Even for those who are skeptical about the existence of an upright-walking ape or hominid, or other species of undiscovered animal, the idea that such mysterious creatures could inhabit the remote areas of the globe shouldn’t be that much of a stretch of the imagination. There are still vast regions of sparsely populated and densely forested land on this earth, and to consider the likelihood of undiscovered species of animals inhabiting such areas — even a fairly large creature such as sasquatch — is something that cannot be completely discounted except by the most close-minded of individuals.
I find the subject of cryptozoology, as a whole, fascinating, but I’ve always been particularly intrigued by reports of cryptids, mystery creatures, and out-of-place animals in more populated areas of the world. I wrote about one such experience had by my wife while accompanying her students at their annual seventh-grade class outing, in Stokes State Forest in northwestern NJ. While not a face-to-face bigfoot encounter, my wife did hear bloodcurdling screams and yowls late one night, and when she inquired about them to a local police officer, she was told in a very serious tone that there had been numerous reports of bigfoot sightings in the area and that these screams that she’d described were associated with them.
This occurred a few years ago, and at the time I’d honestly never heard of bigfoot sightings here in my home state of New Jersey. However, I was raised and live in the highly populated northeastern part of the NJ, only a few miles outside of New York City, so the idea of a Garden State Sasquatch seemed, frankly, preposterous. However, upon further research I learned that bigfoot sightings and encounters had been happening for many years in the rural, northwestern part of the state known as the Highlands, as well as in the New Jersey Pine Barrens (not just a place for mafiosa to bury their victims, you know). These Bigfoot sightings were commonplace enough to have earned the creature the name Big Red Eye, because of the fact that most reports describe the entity as having glowing red eyes.
Highlands, New Jersey has the highest elevation along the entire eastern seaboard, from Maine to Florida. It is a ruggedly beautiful part of the state, and having camped there many times, I can tell you that it is quite thickly wooded. Nevertheless, I still had (have) difficulty in accepting the possibility of a large hominid living in the state with highest population per square mile. To my mind, bigfoot — if it exists — is a creature that inhabits the remote mountains and forests of the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, and the Canadian Rockies, and would certainly not inhabit even the most wooded areas of NJ, or anyplace along the eastern seaboard of the USA, for that matter. However, I’m not a wildlife biologist or an expert in any such matters, so I imagine that it may be feasible that a large, unclassified species of animal could inhabit the more remote areas of even a very populated section of our country. That’s a question that would best be posed to someone with the credentials to give a more authoritative answer than I, however.
Still, reports of strange creatures sighted in highly populated suburban and urban areas continue to pour in unabated from developed nations across the globe. Should we dismiss them all as hoaxes or misidentifications? Let’s consider for a moment a creature less exotic, perhaps, than sasquatch: big cats.
Alien Big Cats (ABCs)
Sightings of big cats in areas where they have thought to be long extinct have been going on for at least the past decade and seem to be on the rise, particularly in Britain, and more recently in the USA. Big cat sightings in Britain have become so commonplace as to earn them the name ABCs, an acronym for Alien Big Cats — alien, I presume to mean “not native to Britain”, and not implying that their origins are otherworldly.
These British cats are typically described as being large and panther-like with glossy, almost “oil-slick black” coats, and at least the size of medium-large to large dogs. These beasts have been spotted not only on the British Isles, but throughout western Europe in countries such as France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Spain. The photo above right was taken of the so-called Beast of Bodmin, one of several large cats seen in the area of Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, UK. This a rugged, rural area of Britain, but it does not encompass a particularly large area, geographically.
Big cats have been sighted throughout rural England by many reliable witnesses, and any population that may exist of these felines have generally been attributed to wild animal collectors having released their pets into the woods and fields of the English countryside.
Many of these creatures were probably released in and after 1976, when the Dangerous Wild Animals Act was instituted in the UK, making the unlicensed keeping of certain types of wild animals a criminal offense.
The big cats seen in the U.S. are most likely animals that were once native to the area that have expanded their territories. Jaguars, once native to the U.S., are being spotted once again in the southwestern states, presumably having migrated north from Mexico.
There have also been numerous but unconfirmed reports of large puma-like cats in the woods and mountains of upstate New York, primarily in the Adirondack region. To a lesser extent, reports of some type of mountain lion/puma have also come from further south in NY state, in the region of the Catskill Mountains. The Eastern Puma is thought to have been entirely killed off or driven out of the New York and the northeastern states more than a century ago, prior to the 1900’s.
With more stringent wildlife protection laws now in place, the idea of animals once thought to be extinct having maintained a small breeding population and making a return to their original habitat is no longer unworthy of consideration. However, what do we make of sightings of more bizarre creatures, such as the purported Bigfoot sightings in populated areas of the world, such as New Jersey and the other eastern states? Can they all be attributed to outright lies or the misidentification of known fauna?
Flying monsters and big birds
In 2008, while co-hosting the old Paranomalists podcast, I had the pleasure of interviewing cryptozoologist Ken Gerhard, author of the excellent Big Bird! Modern Sightings of Flying Monsters. In it, Mr. Gerhard describes a series of reports that took place in 1970s Texas of a pterosaur-type creature that had been seen by numerous witnesses. This winged beast was described as very definitely not having feathers, but rather leathery wings, as well as a crested head, and a long, serpentine tail ending in a diamond shape. Very pterosaur-like indeed, and not a description that fits any known type of bird.
There have been numerous other incidents concerning huge birds or flying creatures, notably in the midwest, and particularly in central Illinois. Most famously, there was purportedly an attack on a boy in November of 1977 by two gigantic birds. The victim, nine year Marlon Lowe, was playing in his backyard in Lawndale, Illinois when two huge, vulture-like birds swooped down upon him. One grabbed him in its talons and proceeded to carry the boy off the ground and into the air for several feet, in plain sight of the boy’s mother and several other witnesses. Struggling and thrashing to save himself, Marlon was released and fell to ground, unharmed (physically, at least).
Can the teratorn, a huge species of raptor that supposedly went extinct at the end of the Pleistocene, still be in existence? Is this what attacked young Marlon Lowe? There were a number of subspecies of teratorn, the largest of which was Argentavis magnificens, a massive bird that weighed in between 158 to 172 lbs (72 – 78 kg) and had a wingspan of 21 to 24 feet (6.5 – 7.5 meters). Argentavis magnificens occupied modern-day Argentina from the Miocene Era to the Pleistocene, and became extinct along with the other species of teratorns, about 10,000 years ago. Are memories of these massive birds what the Native Americans refer to in their legends of the Thunderbird? And is there any way such creatures could survive, undiscovered, into the modern era?
Moving again to the more bizarre end of the spectrum, what are we to make of the reports of the most famous of flying, bird-like entities: Mothman? Here we have another well-documented case of a strange, flying creature — which, interestingly, shares a commonality with the NJ Bigfoot, in that it is described as having glowing red eyes — being seen by multiple, reliable witnesses. The residents of Point Pleasant, West Virginia claimed to have seen this man-sized, winged creature in and around the area from November 1966 to December 1967. Were the people who reported this delusional? Was it possibly a form of mass-hysteria? Or was this a creature that was an existing, legitimate species of bird that was being mistaken for something more unearthly or sinister?
Ken Gerhard tells us in Big Bird! that several leading cryptozoologists, including Bernard Heuvelmans, Ivan Sanderson, Mark Hall and Loren Coleman, believe that some of these sightings may be attributed to an undiscovered species of giant bat. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that such a species exists. Another explanation for some big bird and mothman-type sighting could be the misidentification of North American Great Horned Owls, which can attain wingspans of five feet. Loren Coleman confirmed to Ken Gerhard that he believes that these exceptionally large owls may account for some of the reports of West Virginia’s Mothman. Yet, in the case of the Mothman sightings, the entity was consistently described as being upright and standing between six and seven feet tall. Again, a simple mistake or trick of the mind by the witnesses, or perhaps an intentional lie? Or were the citizens of Point Pleasant bearing witness to something unearthly?
Other possible explanations…
What possible explanations can there be for the numerous reports of mystery animals that are seen in the more populated regions of the many industrialized nations of the western world? Hoaxes? Misidentifying existing animal species? Or are there other answers? We’ll explore these questions in Part Two of Cryptids in Suburbia (online this week, so check back or subscribe to our RSS feed on the upper right of the page). Thanks for reading!