Saturday, December 02, 2006

ABCs of Cryptozoology: Alien Big Cats, the Acceptable Cryptid

Hairy giants, sea serpents, big birds, and other cryptids get press coverage. Often in local papers. But this coverage is usually either a profile of a monster hunter, a Halloween piece, or a fluff piece. This isn't always the case, there are some that take reports at closer to face value. But in many cases, UFO sightings are given more matter-of-factual reporting than cryptids. Perhaps we should not be surprised by this, since Baylor's recent survey of American beliefs (see my post on that here) suggests 25% of Americans think UFOs are spaceships from another world (never mind 4D ideas for the moment) vs. 18% that give credence to cryptid reports.

The one major exception to this are ABC's. Alien Big Cats, sightings of big cats in areas they simply should not be naturally. Michael Gross suggests that they are a form of rumor panic in the journal Folklore (Vol. 103, No. 2 (1992), pp. 184-202). He cites that they are usually told in the back pages of the papers, as the kind of fluff piece I mention above (more intriguingly, he notes that in his research he doesn't find much historical precedent for them, unlike the legion of British Big Dog folklore and literature). Perhaps this observation was valid in 1992, but it isn't now. Some time a few years ago, I noticed a distinct change in the tone of many ABC reports, in Britain as well as in North America. This article by the BBC captures the practical and serious tone much better

Police warn of 'big cat' in hills

It is strictly serious, and while it talks about "hotspots" there is no indication in the article that this is considered folklore. A piece in the Western Mail, from Wales,

Beware: big cat is on the prowl

does mention the British Big Cat Society, which does bring in the element of the Fortean-esque organization/club (here is an example of a group organizing a Big Cat Walk/Hunt), but again, no hint of silly season or such. This article just gives a local eyewitness account.

The likely difference in the case of ABCs, of course, is that people don't doubt the existence of large cats. The problem is just how they get to be regularly reported in areas in which they don't exist naturally. This may also explain why I've sometimes seen more sympathetic media coverage of sightings of Florida's Swamp Ape. The simple use of the word "ape" in the name may make the creature more plausible to a general audience.

Loren Coleman has a wealth of posts about Alien Big Cats on his Cryptomundo blog, if you care to read more about the subject.

No comments: