Studying the unknown

Almost all of us have watched the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and marvelled at the sheer magic and exuberance in these films. The spells, the mysteries, the dragons have

Published: 28th February 2012 01:24 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 06:06 PM   |  A+A-

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Khumjung Gompa in Nepal where a Yeti skull is kept supposedly, (inset) the Yeti skull

Almost all of us have watched the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and marvelled at the sheer magic and exuberance in these films. The spells, the mysteries, the dragons have captured our imaginations. Many of us might have dreamt of fighting a Hungarian Horntail, riding a unicorn or fencing alongside Captain Jack Sparrow to ward off the Kraken. But alas, reality strikes, wakes us from our dream and leaves us hoping for more. But is it possible that  creatures such as dragons, giant sea monsters, the Sasquatch actually exist? Some people think they do. A little known branch of biology called cryptozoology studies these claims and tries to provide testifiable scientific proof of their existence.

However far-fetched cryptozoology may sound its core ideas are deeply rooted in science and not folklore. Cryptozoology is not paranormal science. Ghosts, spirits, vampires do not fall in its realm. In fact, the more supernatural the animal sounds the less cryptozoologists are interested in it. The ultimate aim of cryptozoologists is to find a hitherto unknown species. Many species widely known today, such as the mountain gorilla, the komodo dragon or the giant panda, were unknown to science till the early 20th century. The coelacanth, a fish predating the dinosaurs was discovered in 1938 by the coast of South Africa. Perhaps the most iconic cryptozoological discovery would be that of the okapi, a member of the giraffe family with zebra-like stripes on its front and hind legs. The okapi was a recurring image in the Egyptian art of 2,500 BC but was known to science only in 1901.

However, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for cryptozoologists. Many creatures have eluded the science for decades. The most famous of them is the yeti, supposedly 6 feet tall, a half human-half ape like creature which roams in the high valleys and peaks of the Himalayas. Many mountaineers and locals who dwell in the upper Himalayas have witnessed and recounted their experiences of the yeti. While some attribute the yeti to be a helpful giant that rescues people, others consider him a monster that kills humans and livestock.

According to folklore, the yeti is a guardian of Shangri-La, the mystical heaven on earth. While conclusive proof of the yeti’s existence hasn’t been found yet yeti footprints have been seen and photographed on numerous occasions. A monastery in Khumjung Gompa, Nepal claims to have the skull of a Yeti. However it hasn’t been subject to scientific experimentation.

For many people cryptozoology is synonymous with the Loch Ness monster which is believed to dwell in the Scottish Highlands. It is, supposedly, a long necked creature that has been dwelling in the loch for many years. A photograph taken in 1934 shows the head and neck of the creature albeit in black and white. While numerous other sightings have been reported, the inconsistencies in the reports deny the creature’s existence. While some claim it has a smooth back, others argue that it has humps. Many plausible explanations for the sightings have been put forth such as mistaking elephant trunks or tree stumps for the beast, optical effects or it could be the miraculous remnant of the jurassic age have been given. Still, these explanations cannot cover the entire realm of the sightings. Scientists have conducted extensive searches on the loch but are yet to find the monster.

The chupacabra is a late entry in the list of cryptids to unravel our imagination. The literal meaning of chupacabra is ‘Goat Sucker’ from the land of its origin (Puerto Rico).

The chupacabra is strange creature with strong hind quarters like a kangaroo while the torso is like that of a shrunken ape with large eyes, sharp fangs and spines over its body. The chupacabra is claimed to exsanguinate its victims like a vampire  but with puncture marks on the chest and not necessarily the neck. Claims of chupacabra corpses have been mostly of coyotes suffering from hair loss. While all these creatures hail from different parts of the world and the level of belief in their existence vary, all of them have one thing in common. They continue to enthrall, entertain and keep us curious. So keep your eyes  wide open when you go for your next outing, for you might come across the next cryptid.

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