Thursday, 22 November 2007

DAY EIGHT: “Bloody hell, Jon, this place is a cryptozoological treasure trove!”

Finally! After a silence of 48 hours, which – considering the burgeoning political crisis in Guyana – I have to admit was being to make me seriously worried. So worried that – without meaning to – this must have communicated itself in my blog posts. We had carefully done our best not to put our worries into writing because some of the team have families back in the UK and two of them have small children. I am sure that said families are reading this blog for news of their loved ones and we did not want to cause undue alarm at such an early stage. Mrs. Biffo would never have forgiven us.

However, some of our concern must have leaked through, because at teatime this evening, we had a ‘phone call from veteran cryptozoological explorer Adam Davies, who ‘phoned to give us his support and offer any help that he could. God bless you Adam. We were fairly sure, however, that the information black-out was called by technical reasons, and the fact that this evening’s bulletin was received in nearly a dozen tiny ‘phone calls lasting less than a minute each, as the sat. ‘phone kept on cutting out, would tend to corroborate our hypothesis.

But it was well worth the wait. Richard’s first words to me we “Bloody hell, Jon, this place is a cryptozoological treasure trove!”

Sadly, however, because of the intermittent nature of the communications, although Richard had an amazing amount to tell us, it still left us with more questions than answers; so forgive us that there are some glaring gaps in this narrative, and that some of the questions that I know you will all want to be answered, remain, for the moment, a mystery.

The team limped back to Letham Station yesterday. They are all relatively all unscathed, although the telephone kept on cutting out as we asked for details of – for example – Lisa’s condition. Back at Letham, they discovered some remarkable new information.

But the bad news first: they were unable to get hold of a helicopter at such short notice, and they are unable to reach the falls by boat, because it is the dry season and the river is too low. It is also too far too walk, and so, frustratingly, the trip to Corona Falls, where the enormous anacondas have been reported very recently will have to be postponed for a further expedition.

Richard told me: “It’s absolutely bloody gutting to know that we are so near, but so far. However, the stuff we found out today more than makes up for it.”

They are already planning a second trip to Guyana, this time in the rainy season, when the rivers will be navigable, it will not be so hot, and – from some of the anecdotal evidence they have garnered in the last 48 hours – it looks like they will have better luck in chasing some of the creatures that are their quarry.

For example: The water tiger. This is a particularly poorly known cryptid, and many researchers, including us, have suggested that a good identity for the beast would be a misidentification of the rare, and highly peculiar, South American giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis). However, it seems, from several pieces of anecdotal evidence that they have gathered in the last 48 hours, that this is quite simply not the case.

Yesterday they visited a township called Point Ranch. Kenard, one of their guides, introduced the team to a local man called Elmo. Elmo is very familiar with the water tiger and the giant otter. He says that the water tiger is a spotted animal with markings similar to those of a jaguar. They are aquatic, hunt in packs, and – somewhat peculiarly – he claims that the pack is led by an alpha animal that he refers to as ‘the master’, who orchestrates the hunting which is done by the younger members of the pack. Kenard apparently confirmed this statement, which – to the best of our knowledge – has never been published in Europe or the United States before.

Another local man told them that there is a mountain that is so remote that is doesn’t have a name. No-one has ever climbed up it and come back alive. The team are not only too debilitated to climb it, but have decided that they would need special mountaineering equipment to do so. This is something that they intend to do on the next expedition, because according to their informant, there are water tigers up there, as well as a dragon-like creature who guards a spring. How these people know this, if no-one has ever come back alive seems somewhat of a moot point, but it would churlish to raise such objections when we have not heard anything like the full story. Richard assures us that all these interviews have been captured on video, and I am very much looking forward to the treat which awaits me, as I start editing the raw footage into what will be the fourth of our major cryptozoological documentaries.

But there is more on the water tiger! Joseph one of their guides, told them how, back in the 1970s he had seen the pelt of a water tiger that had been shot. It was 10 feet long including the long tail, white – like a cow’s hide – with black spots, and a striped head like that of a tiger. They have received reports of several different colour morphs of the water tiger, and Lisa has suggested that it could perhaps be some kind of huge aquatic mustelid, as not only are these animals known to – in some species at least – exhibit a wider range of colour varieties within a natural population than do most carnivores, but several species, including the European stoat (Mustela erminea) can change their colour according to the seasons. The stoat produces a white winter morph known as an ermine. Although as far as we are aware this has not been documented in a tropical species, it would seem perfectly feasible that, in a country where there is such a dichotomy between the rainy and dry seasons, that to have two seasonal colour morphs could well be a distinct evolutionary advantage.

But there is more!

Today they were back in Letham Station and they visited the Carapus Mountains. It has to be said at this point that the Google search reveals no such place and that, once again, there was dissention in the ranks between those of us who took notes on Richard’s ‘phone call – two of us thought it was `Caracus`, two of us thought it was `Carapus`, and Google hadn’t heard of either. If anybody out there in Internet Land can help us with the spelling, we would be very grateful, although we are fairly convinced that we will have to wait until Richard and the gang return next week.

In the mountains they met a ex-chief who had retired some years ago, and now runs a fish farm. His name is Ernest, and ten years ago he saw an anaconda that he estimates as being 30 feet in length, in a pool about 30 miles from Letham. It was shot, and he claims that the skin was taken back to England. This – if it is true – would certainly have been done illegally, as it contravenes many international pieces of legislation. Somewhere there may well be a stupid bloody tourist with an inappropriate bloodlust who is sitting upon a piece of invaluable cryptozoological history. People like that make me almost livid with anger.

Ernest is now 59 years old; as we discussed the other day this is quite an age in an unforgiving country like Guyana. When he was 19 – in the late 1960s – he saw a tiny red-faced man very similar to the one we described in the posting of Monday 19th November. He described it as being 3ft tall, with a bright red face. The only difference between this account and the previous one which we published on Monday, is that Ernest believes that the red face is not war paint, but is part of its natural colouration, very similarly to one of the uakari monkeys of the genus Cacajao. The common name is believed to come from the indigenous name for ‘Dutchman’; because the indigenous peoples found that the sight of badly sunburned Western Europeans was irresistibly reminiscent of these peculiar simians. The Fortean Omniverse is a particularly peculiar one, because the same patterns tend to occur and reoccur again and again. Across the world, wherever we have been on expeditions, even when we are looking for something completely different, we hear stories of dragons. And across the world we hear, again and again, peculiar local monkeys being compared unfavourably with immigrants from the Low Countries. The proboscis monkey of Indonesia is nicknamed orang or monyet belanda – meaning Dutch monkey or Dutchman – as the native Indonesians noticed that the Dutch colonisers also had a large belly and a protruding nose. Many apologies to any of our readers from the Netherlands, whom I am sure have neither bright red faces, large bellies, or ridiculous noses, but this was too choice an example of Fortean parasynchronicity to ignore.

These tiny “men” are said to like tobacco, and Ernest told the expedition members how, when the “little man” appeared, he gave it tobacco and it disappeared.

Damon chipped in, and said that something similar happened to him about 10 years ago. He was in a tent with his sister-in-law and another girl, when he awoke to see a red-faced man looking down at him. He was momentarily paralysed with fear, but then moved to try and protect the girls. When he turned round again, the figure had gone. He didn’t hear the zip on the tent.

Ernest also told them that although he had not seen the didi (whereas we have always pronounced the word ‘dee dee’ it appears that it is actually pronounced ‘die die’) himself, he had heard of it. A friend of his, who only two years ago, saw a female didi in a tree nursing its child. He blacked out after watching it for some time, and when he had recovered it had gone. Soon after he became ill, and died within two years of seeing it.

This is a particularly interesting story because the inference is that this unnamed friend of Ernest died as a direct result of seeing this mysterious creature. We have heard of such things before. During the 2006 to The Gambia many of the people that the expedition interviewed said that to see a ninki nanka was fatal.

Kenard, their guide, told them that in the 1940s a local woman had been kidnapped by a didi, who took her away for several years, where she bore a child by him. So the story goes, when she finally managed to escape she swam across a river to a serendipitous hunter’s boat, the hunter and the woman saw the didi brandishing its fist as if in grief on the bank of the river. It then picked up the hybrid child, and tore it apart.

This is another particularly widespread piece of folklore. We have heard similar stories about the yeti, the yeren, the almasty and possibly even bigfoot. Indeed, in the years before the gorilla was identified as a shy, gentle, and almost exclusively vegetarian great ape, similar stories of its sexual escapades returned to Europe in the form of traveller’s tales.

Ernest told them of another potential cryptid – and this, to the best of our knowledge – has never been reported before in the annuls of cryptozoology. He is very familiar with Cuvier’s dwarf cayman (Paleosuchus palpebrosus) – the smallest known species of the Alligatoridae, reaching a maximum size of a mere 1.5 metres. However, on two occasions, he has seen a tiny cayman, much smaller than the dwarf cayman, brown in colour, with a red stripe down its back. It bellowed loudly, and most peculiarly, he reported it has having two tails.

The expedition’s driver said that he had seen these creatures as well, and Ernest took them to a cave system near a river where he claims that these creatures live.

The team explored these caves, and although they found nothing in there, Richard – who is, after all, a crocodilian expert, and was, at one time, Head of Reptiles at Twycross Zoo in the West Midlands of England - says that, in his opinion, these caves are eminently suitable for a small crocodilian to aestivate in during the harsh months of the dry summer. For those of you not in the known, aestivation is basically the polar opposite of hibernation; going into a semi-dormant or dormant state to escape extremes of hot weather.

We suggested that the seemingly insoluble problem of the creature being reported with two tails could perhaps be indicative of it not being a cayman at all, but being some kind of huge salamander. When the tails of salamanders and newts have been injured, they sometimes grow back double. But then again, so do those of some lizards, so for the moment this must remain an enigma. However, it is an enigma which we hope will not stay that way for long. Richard and the team are going back to see Ernest this evening for dinner and we hope that they will be able to get some more information from him.

Richard said that he had more to tell us, but at that point the telephone connection conked out for good. We tried to ‘phone him back five or six times to no avail.

So, we were not able to find out the rest of Richard’s exciting news. Nor were we able to reassure Mr. Biffo’s many fans, some of whom have even emailed us wanting to make sure that he was alright. We will try to do so tomorrow, but would ask everybody to be reassured that in a condition like this, no news is probably good news. If anything horrible had happened, Richard would, I am sure, have told us about it.

We also didn’t have a chance to ask him what the local reaction was to the burgeoning political crisis in the country, if indeed a rural area so far from the capital was even aware of it.

Here ends a fascinating, though horribly frustrating blog entry. Hopefully, tomorrow, we will have some more news for you, and will be able to fill in some of the tantalising gaps that remain in today’s narrative.

Thank you to all our readers – over a thousand a day – from all over the world, who are following the exploits of the Guyana five. Stick with us, it is going to be a bumpy ride.

And for those of you across the Atlantic from us in rural North Devon, a Happy Thanksgiving (CFZ HQ is only 50 miles from the original Plymouth Rock after all).


foofly said...

Twycross zoo is in Leicestershire, East Midlands. Not a biggie, just a correction.

Bill, Leicestershire

youcantryreachingme said...

Fascinating update. Great stuff :)


Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

I'm glad they're having an interesting time out there. They're on the trail of some cryptids, just not all the same cryptids they expected! Still, you never know; the Didi might yet drop by and say hello.

The CFZ's work has an important message: These days we may live in the "Global Village", but it's a village that still has many dark and mysterious little alleyways!

Unknown said...

Hi, fascinating stuff. I found the location of the mountain you are looking for:

Karapat Mountain
Location Type: hill
Position: 2°53′00″N, 59°52′00″W

All the best.
Anne, Denmark