How does a person become a cryptozoologist? A monster-hunter, in other words. Certainly, it’s hardly a subject you can study at university and, in the process, secure a degree. The only way to hunt for monsters is to go out and look for them. Yes, it really is that simple. Some people may be inspired, in childhood, by reading a book on Nessie. Maybe, it was a particular movie – like Hammer Films Productions’ 1957 release, The Abominable Snowman – which caused such inspiration. In some cases, it may all be down to a personal encounter with something unknown and monstrous. With that all in mind, let’s take a look at the origins of a creature-seeker who has traveled the world in pursuit of what have become known as Cryptids. That man is Richard Freeman, of the U.K.-based Center for Fortean Zoology (CFZ).
As a very young boy growing up in England in the mid-1970s, Freeman regularly holidayed with his grandparents in the picturesque county of Devon – where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, was set. For those who may not know, it’s a great book about a monstrous, ghostly hound which haunts and terrorizes the Baskerville family. One summer, when he was nine years of age, Freeman watched and listened with awe and excitement when his grandfather got talking to a retired fisherman in the Devon village of Goodrington, and who had a startling tale to relate.
Several years earlier the fisherman and his crew were trawling off of Berry Head, where the seas of Britain are almost at their absolute deepest. Indeed, such are the depths of this part of the English Channel that the area is commonly used as a graveyard for old ships, and the drowned wrecks of these once-mighty vessels have made an artificial reef that, today, attract a vast array of fish.
On one particular moonlit night, the crew had trouble lifting the nets and began to worry that they had gotten entwined around the remains of a rotting, ship’s mast. Soon, however, they felt some slack and duly began to haul the nets up. The men thought that their catch was a particularly good one, so heavy were their nets. As the nets drew ever closer to the trawler’s lights, however, a frightening sight took shape. The crew realized with terror that they had not caught hundreds of normal-sized fish, but one gigantic creature.
The old fisherman quietly told Freeman’s grandfather: “It was an eel, a giant eel. Its mouth was huge, wide enough to have swallowed a man; the teeth were as long as my hand.” Even today, decades later, Freeman still remembers the words of the ancient mariner, and he is convinced that this was not a tall story designed merely to entertain gullible tourists. “While it was still in the water,” added the fisherman, “it was buoyed up, but as soon as we tried to pull it on-board the nets snapped like cotton and it vanished back down. I was glad it went. I’ve been at sea all my life but I’ve never been as scared as I was that night. I can still see its eyes, huge [and] glassy.”
And from that moment on, the life of Richard Freeman was forever changed, and the monster-hunter within him began to take shape. For three years Freeman worked as the Head of Reptiles at Twycross Zoo, England and, today, is the Zoological Director of the aforementioned CFZ. His investigations have taken him to the Congo, in search of the almost-dinosaur-like Mokele Mbembe. He has also traveled to Mongolia, in search of its dangerous “Death Worm.” Freeman has carefully staked-out various English lakes from which tales of monsters abound. And he has traveled to both Guyana and Russia in search of hairy man-beasts. And, as a result of that chance encounter back in the 1970s, Freeman shows no signs of stopping his life’s work.