Monthly Archives: August 2013

#25 – Mystery Bears

MUSEUMS! Museums are fucking great, particularly if they’re full of dead stuff in boxes. That’s just a fact, and if you don’t agree, you’re probably a big stupid thickie who fills his big stupid life with open-mouthed gawping at page 3 while beating his chest with his big stupid gammon-hands. You ought to be ashamed of yourself but you’re probably too stupid to read this blog anyway. Go away, you big thick idiot.

NERD BONER ALERT.

NERD BONER ALERT.

Lots of museums have dead stuff in boxes, because behind closed doors they do all sorts of museumy things like research and… science. I’m pretty sure they do lots of science, and if they have a natural history angle, they go looking in to the details of all the weird shit that’s lived and is living on this shiny blue marble of ours. Quite often such collections are amassed over decades, and the amount of stuff on display often pales into insignificance when compared to the mountain of crap that’s packed away in crates behind closed doors, accumulating dust and waiting to be catalogued. When museums have lots of dead things on display, this mountain often includes countless pelts and bones and samples from all over the world. It’s a certain bet that there are dead specimens of anything from dozens to hundreds of unrecognised species just sitting in storage around the globe, and all it takes is the right person looking in the right place to find one:

Satan weasel is watching you.

Satan weasel is watching you.

Meet the olinguito, a charming little bastard that’s just become the first new carnivore from the Western hemisphere to be recognised by science for 35 years. It’s taken ten years to properly identify it as a new species and we wouldn’t have known to look for it at all, had the bits of one not first been found in a box in the storage area of a Chicago museum.

Naturally though, tiny little tree raccoons aren’t quite on the scale of some of the thundering fuck-titans that cryptozoologists cross their fingers and hope to exist every night when they’re knelt by their beds and praying to Bigfoot. We hope for something a bit grander tucked away in our museum broom cupboards and may well have received it years ago in the shape of Macfarlane’s Bear:

Not that Macfarlane's bear, you fucking idiot.

Not that Macfarlane’s Bear, you fucking idiot.

The story dates all the way back to 1864 in Canada’s Northwest Territories, when two Inuit hunters shot and killed an abnormally huge yellow-furred bear. Its skull and skin were obtained by the naturalist Robert Macfarlane, who promptly shipped them off to the Smithsonian Institution. Who then forgot all about it, leaving it in storage for decades. Nice one, science.

Dr C. Hart Merriam stumbled upon the remains in the early part of the following century and was surprised to note that to him at least, the skull and teeth more closely resembled a prehistoric species than any living species of bear. He named it Ursus Inopinatus, the “unexpected bear”, which makes it sound more like an awkward extra dinner guest than a ten-foot death machine that could cleave your face clean off.

Theories about Macfarlane’s Bear suggest several cool ideas, including a mutant grizzly, a grizzly/polar bear hybrid and some sort of surviving satan-teddy that should’ve gone extinct in the Pleistocene era. Grizzlies and polar bears have produced hybrids in captivity (these are often called pizzly bears – I assume behind their backs) and one wild specimen was shot and killed by a hunter on Banks Island in 2006.

As yet, nobody has properly compared the Macfarlane skull with one of a known hybrid, and the exact origin of the giant yellow bear is still far from certain. Tales of enormous piss-coloured bears are still occasionally reported by Inuits in the region, but the one specimen is so far all we’ve got, and it remains an unproven cryptid.

On the other side of the Pacific but equally far north, another mystery bear is said to dwell on the Kamchatka Peninsula, best described as that tagnutty bit stubbornly hanging on to the anal hair of mainland Russia:

"Sergei! We must install bidet!"

“Sergei! We must install bidet!”

The ‘God Bear’ has featured in Russian folk stories for centuries, but it wasn’t until 1920 that some possible evidence of its actual existence came to light. In that year, Swedish zoologist Sten Bergman examined the skin of a giant black-furred variety of the indigenous Kamchatkan brown bear. As a clever little herdie-gerder who’d been studying the peninsula’s wildlife for the best part of two years he knew what the local bears were supposed to look like, and he described the pelt as “far surpassing” in size any bearskin he’d ever seen before. On top of that, the black pelt was shorthaired, while typical Kamchatkan bears have long coats. Writing in a paper in 1936 he also described an enormous pawprint nearly fifteen inches by ten feet across and a report of an equally shit-the-bed massive skull. No specimens or evidence have been collected since that 1936 paper, leading to speculation that the unknown giant may now be extinct.

Of course, this being secretive Russia, large parts of the peninsula have long been off limits for military reasons, and anecdotal accounts of enormous black bear sightings are still said to be reported. Quite why the military need to cordon off a secret titan-bear playground I’ve no idea – being Russia, they’re probably training them to dance on the embers of burning homosexuals or something equally terrifying.

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#24 – The Kappa

As a general rule of thumb, if you are a small child frolicking in the local waterways without adult supervision, there’s a good chance that you’re going to die. Rivers, reservoirs and lakes have all kinds of hidden snags and currents and hypothermia-inducing temperatures that make them thoroughly unsafe places to dick about in, and every year all over the world they claim the lives of hundreds of unprepared swimmers that either weren’t old or smart enough to take those risks into account.

Not the most hilarious start to a humorous blog, I’ll admit. Tell you what – let’s lighten it up a bit with some proper comedy:

Actually, this is far worse than any number of dead kids.

Actually, this picture is far worse than any number of dead kids.

The reason I bring it up (the dead kids, I mean, not Rob Schneider’s nipple – I have no excuse for that) is that when it comes to monsters and cryptids, often the psychology behind the folklore is just as interesting as the potential existence of some weird new animal. It’s a common theory that a lot of the lake monsters and water imps from local legends all over the world are actually a psychological hangover from hundreds of years of concerned parents trying to get their dickhat kids to stop jumping into dangerous rivers. Stories of murk-lurking beasties grabbing at ankles from the riverbed form a sort of ‘don’t do that, you daft cunt’ warning from the days before those rubbish ‘no bombing’ signs by the side of the pool. Back in the halcyon years when children’s entertainment involved going outside rather than sitting on their pimply arses and trying to invent new racial slurs for Mexicans on Xbox Live, the best way to get your little bastards to behave themselves was to scare the living shit out of them – the Kappa is the Japanese method, a much-reported water monster the tales of which have been terrifying children out of the streams and ponds in that part of the world for centuries.

Pokemon were a lot weirder in the 17th century.

Pokemon were a lot weirder in the 17th century.

The Kappa is a truly intrinsic part of the Japanese national identity, and even has its own idiom; “a kappa drowning in a river” is often used as a way of suggesting that even experts make mistakes. They’ve been blamed for all sorts of horrible crap over the years, from the drowning of children through to rape and the eating of livers and – I shit you not – the killing of victims in order to steal their shirikodama, a mythical ball that contains a person’s soul. A mythical ball that contains a person’s soul that is apparently located in your anus.

Or at least, that's what his Craigslist advert claimed.

Or at least, that’s what his Craigslist advert claimed.

At the less sinister end, they’re also said to peek up kimonos and fart loudly whenever people pass, just because hey – if you’re going to be an anus-rummaging turtle rapist, you’ve got to know how to have a good time. They’re seen as trickster spirits, and to this day a lot of Japan’s open stretches of water are signposted with warnings of potential Kappa attack rather than the sane option of “YOU MIGHT FUCKING DROWN HERE” that the rest of the world has opted for.

Obviously, should the Kappa turn out to be a real animal, you can pretty much guarantee that they don’t really fart intentionally, rape women, or speak Japanese like the mythology suggests. It’s even claimed that they’re experts in medicine, and that friendly Kappa taught the early Japanese the art of setting broken bones – presumably as an apology for all the pelvises they shattered in their frantic search for magical arse-balls.

Of course, it’s been the case for pretty much all of humanity’s time on Earth that we’ve applied bullshit magical powers to a lot of the animals we’ve encountered. Gods and monsters often have a factual basis in the animal kingdom, and the Kappa could be no different. They’re said to swim like fish but have distinct arms and legs ending in webbed hands, walking bipedally on land when they venture on to it. They also have a distinct plate on their head and monkey-like faces, sometimes with a beaked mouth and odd manes of hair, and are said to be the size of a small child. In my search for another picture to show you, I found this one, and don’t ask because I haven’t got a fucking clue what’s supposed to be going on here either:

That's one hell of a shirikotama he has there.

That’s one hell of a shirikodama he has there.

I’ve included the Kappa here because they don’t seem to be content with being confined to mythology, and contemporary accounts of real-life encounters with them still happen every now and then. In 1978 two construction workers named Makoto Ito and Toshio Hashimoto were fishing off a stone seawall in Yokosuka when a Kappa popped its head above water and looked around – Ito later described it as “not a fish, an animal or a man. It was about three feet in height and covered in scaly skin like a reptile. It had a face and two yellow eyes that seemed to be focused on us”.

From the sound of it, the two of them were lucky to get away with their tackle intact.

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#23 – Mokele-Mbembe

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Africa gets all the cool stuff. Well, except maybe all the famine. And the rampant AIDS. And apartheid. And the child soldiers, and the violent civil wars, and the botflies and… still, they have cool monster stories. Swings and roundabouts and all that. I mean sure, my biggest irritant living in England is the fact that none of the idiots that live near me know how to use a communal fucking bin, but I also don’t get awesome cryptids. The best we’ve had in Manchester were the bipedal rats that United Utilities pretended were living in the sewers, in a bizarre attempt to get us to think about maybe not flushing away our tampons:

That was a genuine April Fools from 2011. Because apparently, the best way to get the message across that we should be putting our cotton buds in the bin is the threat of a sentient man-rat that might scamper up the U-bend and bite us on the labia. I don’t know who dreamt up the concept, but I want to shake that bastard’s hand. Anyway, back to Africa and its awesome monsters.

I’ve already written about the Emela-Ntouka, the horny swamp-rhino that guts elephants in the Likouala region of the Congo River basin. As a beastie it’s pretty badass in isolation, but it’s not even the biggest cryptid reported in that area. That honour goes to the Mokele-Mbembe, which translates into ‘one who stops the flow of rivers’:

The Land Before Time 15 was less cutesy, and much more bushmeat-oriented.

The Land Before Time 15 was less cutesy and much more bushmeat-oriented.

Despite how absurd and fantastical they might self-evidently seem to be, stories of surviving dinosaurs have been reported from the jungles of central Africa for hundreds of years. The first printed record of clawed prints in the jungle three feet across dates back to French missionary Abbé Bonaventure’s expedition records from 1776, and the folklore among locals goes even further back than that. A German expedition in the Congo in 1913 reportedly met a band of pygmies that gave Western civilisation its first proper description of the Mokele-Mbembe – a creature the size of a small elephant with a long, flexible neck and a tail like that of an alligator. The pygmies of Likouala to this day are even specific about the creature’s diet, insisting it essentially lives off two particular types of plant. Because hey, when you’ve apparently survived millions of years and the extinction of all your brethren, you’ve earned the right to be a fussy eater.

It’s hard to imagine a bigger and more unbelievable national headline than HOLY SHIT DINOSAURS STILL EXIST, beyond perhaps “Snooki receives string theory research grant”. Rather understandably, the Mokele-Mbembe rumours have spawned dozens of expeditions chasing the story and the resulting dollar, and some of the eyewitness accounts to come out of them are downright awesome-sauce with a side of… erm… wonder-chips?

"YOU WILL WAIT UNTIL I'M DONE WITH THE LOOFAH!"

“YOU WILL WAIT UNTIL I’M DONE WITH THE LOOFAH!”

According to the lore, the Mokele-Mbembe is not content with the inherent badassery of being a living fucking dinosaur. It also apparently hates hippopotamuses hippopotami hippopopopatamuses…. hippos, killing any and all that have the nerve to swagger into its territory. Cryptozoologist Roy Mackal looked into the idea, and found that for no good reason at all, hippos are curiously absent from the Lake Tele and Likuoala regions that spawn the most sauropod sightings. If I saw enough of my friends’ brains smashed in by a giant pissed-off Littlefoot, I imagine I’d want to move on as well.

FEAR US.

Who’s hungry hungry now, bitch?

Mackal also heard a story from Pascal Moteka, a villager who lived near Lake Tele itself. He insisted that at some point in the past his people had dammed a river with wooden stakes to snare one of the beasts, and after they’d killed it with spears had butchered and eaten the carcass. That turned out to be a bad idea, because everyone who’d apparently chowed down on dino-steak died not long afterwards. Perhaps of chronic diarrhoea? Because… wait for it… that’s what I’d call a Bronto-sore-arse.

Oh fuck the lot of you.

Oh, fuck the lot of you.

The Mokele-Mbembe continues to inspire monster hunters to this day, with the most recent failed expedition even being funded through Kickstarter (an infinitely better use for the service than Zach Braff’s latest ego-wank, by the way). Filmed from a small aircraft in 1992, one of the most popular pieces of video ‘evidence’ comes from Lake Tele and seems to show something moving across the surface before submerging:

As always, the video’s hardly conclusive, but its analysis has also yielded conflicting results. A crocodile wouldn’t produce the same protrusions above the water and an elephant wouldn’t submerge the way the object does. Critics have argued that the best visual match is two men paddling a canoe, but that doesn’t account for the speed of the object. As a criticism it also ignores the fact that most indigenous villagers don’t have canoes that also double as submarines. That’d be fucking cool, but I imagine pressurised submersibles are pretty hard to build out of wood and twine. Unless this guy’s behind the whole thing:

IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW.

IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW.

Whatever the truth behind the Mokele-Mbembe story, as acclaimed zoologist Karl Shuker notes, ‘if there’s one place in the world where dinosaurs could still exist, it’d be the Likouala region’. Or not, because y’know… it’s fucking dinosaurs we’re talking about. Still, there could easily be something big out there still waiting to be discovered, and the possibilities are pretty awesome.

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#22 – The Jersey Devil

Births! Wonderful, wonderful births. Here in England, we love a good birth. IT’S THE FUTURE KING! Hooray! Awh, look at his disgusting regal placenta. Better yet, put a crown on the fucking thing – it’ll probably dress like a Nazi and say horrible things about Indians less often than the actual royals.

Of course, not all births are overblown pomp-parades that sparkle and twinkle and give saluting Daily Mail readers the kind of throbbing pride-enthused stonk-on that an appalled nun couldn’t beat down with a length of rubber hosepipe. Some are horrifying paranormal ordeals where our future demon overlords tear their snarling way into this world through a ragged mess of gore and tissue.

What? I stopped talking about this guy ages ago.

What? I stopped talking about this guy ages ago.

Ahem. I’m talking about a birth that legend states took place in the pine barrens of southern New Jersey sometime around 1735. Mother Leeds was pregnant with her 13th child, and by this point presumably had a vagina you could reverse a transit van into without ever getting the panelling wet. She claimed her child would be born a demon and sure enough, the baby came into the world a horrifying monster. With a horselike head, bat wings, a forked tail and cloven hooves, the Jersey Devil was a snarling freak that promptly killed the midwife and escaped up the chimney of the house. Because demons are dicks that are born with a few more life skills than the rest of us.

Of course, an obscure and self-evidently daft bit of colonial folklore wouldn’t be of much interest to cryptozoologists without some possibility of linking it to some weird animal encounters. Because of the entrenched nature of the Devil myth, New Jersey goes mad for such sightings, and the name ‘Jersey Devil’ has become an umbrella term for any and all unexplainable animal encounters throughout the state. Their National Hockey League team is even named in its honour:

aa

With a logo that looks like a mermaid spanner with a bent cock, apparently.

The Devil has been reported in the area around the Pine Barrens for centuries, but the most significant demonic kerfuffle happened over five days in January 1909. Over a hundred people across southern New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania reported encountering the creature, which often shrieked horribly as it flew overhead harassing the crap out of people. Dogs were attacked and the local fire department in West Collingswood even tried to spray it out of the sky with their hoses, to no avail. The hysteria was very real and widespread, meaning that if the sightings were a hoax, it was one being perpetrated on a grand scale against a lot of people who ended up genuinely shit-your-kecks frightened as a result. All because of a monster that looked like a goth giraffe on a meth binge:

aaaHoaxes did take place, of course. Two guys even profiteered off the whole debacle by charging people to come and look at the ‘devil’ they’d killed, when in fact they’d stuck fake antlers and a few feathers on a taxidermy kangaroo they’d painted green. Less easy to explain were the strange hoofprints in the snow that often appeared after a sighting. In some cases they went on for miles and seemed to not give a fire-and-brimstone fuck about the laws of physics, carrying on without pause under fences, over high walls and up on to the roofs of houses. The hysteria of 1909 was only made worse by reports that bloodhounds in Hammonton became terrified and refused to follow the trail when they were brought in to track the beast. Devilmania was in full swing, and schools and mills closed as frightened residents sought to avoid any possible encounter with the terrifying sky-llama from hell.

More modern sightings lump all kinds of weird animals under the ‘Devil’ moniker. In a more recent one from 1993, a park ranger named John Irwin claimed to have encountered a six-foot biped with a deerlike head and glowing red eyes in the New Jersey forest. Just a few months ago, a picture claiming to be of the Devil perched on a fence created a buzz on the internet, but turned out to be nothing more than a photo of a bald squirrel that had actually been taken miles away in Oklahoma:

Proof that nature can make anything terrifying with a little bit of alopecia.

Now he gathers nuts and looks like a scrotum.

A more traditional Devil sighting occurred in 2004, when a mother and son gathering in their Christmas lights fled into their house when the Devil started harassing them. The tracks it left on their roof were not only unidentifiable to experts, but were generally agreed to be in a position that would have been nigh-on impossible to fake without leaving other telltale signs in the snow.

Despite all sorts of failed efforts to trap, identify and debunk the Jersey Devil myth, it remains one of the most famous and enduring cryptids in American folklore. Cryptid-hunters Loren Coleman and Ivan T. Sanderson have put forward the theory that the 1909 hysteria was in fact an elaborate real estate hoax, designed to freak the crap out of local residents to the point of selling up on the cheap. Sanderson even claimed to have found the fake feet used to make the tracks in the snow. If the two of them were right, then the Jersey Devil is an urban legend sparked by the antics of a real life Scooby-Doo style evil mastermind. And if there’s one sort of prick in the world evil enough to pull off such a plan, of course it’d be a fucking estate agent.

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