One of the principles of science is to acknowledge the limits of our knowledge. As yet, there is no complete list of all the creatures with which we share the planet, a 2011 attempt to come up with a definitive number concluded that there were 8.7 million species on Earth, but admitted a possible error of 1.3 million species either way. Other estimates have gone as high as 100 million species. It’s in the grey area that this uncertainty leaves that cryptozoology flourishes.
Cryptozoology is concerned with those creatures that science cannot yet list and define but for which there is some evidence- often in myth or legend.
Scientists discover new species all the time, but cryptozoology generally has bigger fish to fry than an uncategorised, highly-localised new type of leech only found up a particular tributary of the Amazon. The favourites of cryptozoologists tend to be big and impressive. You know many of them: Bigfoot, the Chupacabra, the Loch Ness Monster, the Yeti and so on. They’d also love to discover animals believed to have gone extinct, dinosaurs most of all. Species out of place, like the big cats of Britain or the crocs in the sewer of urban legend, often given a localised “beast of…” tag, are another enthusiasm.
Myths and folk tales are happy hunting grounds for cryptozoologists, and some of them believe that the tales of extraordinary creatures like unicorns may hide some truth as yet hidden from conventional science.
Cryptozoologists point to creatures that now sit happily in reference books that were once considered to be mythical, or whose characteristics had been fantastically distorted by historical sources.
The komodo dragon was long rumoured before it was ever seen by western scientists. The coelacanth – the classic “living fossil” - was believed to have gone extinct 65 million years before living examples were found in 1938. Until 2002 there was no photographic image of an adult giant squid. Even the mountain gorilla was dismissed as another mystery “ape-man” for centuries until a specimen was shot (not a good move) by a German soldier in 1902.
There are certainly natural mysteries out there, waiting to be discovered or rediscovered. Read on to discover our top 5...