Monsters in our folklore typically stay within the confines of the tales in which they exist, but a lucky few manage to escape the world of myth and find new life as subjects to be studied and hunted. The Loch Ness Monster, La Chupacabra, and of course Bigfoot are three such monsters that cryptozoologists classify as ‘cryptids’.
Cryptozoology, as its title suggests, is the study of cryptids in an effort to prove their existence with hard physical evidence (naturally, cryptids are most likely found in stories rather than making a candid appearance on camera).
However, despite the impression that cryptid hunting is a new phenomenon–thanks, primarily, to the recent surge in BigFoot television shows–cryptozoology actually has over one-hundred years of history behind it. Additionally, hunting for cryptids has also led to the discovery of animals that we know to be real today.
Cryptozoology has its roots in the 1892 tome The Great Sea Serpent, written by the Dutch zoologist A.C. Oudemans. The Great Sea Serpent not only compiles a list of sightings of cryptids, but also stresses that cryptozoology should be taken seriously and that it can be undertaken by many with different disciplines. Oudemans argued that giving legitimacy to cryptozoology at a local folktale level would possibly help scientists discover new species of animals.
Exotic Zoology, another interesting text in Cryptozoology, came sixty seven years later, in 1959, from the pen of William Ley, a trained paleontologist. Ley stated that some cryptids were based off real animals, after their decomposed remains were misconstrued as something else. This mistake is similar to when paleontologists mistook a thumb talon in a dinosaur skeleton for a nose horn.
Despite the emergence of many individuals, or small groups, of cryptid hunters, one of the largest organizations dedicated to cryptozoology did not emerge until 1992. The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) was established in the UK and its sole purpose is to study cryptids through research and investigation. However, unlike many others in the field, the CFZ actually still exists and is going strong, even boasting its own YouTube Channel, Twitter, and website dedicated to documenting their investigations and discussions about cryptids.
For example, Steve Feltham has been a full-time Loch Ness hunter since 1991 and was even inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records in 2012 for sustaining the longest hunt for Nessie. Ben and Joe Johnston are brothers journeying to South America to prove the existence of La Chupacabra to their cynical brother Dan and the rest of the world.
While previous cryptid hunters may never have found the evidence they were searching for, there are examples of real animals that were once just thought to be myths, but proven to exist thanks to the field of cryptozoology. For instance the okapi, a four legged brown mammal with zebra striped legs, was thought to be nothing more than a creature of legend. Then, in 1901, it was discovered in the Congo where it had been living for thousands of years.
Another animal that was thought to exist solely in fiction was the Komodo dragon, referred to as a giant monitor lizard instead of a species of its own. Like the okapi, the Komodo dragon was also living undisturbed for thousands of years until its existence was confirmed in 1912.
There are plenty more examples of animals that would have not been discovered if it had not been for the tireless work of cryptid hunters and cryptozoologists. The okapi and Komodo dragon were legends of local folklore and had their own sightings, but until there was physical evidence, the rest of the world wrote their existence off as folly. While knowing the role cryptozoologists played in the discover of the okapi, Komodo dragon, and even the giant squid, it begs the question: Should cryptozoology be considered real science rather than a pseudo science?
While cryptozoology studies subjects that aren’t technically real, cryptozoologists have studied animals once thought to the mythical and proven their existence. So, this begs the question of a reality in which Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster could be real. All it would take is a cryptid hunter or cryptozoologist being in the right place at the right time.
Who knows? Maybe we will be lucky (or unfortunate) enough to live in a time where Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, and La Chupacabra will no longer be figures of fiction because of cryptozoology.