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Media Article # 27
Article submitted by Rick Noll
Monday, January 1, 2001
Top Cryptozoological Stories
By Loren Coleman
The Year 2000 started out with a bang, cryptozoologically speaking. On January 2nd, news services reported that in the rural Malaysian village of Kampung Chennah, durian farmer Liong Chong Shen, 50, smelling a strong odor and hearing a grunt, turned to see two mystery ape-like animals covered in long, shiny, black and brown hair. The mawas (as they are locally called) stared at the startled farmer, and walked back into the nearby rainforest. However, as more details surfaced, the sighting had actually occurred a week earlier, thus taking place in 1999.
So what were the top twelve cryptozoology stories of 2000? Here is my list of an even dozen important cryptozoological news events, given in chronological order. Two of the items, the new coelacanth discovery and the Skookum body cast, may be discussed for years to come.
1. "EXTINCT" CROCODILES FOUND
During a February-March 2000 expedition conducted by the British-based Fauna and Flora International, a species of crocodile previously believed to be extinct in the wild was found in the remote western jungles of Cambodia.
Field team leader Jennifer Daltry said the researchers sighted three Siamese crocodiles (Crocodylus siamensis) living in rivers and marshes within the Cardamom mountain range near Cambodia's border with Thailand.
Daltry remarked, "We also found large numbers of frogs, moths and sub-species of birds which are almost certainly new. More than a third of the invertebrates we found were new to science. We are going to find many more new species."
Daltry also reported they heard of new sightings of the khting vor, an elusive forest cow with spiral horns, first described in 1994. (See number 12 below.)
"This is a region of global importance for wildlife," said Daltry. The locals did not kill Siamese crocodile, now extinct across its former range in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Laos, because they believed that, if they did, they too would die. Daltry noted, "The King of Cambodia is very excited about the discovery and keen for us to protect the crocodiles that are left." The Cambodian government, which supported the expedition, has declared its intention to protect the new reptilian discovery with the assistance of the Fauna and Flora International. (Fauna and Flora International is also the organization funding the search for the Orang Pendek, the mystery primate reported from Sumatra.)
Another crocodilian discovery made news in Africa, again in February 2000. Wolfgang Böhme, of the Zoologisches Forschungsinstitut und Museum Alexander Koenig in Bonn, Germany, and his team, were studying reptiles in Southern Mauritania, in the extreme western Sahara, when they heard rumors of crocodiles on a nearby plateau. They sped to the site where they found a 20 meter-wide pond. Next to this was a Nile crocodile -- sunning itself. Eventually, at this underground pond, they located four Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus), each only 2 meters long (instead of six meters for their Nile relatives). It is a relict population, dating from the time when Sahara was a fertile savannah, about 10,000 years ago, as shown by Tassili prehistoric art.
2. WISCONSIN BIGFOOT SIGHTED
Around 5:15 a.m on March 28, 2000, James Hughes was delivering the little local newspaper, Black River Shopper, along County Highway H, near Granton, Wisconsin, when he noticed a figure standing in the ditch and carrying a goat. At first he took it to be a large man, but then he saw it was about eight feet tall and had an ape-like face.
"He was all covered with hair, a real dark gray color, with some spots that looked a honey color. It was walking on two legs, and it was mighty, mighty, big," Hughes said. In its left hand it held what he at first took to be a goat, but later he wasn't sure, it might have been a little sheep. When the beast turned to look at him, Hughes said he floored the gas pedal and sped away, very scared.
"I didn't call it in (to the Sheriff's Department) until the next day, because people would think I'm crazy. And I don't drink, I don't use dope, and I was wide awake," Hughes said.
Hughes finally did file a report with the Clark County Sheriff's Department, and a deputy was dispatched to the scene but could not find any large footprints or other evidence.
The Sheriff's Department said Hughes gave a very detailed description, but without tracks or other evidence suggesting a creature was in the area, the hunt ceased.
Nevertheless, the report circled the globe and became one of the first widely reported Bigfoot sightings of 2000.
3. SEA SERPENT SIGHTED OFF NEWFOUNDLAND
Cape Bonavista, Newfoundland, Canada, was the location of a classic Sea Serpent sighting during the first week of April 2000.
While on a morning drive along the cape, Bob Crewe came upon a creature like nothing he had ever seen before. "I saw its body in the water measuring about 30 feet across, just lying there and moving slightly," said Crewe, who had stopped his truck on a cliff overlooking the ocean, in an area not far from an attraction known as The Dungeon and an old rock formation known locally as the Viking.
"It looked something like a rock in the water, but I knew there was no rock there. I blew the horn and it stuck its head out of the water. It had a long neck about four or five feet."
Crewe said that from what he could see of the creature amid ripples in the water, it looked something like a huge snake which had some kind of "snout" on its head.
"I wish I had a camera aboard," said Crewe. "It took off towards the lighthouse (at the tip of the cape) with its head still out of the water, tilted slightly forward. It seemed like it was using its body to push itself along and it was going very fast."
Some have suggested he saw a giant squid. Crewe, however, says what he saw was nothing as simple as that.
"It wasn't a giant squid. I know that for sure," he said. "I wasn't close enough to see scaly skin or eyes or any detail like that. All I know is that was a strange creature, and it's a big ocean that could contain a lot of strange things we've never seen."
4. SEARCH FOR THE TSUCHINOKO CONDUCTED
In 2000, Yoshii, Okayama, Japan was in the news again, as people were flocking to the region to hunt for the tsuchinoko, a chirping reptile-like cryptid bearing at least some resemblance to a snake or a long, thick lizard. A 20 million yen reward from the Yoshii Municipal Government was the source of all the excitement.
Tsuchinoko fever hit Yoshii on May 21 after a farmer cutting grass swore he saw a snake-like creature with a face resembling the cartoon cat Doraemon slither across his field. The farmer slashed the creature with his weed whipper, but it fled into a nearby stream and escaped. Four days later, 72-year-old Hideko Takashima was talking with a couple of friends in Yoshii when she found what she thought was one of the creatures lying dead next to the stream a tsuchinoko reportedly had dived into to escape from the farmer. She picked it up and buried it.
Yoshii Municipal Government officials heard the rumors of a tsuchinoko and headed out to look over the local woman's find. They exhumed the body and forwarded it to Kawasaki University of Medical Welfare to be examined. Kuniyasu Sato, the professor who analyzed the reptile, said that the animal may indeed have been the tsuchinoko, but "scientifically speaking, it was a kind of snake."
Meanwhile, Mitsuko Arima, an 82-year-old from Yoshii, says she saw a tsuchinoko swimming along a river on the morning of June 15.
"I was surprised. I just pointed at it and asked 'Who are you? Who are you?' It didn't answer me, but just stared. It had a round face and didn't take its eyes off me. I can still see the eyes now. They were big and round and it looked like they were floating on the water," Arima says. "I've lived over 80 years, but I'd never seen anything like that in my life."
No one collected the reward in 2000.
5. SUMMER OF SASQUATCH BECAME A MEDIA STORM
For some reason, perhaps from being bored by the US Presidential Campaign of 2000, the American press rediscovered Bigfoot and devoted a summer of media attention to a dozen Sasquatch sightings.
One of the foremost incidents occurred on June 27, when Gene Sampson found giant footprints behind his home on the Hoh Indian Reservation, near Port Angeles, Washington. Hearing strange "bam, bam" noises, Sampson searched and found two sets of footprints, which he measured at 14 inches and 17-1/2 inches in length, and 7 and 8 inches in width. Cliff Crook, a local Bigfooter, made casts of the prints. While Idaho professor Jeff Meldrum wondered as to the worth of the tracks, Grover Krantz, Bigfoot researcher and retired Washington State University anthropology professor, said he sensed the footprints on the Hoh reservation indicated one male and one female Sasquatch.
But the sightings at the Hoh Reservation were only one of many that had received even-handed publicity since May 7, 2000, when near Troutdale, Oregon, along the Sandy River, campers found a set of Bigfoot tracks in the wilderness there. Other news items told of the June 16th, Darrington, Snohomish County, Washington find of giant bare footprints along the Mountain Loop Highway, and the June 24th discovery of large Sasquatch footprints in Olympic National Park.
Then on July 1, the true media storm began when a psychologist reported seeing Bigfoot while hiking, with his family, near the Oregon Caves National Monument, Selma, Oregon.
"It was very tall, it was very hairy," Johnson said. "It was nothing else but a Sasquatch. I swear to God. I lived a lot of years in Alaska. I've been chased by a grizzly bear. This was no bear."
When Grants Pass psychologist Matthew Johnson says he heard grunts, smelled something musky, and then saw Bigfoot, the press listened. Media attention to Johnson's sighting was the big event of the summer, if one was to judge by how much press, radio, and television coverage the sighting received. Johnson was interviewed widely, appeared on several morning and news programs, and was videotaped by international and national teams of filmmakers. His sighting was taken very seriously, although some within the Bigfoot study ranks were upset that a Ph. D. would be treated so nobly by the press when dozens of truck drivers', farmers', and hunters' reports are ignored every week by the media.
The incident did catch the attention of some Bigfoot researchers in Northern California who spent parts of the summer retracing the Johnson family's steps along the monument's Big Tree Trail. Johnson said the first group of searchers, accompanied by a monument ranger, soon after the July 1st incident, found some partial prints in the area.
Based on the number of sightings recorded in the Pacific Northwest, their well-documented nature, and the fact the local and national media were more willing to take Bigfoot sightings seriously than in the proceeding two decades, this was clearly the "Summer of Sasquatch."
6. GIANT ARKANSAS SNAKE ENCOUNTERED
Reports of a giant snake that had been eating animals in Little River County, Arkansas, near the village of Foreman, caused local officials to take notice in July 2000. An animal rescue group, the Arkansas Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Association, was summoned from Pulaski County to try to catch the snake, reportedly 30-foot-long.
While Arkansas Game and Fish Commission officials remained skeptical, residents of Foreman and nearby communities reported that something definitely was eating small animals in the area. One resident reported that a pet goose named "Miss Daisy" died after being bitten by a snake under her right wing. Bullfrogs have vanished in a pond; fish in two more. Cranes and herons that once perched on the edge of Terry and Wedia Landsell's pond have relocated. Wedia Landsell said some of her cats have disappeared, too.
"When you get asked at the Taco Bell about it, you know something is up," said Jim Williamson, editor of the weekly Little River News.
Although Game and Fish officials have suggested that what residents have seen is an oversized cottonmouth, Wedia Landsell said this is no normal snake. "I've seen a lot of snakes, but nothing this big," Landsell said, who has seen "it early in the morning or late in the evening."
7. SKOOKUM SASQUATCH BODY CAST TAKEN
The Native American word skookum is another name for Sasquatch or Bigfoot, and settlers in the West employed it to name geographical sites. There are over two hundred Skookum place names found in Oregon, Washington State, British Columbia, Idaho, and Alaska. During September, 2000, Richard Noll and twelve other individuals on an expedition looking for evidence of Bigfoot made a remarkable find, as chance would have it, near Skookum Meadow in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in southern Washington state. In a mud trap they created, they obtained a half-body print of a Sasquatch.
To attract one of the creatures, the team set out food, spread pheromones and played tape recordings thought to be the calls of other Bigfoot. After placing locally grown apples in a muddy spot one evening, the investigators returned the next morning to find an impression which, they conclude, shows the left forearm, hip, thigh and heel of a large primate. They believe the impression was made as the creature sat down and reached over to pick up the bait. The imprint of a hairy buttocks in the mud is the strongest hint yet that Bigfoot is roaming the American Pacific Northwest, according to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO), which sponsored the expedition.
Anthropologist Jeff Meldrum of Idaho State University, in a story published in New Scientist (23 December 2000) noted that the imprint seems to have been made by a large, hair-covered hominid more than 2.5 meters tall. Meldrum found markings that look like human dermal patterns (such as those found on human feet) on the heel print.
"All we're trying to say at this stage is that there's evidence that justifies objective consideration," Meldrum said.
Some critics have commented the imprint is nothing more than an elk body imprint. The study of the cast is on-going.
8. YOWIE FILMED
Australian businessman, amateur cameraman, and bushwalker Steve Piper captured on videotape a mystery animal he thinks was the Yowie (an apelike unknown primate) while in the Brindabella ranges, south of Canberra, in September 2000. Piper was filming what he thought was a big kangaroo in a gully, when he realized it was far too large to be a kangaroo.
"I zoomed in and couldn't believe my eyes: this massive creature was trampling through the undergrowth, it looked like it had a limp," Piper said.
In September, the bewildered Piper delivered the footage to Dean Harrison's Australian Hominid Research group investigating possible Yowie sightings. On October 1st, several Australian researchers (Tony Healy, Tim the Yowie Man, Neil Frost and Paul Cropper) and visiting US Bigfoot News editor Danny Perez all viewed the video and visited the site of the filming. The video shows a large, bulky, dark, bipedal hairy figure limping slowly through bush in a roadside gully for several seconds.
Reports are that the film is inconclusive, and early news that it was the best film since the 1967 Bluff Creek, California, footage of a Bigfoot seem overstated. The video is reportedly short, shaky, and ambiguous.
9. AMERICAN MYSTERY CATS REPORTED
Large mystery felines and giant black panthers appeared to be popping up all across the United States in October 2000.
A rash of reported sightings of a catlike creature in Windham County, Vermont, prompted a part-time employee with the state Fish and Wildlife Department to begin interviewing people who say they had seen the animal.
Meanwhile, the giant black cat of Waupaca County, Wisconsin was the talk of the area. One of the cats passed in front of a car just below a Northport, Wisconsin hill on State 54. Len Wohlrabe, 76, of Readfield, said, "At first I thought it was somebody's black Labrador, but then I got a good look at it as it ran off. It was a big cat, I have no doubt about that."
Wohlrabe's description was similar to others given by people who reported seeing the cat. They all said it had a large head, long body and long tail and was definitely feline. Wohlrabe estimated the weight at 200 pounds.
Also, during October, half-dozen witnesses said Peoria, Illinois's historic Springdale Cemetery was being haunted, not by ghosts but by a cougar that was stalking deer among the headstones by moonlight. Described as "very muscular, very large" and a "large brown cat," the mystery feline was spotted in the cemetery, on a nearby residential street, and at the back gate of the Peoria Journal-Star newspaper. One local said he saw it jump a deer.
A cougar killed by a train in southwest Illinois in July, after testing, was found to be wild; the feline's origins remained a mystery at year's end.
10. THIRD POPULATION OF COELACANTHS DISCOVERED
The 1938-1952 rediscovery by zoology of the supposedly 65 million year extinct coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) in the Comoros islands off East Africa has been hailed as a success story in Cryptozoology. Native peoples had known about the fish (gombessa), thus demonstrating the tenet that local traditions can be used as a source of information by cryptozoologists and that as-yet-to-be discovered animals remain as surprises for modern scientists. Then, with great fanfare, in 1998, a new coelacanth species was discovered off Sulawesi, Indonesia by Mark Erdmann, Arnaz Mehta, Om Lameh Sonathan, and their Indonesian colleagues.
But who could imagine that a third population would shift the coelacanth focus back to Africa in 2000?
In October 2000 South African diver, Pieter Venter, while searching at 104 meters (320 feet) below the surface at Sodwana, a bay renowned for its reefs off South Africa, came upon three coelacanths. On November 27, he again observed three coelacanths (possibly the same three or three different ones) at a depth of 115 meters (350 feet), in an area 800 meters (half a mile) from the shore. He was able to capture all three on videotape.
Dr. Phil Heemstra of the JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology positively identified the species as a coelacanth. The discovery of three (or possibly six) specimens in the same location was flashed worldwide as evidence for the existence of a distinct, native population off Sodwana. The group of divers who made the discovery are Pieter Venter, Peter Smith, Dennis Harding, Peter Timm, Erna Smith, Etienne le Roux, Christo Serfontein and Martin Bench. Unfortunately, the discovery was marred by tragedy as one of Venter's team died after surfacing without proper decompression. Dennis Harding, a 34-year-old diver from Gauteng, died after filming the fish. (Rehan Bouwer, a 46-year-old diver from Gauteng who died in the sea off Sodwana in June 1998, had also been searching for the world's oldest and elusive fish.)
While the media and some coelacanth chroniclers spoke of this as the "third" population discovered, South African coelacanth expert Robin Stobbs has pointed out that the Sodwana coelacanth discovery is actually the fourth established and verified population group. The third was the one based on the capture of two specimens from deep-set nets near Toliara, Madagascar, in 1995 and 1996/7.
Meanwhile, cryptozoologist Michel Raynal noted that the new Sodwana discoveries should stimulate searchers in 2001, based on past evidence, to look for relict coelacanth populations in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Caribbean.
11. THAI "HAIRY MAMMOTHS" REPORTEDLY PHOTOGRAPHED
On December 6, 2000 came one of the more incredible media stories of the year. Australian news sources stated that Thai scientists were going into Thailand's northern jungles to investigate sightings of large hairy elephants resembling the long-extinct woolly mammoth. The search was triggered by the release of aerial photographs of the mysterious beasts taken by Princess Rangsrinopadorn Yukol, who has a keen interest in forest and wildlife conservation. The blurry images sparked excitement among those who believe the animals may be a new elephant species, or even long-lost descendents of the Pleistocene mammoth.
"I'm not absolutely convinced that the pachyderms are the same species as the mammoths, but I think the possibility is high," elephant specialist and veterinarian Prasit Molichart told The Nation newspaper. "This is a great discovery."
But other elephant experts dismissed the idea of a new species of pachyderm. "It's just not possible. There's no way that it's a new species," said Richard Lair from the Elephant Conversation Center in the northern town of Lampang. He noted that the supposed "mammoths" may be really just young elephants that have not completely shed their baby hair.
"When they're born, elephants almost always have a lot of hair. Some elephants keep the hair longer than others, and from what I saw in the photos, it looks like that was the case here," he said.
12. LOST WORLD TAKES ONE BACK -- OR DOES IT?
In the 1990s, a vast area dubbed the "Lost World" of Indochina revealed for the first time many never-before seen species, well-known to the native peoples but completely new to scientists. But in mid-December 2000, French zoologists said one of the new discoveries never existed in the first place.
Pseudonovibos spiralis, supposedly a rare species of wild steer native to the mist-shrouded highlands of Cambodia and Vietnam is the animal in question. The ruminant was first "identified" by two German zoologists who found a pair of lyre-shaped, twisted horns with markings unlike those of any other animal. The horns, spotted in markets in Ho Chi Minh City and Da Lat, appeared to be that of a medium-sized member of the bovid family. Two sets of similar horns were collected in Cambodia, near the border with Vietnam.
Locals called the creature linh duong, Vietnamese for mountain goat, or khting vor in Khmer, which means "wild cow with horns like lianas". They told how the shadowy animal still survived in the mountainous central districts of Vietnam and in north-eastern Cambodia.
Similar types of horns found in the region in the 1920s were believed at the time to be those of an immature female kouprey, a kind of ox. But on the basis of the new material, the Germans concluded that the horns were quite different and belonged to a completely "new and previously unknown bovid". They named the animal Pseudonovibos spiralis after its spindle-shaped horns.
The new animal, "the last large mammal discovered in the 20th century," was one of the prizes coming out of the "Lost World." Since no photographs existed, artists sketched their imagined reconstruction of a medium-sized buffalo with twisted horns.
But the linh duong never existed, say naturalist Arnoult Seveau of the Zoological Society of Paris, Herbert Thomas, a palaeontologist and bovid specialist at the College de France, and biochemist Alexandre Hassanin of the Paris-VI University. After a study of horns collected in Cambodia in 1999, and some comparable ones from Indochina of the 1920s, the team said the artifacts are a hoax manufactured from the horns of vulgar cattle.
"Pseudonovibos spiralis is simply a forgery," the trio stated in a December press release.
But the story is not over, according to Professor Robert Timm of the University of Kansas, who has written on the taxonomy of P. spiralis. He told cryptozoologist Matt Bille, "There is NO doubt in my mind that P. spiralis is a real animal, a valid taxon. The specimens we have here are very clear."
Loren Coleman's newest book is Mysterious America: The Revised Edition (Available from Amazon) He is also the author of several other books, including The Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yeti, and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide (with Patrick Huyghe) and Cryptozoology A to Z (with Jerome Clark).
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