CRYPTOZOOLOGY

Yeti, Yowie, Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster.

(Investigator 77, 2001 March)


Periodically, reports of sightings of strange or unknown animals appear in the world press and become the subjects of investigation. The Yeti in the Himalayas, the Bigfoot in various states of America, the Yowie in Australia and a monster which is alleged to have lurked in Loch Ness for centuries are the best known examples. The reports are usually anecdotal and always create interest and speculation, but on occasions more tangible evidence is forthcoming.

Although stories have circulated about the Abominable Snowman in the Himalayas for some time, the first positive evidence offered came from Anthony Wooldridge in March, 1986, when photographs were taken of strange tracks in the snow and which were believed to be those of a Yeti.

In America, the first reports of an encounter with Bigfoot originated near the base of Mount St. Helens, where some huckleberry pickers found huge footprints around their parked cars. Jon Erik Beckjord, an amateur anthropologist, has spent much of his life tracking down the Bigfoot, also known as the Sasquatch, which he claims to have seen on many occasions since it was first reported in the early 1920s. He achieved a breakthrough in his search when he discovered some physical remains at Lewiston, near the Canadian border, which he claimed were those of a Bigfoot.

In Australia, Rex Gilroy, the curator of a small private natural history museum in the Blue Mountains, and an avid observer of animals previously thought of as extinct, has on display what he claims to be the footprints of a Yowie.

Probably the most famous of all animals unknown to science is Scotland's Loch Ness Monster which was allegedly first sighted by an Irish missionary, St. Columba, in 565 A.D. In a short story, The Loch Ness Monster, Fact or Fiction, (1973), author Martin Walsh traces the history of the legend and concludes that the evidence presented leaves little doubt that a strange creature does exist in the Loch.

Frank Searle has dedicated many years to investigating the Loch Ness Monster, living in a caravan at Foyers Falls, with still and movie cameras ready to record any sighting. Searle published a book in 1976, Nessie: Seven Years in Search of the Monster, which contains many photos in support of his claim to have seen the monster. He once claimed that Nessie surfaced by the side of his dinghy, then dived and surfaced again 250 metres away, on this occasion he had an eye witness with him, an unidentified 23 year old Australian teacher.

In the last decade, many scientific expeditions have probed the depths of Loch Ness with highly sophisticated electronic equipment and have come up with some yet to be interpreted photographic evidence which suggests that there is indeed something strange moving in the murky depths.

Unfortunately, the periodic sightings of strange or unknown animals comes to the notice of the public through the medium of anecdotal reports, they are never supported by irrefutable evidence and when accompanied by photographs they are of a quality that denies certain identification, or are easily recognisable fakes.

What of the Yeti, or the Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas? It was first reported to be half human and half animal about the size of a child, and although expeditions have searched without success, footprints which were thought to have belonged to it were found by mountaineers. Later research showed them to have been made by other animals. A photograph taken in March 1986, by a British physicist, of what he believed to be the Abominable Snowman turned out to be a conspicuous rock feature. Anthropologists have shown the Tibetan Sherpas' stories to be questionable, and the snowman has been relegated to the status of myth, where it must remain until much better evidence is found.

One famous report of an encounter with Bigfoot or the Sasquatch has turned out to be a hoax.

In 1982 Rent Mullens, a retired logger of Toledo, north of Mt St Helens, disclosed how, when working for the Forest Service in 1930, he and some friends fashioned a pair of 9 inch by 17 inch "feet" with a hatchet and a jack-knife and took them to the foot of the mountain where there were some huckleberry pickers. They walked around the parked cars making "Bigfoot" prints which were subsequently reported to the Ranger Station, and the myth was born.

A film purportedly taken of Bigfoot by Rodger Patterson at Bluff Creek, California, has also been revealed as a hoax. The costume used was made from bear hides. Jon Beckjord's discovery, of the physical remains of a Bigfoot at Lewiston, also turned out to be a false identification when examined by James Dorr, a taxidermist, at the Buffalo Museum of Science. Dorr positively identified the macerated remains as those of a black bear which had been butchered and dressed, and then dumped near Lewiston.

Rex Gilroy's Yowie, although biogeographically most unlikely to exist, the possibility can not be ruled out entirely. In passing it should be mentioned that Mr Gilroy has also reported sighting five UFOs, two water monsters, a thought to be long extinct Tasmanian tiger in the Blue Mountains, and a black panther in the Kangaroo Valley, not far southwest of Sydney. In the absence of more convincing evidence in the form of positive identification, the existence of a Yowie is no more likely than the Abominable Snowman or the Bigfoot. In the case of the Loch Ness Monster, there is far more material to speculate with, albeit circumstantial and anecdotal, than a few fossils and casts of dubious footprints.

While the first sighting of Nessie is alleged to go back to 565 A.D. this has been disputed by scholars who claim that the source and reason for the report do not support such a sighting.

There were also reports dated 1520, 1771, and 1885, and in 1933, the first recorded report appeared in the Inverness Courier. Since that time the reports have increased exponentially together with what is alleged to be photographic evidence.

The highly touted photographs taken by Frank Searle purporting to be of Nessie, when examined by experts, leaves little doubt in the minds of the more sceptical that they are either fakes or of objects other than an unknown aquatic animal. The most convincing of them has been identified as a tree trunk and others resemble the floating branches of trees. Charles J. Cazeau, Professor of Geology at SUNY-Buffalo University, USA, examined Searle's photographs and questioned their authenticity on the grounds that a large animate creature would not float motionless and slowly rotate in the water. There was no indication of water disturbance around the "monster."

The most famous photograph ever taken of the Loch Ness monster showing what appears to be a long-necked serpent, has now been exposed as a fake. According to a report in the March 13, 1994, edition of London's Sunday Telegraph the hoax was acknowledged in a death-bed confession at age 90 of the last surviving of five conspirators. Christian Spurling, a skilled model maker revealed how he had built a one foot high and 18 inch long monster and affixed it to a toy submarine for two Loch Ness researchers, David Martin and Alistair Boyd.

The hoax was reportedly hatched by Spurling's stepfather Maramduke Wetherell, a filmaker, and self-styled big game hunter, hired by the Daily Mail in 1933, to hunt Nessie. The photo was snapped up by his friend Colonel Robert Wilson, an eminent London gynecologist, who claimed to have seen "something in the water" on April 19, 1934.

Prior to the 1933 report, there was considerable "negative" evidence to suggest that a monster did not exist. The owners and occupiers of Urquhart Castle since 1297, the road and canal builders, Victorian tourists, and the staff of the Research Department of the Royal Geographical Society who investigated the loch's geography and natural history during 1903-4, while not specifically searching for Nessie, none of them reported the existence of mysterious unknown water beasties.

Since 1933, with better access for vehicular traffic, commercial exploitation of the myth and an increase in the area's popularity for tourism, "sightings" have increased.

In recent years, despite the modem technology engaged in an effort to solve the mystery once and for all, scientific expeditions employing the latest underwater photographic equipment and sonar scans have failed to produce anything more tangible than sporadic and inconclusive results. Hence, in the absence of definitive alternatives, the hyperbole encouraged by enthusiasts and those with commercial interests, the myth is perpetuated with mysterious explanations – misperceptions of more prosaic objects enhanced by the imagination and expectations of witnesses.

Meanwhile, hundreds of previously unknown species have been discovered in this country alone. While most of these are insects and small animals, as recently as 1993, a previously unrecognised species of antelope has been discovered in Vietnam.
 

Bibliography:

Beckjord, Jon. 1980. Beckjord on Bigfoot. Skeptical Inquirer, 5(3):64-67.
____________ 1981. Sasquatchsickle Revisited. Skeptical Inquirer, 6(4):76-77.
Cavendish, R. 1987. Unsolved Mysteries of the Universe. Treasure Press.
Cazeau, Charles J. 1980. Responses to Beckjord. Skeptical Inquirer, 5(3):68.
Dennett, Michael R. 1982. Bigfoot Jokester Reveals Punchline – Finally. Skeptical Inquirer, 7(l):8-9.
Grant, J. 1988. Great Mysteries. New Burlington Books. UK.
Kurtz, Paul. 1980. Bigfoot on the Loose: Or How to Create a Legend. Skeptical Inquirer, 5(l):49-54.
Heuvelmans, B. 1968. In the Wake of Sea Serpents. Rupert Hart-Davis.
Lansberg, A. 1977. In Search of Myths and Monsters. Corgi. London.
Laycock, D. (Ed.) 1989. Skeptical. Australian Skeptics, Box A2324, Sydney South, NSW 2000.
Mackal, R.P. 1976. The Monsters of Loch Ness. Futura. London.
Planer, F. E. 1988. Superstition. Prometheus Books. Buffalo. NY.
Searle, F. 1976. Nessie: Seven Years in Search of the Monster. Hodder & Stoughton.

[From: A Skeptic's Guide to the New Age, Harry Edwards]

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