Abominable Stories

Abominable Stories

Giant snakes, tiny people, alien cats and mermaids - Anthony Marris discusses the possibility of animals living just out of regular human sight.

Cryptozology is the study of hidden and mainly mythical animals that mainstream science pays little attention to. Mention cryptozoology in a conversation and people automatically deride you, if they know what the word means. When you can be bothered explaining that it is so much more than the Loch Ness Monster and the Yeti, do not expect a positive response.

This topic is far too expansive for in depth analysis. The scope will be confined to some of the stories that exist, and an exploration of the psychological human need to believe. If you think the topic is hokum, which is a fair and reasonable assessment, then turn the page and forget about it. Those still remaining, let us continue before the trolls unleash with a barrage of straw men arguments. 

The same but different…

George M. Eberhart, author of “Mysterious Creatures: A guide to Cryptozoology” (2002), lists fifteen categories of non homo sapiens which includes Giant Hominids (Yeti, Bigfoot), and Little People (Fairies, Elves) in his compendium on cryptozoology. Eberhart treats the subject with seriousness, with detailed descriptions and even provides intelligent reasons for why eyewitness accounts could be flawed. 

Giant Hominids are notable for their stature (from 2.1m-3m), the human like gait, and hairy bodies. They are humanlike but not human. Two of the most commonly known are the Yeti and the Bigfoot. The Yeti (or Abominable Snowman) originates in the Himalaya region of South Asia. It  stands between 165 cm to 230 cm, is covered in either dark grey or reddish brown hair, and weighs between 90-180 kg. The Yeti is said to have a flat nose, long hair covering most of the body and a high pointed head. Eberhart noted that the available physical evidence of Yeti is fake: one alleged scalp is from a Himalayan goat-antelope, and a “Yeti hand” consists of the bones of a snow leopard. 

Along similar lines to the Yeti is the Bigfoot (or Sasquatch) of North America. With an average height of 225 cm, and weighs 300kg, this large bipedal is mainly nocturnal. With a similar build and colouring to the Yeti, Bigfeet (the plural of Bigfoot) are said to eat berries, rodents, and leaves. Eberhart noted that the alleged population of Bigfeet is around 1500 - 2000. One of the most famous discoveries of a Bigfoot is Patty, a female filmed Bluff Creek, California in 1967. Standing between 190 cm and 220 cm tall, Eberhart notes that she would weigh approximately 245 kg. The eyewitnesses Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin stumbled across her while looking for Bigfoot tracks. In total, Patterson shot the 952 frames of footage. Eberhart commented that the area was popular with trigger happy campers who would love to fell a Bigfoot. If it was a hoax, then great risk was taken by those involved. 

One of the most recent sightings of Bigfoot does make me wonder. Posted on Youtube channel Bigfoot Evidence, it shows what appears to be a Bigfoot spying the camera operator, then collecting its child, and moving away from the unknown danger. Another Youtuber, Thinker Thunker, analysed the footage and believes it to be real based on the unusual gait and facial features. I believe there are explanations for both points. The strange gait could be due to the terrain, and the facial expressions the result of clever makeup artistry. Thinker Thunker saw the mother/child interaction as a calming action to prevent the child from crying out, rather than a playful one (assuming the footage is real). 

On the opposite end of the size scale in hominology we have the Little People. Standing from a few inches to about 120 cm, Little People include fairies, elves, and dwarves (not to be conflated with human dwarfs), and are attributed with supernatural gifts. Eberhart describes Fairies as attractive with some minor deformity that is not easily hidden, known for being cunning and tricky, vengeful if crossed, and more commonly seen by children than adults. Fairies are believed to be common in Ireland, Scotland and Norway. Perhaps a group of Little People existed in history, which time has transformed into the winged, mystical beings in our cultural memories. Or, as Eberhart suggests, they may be the hallucinations of fantasy prone individuals. 

One of the most common fantasies of the desperate, lonely, mostly male explorers of the sea is that of a beautiful woman. Yes, it’s Merpeople time. Merbeings have been associated with myths in all cultures, either having part human features or taking human form at some point. There are 29 different merbeings. The most common is the Mermaid or Merman, a creature with the human head and torso. Eberhart notes that merbeings are able to assume full human form and go ashore, and to bask on rocks and entice sailors to run aground. Merbeings are still in our social consciousness.  Many viewers were convinced by a 2013 vidoe clips of an alleged mermaid sighting in Israel. Youtube comments include “I think they’re so ugly that is why they hide from people”, and “I’m pretty sure the government is sure that they exist. Nobody can say they don’t exist unless you have looked through every part of the ocean [sic]”. The Animal Planet docufiction “Mermaids: A Body Found” (2012) and its 2013 sequel succeeded in convincing masses of people that merbeings exist.

Nope. Nope. Nope.

Giant snakes. Zoologist Bernard Heuvelman notes in his book, “On the Tracks of Unknown Animals” (1955, 1995), Major Percy Fawcett claimed to have shot and killed a 19 metre long anaconda on an expedition through the Amazon in 1907. The body of the one he shot was 30cm wide, but locals informed him that this was apparently not the largest snake seen. 

A photograph taken in The Republic of the Congo in 1957 seems to show a snake attacking a flying helicopter. If the photograph is to be believed, the snake measures 60m, based on the shadows of the termite mounds. There is a short clip posted by Mai Magby showing a snake which is apparently seven to eight metres long, the head close to a metre wide. The flies do add some credence to it being an actual snake. Which is cool, scary cool, but cool. 

Another common cryptid sighting is Alien Big Cats (ABCs). These rogue cats have been reported all over the world. They are usually jet black in colour. The mystery of ABCs in NZ prompted Mark Orton and Pip Wells to produce a documentary “Prints of Darkness” (2007). In an interview with Investigate Magazine, Orton concluded that it was possible for big cats to roam around the Canterbury, North Otago region, and that potentially there was more than one ABC, given the differing accounts of fur colour from witness descriptions. There are possible explanations for the how ABCs could wind up in New Zealand: they could be the result of illegal importation of big cats, animals escaped from a circus, or descendents of those cats imported to combat pests during the 1900s. 

Freelance filmmaker Geoff Mackley has posted a clip showing a large cat walking in Canterbury in 2011. As a voice off screen comments, “It’s [expletive deleted] huge.” The crew come across animals tracks which measure approximately nine cm, making that creature about the same size as a mountain lion. For now, the closest thing to we have as proof for the sceptic is a feral cat found dead in a trap near Lake Wanaka in 2013. The cat was black, with a muscular body that measured nearly a metre in length (not including tail).

Pics or it didn’t happen…

One of my greatest criticisms of cryptid discoveries is the evidence. Or, rather, lack of. Eberhart notes how with eyewitness accounts of cryptids, most people either decide the tales are absolute fact, or absolute falsehood. Our reactions could be the result of our education, the environment where the tale is being told, or knowledge that eyewitnesses can get things wrong. We tend to remember what we believe, not exactly what happened. Other mitigating factors like weather, light conditions, stress, confusion, fear, the need to believe what was seen, age, language barriers, and confirmation bias can alter a person’s perception and memory. 

Given the prominence of video cameras, you would think that credible evidence would not be a problem today, and up to a point it is not. Spend any amount of time on the Dark Side of Youtube and you can start believing anything. However, much of the video “evidence” is captured by those who have failed to work out the basic function of a camera (it’s called landscape for a reason), or have the physical ability of a caffeine addicted child to hold it steady. Case in point: “Leprechaun caught on tape” (Amazing Mystery Videos, 2014). Squint hard enough and you might be able to make out a creature of unknown origin. Like many videos of its kind, this one is shot in low light, from far away, with poor resolution. Apply those characteristics in the real world and even I start looking attractive. 

The technical wizardry we have now to make onscreen dragons, giant fireballs, and add buildings into cityscapes is astounding. These cinema quality effects look believable on the high definition big screen, so presumably anyone with Photoshop, eight hours, and a need to troll could come up with a plausible looking video and dump it on Youtube.

But humans were fooling each other long before photoshop was invented.  One of the most famous hoaxes was believed authentic by Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes (a character ironically famous for his powers of reasoning).  The Cottingley FairyW pictures were five photographs taken by Francis Grifford and Elsie Wright, aged nine and 16 when they began the hoax. Two were taken in 1917, the remaining three in 1920. Doyle should have been the strongest sceptic, but his interest in spiritualism lead him to champion them as genuine. It was not until 1983 that the girls admitted that they were a hoax, although both girls claim the fifth photograph was genuine. 

I want to believe…

Humans have always had a belief system in a higher power. This is used to help explain the creation of the earth, to justify actions against a race or people, and to limit potential future misdeeds. Will M. Gervais argues in his paper “Perceiving Minds and Gods” (2013) that humans moderate their behaviour based on the perception of them from others, as well as the perception of them from the higher power. Humans intuitively believe that others have a mind, because we as an individual have a mind which allows us to constantly make assessments from the stimuli presented. For example, witnessing the pacing and the tonal changes in speech patterns during a conversation can indicate the type of relationship between the parties. 

One possible explanation for why some believe in the existence of cryptids can be attributed to selective perception. This is where behaviours exhibited by individuals in relation to an event is determined by the underlying belief systems as well as external factors (like participation in groups). One example is if a group of hunters go out looking for a Bigfoot and hear a crash in the forest, they believe it to be their quarry. If a group of bird watchers go out and also hear the crash, they might attribute it to a dead branch falling. This phenomenon is utilised by advertisers. When an attractive person is displayed alongside perfume, the suggestion is that by buying the perfume, it will make you just as attractive as the model/actor used to sell the product. 

Cryptozoology has always had a presence in popular culture pitting protagonists against cryptids. Recently, television shows like “Sanctuary” and “Primeval” both feature fictional teams investigating cryptids in the modern day. The popular cryptid Lizard Man (not to be confused with Lizard people al la David Icke, see page 24) was in episode three of the latest season of the “X-Files” played by Rhys Darby. Darby’s character Guy Mann made some clever points about humans reacting to his kind, echoing those of renowned professor Charles Xavier. Professor X once stated while talking about mutants, “Since the discovery of [the mutants’] existence they have been regarded with fear, suspicion, often hatred. Across the planet, debate rages. Are mutants the next link in the evolutionary chain or simply a new species of humanity fighting for their share of the world? Either way it is a historical fact: Sharing the world has never been humanity’s defining attribute.” 

While I just cited a fictional character, the underlying message stands. If the existence of other previously un-thought of animals was discovered, would we as society be able to accept it? I would like to hope yes. If the opportunity came up to spend my life (and someone else’s money) searching for cryptids, I would happily do it. Not to capture or kill, not even to record and share my findings. Just so I know I have seen them. Nothing else. Given our track record of using weapons to wage one sided battles, and that we purchase goods from companies which ignore (and promote) human rights abuses on top of polluting the world, my doubts are many. 

To conclude, this piece is merely a collection of stories which are no more or less plausible than any of the other myths and legends read and studied all over the world. In the same way that economics creates theories to explain changes to behaviour in the financial sector, cryptozoology tries to merge biology, anthropology, and zoology by selectively choosing which discipline it yields towards. I like cryptozoology and could spend hours talking about the potential unknown as well as systematically refuting the “evidence”. I also know that if I saw a seven metre giant snake while walking in the Amazon, my immediate reaction would be joy quickly replaced by bowel opening fear. Cryptozoology is not a science, or even a pseudoscience. It is a journey believing in the unknown and unseen, based on questionable evidence and supported by an abundance of “proof”. 

TL; DR – Cryptozoology is the belief that a group of animals and hominids exist which mainstream science chooses to ignore. The proof in support of this is questionable at best, and most video evidence lacks definition to be credible. You either believe it or you do not.

This article first appeared in Issue 15, 2016.
Posted 10:53am Sunday 10th July 2016 by Anthony Marris.