Even as cryptozoology, the search for undiscovered, mythical, or long thought to be extinct species, strives for acceptance and legitimacy with ever more scientific approaches and efforts to provide solid evidence, there has long been a specter that has cast a shadow over the whole field; that of the hoax. Indeed the history of cryptozoology is littered with hoaxes, from the simple to the truly elaborate, which have been annoying at the best of times and severely damaging to the field’s credibility at the worst. There are many reasons for why some people desire to construct hoaxes in cryptozoology. For some, it’s for financial gain, charging money to get a peek at a real monster. In other cases it is to make a name for oneself, for who wouldn’t want the accolades given for being the first to find good evidence for the existence of a mystery monster, even if that means having to fake it? Still others simply want their 15 minutes of fame, regardless of how they acquire it, and some hoaxers have names that still resonate within the field regardless of their trickery. In other cases, hoaxes are simply childish pranks, or the result of a joke that simply got out of control and took on a life of its own. Misinformation can also be the culprit, misunderstandings that spin out of control without any real intentional aim to create a hoax. Then there are those with more insidious agendas, who wish to destabilize the credibility of the field, make fools of those within it, or get revenge or vent anger at researchers within it.
Indeed, there are many ways that a hoax can sink its claws into the field of cryptozoology, and some of these can cause lasting damage that is hard to undo, with one example being photographic evidence becoming nearly useless to the field due to the countless photographic hoaxes polluting the landscape. Among these displays of deception and trickery there are some that truly stand out. These are the hoaxes that were either impressively elaborate or were believed by most people at the time, fooling the majority, and as such have earned a place in the history of cautionary tales of deceit. In this 2-part series of articles, we will explore some of the more memorable and notorious of these hoaxes. I usually avoid doing 2-part articles, but in this case there is such a wealth of information and so many important cases that I feel compelled to provide a more thorough list than I am able to with only a single installment. Although this is still by far not a comprehensive list of all of the great cryptozoology hoaxes, these are a selection of some of the cases I think represent some of the ones that have for whatever reasons, be it their ingenuity or ability to pull people in, have reverberated across the field of cryptozoology to this day.
De Loys’ Ape
In the early 1900s, a Swiss oil geologist by the name of François de Loys surveying a remote region of South America would allegedly come across an odd finding that would shake the world of zoology at the time, and also prove to be one of its greatest hoaxes. From 1917 to 1920, De Loys was in the process of searching for petroleum along an isolated stretch of mostly uncharted jungle in an area near Lake Maracaibo, on the border of Colombia and Venezuela, along with an expedition of 20 members. It would prove to be a disastrous expedition, as in the process of slogging through mosquito choked, nearly impenetrable jungle inhabited by aggressive natives, only four of the expedition would make it out of the perilous wilderness alive. Although the expedition had met up with tragic circumstances, it is mostly known for an alleged curious encounter, which would go on to become one of the greatest cryptozoological hoaxes of all time and the echoes of which can still be felt in the field today.
During this dangerous trek, the group made their way to the shores of the remote Tarra River, where they set up camp. It was here along the shores of the river that De Loys would claim that two strange reddish primates, one male and one female, would emerge from the jungle to approach the expedition. They were described as very large monkeys, standing around 1.57 meters tall, only without tails and walking about in an unusual upright, bipedal manner. The two mystery primates were said to have been quite bold and seemingly a bit perturbed at the presence of humans in their jungle domain, howling and waving their arms about wildly. As they approached closer, the two creatures reportedly became even more aggressive, defecating into their hands and flinging the excrement at the startled men of the expedition. The increasingly frightened men soon decided that things had gone far enough and fired upon the strange ape-like creatures, killing the female and sending the male to scurry away into the thick underbrush.
De Loys was fascinated by the whole ordeal, having never seen such large monkeys before in South America, and certainly none that had no tails and walked around like men. Although the jungles were crawling with monkeys, there had never been any species of ape in South America, and this is precisely what the creatures seemed to be. Further examination of the corpse would show that it had a human-like tooth count of 32 teeth rather than the 36 more common to the New World monkeys of the region. In fact, the creature was profoundly different from any known South American primate. Perplexed, De Loys had the strange ape propped up on a crate with a stick wedged under its chin and took a series of photographs of it, after which he had it skinned in order to preserve the hide and skull as physical evidence of the encounter. As the expedition pressed further into the vast wilderness and met with more hardship and perils, it is said that all of the photographs but one were lost, and that the group was forced to get rid of the skin and skull of the creature. All that would remain was a single photo of the “ape” sitting on the crate.
De Loys would survive the harrowing expedition which had killed most of his men, and when he returned home to Europe he would not give another thought to the matter of the strange ape they had shot. It was not until 1929 that an anthropologist by the name of George Montandon would come across the photo of the beast while sifting through De Loys’ records in an attempt to hunt down information on the indigenous tribes of the region. Montandon thought the photograph to be of great zoological and anthropological importance, perhaps evidence of a South American ape or even some sort of hominid, which led him to pursue study of the creature. De Loys finally came forth with his bizarre account in the Illustrated London News of June 15, 1929, which would be followed by several legitimate scientific articles on the matter and would lead to the creature actually acquiring the scientific name Ameranthropoides loysi, which was suggested by Montandon himself.
With all of the talk of this amazing new discovery and the scientific naming of a new South American ape based on a single photograph, there was immediate skepticism that spread across the scientific community. Several red flags were apparent from the start. First was the fact that there was only one photograph of the mystery ape. De Loys claimed that more had been taken, but that they had been lost on the ill-fated expedition. It was also claimed that the hide and skull of the creature, which would have settled the matter once and for all, had indeed been kept but that they had been lost due to accidents, decomposition, and the fact that the skull had been corroded away by being used as a container for salt. The lack of any remains meant it was impossible to physically verify what the primate was, or corroborate De Loys’ claims about its tooth count. Furthermore, the photo itself was highly suspicious. The creature had only been photographed from the front, making it impossible to determine if it had a tail or not, which could have been hidden or even cut off, and there was little apparent in the photograph to give a sense of scale, so the true size could not be determined. Making things worse was the fact that many published versions of the infamous photograph had been cropped in such a way as to make the ape look more enigmatic and mysterious, and with the vegetation in the background removed.
Later research would cast more suspicion on the photograph, when what appears to be the stump of a banana tree was noticed on the right side of the photo. Since banana trees are not native to the jungles of South America, and would certainly not have made their way to this isolated area, this observation casts doubt on whether the photo was even taken where De Loys claimed to begin with. In addition to all of these suspicious factors, there were naturalists who stated the obvious, that the primate in the photo looked exactly like a spider monkey, of which there were many species in the region and were very common. Although spider monkeys are smaller than the purported size of the ape and have very prominent tails, the condition of the photograph makes it impossible to determine the size and possession of a tail with the mystery creature.
To be fair, DeLoys himself did very little to play up the mystery factor of the creature and the photo, remaining rather quiet about the whole thing, and indeed only mentioned it once in the article for the Illustrated London News entitled “Found at Last – The First American,” which was a rather bold, sensationalist piece expounding on how the missing link had been found in South America. Indeed, the publication was reminiscent of a tabloid of the time. Even in this case, De Loys was pressured into doing the article by Montandon. In fact, De Loys was generally rather reluctant to discuss the matter of the ape encounter, indeed even leaving it out of the official published record of the expedition. The main driving force behind promoting the discovery of the bipedal ape, Ameranthropoides loysi, was Montandon, and it would turn out that he had serious ulterior motives for doing so.
Montandon was a known, outspoken racist, and endorsed a twisted view of human evolution in which it was believed that humans had evolved independently from whatever ape species lives in the geographical area, an idea known as “hologenisis.” For instance, gorillas had evolved into Africans, orangutans into Asians, and so on, which was a theory that neatly fit into the overall popular racist notions of human evolution at the time. In this pseudo-scientific theory, the existence of a large South American ape such as Ameranthropoides loysi would show that the people of South America had evolved from this “missing link,” and would go a long way towards propagating and confirming these misguided ideas on human evolution. Considering this, it has been suggested that the whole story of “De Loys’ Ape” was merely an elaborate fraud perpetuated by Montandon himself to further promote and spread his racist theory of evolution. This notion of the De Loys’ Ape as a tool by Montandon for an erroneous racist school of evolutionary thought was first championed by such eminent cryptozoologists as Loren Coleman and Michel Raynal in 1996, and further written about by historians Pierre Centlivres and Isabelle Girod in 1998.
Further driving the nail into the coffin of the Ameranthropoides loysi discovery was a letter published in the the July-August 1999 edition of the Venezuelan scientific magazine Interciencia. The letter, first written in 1962 to the editor of the magazine Diario El Universal, was authored by a Doctor Enrique Tejera, who claimed to have been on the very same expedition in which De Loys had allegedly found the ape, and in no uncertain terms denounced the entire affair as a flat-out hoax. In the letter, Tejera describes how De Loys was an insufferable prankster who was prone to trickery and laughing at his own jokes. It was explained that during the expedition, De Loys had adopted a spider monkey with a handicapped tail that was subsequently amputated, a procedure which Tejera claimed to have personally witnessed. De Loys had then allegedly kept the monkey as a pet, naming it “el hombre mono” (the monkey man), until it sadly died. De Loys had then decided to take a picture of his dead companion propped up on a box, and it was this photograph that had become the basis of the whole “discovery” of a South American anthropoid ape. Tejera also claimed that the photograph had been modified and manipulated so as to hide the surrounding vegetation, make the box on which it was perched as nondescript as possible, and create the illusion that the mystery primate looked much larger than it really was. The letter ends on the note that Montandon was “not a good person,” and was executed during the war for betraying his home country of France.
Considering all of this, it seems clear that the story and photo of Ameranthropoides loysi was an elaborate hoax perpetuated by Montandon, very likely for a racist agenda, and that the photograph is a cleverly crafted and manipulated illusion that shows merely a dead, tailless spider monkey arranged to make it seem more mysterious than it really is. Unfortunately, despite all of the evidence that points to this being an obvious hoax, as well as the denouncement as such by such eminent cryptozoologists as Loren Coleman, Karl Shuker, and Ivan T. Sanderson, there are still those who truly believe that the photograph could be of a new type of South American ape, and that De Loys’ account was possibly true. Indeed, it is still discussed by some cryptozoologists as being a possible real cryptid, perhaps a specimen of a large extinct species of spider monkey called Protopithecus brasiliensis, or of a large South American primate-like cryptid called the Mono Grande. However, although there are those who wish to keep the mystery alive and discuss De Loys’ mystery ape as a real potential cryptid, the vast majority of evidence seems to clearly show that this is a hoax, and shows just how enduring these deceptions can be.
The Ozark Howler
There are some cryptid hoaxes that have become so ingrained into the literature and so widely reported and accepted as actual phenomena within the field that they have come to be established, genuine mystery monsters that many people still believe are possibly real, despite the reality being quite to the contrary. One little known and widely perpetuated hoax that has often been talked about as a “real cryptid” is that of the infamous Ozark Howler of Arkansas, Missouri, and other adjacent states, primarily within the Ozark Mountains. The Ozark Howler is said to be a large, bear-sized cat-like creature with a thick, stocky body, shaggy black hair, a long tail, red glowing eyes, wicked claws, and horns on its head, with its alleged unearthly wails accounting for its “howler” moniker. Stories of people out in the wilds running into this strange beast have been circulating for years, yet unfortunately it is all a part of a particularly well-crafted, complex and ingenious hoax.
One of the driving forces behind uncovering the real story behind the Ozark Howler was renowned cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, who did a great amount of research hunting down the origins of this hoax. Coleman found that the origins of the Ozark Howler hoax can be traced back to a few Internet stories about this creature that began circulating on the web in 1998. By all accounts, these articles seemed genuine, with great, convincing detail put into the lore and legends of the creatures in Arkansas in the past century and seemingly legit sounding sightings both modern and historical. From there, stories of the Ozark Howler began popping up all over the Internet, and whole sites, as well as alleged “research groups” dedicated to studying the phenomenon were sprouting up left and right, such as a group calling itself the “Ozark Howler Researcher Group,” with its stated goal of being “dedicated to the comprehensive evaluation of existing evidence and exploration for new evidence of the Howler.” All of this was a surprise to actual cryptozoologists, because most of them, even the biggest names in the field, had never heard of such a creature before.
Before long, cryptozoologists were being deluged with supposedly “real” sightings accounts of the Ozark Howler dating back years, which for the most part were very convincing and did not sound like they were any different from any other eyewitness report of a cryptid. Yet despite these seemingly genuine reports and legit sounding research organizations, cryptozoologists were suspicious, and there were a fair number of them, such as cryptozoologists Loren Coleman and Chad Arment, who were willing to dig into the matter further. Deeper investigations into the matter would turn up all sorts of red flags. One interesting find was that there was a web ring owned by a group calling itself the “Howler Research Group,” which counted as one of its members a researcher named “Itzakh Joach,” claimed to be a professor of biology at at Buffalo River University in eastern Oklahoma. However, there is no such person and indeed no such university, and both are bogus. Even the name of the primary investigator of the phenomenon, “Itzah Joach,” reads as “It’s a joke,” a thinly veiled hint that the whole thing was a sham. The writing was on the wall. In fact, all of the so-called “experts” and “researchers” named by the group turned out to be bogus names with impressive sounding but fake credentials.
In the end it was ascertained that all of these research groups were phony, and that the tales of the Ozark Howler more or less boiled down to a few or even one person going online under different names and accounts and conjuring up fake sightings accounts and research groups, the information of which trickled onto legitimate cryptozoology websites, was used as sources for further articles on the matter, and took on a life of its own. In every case, these accounts and sources could be traced back to only a very few original web accounts. Instrumental in uncovering this information was Loren Coleman, who seemed to have been directly targeted by the hoaxers or hoaxer, with the apparent aim of having the Ozark Howler included in his book Cryptozoology A To Z: The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters, Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature. One enigmatic individual came forward by the name of “Jonathan C. Cook,” who claimed to be with the University of Memphis and was supposedly writing an article for Strange Magazine on the Ozark Howler. This is curious already, as the editor of the magazine, Mark Chorvinsky, would deny that any such article was being written for the publication.
It also became apparent that this Cook was interested in getting the Ozark Howler mentioned in an upcoming book by Coleman, yet when Coleman investigated the name “Cook” he came up with an actual doctor who had no idea of what was going on. Coleman also found that websites concerning the Howler had employed numerous aliases, as well as other complex methods of subterfuge and deception, such as using multiple month online designs. Coleman would eventually directly confront “Cook” in May of 1998, and the individual would confess that it had been an attempt to create a new cryptid in order to see what would happen, fool cryptozoology writers, and to stir skepticism of cryptozoology in general, the idea for which had come to him after visiting a skeptic website forum. After that, it was merely a matter of meticulously crafting false websites, e-mail accounts, bogus sightings reports placed on cryptozoology websites, and fake e-mails in order to complete the illusion.
Coleman of course did not include the fake cryptid in his book, and would write much of this hunting down of a hoax, as would Chad Arment in his book Cryptozoology: Science and Speculation. Regardless of this thorough debunking by Loren Coleman and other big names in the field, the Ozark Howler has incredibly remained a fixture in cryptozoology as a potentially real creature, and is often referred to as a legitimate cryptid. Among the numerous Internet articles on this cryptid, few make mention of the the hoax, and there are others who still firmly hold on to the idea that the Ozark Howler is real, either unaware of the fact that it is a proven hoax or in denial. Loren Coleman has even leveled criticism squarely at Wikipedia, whose entry brushes over the hoax angle and instead prefers to perpetuate the hoax by offering the possibility that it is all real regardless, citing that reports predate the findings of hoaxing while ignoring that said hoaxers made it a point to make sure that there were phony reports that would achieve this effect. The Ozark Howler remains a true cautionary tale of “fake cryptids,” and the detrimental effects of fake reports and bogus sources muddying the waters and propagating themselves until they become regarded as fact. To this day the damage can be seen, with the Ozark Howler hoax still reverberating throughout cryptozoology.
The Cardiff Giant
One of the most famous hoaxes in cryptozoology, if not the most famous hoax in United States history, period, as well as the most profitable, is that of the Cardiff Giant. In October of 1869, workers digging a well behind the home of a William C. “Stub” Newell in Cardiff, New York, allegedly uncovered a gigantic stone man that measured 10 feet tall and which was soon generating intense interest among the public. Soon there were theories swirling that the mysterious giant was everything from an actual petrified giant, to a stone statue depicting one of the giants mentioned in the Bible, Genesis 6:4, and amazed visitors began pouring in to Newell’s farm get a close up look at what would come to be known as the Cardiff Giant. Even scientists at the time were baffled by the mysterious giant, and were not quite sure what to make of it.
The Cardiff Giant was later purchased by businessmen for $37,500, after which it was moved to Syracuse, New York, and continued to be immensely popular, drawing droves of gawking visitors. In the meantime, the famous showman Phineas T. Barnum offered $60,000 to lease the giant for 3 months, but was turned down. This did not stop Barnum, who made a replica of papier-mache and even went as far as to say that it was his which was the real deal and the one at Newell’s farm was the fake, challenging others to prove that his giant was any less authentic than the other. Amazingly, Barnum’s replica began pulling in as much business as the original, if not more, and it seemed that people were willing to pay to see them regardless of which one was real and which one was fake. It was at this time that some scientists who got a good look at the thing began to voice their skepticism. One paleontologist from Yale by the name of Othniel C. Marsh even went so far as to flat-out proclaim it to be a badly made fake, pointing out that there were still clear chisel marks embedded within it, as well as deep lines where ink and sulphuric acid hadn’t reached.
Even though there were plenty of people willing to defend the authenticity of the giant, in light of the increasing skepticism being leveled at it from the scientific community, a New York tobacconist by the name of George Hull stepped forward to admit the whole thing had been an elaborate hoax. Hull claimed that he had gotten the idea after an argument with a Methodist Reverend over whether the giants mentioned in the Bible should be taken literally, which Hull didn’t think they should be. Nevertheless, he had gotten to thinking of the idea of creating a giant “petrified man” and seeing if he could simultaneously mess with the religious and make some money at the same time.
Hull had then gone about making the statue and enacting his plan. He paid a group of men to pull out an enormous 12-by-4-by-2-foot block of a soft, limy rock called gypsum from a quarry near a railroad construction site in Iowa and went to work crafting his masterpiece. After the monumental task of secretly moving the block of stone, which broke several transport wagons and a bridge with its immense weight, Hull hired a stonecutter by the name of Edward Burkhardt to get to work on carving a giant that would have the look of having died in agony. To make the statue look old, weathered and worn, sand, various acids and stains were rubbed into the stone, and needles embedded in lead bases attached to hammers were used to pound into the stone to simulate pores of the skin.
When the massive statue was finished, Hull had had it moved to William Newell’s place, who was a relative of his. The statue was then buried and allowed to stay underground for a full year so that any talk of the canvas covered wagon used to carry it in would be forgotten. After that, it was just a matter of hiring some people to dig it up under the pretense of digging a well and “stumble across” the find, which people both citizen and scientist alike would fall for hook line and sinker. The whole ruse had cost Hull around $2,600 yet had made him a small fortune in the end, making it a most profitable endeavor and one of the most financially successful hoaxes in United States history. Weirdly, even after the Cardiff Giant was widely shown to be a blatant hoax, people still kept pouring in to see both it and Barnum’s replica, their popularity seemingly independent of whether they were real or not. Hull would eventually sell his creation and squander his earnings, going broke and actually trying to instigate a similar hoax with a “giant” dug up in Colorado, but he would ultimately die a poor man. The original Cardiff Giant can be seen on display at the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, New York, and Barnum’s replica can be seen at Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum, in Farmington Hills, Michigan.
The Mermaid Mockumentary (and other dishonest cryptozoological programming)
Not all cryptozoology hoaxes necessarily start out intentionally as such. In some cases, what begins as an obvious joke or fabrication can be imbued with a life of its own and spiral out of control to careen into the realm of the real. In 2012, the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet aired a show entitled Mermaids: The Body Found, which was created to seem like an actual documentary which followed the the research of a scientific team investigating the footage of a mysterious body purported to be that of a real mermaid. The scientists claimed that an autopsy had been performed on a dead mermaid and that the government had swooped in and covered the whole thing up.
It was all done very convincingly. The show made it a point to make everything seem as realistic as possible, using serious, authentic looking interviews with “scientists” who were actually actors, a somber documentary tone throughout, facts seamlessly woven in with fiction, and realistic computer generated footage to give the implication that it was a factual documentary. For all appearances, the program seemed to be an authentic documentary program, and although there was a disclaimer at the end of the program alerting viewers to the fact that what they were viewing was a fiction based on “scientific theory,” this was not prominently shown, and was more of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it tacked on message. As a result, the vast majority of viewers went away believing that what they had seen was a legitimate documentary and that mermaids had been found to be real.
A follow-up program on Animal Planet in 2013 entitled Mermaids: The New Evidence, raised the stakes in sensationalism, and truly propelled the hoax into the stratosphere. The program was similarly made in a very realistic looking documentary style and opened with a bang. The first scene showed purported “new footage” of a mermaid taken by a cellphone, which shows the creature sliding off of a rock into the ocean. Upping the ante was another piece of footage which claimed to be of a mermaid encounter in the Greenland Sea. This clip shows a webbed hand touching the window of a submersible, as well as the ghostly face of a purported mermaid blooming out of the dark before the creature darts off. The footage was all fake, but looks quite convincing and is presented as the real deal. The show adds in very professional looking interviews with the “biologist” Dr Paul Robertson, as well as a “former scientist” with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who talked about the existence of mermaids and both of which were actually actors. Topping off the whole illusion, the network actually made a spin-off website, which simply informed visitors that it had been shut down by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. The whole thing was so well done that Ed Stockly of the LA Times said of it:
It’s remarkable how well this fake documentary mimics actual programs claiming to reveal actual creatures. Substitute Mermaids for Bigfoot, Chupacabra, the Loch Ness monster, ghosts and aliens, and it’s hard to make a distinction between what’s real but faked, and what’s really fake.
The sensational program attracted 3.6 million viewers, by far Animal Planet’s largest audience ever. Unfortunately, although the network had included a fleeting, easy-to-miss disclaimer at the end, most of these viewers were convinced that it was all real. Immediately following the airing of Mermaids: The New Evidence, social networking sites such as Twitter were exploding off the charts with talk of the amazing footage, and clips of the videos were streamed at a phenomenal rate. In the end, millions of people were duped by the program, to the point where the real National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would go on to totally dismiss the whole thing, saying “Mermaids: The New Evidence is just entertainment. No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found.” Many people expressed a good amount of anger when they found out they’d essentially been tricked, and social media came alive once again with those voicing their disappointment and frustration at the network.
Although there were the disclaimers announcing the shows as based on speculation and fiction, Animal Planet did very little to make sure that these were visible, and indeed did very little to let audiences know that the programs were bogus at all. In a press release for the program, the network went through great lengths to sound official and expound on “scientific facts,” pertaining mostly to the generally dismissed Aquatic Ape Theory, a theory that humans went through a phase of aquatic evolution, yet there were only two fleeting references to the show being science fiction in the entire 1,000 word statement. All of this has led to the idea that Animal Planet may have intentionally misled people on the nature of the programs. The show’s executive producer, Charlie Foley, even personally stated that they had wanted viewers to think of it as real, and that this was the reason they had chosen the documentary format. He would say to ABC News of the programs:
We wanted people to approach the story with a sense of possibility and a sense of wonder. Hopefully that’s what Mermaids allowed viewers to do…allowed them to suspend their disbelief.
Although it is unclear whether Animal Planet willfully intended to trick its audience and create a widely believed hoax, they probably weren’t too upset about the whole thing considering the record smashing ratings the shows generated for them. It is unfortunate that this success has ensured that other such fake documentary style programs have become popular and continue to be made, with Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel, two mostly well respected wildlife networks, being the primary culprits. Some of the “found footage” style fake documentaries include Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine, a fake documentary about a giant great white shark attacking a submarine, Cryptid: The Swamp Beast, about a fictional swamp cryptid, Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives, about giant prehistoric sharks attacking a boat and being found to exist in the deep sea, and Monster Hammerhead, concerning a giant hammerhead shark terrorizing Florida’s shores, among others, all of which managed to trick a lot of people into thinking they were real.
Adding to the deceptive quality of such programming is the fact that these shows sometimes get real scientists to appear on them through false pretenses, trickery, and outright lies. When making a fake documentary called Voodoo Sharks, about a legendary monster shark called the Rooken, which said to lurk in the swamps and bayous of Louisiana, Discovery Channel approached biologist and shark expert Jonathan Davis to appear. When Davis went to meet with the film crew out in the field, his inquiries as to what exactly the show would be about were continually deflected or even ignored. The frustrated scientist was only able to glean that they were supposedly making a program about shark research in Louisiana. When the show was finally aired, Davis was astonished to see that the program was about mythical cryptid sharks, which he had not been told of at all.
Further adding to his shock was the fact that the show presented his interviews wildly out of context, things he had said were mixed and matched to make it seem as though he was endorsing the existence of the mystery shark, and that the interviews had been spliced together with other footage to make it seem as though he was in a race against another team to see who could find the mythical shark first. Davis would later lament that during his interviews with the crew, he had been led along certain routes and asked to say or rephrase things that would fit into what the producers wanted, including things that Davis admitted he would have never said on his own. The clever line of questioning also managed to glean responses to vague questions that could be used out of context to be responses for different questions. Indeed, this practice of deceiving and manipulating experts and their testimony has become commonplace on these cryptid “mockumentaries” and other cryptozoology shows in general.
Even if the networks are not intentionally trying to deceive audiences, there are obviously dishonest practices going on in the way they are presented for the purpose of generating maximum mystery and intrigue, provoking belief in the fantastic, and giving the audience what they want to see. Whether the ultimate goal is outright deception or not, these sly television programs do a lot of damage to the credibility of any potentially real discoveries or footage found. It seems at the very least that it would be helpful to make more of an effort to more prominently show that these programs are fictional, and to present interviews with scientists and experts in a more honest manner.
Hoaxes and cryptozoology will probably always be inextricably intertwined, but rather than fall victim to these deceptions and simply fume with frustration, we can at least try to study them, to come to some understanding of how they were pulled off and the motivations of those behind them. In this way, we may perhaps be able to lessen the damage done by hoaxes, and ensure we are able to more critically spot them. In the next part of this series, we will delve into some more of history’s greatest cryptozoology hoaxes, including impressive Bigfoot and Nessie hoaxes, as well as fairies and forest beasts. Stay tuned for Part2!