Loren Coleman talks with Whitley Strieber about the cryptozoology news of 2002, starting at 3 pm Central time, Saturday, January 18 (and running for a month afterwards). You can hear this interview by clicking “Listen Now” on our masthead. While there were hoaxes that made a splash in the mainstream media, many real and well-researched sightings took place. Keep reading to learn more?
1. Tasmania?s Lake Dulverton MonsterThe first supposed sighting of 2002 was on January 4, when the guests and manager of an Oatland teahouse said they saw a ?Nessie.? The supposed encounter was of a monster in a marshy, shallow Tasmanian spot named Lake Dulverton. The lake had been dry for a period of 14 years, and apparently local resorts had suffered as a result. By the year?s end, the report was taken tongue-in-cheek by locals and nearby Australian cryptozoologists, as merely a tourism publicity stunt.
2. UK?s ABCs A more conventional appearance of an unknown animal took place on January 7, 2002, when eyewitness Michael Lefevre, 49, of Shoebury, Essex, United Kingdom, spied a black panther on his garden patio. The five-foot long, two-and-half-foot tall black cat with ?piercing emerald green eyes? was eating some chicken bits Lefevre had left out for localwildlife. Alien Big Cats (ABCs) have been a routine problem in the United Kingdom for almost forty years, with various theories about breeding populations of released pets or unknown felines being discussed frequently. Nevertheless, the sightings usually occur so frequently, they often are the first?cryptids? seen every year. And as it turned out, in December 2002, a Scottish coastal town?s sightings of big cats would close out the year. At Ayrshire people were having sightings of a giant cat, which caused a police search at Ardrossan. On December 18, 2002, a motorist saw a huge, brown seemingly felid running across the A737, half a mile from Dalgarven Mill and heading towards Dalry. A cryptid feline animal was reported on Christmas Eve, 2002, around 8 PM, when three people in Beith reported a large black cat. It turned out to be a typical year for ABCs in the UK.
3. Philippines? Pinatubo MonstersReports coming out of the Philippines told of five ?huge, black creatures? swimming in the Tikis River, near the former mining village of Buhawen, scaring Aeta families, on January 12, 2002. Aeta natives first spotted the 7-foot long, 3-foot wide mysterious creatures in November 2001, when they were mistaken for floating logs. The strange creatures have been seen swimming in the river below Labuan, which is enclosed by tall, thick bushes. Since the monsters? heads and tails were not seen, no one could venture what these locally named “Pinatubo Monsters” could be. Two tribal leaders were requesting that “biasang tau? (scientists) come and assist them end the mystery surrounding what the creatures might be. At last word, no scientists have volunteered to go look.
4. West Virginia?s MothmanIn January 2002, the cryptozoology movie of the year opened. It was the new Mark Pellington-directed motion picture, The Mothman Prophecies, starring Richard Gere, Debra Messing, Will Patton and Laura Linney, based on John Keel?s 1975 book. As a result, many people traveled to Point Pleasant, West Virginia, revisiting the many special places where Mothman had been seen ? including the TNT area, the National Armory, the pizza joint that used to be the famed Tiny?s, and the location of the Silver Bridge. The town produced a map of these sites and opened a Mothman Welcome Center. The public?s curiosity about Mothman focussed on the reality behind the fictionalized movie, and topics on Mothman, Thunderbirds, and other big bird reports were discussed on over 200 media outlets during the month. No rash of new Mothman sightings occurred.
5. Michigan?s Mystery CatsThe first of many “mystery cat” reports from southern Michigan began in February 2002. Near Niles, on February 2, the Young family saw a cream-colored large cat, the size of a German shepherd, 40 feet from their home?s French doors. They decided it looked like a cougar. The Youngs continued to watch the animal as it strolled east toward Edwards Way, a subdivision off of Brush Road. Jesse Young then went to the home of a neighbor, an avid hunter, and the two checked the footprints in the yard. The animal had crossed the flower garden, about 25 feet from the patio door, leaving pugmarks of a large cat. The Youngs?s report was the first of many, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources had an ongoing battle with the media all year, stating they did not feel these were really cougars. The DNR stated: “There is no substantive evidence that there are naturally occurring cougars in Michigan. Some argue that there are, but we don’t have any good evidence there are.” Of course, don?t tell that to the Youngs and the other witnesses that saw these mystery cats during 2002.
6. Pennsylvania?s Waynesboro Ape TracksEarly in February 2002, the finds of hundreds of 15-inch ?anthropoid? footprints in the mud along the northern edge of the Waynesboro Reservoir, Pennsylvania, caused a flurry of inquiries, plaster cast takings, and newspaper interest. Investigators for the Bigfoot Field Research Organization examined the footprints, as well as others from around the country. Some investigators decided a hoaxer wearing ?funny feet? could have made the seemingly apelike tracks, but results were inconclusive. Around the same time, reports of a northern Indiana “mystery beast” also had researchers scratching their heads. It appears that mid-winter hoaxing may have been behind both incidents, although the jury is still out.
7. Southeast Asia?s Khting VorCryptozoological debating graced the pages of the journal Nature late in February. Rival zoological teams were arguing over whether the twisted horns of the Pseudonovibos spiralis, the Khting Vor, a part of Cambodian folklore since at least 1607, were evidence of a myth or a new species. The story has spilled over from former years, beginning in 1994, when two German researchers described a new species from the Vietnam-Cambodia border. The animal is known only from its horns and section of the head above them. It is still a zoological wonder. Results from DNA analysis have been confusing. Austrian and German researchers, who took DNA from the German specimens, find the Khting Vor are closely related to goats and sheep. But then in 2001, Russian researchers, using a different DNA sequence and different specimens, asserted it to be a type of buffalo. Now, in 2002, Alexandre Hassanin, a molecular scientist at Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, said Pseudonovibos never existed. Hassanin published a 2002 paper noting that many of the horns show evidence of having been twisted and carved, and the DNA sequences from Pseudonovibos are identical to domestic cow DNA. University of Kansas Natural History Museum?s Robert Timm admitted there are hoaxes but remarked that the specimens he has, the Vietnamese horns collected by Americans in 1929, are of Pseudonovibos and genuine. From the X-rays he has done, he said the Kansas horns have natural twists and ridges. Ronald Pine of the Field Museum in Chicago agreed with Timm. The debate will continue, until a live Khting Vor is captured, or until the two camps trade horns and do more DNA sampling.
8. Vietnam?s Giant TurtlesOn March 2, 2002, dozens of Vietnamese bystanders had fifteen-minute sightings of Hanoi?s Hoan Keim Lake Monster. The creature they saw was one member of a small colony of giant but apparently soft-shelled turtles. According to local media reports, a turtle also appeared in the lake on February 16. The Giant Turtles of Hoan Kiem Lake appear to weigh up to 440 pounds. Although they are thought to have inhabited the lake ever since it was established hundreds of years ago, they are so rarely seen that many locals still consider them to be legend rather than reality.
9. South Africa?s CoelacanthsWhat would a cryptozoological year?s roundup be without some news about coelacanths? In April, South Africa’s FM5 broadcast a report that divers into the Sodwana Canyons have spied some pregnant coelacanths, which would be a first. Meanwhile, the South African government announced it was spending $1 million to conduct research that might answer questions about why the fish has survived, why no young are seen, and how best to protect it in the future. “It’s not just a fish. It’s more than a fish to us,” said Dr. Tony Ribbink, leader of the coelacanth research project. Despite criticism that the money is a waste in such a poor country as South Africa, the government sees benefits to saving the coelacanths, just as there have been ones in saving the giant panda for China. “Statistics show that Africa has some outstanding scientists and yet the continent has fewer scientists than any other continent,” said Ben Ngubane, minister of arts, culture, science and technology. His agency is sponsoring the coelacanth project with help from Germany, Mozambique and Madagascar. “If science of Africa is to become globally competitive, and if it is going to excite the imagination and stimulate young minds, then it needs a strong element of creativity and innovation and perhaps a little danger, too.” Meanwhile, the coelacanth might help South Africa with tourism too. In Sodwana Bay, local tee-shirt merchant Ann Pape told reporters: “I’ve always had a fascination with them. It’s like our own Loch Ness monster. Not everyone is going to see it, but we know it’s there.”
10. Pacific Northwest?s BigfootPolice reported on June 10, 2002, that a Clallam County, Washington, resident had seen a Bigfoot near his Burnt Mountain Road home. The man, whose name was not released by police, told of having sighted a hairy, humanlike beast, and then immediately calling the authorities. “We were unable to locate, identify or capture the Sasquatch,” Forks Police Chief Mike Powell told reporters. In general, the warmer months in North America, usually a hot time for Bigfoot reports was running a little cold for 2002. As the drought continued in the West, many researchers theorized Sasquatch and human movements, which might have resulted in more encounters, were kept to a minimum. However, during the summer of 2002, filming occurred of Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization members? and scientists? opinions of the evidence for Sasquatch, such as the Skookum cast. The hour-long documentary, Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science, is produced by Doug Hajicek of Whitewolf Entertainment Inc., and set for broadcast on The Discovery Channel in January 2003.
11. A World Awash in Ziphiids The year 2002 continued the recent trend and was another good one for new ziphiid (beaked whale) species discoveries. In the July 2002 issue of Marine Mammal Science, two new species of Mesoplodon were scientifically described. Mesoplodon perrini was verified during 2002, from four stranded animals in California. This ziphiid has never been seen alive. The new whale became the 21st species of beaked whale to be described scientifically. Also the journal dealt with renaming another recently described Mesoplodon, the Mesoplodon bahamondi to M. traversi. The species is only known from three skulls (two are just partial skulls). They are unknown from strandings or live sightings. On another front, Robert Pitman, a California ziphiid specialist, remarked in2002 that the mysterious ?Mesoplodon sp. A? is almost certainly going to be shown to be Mesoplodon peruvianus, which was just described in the last decade. Pitman, interviewed for this list, felt the sp. A is in fact the here-to-fore unrecognized adult male of M. peruvianus. In separate 2002 ziphiid beachings, one in Japan in July, and another in South Africa in August, confirmations were made that these were examples of the extremely rare Longman’s beaked whale, Indopacetus pacificus. Near the same South African beach on which this Longman’s beaked whale came ashore, a mere three months earlier, a rare megamouth shark, a species unknown to science before 1976, also stranded.
12. India?s Monkey MenApelike creatures seen on the Indian subcontinent formerly might have been called ?Yetis? or ?Abominable Snowmen.? But since the ?Monkey Man? scare of 2001, this sensational term seems to be the one the international media will use for a time. On July 21, 2002, Indian and English-language newspapers told of attacks from an ape-like animal, in the eastern city of Patna. Local newspapers there were full of reports of “mysterious Monkey Man attacks.”
13. Colorado?s River DinosaursIn expedition news, Nick Sucik, a Minnesota cryptozoologist, traveled to Colorado, to investigate reports from the last twenty years of three-foot tall, five-foot long “River Dinosaurs,” reportedly said to walk bipedally. Sucik conducted two fact-finding explorations in July and October, to the Cortez and Yellow Jacket, Colorado, areas, to follow up on old as well as 2001 encounters with the cryptid. Local reptile pet retailers thought the creatures might be escaped monitor lizards; Sucik remained open-minded about what might be out there.
14. Andean Parrot Ornithologists Jorge Velasquez and Alonso Quevedo spotted a flock of what they told the press was the most rare bird species in the world, the indigo-winged parrot, thought extinct for 90 years. The parrots were seen on July 28, 2002, on an Andean volcano in central Colombia. The rediscovered species was first recorded in the region in 1911, but disappeared soon after. The bird, Hapalopsittaca fuertesi, known also as Fuertes’ parrot, is now currently classified as critically endangered.
15. Angola?s Giant Black Sable Not seen since 1972, the giant black sable antelope (Hippotragus niger valiani) of Angola was rediscovered in August 2002. Expedition leader, Professor Wouter van Hoven, from the Centre for Wildlife Management at Pretoria University, said: “Three separate sightings of the giant sable antelope were recorded. The first sighting was of two adult bulls, followed by a second bull and two juveniles.” The expedition had five separate sightings but was not able to take any photographs. Cryptozoologists are very familiar with this dilemma. But because the species was already known, confirmation by scientists through sightings alone is seen as verification enough.
16. Sumatra?s Orang Pendek Early in September 2002, the British media ? lead by the BBC – exploded with news stories about a group of explorers being on the verge of proving the existence of ?Yeti.? Although the press got the name wrong, the Yeti-like creature is really the small anthropoid named the Orang Pendek, the essence of excitement was well deserved. The three-man team, Adam Davies, Andrew Sanderson, and Keith Towley, had found hair samples and footprints in Western Sumatra, and experts in Australia to confirm a new species was involved were analyzing them. One expert is Dr. Hans Brunner, a world-renowned hair expert and associate of Deakin University in Melbourne, who is studying two hairs found by the team. (Brunner has previously provided testimony, which helped prove the innocence of Lindy Chamberlain – the mother wrongly convicted of killing her baby in the 1980s.) No match could be found when the samples were tested against orangutan, chimpanzee, gorilla, sun bear, red leaf monkey, pigtail macaque, Malaysian tapir and human hair. Dr. Brunner has yet to check the hair samples against other native species from Western Sumatra but is confident they will not resemble hairs found by the explorers. According to Davies, Brunner feels the confirmation of a new species of primate is ?in the bag,? and Brunner?s forthcoming formal paper in a scientific journal will discuss the new animal. Dr. Brunner is planning to say, point blank, that the Orang -Pendek does certainly exists and its profile is certain, that it is infact a unique derivative of the orangutan.
17. Midwest?s Maned Mystery CatsAfter several sightings of maned mystery cats in Arkansas, in late September 2002, four 600 to 800 pound maned felines, identified as ?African lions? were killed near Quitman, Arkansas. Of course, those interested in cryptid cat reports called ?American lions? have pointed out that if ever one of these large cats was killed, it could look very much like an African lion. No DNA analyses were done on the killed cats and their bodies were apparently destroyed. A wild cat owner denied claims that the ?lions? came from his nearby animal farm, Safari Unlimited. Sheriff Dudley Lemon inspected Safari Unlimited and said he believed the owner was telling the truth. Then on September 29, hundreds of miles away, Carter County, Tennessee, residents Troy Guy and Ashley Clawson, were traveling on Poga Road before sundown when they saw a large animal standing on an embankment off the road. “We was going up Poga Road; it was standing on the bank looking at the cars,” said Guy. “It was brown and big and had a thing around its neck.” They saw it then take off up an embankment. The young couple was not the only eyewitnesses. Evelyn Cable, owner of Cable’s Hampton Family Restaurant, was driving on U.S. Highway 321 in the early morning hours during September 2002, when she saw what appeared to be an African lion standing beside the highway. “I just rounded the curve up at 321 and it was standing there,” said Cable, who noted the ?African lion? had a mane around its neck. “I wasn’t sure what it was, but it sure looked like one.” In October 2002, Maine cryptozoologist Christopher Gardner traveled to the Poga and Elk Mills areas of the Carter County, and discovered the last sighting had happened earlier in the month.
18. Alaska?s Big BirdIn October, southwestern Alaskans saw a bird the size of a small plane, and within the month, David Letterman was making jokes and ABC News?s Buck Wolf was writing a thoughtful column about the event. Such is the course of cryptozoological media incidents these days. It all began the week of October 5, 2002, when a Dillingham pilot John Bouker spotted the giant bird while flying passengers to Manokotak. His passengers also saw it. He calculated that its wingspan matched the length of a wing on his Cessna 207, about 14 feet across. Peter Porco of the Anchorage Daily News broke the story. He soon discovered that villagers in Togiak and Manokotak had been seeing the huge birds in recent weeks. On October 9, Moses Coupchiak, 43 of Togiak, 40 miles west of Manokotak, saw it and then said of the huge bird: “At first I thought it was one of those old-time Otter planes. Instead of continuing toward me, it banked to the left, and that’s when I noticed it wasn’t a plane. The wing looks a little wider than the Otter’s, maybe as long as the Otter plane.” Porco reported Coupchiak said the bird flew behind a hill and disappeared. Other reports from Palmer came in, but after the nine-day wonder factor of the media flap, the big bird reports from Alaska got less and less attention. People went back to a local acknowledgement of what they already knew, some kind of big unknown bird flies around Alaska, often classically shown as Thunderbirds on Native totem poles.
19. Scotland?s NessieThe Inverness Courier sent to the printers a story on the last day of the year that sightings of the Loch Ness Monster for 2002, had hit a record low. Only three sightings were recorded, plus a dubious affair with newspapers publishing a series of hoax photographs. ?It?s the lowest I have ever heard of since I have started recording sightings,? Gary Campbell of the Official Loch Ness Monster Fan Club stated. ?It?s the first time in a long while there?s been a deliberate hoax for whatever reason.? Also interesting to ponder is that 2002 will go down as a year in which no Nessie hunting expeditions took place at Loch Ness, and the American visitor numbers remained low following the continued post-9/11 fears of overseas trips. Campbell told the Inverness Courier that the low number of Loch Ness Monster observations could be part of a natural cycle. ?It?s a funny thing, but we have newspaper cuttings going back to 1854 and ever since the 1930s, when it became an international phenomenon, there?s been a five to 10-year cycle in reporting Nessie and this could be one again,? he remarked. The Scottish paper noted that Campbell, however, was not ruling out a bumper number of reports in 2003. ?That?s one of the things with Loch Ness. You never know what?s going to happen,? he declared.
20. Ray Wallace Revelation Bigfoot prankster, 84-year-old Ray Wallace died of heart failure on November 26, 2002. Unfortunately, the media used it as an opportunity to allow Wallace his final prank on Bigfoot. Wallace?s son Michael told Bob Young of the Seattle Times: “Ray L. Wallace was Bigfoot. The reality is, Bigfoot just died.” Nephew Dale Lee Wallace posed with alder-wood carvings of giant feet he said Wallace used in 1958 to create Bigfoot. The worldwide media swallowed the claim whole. Results of the Wallace story were headlines and stories alluding to the questionable conclusions that ?Bigfoot was dead? and ?the wife was in the fur suit? of the Patterson film. This despite the fact that reporter Young had quoted Michael Wallace as saying Ray Wallace said he had nothing to do with the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film. A real Bigfoot was probably watching Wallace as he faked a few sandbar prints during the media attention late in 1958, for the Jerry Crew footcasts show different tracks than what the Wallace fake feet imprints would have produced.
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