tirsdag den 2. februar 2016

Macaques and other mysteries

A few days ago, a barbary macaque which up until then had lived quite contendedly in Blåvand Zoo (Blåvand is the westernmost town in Denmark in case you should wonder), suddenly decided, that enough is enough and scarpered. This was in many ways an ill-considered move by said itchy-footed monkey. First and foremost because it has been teeth-chatteringly cold in Denmark lately, with nighttime temperatures hovering around the -15°C  mark and lots of snow, which almost certainly will translate into a miserable time for said macaque. Secondly and thirdly because the zoo was not keen on losing one of their animals, and nobody was particularly keen on having a teeth-wise heavily armed monkey on the loose – barbary macaques are known for their crankiness. The animal was spotted a couple of times in the general area, shortly after its escape, but all has turned quiet now, and there is only the occational glimpse of the thing. It is probably sheltering in a stable or a barn somewhere, waiting for things to get better, and possible for the chance to scare the living daylights out of the owner of the place.

This is not the escapee by the way - its just another barbarymacaque to give you some idea of the culprit.

I await the outcome of the great escape with bated breath – not hoping for at shooting, and if so, with nothing heavier than a tranquilizer-gun. In the meantime, it has inspired me to delve into the depth of my files to what else has been going on in that same general area, ’cause if memorys serves, it is a place of some strangeness. The local lighthouse is haunted, there is a large military training area nearby, which has been connected with several ufo sightings, and the inevitable conspiracy/cover-up/fooling the public theories, and to the immediate south is a large peninsula called Skallingen, where a number of rare and extremely rare birds – even a couple of firsts for Denmark – has been seen. And then of course, there is things of a more cryptozoological nature.

In the middle of the 1980’s this general area was a hotbed of sightings of the so-called ”Jyske Puma” (The Jutland Puma”). It was to all extent and purposes a typical cat-flap. Lots of sightings of a big, brown, short-legged cat with a small head and small ears and a long tail. There was a lot of talk as to where the thing was coming from – an escapee from a small derelict zoo in the other end of Jutland, somebody’s unmanegable and illegal pet or just hogwash and general rubbish. To add to the confusion, a local family, who had a pet serval, wrote a book claiming their animal was the reason for the sightings, as it had escaped and was out and about on its own for a rather longish period before it was recaptured. The only thing wrong with this theory is that servals are only medium sized, spotted, with long legs, very large ears, and a rather short tail.

And in between all that, a handful of sightings of wolves managed to slip under the radar – or at least was never published in any of the local newspapers. Which is kind of interesting considering the 2012 official recognition of wolves having reestablished themselves in Denmark (although some people in the general western area of Denmark are still convinced that the wolves have been deliberately released by left-wing, radical environmentalists from Copenhagen as an experiment/insult to the locals/attempt to destroy the local way of life/attempt to scare the locals away so their properties will be up for sale cheaply – take your pick).

A wolf doing its best to look like it is up to something.

Anything else? Well, there is a couple of sightings of sea-turtles, and one or two strandings as well. A family of German holidaymakers claimed to have seen a great white shark a few years back – although it was probably a basking shark, as they said the animal kept sticking its nose out of the water. And a bunch of drunken birdwatchers sometime in the 1970’es sent in a description to the Danish Rarities Commitee of a sighting of father Christmas flying past with his reindeer and all the trimmings – for some strange reason it was rejected J Oh yes – and it’s a nice place for a holiday, and you have a good chance of finding a piece of amber.

The strangest sighting of them all though, came from a guy who grew up in the area. When I talked to him sometime in the 1990’s (I was giving a lecture on a school in the town of Esbjerg a bit further south), he described how he had seen something resembling a large crocodile come in to shore very late one evening in the middle of summer sometime in the early 1960’s when he was a boy. The animam, which he thought was about 15 meters in length, dragged its vast bulk up onto the sand, lay there for a few minutes, got up again, walked along the water’s edge for a couple of hundred meters, and then veered off, and disappeared into the water again. He never saw it again, and he never heard of anybody else who had seen it – and 30 years later he was still very clearly marked by his experience. I have no idea what he actually saw, but it sure did scare him.

torsdag den 17. december 2015

The moose is back - and this time they mean business!

Inspired by the fact that on November 19th. five young Swedish moose arrived in Denmark, and is now galliwanting, or whatever it is you call the rather peculiar gait of a moose, around in a very big enclosure in Lille Vildmose in Northern Denmark awaiting the day next spring, where they will be set free and become the first officially sanctioned wildliving moose in Denmark for about 5000 years. 

I use the words ”officially sanctioned” very carefully because there has been a number of cases where said large member of the deer tribe, has taken it upon itself to turn up in Denmark under its own steam, thus making a mockery of the 5000 years. Most people have no idea – and if you look a the general build of the thing, who can blame them – that moose are in fact excellent swimmers. The are not exactly sprinters, but they have incredible strenght and stamina, and they can even dive and swim under water for considerable distance and for several minutes on end. In fact I am quite convinced, that a large proportion of lake monster-sightings in the Northern Hemisphere are in fact sightings of swimming moose – but that’s an entirely different story.

Whereas Denmark lost its population of moose several thousand years ago, the Swedish population is big and healthy and has apparently been so for a very long time. So every now and then a moose takes it upon itself to swim from Sweden to Denmark. Nobody really knows why this happens, whether it is deliberate, or whether an animal simply gets disoriented and ends up in swimming in the completely wrong direction. It happens to migrating birds all the time, so why not moose? It doesn’t really matter how or why – it is a monumental feat. The shortest distance between Sweden and Denmark is 4 km, but that is between the towns of Elsinore and Helsingborg, an area with a lot of sailing activity and very powerful currents, and nobody has ever seen a moose in this area. So we are in fact probably talking about a swim of at least 6 or 7 km.

Some never make it of course – in a couple of instances, dead moose have washed ashore in Denmark, but some make it, generally landing on the North coast of the island of Zealand, somewhere west of the town of Elsinore. This in a fairly thinly populated area with a lot af agricultural land, and a fair selection of wooded areas, one of which, Grib Skov, if in fact one of the two biggest forests in Denmark. So it is basically a very suitable area for a moose.

The first and most successful one landed in Denmark in 1933. It managed to live in Denmark for no less than 18 years, most of the time around the village of Nødebo which is located more or less in the centre of the afore mentioned Grib Skov. After some years it was so used to people, that it would turn up in the middle of the village and eat the vegetables from the greengrocers’ boxes and the flowers in people’s gardens. Since then, there have so far been 5 others, and one that was bought by a Danish newspaper and released in the same general area a year after the first one died in 1951, in the hope of recreating the popularity of the first moose, which had turned into quite a tourist attraction.

That one had to be recaptured within a few weeks, because it was making a nuisance of itself. It was sent to a zoo, where it unfortunately died soon after. It didn’t work out to well for the other ones. One of them, a very large bull had to be shot, two of them had a rather messy end following an all to close encounter with respectively a car and a train, one simply vanished, and one was found sick and dying in the forest.

According to Swedish authorities, a few others have actually tried to swim across, but have been stopped before they got more than a few hundred meters away from the Swedish coast, and brought back to the safety of their homeland.

And then of course, there are the ones lurking in my files – there has been a few other sightings of moose in the same general area, one as far back as 1897, but they have never been confirmed in the same way as the others, although I do know of a couple who have in their possession a set of massive moose antlers, and they are adamant they are from an animal shot by the lady’s grandfather near the town of Roskilde sometime during the First World War. Oh – and a few years ago a dead moose washed ashore on the North coast of the island of Bornholm, the extreme Easternmost island in Denmark. That one must have tried to swim from the South of Sweden.  but probably drowned from exhaustion – it is after all a swim of at least 50 km.

And then we have the newcomers – who knows, in a few years time we may have a permanent population of moose in Denmark, and I for one am looking forward to it. Meeting a moose in the wild is absolutely magical. I have heard blackbirds making more noise turning over leaves on the forest floor, than a moose silently drifting through the forest.

torsdag den 10. december 2015

What is this feline I see before me?

There are times when I wonder what is going on in my tiny little country. Now is one of them – not only has the entire government lost their collective minds (if indeed they have ever had them) – but the nature has lost its as well, even the cryptozoological ones. First there was the wolves, then there was the golden jackal, and now it seems we have to consider the puma as well.

Not that alien big cats are a completely unknown entity in Denmark, far from it, but this new case seems to take the biscuit as it were (cat biscuit perhaps). In the last couple of weeks people in northern Germany, specifically in the area north of the town of Flensburg, have claimed several sightings of a big brownish cat with a small head, a long tail and rather short fat legs, in other words a puma. German police have been out looking for the thing on several occasions, but have as yet not found anything – one do get the impression though, that they are not taking the whole thing to seriously (yes, they do have a sense of humour!).

Nevertheless, seen from the Danish side of the border, it is fairly interesting, not the least because several of the eyewitnesses have seen the animal almost at the border, and in two cases actually coming from Denmark and moving towards Germany.

It is in areas like this in Northern Germany and Southern Denmark, the alleged puma is running around.

An escaped animal no doubt, but from where – and in actual fact, how many – because not long after this story broke in the newspapers, Danish eyewitnesses started coming out of the woodwork or wherever these people are hiding, and telling me about several sightings in the same area in 2014 (and in 2013, 2012, 2010 and 2008 if the stories in my files are anything to go by).

Unfortunately the scaremongers crawled forth as well from whatever rock they usually hide under (one of them sadly the director of one of the biggest zoological gardens in Denmark) and started screaming at the top of their lungs about what a dangerous animal a puma was (try telling that to the millions of people in North- and South America who live quite happily along side pumas, in many cases without ever knowing it). All we need now is some local hick politician wanting to arrange a hunt to protect women and children from the fearsome predator.

I for one would suggest a couple of deep breaths and a calming something. First of all, it can well be a puma, in that case no doubt an escapee from some idiot who has kept it as a pet in his garage, or from some small animal park somewhere, who is afraid to admit that they have lost one of their animals fearing damage responsibility and what have you.

But – it may not be anything at all. People are so easily led to believe things, to see things, to hear things, just because they have read a scary story in a newspaper somewhere. Some years ago I was called in  to have a look at a lion that had been lying out in a field for several days. Everybody in the area had worked themselves up to borderline hysteria, but hadn’t called in the police because they feared ridicule. In hindsight that was a good idea, because it turned out the lion was a very large brown paperbag. But everybody was so convinced it was a lion, that even people with binoculars saw nothing but a lion, when they looked at the thing. Myself, and a friend I brought with me, recognized the paperback at once because we were not as completely worked up as the local people.

As for this new puma, there are no pictures so far, apart from one taken with an old mobilephone from such a long distance it could be anything – and no domesticated animal has been killed, as far as anyone knows. All I need is a hair!!!

onsdag den 25. november 2015

There shall be beetles and cockroaches

According to Bernard Heuvelmans cryptozoology is all about unexpected animals - large and small. Is doesn't have to be big scary monsters every time, so with that in mind, I thought I would report on yeat another couple of additions to the Danish fauna, and this time within one of my favourite subjects - microcryptozoology.


The littlest ant-lover
October 25th. just one months ago, Danish entomologist Poul Ulrik was talking a walk at a place called Dybbølsbro, close to Copenhagen Central trainstation. Noticing a loose paving-slab, he turned it over and saw first of all, a large number of ants, but also in among the ants, a tiny 3 mm long cricket. On closer inspection this turned out to be of a specied called Myrmecophilus acervorum. Myrmecophilus means ant-lover, so the tiny animal was not just a piece of prey for the ants, but a voluntary inhabitant in their nest. M. acervorum has been found in the nests of at least 20 different ant species. It is fairly common and widespread in Europe, but has never been found in Denmark before. Until now, that is...


150 years in the dark
And then we have this gorgeous thing. This is a tortoise beetle called Pilemostoma fastuosa, and in my humble opinion it could easily have come from a tropical forest somewhere. This individual was actually found on a beach in Southeastern Denmark on November 23rd. in the various plantmatter and other debris that had washed ashore following a stormy couple of days with water levels more than 1 meter above normal. This is not just a rare animal, this is a VERY rare animal. In actual fact this is the first time it has been seen in Denmark for more than 150 years. Just goes to show hos careful you have to be, when you deem an animal (especially a small one) extinct. It was found by naturalist Klaus Bek Nielsen, and it is far from the first time he has found super-rarities like this, but then again he spends most of his time sifting through as much leaf-litter, plant-debris, mouldy pine-needles and abandoned ants-nest as he can lay his hands on.

tirsdag den 17. november 2015

The days of the jackal

The first day of the jackal was the 6th. of June 2015, when a driver passing the town of Karup in Western Denmark noticed what he thought was a strange looking dog lying at the edge of the road. Intrigued the man stopped for a closer look only to ascertain two things – the animal was dead, but only recently so, and it was indeed a very strange looking dog, about fox-like in stature, but a bit bigger. The man considered leaving the animal to the crows, but on a whin decided to put it in the boot of his car and take it away with him.

So off he went, to the home of a friend who is an experienced hunter. He couldn’t identify the animal either, but he did have a large freezer, into which the animal was put. Next stage was the showing of said weird animal to various interested parties, none of which was able to identify it with any degree of certainty. It was clear that closer examination was called for. 3 months and various DNA-analysis and tests later came…

The second day of the jackal on Sep. 10th, when the people of Denmark was informed, that yet another large carnivorous mammal had entered the country. To some people it was a bit much, coming so soon after the official reappearance of the wolf in Denmark in 2012 after an absence of a couple of centuries. Anyway – as it turned out, the animal was a golden jackal (Canis aureus), and although its presence was quite a surprise, it was not totally unexpected. The jackals normal distribution range is quite a bit to the southeast of Denmark, but the jackal population in Central and Southeastern Europe has been growing in recent years, and as jackals are great wanderers, some animals had already been sighted far away from their normal ranges. Some has been seen in Germany, and a few brave individuals has even gotten as far north as Eastern Finland.
Strangeley enough I have received a couple of sightings of ”large golden brownish/grey foxes” from southern Denmark within the last coulpe of yeatrs, which I haven’t been able to explain. Well-  maybe I can now.

An then things got a little bit weird.

Because although it was fairly clear the animal was equipped in such a way as to be deemed male, it didn’t seem to have any testicles. Under these circumstances it could conceivably be a former castrated captive that somehow had escaped from somewhere.

So, time for a detailed dissection/autopsy to set the scene for:

(Pictures of the dead animal and the actual autopsy can be found at: http://www.vet.dtu.dk/Nyheder/2015/10/Guldsjakal-er-blevet-obduceret-paa-DTU-Veterinaerinstituttet?id=587cafad-8880-4570-9932-84f2a113066c)

The third day of the jackal, in fact October 20th, when it was finally announced, that the animal did indeed have testicles – they had just been knocked into the abdomen when the animal was hit by the car that killed it.

So in other words – yet another large mammal joins the official list of Danish species! Not bad.

søndag den 1. februar 2015

The tales of two sets of tusks - and a little bit of unicorn lore

The unicorn must be one of the most wellknown, and dare I say legendary lengendary beasts. Much has been written about these creatures, and about how the stories of them originated, so I shall refrain from doing so again. Instead I will tell a little story or two about the narwal - this strange small arctic whale who has supplied one of the key ingredients of the story of the unicorn - the horn. Actually the tooth - the fronttooth of the narwal. This is long - sometimes very long - twisted and made of very hard and dense ivory.

What the whales actually use them for is a matter of debate. Some say they are the whale equivalent of antlers. Some say they are used to root around in the bottom of the sea for the various prey animals of the narwals. And some say they are simply weapons - or perhaps a combination of all three. What ever their use, they have been highly valued an indeed prized through the ages. Even today, where the superstition have been stripped away, a good size narwaltusk is worth a fortune.

So what am I actually getting at - well, the Natural History Museum in Copenhagen opened a new exhibition a couple of months ago. There is no zoological or biological theme to this exhibition. It is simply those specimens and objects that the people of the various departments of the museum thought extraordinary - and this is where the narwal comes in again. You see one of the exhibits is a narwal - incidently the strange name narwal comes from old norse, and it means corpse whale, which is not as bad a name as one might think, as a narwal does have a colour not unlike a corpse that has been in the water for at bit too long - an exhibit of an animal with two mighty tusks. Had this animal been caught in medieval times, its tusks could probably have paid for a mediumsized kingdom with all the trimmings.

Impressive looking beast if you ask me. But closer examination of the other narwal exhibits revealed something even more impressive, as the following picture shows. It doesn't look like much, but it is in fact no less than two different narwal tusks with the tip of two other narwal tusks embedded in them! How on earth that has happened, I have no idea. It must be the cetological equivalent of Robin Hoods famous arrow splitting. 

søndag den 14. december 2014

A bridge too far, or too little, or something... (A non cryptozoological interlude)

This has absolutely nothing to do with cryptozoology, but the story is too good not to be told. In the spring of this year, Danish authorities started to do a bit of refurbishing and general maintenance along the Gudenaa River - the biggest river in Denmark - north of the town of Horsens in western Denmark. The main purpose was to make it easier for the local population of trout and salmon to pass through this particular section of the river. One of the things that had to be done, was to remove an earthen dam that had almost completely blocked the river valley for more than 80 years. Nothing to strange about that, but then they diggers started...

The dam was not just a dam - inside it the workmen found a bridge, and not just any bridge. They found a 50 meter long and 14 meter high bridge, that "disappeared" 85 years ago. Until this year, it had officially been demolished, but no further details were known. Well, you know hos easy it is to misplace things...

A picture of the bridge, which has now been restored and is to be used by bikers and walkers in the future, can be seen here:


The official (re) opening of the bridge is next week, and it will from now on be known as "The Red Bridge".

Nice little Christmas surprise!!