The Animal Quackers: Tails from the Cryptids

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

I remember my friend confessing furtively that he was, in fact, a closet zoologist.

By the time we met he had covered his tracks: he was teaching, and had been for years. But a zoology degree lurked somewhere in the undergrowth, threatening to pounce at any moment.

I had always respected him, but now I openly gaped with admiration. He had an ology, and one to do with animals and their classification (it must be, it had zoo in the title).

But other than that I did not know precisely what a zoologist did. Could they shoe zebras? Charm pythons? Even run zoos?

And when I went away and did my research,  I found out that these are the classifiers, the ones who say it how it is. They note and describe the animal kingdom, anatomy, physiology, behavioural ecology and so on. They are into family trees, pre-and post-Darwin, and though they started in the days of Galen and Aristotle, we are now well into the zoological age of neo-Darwinians.

But in the second half of the nineteenth century a black sheep was born into the zoological community. One who walked a path so different that they had to invent a new kind of purdah for those who followed his line of thought.

They called it Cryptozoology.

Anthonie Cornelis Oudemans – let us call him Antoon – was born into a respectable enough family of high achievers. His father was a noted Dutch astronomer, his grandfather a poet and renowned philologist.  Little Antoon grew up loving animals and after a seminal dissertation on flatworms, he strode the world of zoology like a colossus; taking up an appointment of director of the Zoological Gardens in the Hague at the tender age of 27.

On the conventional side, he discovered several insect species, a species of black monkey and made a ground breaking collection of 1317 mites.

But then there was the wayward side.

Antoon liked researching animals that probably don’t exist.

Seven years after his arrival at The Hague, he published a book entitled The Great Sea Serpent. It was a compilation of all the reports of unidentified sea serpents from all the oceans in all the world.

The zoological community averted its eyes and looked hard at the floor. The book was received, yes; it was not dragged through the streets of The Hague behind a carriage and horses; but reception is reported as having been ‘cold.’

And since then many have said: that, there, was the beginning of cryptozoology. An undisciplined discipline, relying not on facts but on stories and alleged sightings. The yeti, the Loch Ness Monster, big cats in little countries, Bigfoot and Chupacabra.

They survive, this odd evolutionary branch of zoology. Alongside the Neo-Darwinists are the shunned long-haired geeks of the zoological world: the Cryptids.

And there’s one in your neck of the woods.

But they only come out when something strange has happened. Like this odd Norfolk modern legend.

On the A1075 in Norfolk, somewhere between Thetford and East Wretham, half a mile from the level crossing, a motorist had a most unsettling experience. They spotted a large, long-haired creature coloured greyish white. It had small ears, a long snout, large eyes, and stood on four legs. It did not look normal.

So courageously the driver doubled back, three times in all (note folklorish number) to check this creature. And on the last check, the creature drew itself up onto two hind legs, standing 6 – 8 feet tall.

Whereupon the driver disappeared in a screech of burning rubber.

That was in June 1986. Someone saw something similar in June 2007. But no-one knows anything more.

Somebody get the cryptids on the phone.


29 thoughts on “The Animal Quackers: Tails from the Cryptids

  1. Who you gonna call? Cryptids 🙂 That werewolf should have been much more careful not to get spotted! I love the image of the zoology community looking hard at the floor – hahahaha – how embarrassing – they all cringed.

  2. Hadn’t heard of this recent variant on the motif of the beast, usually a dog, that haunts roads. Presumably somebody has tried to delve into records to see if there had been reports of this beast at this spot previous to the 2007 and 1986 sightings. Dragons are another of the archetypal cryptozoological beasts that are often localised: the last dragon in Wales was supposedly killed at Newcastle Emlyn, perhaps in the 15th century, but a little digging unearths a lot of speculation and precious little factual detail. I wonder what that other ‘father of cryptozoology’ Bernard Heuvelmans would have thought of it.

    It’s a fascinating subject. Studying cryptozoology, urban legends, foaflore and so on, I mean why people indulge in it rather than the supposition that there’s anything of substance there in the first place. The ramblings of one credulous zoology graduate, who ought to know better, I reviewed here:; but the wider view of our psychological need to entertain beliefs in the unnatural and the supernatural is worthy of study, especially in situations where our wellbeing is threatened by wanton credulity.

    Don’t get me wrong: I like stories of weird beasties, I enjoy fantasy and folklore (Katherine Briggs’ A Dictionary of Fairies is wonderful catalogue of water-horses, giants, goblins, brownies, witches and their ilk). But I know for example that the world of microbiology has enough beasties to fascinate and give nightmares without having to believe traveller’s tales.

    1. It is Heuvelmans who traces the beginnings of cryptozoology to Oudemans, Chris. I suppose he lends a certain time-worn quality to the whole concept. Man wants so desperately to believe that there are more things on heaven and earth than we dream of; perhaps this is just a strand of that longing.

      1. Yes, you’re right! It’s a while since I read Heuvelmans, but I put ‘father of cryptozoology’ in inverted commas because that’s the title he’s often given, wrongly as you point out, as a result of On the Track of Unknown Animals‘s popularity; there was a time when its English-language paperback edition seemed to be in every bookshop.

        In fact I’ve just checked and Wikipedia does indeed call him that. In inverted commas! I suppose it’s the same urge that wants to make Haydn the ‘father’ of the string quartet; it’s easy to forget that there must also have been a ‘mother’ and a ‘cousin’ and ‘great-uncle’ …

  3. My mom has a degree in Zoology
    And she’s been to Loch Ness
    But, I must confess . . .
    She didn’t spot Nessie.

    thanks for the smiles!

    1. He really has issues, doesn’t he, Andra? Not contnt with a bit of crypto-posturing, he eats the car. I call that exhibitionist.

      I shall not show this to the children. I’m not sure I can deal with the biological speculation about where a lizard man comes from.

  4. Kate, when I was young I had a close friend my age who double majored in German and Zoology at UC Berkeley. People used to tease her and ask, “What are you going to do with that degree, teach German to the animals?” She became an investment banker, made more money than everyone combined, and last I heard is long retired and is now into fly fishing. We drifted apart and eventually lost touch when I moved to New York. She’s one of the few people, besides you, that I am sure was well aware of cryptids. She was also an avid reader and a brilliant writer; the type of woman that could basically do just about anything. Her two kids, also a boy and a girl, are a little older than Maddie and Felix.

    1. Sounds an extraordinary woman, Lame. My friend is an extraordinary chap too. Makes one want to throw a dinner party: zoologists only. But shall we invite the cryptids?

  5. I lived in Norfolk for a while, and there were always tales of a creature whose name entirely slips my memory now. I can’t even remember if it was real or imaginary, but after reading this, I am going for the cryptozoology explanation.

  6. With the Lochs as deep as they are and once connected to the sea, I so wanted Nessie to be real. Thor Heyerdahl did, in fact, spot some sea creatures not seen before.

  7. Cryptozoology! That’s another new one for me, Kate. Antoon just reminds me of the power of the imagination. I can’t exactly understand what it is that makes us want to believe in these “sea monsters” or creatures of the shadows. I can’t resist sending you a link to the radio station I listen to almost every night. I’m wildly entertained. Many of the guests and night-callers are convinced they’ve seen a Yeti or some-such marvel, and my imagination is just fueled by their certainty. I don’t think you’ll be able to access any of the archived shows, but you can see some of the topics. I just think you’d find it quirky. No worries if you don’t have time. I’m just sitting here chuckling thinking about it!

  8. Well, Kate, read this the other day, but, was sidelined as I went a-wandering around the internet looking up all things crypto, forgetting to respond. What a wonderful posting.

  9. I’m not sure which “lizard man” I’d be more frightened of. But I do want to believe in Nessie. 🙂

    You noted that ‘three’ is a folklorish number. Where does this stem from? In writing, I often use that number when citing examples, and I’ve told my granddaughter about the magic of three when telling a joke.

  10. The English wild exotic cats could exist, as people could keep them as pets till the ’70s, or whenever the law was changed. At which point some were probably set free into the wild and could breed.
    Some bumpkin did actually shoot and kill a lynx-type wild cat in the late ’70s/early ’80s.
    Obviously Nessie cannot exist as Loch Ness has little food; you’d need a population of them; and they’d all be constantly surfacing to breathe!
    …I prefer the name Ogopogo anyway. Whenever someone uploads a photo of open water on Facebook I can’t resist tagging a submerging rock as Ogopogo. Give it a try yourself – everyone loves it! 🙂

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