Bigfoot. Yeti. Nessie. The world is full of monsters.
No matter where in the world you look, monster myths are a staple of human culture. Name a jungle dense enough, a desert remote enough, a mountain range frighteningly impassable, and it's likely populated with ape men who walk on two feet, a lost world of dinosaurs who escaped extinction and terrifying creatures unknown to science -- at least according to folk wisdom.
Africa isn’t the only continent thought by some to harbor living dinosaurs. Bipedal carnivorous reptilians, said to resemble small Tyrannosaurus rex, have been the stuff of aboriginal legend in the Australian Outback long before colonizers arrived on the scene. Called a “burrunjor,” the more-than 20-foot-long cryptid was once blamed for livestock deaths, and a few reports of sightings (sans photographs, of course) have surfaced over the years. It has been speculated that the beast is a thought-to-be extinct species of giant monitor lizard, called Megalania, or simply a large crocodile. Photo Credit: © Flickr / Greg Fordan Click Here to see the All 12 Monster Myths From Around the World
Okanagan Lake in British Columbia is home of Canada’s most famous putative lake monster, Ogopogo. The 40- to 50-foot serpentine animal rose to moderate fame in the 1920s before being eclipsed by the Loch Ness Monster in 1933, but it had been the subject of First Nations legend since at least the 1800s. Said to live near Rattlesnake Island, “Ogopogo” has been captured by grainy video and photographs a number of times, and on a few occasions has been observed—reportedly, anyway—by a large number of people at the same time. Ogopogo is a mascot of sorts for the lakeside town of Kelowna, B.C., and verifiably exists in statue form by the town’s wharf. Photo Credit: © Flickr / Sean_Marshall
Halfway between Katmai and Lake Clark National Parks lies Iliamna Lake, Alaska’s largest lake and home to yet another collection of lore about freshwater monsters. Unlike Nessie and Ogopogo, the character of these aquatic beasts has been described over the years as fishlike. According to the book Hidden Animals: A Field Guide to Batsquatch, Chupacabra, and Other Elusive Creatures by Michael Newton, Inuit natives long feared fishy beasts that were said to attack boats. Since the 1940s, numerous sightings by plane of large creatures—estimated at 20 feet or more—have been reported. The monster, affectionately known as Illie, may be a species of undiscovered freshwater fish, although more likely it is one of two things: white sturgeon, which can grow up to 20 feet, or a population of Pacific sleeper sharks, which may have swum up the 100-mile-long Kvichak River from Bristol Bay. Photo Credit: © Flickr / Michael Brown Click Here to see the All 12 Monster Myths From Around the World
Folk wisdom in parts of Tanzania has held for hundreds of years that the lion is only the second most ferocious big cat in East Africa. The Mngwa, a gray feline the size of a donkey and with the coloration of a gray tabby, had routinely been blamed for the deaths of natives when Britain took over the administration of the German colony after WWI. Feline paw prints larger than a lion’s, but resembling a leopard’s, had been observed in putative mngwa territory as late as the 1950s, according the book Cryptozoology A to Z. Whether or not such an enormous member of the big cat family existed in recent times, it’s unlikely that a present-day population has escaped detection. If it ever existed, the Mngwa is likely extinct. Photo Credit: © Flickr / Vernon Swanepoel
Until only about 2,000 years ago, mainland Australia was home to wolves and tigers—sort of. The thylacine, known as the Tasmanian wolf or Tasmanian tiger, was a marsupial predator that looked like a smaller cross between the two, but was closely related to neither. (The species persisted in Tasmania into the 20th century, and the last known one died in captivity in 1936.) However, reports of a striped, dog-sized animal resembling a feline have persisted in Queensland since the 1870s. Hopeful cryptozoologists believe that this mysterious animal may be evidence that the thylacine held on longer than believed, or that a larger cousin, the thylacoleo—or "marsupial lion"—may have survived past its supposed expiration date 30,000 years ago. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Benjamin A Sheppard Flickr / Vernon Swanepoel Click Here to see the All 12 Monster Myths From Around the World
You don't even have to look too far. The United States has several versions of Sasquatch, including the Ohio Grassman and the Florida Skunk Ape, not to mention its fair share of lake monsters in the mold of Nessie. Monster myths, it seems, are a fundamental part of man's relationship with nature: they represent both the danger of the outdoors, and for some, the adventure.
In the latter category falls a class of amateur sleuths who call themselves "cryptozoologists." Cryptozoologists (not to be confused with actual zoologists) take folktales and hearsay more seriously than most. They travel to the ends of the earth searching for clues about populations of rogue Tyrannosaurs in the Australian Outback or aquatic sauropods hiding in the deepest jungles of the Congo Basin. They collect anecdotes and grainy photographs, folksongs and historical records, all in search of elusive so-called "cryptids" that may or may not exist. (Usually not.)
In some cases, though, there may be a grain of truth to the myth. Some stories, like those of the terrifying grey cat of Tanzania called Mngwa, may represent folk memory of an animal that went extinct prior to the arrival of western science; in at least one case there's a sliver of a chance that the storied beast, only recently thought to be extinct, may have a relict population hiding beyond the frontier.
Whatever the truth of the matter, many of these stories are irresistible and may just fuel your imagination on your next trek into unknown country.
-- Mark Lebetkin, The Active Times
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