For many people, the worlds of Cryptozoology and high-level conspiracy make for strange and rarely connected bed-fellows. But, there are exceptions. And, sometimes, those exceptions are of a distinctly profound nature - as will now be demonstrated. On the afternoon of a spring day in 1992, Jon Downes, the director of the British-based Center for Fortean Zoology and a renowned seeker of unknown animals, was deep in conversation with a police officer from Middlemoor Police Station in the English city of Exeter. The subject of the conversation was the so-called "big cat" sightings (such as the notorious Beast of Bodmin and Beast of Exmoor) that have been reported throughout the British counties of Devon and Cornwall for decades.
Was Downes aware, the officer inquired, that there had occurred at nearby Newquay Zoo in the late 1970s a series of grisly mutilations of animals under extremely strange circumstances? Downes replied that, no, he was not. Fortunately, however, the officer was able to put Downes in touch with the one man in a position to discuss the facts: the head keeper at the zoo at the time in question. And here's where things began to get distinctly odd. Downes wasted no time in tracking the man down. Elderly and in failing health, he confirmed to Downes the basics of the story: very strange deaths had occurred at the zoo, and wallabies, swans and geese had been beheaded. But more significantly, their corpses had been totally drained of blood…
"There was no blood left in the animals at all," Downes was informed by the keeper, who added, "I had the area UFO compositor – or whatever he called himself – come down, and the suggestion was that it was beings from outer space who came down and needed the blood – or whatever else it was that they drew out of those animals – to survive. It never developed any further than that. I believe that he got a radiation count in the wallaby paddock at that time."
Was the culprit ever located? "No," was the reply from Downes' source, who added: "But the same thing was happening all over the world. I can tell you that." Downes advised me that the zookeeper was not an adherent of the extra-terrestrial hypothesis; rather, he suspected black magic and a witch-coven. As he conceded, however, there was also talk of "big cats" in the area – a theory later dismissed by a distinct lack of tell-tale paw-prints.
At that stage the conversation was terminated. Downes, however, felt that the man was keeping something back and resolved to address the matter further at a later date. Regrettably, he did not get the chance. Forty-eight hours later, the man was dead. Although the death seems to have only been as a result of the man’s failing health, to this day Downes finds this whole saga particularly strange. But more was to follow.
Two years later, in 1994, Downes received - under somewhat conspiratorial circumstances - a package of documents that consisted of, amongst other things, a police file on the animal killings at Newquay Zoo in 1978. The first such police report of October 2, 1978 stated: "Over the past months a number of incidents have occurred at the Newquay Zoological Gardens at Trenance Gardens, Newquay. These incidents were thought at first to be unconnected and possibly due to the incursion of a marauding animal, but this has now been discounted."
Perhaps most bizarre of all, however, was a further report concerning "something" that had undercover of darkness "attempted to gain entrance to the lion’s cage!" It hardly needs to be stressed that only someone very foolhardy or near-indestructible would dare venture into the cage of a lion! And yet, incredibly, something did. Checks outside of the cage, the report states, revealed prints that were thought to possibly be those of a large cat of some type; however, that the modus operandi behind the killings suggested a degree of sophisticated intelligence, is something that leaves this particular aspect of the affair somewhat murky.
And most significant of all, the files state: "The method of killing would indicate that the culprit is an extremely strong 'person' or that some form of drug was used to pacify the animals. If tissue samples were available, then the drug, if used, could be detected."
More than twenty years on, the mysterious animal deaths at Newquay Zoo remain just that – a mystery. However, Jon Downes has also been given access to additional papers that ask a number of interesting and perhaps highly relevant questions to the whole affair, including: "Any mysterious disappearances over the relevant period? Any reports of unusual aircraft or incidents? Have the local population reported any loss of livestock?" Notably, the person posing the question also raised the issue of an abandoned, old mine near the zoo and speculated as to whether it was serving as a "possible refuge" for…well, what?
Perhaps, one day, we'll know...