There are many mystery creatures said to roam the remote wilderness areas of the world. Some of these are truly strange, surrounded by fantastic tales and folklore, and leaving practically no evidence behind except scattered sightings and maybe some tracks. To some, these may be purely mythical monsters too absurd to really exist, and without further evidence one may be inclined to brush them off without another thought. Yet, history is filed with such bizarre creatures that pushed through this murky haze of doubt, skepticism, and lore to show themselves to be real animals that were far from the mere legend they had been regulated to. These are the cases that provide hope that we are not fully through with trouncing through the wild of our world, and we are far from cataloguing all of the creatures that inhabit it.
There are many cryptids, or undiscovered animals, that seem to defy all attempts to classify or officially recognize them. In many cases these creatures are well known by natives in the area where they are said to roam. They may leave tidbits of physical evidence behind, such as a track here, maybe a hair or two there. They are sighted by many, yet these accounts may be ridiculed or written off as delusion. There may be the tendency to assume that these are purely mythical constructs that are hopelessly interwoven with folklore, fantasy, and wishful thinking. This is certainly not a new sentiment, and the field of cryptozoology is rife with such legendary beasts. However, sometimes there turns out to be something behind the tales, a real creature lying underneath all of the speculation, skepticism, and doubt. On occasion these mystery animals step out of the dark to make themselves known as genuine creatures. It is these cases that give cryptozoologists hope that maybe there just might be something to the tales, and that these may be more than just stories and tall tales. These are the cases that could be considered success stories, in which even the most seemingly unbelievable, most incredible creatures have proven to exist beyond the world of myth and legend, to show themselves to be just s real as any other organism that shares this world with us. Let us take a look at some of the strangest, most initially bizarre creatures that turned out to be more than just bizarre tales, and burst forth from the shadows into mainstream acceptance.
Weird Mammal/ Reptile, Beaver Tailed Mystery Beast (The Duck-Billed Platypus)
The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus), also known as the duck-billed platypus, is undeniably one of the strangest creatures in the animal kingdom. Found in eastern Australia, it is one of the only five existing species of monotremes, which are mammals that lay eggs rather than bear live young. This egg-laying mammal, with its duck-like bill, flattened tail like that of a beaver, otter-like feet, and the presence of spurs with venom in males, making it one of the few venomous mammals, sounds absurd even knowing that they exist. Yet back in the 18th century it was so weird that it was considered by early European explorers to be a purely fanciful Aboriginal myth. The animal was well known to the Aborigines, who believed that it had originated with the mating of a duck with a water rat, and the platypus was often hunted, yet it was totally unknown to the outside world.
Early European explorers often heard stories from the Aborigines of this water dwelling mammal with a duck bill that laid eggs like a bird, but they were treated with great skepticism and few believed that such a preposterous amalgam of bird and mammal could possibly be a real animal. Those explorers who did manage to see the platypus for themselves were often ridiculed and were generally not believed by both other explorers and naturalists back in their homeland. When the first British colony was established in Australia in 1788, the colonists took to calling these strange creatures “duckbills,” “watermoles,” or duckmoles,” yet these stories were still largely dismissed as hogwash by naturalists. In 1798, Captain John Hunter, who was the second Governor of New South Wales, managed to procure a pelt of one of the mysterious creatures, which he sent back to Great Britain for examination along with a sketch. There it was immediately accused by a very skeptical scientific community of being an elaborate hoax. This general attitude was reflected in the first official scientific description of the specimen in 1799 by the English zoologist and Keeper of the Department of Natural History of the Modern Curiosities of the British Museum, George Shaw, who was also fairly certain that it was faked. Shaw would write of the carcass in the journal Nature’s Miscellany:
Of all the Mammalia yet known it seems the most extraordinary in its conformation; exhibiting the perfect resemblance of the beak of a Duck engrafted on the head of a quadruped. So accurate is the similitude that, at first view, it naturally excites the idea of some deceptive preparation by artificial means: the very epidermis, proportion, features, manner of opening, and other particulars of the beak of a shoveler, or other broad-bill species of duck, presenting themselves to the view: nor is it without the most minute and rigid examination that we can persuade ourselves of its being the real beak or snout of a quadruped…
On a subject so extraordinary as the present, a degree of skepticism is not only pardonable, but laudable; and I ought perhaps to acknowledge that I almost doubt the testimony of my own eyes with respect to the structure of this animal’s beak; yet must confess that I can perceive no appearance of any deceptive preparation; and the edges of the rictus, the insertion, and when tried by the test of maceration in water, so as to render every part completely moveable seem perfectly natural; nor can the most accurate examination of expert anatomists discover any deception in this particular.
It certainly did not help the case for the platypus as a real creature that fake bodies of various mythical creatures were often produced in that era, such as “mermaids” made by sewing the upper body of a monkey to the tail of a fish and other such oddities. So convinced was Shaw at first that the creature laying before him was an elaborate fake that he even went so far as to cut it open with scissors, fully expecting to find out how it had been stitched together. And so would begin a journey that would last the better part of a century, as baffled scientists and naturalists tried to piece together the puzzle of this mystifying creature.
At first, there was great debate as to what the platypus could actually be, with some saying it was a mammal, others claiming it to be a whole new class of animals, and still others theorizing that it represented some sort of “missing link” between mammals and reptiles, all while a good number within the scientific community continued to maintain that it was all a hoax. Even when the platypus eventually began to gain traction as being an actual animal and to slowly gain acceptance within zoology, it still managed to further confound scientists and shake established paradigms the more it was studied, as more of the creature’s bizarreness was revealed.
One feature of the platypus that was met with great skepticism was the notion that it laid eggs rather than give birth to live young. British colonists in Australia and Aborigines insisted that the platypus laid eggs and nursed its young, but this was met with derision by zoologists. At the time, no animal was known to both lay eggs and suckle its young, and the idea of a mammal that laid eggs was considered to be completely ridiculous. The paradigm at the time was that birds and reptiles laid eggs and did not nurse their young, and milk producing mammals gave live birth, that was that. The whole concept of anything otherwise was considered alien, absurd, and had no place in zoology. To the scientific community it was unthinkable, just superstitious, fanciful tales from Aborigines and uneducated colonists. Indeed, many naturalists set out into the field with the sole purpose of trying to debunk the stories that the platypus laid eggs, such as finding a specimen with a fully formed embryo in its body in utero that would show that no egg was being produced. Of course, it did turn out that they indeed do lay eggs and suckle their young, but for almost a century the platypus was a paradox that stirred up as much debate and skepticism as any cryptid, and showed that overturning the entrenched paradigms, prejudices, mores, orthodoxy, and dogma of the scientific community can be a long, tedious process.
Horned Headed, Long Necked Striped Oddity (The Okapi)
In the late 1800s, European exploration of Africa was already in full swing, and yet there were still many mysteries to be found in the wild places here. It was here in the densely forested interior of the continent that explorers became aware of stories from the native tribes of the region of a creature they called the Atti, or the O’api, which was described as looking somewhat like a cross between a zebra, donkey, and giraffe. The creature was said to be extremely shy, and rarely seen even by the local tribes, who mostly found only its tracks. The first accounts of this creature to come of the dark interior of Africa in the jungles of the Congo were accounts given by the explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley, who had been sent into the region to search for the missing Dr. David Livingston in 1871. He succeeded in his quest, famously uttering the line “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” but in addition to this he also heard during his travels strange stories of the Atti, which was said to be a huge, horse-like beast with an incredibly long tongue, a horned head, striped flanks, and a long, flexible neck like a giraffe. They also told Stanley that although the animal was extremely shy and rarely seen, they sometimes caught the creatures in pits and that they ate leaves. Although the accounts were fascinating, Stanley would find absolutely no physical evidence of the creature, and he would later write of it in his book In Darkest Africa in 1890.
After the initial reports of the Atti from Stanley in the 1870s, some physical evidence was offered for the creature when an explorer by the name of Wilhelm Junker sent an oddly striped piece of a skin of what the locals in this case called the Makapi back home to be studied, where it was quickly dismissed out of hand as nothing more than a hoax and a myth. Other expeditions that went into the Congo in search of the elusive creature came back empty handed, with only occasional fleeting glimpses of indistinct tracks and a very few sporadic sightings, such as one account written of in the journal of explorer Captain Jean Baptise Marchand in 1889, in which he describes seeing a strange type of striped, long necked “antelope” along the side of a river. Other than that, the alleged creature remained frustratingly elusive.
In 1900, the explorer and High Commissioner of Uganda, Sir Harry Johnston engaged on an expedition for the Belgian government into a jungle region of what was then the Belgian Congo called the Ituri Forest, in order to return some native pygmy tribesmen who had been kidnapped to their homeland. Johnston had spoken the previous year with Sir Henry Morton Stanley about the mysterious Atti, and he heard more tales and accounts of the creature from the pygmies who were accompanying him, who called it the O’api. Johnston would come across a few cloven tracks that the natives claimed were from the creature, but he was unable to see one or gain any other evidence at the time. It was not until he had returned the pygmies and stopped off at a military garrison called Fort Mbeni on his way back that he comes across two bandoliers made of an unusual striped hide, which a Lieutenant Meura told him were made from the skin of an O’api. Emboldened by this find, Johnston acquired the two bandoliers and then determinedly went back out into the uncharted jungle to find an actual specimen, but was forced to turn back when most of the expedition members became too ill to continue. Johnston returned to Uganda empty-handed, but before leaving the soldiers at the outpost promised that they would send him more evidence if they should find it.
Back in Uganda, Johnston went about sending off the bandoliers to be studied by zoologist Philip Sclater, who subsequently likened them to the hair of a zebra and had them exhibited to the London Zoological Society. In the meantime, in 1901, Johnston finally managed to gain definitive evidence of the creature when he received two full skins and a skull from the Belgian jungle outpost, who had made good on their promise. He immediately noticed that rather than a new type of horse or antelope, as he had originally suspected, the creature seemed to be more similar in nature to a giraffe, perhaps a surviving relic population of an ancient, long thought to be extinct giraffine species. Excitedly, Johnston sent these off to London along with a watercolor illustration of the animals, which too were then exhibited at a meeting of the London Zoological Society. A live specimen would finally be captured and the creature would at last be recognized by science in 1901, when it would receive the scientific name Okapia johnstoni, in honor of the one who discovered it, also more commonly known as the okapi.
The discovery of the okapi mirrors tales of currently undiscovered cryptids in many ways. The remote, isolated locale, the stories told by natives who were aware of its existence, making it ethnoknown, or known to the indigenous peoples, the fruitless jungle expeditions and frustrating lack of physical evidence, the mysterious sightings and findings of unidentifiable mystery tracks, as well as initial derision from the scientific community; all of these things will likely be very familiar to anyone who has even a cursory interest in cryptozoology. In fact, the okapi is often lauded as one of cryptozoology’s greatest success stories and is an icon in the field. In the case of the okapi, it turned out to be real and indeed no less a fantastic creature than some of the other alleged cryptids said to roam the wilds of the world. Who knows what we may find next?
Hairy Widman of the Jungle (The Gorilla)
Reports of mysterious “wild men” have been reported from around the world for centuries, encompassing everything from North America’s Bigfoot, to the Yeti of the Himalayas, to Indonesia’s Orang Pendek, and more. Yet as amazing as these stories may seem, history is not without precedent for these strange wild men being discovered and classified by science. The discovery of the western lowland gorilla and the mountain gorilla came on the heels of numerous tales from natives, sparse physical evidence, and obscure sightings that read like the hunt for Bigfoot, only in this case of course the mysterious creatures were eventually recognized by science.
For centuries, local tribes in Africa spoke of mysterious and primitive man-like creatures inhabiting the wilds that were variously known in native tongues as “wild-men,” “ape-men,” “hairy men,” or “forest people,” as well as numerous other local names. The creatures were always described as enormous, powerful man-like beasts covered in hair, with some traditions calling them fierce, bloodthirsty savages with a penchant for kidnapping people and eating them. Encounters with the beasts by people from the outside world were not unheard of. Although long well-known by native tribes, perhaps the earliest account of these creatures by outsiders dates back to around 500 BC, when an expedition pushed forth along the Western African coast from the Phoenician merchant city of Carthage, led by Hanno the Navigator. The expedition was astounded to come across these wild men, which the locals called “hairy men,” and which Hanno would write of in his journals as gorillae, or “hairy people.”
Further captivating reports would trickle in from early explorers of Africa over the years. In the 16th century, a British explorer by the name of Andrew Battel was captured in West Africa by the Portuguese, and it was during his capture that he would describe a pair of “man-like apes” that would slink from the jungle to approach the campfire when no one else was around. Reports like this enthralled both explorers and the public alike, who knew nothing of such large apes, although they were not taken very seriously by the scientific community. Such fantastic accounts would continue into later years as well, yet continued to be dismissed as rumor and tribal folklore by scientists and naturalists, who were highly skeptical of such farfetched tales.
These strange reports would come in for centuries with very little evidence to back them up, until in 1847 an American missionary and doctor in what is now known as Liberia by the name of Reverend Thomas Savage made a trek during which sickness forced him to stop off at Gabon. It was here where a Reverend J. L. Wilson would show him a curious skull, which seemed to be from some unknown ape far larger than a human being and which was allegedly from a “hairy man” that the natives claimed to be a ferocious beast and which they called the Enge-ena. The skull had allegedly come from an animal that had been killed by a slave kept by the tribe who was also a hunter in a harrowing battle to the death. So impressed was the tribe by this extraordinary feat of actually killing an Enge-ena that the slave had been immediately freed and the skull preserved. Perplexed, Savage, who was an avid amateur naturalist, sent off word of the incredible find to various institutions, such as the Bristol Philosophical Society and the Royal College of Surgeons.
Savage then went about hunting for skulls that would represent both male and female specimens, for the purpose of writing up a description of the animals along with the help of colleague Jeffries Wyman from Harvard Medical School. With the help of the local tribes, Savage was eventually able to collect two male and two female skulls, as well as a male and female pelvis, ribs, vertebrae and limbs. With these assorted remains, a comparison with the skull of a chimpanzee quickly proved that they were dealing with a totally new, very large species of ape. Savage and Wyman’s paper was then published in the December, 1847 edition of the Boston Journal of Natural History, and was the first scientific description of what they would name Troglodytes gorilla, later called Gorilla gorilla, or more commonly known as the western lowland gorilla.
As exciting as this discovery was, it was still not the last of the mysteries to be uncovered, as there were also numerous reports of “wild men” coming in from the vast, nearly impenetrable jungles of the African interior. One such account was given by an explorer named Du Chaillu, who in 1860 described coming across a tribe of huge hairy men in the jungle that he claimed were aggressive, murderous beasts far more powerful than a human being. Despite the fairly recent discovery of the western lowland gorilla, scientists at the time nevertheless were incredulous of such reports.
In 1902, German explorer Captain Robert von Beringe launched an expedition into the mountains of the Virunga region of Rwanda, what was then known as German East Africa, in order to check on the various remote German outposts scattered along the volcanic range, as well as to fortify relations with the local tribes. During the trek, it was decided to try and scale a mountain called Kirunga ya Sabyinyo, which was completely unexplored, uncharted territory at the time. It proved to be a perilous journey for the expedition, which struggled through thick, nearly impenetrable jungle while carrying heavy supplies, and later increasingly steep inclines, ferocious wind, and cutting cold. The men were finally able to reach a narrow ridge, upon which they erected a makeshift campsite which was precariously perched on the edge of steep cliffs dangerously buffeted by biting winds.
It was here at this campsite looming over the abyss and scoured by howling winds that a group of what were described as large “black monkeys” was spotted climbing over the crest of a volcanic ridge. Startled, the men opened fire on the creatures, hitting two of them to send them hurtling off the edge into a deep ravine. The expedition was able to retrieve one of the bodies using ropes, and after 5 strenuous hours the carcass of one of the beasts was lying before them. Beringe described the creature thus:
It was a big, human-like male monkey of one and a half metres in height and a weight of more than 200 pounds. His chest had no hair, and his hand and feet were of enormous size. Unfortunately I was unable to determine its type; because of its size, it could not very well be a chimpanzee or a gorilla, and in any case the presence of gorillas had not been established in the area around the lakes.
The mostly intact body would make it back to Berlin, where it was examined and recognized as a new type of gorilla, christened Gorilla beringei, in honor of Captain Beringe. And so it came to be that two types of “wild men” became known to the world at large after centuries existing as mere phantoms, campfire tales, and local legends. Considering how similar the original rumors and search for the gorilla were to present day reports of hairy hominids around the world, it is certainly exciting to entertain the thought that we may one day have a similar such amazing discovery.
Giant Prehistoric Lizard (The Komodo Dragon)
Inhabiting the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang, and Padar, the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), with its massive frame, wicked claws, and sharp, formidable fangs, is a creature that naturally inspires fear. Reaching a maximum length of around 3 meters and weighing up to 70 kg, they are by far the largest species of lizard in the world and seem almost like mythical even though they are a known species. It is perhaps no surprise then that the Komodo dragon was long thought to be just that; a mere creature of legend and folklore.
Islanders from the remote the Lesser Sundas islands long knew well about these ferocious giant lizards, which they called “land crocodiles,” yet at the beginning of the 20th century, such reports were met with a great degree of skepticism by the scientific community. After all, terrestrial lizards of such purported massive sizes were the stuff of dinosaurs; long extinct prehistoric relics of a forgotten age. There was the entrenched thought that there was no more room or place in the world for such things as fearsome giant lizards. Nevertheless, the reports of these monstrous lizards continued to come in, to the point that an expedition to check out the claims was finally launched in 1912 by the Buitenzorg Zoological Museum in Java and led by a Peter Ouwens. Although the expedition wrote up a report on the existence of the “dragons,” and even provided photographs and a skin, stubborn skepticism and the coming of World War I served to bury the findings in obscurity, and the report was mostly forgotten.
After the war, in 1926, a W. Douglas Burden from the American Museum of Natural History took interest in these seemingly fantastical accounts from the locals, and organized an expedition to search for the creatures. The search was a resounding success, returning with 12 preserved specimens and 2 live ones and becoming the inspiration for the film King Kong. The mysterious “land crocodiles” were finally recognized by science, and the first live specimens were shown to the public in 1927, in the Reptile House at London Zoo. What has become known commonly as the Komodo dragon is yet another case of a seemingly absurd tall tale turning out to be real.
Miniature Hairy Hominid (The Bondegezou)
There have long been tales among the Moni tribe of Irian Jaya, in Indonesian New Guinea of a creature they refer to as the Bondegezou, which translates to “man of the forests,” as well as the Mbaiso, which means “the forbidden animal.” Regarded as a powerful ancestral spirit, the Bondegezou is described as looking like a small man, around 1.5 to 3 feet in height, which is covered in black and white fur, with a white stomach and black head. They are said to often climb trees, but mostly prefers the ground, where they will walk about on two legs like a human, and they are said to stand and to whistle and wave their hands in greeting when a person approaches.
Tiny, hairy man-like bipedal ancestral spirits that whistle and wave? You would be forgiven for hearing this description and being skeptical, perhaps even dismissing such a creature as absurd or a mere myth, and indeed that is what the scientific community thought of the Bondegezou all the way up until 1995. Yet it turns out that this is a very real animal, and its discovery is a powerful reminder that even in modern times there can be large cryptids that really do exist hidden from humankind in the wild places of the world.
Although stories and sightings of the mysterious creature were long reported from the jungles of Indonesian New Guinea, it was not until 1987 that an actual photograph of the elusive cryptid would be taken and shown to Australian scientist Tim Flannery, who thought it was possibly some kind of tree kangaroo. Even with this photograph, the Bondegezou was not taken very seriously by mainstream science, and it was not until 1994 during an unrelated wildlife survey that any real physical evidence of the creature would be turned up. It was then that a skin and some bones of the creature were found, and based on this physical evidence and sightings it was determined that the Bondegezou was a totally new type of marsupial tree kangaroo that both climbs trees and lives on the ground, where it will stand up in a bipedal defensive stance when threatened and make a sound akin to whistling. The creature was first officially described by science in 1995, by Tim Flannery, Indonesian zoologist Boeadi and Australian anthropologist Alexandra Szalay, and is now known mostly as the dingiso.
Even with this amazing discovery of what had previously thought to be a mythical animal, the elusive dingiso was for years known only from photographs and skins, and was not actually captured on film until 2009, when the BBC documentary South Pacific spent 11 days slogging through thick jungle with Moni tribesmen before finding one of the animals. Even now no live specimen has ever been captured. The Bondegezou perfectly illustrates how a real, elusive ethnoknown animal can be so seemingly bizarre, mysterious, and intertwined with folklore that it becomes seen as a myth, remains hidden, and escapes serious scientific inquiry. There is a long list of cryptids still undiscovered that are similarly creatures known by locals and also imbued with folkloric elements, so who is to say there may not be another such mystery creature out there waiting to be found? The Bondegezou remains one of the most recent and resounding success stories of cryptozoology, and gives hope to all who search.
Giant, Multi-tentacled Sea Monster (The Giant Squid)
Since time unremembered mariners have told of encountering an assortment of terrifying denizens of the deep, ranging from sea serpents to mermaids, but few struck as much fear into the hearts of seamen as the legendary Kraken. The Kraken has been a fixture in maritime myth since ancient times, and was usually described as an enormous tentacle monster larger than a ship and sometimes as large as an island, which was highly aggressive and prone to attacking ships.
Although stories of giant squid persisted for centuries, they were dismissed by scientists as pure flights of fancy, no more real than mermaids or other sea monsters. Even when partial carcasses were washed ashore, they were quick to decompose before professional scientists could examine them and were not considered proof that giant squid existed. It was not until the 1840s that open minded Danish zoologist Johan Japetus Streensup, who had spent years painstakingly collecting sightings reports of giant squids, was able to get a close up look at a beached specimen and would give it the name Architeuthis. Yet even with Streensup’s official description and report of the carcass, his peers still did not take any of it seriously.
Over the years, more beached giant squid carcasses were found and examined by scientists, in particular two specimens that were washed up in 1870 in Labrador and Newfoundland, and the skepticism eventually evaporated. Now, we know that the giant squid is a real animal that can reach lengths of up to 13 meters (43 feet) and up, and is an elusive creature that is rarely seen and lives deep in the remote oceans of the world. We also know that there is an even larger type of giant squid, known as the colossal squid, which has eyes the size of dinner plates and can get to be more than 14 meters (46 feet) long.
Even in modern times, very little is known about their behavior, reproductive habits, true range, or even how large they can get, and they were known solely through carcasses until 2004, when a Japanese research team provided the first photographs of an actual live giant squid in its natural environment. The giant squid and its cousin the colossal squid not only show that truly enormous creatures can hide from the eyes of mankind, but also that the oceans are still a vast, poorly understood frontier which undoubtedly hide many more such mysteries within their depths.
We can learn a lot from cases such as these. Every single one of them reads like just about every other cryptid out there. There is hope emanated from such profound cases of discovery. They show that no matter how small our world becomes and no matter how far we push into its wilderness, there are still potentially great zoological discoveries left to be made, perhaps obfuscated by legend and a lack of physical evidence currently. If we can delve into the matter at hand, push through the shadows of doubt, and distinguish reality from pure folklore, maybe we can uncover these oddities as genuine animals that for whatever reasons have remained cloaked in darkness and hidden from view. Maybe we can peel through the layers of accounts and native reports to potentially uncover what lies beneath. The cases mentioned here can also give us hope. Hope that perhaps all cryptid sightings are not just insane ranting or lies. Hope that maybe accounts from native tribes are not to be dismissed out of hand. And most of all, hope that we are far from through with cataloging all of the plethora of life that calls this planet home.