Thursday, 30 June 2011

Bunyip or Yowie? The hunt is on in Richmond Vale

Here's a bit of school holiday fun...

Richmond Vale Railway Museum volunteers continue to report strange sounds and the feeling of being watched. One or two volunteers have even suggested that there is a bunyip or a yowie living near the drainage pond or maybe Browns dam or the forest around the former Hunter Valley NSW colliery.

Well-known yowie mythologist Hummer M. Brainslow has confirmed that the area is suitable habitat for these creatures and has asked that a search be undertaken (for scientific purposes of course!).

To resolve this matter and to get the frightened volunteers back to work, the board of the RVRM has decided to organise a hunt for this creature. To maximise the chance of a favourable result a reward of $25 will be offered to the two most successful parent and child teams

Children are a must because [as professor Brainslow pointed out] their eyes are better attuned to see such creatures especially at night.

The hunt will take place at the Richmond Main and Pelaw Main Colliery sites in July 2011 school holidays on Friday 8th July. Intending participants should be onsite ready for a briefing session from the mythologist and head yowie tracker at 8.30pm at the mining museum at the former Richmond Main Colliery administration building.

Tickets must be pre-purchased.


Wednesday, 29 June 2011

A Tasmanian Tiger sighting (1981)

An intriguing tale courtesy of an Australian website...

This is my story of what I believe to be my very own Tasmanian Tiger sighting. It was back in 1981 when I was working as a Jackaroo on a property in the SE just over the border in Victoria. The property was just on the edge of what was called the "Great Sandy Desert".

It was white sand covered in mallee scrub. The boss was away and I was looking after the property on my own (Which I enjoyed because I could work at my own pace). One of my daily duties was to check the troughs and clean them when necessary as well as keeping an eye on the sheep. This meant riding around on a motorbike because it was the quickest way.

I was riding in the early morning through a paddock of stubble and yacka bushes being careful to avoid fox holes that had a tendancy of sending you over the handle bars. The sunlight was still quite soft and it warmed my bones nicely as I putted along in a dreamy state.

I came over a rise slowly and looked down into the small valley below and I saw a strange dog-like creature with it's nose inside the ribcage of a dead and decomposting sheep carcass. It didn't notice me at first and I initially thought it was a large fox.

When it looked up it immediately scampered for the boundary fence and I could see it had a large head and a long spindly tail that I thought looked emaciated as it was striped and looked like it was the definition of bones  in the tail or at least thats what I thought at the time.

I passed it off as a wild dog with a disease or something and didn't really think more about it. It was many years later that I was listening to late night talkback radio when I heard a guy ring up and say how he was sure he had seen a Tasmanian Tiger when he was driving in the very area I used to work!

He said how it had darted out onto the road as he was driving and ran alongside his car for some distance and he was able to get a good look at it. He described it and to my suprise his description took me immediately back the ten years or so to what I had seen in the same area! It blew me away as it dawned on me as to what I had seen!

I can now say I feel blessed to have been one of the few people to have seen the elusive Tassie Tiger!

- Bloke

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Papua New Guinea reveals 1000+ new species

A blue-hued Monitor lizard - Varanus Macraei. 
A fanged frog, a dazzling blue monitor lizard, a blind snake and a round-headed dolphin are among more than 1000 new species that have been recently found in Papua New Guinea, the environment group WWF has announced.

Scientists made the astounding discoveries, which included a river shark and dozens of butterflies, at a rate of two a week from 1998 to 2008, WWF said in a report on the island's natural habitat.

"This report shows that New Guinea's forests and rivers are among the richest and most biodiverse in the world," WWF Western Melanesia program representative Neil Stronach said.

PNG's rainforests are the third-biggest in the world after the Amazon and the Congo, and, while the island covers just 0.5 per cent of Earth's land mass, it contains up to 8 per cent of the world's species, according to WWF.

The 1060 species confirmed by scientists as new discoveries between 1998 and 2008 are believed to have only scratched the surface of PNG's dazzling ecosystems.

The round-headed dolphin - Orcaella Heinsohni.
"Such is the extent of New Guinea's biodiversity that new discoveries are commonplace even today," WWF said in its report, titled Final Frontier: Newly Discovered Species of New Guinea.

One of the most notable finds documented in the WWF report was a round-headed and snub-finned dolphin, which swims in protected, shallow coastal waters near rivers and creek mouths.

Discovered in 2005 in PNG, it was the first new dolphin species recorded anywhere in the world in three decades, and is now known to exist in Australia, WWF said.

Another of the 12 mammals found over the decade was an anteater named in honour of British naturalist David Attenborough, Sir David's long-beaked echidna or, scientifically, Zaglossus attenboroughi.

One of the 134 frogs discovered was dubbed Litoria sauroni because its striking red and black spotted eyes reminded scientists of the evil character Sauron in the Lord of the Rings movies.

A large green tree frog - Litoria dux.
Another new frog was notable because of its size -- just 1cm in length -- and one had vampire-like fangs.
Nine snail species were among the 580 new invertebrates discovered.

Among the other new invertebrates was a brightly coloured apricot crayfish, part of the yabby family, which was 9-12cm long.

Discoveries of new fish totalled 71, with a kaleidoscope of colours, including one in the coral reefs of Milne Bay that thrilled scientists with its dazzling blue hue.

WWF said the most extraordinary freshwater discovery was a 2.5m river shark found in PNG that has since also been located in northern Australia.

Of the 43 reptiles discovered, one could claim to be the most innocuous snake in the world. It was just 12-14cm long, could not bite, had no venom and had scales over its eyes so it could not see.

A blue-eyed spotted Cuscus - Spilocuscus Wilsoni.
But WWF said the excitement of all the new discoveries had been tempered by the fact that,
as in the Amazon and Borneo rainforests, human actions were destroying Papua New Guinea's natural habitat at an "alarming rate".

New Guinea is the largest tropical island on Earth and is divided between the countries of Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the East and Indonesia in the West. It contains the third largest tract of rainforest in the world after the Amazon and the Congo. The island covers less than 0.5 per cent of the Earth’s landmass but shelters 6 to 8 per cent of the world’s species. An estimated two-thirds of these species are unique to New Guinea.

“If you look at New Guinea in terms of biological diversity, it is much more like a continent than an island,” says Dr. Stronach. “Scientists found an average of two new species each week from 1998 – 2008 – something nearly unheard of in this day and age,” he says.

 “Despite its remote location, New Guinea’s natural habitats are being lost at an alarming rate. The island’s forests are facing serious threats including logging, mining, wildlife trade and conversion to agriculture, particularly oil palm,” said Dr Susanne Schmitt, New Guinea Programme Manager at WWF-UK.  “As a region with high rates of poverty, it is absolutely essential that New Guinea’s precious reefs, rainforests, and wetlands are not plundered but managed sustainably for future generations”.

In PNG between 1972 and 2002, independent studies have shown that 24 per cent of rainforests were cleared or degraded through logging or subsistence agriculture. Increasingly, demand for palm oil is also destroying many of New Guinea’s most valuable rainforests. Large forest areas on the island (and across the region) are being cleared for oil palm monocultures, destroying critical habitat for many endangered species.

The destruction of these forests, which are usually cleared by burning, releases huge amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and accelerates climate change. However, many oil palm producers in New Guinea and around the world are pursing certification through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO. Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) guarantees that social and environmental safeguards have been met during production. And importantly, CSPO also assures that high conservation value forests haven’t been cleared.

Gene map may pull Devil back from brink

Efforts to save the Tasmanian devil from extinction have been given a boost by the publication of the entire genetic sequence of two devils, the ABC reports.

Tasmanian devils are small carnivorous marsupials, native to Tasmania. The remaining population is in dramatic decline due to a highly contagious cancer called devil facial tumour disease (DFTD).

Thirty scientists from Australia, Denmark and the USA collaborated on the study, which is published in this week's edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Former Australian researcher Professor Vanessa Hayes of the J Craig Venter Institute in San Diego - and one of the study's three lead authors - says DFTD was first spotted in 1996.

Cedric and Spirit's genome sequence joins that of Salem, a female devil whose sequence was completed last year by researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, England.

Hairy-nosed wombat debuts in Victoria

A southern hairy-nosed wombat has been found in Victoria for the first time.

The discovery was made last week on the Trust for Nature property, at Neds Corner Station, on the Murray River in far north-west Victoria.

The manager of Ned's Corner Station, Peter Barnes, says there are no recorded wombat colonies anywhere in the region and the discovery was a shock.

He says the nearest known areas for the marsupial are around Renmark, in South Australia, and in southern New South Wales.

He says they often travel in family groups.

"Maybe the good season and or the floods have caused his movement and that's what we would like to think," he said.

"The other scenario is that it may have been dropped off there by either a carer or some practical joker."

Monday, 27 June 2011

The Mystery of the Beast of Bowen (1934)

Fishermen have been reporting run-ins with strange sea creatures for centuries, even right here in Australian waters.

A giant seafaring snake 30-35ft long with a "head like a turtle" alarmed a party of fishermen in 1934, who described the aquatic anomaly as having "a body like a big-ribbed hose". So what was it?

Most sea snakes only grow to lengths of 3-5m, with the exception of the Yellow Sea Snake (below) which can reach almost 10ft in length. 

Responding to the claims in the newspaper, a letter writer observed:

I do not wish to compete against your well known contributor, 'BUI Bowyang,' in the telling of a tall yarn, but 'the sensational report ot the sighting of a huge sea serpent by the crew at the steamer 'St. Francois Xavier,' at Port Stephens (N.S.W.) prompts me to state that there is no reason to ridicule the story.

Some time back when Mr T. Murray, a well known local angler, was fishing In a boat off King's Beach, his attention was attracted by a loud thumping sound some distance out at sea. Suddenly a huge serpent-like creature reared itself, about 30 feet out of the water, and Mr Murray could distinctly see a spike-like fin, resembling that of a shark, sticking out of its back.

Each time the creature rose in the air it threw itself on the surface of the sea 'with terrific force. After a time it proceeded towards Holbourne Island and disappeared from view. Some months back a lady residing on Queen's Beach sighted a similar creature.

Be it myth or reality the fact remains that there must still be many denizens of the deep unknown to man, and one cannot believe that all people who claim to have seen the sea-serpent were romancers, seeking notoriety.

Could these accounts be referring to the rare so-called 'eel sharks' (frilled sharks)? Certainly the head could at some angles look turtle-like, but they certainly don't grow any larger than 6-7ft - but then again some fishermen's licence may have been taken when exaggerating the size!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

A bit of fun for this year's CFZ Sumatra expedition

Jon Downes and Richard Freeman get ancy with this Adam Ant/Amphibians-inspired homage to the Orang Pendek!

Friday, 24 June 2011

Blobmonster washes up on Chinese beach

Our thanks to David Hearder for sending this one in:

At 17m long, there's no way anyone could miss the dead creature that washed up on a beach, much to the amazement of locals.

Reports from around the world said the decaying remains of the "giant fish" had attracted many onlookers to the beach shore in Guangdong, China, since it was found on April 25.

The "mysterious" creature had become entangled in fishing net. Theories circulated quickly that the "fish" had been caught by fishermen, but dumped because of its weight.

Reports said the decomposing body had made it difficult for experts to identify the creature, which weighs an estimated five tonnes.

Three international marine biology experts had been shown a photograph of the creature by science news source Live Science.

All believed the "sea monster" was a whale; perhaps a fin whale or a bryde's whale.

Holy Honeyeater! Dear Old Boy breaks a record

An endangered helmeted honeyeater bird spotted near Melbourne and aged three times its average lifespan has entered the record books!

The 16-year-old male, nicknamed The Dear Old Boy and recorded as the oldest wild bird of its species, was recently spotted in Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve, north-east of Melbourne.

Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) ornithologist Bruce Quin said the bird's age was remarkable given the species' endangered status.

"This bird, born in the wild, has already survived for three times longer than the estimated average lifespan despite the species being critically endangered," he said.

Male helmeted honeyeaters born in the wild at Yellingbo have a life expectancy of about 5.7 years, while females typically live for 4.5 years.

The Dear Old Boy was tagged as a nestling in November 1994 as part of a tracking program of the threatened native species.

"We were a bit worried that he had died late last year because we hadn't seen him for a couple of months," Mr Quin said.

"But he showed up again in the last few months and we are hoping he is still out there."

The DSE believes 75 helmeted honeyeaters are living in the wild in Yellingbo and the state's Bunyip State Park.

Most years since 1995 captive bred helmeted honeyeaters have been released into the wild in the hope of boosting the population.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Rare and curious thylacine rock art

A new Australian Museum journal article about Rare and curious thylacine depictions from Wollemi National Park, New South Wales and Arnhem Land, Northern Territory by Paul Tacon, Wayne Brennan and Ronald Lamilami has gone online.

Thylacines have long fascinated both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Ancient rock art depictions and recent attempts to clone thylacines with DNA from preserved specimens are good examples of this interest, with the Australian Museum involved in both the documentation of thylacine rock art and DNA sequencing.

In this paper we report on a curious rock drawing from a site within Wollemi National Park, NSW and another rock art panel with superimposed paintings from Arnhem Land, NT. Both sites were found in recent years and documented as part of larger regional studies.

Val Attenbrow has long argued that we should be cautious when interpreting archaeological evidence and assigning age, so with this in mind we offer a scientific assessment of these rare and unusual thylacine-like images. We conclude that images of thylacines were likely made over both a longer period of time and across a more geographically diverse area than previously realised.

Read the entire journal article here.

High praise for the crypto crowd

According to Professor William Laurance, scientists and others who search for obscure or supposedly extinct creatures are not getting the respect and recognition they deserve - we couldn't agree more! New Scientist features his thought-provoking opinion piece. Over to you Will...

LAST December an 8-second amateur video went viral. Shot in remote northern Tasmania, the blurry footage featured a long-tailed mammal trotting across a meadow with an oddly stilted gait. According to the film-maker, Murray McAllister, the animal was a Tasmanian tiger.

The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, is a wolf-sized marsupial predator that has been presumed extinct since the last known specimen died in Hobart zoo in 1936. Yet despite its apparent demise, reports of Tassie tigers refuse to die. Hundreds of sightings, many from seemingly credible observers, have been recorded, both in Tasmania and on the mainland.

When I saw the video there was something vaguely familiar about it. Then it hit me: the animal moved like a red fox. I'd raised a fox as a boy in the western US, and they have a peculiar way of trotting. Soon, others were saying the same thing. Then a faecal sample McAllister collected was analysed for its DNA: it was a red fox.

McAllister has been searching for the Tasmanian tiger since 1998. Though he might not describe himself as such, he is a cryptobiologist, a chaser of mythical, mysterious or supposedly extinct species. Cryptobiologists are a diverse lot, ranging from conventional scientists to eccentrics far from the mainstream. All share a dream of discovering elusive or unknown creatures unrecognised by conventional science - and with it their share of instant fame.

Everyone knows about fabled creatures like Nessie and Bigfoot, but cryptobiologists actually chase a far larger menagerie of exotic beasts which they collectively term "cryptids". Some, like the Tasmanian tiger, clearly once existed. Others, such as giant vampire bats, conceivably might exist, having somehow escaped the attentions of conventional scientists. The third category, oddities such as the Jersey devil and the mothman, are strictly on the fringes.

The more credible side of the cryptobiology crowd can be a pretty serious lot. Some, such as tropical ecologist David Bickford of the National University of Singapore and Aaron Bauer, an evolutionary biologist and herpetologist at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, are respected mainstream scientists. Bickford has discovered a number of previously unknown species, including a bizarre lungless frog that lives only beneath waterfalls in Borneo.

The most committed cryptobiologists spend big sums of their own money to finance their quests. Being outside the realm of traditional science, they don't usually have a choice. For example, the late Grover Krantz, a physical anthropologist at Washington State University, invested around $50,000 for a light aircraft, infrared heat detector and other expensive gear in a decades-long search for Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest.

But for mainstream scientists, being a cryptobiologist isn't easy. Some have paid for their efforts in more than money. Roy Mackal, a dedicated chaser of Nessie and mokele-mbembe, an aquatic dinosaur that supposedly lives in the Congo basin, was booted out of the biology department at the University of Chicago; few if any dispute that his cryptid-seeking was the chief cause. Others endure sneers from their colleagues, a loss of credibility and even academic isolation.

Why tolerate such treatment? "The search for the fringe and fanciful captivates many people," says Mike Trenerry, a biologist with the Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management who uses automatic cameras to search for rare beasts. "We want to believe there is more out there than what we already know about."

And the truth, of course, is that even in the 21st century, the natural world is still brimming with mystery. Tropical biologists commonly find that half or more of the insect species they capture in the rainforest canopy are new to science. Undiscovered fish and other species are frequently found in the deep sea. Up to half of all the plant species in the Amazon are still scientifically undocumented.

Not all of the new discoveries are small or obscure. The Mindoro fruit bat, discovered in the Philippines in 2007, has a 1-metre wingspan. The same year saw the discovery of a venomous snakein Australia and a large electric ray in South Africa.

And despite the misfire of the recent Tasmanian tiger video, there are many Lazarus species that have been rediscovered after having been presumed extinct. Until 1951, the Bermuda petrel had not been seen by scientists for 330 years. The Javan elephant, okapi, coelacanth, mountain pygmy possum, venomous Cuban solenodon and giant terror skink were also erroneously consigned to oblivion. The Laotian rock rat, discovered in 1996, is now the sole known representative of a rodent family that was thought to have vanished 11 million years ago. The Wollemi pine - the only known survivor of a 200-million-year-old plant family - was discovered in 1994 just a stone's throw from Sydney, Australia.

It is the Lazarus species, perhaps more than any other cryptid group, that most inspire cryptobiologists. They give them hope by revealing that nature is still very much shrouded in uncertainty. From the coelacanth to the mountain pygmy possum, Cuban solenodon and giant terror skink, even dramatic species are sometimes wrongly presumed to have vanished.

So we should celebrate the intrepid efforts of cryptobiologists. Yes, they chase bizarre creatures and flit around the fringes of conventional science, but we ought to appreciate their adventurous spirit rather than be disdainful.

William Laurance is a distinguished professor and Australian Laureate at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia. He also holds the Prince Bernhard Chair in International Nature Conservation at the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Meet the Cryptozoologist: Malcolm Smith

How did you first get involved in researching strange and mysterious creatures?
Basically, I had always been interested in anomalies. Then, when I was studying zoology at the University of Queensland, I happened to find a paperback copy of Heuvelmans' On the Track of Unknown Animals. I thought it would one day be a good idea to write a review of Australia's unknown animals. I didn't realise at the time what a job it would be.

What were some of the early influences in your life?
From an early age I had a pretty wide-ranging curiosity.  I was also interested in animals. A primary school teacher gave me a short book on zoology, and that was probably was started me off. I always wanted to be a scientist, and when it came to the crunch, I decided I would prefer to spend my life dissecting rats than mixing chemicals. As it turned out, I ended up doing neither, for there were no openings for zoologists when I graduated.

Have you personally seen one of these creatures?
No. In 1977 I was with a group of young Australian tourists at Skipper's Canyon, NZ, looking down at a creature hopping around on the rocks below. It was too far away to be seen clearly, but it was either a funny-looking dog, or the world's largest hare. I could easily convince myself it was the latter, but that would not be intellectually honest.

What creatures particularly interest you?
Australian ones, obviously enough. The ones that give me the greatest headaches are the apparent “thylacines” seen on the mainland, because the evidence appears very ambiguous. Apart from that, the giant bipedal apes and sea serpents catch my attention, because there appears to be a mountain of evidence for them.

What cryptids are most likely to exist in your opinion?
The orang pendek is the cryptid most likely to be discovered first. Apart from that, I think there is a tremendous amount of evidence in favor of the bigfoot, and at least two types of sea serpent: serpentine ones which undulate vertically (obviously mammals – probably whales), and others with long, periscope-like necks (almost certainly not plesiosaurs).
Also, Kurt Engel's has pretty well established that there are feral cats in Australia in the lower size range of leopards.

What’s your favourite?
The yowie. I was a reluctant believer, but now it intrigues me.

What’s your favourite Australian cryptid?
The yowie.

Have you developed any theories around where the more unusual animals - i.e. yowies/bigfoot - have come from?
I wrote an article on this in the 2nd hominology special edition of Crypto. See Essentially, I have no idea what they are, except that they are unlikely to be Gigantopithecus. I cannot see how they could have reached Australia without human assistance. The mind boggles.

Have you written any books/articles?
Yes: Bunyips and Bigfoots (Millennium, 1996). See I also wrote several papers for Cryptozoology. They are mostly cited in the book.

Do you have a website?
Yes. I am in the process of setting up a series of blogs. The first is a self-indulgent one about myself. The second is about humour. Some time before the end of the year, I shall be setting up a cryptozoological blog. Initially, I shall provide translations for some foreign language articles – starting with an old report in an Indonesian newspaper about thylacines in West Papua.

How many mystery animal reports would you receive a year?
None. I have been out of the loop for some years and, in any case, I tend to follow up stories in newspapers, or which I hear from other sources, rather than actively collect reports. However, that is likely to change once my blog is started.

What’s the closest you’ve personally come to finding something?
I've never come close to finding anything. I interview witnesses after the event – in one case, about three hours afterwards.

What’s the farthest you’ve traveled to go ‘in search of’ mystery animals?
From Brisbane to Gatton, where I interviewed two witnesses to a yowie sighting. It is case no. 226 on p280 of The Yowie, by Healy and Cropper.

What’s next for you - any trips planned? Books or articles to write? Talks to give?
Apart from the blog I intend to start this year, I shall eventually write a new book on Australian cryptids, updating Bunyips and Bigfoots. However, I shall wait until (a) I've sold all my copies of the earlier book (if they're offering them for $1,000 on Amazon, there must be a demand); and (b) the Australian book publishing industry picks up. It's now in the doldrums.

Could you share some of your favourite cryptozoology book titles with us?
My favourites are the comprehensive ones:
On the Track of Unknown Animals and In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents by Bernard Heuvelmans;
In Search of Lake Monsters by Peter Costello;
Abominable Snowmen by Ivan T. Sanderson;
Out of the Shadows and The Yowie by Tony Healy and Paul Cropper.

What advice would you give anyone getting into the field of cryptozoology?
Learn the scientific method.
Learn basic zoology – at least of the animals in the area under study.
Be sceptical. Always assume, until proved otherwise, that a mundane explanation is available. Remember: a single report, no matter how good, might be wrong, but a hundred are more likely to cover the truth.
For heavens sake, publish the information! On the net, if nowhere else. It's no good sitting in a folder in your home.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Koala, platypus and thylacine star in exhibition

Across the seas. an exciting exhibition is being showcased in Canada, featuring taxidermied specimens of the Koala, Platypus and the Tasmanian Tiger aka Thylacine!

The blockbuster exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Nature - Extreme Mammals: The Biggest, Smallest and Most Amazing Mammals of All Time - has been organized by the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Towering over visitors is the life-sized model of Indricotherium, the largest land mammal that ever lived. Other highlights include an entire skeleton of the giant hoofed plant-eater Uintatherium, with its dagger-like teeth and multiple horns, a model of the bizarre-looking 'walking whale,' Ambulocetus, and one of the oldest fossilized bats ever found.

Taxidermy specimens include the egg-laying platypus and the recently extinct Tasmanian wolf (also known as Tasmanian tiger).

Extreme Mammals is organized by the American Museum of Natural History in collaboration with the Canadian Museum of Nature, California Academy of Sciences, and Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

The exhibition is on view at the Canadian Museum of Nature until November 6, 2011.

The Canadian Museum of Nature is located at 240 McLeod Street (corner of Metcalfe) in Ottawa. Visit the website at

Monday, 20 June 2011

Moa bone washes up on NZ beach

It's slightly old news now, but this story demonstrates how sometimes rare and unusual things will literally wash up at your feet!

A beachcombing walk on Onetangi Beach after the first big storm in late January 2011 yielded a rare find for young Waiheke Primary student Chris Anderson.

The seven-year-old discovered what turned out to be the lower leg bone of a small moa among the huge number of horse mussels washed up on the beach.

Read the whole story over at CFZ NZ.

From bird to brew - Moa Beer

It's not quite as rare as its name-sake (pictured above being attached by a giant Haast's Eagle), but Moa Beer is increasing in popularity and destined to enjoy a much wider distribution.

The Kiwi company is already New Zealand's biggest exporter of beer to the US and elsewhere, including Singapore, Denmark, Vietnam, Brazil and Antarctica.

Naturalists might be interested to know every year the company sponsors the Moa Easter Bunny Hunt, held to assist New Zealand farmers plagued by rabbits. The latest event saw nearly 23,000 rabbits killed, plus 979 hares, eight pigs, countless stoats and a goat.

Too late to help out the Moa, but it does make for an impressive beer label.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Welcome CFZ New Zealand!

Our sister group CFZ  NZ finally has its own blog, run by the very capable Tony Lucas. Various CFZ members will also be posting to the blog, which features all things Kiwi and promises to be a very interesting place to visit!

Already there is talk of Moas, Blue Albatrosses and the Huia.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

From the archives: Tigers were her hobby (1967)

Mrs Mary Grant Roberts was described as a human ‘dynamo’ for her efforts in keeping and breeding lesser-known animals and birds in the late 1800s in Hobart, Tasmania.

Among them, the legendary Tasmanian Tiger (also referred to as Wolf) aka the Thylacine…

Friday, 17 June 2011

Australian carnivorous 'Spinosaur' under spotlight

Australia's first carnivorous dinosaur has been unearthed by a team of palaeontologists.

The discovery of a 'spinosaur' neck vertebra in Victoria shows the fish-eating theropod dinosaur was not restricted to the Northern Hemisphere, as previously thought. 

The findings, published in the journal Biology Letters, also suggest that dinosaurs found in other parts of the world may also have inhabited Australia in the Early Cretaceous period.

Researchers from London's Natural History Museum, the University of Cambridge, Museum Victoria and Monash University were thrilled when they were able to identify the fossil.

"Spinosaurs were previously known to be from Europe, Africa and South America," says Dr Thomas Rich, palaeontologist from Museum Victoria. "The fact that they existed in Australia changes our understanding of the evolution of this group of dinosaurs."

The vertebra fossil was discovered by Michael Cleeland (a well-known name in Australian cryptozoology circles) and George Caspar near Victoria's Cape Otway Lighthouse in 2005. It was then painstakingly prepared at Museum Victoria until it could be identified as Australia's first-ever spinosaurid.

The team was able to deduce the neck vertebra belonged to a small juvenile, around two metres long, which lived 105 million years ago. 

Some types of spinosaurs - meaning 'spine lizard'- are thought to have been the largest of all known carnivorous dinosaurs, including the Tyrannosaurus Rex and Giganotosaurus. Some fossil remains show they had narrow crocodile-like skulls, which were probably used for eating fish. Fossils also suggest they had distinctive spines, with long extensions of the vertebra forming a sail on its back.

But another co-author on the paper, Professor Patricia Vickers-Rich, palaeontologist at Monash University, says it isn't possible to draw conclusions about the type of newly announced spinosaur, its sex or its body structure when there is only a 4cm vertebra to go by. These details can only be fleshed out if more spinosaur fossils are discovered.

At the time the spinosaur lived, Australia was not an isolated landmass, making it easier for dinosaurs to move around.

"When the Earth evolved into separate continents, the various families of dinosaurs had already reached those landmasses, which explains why the same ones have been found in places now far apart from one another," says Thomas.

Patricia says this challenges the idea an endemic fauna was present in Australia 110-120 million years ago.
She believes there could be many more dinosaur groups still to be discovered in Australia.

"The record is so sparse and these fossils are so difficult to find. Every bone has the chance to be something different," Patricia says. "[This vertebra] could have been from something more common, but spinosaurs are carnivores, which are usually very rare in population."

Feral leopard trapped in Australia

Sorry, we forgot to say 'stuffed' leopard...this little beauty was spotted at the Daylesford Markets in central Victoria last week - a hot spot for big cat sightings, and laconic country comedians!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Meet the Cryptozoologist: Richard Freeman

How did you first get involved in researching strange and mysterious creatures?
I discovered the magazine Animals & Men in the sadly defunct Potter’s Museum of Curiosities. I started to write for it, became the Yorkshire rep then finally moved down to Devon to become the Zoological Director of the CFZ.

What were some of the early influences in your life?
Doctor Who! When I was a boy the great Jon Pertwee was The Doctor. He had been trapped on Earth by the Time Lords, so most of the monsters he faced such as Sea Devils, Autons and Giant Maggots were in a contemporary setting. This made them all the more frightening; a monster on your doorstep is more scary than one on some distant planet. My life-long love of monsters led to an interest in real life ones.

Have you personally seen one of these creatures?
I saw a big cat, probably a dark phase puma a few weeks ago on the outskirts of Exeter. Back in 2002 I saw the monster of Martin Mere, an 8-foot wells catfish. In 2008 I may have come close to seeing an Almasty as it prowled around an abandoned farmhouse in the Caucasus Mountains in Russia.

What creatures particularly interest you?
Dragons, there are legends of these giant reptiles in every culture on earth and cave paintings dating back 25,000 years. Dragon-like beasts are still reported today.

What cryptids are most likely to exist in your opinion?
The thylacine - it has been seen by so many good witnesses such as zoologists and park rangers. I have little doubt it still exists. Orang-pendek, I’ve seen its tracks and heard its call. Sea serpents of various kinds (some reptiles, some mammals some fish). The Yeti, the Almasty.

What’s your favourite?
Dragons, thylacines, yetis.

What’s your favourite Australian cryptid?
Obviously the thylacine but I’m very interested in reports of giant crocodiles and giant monitor lizards too.

Have you developed any theories around where the more unusual animals - i.e. yowies/bigfoot - have come from?
I think yowie / bigfoot are apes or hominids. Some monsters may be tulpas (thought forms) raised from a gestalt sub-conscience of our race as a whole. Fossil memories made temporarily flesh.

Have you written any books/articles?
Dragons: More Than a Myth?Explore Dragons; and The Great Yokai Encyclopaedia; An A to Z of Japanese monsters.

I’ve written so many articles I’ve lost count!

Do you have a website?

How many mystery animal reports would you receive a year?
I don’t keep count, dozens.

What’s the closest you’ve personally come to finding something?
Finding tracks from the Orang-pendek, hearing it call and finding hair that was later found to be from a ‘large unknown primate’.

What’s the farthest you’ve travelled to go ‘in search of’ mystery animals?
Mongolia for the deathworm, Sumatra for the Orang-pendek, Guyana for the giant anaconda, Thailand for the Naga, West Africa for the Ninki-nanka, Russia for the Almasty.

What’s next for you - any trips planned? Books or articles to write? Talks to give?
I’m heading back to Sumatra in September. I have a book of horror stories called Green Unpleasant Land and a book on the Orang-pendek called Orang-Pendek: Sumatra’s Forgotten Ape.

I have an article on the Indian yeti coming up in Fortean Times.

Could you share some of your favourite cryptozoology book titles with us?

What advice would you give anyone getting into the field of cryptozoology?
Follow your dream, never give up. Join the CFZ!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Monster crocodilian caught in NT

Northern Territory wildlife rangers have caught their biggest crocodile for the year.

Measuring more than 4.5 metres, the crocodile had been lurking around the Corroboree Billabong boat ramp, about 140km south-east of Darwin, for a few weeks.

Part of the Mary River wetlands, the billabong has the largest concentration of saltwater crocodiles in the world.

Rangers were acting on reports of a big crocodile that had been menacing fishermen.

An angler reported the crocodile lunging at the side of his boat two weekends ago, and there had been up to a dozen other reports of the crocodile causing problems.

The monster crocodile was harpooned and taken to a reptile farm.

Ranger Joey Buckerfield says he believes the crocodile display of aggression is probably territorial in nature.

"I think because it is such a big size and it seems to be the only croc in that area, it might just feel threatened by boats," he said.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Virgin Australia gets behind Tasmanian Devil campaign

Virgin Australia has thrown its support behind a campaign to save the beleaguered Tasmanian devil, placing donation sculptures at airports around the country.

The feisty marsupial faces an uncertain future as Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD), an infectious cancer, rips through populations in the wild.

Virgin will put the hand painted sculptures at domestic airports across the country in an effort to raise money for research into the condition.

Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal manager Jessica Tyler said the funds were badly needed.

"The plight of the Tasmanian devil is pretty serious at the moment, it's an officially endangered species," Ms Tyler said.

"It's in a bit of trouble out there in the wild and we're working very hard to manage healthy devils so we can restock the wild if we need to."

Well done Virgin!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Yowie Port anyone?

Now this looks like a tasty drop!

At the Hunting Lodge Estate in Kilcoy, they've made the most of the area's association with Australia's favourite hairy hominid by naming some plonk in its honour - and at $20 a bottle it seems a reasonably priced souvenir for cryptid fans.

We're not too sure about the promises made of the muscat-malbec mix in the tasting notes: "Drink a bottle and see a Yowie. Sweet and morish. This is a great fortified on any occassion. The Yowie statue in the Kilcoy Park is famous for loosing its bits occassionally. Ask some of the local about the Yowie and there is always someone who saw it somewhere. We have a poem that is great entertainment about the history of the Kilcoy Yowie."

Kilcoy is a small farming community in south-east Queensland.

For those unfamiliar with Kilcoy's most famous claim to fame, on December 28, 1979 two school boys created national headlines by claiming to have seen the elusive Yowie at Sandy Creek, four kilometres north of Kilcoy.

Today a wooden statue commemorates the sighting and draws plenty of curious tourists.

The statue graces Yowie Park, and nearby the local football team, The Yowies (naturally), do their Cro-Magnon best to beat the out-of-towners at God's game.


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