2019 Annual Report of the Centre for Fortean Zoology.
It is quite a humbling thought that this is the twenty
fourth time I have sat down to write my annual report for the Centre for
Fortean Zoology. An awful lot has changed over the years, and I must admit that
back when I wrote my first annual report, sitting up in bed, upstairs in my
little house in Exeter, recovering from a heavy cold, I had no idea that nearly
a quarter of a century later I would be sitting down in what was then my parents’
house in North Devon, doing exactly the same thing.
This has been a peculiar year, even by CFZ standards, and
can probably be – if I may be forgiven for sounding like a quintessential
football manager from the 1970s – judged as ‘a game of two halves’, the second
of which – beginning from the third week in July – has been dominated by the
fact that my darling wife Corinna, who is also the administrator for the Centre
for Fortean Zoology, has been seriously ill, which means that most of her CFZ
activities have sadly had to have been curtailed.
She is better than she was, but we will be awaiting the results
of more tests at the end of February before we have any big idea of what the
diagnosis, and therefore the prognosis, is.
However, the year began in a very brisk and business-like
manner, as our old friend and colleague, Carl Marshall, began a series of
visits down to the CFZ, here in Devonshire
While the CFZ trees were still dormant for winter, Carl carried out a long
series of pruning operations, designed to make the CFZ grounds not only more
neat and tidy, but to allow more sunlight in than there has been in recent
years. The garden was originally designed by my father and grandmother for
long, hot summers, and cold, dry winters. However, as anybody who has lived in
the United Kingdom
and especially the Westcountry, in recent years will know that these conditions
are largely something of the past. We have not been immune to the problem of
global climate change here, and both the house and the grounds have suffered
considerably from the almost incessant rain. Even on times when other parts of
the Westcountry are having relatively mild weather, the fact that Hartland
Point, a peninsula at the base of which the CFZ is situated, sticks out into
the Bristol channel
, and – as a result – our
weather patterns have always been more violent than those found in the rest of
the county. It is like a little ‘micro county’, similar – I believe – to The
Burren, in Ireland
although our micro-biotope is not quite so interesting.
Carl, Graham and I have, therefore, been re-designing the
CFZ grounds to make them more suitable for wet weather, and so as well as the
much needed work on the trees, Carl has been straightening paths, introducing
plants that thrive in soggy conditions, and re-landscaping the pond, something
which took an enormous number of stones, and which is not finished yet as we
are still hoping to scavenge some more stones from one of the building
activities taking place elsewhere in the village.
Graham and Carl have also carried out some much needed
repair work to the museum building, which will – in the fullness of time – not
only become a museum again but be curated by Carl, who learned his craft
working for many years at Stratford Butterfly Farm.
After a couple of years in the relative doldrums, the
publishing schedule for CFZ Press and its sister imprints has started anew.
This year, we published three titles:
- The Seal Serpent by Rob Cornes and Gary Cunningham
- ISBN Complete:9781909488557
- Publication Date: 9/21/2018
- On Sale
- Page Count:370
- Spine Width: 0.76600 in
The Seal Serpent is a critical reappraisal of the theory
that a pinniped (seal, sea lion, fur seal, walrus) could have evolved a long
neck becoming the source of numerous tales of sea serpents or lake monsters
from around the world; a mammalian equivalent of the plesiosaur.
The theory which has been around for over a hundred years is
given a fresh perspective by Rob Cornes (The Surreal Seal Campaign, CFZ
yearbook 2007) and Gary Cunningham (co-author of The Mystery Animals of
The authors evaluate the evidence for such an animal and
build a speculative framework for its existence. They uncover previously
unpublished reports which may strengthen the theory but also uncover a number
of innacuracies and alternative explanations which may explain other historic
From the bunyip of Australia
to the beachwalker and skrimsl of Iceland, the fabled horse eels of
Connemara to Pal Rai Yuk in Alaska
the authors undertake a global investigation.
Along the way they stumble upon an unexpected, previously
unexplored but potentially game changing (or new paradigm) possibility to
explain some lake monster identities; a unique possibility which should
intitate a review of witness reports from Loch Ness and Ireland, among
- Curious Countries: The Mystery Animals of Scandinavia and the Baltic States by Lars Thomas
- ISBN Complete:9781909488571
- Publication Date: 10/22/2018
- On Sale
- Anniversary Date:
- Page Count:256
Have you ever wondered what lurks out there in the deep,
dark woods of the North? This book presents a choice selection of monstrous
beings and fabulous creatures from Greenland, across the North Atlantic to
Scandinavia, and the Baltic States. Meet the
Giant Gull of Greenland, the terrifying Skrimsl of the Icelandic wilderness,
the trolls that stomp through the impenetrable Nordic woods, and the
puk-dragons guarding the houses on the Baltic Coast.
This is the book where zoologist Lars Thomas tries to make sense of all the
very strange beings that live in these Curious Countries.
- Zen and Xenophobia:
What happened after The Song of Panne by Jonathan Downes
- ISBN Complete:9781909488564
- Publication Date: 10/7/2018
- On Sale
- Anniversary Date:
- Page Count:262
Three years ago, I wrote a book called The Song of Panne,
which told the story of how my dear, long suffering wife Corinna and I ended up
having a hairy humanoid forest Godling (to steal Kipling's nomenclature) living
in the airing cupboard in what used to be my father's dressing room. You can
take it as fiction if you like, or you can believe every word I say. Believe it
or not, it truly doesn't matter to me one way or another. This book continues
the story roughly from where it left off, although the vast majority of it
tells the story of a few days in the Autumn of 2015, and explains some of the
things left hanging in the first book. I would like to think that you can read
this book as a standalone volume, although - as an impecunious author with
wife, family, animals and forest Godling to support - I could always do with
the cash if you would like to buy the previous book.
Although some of the characters in the book are real
(whatever that means), in order to protect my kneecaps, it is probably better
if you assume that everybody here except for me and Corinna is completely made
I would warn you that if you are of a nervous disposition,
or easily offended, you will find parts of this book both offensive and
upsetting. There is sex, violence, drug abuse, occultism, pornography,
firearms, politics, religion, and not a little sociology. But there is also
love, kindness, faith, and redemption.
Unfortunately, in these peculiarly decadent days, people are
no longer happy to pay money for things like magazines and music, which they
feel is their right to get for free, over the internet. This is why,
some years ago, we started putting out Animals & Men for free.
However, we accompanied it with hard copy volumes in paperback, which were for
sale for those who wanted them. Unfortunately, the manufacturing costs of said
magazines are high enough, and sales figures low enough, to make the
continuation of this economically unviable. But, however, we are totally
against the idea of making Animals & Men a purely digital
publication, and so, although we haven’t worked out the details just yet, we
intend to start issuing the magazines from after issue 57 as omnibus volumes of
about three hundred pages.
I have also had people write to me about two other CFZ
publications, which do, I will admit, appear to have lapsed recently. These
are, of course, the CFZ Annual Yearbook, and the Journal of
Cryptozoology. Dealing with the latter first, there will be another issue
once enough submissions have been received. It is sad that, although for many
years people have been complaining that there is no peer-reviewed journal
dealing with cryptozoological matters, when somebody goes to the effort and
expense of publishing one, far less submissions are received than one would
have otherwise thought. Sadly, much of the same can be said about the CFZ
yearbook, because it seems that people are much happier to write things on
social media, where there is instant gratification, than they are to write
things for print media. Again, many apologies for the bellyaching, but future
issues of both publications will not arrive until we have enough submissions.
In April, Glen Vaudrey promoted the third Weird Weekend
North. Tickets for the fourth event are already on sale.
The provisional running order for Weird Weekend North 2019
10:45 Rob Gandy -Ruskington Horror
12:00 Nathan Jackson - BHMs: The World Over
14:00 Carl Marshall - British Big Cats
15:15 Christopher Josiffe - Gef! The Strange Tale of an
Extra-Special Talking Mongoose
16:30 Glen Vaudrey - The Risley Silverman mystery, alien
encounter or something else
18:30 James Newton - Dogmen
19:45 Richard Freeman – The Hunting of the Gul: Tracking
hominids in Tajikistan.
11:00 Andy Ross – The Durham Puma
12:00 Steve Jones - Ghosts I have met; Steve Jones weirdest
14:00 Steve Mera - UFO portals and their connection to the
16:00 Weird Weekend North Quiz
17:00 Bob Fischer – TBA
This year’s expedition took place in July, when Richard
Freeman, Dr Chris Clark and Dave Archer went to the former Soviet Central Asian
republic of Tajikistan. They were in search of contemporary accounts of an
alleged man-beast, known locally as the Dev or the Gul (the origin of the
English word ‘ghoul’). They had originally assumed that it would be a local
manifestation of the almas or almasty, which have been reported all the way
across Central Asia, from the Caucasus (actually in Europe) in the West, to
Mongolia in the East. However, they found that, much to their surprise, the
creatures described to them were significantly different to the animals that
had been described to them during their two expeditions to Kabardino-Balkaria
in 2008 and 2017. Richard Freeman writes:
“Before I visited Tajikistan I thought the creature would be
the same species as the almasty of Russia. However, the two seem different. The
almasty could, according to witnesses, reach seven and a half feet tall. The gul
was more like a man in height, if far broader across the shoulders. More
tellingly is the strange structure of the hand. All the witnesses stress that
the thumbs were further back on the hand than a human thumb. If you were going
to make up a story about seeing a monster, would the thumbs be the first thing
The hands of fossil hominins, such as Homo erectus or Homo habils,
seem more like modern man in structure. Even the more primitive
australopithecines had a hand structure more man-like than ape-like.
The shape of the hands of the gul, as described by
witnesses, looked more like those of a chimpanzee or those of Ardipithecus ramidus, a 4.4 million year
old hominin, that was twice as ancient as
Homo habilis. Does this mean that the gul is a descendent of Ardipithecus ramidus, or one of its
Possibly, but not necessarily: the strange hand shape may be
a relatively recent development, perhaps an adaptation to climbing, but all of
this is just speculation. Only a specimen will answer these riddles once and
for all. It seems that the gul may be a whole new chapter in hominology.”
Perhaps most interestingly of all, were the reports that
they received of recent sightings of what appear to be Caspian tigers. The
Caspian tiger, which has recently been re-classified as being contiguous with
the Siberian tiger, although it was intermediate in size between that enormous
subspecies and the more well known Bengal tiger, was allegedly hunted to
extinction in the second half of the twentieth century.
Here, we should point out that the latest studies, according
to Carlos A. Driscoll, Nobuyuki Yamaguchi, Gila Kahila
Bar-Gal, Alfred L. Roca, Shujin Luo, David W. Macdonald and
Stephen J. O'Brien in their paper, Mitochondrial
Phylogeography Illuminates the Origin of the Extinct Caspian Tiger and Its
Relationship to the Amur Tiger
suggested that the two ‘subspecies’ only diverged about two hundred years ago.
The most recent thinking goes even further, and reclassifies
all of the tiger subspecies, putting all six of the mainland Asian subspecies
into one: the Mainland Asian tiger (Panthera
tigris tigris) and the three island subspecies, two of which are probably
extinct, being reclassified to the Sunda Island tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica).
The taxonomy of all cat species seem to be in a permanent
state of flux, and so I think that it would be unwise to write off all these
previously known subspecies just yet. One thing that we found particularly
disturbing, is that on his return to the UK, Richard sent details of these
sightings of the Caspian tiger to various conservation organisations which deal
with tigers, and of all the letters he sent out, only one sent an answer and they
were not the slightest bit interested. I found something similar in 2017, when
Richard came back from Karbadino-Balkaria with a number of new records of the
striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena
areas from which they had supposedly been extirpated. Again, despite several
emails, we received no reply, even from scientists who are – allegedly –
specialising in this particular species. It is occurrences like this that –
sadly – characterise the relationship between some mainstream scientists and
the discipline of cryptozoology.
HEATHER MATTHEWS was one of the finest ladies whom I have ever had the
privilege to know. She is best known to Weird Weekend visitors over the years
as being the mother of British mystery cat researcher, Marcus Matthews, and her
enthusiasm and continual good humour endeared her to a long line of people who
attended the Weird Weekend between 2006 and 2016. Widowed at an unhappily early
age, she not only ran her little farm in Wiltshire but brought up and looked
after her son, who had a specific set of medical needs. I shall miss her very
As regular CFZ watchers will know, we have been working on a
whole series of specialist ‘Study Groups’ for many years now. I am not going to
pretend that it is an original idea; most of my ideas aren’t. It is something
which I got from the Amateur Entomologist Society [AES], who have had
specialist study groups for decades, most notably the Phasmid Study Group,
amongst several others. We started the BHM Study Group under the aegis of Paul
Vella at the beginning of the century, and the Big Cat Study group soon after,
but as you know, Paul had a long lingering illness (which eventually killed
him), and thus had less and less time to devote to his cryptozoological interests.
The Big Cat Study group was shuffled from pillar to post
until Carl Marshall and Olivia McCarthy took over the reins earlier this year,
with magnificent results.
Most importantly, they make sure that every logged UK big
cat sighting is critiqued, and the resulting article posted on the Big Cat
We recently decided that it is time for the third one. And
the logical focus for this third study group is ‘Lake Monsters’, although – of
course – this will also cover anomalous creature reports from other bodies of
fresh water, such as canals and rivers.
And who is to be in charge?
I would like to introduce you all to a very old friend of
mine, who was a CFZ member right from the beginning.
Indeed, I met her at the first Fortean Times convention,
back in 1994. Her name is Sally Watts, and I am certain that she will run the
Lake Monster Study Group with good humour, flair and aplomb, because that is
basically how she does everything she sets her mind to.
I would like to say a big thank you to those who have helped
me so much this year, particularly since Corinna first went to hospital back in
July. In particular, the Phillipson family, Graham, Carl, Olivia and out new
housekeeper Sarah, but for whom I would not have managed to make it through to
the other side (ish). Corinna is still seriously ill, and unable to work as
much as usual, so, as we enter 2019, I would like to warn everyone that the CFZ
is still operating on an “emergency footing” with some of the things we need to
do remaining undone until events stabilise.
But we would like to extend our congratulations and moral
support to the eco and climate activists around the world, especially
Extinction Rebellion, This is Zero Hour, Greta Thunberg and Bella Lack. They
are achieving remarkable results, and we have done our best to help them by
providing journalistic sup[port in our periodicals and in the 12 monthly
episodes of On the Track (of Unknown Animals).
And before I go, I would like to extend my best wishes for
the Holiday Season, and for a peaceful and productive 2019.
Love and Peace,
Director, Centre for Fortean Zoology.