Thursday, October 25, 2007

CFZ Zoologist Richard Freeman on the Search for Monsters in Guyana

In just a few short weeks from now - on November 14, specifically - members of the British Office of the Center for Fortean Zoology will be embarking on a two-week expedition into the heart of the wilds of Guyana in search of a whole range of fantastic beasts, including giant snakes, a ferocious water-monster, and an unidentified, hairy man-beast. Earlier today I spoke with CFZ resident zoologist Richard Freeman (formerly a head-keeper at Britain's Twycross Zoo and pictured here) about his thoughts, hopes and plans for the Guyana expedition.

Nick Redfern: NR

Richard Freeman: RF

NR: Rich, what was it that prompted the CFZ to plan this expedition?

RF: Well, the good thing about Guyana is that it gives us the chance to investigate several different types of animal, at the same time, and that are all located in the same remote area. In fact, it's so remote that it doesn't actually have a name, but it's near a place called Monkey Mountain. It's an area of grasslands, lakes and swamps, and is very rarely visited.

There have been a number of recent reports of giant anacondas there, including one that was so large the native hunters who saw it actually ran away from it. They estimated that the snake was 40-foot-plus in length. In the past, there have been reports from Guyana of anacondas reaching 60-feet. Very little is known about the maximum size that an anaconda can grow to. Unlike pythons, they don't lay eggs. They retain the eggs in the body; the babies hatch out inside the female, who then gives birth to live young. So, they've broken the link with the land. They can stay in the water, there's plenty of food, and they are buoyed up; so can get bigger and bigger.

In other words, if you are in an undisturbed area, and one with a lot of prey-items, these things could get extremely large; maybe even 60-feet would be my guess for a maximum size. This would be a very dangerous animal to encounter, and so we're not embarking on this expedition lightly at all. This is a very serious expedition to a very wild area, and one where we might encounter all sorts of hazards. Also in the area, we have got stories - that we'll also be deeply investigating when we get there - of something called the Didi, which is supposed to be an upright, walking, hair-covered creature. The reports of this are a bit more nebulous than the ones of the anacondas, however. The reports say that it has very big claws - which make it sound like a giant ground sloth, one of a group of animals that were supposed to have become extinct at the end of the last Ice Age. And we do have reports from other parts of the Amazon of surviving, large ground sloths. However, there are also some accounts that make it sound more like a hominid - a more man-like, hair-covered creature; and perhaps a South American equivalent of Bigfoot. There are a lot of local myths, superstitions and legends surrounding the Didi: one being that it kidnaps children and rips the tongues out of cows. This doesn't, of course, sound like the work of a ground sloth; but it doesn't sound like the work of a hominid, either. Personally, I think the creature is real, but whatever it really is, these local tales - and the mythology that exists there - have distorted their, and our, image and view of what the animal may really be. Hopefully, we may be able to find some of the answers when we get out there and demystify the myths.

NR: And what would be the significance of finding such a ground-sloth, if that's what it is?

RF: We would be finding an animal, and a large animal at that, which is believed to have been extinct for thousands of years; a survivor from the Ice Age. This would be a huge discovery of massive significance.

The third creature we'll be looking for is something called the Water Tiger, which is a very aggressive, aquatic animal that is supposed to have large eyes, prominent fangs, webbed claws and a rounded head. In the 1960s, there were reports of attacks on people in the area, including one in 1961, where a young boy was killed in the waters by this thing. The bite-marks on the boy were examined by police and a doctor, but could not be identified. The Water-Tiger is well-known throughout South America.

I'm hoping to get firsthand interviews with eye-witnesses; as many as we can. I also want to go into the swamps and actually look for all three of these things. Of course, some might say that the chances of actually finding these things is always stacked against you. But we may well find a trail; and if we don't go we'll definitely not find anything. So, we have to get out there. It would be wonderful to find some of these things.

NR: Is there any significance about the fact that these three, rather unusual, creatures can be found in this one area?

RF: I think really it's mainly due to the fact that (a) no-one has really searched for these things properly before in this area, and so the creatures remain unknown and hidden; and (b) it's such a remote area that most people outside of the local tribes just don't know about them anyway. It's very poorly explored and very much undisturbed. So, that's really why we want to get out there. We'll be trekking around the whole area, and we'll be living on-site in tents; so this gives us a better chance of hopefully solving some of the stories.

NR: How important is it to you, as a cryptozoologist, to actually get out there and investigate these reports and sightings firsthand?

RF: Very important. A field investigation is the most important part of the job of being a cryptozoologist. Postulating this or that, but never going out to investigate things, doesn't solve anything and doesn't get us answers at all. Personally, if I couldn't do field-work I wouldn't be that interested in doing this. Field-work is where we'll find the answers.

NR: What do you hope that the expedition will achieve for the CFZ and in terms of what you might possibly find?

RF: It will hopefully add to our sum-total of knowledge on unknown animals, I hope. And that's the important thing about the CFZ: we travel the world and are prepared to go into these places that most people never visit. So, it will be further experience for the CFZ, in a new place, with new creatures to investigate.

NR: And what about post-Guyana? Are there other expeditions in the works for you?

RF: Yes, next year we hope to get out to the Caucasus Mountains in Russia to look for the Almasty, which is a relic-hominid, I think, that still survives to this day. A very, very primitive relic; more primitive than the Neanderthal.

NR: Good luck with the expedition, Rich.

RF: Thanks, mate. We're looking forward to it and seeing what we can find.

Throughout the course of the Guyana expedition I will be posting details of the day-to-day findings of the team - as well as my own comments - to this blog, so stay tuned...

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