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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Animal Planet Gets in on the Cryptozoological Boom

I mean, it's about time, don't you think? While one can understand Sci-Fi's predilection for UFOs and History Channel's obsession with legends and lore, Animal Planet - the cable channel dedicated to all things wildlife - seems the perfect home for cryptozoological oddities. Of course, we phenomenalists understand that certain factions wish to distance themselves from the subject, but Animal Planet is a TV station, for goodness' sake! They want ratings!

Of course, the subject of cryptozoology brings harsh opinions from both sides. Like all subjects covered by the broad "phenomenal" term, there are Believers and Non-Believers (Skeptics), and then there are Phenomenalists; phenomenalists often claim to be "mere collectors" of these inexplicable events, but I submit that most of us are a bit more "Believer" than "Skeptic."

Still, the actual term, cryptozoology, is very acceptable simply as a term: its literal definition is "The study of unknown animals/creatures." 1 This term was popularly coined by zoologist, Bernard Heuvelmans, though he attributes it to fellow zoologist, Ivan Terence Sanderson, a Scottish explorer whose personal encounter with a giant bat in Africa led him into studies of unknown creatures. By any rate, Heuvelmans became the accepted "father" of the branch and credited the origin of the study to the book, The Great Sea Serpent, by zoologist, Anthonie Oudemans.

In his book, Oudemans suggests all "sea serpents" (lake monsters, et.al.) are actually a previously unknown species of seal, which he dubbed Megophias megophias. While reception from the scientific community was cool, Oudemans' other papers were very well received, and he had a celebrated and respected career. While the reception is understandable, as Oudemans' theory is overly simplistic and largely baseless, the reception of The Great Sea Serpent was a harbinger of things to come, as the larger scientific community has continued to deride the pursuit and its pursuers, regardless of their accreditations.

Heuvelmans established the ISC - the International Society of Cryptozoology - which drew several members from the zoological community, as well as others (and Heuvelmans himself noted the branch needed to be "interdisciplinary"). The ISC basically died-off with Heuvelmans' 2001 passing, though it was said to be choking along as late as 2002. Many networks and communities sprang-up in its wake, notably with the advent of the Web.

Animal Planet showed a spate of cryptozoological shows tonight, the first two of which were actually from sister stations (Animal Planet is a Discovery networks channel). However, the last one, Lost Tapes, is an original series. I'll have more to say on tonight's episode in another post, but wanted to note that two episodes will be shown next week. You can learn more by following the link to the site, provided above.

1: Technically, it's all Greek to us: the very literal translation is the "study of hidden animals." CONTINUE

© C Harris Lynn, 2008

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