We asked a cryptozoologist whether mythical creatures could actually exist

Have you ever glimpsed a strange animal or unknown creature looking like it had jumped straight out of a book on mythology and folklore? Probably not, but some do—many of these people then report their sightings to Cryptozoology News. Michael Bachman is the founder of the website, a journalistic platform for those who have sighted a cryptid, defined by Wikipedia as ‘an animal or plant whose existence has been suggested but has not been discovered or documented by the scientific community.’

Contrary to what you might expect for someone who regularly deals with reports of Bigfoot and Nessie, the 35-year-old American—who studied linguistics and criminology in Europe in the early and mid 2000s—examines each report under a prism of objectivity: ‘The articles are written in a neutral point of view,’ he says by way of explanation, ‘[They] try to remain impartial to the sightings and focused on the human nature regarding the strange as much as on the alleged creatures.’

We sat down with Michael to find out what it’s like working dead centre at the juncture where convinced eyewitnesses, elaborate hoaxers and (currently) unproven creatures meet:

In a nutshell what is cryptozoology?
The study of cryptids. From the Greek Kruptos, meaning secret, the study of ‘secret animals’. Or, like I always say, the study of a group of animals that have been widely accepted by Science as non existent or already extinct.

For someone who does not know its history, could you please run through with us the key discoveries from the field of study over the years?
I don’t consider myself an expert, although I have been through copious works of cryptozoology literature and documentation throughout the years. In a nutshell, there have been two major moments that should be marked down as pivotal in the world of cryptozoology. One is the discovery of the mountain gorilla in 1902 by Captain Robert von Beringe. Then, in 2012, the elusive giant squid, some refer to as the Kraken, was captured on film live in its natural habitat by NHK and Discovery Channel. Honorable mention should be given to the Gimlin-Patterson Bigfoot footage taken in northern California in 1967, but not really a discovery per se.

How many of these discoveries have been accepted as true and verified, as deemed by the general scientific community?
The mountain gorilla and the giant squid were verified by scientists. The ‘Bigfoot’ footage not so much, since there is still controversy regarding its authenticity. The interesting thing is that skeptics and believers alike tend to agree on this one… it has not yet been determined whether it is real or a hoax.

What families of animal life would you say are more likely to remain hidden from scientific observation, and hence more likely to be discovered this late in the day?
Definitely I’d say dinosaur birds like the pterosaur, and aquatic animals, such as the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland or the Opogogo in British Columbia, Canada. What is more interesting, in my opinion, is how new species of animals that resemble those featured in different works of science fiction, are discovered every now and then while people go on their quest to discover Bigfoot. They are missing out on these frequent bizarre discoveries.

Are there any animals that the general public would consider mythical or extinct, but you feel there is sufficient evidence to argue that they are not?
In my opinion, there is not enough evidence to prove the existence of any extinct creature, not yet at least. If I guessed, however, it’d be perhaps possible for an animal such as the Thylacine or the Dodo to reappear, as well as any extinct sea creature. The rest is mere conjecture, circumstantial evidence and a blind belief some cryptozoology enthusiasts can’t seem to be able to see through. That and Photoshop. To this day, there is absolutely no direct evidence of the existence of these creatures.

One of the early works on cryptozoology, On the Track of Unknown Animals,was published 60 years ago; have any of the animals described in it since been sighted, or discovered?
Some have, such as the giant hog Pleistocene Peccary, discovered in Paraguay.

Do you think the scientific community is generally reluctant to investigate famous creatures that the general populace believe to be mythical?
Yes. Mainly due to fears of being ridiculed and ostracised, resulting in the lack of food on their dinner table, but also because there is absolutely no direct evidence of these creatures and almost every single time new footage emerges, it turns out to be either a hoax or some sort of animal misidentification. There is a very interesting story where a Canadian child photographed a bipedal creature with his iPad. Many children report seeing these creatures and it is widely believed among research organisations that ‘Bigfoot’ appears to be ‘in tune’ with younger people and thus ‘not afraid’ to show up before them.

Would you say this position has undermined credible attempts to expand the field of research into unknown and undiscovered wildlife?
Sometimes it has, like in the case of some credible reported Thylacine sightings. Science basically refuses to get involved in the topic, generally. But, overall, the evidence is just not there, so who can blame them?

On the flip side of the coin, do you think that exaggerated, false and sometimes completely fabricated reports on these creatures has somewhat tarnished a legitimate field of study?
Absolutely. The cryptid field is populated by hoaxers with intentions to harvest an ephemeral popularity and garner a few laughs. However, I believe most of these hoaxers are skeptics themselves. Believers, like I like to call them, on the other hand, tend to undermine serious studies of the phenomenon by exhibiting a stubborn belief of such creatures without presenting valid proof of their existence.

Drawing by Vinata / Shutterstock
Drawing by Vinata / Shutterstock

In your experience what is the default position of society: to believe some animals have yet to be discovered, or to lean towards the presumption that all large creatures have already been found?
Humans like mystery. To paraphrase the popular 90s TV show the X-Files, they ‘want to believe’. Deep inside, skeptics included, would like to see some of these creatures materializing. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be having the current moral debate on whether the Woolly Mammoth should be cloned or not. So, yes, I’d say a high portion of the population believe some animals of this size will eventually be discovered.

What process occurs from a sighting being reported to it being investigated more thoroughly?
It usually involves a credible video, but quite often a simple eyewitness account has triggered a deeper investigation. This usually takes place when the eyewitness presents evidence to verify the story, included cited credentials and localisation. I remember last January when someone in Florida sent us a video of an allege Skunk Ape, Florida’s Bigfoot cousin, and hundreds of thousands of shocked viewers considered the video to be real. Later, investigators from the BFRO in Florida determined the footage was fake. However, other investigators, like Tim Fasano, believed the sighting needed further investigation and, to this day, he is still reportedly studying the area.

How has the rise of accessible camera technology, social sharing and internet crowd-sleuthing affected the world of cryptozoology?
I would say the advent of technology has revolutionised the field of cryptozoology. It has happened both ways, positively and negatively. Positively because more and more people who have access to a cell phone camera are now able to video tape what they honestly believe to be an unknown creature. This has given plenty of material for serious researchers to investigate. It has also prompted the production of shows like Finding Bigfoot. Negatively because people are now able to perform hoaxes better than ever before. Thankfully, social media has worked toward the creation of cryptozoology sleuths who have, more than once, helped determine the validity of these type of presented evidence.

Social media has also, on the other hand, become a bullying tool directed at ordinary people trying to tell their stories. Mass hysteria works the same way virtually as it does in physical life, but its results are just the same. If you look deep enough, you can see how humans are individuals looking to become a member of the bigger tribe. They follow a leader. Unfortunately, most of the time, this social leader has done nothing to advance or debunk a sighting. This has repeatedly happened to the extent that purely fabricated attempts to debunk an interesting sighting story are automatically accepted by blind followers who appear incapable of checking verifiable facts on their own. In other words, while technology has become an incredible tool to defeat crime or pursue the investigation of a sighting, it has also become a tool for the lazy and the gullible… and paradoxically the criminal.

And finally, what cryptozoological creature do you believe will next be widely accepted as having existed, when once it was all deemed just a tall story?
Some sort of extinct aquatic dinosaur. The oceans are the ones holding the answers to most Earth related questions, in my opinion.

Thanks Michael. 


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