Monday, June 30, 2008

Island of Paradise: A Review

NOTE: This review was first published last week in the new issue of Stuart Miller's Alien Worlds magazine. Thanks to Stuart for letting me republish the review right here.

Island of Paradise
Jonathan Downes

A Review by Nick Redfern

As someone who is themselves an author, I am often asked to write reviews of other people’s books. And so, when Alien Worlds’ editor, the good (most of the time, at least) Mr. Miller, asked me if I would be willing to review the latest mighty tome from British writer, crypto-zoologist, and director of the Devon-based Centre for Fortean Zoology, Jonathan Downes, I immediately said yes.

Reviewing Jon’s book, Island of Paradise – which is an on-the-road, warts-and-all, study of a week-long expedition to Puerto Rico in 2004 in search of the infamous Chupacabras – was somewhat of a departure for me; and I’ll tell you why.

The vast majority of all the books I review are focused upon the adventures and exploits of other people. Island of Paradise, however, is very different; in the sense that it’s a book in which I play a central role. Nevertheless, I hope this has not influenced my opinion of the book!

It was in the summer of 2004 that Jon and I headed off to the rain-forests of Puerto Rico, courtesy of the Sci-Fi Channel, who wanted to film us chasing the Chupacabras and UFOs for its now-defunct show Proof Positive – which was a pretty well executed combination of The X-Files meets CSI, albeit in a non-fiction format.

For seven days we rampaged and roamed around the island in search of the vampire-like beast, and heard tale after tale of crashed UFOs, dead aliens, bizarre conspiracies linking the Chupacabras with extra-terrestrial experimentation, secret military operations, black ‘Flying Triangles’, and much more. And, thanks to Jon, the whole story of that distinctly bizarre week is now finally chronicled in print.

The best way I can describe Island of Paradise is as a Fortean version of Hunter S. Thompson’s fabulous The Rum Diary that told of the master’s own journalistic adventures on Puerto Rico back in the 1950s.

Jon skilfully captures the essence of what makes Puerto Rico so magical, in terms of its history, its culture, its people - and its overwhelming weirdness, too. Truly, as Jon demonstrates, Puerto Rico is a locale that attracts the adventurer and the thrill-seeker like no other. And given that it was a veritable hot-bed of activity of the ufological, vampiric and downright uncanny kind, what else could I, or indeed we, do but welcome the aforementioned weirdness with wide-open arms.

If Jon and I were going to spend a week hunting vampires and/or aliens courtesy of the Sci-Fi Channel, then, as he reveals, there was no better place to do it than deep within the heart of the island of paradise, and while regularly fuelled by the finest of local cuisine and a plentiful supply of ever-present chilled margaritas and imported beer. Onward!
Having digested Jon’s book, I can safely say that one thing stands out more than any other: only an adventure involving the Centre for Fortean Zoology could result in a deep discussion of Fireball XL5, Earl Grey Tea, Guantanamo Bay, Chupacabras DNA, Roswell, and the United States’ ominous Department of Homeland Security!

I was pleased to see that Jon included in the pages of his book a description of our time spent at our base of operations: the Wind Chimes hotel in downtown San Juan. For those who weren’t there, it might seem superfluous; but for Jon and me it was a time to rekindle a friendship that had been separated by the Atlantic for a couple of years; and it was a time to make new friendships with the Sci-Fi Channel’s crew.

There is something unique about the camaraderie that comes with hanging out alongside fellow thrill-seekers and adventurers – all from different corners of the globe, most not even knowing each other, yet all thrust into a strange and surreal quest to seek out the truth about a diabolical beast said to roam a real-life paradise.

But, Jon demonstrates, it was without doubt the day we go our hands on a shining, silver jeep that things really took off…

There’s something special about driving around in an open-top jeep in a place like Puerto Rico with one of your best friends, with the wind in your hair (for those who have hair…), and in hot pursuit of the unknown, while ear-splitting punk rock reverberates out of the CD player.

Barely one hour into our expedition, as Jon records, everything got a bit surreal. No expedition of this type would be complete without an excursion into the darkened depths of a shadowy old cave. That a bat decided to piss on my head while we were in there only made things more memorable. With much humour, Jon records how I decided not to bother with rabies injections of a type that Ozzy Osbourne was forced to undergo after his own legendary encounter with a bat; and instead I hoped that the little pisser wasn’t rabid, and that I wouldn’t wake up the next day like one of the frenzied souls from 28 Days Later or the spectacular 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. Needless to say, I didn’t.

Of course, I knew that all of this would serve as good fodder for Jon’s planned book on our trip around the island, and so I merely wiped my head with my bandanna, swore at the offending beast and his or her brethren and continued roaming and filming. And a crew of a dozen, led by the good Mr. Downes himself, laughed heartily!

Perhaps of most interest to readers of this magazine is what Jon has to say about an alleged UFO crash deep in the El Yunque rain-forest of Puerto Rico back in 1957. Jon tells the reader of our fascinating encounter with a woman named Norka who was able to fill in some of the gaps suggesting that at least something had genuinely crashed on Puerto Rico back in the 1950s, and who was also a veritable fountain of knowledge on all-things monstrous too.

As long as I live, I will never forget that moment when Norka told us of her own personal encounter with the Chupacabras late one night in 1975, and Jon and I turned to each other and realised that the beast Norka had seen was practically identical to the notorious Owlman of England – a creature that Jon had hunted, and been haunted by, for years. It was truly a pivotal moment in that memorable week.

As we sat on the balcony of Norka’s beautiful home high in the hills of El Yunque, sipping cold drinks, listening to her stories, and with the sun bathing down on us, I knew that we were experiencing something very special, and that beneath its beautiful exterior, something – or some things - dark, ominous, dangerous and bizarre dwelled on the island. And Jon’s chapter on this particular encounter most certainly does not disappoint.

One of the things that stood out for me upon reading Island of Paradise was how the initial quest quickly became something very different – and particularly so when new, and unforeseen, factors came into play. We had flown to Puerto Rico with the intention of trying to determine, for the benefit of the Sci-Fi Channel, if we could find, examine and identify any evidence for the existence of the Chupacabras – such as undeniable DNA. Yet, by the end of the week we were deeply immersed in stories of crashed UFOs, genetic mutation, bizarre changes in the island’s ecology and much more.

I will never forget that week in the summer of 2004 when Jon and I roamed Puerto Rico’s rain-forest, its lowlands and its little villages in search of monsters, UFOs and aliens. It was an experience that will stay with me for all my life, and one that (as the book records) was as much about friendship, adventures and good times as it was about hunting for the Chupacabras and for the remains of wrecked alien spacecraft. And at the end of the day, that was good enough for me. As for Jon: well, Island of Paradise tells it all, just as it was – the good, the bad and the plain strange.

If you’re looking for the definitive book on the Chupacabras, its potential links with the UFO controversy in general (and crashed UFOs in particular), and what goes on behind the scenes of an on-site, week-long investigation in an exotic and mysterious world, then Island of Paradise is most definitely the one for you.

No Monsters, But... amazing animal story...

The Anomalist on Crypto

Crypto news from The Anomalist today:

June 30
The Fight to Save the International CZ Museum
The International Cryptozoology Museum needs some help if it is to remain open, and one individual, who goes by the name of Morbus and happens to have been one of the first donors to the museum in 2005, has dug deep to help out. The struggle continues, and you can find more information, including the correct way to make your donation, as Loren Coleman reports in Save the Museum: CZ and the IRS / Update. Meanwhile, there are cryptid creature reports in the news, today, such as Reports of 'Bigfoot' Sightings in Greene County Has Trackers on the Prowl, South China Tiger Photos Fake and Breaking News: Wild Bears vs Humans.

The Almasty: The Latest

There's a new report in from Jon Downes on the Almasty expedition. Since this is an important report (in more ways that one - as you'll see), I'm relating it in full. And so, here's Jon:
It had been a couple of days since I had last spoken to Adam, and once again my incipient paranoia was beginning to kick into action. Just before lunch today, he phoned again, and although he told me first of all that I needn't worry, and that all five expedition members were alive and well, he told me that there had been a couple of close shaves, and passed me over to Richard.
"I nearly died... twice" said Richard, and although he was being characteristically bullish about the whole affair, I have known him a long time, and I could tell that the experiences had really shaken him. He told me had the first time, he was trying to cross the ice sheet, when he fell down a crevasse, and slid a hundred feet on his tummy, and just managed to grab onto a rock to save himself.
He lost his digital camera and - bizarrely - his front door key, but otherwise, apart from being shaken he was OK. However, soon after he was walking along the edge of a cliff, when it collapsed, and once again he fell down a ravine. He grabbed hold of a tree, Indiana Jones style, and dangled above the ravine until his colleagues managed to pull him back to safety.Dave also managed to fall down another crevasse, waist deep, and had to be pulled out.
All this happened on the way to the place, where - a few days ago - a witness called Sergei allegedly found found the fresh corpse of a female almasty only a few years ago. The boys had been under the impression that it was a relatively short half hour trot from the village, but whether this was because something had been lost in translation, or whether the five boys from England were just not as adept at dealing with the unfamiliar terrain, or whether even - as I have found on many occasions in the past - the local witnesses completely exaggerated the distance, just to try and make their new friends happy, I don't know, but the half hour stroll turned into four hours plus of gruelling trek across rocks, ice sheets and some of the most unforgiving terrain Richard, at least, has ever crossed.
Then, only a stones throw from the location of the unfortunate almasty's final resting place, Richard succumbed to altitude sickness. This is no joke. I suffered from it about ten years ago, high in the mountains above Mexico City. It is a most peculiar sensation. It is like the delirium that one gets with a high fever, mixed with a hangover, and it is one of the most unpleasant experiences that I have ever been through.
Sadly, although they excavated the place where the makeshift grave was supposed to have been situated, it was too no avail. The body was long gone. But in an area where bears, jackals and other scavenging carrion eaters are common this is hardly surprising.
However, the news is not all disappointing. Dave Archer apparently found what may be an almasty 'nest' in the woods, and they have at least 20 hairs for analysis. They have also been promised a putative almasty tooth for analysis.
This evening the party have split into two. Dave and Adam are going to set up trigger cameras in a derelict barn where there have been a string of sightings, including one by the guide Sergei (mentioned above), in 1986.
They spoke to the Vice President of the National Park who had a sighting of the almasty three years ago. It was dusk, and he originally thought that the creature was a sleeping cow. But it got to its feet and he realised that It was human in form. He spoke to it in Balkar and in Russian, but there was no answer. He didn’t see its face, but noted its huge domed head.Another guide, Anatoli, and his father, have both reported sightings of the giant snake. They describe it as being about 7m long and being the colour of the bark of a poplar tree.
The expedition, despite setbacks, is going well, and we look forward to the next installment.

Friday, June 27, 2008

No News Is...Well, No News...!

All is silent on the Russian front today. Unless Richard and the team are currently being devoured by a hungry family of Almasty, it seems fairly safe to assume that the phones are out, or some other type of technological hitch has hit the team. More when we have it!

Bigfoot: New Books and Help

Loren Coleman alerts us to some forthcoming new books on Bigfoot. Also: unfortunate news from Loren about his museum - anyone who can help in any way is urged to contact him a.s.a.p.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Monstrous Things

The CFZ's quest for the Almasty reaches the British media; and Lisa Shiel has several new Bigfoot-related posts at Backyard Phenomena.

Normal service (in other words, considerably more posts!) will be resumed tomorrow. Today has been what is commonly known as a Monday-morning day!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Almasty, The Russians, The Trousers, The Latest!

Here's Jon Downes with the latest on all-things Russian and Almasty-ish, courtesy of team-member Adam Davies who, via a crackly phone connection, has updated Jon on what's afoot.

Says Jon:

"The first thing that [Adam] assured me is that all members of the team are safe, healthy and well. The only injury so far has been Adam himself who, whilst climbing some treacherous rocks, slipped and fell 10 feet, tearing his trousers.

"Even Richard is unusually chipper as despite a day of gruelling climbing thousands of feet up mountainous rock faces to a cave where Almasty have reportedly been seen, and – as far as I can gather – from whence Grigory Panchenko obtained both skull fragments and samples of scat, and in Adam’s words 'Richard for once does not have the wooden spoon for being the least healthy member of the expedition – apparently on this occasion the booby prize goes to Keith who had most difficulty negotiating the unforgiving terrain.'

"They explored the caves yesterday, which are at a place called White Rock, near Tyrnyauz and have set up camera traps in the caves. At the moment we have no information as to how recent the scat samples are, but presumably local people believe that the caves are inhabited by the Almasty.

"Grigory has given the bone and scat samples to the boys and he believes that they are genuine, although he has asked Adam to stress to me that he is not prepared to accept them as firm evidence until they have been analysed.

"Today, as far as I can gather, (and you have to remember that this report is gleaned from two very brief crackly telephone conversations, each lasting well under 3 minutes, so I don’t have all the answers), half the team have climbed back up to the caves to check the camera traps, whilst Adam, presumably having repaired his trousers, and Dave have been filming an interview with an eyewitness who claimed to have found an Almasty body in 1996.

"There wasn’t time for me to get a full description, but Adam told me of his surprise at hearing that the female corpse reportedly had a ‘conical’ head like that of a yeti. The team will be staying in and about Tyrnyauz for a few more days before embarking into the mountainous regions near Mount Elbrus hopefully to exhume the cadaver."

Here's the rest of Jon's post.

More when we get it!

Rather curiously, Adam's caper with his trousers is eerily reminiscent of something of a similar nature that happened to Richard on a previous expedition, when he ended up well and truly trouser-less!

What's the deal with the CFZ and trousers? I have no idea, but it can't be a pretty sight, to say the least! It won't mean a thing to American readers, but I'm rather minded to ask Adam and Richard (in the words of the old Scottish song): Donald, where's your trousers?

Is there some weird Fortean beast or entity that has a particular liking for trousers of the CFZ kind? Mercifully, I don't know - and nor do I particularly want to know either!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Richard Freeman on Human Evolution

Almasty team-leader Richard Freeman on human-evolution...

Big Cat News

Tragedy in the big-cat community; and a possible new British encounter.

The CFZ In Russia: On Its Own

The CFZ quest to find the Almasty of Russia is progressing - albeit not without a few setbacks. Here's Jon Downes with an update:

"We have had no Internet for the past 36 hours so I haven't been able to update at all. The main news is that Channel 4 [the British TV company that intended accompanying the CFZ team to Russia] have pulled out of the expedition. The Russian Government apparently refused to grant a visa to the film crew. The area of the expedition is perilously close to Chechnya and other trouble spots for their liking, and they are afraid of an anti-Russian documentary being made by the folks in what is euphemistically described as the free world. So we are on our own."

At least Richard and Co. have their own cameras; and Jon tells me he will be making his own, detailed documentary on the expedition using the filmed material that the guys bring back with them. And, of course, with Jon being able to make the film according to his own rules, there won't be any editorial control from outside - you'll get a film made by cryptozoologists for cryptozoologists.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cleaning Up The Mountain...

Wonder if they'll find a Yeti?

Cat Killed in the USA

Thanks to Mark Fraser for alerting me to a breaking story on a cat-kill in the US...

The Search for the Almasty Continues...

Well, after having had Net-hassles the last couple of days that left me unable to update you on the Russian expedition, I'm back online - at the same time that, over in the UK, Jon Downes has now lost his Net connection (hopefully until tomorrow at the latest)!

I spoke with Jon on the phone earlier and we joked that if we were of a more paranoid nature, we might conclude there's something sinister in all this!

But, no: it's just due to good old technology and bad weather.

Anyway, there is something to report from Jon regarding the search for the Almasty, and it's this:

"Adam Davies telephoned us from Nalchik airport. All the team have arrived in Kabardino Balkaria safe and sound, with their baggage and equipment intact, and furthermore, they have liased as arranged with Grigoriy Panchenko and his colleagues who have been doing advance research in the region for the last two weeks. Excitingly it appears that Panchenko and his compadres have already secured some faecal samples, as well as some bone fragments supposedly from a skull which may be of an Almasty."

Now, we shouldn't, of course, get too excited until we can say something (or nothing!) definitive about this "skull" issue, but at least things are progressing and work is being done - which is the main thing.

Expect more as soon as I have it!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Anomalist on Crypto

From our good friends at The Anomalist, here's a few things they have highlighted over the last couple of days:

What is Yowie? Cryptomundo. Cryptozoologist and author Loren Coleman is seeking input as the mystery of the various types of huge, hairy man-like beings fleetingly glimpsed in various locations around the world continues. Are the various Bigfoot-like creatures reported around the world all related? Or are they different creatures, some ape-like and others more man-like? With images. Meanwhile, the reports of melanistic felids continues from various locations around the US, as seen in Black Panther Roundup.

Loren Coleman at Cryptomundo has a trailer for the new mockumentary No Burgers for Bigfoot. Meanwhile, the Bigfoot research of the late professor Grover Krantz will be the subject in London during The Cryptozoology Season, the last of Asia's cheetahs might be a bridge between the hostile US and Iran governments, as detailed in Cryptic Cats Link Hostile Governments and the Ukrainian government has plans for the endangered European bison, explained in Radioactive Wisent?

The CFZ in Russia - The Latest

Well, the CFZ's expedition to Russia in search of the Almasty is well under way. Here's a few of the notable developments that have occurred over the last few days:

1. A statement from team-leader Richard Freeman, who gives his thoughts.

2. Jon Downes confirms the team's arrival in Russia.

3. The expedition begins in earnest!

Keep reading, as I'll have much more to report this coming week.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Britain's Big Cats...

...are still prowling around - here and here.

One More From Jon Downes...

Jon Downes gives us one more update on what's afoot with the Russian expedition, his new Island of Paradise book, and much more...

"Life is too bloody complicated.So much is happening at the moment that it is almost too much to take in, let alone document on my sadly neglected bloggything. However, the boys are off to Russia amidst a flurry of terrorist alerts and other high jinks that I am not - at present - at liberty to talk about.

"You can follow their adventures on The Expedition Bloggything . They leave tomorrow evening, and I expect the first bulletin, telling us that they have, at least, made it through immigration at Moscow, early on Sunday.

"I am sitting in the office at the zoo at the moment. All the staff have become very fond of Richard in the short time that he has been Head Keeper, and are anxiously looking forward to news from the expedition.

"In the midst of this, building work on the museum is just about completed, and we have moved the first four exhibits in; Flump the Chinese soft-shell turtle, Myrtle the Amboina box turtle, one of our amphiumas (Gumbo), and the alligator soft-shell.

"I am sitting here at the zoo frantically trying to work out where to put a second soft-shell that we recklessly said that we would have months ago....And on top of everything, my new book Island of Paradise is out next week."

Southern Fried Bigfoot

I received in the mail this morning a copy of a DVD titled Southern Fried Bigfoot that, as you will probably deduce from its title, focuses on man-beast reports in the southern states of the U.S.
Here's my take on the show:

"SOUTHERN FRIED BIGFOOT is a highly entertaining, thought-provoking and suitably atmospheric study of the beast of the Deep South. Packed with notable testimony and expert commentary from the South's leading monster-hunters and cryptozoologists, SFB is required viewing for everyone who wants to learn more about this elusive creature, those that have been fortunate to see it, and those who have made it their life's work to uncover the truth. An excellent production!"

And here's the link to the official website of Southern Fried Bigfoot. Check it out - this is a good one!

SOUTHERN FRIED BIGFOOT is an independently-produced documentary that explores the legends, tales and possible reality of the hairy monsters that are purported to live in the wild areas of the South.

While many have heard the legends of Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest, the stories of boogers, swamp devils, and bush apes lurking in the South aren't as well known. With commentary from believers, skeptics, and the open-minded, SFB shares a slice of Southern folklore that many people aren't aware of.

SFB profiles some of the people and groups who have made efforts to study and pursue the southern sasquatch. And while it covers the subject of strange creatures in the South, a few key legends are highlighted. They include:

The Fouke Monster: The hairy creature that has been sighted around Fouke, Arkansas for decades and was the inspiration for the cult classic film "The Legend of Boggy Creek."

The Skunk Ape: The foul-smelling creature that is said to haunt the Everglades in Florida.

The Honey Island Swamp Monster: The beast that is rumored to prowl the swamplands northeast of New Orleans, Louisiana.

The Lake Worth Monster: A white shaggy creature that was sighted repeatedly near Fort Worth, Texas in the late 1960s.

Are these just legends or reality? Could there really be some type of unknown primateliving in the backwoods of the South? Watch SFB, listen to the legends, and judge for yourself.

Tension at the CFZ...

As the departure date for the CFZ's expedition to Russia gets ever closer, an ominous atmosphere has descended upon the Center's headquarters in Devon, England, as Jon Downes reveals below...

"God, I wish that I could tell you all the stuff that's been going on behind the scenes here, but I can't. Sufficient to say that it has been an emotional roller-coaster, but despite setbacks it is all still going ahead. With less than 48-hours left to go, the atmosphere here is more than tense, and I don't think any of us will be happy until I get the phone call sometime on Sunday morning telling us that they have safely arrived in Russia..."

The Hazards of Monster-Hunting

Richard Freeman, left, prepares to seek out the Russian wild-man. As the story below reveals, the Freeman-led CFZ team faces the possibility of crossing paths with things far more potentially hazardous and deadly than the Almasty, including terrorists and kidnappers.

Fortunately, Richard and Co. aren't letting this get in their way of seeking out the truth about the Almasty. They leave for Russia tomorrow, so wish them luck!


By Jon Downes

Man beasts and cave men in the 21st Century? Surely not. But a group of British explorers and scientists, backed by a renowned Geneticist from Oxford University, embark on an intrepid expedition into a war zone on Saturday, and they hope to come back with compelling evidence for the existence of such things.

The Yeti is one of the most iconic mystery animals in the world. Even in the 21st Century when mankind likes to think that it has conquered all the wild places of the planet, this hulking, hairy man beast still rears its ancient head and intrigues zoologists and explorers alike.

Only this week, there has been news of a new Yeti sighting in the remote West Garo hills of north-eastern India. Park ranger Dipu Marak described seeing "a black and gray ape-like animal which stands about 3m (nearly 10ft) tall".

Recently Derbyshire based artist and conservationist Pollyanna Pickering hit the headlines when she released details of what appears, on the face of it, to be a specimen of a Yeti scalp found in a remote monastery in Bhutan.

The Yeti appears to be an unknown species of ape, but sightings of such creatures, and perhaps more intriguingly, sightings of alleged primitive human-like creatures, which appear similar to the iconic Hollywood images of cave-men, still come in on a regular basis from around the world.

The Center for Fortean Zoology [CFZ] in North Devon (the world's largest organisation which searches for unknown animal species) is launching a major new expedition this week. The five explorers, led by zoologist Richard Freeman (38) - the Zoological Director of the Bideford-based centre - will be ignoring Foreign Office suggestions and flying to the tiny Russian state of Karbadino-Balkaria for a three week expedition.

In Russia they will be liaising with Ukranian biologist Grigoriy Panchenko who has been studying the creatures for fourteen years and who has had four sightings of the wild-men, which are known locally as Almasty.

The expedition is being backed by renowned academic Prof. Bryan Sykes of Oxford University, who hit the headlines a few years ago with his remarkable book The Seven Daughters of Eve which conclusively proved, through analysis of the mitochondrial DNA of a large sampling of people across the continent, that nearly everyone living in Europe today is descended from one of just seven women who lived between 10,000 and 45,000 years ago.

The Foreign Office website warns against travel to several Russian republics including Kabardino-Balkaria "as terrorism and kidnapping in these regions remain a serious problem", but in a statement released today Freeman explains why the expedition will still be going ahead.

"We haven't really got an option", he says. "If we pull out now, a lot of money and even more work will have been wasted. Grigoriy has told us that kidnapping and terrorism have not been an issue in the parts of the country where we are going, and anyway, the path of science MUST continue unhindered, if we are to push back the boundaries of human knowledge. There will be eight or ten of us in the party, if you include Grigoriy's guides, and any band of potential kidnappers would find that they had a fight on their hands".

The expedition will be tracking the Almasty and using sophisticated infra-red trigger cameras and ex-military night-sight equipment, but will also be carrying out a campaign of DNA testing amongst the inhabitants of the remote mountainous forests. "

According to local folklore the almasty can interbreed with humans" says Jonathan Downes (48), the Director of the Center for Fortean Zoology. "Professor Sykes has done some remarkable work with mitochondrial DNA, and if any of the people whom we are testing have any trace of DNA from anything other than a modern human, it will tell us that somewhere in the maternal line, one of his or her ancestors was not a member of the same species as the rest of us."

Although the expedition will not be returning to the UK until mid-July, you needn't wait until then for news from the expedition. Through the wonders of satellite technology the expedition website will be running updates every few days.

On the 17th August the team will be presenting their findings to the world as part of the three-day annual convention of the CFZ. Pollyanna Pickering will also be there and, following the interest that her revelations about a putative yeti scalp in Bhutan caused recently, will be taking questions from cryptozoological researchers from around the world.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

What Lurks Below

Unknown creatures of the deep profiled...

Cressie Surfaces...

A terrible pun, I know, but...Cressie is making waves...

Tomorrow: The CFZ Quest for the Almasty Begins

Just to remind everyone: it's tomorrow morning that CFZ zoologist Richard Freeman and his team head off to the wilds of Russia in search of the hairy, man-like Almasty.

Here's all my previous posts on the expedition.

And here's a new online video-production that includes interviews with Richard and other key-players in the story.

As was the case with last year's CFZ expedition to Guyana (in search of giant snakes), both CFZ director, Jon Downes, and myself will be reporting on any and all developments as the team seeks out the mysterious Almasty.

Keep checking in for updates right here (from me) and (from Jon) at the official expedition blog.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Neil Arnold on the Creatures of Hampstead Heath

Neil Arnold provides an entertaining, short piece on some of the stranger creatures lurking in Britain...

In Search of India's Bigfoot

Thanks to Kithra, I was alerted to a notable story this morning. It's a BBC article on a quest to seek out the truth about the Indian equivalent of the Yeti. It's an interesting piece that contains some intriguing data and a couple of good video links. Definitely worth checking out!

CFZ Yearbooks - Back in Print

As part of its ambitious plan to re-publish all of its early (and largely now-hard-to-find) self-published books of the mid-to-late 1990s and of the first couple of years of this century, the CFZ has just re-released four of its older titles.

The books in question are professionally repackaged versions of the CFZ Yearbooks for 1997; 1998; 2000/2001; and 2002.

I haven't had chance to read them all yet; however, they collectively contain excellent papers and articles on some notable subjects, including: (1) the Big Gray Man of Ben MacDhui; (2) Cryptozoology at the movies; (3) the mysterious monkeys of Hong Kong; (4) Morgawr, the sea-dragon; (5) the legend of Boggy Creek; (6) the controversy surrounding stories of still-living dinosaurs; (7) the Lambton Worm; (8) Puerto Rico's Chupacabras; (9) giant crocodiles; (10) an A to Z of water-monsters; and much more.

For those that didn't have chance to get these books when they were first published, this is a great opportunity to do so now. And if you invest in all four titles, for a very reasonable price you get nearly 800 pages of material that is guaranteed to keep you interested for a very long time!

The other good news it that, with these four republished titles, every single one of the old CFZ Yearbooks are now in print again.

Here's the link to where you can purchase both this year's edition and all the old ones.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

More British Big Cats

Yet more reports of big-cats only a few miles from England's monster-infested Cannock Chase woods.

Monsters at The Anomalist

Having been away for the last 4 days, I was pleased to find today a number of interesting crypto features posted to The Anomalist. Rather than me copy and paste them, here's the link to the main site where you can see them all.

Monster Cards

For those into Monsters and Trading Cards, look no further!

Mothman: Russian-Style

Regan Lee on the Russian Mothman.

The Big Book of Werewolves

I received in the mail this morning a copy of Timothy Green Beckley's Big Book of Werewolves (subtitled: In Reality! In Folklore! In Cinema! And in Lust!).

Tim had asked me if I was willing to be interviewed for the book - on the subject of my werewolf-based investigations in the UK.

I told Tim, that yes, I certainly was.

And now the book is available for one and all. Although my copy arrived today, Tim sent me a PDF version a few weeks ago, and having thoroughly digested it at the time, I can tell you that if you're a werewolf fanatic, you're definitely gonna want this one.

Why? Well, it includes (A) an excellent article from Brad Steiger titled The Terrible Hungers of real-Life Vampires, Werewolves and Ghouls; (B) a great interview with the United States' premier werewolf author, Linda Godfrey; (C) a lengthy section on werewolves in the movies; (D) some great werewolf-themed posters, and old drawings and wood-cuts; and (E) Sabine Baring-Gould's classic The Book of Were-wolves.

Informative, insightful, thought-provoking and packed with information on all-things howling and hairy. Best read (of course) by the light of a full moon!

Too Weird...

The new issue (Vol. 23, No. 4) of UFO Magazine includes an article from me titled When Too Much High Strangeness Becomes A Problem.

Many researchers of Fortean phenomena assume that an abundance (or even an over-abundance) of data is a good thing. After all, the more information we have in-hand, the higher the likelihood is that we'll solve the puzzle (whether it's Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, UFOs, or whatever), right?


Within Forteana, the rules are always different to those that govern the "normal" world.

For example, in my article for UFO Mag, I specifically point out that one particular UFO hot-spot in central England has also played host to encounters with werewolves, a glowing-eyed Bigfoot-like creature, ghosts, and a diabolical entity that sounds like a combination of Mothman, the Jersey-Devil, and a gargoyle. And on top of that, there is evidence of pagan activity in the area, too.

And that's the crux of it all for those of a rigid mindset: an over-abundance of extremely varied high-strangeness does become too weird - for both "nuts and bolts" ufologists and "flesh and blood" cryptozoologists. Why? Because it's not acceptable - or, at the very least, it doesn't sit well - within their rigid, belief-based frameworks.

Of course, if you're not governed by that aforementioned rigid belief system, then the problem of having too much high-strangeness goes away. The only problem, in fact, is that we're still left scratching our heads as we try to come up with a better theory - or theories.

I certainly don't claim to have all the answers; but when a Bigfoot, a werewolf, a gargoyle and Ufological Grays are all seen at one particular location - and across a period of time that runs to decades, no less - then I suggest revisions of the more conventional views on both Cryptozoology and Ufology are in dire need.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Going Offline

I'll be offline now until Tuesday. Have a good weekend!

The British Bigfoot In Print - And Much More, Too

I received in the mail yesterday a copy of the Center for Fortean Zoology's newest book: Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Northumberland and Tyneside by Mike Hallowell.

I haven't read all of Mike's book yet; however, I did spend last night reading the chapter titled The Beast of Bolam Lake.

As I have noted at my Man-Beast UK blog previously, the story of the Bolam Beast is truly one of the strangest "British Bigfoot" cases to have occurred in the last few years, and is one that culminated in a bizarre encounter for CFZ Director, Jon Downes.

Over the last few years, various people have written online and in-print articles on the Beast of Bolam, but now, thanks to Mike Hallowell, you get the definitive story - in a 39-page chapter, no less.

Comprehensive, packed with data, case reports, eye-witness testimony, and much more, this chapter alone makes the book well worth buying - and for anyone and everyone with an interest in accounts of the British Bigfoot it's essential reading.

As soon as I've finished reading the whole book, I'll be reviewing it right here and at my Reviews of the Fortean Kind blog.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Island Vampires - Coming Soon...

Jon Downes was telling me earlier today that his mammoth-book on the Chupacabras will be published in about two weeks from now. Titled Island of Paradise, it contains no less than 90 photos. I’ve already read the manuscript, and it does not disappoint at all! My review of the book will be posted here on the day of publication. It's not listed on Amazon yet; but will be imminently. Definitely one to get!

Dodo News

Loren Coleman provides a good post on the Dodo that addresses the issue of when the unfortunate bird became extinct. There's also news on some Dodo figurines you can buy - yep, before they become extinct too!

Big Cats and the Government

Australia's mysterious big cats make their presence felt in the nation's government.

Paranormal Arkansas: Online

Here's a new site I'll be contributing cryptozoological (and other) material too: the Arkansas Paranormal & Anomalous Studies Team. Check them out; they're doing a lot of interesting work.

Raven's Mysterious Haven: To Protect or not to Protect?

A friend of mine, Raven, has just set up a new blog titled Raven's Mysterious Haven that promises good things. Her first post is a thoughtful one titled To Protect or not to Protect.

As Raven says: "That is the question."

She continues: "It has been a long standing controversy in the crypto community..... Do we continue to set laws in place to ensure the safety of creatures we've yet to scientifically identify? I say continue because there are already several governing bodies that have done just that. Back in 1969, Skamania County's Board of Commissioners in Washington passed an ordinance making it a $10,000 fine and five years in prison for anyone who kills a Bigfoot in their county. In Arkansas,the senate passed a resolution in 1973 that protected the habitat of 'Whitey', a well known water monster who made a portion of the White River its home."

And as Raven also says: "It isn't too hard to imagine the chaos that will ensue once these creatures are finally 'proven to exist.' Bubba and his entourage will undoubtedly be taking potshots at our hairy hominid friend, from the tailgate of a Chevy pickup."

Sadly, she may well be right.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Creatures Cases - Various

I'm running around like a headless chicken today with various projects, so it's just a quick post today, courtesy of the always-excellent Anomalist:

Cryptid Long-Tailed Wildcats Cryptomundo. Here is a roundup of some cases of long-tailed spotted and striped small mysterious and not-so-mysterious cats. With felid images. Meanwhile, The Paranormal Pastor, Pastor Swope, recounts his own encounter with a large bird in Thunderbirds Over Western Pennsylvania. Also, Seeking Searle: Nessie Hunter and Call for Cryptozoology Papers.

British Animal Funnies

Okay, I admit that neither of these stories has anything whatsoever to do with mystery animals; but they caught my eye this morning, and are definitely quirky!

Super-Dog (who can be seen from space) and the pig who is afraid of mud!

Monday, June 9, 2008

The East Coast Bigfoot Conference - The Latest News

Here's the latest info, just received, on the East Coast Bigfoot Conference:

The 2008 East Coast Bigfoot Conference will take place the weekend of September 26,27,28, 2008.

September 26th, we will hold a meet and greet with the speakers on Friday night at 7:30 PM at Pitzers Townhouse Restaraunt 101 S. 5th St. Jeannette PA 15644. The meet and greet is open and free to the public. Dinner is at your own expense.

September 27, 2008 is the date of the 2008 East Coast Bigfoot Conference. The event will take place from Noon to 8:00 pm with doors opening at 11:00 am. The event will take place in the banquet hall located above Pitzer's Townhouse Restaurant 101 S. 5th Street Jeannette PA 15644. Reserved seating is available only on line until the seats are sold out or September 1, 2008. They are only available on our website for $20.00. General Admission seating is $10.00 and available online at the website or at the door the day of the conference. The event will feature guest speakers, displays, vendors tables, book signings, and snacks and beverages available. The event will also feature door prizes and a "Bigfoot" Auction that will take place during the intermissions between guest speakers with the procedes benefitting the conference and future conferences. This years guest speakers include:

Eric Altman, Pennsylvania. Eric will also serve as master of ceremonies
Joe Biello, New York
Bob Chance, Maryland
William Dranginis, Virginia
Steve "The Squatch Detective" Kulls, New York
Diane Stocking, Florida
Billy Willard and Tom L., Virginia

September 28, the PBS will provide a driving and walking tour of several locations in South Western Pennsylvania where there have been sightings recorded in the past few years. The tour is free to attend, and registration is only available to the first 50 registrants. You must be willing to sign a liability waiver form.

The PA Bigfoot Society organization is also seeking friends, colleagues and associates who may be interested in assisting us with the auction that will take place during the conference. We are seeking folks who wish to donate Bigfoot items, such as autographed and/or non autographed books, DVD's, Bigfoot T-shirts, artwork, collectibles, ect. We are seeking items that are either new, or in good condition for our Auction. If you have written a book, we are seeking autographed copies to add to the auction. Any and all help is grately appreciated. In exchange, we will display a business card sized ad on the conference website and in the conference program. We would ask that you include your name, website if applicable, and contact information such as an email address, or phone number. We will be happy to place the ad in both the website and conference. We are three months from the event and are in need of assitance to help our organization raise funds to cover expenes for this years conference and future events. Any and all assistance is greatly appreciated. Donations may be sent to the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society c/o Eric Altman 181 Cardinal Drive, Jeannette PA 15644. Please send your auction donation(s) no later than September 14, 2008.

For more information on the 2008 East Coast Bigfoot Conference, we invite you to visit or You may also email us at or Eric Altman directly at

Thank you for your time, consideration and support.

Eric Altman
Director,Co-host, Conference Chairman
Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society
Beyond The Edge Radio

Dave Archer, CFZski, and the Almasty

Dave Archer, also a member of CFZski, offers his perspective on the forthcoming expedition to Russia:

"As a schoolboy I read an article in a wildlife magazine on Russian Wildmen which started a fascination with the Yeti, Bigfoot, Almas and Wildman.

"In later years I read Odette Tchernines's book The Yeti. It has since then been my dream to go in search of these creatures especially in such apparently rich area's like Kabardino Balkaria and the Caucasus and feel lucky to have found like minded and experienced friends to go with.
On this expedition I would hope to find evidence of almasty bones, hair samples or any material containing DNA so as to try and identify the genetic line of this species.

"My dream from this expedition would be to come into contact with the almasty and to encounter this species in its own environment. To be able to take photographs and share my findings with the rest of the world would be an honour.I am also very interested in the mysterious reptiles that have been reported in the area as I am very interested in herpetology. All in all I can’t wait to get to Russia and begin what in my mind is a huge adventure, and hope this trip is the first of many to this exciting area."

Dr. Chris Clark on the Almasty

Dr. Chris Clark, who will be traveling to Russia with Richard and Co. (or as I like to call the team: CFZski), gives his own thoughts on the quest for unknown hominds:

"Of all the possible subjects of cryptozoological inquiry, I believe that the search for hominids is the most important. The orang-pendek of Sumatra that the CFZ searched for in 2003 and 2004 may represent an ape that has taken one of the fundamental steps in human evolution, the ability to walk upright; the almas could be a snapshot of human evolution itself.

"Palaeo-anthropology at present is only barely an experimental science. The gulf that separates us from the earliest australopithecines is spanned only by a few bones and simple tools, widely scattered in space and time. Many of the questions that we have about human evolution can never be answered on the basis of fossils alone.

"This is why it is of the highest importance to look for any possible pre-human survivors.You might naively expect that scientists would be clamouring to investigate any reports that suggest surviving hominids. Certainly there are plenty of them: there is not a mountain range in Asia that does not have local stories about large bipedal creatures.

"Unfortunately, too many scientists prefer to take the safe route, as though it is more important to dispute the precise interpretation of a cranial measurement on a fossil skull than to find the creature itself. Any researcher who suggested actual field work to look for pre-human survivors would risk losing their research grant, which is all too often awarded by a committee of elderly academics who have no wish to see their life work rendered irrelevant by a dramatically new approach. Curiously, the physical sciences never seem to suffer from this: physicists get a billion dollars to search for the Higgs boson, or astronomers for black holes, without anybody deriding them on the basis that these things exist only in the realms of mathematical speculation.

"More often than not, their courage is rewarded. In cryptozoology we have one of the few ways in which the amateur can still make worthwhile scientific discoveries; in the field of human evolution it may even be the only way".

Chris has accompanied Richard Freeman on every one of his CFZ expeditions since 2003.

The Almasty Expedition - The Latest

Here's Jon's latest post on the quest for the Almasty:

"I had, of course, heard of Bryan Sykes, the eminent Oxford Professor of Genetics but I had never met him. Then, a few weeks ago, I appeared on Radio 4's Today programme, plugging a lecture that Richard and I were doing that night at the Grant Museum of Natural History in London. Both on the Today show and at the lecture we announced our forthcoming expedition to Russia.

"Professor Sykes was one of the listeners, and being unable to come along to our lecture in person, he sent along his charming personal assistant Ulla to make contact with us. A few weeks later (last wednesday, in fact) he and Ulla came to lunch at the CFZ and we thrashed out a plan whereby the CFZ will be able to help him with his research by carrying out a programme of DNA sample testing in the rural area of Karbadino Balkaria where we will be working.

"If, indeed, the Almasty have interbred with people in the past, the results of this genetic screening could yeild invaluable results.We would have become involved with this project anyway, because it is not only worthwhile, but will provide valuable supporting evidence for our quest, whatever the results.

"However Bryan, through his company Oxford Ancestors has also made a very generous donation towards expedition funds, so we can now free other funds to finish the museum.At this stage of the game everything in the garden is more than rosy."

Meanwhile, in England: The Beast of Bretton

While the hunt for Scotland's big cats takes things to another level via the use of Webcams, in England yet another big cat is roaming around...

Seeking Scotland's Big Cats

As this story reveals, the group Big Cats in Britain plans to use webcams to search for the big cats roaming Scotland.

A spokesperson for BCIB says: "We register three sightings on average a week in Scotland. We believe there could be up to 40 big cats roaming wild in Scotland. All these people can't be wrong. It is just a question of getting the proof."

Let's hope this new development provides the evidence.

Champ: Reinvestigated

The Mansi photograph is scrutinized.

The CFZ, the Almasty, and the Russian Expedition: The Press Release

Here's the official CFZ press release on the forthcoming expedition to Russia in search of the Almasty. I'll be updating you regularly on all developments - leading up to, throughout, and after the expedition.


A group of scientists from the British-based Center for Fortean Zoology, the world’s largest mystery animal research organisation, are to travel to the Caucasus Mountains of the Southwest Russian republic of Karbadino Balkaria in search of what may be mankind’s closest living relative; a hominid known as the Almasty.

The three week expedition is being filmed by October Films for UK Channel 4 television, and by the team themselves for a feature length documentary to be broadcast, for free, on the CFZtv multimedia website, the only dedicated cryptozoological web based TV station in the world.

Ukrainian biologist Grigory Panchenko, who has been on the track of the ape-like man for over 14 years, will join the five-man team. Panchenko has seen the creature on four occasions, including a hair rising encounter on a remote farm, when he got to within ten feet of the creature.

Zoological director of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, Richard Freeman, 38, believes the creatures to be large, primitive descendants of our own ancestor Homo erectus:

“Homo erectus was the ancestor of not only modern man but the Neanderthal and the tiny, recently discovered Homo floresiensis. There is no reason why it should not have had other descendants. The Almasty is described as large, hairy and powerful. It is smaller and more human in appearance than the better-known yeti of the Himalayas. It has no fire and only rudimentary, ape-like tool use. Grigory Panchenko believes that it is on the increase in the Karbadino Balkeria area of the Caucasus. There are many more reports here than in other areas and also reports of family groups.”

The team are also working with Professor Bryan Sykes, Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Wolfson College. Sykes is best known outside the community of geneticists for his bestselling books The Seven Daughters of Eve, and Blood of the Isles: Exploring the Genetic Roots of Our Tribal History which describe the investigation of human history and prehistory through studies of mitochondrial DNA. Because all the stories of the Almasty insist that these creatures can, and do, interbreed with humans, the team will be taking DNA samples from a wide range of people in Karbadino Balkaria, and Professor Sykes hopes that through mitochondrial DNA analysis the true identity of the Almasty will be discovered.

The three week expedition leaves the UK on June 21 and will be employing camera traps in the hope of photographing one of these creatures as well as interviewing witnesses and exploring the areas were the Almasty has been sighted. They will also be investigating reports of a huge species of snake, some thirty feet long, said to inhabit the mountains. The size of a large python, it is far bigger than any species known to inhabit the area.

The Center for Fortean Zoology is the only full time organisation dedicated to investigating reports of unknown animals. They have searched for anomalous creatures all around the world, as well as publishing many books on the subject. More information can be found on their dedicated websites and

Richard Freeman, and CFZ Director Jonathan Downes are available for interview. Images are also available. Please telephone Jon or Corinna on +44 (0)1237 431413 for details.

Notes for Editors:

The Centre for Fortean Zoology [CFZ] is the world’s largest mystery animal research organisation. It was founded in 1992 by British author Jonathan Downes,48, and is a non-profit making (not for profit) organisation registered with H.M. Stamp Office.

Life-president of the CFZ is Colonel John Blashford-Snell OBE, best known for his groundbreaking youth work organising the ‘Operation Drake’ and ‘Operation Raleigh’ expeditions in the 1970s and 1980s.

CFZ Director Jonathan Downes is the author and/or editor of over 20 books. Island of Paradise, his first hand account of two expeditions to the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico in search of the grotesque vampiric chupacabra, will be published in the next few weeks.

The CFZ have carried out expeditions across the world including Sumatra, Mongolia, Guyana, Gambia, Texas, Mexico, Thailand, Puerto Rico, Illinois, Loch Ness, and Loch Morar.
CFZ Press are the world’s largest publishers of books on mystery animals. They also publish Animals & Men, the world’s only cryptozoology magazine, and Exotic Pets, Britain’s only dedicated magazine on the subject.

The CFZ produce their own full-length documentaries through their media division called CFZtv ( One of their films Lair of the Red Worm which was released in early 2007 and documents their 2005 Mongolia expedition has now been seen by nearly 40,000 people.
The CFZ is based in Jon Downes’ old family home in rural North Devon which he shares with his wife Corinna, 51. It is also home to various members of the CFZ’s permanent directorate and a collection of exotic animals.

Corinna and Jonathan Downes are shareholders in Tropiquaria – a small zoo in North Somerset (

Jonathan Downes presents a monthly web TV show called On the Track ( which covers cryptozoology and work of the CFZ.

The CFZ are currently building a Visitor Center and Museum in Woolsery, North Devon.
Each year the CFZ presents an annual conference .

This year’s event will be held in August, and will feature the first public appearance by the Russian Expedition team.

Following their successful partnership with Capcom on the 2007 Guyana expedition, the CFZ are looking for more commercial sponsors.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

On the Track: The New Episode

The new episode of the CFZ's monthly, on-line magazine - On the Track - has just been posted to YouTube, and you'll find much of interest, including great information on the forthcoming expedition to Russia in search of the Almasty; data (and a cool photo) on a whopping great fish; the latest on the CFZ's museum and research center; the details of a recent prestigious lecture that Jon and Richard delivered in London; and much more. I should add - for those of a nervous disposition - that only seconds in, a giant hairy man-beast almost jumps out of the screen at you. Be afraid. Be very afraid...


Over at The Anomalist today:

Seljord Serpent Filmed: Blobdracontology? Cryptomundo. Extreme Expeditions author Adam Davies filmed "Selma" while in Norway in 1999. The clip is now posted on YouTube. Can computer enhancement of the images reveal the monster in the medium? Also from Cryptomundo today there's Blobsquatch in the Expanded Field, Beasts of Bladenboro & Bolivia Revisited and Mokele Mbembe en Espanol, a Spanish language video with some textual commentary in English.

Mystery Animals of the British Isles - The Series Begins

The other big thing going on at the CFZ right now, is that we're getting the ball rolling with the new "Mystery Animals of the British Isles" book series.

Basically, the idea is that there will be as many books as there are counties in the British Isles - and all of which will focus upon the many and varied reports of weird creatures that have surfaced in the relevant counties - and in some cases for centuries.

And the first in the series, The Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Northumberland and Tyneside, by Mike Hallowell, is literally being printed as I write this. It will be available at Amazon in a few days, and the ISBN is 978-1-905723-29-4.

Other forthcoming titles in the series include The Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Kent by Neil Arnold; The Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Dorset by Jonathan McGowan; The Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Staffordshire by me; The Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Co Durham and Humberside by Mike Hallowell; The Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Greater London by Neil Arnold; and The Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Devon and Cornwall by Jon Downes.