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Lair of the Beasts: Defining Cryptozoology
What is in a name?
By Nick Refern
July 20, 2013
So, Cryptozoology is the study of unknown animals, right? Yep, that’s right! Although, it’s important to note – and I always stress this to people – that it’s not an official “ology.” In other words, it’s not a recognized field in which one can secure academic qualifications.
After all, how could it be? The creatures that I, and many others, pursue – such as Bigfoot, lake monsters, the Yeti, and the Chupacabras – are not even acknowledged by conventional science and regular zoology to exist. So, cryptozoology is very much an unofficial field, one without much in the way of parameters and guidelines.
Personally, I prefer the term “monster hunter,” as I have always felt that “cryptozoologist” sounds very self-important and grand. I also suspect some people prefer to be termed cryptozoologists, rather than monster hunters, because they worry about what people will think of them.
Frankly, I couldn’t care less what people think of me or my reputation (or, rather, what reputation?). And so for that reason, while I don’t find the word – cryptozoology – to be entirely cringe-worthy, I do think it’s unnecessarily over-flamboyant.
With that said, those things that are of interest to cryptozoologists don’t just begin and end with Sasquatch, the Abominable Snowman, the Loch Ness Monster, and other such famous beasts.
Some cryptozoologists consider certain creatures that are believed to be extinct – but which may not be, after all – to fall into this controversial domain of study. For example, there are longstanding stories of giant monitor lizards roaming the dense forests of Australia.
It so happens that tens of thousands of years ago there really was such a giant creature in Australia. Its name was Megalania. The problem is that Megalania is long extinct. Or, so we are led to believe. Is this what people are actually reporting: surviving pockets of Megalania? Maybe the answer is: yes. But even if that’s what people are seeing, I’m not sure it’s something for Cryptozoology or regular Zoology.
The same thing applies regarding sightings of what sound like mountain lions and black leopards in the U.K., where I’m originally from. There are hundreds of such reports every year, but there are no indigenous, large cats in the U.K.
Perhaps they are nothing stranger than escapees from private zoos. But, again, should they be something for cryptozoologists to get all excited about? After all, there’s nothing weird or unusual about them, aside from where they are seen.
More than a few sightings of wallabies and kangaroos have been made in the wilds of the United States. As with Britain’s large, exotic cats, wallabies and kangaroos shouldn’t be loose in the U.S. Apparently, however, they are. I know many cryptozoologists who diligently study and catalog such cases. But should reports of wallabies be filed next to encounters with Bigfoot? I would suggest no, they shouldn’t.
Then there are “things” like Mothman – the red-eyed, winged humanoid of Point Pleasant, West Vriginia, which was made famous in the 2002 movie, The Mothman Prophecies. It may look a flying animal, but there are so many paranormal overtones to Mothman that I conclude it can only have supernatural origins.
I undertake a lot of investigations into unidentified animals that seem to be more occult-based than flesh and blood. And, in my opinion it is in this supernatural domain that Mothman lurks. So, if Cryptozoology is the study of unknown animals, should Mothman even have a place in its ranks? Nope.
For me, a cryptozoologist is – or should be – someone who strictly investigates unknown creatures, but not presumed extinct beasts, out of place animals (such as Britain’s big cats), or supernatural entities like Mothman. Now, I investigate all of these, which is why I prefer the term monster hunter, which is far more all-encompassing.
In conclusion, one of the chief reasons why I think Cryptozoology sometimes gets a bad rap is because what defines Cryptozoology is often as hazy as the beasts the cryptozoologists lump under the banner.
Nick Redfern is the author of many books, including Monster Files and Monster Diary.