Thursday, December 13, 2007

Richard Freeman: An Exclusive Interview on the Beasts of Guyana

A couple of days ago, I interviewed the Center for Fortean Zoology's Richard Freeman about their recent CAPCOM-sponsored expedition to Guyana in search of a whole range of strange, diabolical and vicious beasts. As you'll see, Rich (the Zoological Director of the CFZ, and who can be seen in this photo, hanging out with a pal) had much to say about the trip and the new discoveries, tales and witnesses that the team unearthed.

Nick Redfern: NR

Richard Freeman: RF

NR: So what was it like out there, Rich, coming from blustery, cold England?

RF: In terms of the heat, it was the most difficult expedition I’ve ever been on. The temperature was well over 100 degrees. And as we were mainly in the Savannah, there was no shade at all. I actually got sunstroke once and passed out. It's difficult to describe how hot it really was; but at one point I couldn't take it any more and I waded into a swamp full of mosquitoes and hid under a tree, just to get out the heat and sun. But in terms of what we uncovered, it was worth the heat-stroke, the broken thumbs and infected feet that some of us got!

NR: So, what sorts of evidence and accounts did you uncover?

RF: Well, we had gone out there with the intention of looking for several different, specific creatures that we were told lived in the Savannah and the mountains of Guyana. And we were lucky enough to uncover information on all of them - and other stories on different creatures we didn't even know about. We'd heard in advance about giant snakes, giant ground sloths and a couple of other things. But we were surprised and pleased to get much more too.

RF: One of the most interesting people we spoke with was a guy named Ernest. He was a former chief, but had retired to run a fish farm. He had seen a weird creature that everyone who lived in the villages in the Savannah called the "Red-Faced Pygmies". Wherever we went, we heard stories about these creatures, and met lots of witnesses to them, too. They all said the pygmies were about three-to-three-and-a-half-feet tall and had red faces. Ernest had met one when he was nineteen in the Savannah and it had grabbed his tobacco off him!

RF: Another man, Kennard, said there was one these pygmies that haunted a certain stretch of the Savannah, and it would jump out and scare people. Although, apparently, it never actually hurt anyone. They were described as having a weird grin on their faces; they walk erect, and have brown skin, rather than fur. All the people we spoke with were adamant they were some type of small human, rather than an animal. Personally, I think they might be something similar to Homo floresiensis.

RF: Our guide, Damon Corrie, saw one once. He said he was in a tent one night and woke up to see one of these things looking down at him. And there are still sightings to this day in the Savannah. I'd say they are probably a very primitive and very ancient tribe.

NR: What about the giant anacondas?

RF: Well, Ernest had seen a very big anaconda about ten years ago, and that was around thirty feet long. This was actually the skin of the snake; and apparently it had been shot by a British chap. From what we were told, if the story is true, then the snake was clearly transported back to England illegally.

RF: We were also told of huge anacondas, more than forty feet long, that were said to live in the caves at a place called Corona Falls. The problem for us was that this was seventy miles or more from where we were; and with the savage heat and the river water being too low to travel by boat, this was one area we weren't able to get to in person.

NR: And what about this river-monster you went looking for?

RF: Yeah, this thing is called the Water Tiger. We spoke with several witnesses about this. One was an old man called Joseph, who had seen a skin of the thing after it had been killed by hunters some time in the 1970s. He said it was definitely a mammal and about ten feet long. It was white with black spots, and had a head still attached that was kind of like a tiger's head. He also said something very interesting: that the creature hunts in packs.

RF: Someone else, a guy named Elmo, told us a similar story: that there is a "Master Water Tiger," as he calls it, that sends the young ones out to hunt in the waters. Elmo is adamant they’re not jaguars or giant otters, but are something very different. I wondered if it might be some sort of mustelid, but much, much bigger than known ones. And it's very aggressive, too. Ernest told us he was on a boat with his uncle once, when something grabbed the boat, shook it violently, and they had to hang onto the overhanging tree branches to avoid getting thrown into the water. Ernest's uncle said it was a water tiger.

NR: And what about this hairy man-thing: the Didi?

RF: Well, before we went out there, we heard about this thing called the Didi, which was described as being enormous, covered in hair, and having large claws. This made me think it could actually have been some sort of surviving giant sloth. But when we got out there, everyone was adamant that the Didi is some sort of man, but covered in hair, and very similar to the Yeti or the Sasquatch.

RF: One story told to us dated from the 1940s, and was of a girl who got kidnapped by a Didi, lived with it, and apparently even had a half-breed child with it. Now, if that's true, that would imply the Didi is a hominid rather than an ape. The story was she eventually escaped on a hunter’s canoe, and when the male Didi saw her leave, he supposedly ripped the half-breed child to pieces in a rage. We heard a couple of stories like this - of the Didi supposedly kidnapping people.

RF: But, I do think it's possible that some of the Didi stories could well be mistaken sightings of giant sloths that have become confused with the real Didi. So, the legends and stories might be based on two real creatures, rather than just one.

RF: We also heard tales of dragons living up in the mountains; and although we didn't find the dragons, we did find a cave in the mountains where a burial had taken place and where there were a number of human skulls in an old pot. There was also a story from the 1950s we investigated of a group of cowboys who had tethered their horses near a lake one night and woke up to hear this loud breathing and the sounds of something big moving from the water towards the horses. Of course, they shot in the direction of whatever it was, and quickly untied the horses and left. But this area had dragon legends attached to it, too. But I wonder if some of these dragon tales might actually be mistaken sightings and legends of giant anacondas.

NR: And what are your thoughts on how the expedition went?

RF: It was very good to get lots of eyewitness testimony and stories. But it was incredibly frustrating not to be able get to the lair of the giant anaconda. But we uncovered loads of information never uncovered by Westerners before; and we have to thank both CAPCOM, our sponsor, and Damon Corrie, our guide for all his work and help. Damon runs an excellent tour service out there that I recommend to everyone.

NR: And what's coming next for you?

RF: We have a book coming out on the Guyana expedition very soon, and this will include detailed sections from each of us who took part in the expedition: me, Lisa Dowley, Dr. Chris Clarke, Jon Hare and Paul Rose. Then, we're planning to go back to Guyana next year too, and investigate more of these stories and leads on all the creatures we were told about. Late next year, we're going to the Caucasus Mountains in search of the Almasty. And very soon now I'll have a new book published titled The Great Yokai Encyclopedia, which is a definitive study of Japanese cryptozoology, and their legends of monsters and weird creatures. So, the CFZ has a huge amount of projects and work in front of us, which will take us well into 2009.

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