The world of cryptozoology

A tenuous bridge between science and folklore

Created date

May 17th, 2019
A strange shape barrels through the forest.

What's that in the forest?

The creepy, crawling, prowling creatures may be walking or swimming among us. We know them as Sasquatch, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, even shape-shifters. 

Are they fiction or reality? That depends on how deeply you believe in cryptozoology.

A tenuous bridge between science and folklore, the field is far more cultural than it is clinical. But it’s also fascinating.

The defensive statement of the subject’s devotees often arises: “Just because you haven’t seen it, doesn’t mean it isn’t real.”

And you know what? Maybe they’re right.

One thing is for sure, though—cryptozoology has a strong following.

Long, long ago

From primitive roots, the field reaches back to the ancients on multiple continents.

There are snow monsters from Asia, Sasquatch in North America, and the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland. And the latter is not surprising, given the birth of cryptozoology was in Scotland.

One of the field’s pioneers was a Scottish-born, Eton- and Cambridge-educated zoologist and biologist. Ivan Sanderson hammered out multiple books on just about every crypto subject imaginable.

He wrote on “sub-humans” like the Abominable Snowman, even UFOs that hid underwater. And he certainly wasn’t alone.

Belgian zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans was equally productive. He produced volumes on primates and the Abominable Snowman.

What often confuses people is what separates this group of “scientists” from the majority of those with the same standard educational background. The answer actually lies in the many questions the field produces.

Cryptozoologists focus on the unexplained, even the supernatural. Indeed, it was cryptozoologist J.E. Wall who professionally coined the term “cryptid” to begin with.

In a 1983 issue of the International Society of Cryptozoology’s newsletter, Wall wrote that it had been “suggested that new terms be coined to replace sensational and often misleading terms like ‘monster.’ My suggestion is ‘cryptid,’ meaning a living thing having the quality of being hidden or unknown…those creatures which are subjects of cryptozoological investigation.”

The problem for many is these animals include werewolves, moth-men, and, let's not forget, Bigfoot.

Link to the unexplained

No matter how hard this field’s practitioners try, they will most likely never separate themselves from the supernatural for the simple reason that they deal with the unexplained.

Their greatest enemies are frauds, crackpots, and storytellers. Take the Loch Ness Monster as an example.

Known fondly as Nessie, believers say the dinosaur-like creature inhabits the famous lake in the Scottish Highlands. Yet all we have are fuzzy, almost unintelligible images at best.

The same goes for good old Bigfoot. Half man, half primate, the lumbering monster skulks in the woods of the Western United States; and many people have produced “plaster-cast footprints” as evidence.

Then again, there are numerous examples of newly discovered dinosaurs, fish, insects, and even primates.

It wasn’t until 1935 that we learned of an extinct ape called Gigantopithecus. The creature lived from as far back as nine million to as recently as 100,000 years ago, and yet we didn’t know of it until the twentieth century.

So, perhaps there is something to this so-called cryptozoology.

The problem is the number of people who have gotten into the field without formal education or credibility: those who are willing to lie. They value fiction over fact, rendering the unexplained a magnet for the untrustworthy.

That said, we all know that we have yet to discover countless facets of our planet—even as we venture into space. And we need only turn to the Oxford English Dictionary for reassurance.

According to the dictionary, the word “cryptid” refers to “an animal whose existence or survival to the present day is disputed or unsubstantiated; any animal of interest to a cryptozoologist.”

And though “disputed” or “unsubstantiated,” the dictionary’s definition doesn’t say that they aren’t real.