The 21st century in cryptozoology began with promise of scientific investigation and attention. Available technology and dedicated researchers came together over the internet to share ideas and data. Their goal was to amass a body of evidence compelling to the scientific community and the greater public. They sought biological evidence and, as always, credibility and respect.
The decade in Bigfootery began with pondering over the Skookum cast (2000) but ended with the Big Guy a greater star in the commercial circles than the scientific ones. What happened to the rest of the cryptid critters? Did they find their place amidst scientific nomenclature? Or, did society simply reinvent them in a new form? I took a look at all the top stories in cryptozoology from the past 10 years to see what transpired. (Thanks to Loren Coleman for compiling these lists every year. I never miss it.) Here are my observations (along with undue commentary and speculation).
Alien big cats (ABCs) in the United Kingdom were on track to be exposed as genuine in 2002. With various interesting finds and plausible theories of origin, big cats were coming out into the light. Then, they seemed to shrink in size under a critical eye, fizzling in interest with no resolution, no consensus and no well-established explanations. Those kitties are stealthy.
Tantalizing stories that went no where included the Myakka ape photos (2000-2001) from Florida. Further details were never clarified about this very real-looking orangutan fellow. Was this a zoo photo? The case is cold.
The orang-pendek may have left hair and prints for intrepid explorers. But, the results were far from conclusive. Then, the ivory-billed woodpecker caused hope to surge (2005-2006) for cryptid-hunters and birdlovers everywhere. By the end of the decade, we were no closer to having confirmatory evidence that it lives on in the Arkansas swamps.
Lake monsters tanked
Lake monsters made big waves early in the 2000s. “A monster for every lake” (or pond) seemed to be the slogan for mystery seekers and tourists boards everywhere. It was obvious that many tales were exaggerated or fabricated to draw attention and visitor dollars. Other were better explained by more common swimming beasties like moose, deer and otters in a row. Those who imagined a bigger body mass just submerged beyond sight HATED the hypothesis that otters could be the cause of surface disturbance.
Nessie herself shunned the public eye prompting rumors she died. Regardless of the quality or scarecity of sightings, locals loved hosting their own monsters, taking advantage of marketing ploys, merchandise sales and logos making the subject appear like a cheap, hackneyed publicity stunts. At the turn of the decade, lake monsters have tanked.
Doglike creatures were rampaging all over the net this past 10 years.
The best new cryptid stories came from the wilds of Michigan and Wisconsin where a monstrous mix of Bigfoot + werewolf frightened the bejeezers out of locals. The manimal meme produced the debated mystery film of the decade, the Gable film (2007-2009). This unsourced, obviously staged film was an example of the explosion in coverage afforded to amateur videomakers via YouTube and similar public sharing sites. (See Video Nasties for more)
Even rather average domestic dogs looked weird to the public. A huge, blown-out-of-proportion blitz occurred over a so-called mutant in Maine. This straggly black critter caused concern to the locals and started a train load of undue speculation postmortem (2006). It’s a dog. Nothing left to see here. Moving on…
Canids with curious skin conditions caused a flurry in the southern US (2004). In a stunning morphing of cryptid characteristics, dark skinned, skinny, hairless canids became “El Chupacabras”. No longer was the chupa a bipedal alien-like goat stalker. He was robbed of his excellent supernatural other-worldliness! Now chupa was a coyote-sized, wrinkled, blue, umm…. coyote. These poor things made live and dead appearances in major media outlets. It was awful.
The most shocking part was how a common disease, sarcoptic mange, could make local fauna so unrecognizable. It occurred with some hairless bears as well. A bear with no hair looks remarkably weird. And ape-like. A Pennsylvania trail cam photo from 2007 received careful scrutiny. Even though other bears were all around, some observers refused to accept the obvious and chose the ridiculous explanation.
A similar phenomena could be seen in the plethora of internet monsters flying around the web in the 2000s. It was common for them to be designated with names reflecting their place of origin. The iconic internet monster was the Montauk Monster (2008) in New York. A sequel followed with the Cerro Azul beast (2009) from Panama. Both hairless and disturbing in appearance (bald was ‘in’ this past decade) these pathetic dead things were photographed prostrate and undignified but without the gore of death. This safe-for-work factor contributed to the widespread coverage from media posing the question “What is it?” It turned out both were common animals, a raccoon and sloth, respectively, in which we city folk were painfully unfamiliar. Though it took biologists minutes to determine what these bodies were in life, the public twittered links for weeks after tagged as “aliens”, “demons”, “mutants”. We do love some good monster mysteries. But the truth? Not so much.
It was the 40th anniversary of the Patterson-Gimlin film in 2007. With basically no definitive information yet come to light, it remains either one of the greatest pieces of nature footage or the greatest hoax ever. For decades, we have analyzed it perhaps as much as its resolution will allow. We’ve heard all the stories, retellings, documentaries and confessions. It’s hard to imagine what more could be said. Yet, it remains unresolved.
This past decade saw the arrival of many new videos of purported Sasquatches so contrived or blurry that they became laughable. Many more blobsquatches and fur-blurs were posted online for “consideration”. These are just more pointless games of Where’s Waldo and cases of paradolia. Move on, please. These waste our time. Trail cams for capturing cryptids were also a bust.
Monster Quest resurrects hope every season. I am utterly bored by it. This show is so generally unscientific, muddled together and repetitive. Bias overwhelms the premise of investigation. (“Science searches for answers” Really?) I can’t buy in anymore. I get the feeling they may abandon the Quest after 2010. But, who knows? (“HOLY &*%(!! What was that!?) Maybe they will get lucky.
Sasquatch, Yeti and Nessie became commercial stars once again. Nessie was revealed in all “her” glory in a Toyota ad and Sasquatch was punked by fools gnawing on beef jerky. As our beloved cryptids turn commercial, they become less biologically real. Those who attempt to seriously study them as zoological creatures appear more on the fringe. While gaining in cultural popularity, they lost scientific credibility, relegated (once again, one might say) to the realm of absurd characters in TV and movies.
The collection of Sasquatchiana and monster merchandise (“swag”) housed in the new International Cryptozoological Museum seems more akin to a Museum of American History than Natural History. There is no good evidence to examine. The first decade of 2000 produced disappointingly little to bolster the claim. We are relegated to examining simulacra of reality and artistic interpretations. It’s very cool, pop culturally, but it isn’t enough.
The wicked blow to cryptozoology this decade was the Georgia Bigfoot Hoax (2008). While many groups and individuals blatantly attempted to save face from the fallout, there was guilt by community association. The inept characters and circus of greed confirmed what the public mostly believes (rightly or wrongly) about the core of Bigfootery – that it’s a joke. The public will remember a costume in a freezer with possum guts.
New Species and Hope?
The biggest scientific discovery was prehistoric. (Or is it?) Homo floresiensis remains were found in Indonesia (2004-5). A scientific kerfuffle erupted because of access to and interpretation of the fossils. It appears that the find is really as marvelous as suspected – an authentic and interesting new species. It’s such a compelling find that we’re tempted to put living Flores man in contact with historical peoples (as in the Ebu Gogo legend). Flores man gave hope to cryptozoology like nothing else. But, the time gap between the populations remains too large.
As usual, cryptozoologists hung their hat on the plethora of new species and entire new collections of species found in unexplored places. The fact that MANY new species are found every year actually goes against the idea that larger, more charismatic cryptids will be found. The world is ever more explored and revealed. Rare and tiny creatures are discoverable. It’s the 21st century and no living hairy hominids or lake denizens have been documented. The odds rise that they are just not there to find.
Just as crypto-enthusiasts have taken to the web to share sightings and speculation, news stories, research ideas, photos and videos, the skeptical community has built up the same grassroots networks to critique. Cryptozoologists do not have a formal peer review process in place and no journal in which to publish. Instead of being open with evidence and ideas, there is the habit of retreating into closed communities where unwelcome comments are edited or deleted. No unprejudiced, trusted outlet for news and information exists. This current condition is detrimental to the field and is contributing to the dip in credibility. However, new voices are encouraging in their carefulness and enthusiasm, including the skeptical voices who are just as enthusiastic about monsters as the believers.
All in all, lots of fun, frivolity and frustration are evident these past 10 years. Interest remains high among proponents, skeptics and the public. It’s the substance that is elusive. It does not help that mystery proponents will disregard reasonable explanations with a wave of the hand. Will the next ten years provide substance? Or, is cryptozoology on track to submerge into depths of the paranormal? What do you think?
Comments on this topic are welcome.
UPDATE: I changed “swag” in reference to the ICM paragraph to “merchandise” because swag suggests something you get for free. I also fixed the spelling of “simulacra” because pedantic commentators like to point out such things (and miss the forest, so to speak).
UPDATE2: Hmm. Someone wise in the ways told me “swag is swag” and also said more that I won’t print here but it was really funny. “Swag” is back.
Here is my reply to Loren Coleman’s temper tantrum on Cryptomundo. The link I provided to it was disallowed for posting. See the bottom of the referenced reply for more.