The word meaning of cryptozoology is the study of unknown animals. Such animals are also called cryptids. These animal populations are only suspected to exist. However, they would be declared as a new species in case they are discovered. It can also be that the species can be declared extinct.
Cryptozoology includes searching for living members of animals that are considered extinct like the dinosaurs, mythical and legendary animals such as Bigfoot and Chupacbra, and other animals that are disproportionately sized.
The coining of the term ‘cryptids’ is credited to John Wall.
What is Cryptozoology
Cryptozoology is also termed a pseudoscience as the findings rely heavily on anecdotes, alleged encounters, and stories.
Cryptozoology is scientific and intended to provide a measurable result from the natural world. It is also a methodological science, meaning it uses techniques as used in zoology and anthropology with a specific goal. It is intended for zoological discovery of a species through site surveys, random trapping, etc., and for further study and scientific confirmation. This science targets ethno known species: that is, they possess distinct features that are characterized as hitherto unknown by and chanced to be by witnesses or a group of native people.
Cryptozoologists are scientists qualified in the subject. They frequently interact with other sciences such as archaeology and paleontology. Cryptozoology is based upon data that can be verified and hypotheses formed. Just like in any other science, this branch also relies on statistics for its findings.
Proponents of Cryptozoology
Cryptozoological methods have been in vogue for a long period of time. The term was coined by Bernard Heuvelmans, a Belgian French zoologist. He himself attributed the term’s usage to an adventurer called Ivan Sanderson. In a book that he wrote in 1955, he traces the origin of the science to a study called “Giant Sea Serpent‘ by Anthonie Cornelis Oudemans. His argument favoring cryptozoology was that folktales may have small amounts of truth about yet-to-be-discovered beings and organisms in spite of having elements of fantasy. The example of phantom cats, or cats that live outside of their normal range were subjects of cryptozoological interest than other completely fantastical cryptids such as Mothman.
‘Exotic Zoology’ is a book by Willy Ley which can be of interest to cryptozoologists. In this book that he wrote in 1959, he speaks of the possibility of the actual existence of many legendary animals such as unicorn and the Cyclops. He goes to say that the description of such animals may have been misinterpretations of those that actually lived or of their remains.
Karl Shuker is a cryptozoologist of modern times who has published 12 books on the subject since the mid eighties. Loren Coleman is yet another supporter of cryptozoology in the modern times.
Discoveries That Supported Cryptozoology
Many animals that were thought to be extinct were later discovered in the flesh. What were considered as superstition and a hoax, such species were now accepted by the scientific community. Discovery of the coelacanth that was caught in a net off the coast of Africa in the year 1938 is a specific instance. The mountain gorilla, platypus, komodo dragon, giant squid, etc., are all other animals that were believed to be figments of human imagination before they were discovered. The discovery of such extant species has lent more support to the science. However, clear scientific evidence is available corroborating the fact that discovery of new vertebrates is going to be rare.
Investigation of Cryptids
Other than Yeti and Bigfoot, there are many animal reports from all over the world that are subjects for cryptozoological investigation. The method of investigation is as follows:
The mystery animal or being is first is identified through alleged sightings by eyewitnesses and ethno zoological reports. They are subjected to a certain amount of filtering as some of the reports are too vague. Data about its habits and environment are collected from eyewitness accounts. Additional researchon the type of related species is also conducted (whether feline, primate, etc.).
A concrete methodology is created from the data that is collected which should confirm the existence of the cryptid and confirmation that it belongs to a new species. If the methodology merely adds up as more evidence then the purpose may not be served. The methodology is then followed through.
Discovery of cryptids purportedly takes a long time. The giant forest hog, though first reported as early as 1668 by Dr. Olfert Dapper was described only in the year 1904. Cryptids can be invertebrates and need not necessarily be large land animals.
Criticism against Cryptozoology
This branch of science has been subject to criticism because it bases its findings on anecdotal information from alleged sightings of cryptids. It has also been a fact that some of the cryptozoologists have not followed a scientific method of investigation.
Mike Dash, a historian, has little doubt that there exist thousands of invertebrate animals waiting to be discovered. He alleges that cryptozoologists spend more effort and time researching more unreal and elusive animals than the newly discovered ants and beetles in the world. Popular cryptids such as the Loch Ness and Yeti receive more attention from cryptozoologists in spite of little or no scientific support of their existence.
For a mega fauna species to survive, scientists argue that there has to exist a minimum amount of genetic diversity as well as a gene pool comprising of at least a hundred individuals of the species. If there are hundred such cryptid present, it would not be difficult to dig up evidence of their existence which is not what is happening. The cryptids that have been allegedly sighted would have difficulty in surviving in their current habitats because of climate and food availability issues. Repeated failure in being able to establish this type evidence clearly indicates the fact that the cryptids do not exist.
Animal scientists have also criticized cryptozoologists to have never predicted the actual discoveries of new species. Many a time it has been alleged that researchers other than cryptozoologists have stumbled upon new species.
A successful cryptozoological investigation is not about mere confirmation of a brand new species; it is also about removing existing hoaxes and misidentifications.