Monday, April 2, 2007

Big Bird on the Bookshelves

Here at the Center for Fortean Zoology we have just added a great new book to the ever-growing list of currently available cryptozoological titles. The new one is Big Bird, from Texas-based cryptozoologist Ken Gerhard, and which is a study of sightings of giant, monstrous bird-like beasts in the United States.

I will leave it to CFZ Director, Jon Downes to explain the background to how and why the CFZ came to publish this much-needed title:

"I have been interested in cryptozoology for about forty years now, and have been working professionally at it since about 1990. Of the main groups of mystery animals, one of the most shamefully neglected are the flying monsters; `things with wings`, as Janet and Colin Bord once described them. It was a flying monster, which provided me with the first big challenge of my cryptozoological career.

"I spent some years on the track of a zooform entity known as `The Owlman of Mawnan`; a grotesque flying `thing` that terrorised girls and and young women in the vicinity of Mawnan Old Church in southern Coprnwall. It soon became obvious that the owlman was too fantastic a beast to be a bona fide flesh and blood animal. It was too strange, too weird, and furthermore it had been reported in a part of the world where the chances of a large, unknown species of flying animal were – realistically – very low indeed.

"However, during my researches, I quickly discovered that the owlman was only one of a whole host of giant winged creatures that had been reported across the globe. In 1932-3 – for example - the Percy Sladen Expedition went to West Africa. In charge of the team was Ivan T. Sanderson, a well-known cryptozoologist and writer.

"While in the Assumbo Mountains in the Cameroons, they made camp in a wooded valley near a steep banked river. They were out hunting near the river when Sanderson shot a large fruit-eating bat. It fell in the water, and as Sanderson was carefully making his way in the fast moving current, he lost his balance and fell. He regained his balance when his companion suddenly shouted 'Look out!' And I looked. Then I let out a shout also and instantly bobbed down under the water, because, coming straight at me only a few feet above the water was a black thing the size of an eagle. I had only a glimpse of its face, yet that was quite sufficient, for its lower jaw hung open and bore a semicircle of pointed white teeth set about their own width apart from each other. When I emerged, it was gone. George was facing the other way blazing off his second barrel. I arrived dripping on my rock and we looked at each other. 'Will it come back?' we chorused. And just before it became too dark to see, it came again, hurtling back down the river, its teeth chattering, the air 'shss-shssing' as it was cleft by the great, black, dracula-like wings. We were both off-guard, my gun was unloaded, and the brute made straight for George. He ducked. The animal soared over him and was at once swallowed up in the night.

"Bernard Heuvelmans – 'The Father of Cryptozoology', reprinted this story in his seminal 1958 work, On the Track of Unknown Animals. However, Sanderson’s original account had also been an inspiration to the man who was my greatest hero; the coinservationist and zookeeper Gerald Durrell (1925-95). He even spent time on two of his West African expeditions in 1949 and 1957 trying to find the beast. Well, I thought, if both Durrell and Heuvelmans take such accounts seriously, then there must be something in it.I can’t remember when I first heard of the North American `Big Birds`, but it must have been in the late 1980s. The stories fascinated me, and I wished dearly that someone could write a book specifically about them.

"In 2004 I was in America making a pilot for a TV series for Discovery. Although the series was never made, and I never got paid, the trip was by no means a failure. One night, after I had spent the day interviewing witnesses to a strange, blue, dog-like creature outside San Antonio in Texas, I met up with Texan cryptozoologist, and musician Ken Gerhard, and his lovely wife Lori. It soon became obvious that we had a heck of a lot in common, and by the end of the evening we were firm friends. We spent hours talking about our various projects, and promised that we would collaborate on various ventures in the future.

"It was only at the end of the evening when Ken – almost as an afterthought – told me that he was planning to write a book about the `Big Bird` reports. Was he, I asked diffidently, looking for a publisher? It turned out that he was, and so, one balmy November night in San Antonio, only a stone’s throw from The Alamo, with the sounds of crickets, treefrogs, and the trickle of running water from the hotel’s ornamental fountain, in the air, the deal was done.

"Just over two years later, I find myself sitting in my study in rural North Devon, reliving the memories of that night. Ken, old friend: It is a true honour to be able to publish such a remarkable book.Buy it now on Amazon."

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