The most difficult thing about cryptozoology, that is the search for unknown or legendary animals and monsters, is getting that proof that they exist, so that they may be welcomed into the pantheon of established, known species. In order to do this, one of the biggest arguments is that we need a body to put forward, and that circumstantial evidence such as tracks and blurry photographs at the end of the day just will not cut it. This of course means killing what could be a very rare and endangered species, so if that is your aim, dear cryptid hunter, then you better be aware of the law. How can an unverified species be protected in any way, you ask? It has happened more times than you may think, and here we look at some of the more interesting cases of cryptids receiving legal attention.
One of the most well-known cases of a cryptid being protected by law is the case of the Swedish lake monster said to lurk in lake Storsjön, in Jämtland, and which is called Storsjöodjuret, or “The Great-Lake Monster.” Described most often as some sort of enormous serpent measuring 6 meters long and with the head of a dog, a long dorsal fin along its back, and sometimes with noticeable humps, it has been seen in the lake since the 1600s. Storsjöodjuret is the source of numerous legends, and has been seen hundreds of times over the years, with many expeditions launched in search of it but never finding anything.
Nevertheless, in 1986 the monster made news when the Jämtland county administrative board made the unusual decision to place the undiscovered, quite possibly mythical animal on the actual endangered species list. Granted this protected status, the law made it illegal to harm or even bother the creature, with the protection extending to its nest and offspring. Luckily, no one was ever arrested or charged with breaking the law in this case, and even the government must have realized how silly it all was, because Storsjöodjuret was removed from the list in 2005. In 1933 there was a plan proposed to protect the creature’s more well-known cousin, Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster, when a Sir Murdoch MacDonald petitioned the government to pass a bill to protect the creature in order to protect it from all of the monster hunters venturing out on the Loch looking for it. Nothing came of it, but Nessie is nevertheless still technically protected under the provisions of the Scotland's 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.
Yet another lake monster that has some interesting legal activity surrounding it is the monster of Lake Champlain, which sprawls out over portions of the states of Vermont and New York, in the United States, as well as the Canadian province of Quebec. Affectionately called “Champ,” the monster is perhaps only second to Nessie of Loch Ness in terms of sheer popularity, and has been seen for centuries. In the 1980s, New York and Vermont successfully passed actual legislation declaring their waters a sanctuary for Champ. Although this law is probably more for publicity and to keep people from trouncing around with weapons hunting for the monster, it is still an interesting story of actual laws passed to protect an unverified creature. You can still hunt and kill Champ in Canada, though. There was a similar law passed in 1973 in the state of Arkansas, where it was declared illegal in certain areas to harm or hunt the alleged monster that supposedly prowls the White River. The so-called White River Monster Refuge, which was proposed by State Senator Robert Harvey and quickly passed, is a legally recognized refuge for the beast, so only be planning to shoot with your camera if you are ever in the area.
Moving onto land we come to another rock star of the cryptid world, the legendary giant ape-man called Bigfoot or Sasquatch. Considering the massive, 8 to 10-foot-tall creatures have managed to elude capture and discovery, if they exist it is probably reasonable to assume that they are rare, quite likely endangered, but never fear, there are some laws pertaining to them as well. In 1969 there was an ordinance put into effect in Skamania County, Washington, threatening a hefty fine and stiff jail time for anyone who harms or kills a Bigfoot, the entirety of which reads:
Be it hereby ordained by the Board of County Commissioners of Skamania County:
Whereas, there is evidence to indicate the possible existence in Skamania County of a nocturnal primate mammal variously described as an ape-like creature or a sub-species of Homo Sapiens; and
Whereas, both legend and purported recent sightings and spoor support this possibility, and
Whereas, this creature is generally and commonly known as a “Sasquatch”, “Yeti”, “Bigfoot”, or “Giant Hairy ape”, and has resulted in an influx of scientific investigators as well as casual hunters, many armed with lethal weapons, and
Whereas, the absence of specific laws covering the taking of specimens encourages laxity in the use of firearms and other deadly devices and poses a clear and present threat to the safety and well-being of persons living or traveling within the boundaries of Skamania County as well as to the creatures themselves,
Therefore be it resolved that any premeditated, willful and wanton slaying of such creature shall be deemed a felony punishable by a fine not to exceed Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000) and/or imprisonment in the county jail for a period not to exceed Five (5) years.
The law also created a one-million-acre refuge for the beasts to roam about in unfettered and free from the fear of being killed or injured by us pesky humans. The law was changed in 1984 to downgrade the consequences of breaking the law to a gross misdemeanor, making the punishment significantly lighter, with a fine of 1,000 dollars and/or a 1-year prison sentence, but Bigfoot is still very much under protection in this county. Washington also has the unusual distinction of having made the Sasquatch its official state cryptid, recognizing its “immeasurable contributions to Washington state’s cultural heritage and ecosystem and the importance of preserving the legacy of Sasquatch.”
Another type of hairy Wildman that has gained some attention for its legal protections is the Yeti. In fact, there are guidelines and laws in effect for anyone looking to bag themselves a Yeti, more commonly known by the mainstream as the Abominable Snowman, of the Himalaya Mountains. In Bhutan, the government has established the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, which encompasses 253 square miles of mountainous terrain and was established specifically to preserve their version of the Yeti, called the Migoi. Nepal also apparently has some legal guidelines in effect concerning the Yeti, as can be seen in a declassified foreign service dispatch sent by the American Embassy in Kathmandu to the Department of State in Washington D.C. in 1959, in the days leading up to a proposed major Yeti hunting expedition. The dispatch, entitled “REGULATIONS GOVERNING MOUNTAIN CLIMBING EXPEDITIONS IN NEPAL RELATED TO YETI,” reads:
1 “Royalty of Rs. 5000/1-Indian Currency will have to be paid to His Majesty’s Government of Nepal for a permit to carry out an expedition in search of “Yeti.”
2 In case “Yeti” is traced it can be photographed or caught alive but it must not be killed or shot at except in an emergency arising out or self defence. All photographs taken of the animal, the creature itself if captured alive or dead, must be surrendered to the Government of Nepal at the earliest time.
3 News and reports throwing light on the actual existence of the creature must be submitted to the Government of Nepal as soon as they are available and must not· in any way be given out to the Press or Reporters for publicity without the permission of the Government of Nepal.
Looking at these laws put in place to protect animals that may not even exist is enough to make one wonder why they spend so much of lawmaker’s time devising these. In some cases, it is a sort of gimmick, to draw in tourist dollars, sometimes with the true intent being to save other known species. For others it is more to keep out poachers and armed individuals more than anything else. For others still it is a serious attempt to pass preemptive protections to protect a creature which is seriously thought to exist but to also be so critically endangered that it is rarely seen. However, if this were the case the animal would probably be already eligible for protection upon discovery, at least in the United States, by the Endangered Species Act, which makes it illegal to harm, kill, harass, or trade in the species it covers, and even requires that scientists have permits to study them. These species also becomes eligible for habitat put aside as a sanctuary for them.
The problem is that applying for inclusion on the endangered species list is typically a lengthy, laborious process that requires communication between the public, scientists, and the government, collecting a lot of information on the creature in question and an official scientific description. Yet, there is an emergency provision that allows the Secretary of the Interior to put a species on the list immediately for up to 240 days without going through all of the red tape, and this would be what is needed if someone were suddenly to find, say, Bigfoot, and wanted immediate protection in effect. Yet, for some this seems to not be enough, and there is the sincere desire to try and protect these cryptids before there is a body found and a need to enact the emergency measures, before it is perhaps too late to save them. Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman has offered his thoughts on the legal protection of cryptids, saying:
Cryptozoology deals with monsters that have yet to be discovered. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. They usually just don’t exist in as fantastical a nature as people think. The gorilla, you know, isn’t a giant animal that squeezes native women to death. There are some serious individuals out there who feel that animals like Champ are really an endangered species that haven’t yet been discovered. They want to protect them, and think that the best way is to pass laws protecting them before they’re discovered. That’s usually not the way we go about it, but it does seem to be a way to offer immediate protection.
Although we have looked at some unusual and rare cases here, we are left with the question, are cryptids worth protecting, and how do we go about enacting such measures when they aren't even known to exist? Is it worth using resources and manpower to put such laws into effect when other animal species that really do exist wait in line in the backlog of candidates for protection? Whatever your feelings might be on the matter, as more and more species are discovered and potentially endangered animals come into focus, such laws may prove to be essential to saving them from disappearing forever, and although these cases of legally protected cryptids might definitely raise some eyebrows, they link directly into issues that will affect wildlife into the near future and beyond.