Monday, 24 December 2018


Dear friends,

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.

  • Publishing

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/SKU:9781909488557
  • ISBN Complete:9781909488557
  • Publication Date: 9/21/2018
  • On Sale Date: 9/24/2018
  • 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 Ireland 2010).
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 accounts.
 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 others...

  • Curious Countries: The Mystery Animals of Scandinavia and the Baltic States by Lars Thomas 
  • ISBN/SKU:9781909488571
  • ISBN Complete:9781909488571
  • Publication Date: 10/22/2018
  • On Sale Date: 10/22/2018
  • 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/SKU:9781909488564
  • ISBN Complete:9781909488564
  • Publication Date: 10/7/2018
  • On Sale Date: 10/7/2018
  • 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 up.
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.

  • Events

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 happenings
14:00 Steve Mera - UFO portals and their connection to the paranormal
16:00 Weird Weekend North Quiz
17:00 Bob Fischer – TBA

  • Expedition

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 you described?
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 relations? 
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 (, have 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) in 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.

  • Those we have lost

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 much indeed.

  • Study groups

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 blog.

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.

In conclusion

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,

Jon Downes,
Director, Centre for Fortean Zoology.

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