Monday, 23 May 2011

Meet the Cryptozoologist: Jonathan Downes

How did you first get involved in researching strange and mysterious creatures?
I was raised in Hong Kong - the last jewel in the crown of the British Empire on which the sun would never set. In terms of the Imperial timeline it was a few minutes before dusk. 
From an early age I had been interested in animals. From that point of view, Hong Kong was an ideal place to grow up. Whereas my counterparts in the United Kingdom would have had to make do with foxes, badgers, and hedgehogs, I had the South China Sea as my playground, and the entire Continent of Asia as my hinterland. I could see large swathes of Tropical Forest from my bedroom window, and I was surrounded by exotic and beautiful, wild creatures. My mother always claimed that the first word I spoke was “zoo.” As Gerald Durrell's mother claimed exactly the same thing, I do not know whether to take this piece of information cum grano salis or not. Four-and-a-bit decades on, it doesn't really matter. 
As I got older, my interest in natural history grow, and I filled every inch of my bedroom with jam jars, shoe boxes, and fish tanks that all contained a wide variety of the local fauna. Much to the eternal credit of my mother and our servant Ah Tim, I got away with it, and over the years I learnt much about the husbandry of small creatures - something that has stood me in good stead throughout my adult life. 
My mother encouraged my interests in natural history and the written word, and, every Thursday she would go into town to play tennis at a venerable institution known as the Ladies' Recreation Club (LRC). After a game of tennis and a leisurely lunch with her friends she would go to the Central Library and get out library books for my young brother and I. 
One day I found that my mother had got me a book that would literally change my life. It was called Myth or Monster and introduced me to the concept that there were, indeed, monsters living in the world. This book introduced me to the Loch Ness monster, to sea serpents, to the Yeti, to its North American cousin, Bigfoot, to the fearsome Mngwa - the brindled, grey, killer-cat of East Africa, and to the mystery beasts of the South American jungle.
This was heady stuff for an eight-year-old. I read the book in one sitting, had my tea, went to bed early and read it again. The next morning I woke up, my head and heart filled with a new determination. 
“I'm going to be a Monster Hunter when I grow up,” I announced at breakfast. And I meant it. I'm not going to rewrite history and pretend that my parents were wholeheartedly supportive of my childish outburst, because they weren't. To be quite honest, I can't remember what they said. I can imagine, however. I was at the age when children want to be astronauts, or train drivers, or soldiers, and my parents can easily be forgiven for not taking this momentous and life changing decision seriously. However, the die was cast, and any chance of me leading a normal life had gone completely out of the window.
What were some of the early influences in your life?
Two of the most important influences in my life arrived in my psyche during childhood, and have basically stayed ever since. These were (and are) Gerald Durrell, the literary, boozy, and always amusing father of modern conservation, and Professor Bernard Heuvelmans, the father of cryptozoology.  I discovered both in the mid-60s and they have influenced my life ever since.
Add to them Penny Rimbaud (British Anarchist) and Tony “Doc” Shiels, the one-time Wizard of the Western World, and you have all my major influences. We never got on but I learned a hell of a lot from my father, the ex-Colonial Secretary of Hong Kong, and I learned all I know about stagecraft from a British rock singer called Steve Harley.
Have you personally seen one of these creatures?
Yes. I saw a mystery cat crossing the road on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall during the early summer of 1997, and I saw two more fortean ‘creatures’; a BHM phenomenon at Bolam Lake in Northumberland in 2003 and three putative lake monsters in the Republic of Ireland during 2009. 

What creatures particularly interest you?
As I grow older the creatures that particularly interest me grow smaller.  At the time of writing I am studying various British butterflies which, although deemed to be extinct, may still survive. But the thing which has taken up most of my time over the last six years is the strange hairless blue dog of southern Texas. The fact that certain crypto-pundits have claimed that I am wasting my time because they are nothing but mangy coyotes has – I am afraid – just spurred me on to ever more diligent researches. 

What cryptids are most likely to exist in your opinion?
Thylacine, British big cats, giant eels…

What’s your favourite?
Almost certainly one of the more obscure invertebrates like the giant earwig of St. Helena.

What’s your favourite Australian cryptid? My favourite Australian cryptid isn’t really a cryptid at all but it is the elusive night parrot.  The fact that specimens are so few and far between totally fascinates me.  If my fairy godmother made me win the National Lottery which is fairly unlikely because I don’t buy any tickets, and I had unlimited financial resources this would be the creature I would go and look for. 

Have you developed any theories around where the more unusual animals - i.e. yowies/bigfoot - have come from?
Oh yes!!!!!  I refer the interested readers to my books Rising of the Moon (1999), co-written by Nigel Wright and now published by Xyphos Publishing in Northern Ireland and the final chapter of my autobiography Monster Hunter (2004) 

Have you written any books/articles?
I have written or edited 30+ books and Lord alone knows how many articles.

Do you have a website?

How many mystery animal reports would you receive a year?
Hundreds, but many of them second hand.

What’s the closest you’ve personally come to finding something?
We did find the monster of Martin Mere; a giant wels catfish, and I am fairly pleased with the theory about the Chupacabras that I published in my 2007 book The Island of Paradise. 

What’s the farthest you’ve traveled to go ‘in search of’ mystery animals?
Puerto Rico (twice) 

What’s next for you - any trips planned? Books or articles to write? Talks to give?
Apart from the day to day running of the CFZ, I am planning a return trip to Texas, one to Hong Kong, and a search for odd snails in Madeira. I am also part way through writing two books, one on the cryptozoology of butterflies, and one on my searches for the Texas blue dogs. 

Could you share some of your favourite cryptozoology book titles with us?
  • On the Track of Unknown Animals by Bernard Heuvelmans
  • Searching for Hidden Animals by Roy Mackal
  • Mystery Cats of the World by Karl Shuker
  • Out of the Shadows by Healey/Cropper
  • The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel
  • Monstrum by Tony Shiels
  • Alien Animals by Janet and Colin Bord
(Yes I know some of these are not strictly crypto)

What advice would you give anyone getting into the field of cryptozoology?
  1. Do it for the right reasons.
  2. Never expect to make any money out of it. 
  3. Remember that life is an adventure.
  4. Always share your findings.
  5. Try to put more in to the crypto community than you take out.

1 comment:

  1. Dr. Jonathan, i have a couple of questions for you, and would like to know how i can contact you with my questions on cryptids?



Related Posts with Thumbnails

Recommended Reading