Men in Cryptozoology: Irv Kornfield

Posted by: Loren Coleman on November 3rd, 2007

Kornfield 2

While a self-described skeptic, this Maine scientist deserves recognition of the pivotal role he now serves within cryptozoology, during this age of DNA analysis for every physical sample found. Irv Kornfield is one of the good guys, actually.

Irv Kornfield has a black, furry nugget that looks like a knuckle from the Turner Beast in his freezer. There’s also a chunk of once-suspected Nova Scotia sea monster in the back.

A nationally known DNA expert, Kornfield has run the forensic lab at the University of Maine for all of its 10 years. His usual work is wildlife and poaching cases. Monsters are a sideline.

The longtime professor with a dry sense of humor and unorthodox approach in the classroom – like faking out students with the skeleton of an allegedly extinct but entirely fictitious rodent – would love to get a sample of this summer’s headline-grabbing Texas “chupacabra.”

Closer to home, “It would be a real gas to find something between a black bear and a human that’s been living near Mt. Katahdin all these years,” Kornfield said.

Mind you, he doesn’t believe for a minute that sea monsters or chupacabras really exist. He scoffs at the idea. As if. He’s a scientist.

Kornfield 1

Kornfield does weird as a public service.

“We have the ability to answer the question. We can say, ‘Yes…it is Bigfoot, can you believe it?'” he said on a recent tour of his lab.

Most of the time, Kornfield’s DNA caseload is intriguing but straightforward, things like, does this pile of guts in the woods match the moose in that guy’s freezer?

He does lots of work for the Maine Warden Service. His is one of six noncommercial labs in the country that assist other states’ wildlife agencies. This summer, Kornfield confirmed the South Dakota fishing record for the largest-ever muskellunge. In that case, he had to figure out if the fish was so big because it was a hybrid.

Nope. Pure musky.

In Maine courts, he helps the prosecution. DNA results are accepted as fact so frequently he’s only testified in four of 100 cases. Out of state, he helps the defense by analyzing other labs’ results in cases involving humans, looking for errors.

Between all that, Kornfield, a professor of biology and molecular forensics, uses the lab to answer gnawing questions from the public. He takes cases at his discretion, sometimes with a fee.

One Kennebec County woman called after her husband bit into an Oreo and found something a quarter-inch square, colored an ugly black and brown.

“The knee-jerk reaction was it was rodent skin,” Kornfield said. He thinks he was the first stop on the way to a product lawsuit.

His verdict: A scrap of paper.

Another suspicious morsel found in Chinese restaurant soup and brought into the lab? A turtle claw.

Mythical beasts, classroom beasts
Loren Coleman has been Kornfield’s link to the cryptozoologic. It started with a large mass washed up on shore in Nova Scotia four years ago. It was badly degraded, maybe even with tentacles.

“(Coleman’s) interests are simply to keep the pot stirred, and he mentioned it,” Kornfield said. “He said, ‘Would you look at it?’ I said, ‘Of course.'”

As he did with the Turner Beast last August, Kornfield took a sample, made a DNA sequence and compared it to millions of critters. [The Nova Scotia sample] turned out to be a basking shark.

It was a fate similar to the Turner Beast, which, after all the hoopla last summer, turned out to be a dog.

Kornfield has made several overtures to people in Texas who have what one woman claims may be a Chupacabras – a fanged, mythical beast that attacks and drinks the blood of livestock – that was hit by a car near her property. He’s gotten no response and doesn’t expect he will.

Some strange creatures may have been myths born of the times, Kornfield said. He set the scene for a very old one he’s heard in Maine:

It’s snowing hard outside. Your hunting party is stuck under a tree for shelter. One of your bud’s is on the wane. You’re hungry. He looks tasty.

But you’re not going to eat him for risk of getting attacked by something that lives in the deep, dark woods and attacks people who resort to cannibalism.

Kornfield’s graduate research assistant, Dan DenDanto, allows that there could be some sizable creatures in the ocean deep that man hasn’t discovered yet.

“I’m confident in that, I’d bet my dog’s tail on that…” Kornfield said. “There’s a lot of stuff that still is out there. Is it going to come at you with an AK-47 and giant fangs that are infected with whatever? Ya, maybe…”

But he doesn’t think so.

Kornfield gets after students to be more skeptical. At the start of Introduction to Forensics, he asks them not to violate copyright laws on class materials. They sign an agreement, seal it in an envelope, sign the outside, pass it forward.

Then he scolds them.

Don’t hand over your DNA (their saliva on the envelope) and signature so easily! Question authority.

He’s retiring the fictitious rhinograde skeleton he’s been using as a class prop. The supposedly extinct animal with a nose longer than its body had a whole back story: He found it in an antique shop while traveling. He even showed video of its alleged cousin, the elephant shrew, taken at the National Zoo.

“I’ve decided that I’m doing it for my own amusement. The kids are not getting enough out of it to understand that, really, they can be duped, they can be sucked in,” Kornfield said.

But he’s got more props. Still part of that lesson: A pair of “real” baby dinosaur skeletons embedded in a rocky slab, bought for $5 each in China.“A skeptic takes on the crypto world in his Maine lab,” by Kathryn Skelton, Lewiston Sun Journal, Saturday, November 3, 2007.

Photographs by Amber Waterman.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

4 Responses to “Men in Cryptozoology: Irv Kornfield”

  1. Tengu responds:

    Has his dog got a tail? Ive seen many dogs without one.

  2. Benjamin Radford responds:

    I’m confused.. for years I have heard nothing but complaints that scientists ignore and ridicule cryptozoology.

    If that’s so, what are scientists such as Kornfield and UT biologist Mike Forstner (who did recent DNA analysis on a Texas chupacabra) doing? Sure, some scientists ignore and scoff at cryptozoology, but some scientists also scoff at HIV causing AIDS, global warming, and many other things. Doesn’t mean that all of them do, and the tired old complaints about science ignoring crytpids should be revised in light of examples like Kornfield and Forstner.

  3. mystery_man responds:

    Great article. I think this Kornfield fellow sounds like a really interesting guy! I really like these personality profiles of people involved with cryptozoology. Keep them coming!

  4. greywolf responds:

    It is ok to be a skeptic as long as the person can keep an open mind .
    I for one have doubts but I read about evidence and sightings by people who are not cranks. True the eyes some times can play trick on you under certain conditions BUT when more than one person see’s the same thing one must wonder……hope he continues his work.

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