Hidden Or Unknown Animals
Just as the aye-aye and the Loveland frog are quite different creatures, so are the people who study them. Scientists who study animals are called zoologists. However, there is a special field for people who study unknown animals - it is called cryptozoology, meaning "the study of hidden or unknown animals." The term was coined by French zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans in the 1950s. He is generally considered the father of cryptozoology because he was one of the first scientists to seriously consider mystery creatures.
Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman further defines cryptozoology as "the study of hidden animals . . . [that are at this time] not formally recognized by what is often termed Western science or zoology but [that are] supported in some way by testimony . . . from a human being." Matthew Bille, another cryptozoologist, gave his first book a title that perfectly sums up the subject matter of cryptozoology: Rumors of Existence: Newly Discovered, Supposedly Extinct, and Unconfirmed Inhabitants of the Animal Kingdom.
In very basic terms, zoologists try to learn all they can about known animals, and cryptozoologists seek knowledge about rumored animals - animals that have not yet been discovered, animals that are supposedly extinct - such as the aye-aye - but may not be, and legendary animals whose existence is unconfirmed. If there is a mysterious monster to be studied, it is likely that those who investigate it will be cryptozoologists.
Cryptozoology is not quite as well defined and established a science as zoology. A zoologist has an academic zoology degree, but cryptozoologists have various kinds of backgrounds. Some, like Heuvelmans and British cryptozoologist Karl P.N. Shuker, have zoology degrees. Others have scientific training in other fields, have training in investigation techniques, or are avid enthusiasts self-educated in cryptozoology. Although professional cryptozoologists such as Heuvelmans (deceased in 2001) and Shuker work hard to keep the profession on a sound scientific footing, many scientists do not consider it a serious field. This is not only because of the varied academic credentials (or lack of them) of the people who call themselves cryptozoologists, but also because of the strange subjects the field covers and because many of the "unknown" animals cryptozoologists study have little scientific evidence to support their existence. In essence, many cryptids (mystery animals) are little more than rumors to mainstream scientists.
What are some of the mysterious monsters cryptozoologists (and others) seek? Perhaps the best known are Bigfoot (also known as Sasquatch and by other names in other countries) and the Loch Ness monster. These two have captured and held the public imagination for decades. Others include the chupacabras, Mothman, the Dover Demon, the thunderbird, the Jersey Devil, and many more.
The nature of mysterious monsters makes them difficult to study scientifically. All are elusive - despite decades of hunting for them, no one has ever captured any of these creatures in the flesh. Few of them leave concrete physical evidence behind - evidence such as hair, fingerprints, teeth, or blood. In a few cases, bits of physical evidence have been found, but when they have been examined in scientific laboratories, the results have tended to be either negative or inconclusive. Bigfoot is one cryptid that has supposedly left footprints in a number of locations, but the results of analysis of those footprints have been debated for many years. Some are clearly fakes, and scientists, including zoologists and cryptozoologists, cannot reach agreement on whether others are genuine evidence of a mysterious monster. Likewise, photographs and even movie film have been taken of some cryptids, but, again, analysis is inconclusive. The pictures tend to be taken from a distance, resulting in fuzzy pictures so that it is almost impossible to tell what they actually show.
What this means is that the strongest evidence of mysterious monsters tends to be anecdotal. Robert T. Carroll, who operates the Skeptic's Dictionary website, says cryptozoology "relies heavily upon testimonials and circumstantial evidence in the form of legends and folklore, and the stories and alleged sightings of mysterious beasts by indigenous peoples, explorers, and travelers."8 For example, the people of Tibet have reported encounters with the Yeti (similar to the Bigfoot of North America) for centuries. Many of these reports are highly detailed, describing the creature's appearance, smell, and sounds, and have been given by people deemed reliable. Yet many scientists say this is not enough. They ask, if the Yeti exists, why has no one ever captured one? Wildlife Conservation Society biologist Kent Redford responds, "What a bankrupt world it would be if you refused to believe things existed until you actually had seen a specimen in a museum. I mean, there are lots of things we are prepared to believe exist without having seen them."' He points to subatomic particles as one example. However, a significant difference between cryptozoological creatures and subatomic particles is that scientists have been able to perform certain kinds of experiments that provide more solid evidence of the existence of subatomic particles than anyone has been able to provide so far for the Yeti or any other mysterious monster.
Ben S. Roesch, editor of the Cryptozoology Review and host of an informative cryptozoology website, says that some of the criticism leveled against cryptozoology is justified: In many cases, cryptozoologists are too carefree in their conclusions and don't bother to incorporate scientific data that refutes what they are proposing. Occam's razor [a theory that says the simplest explanation is often the best] is generally not applied with sufficient rigour - I often find that many cryptozoological theories can be explained equally well with alternatives that are less radical and more consistent with accepted facts.
In other words, looking at the Loveland frog anecdote above, a dog is a simpler explanation than a bizarre, giant frog-creature. If the known facts fit a dog at least as well as they fit a mysterious monster, using Occam's razor, a person would probably conclude that what the officers saw was a dog.
Still, there are cryptozoologists who pursue their quarry with scientific rigor to the degree that they are able. They use statistical analysis of witness reports and laboratory analysis of what meager evidence they find, in addition to thoroughly examining witnesses and their stories. And they continue to believe that one day they will find conclusive evidence of a mysterious monster that lurks in the wilderness.
When questioning the existence of mysterious monsters, one of the most puzzling aspects is the number of people who say they have encountered them - seen them, heard them, smelled them, been threatened by them, or seen the results of their sometimes savage activities. As author John Keel writes, "No matter where you live on this planet, someone within two hundred miles of your home has had a direct confrontation with a frightening apparition or inexplicable 'monster' . . . An almost infinite variety of known and unknown creatures thrive on this mudball [Earth] and appear regularly year after year, century after century:" How can thousands of reports be explained if not by the existence of mysterious monsters the witnesses think they have encountered?
In the more straightforward cases, "mysterious monsters" are easily explained by hoaxes and misperceptions of more ordinary things. (For example, in the Loveland frog anecdote above, the officers may have misperceived a dog and only thought they saw a monster.) However, there are other explanations to consider as well. People have reported monsters as long as humanity has existed, and even more people who have not encountered monsters themselves believe in them. If such creatures do not exist, why do people continue to report and believe in them? Some psychologists say that people need monsters. In ancient myths, monsters were often used as the explanation for why bad things happen to good people. For people today, monsters can provide cautionary lessons, help one deal with one's own dark side, and provide pleasurably fearful mental stimulation.
Sometimes a myth or legend about a monster can teach or reinforce an important lesson. For example, geographer Nigel Smith thinks that native people's stories about the Amazon monster described above provide an important ecological safeguard. The monster is said to travel with white-lipped peccaries (wild pigs), protecting these porcine herds and wreaking terrible revenge on any overzealous hunter it catches. Smith says that such stories ensure that the people of the jungle do not deplete their natural resources (such as the peccary). Similarly, when adults tell children tales of the boogieman - or the Bigfoot or chupacabras - lurking in the nearby woods, such tales help protect uncautious children from harm by discouraging them from venturing into environments they are not prepared to handle.
Some people believe that consideration of monsters can help people explore their own dark side. "The monster is the alien in our minds," says Italian criminologist Francesco Sidoti. "He's the inexplicable, the incredible, and the inadmissible that has finally become visible and tangible. The radical otherness of the monster can help us define ourselves." By confronting a monster, whether in real life or vicariously through the experiences of others, people are made to examine their own characters. How is the monster different from themselves? Or, more frightening, how is it alike? How would they behave if they met such a creature? By thinking about and answering such questions, people can develop a better understanding of their own characters.
Patrick Macias, the author of Tokyo-Scope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion, says that monsters provide much-needed mental exercise: "The human imagination needs exercise to stay healthy, and grappling with the weird and horrible offers a major mental workout." Andrew Greeley, a Catholic priest and novelist (now deceased), would probably concur. In an interview about why people are attracted to vampires, he said that such creatures fulfill "a hunger for the marvelous." Especially in today's world, where many people have lapsed from traditional spiritual beliefs, when they have "given up angels and devils," he says, "some people are going to turn to aliens, Darth Vader [a character from the Star Wars movies], and vampires. Life seems to be dull and unexciting, . . . so you have to hunt for something marvelous enough to bring back the excitement."
Certainly, excitement is one reason cryptozoologists search for mysterious monsters and one reason people continue to believe in them. For what could be more exciting than at last discovering irrefutable evidence of a creature that so many people refuse to believe in. The thrill of the unknown, a search for explanations, an answer to a mystery - all of these keep cryptozoologists and others on the trail of mysterious monsters.
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