, commented that there will be further new species of ziphiid described in the near future. Also announced at the Vancouver conference, as many as twenty-six additional new ziphiid species have been documented by molecular analysis, but as yet they are not completely known morphologically.
The joke among cryptozoologists during 2001 was that “you can’t go to the beach in the Western Hemisphere without tripping over a new ziphiid.”
- Large Squid Discovered
On December 21, Michael Vecchione of the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, described in the journalScience, a brand new species of squid that grows 23 feet long. Instead of having two arms and eight tentacles, the new squid has 10 appendages that all look alike. The new animal, which lives more than 3,000 feet under the ocean, has baffled scientists with its strange looks and weird behavior. The squid have been spotted all over the world — in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans — by undersea explorers using specially designed craft.
“These are a real mystery,” commented Vecchione. “They behave strangely but they also look really weird.” Vecchione, who put together observations from several scientists working in various countries, said no one has captured a specimen of the odd squid yet, so it has not been named. “This is well beyond a new species,” he said. “New species are a dime a dozen. This is fundamentally different. The really long skinny arms are so much longer than the squid’s body. We don’t know of any cephalopod that has arms like that.” Vecchione said the squid join an array of unusual creatures being spotted for the first time as improved technology makes underwater exploration more common. “I think there are a lot of really strange things down there,” he said. “Every time someone goes down there and looks they find something really strange. It’s Eureka time.”
- Giant Birds Seen and the Return of Mothman
On September 25, 2001, eyewitness Mike Felice saw a giant bird flying over South Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Later researchers Stan Gordon and Craig Heinselman noted other local Thunderbird sightings had occurred in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. Then at dawn on November 5th, a local resident out walking his dog, saw a giant birdlike creature, the size of an ultra light plane, flapping away, over a community center in Bristol, Connecticut.
At about this time, cryptozoologists and journalists began rediscovering and debating the place in cryptozoology of Mothman, a giant birdlike creature seen around Point Pleasant, West Virginia, in 1966-1967. Media interest, a new documentary, and mini-expeditions to Point Pleasant, had people talking about Mothman, which is the subject of a January 2002 Screen Gems movie, The Mothman Prophecies. The psychological thriller, starring Richard Gere, takes John Keel’s nonfiction book, and transports the events into a contemporary setting. New books, action figures, a computer game, a music CD, all coming out at the end of 2001, had some cryptozoologists (who had earlier ignored the Mothman sightings as mere legend) taking notice and engaged in new reexaminations of the underlying authentic cryptid and avian elements of the thirty-five year old mystery. Looking ahead to 2002, Mothman appears to be the most likely cryptid set for general public rediscovery.