Cryptids

 

Long before they were recognized as real creatures, animals like the giant squid, the kangaroo and the mountain gorilla were all thought to be little more than tall tales or zoological curiosities. Could it be possible that other unknown beasts are still lurking on the outskirts of the civilized world? Legends of 8-foot-tall ape-men, swamp monsters and other unidentified creatures have existed for centuries and each year brings fresh eyewitness accounts, unexplained photographs and heaps of new speculation supporting the existence of these “cryptids.” Read on for a field guide to mysterious creatures from around the globe.

 

The Rougarou

Just like the creature itself, the Cajun legend of the Rougarou can take on multiple forms. Originally derived from French stories of the “loup-garu,” or “wolf man,” the monster is most commonly described as a bayou-dwelling werewolf with glowing red eyes and razor-sharp teeth. The beast is usually said to be a cursed man who must shed another’s blood in order to break its spell and reassume human form, but the tale varies according to the teller. In some versions, the Rougarou can turn its victims just by locking eyes with them; in others, it takes the form of a dog or pig rather than a wolf. Still others paint it as a shape shifter that can assume different human and animal forms at will. Because it can switch its appearance so easily, some even conflate the creature with the legendary Skunk Ape of southeastern U.S. swamp lore. In most Louisiana parishes, the Rougarou myth is employed as a kind of cautionary tale. Children are told that the fiend will come for them if they don’t behave, and Catholics are warned that it hunts down those who break Lent.

 

Skunk Ape

A still from the 2000 Florida skunk ape sighting (Credit: Getty Images)

So named because of its notoriously foul stench, the Skunk Ape is allegedly a seven foot tall gorilla creature native to southern Florida and parts of Louisiana and Arkansas. Sightings of the brown-furred cryptid peaked in the 1970s, when hundreds of Floridians claimed to have spotted the creature loping through the swamps and along country roads. In response, a Florida state representative even tried to pass a law making it illegal to “take, possess, harm or molest anthropoid or humanoid animals” in the event that a live specimen was discovered. The Skunk Ape supposedly resembles the Bigfoot in appearance, though witnesses note that it emits a nausea-inducing odor described as everything from rotting eggs and cabbage to an overflowing dumpster. While the National Parks Service has repeatedly dismissed the creature as a hoax, witnesses and researchers have collected dozens of footprint casts, hair samples and even grainy photographs supposedly showing the beast in action. One of the most famous snaps dates to 2000, when a Sarasota woman captured a photo of a large, unidentified ape stalking through her backyard. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

 

Caucasus Wild Men of Russia

The Caucuses mountain range, believed to be the home to the Almasty. (Credit: Getty Images)

Also known as “Almasty” or “Almas,” these cryptids are said to dwell in the remote regions of the Caucasus Mountains in western Russia. Stories of wild men feature prominently in local Circassian folklore, where they are described as cunning beings known for stealing crops and attacking hunters. According to most accounts, the creatures resemble brown-furred Bigfoots in appearance, but they are much smaller (usually only five feet tall), less hirsute and behave more like humans than apes. There have been hundreds of wild man sightings over the years, but perhaps the most famous tale concerns Zana, a supposed “Almasty” who was captured in the Caucasus in the late 19th century and imprisoned by locals. According to some researchers, the Almasty and creatures like it may even be the remnants of Neanderthals that survived into the modern era. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

 

Indian Mande Burung

The Mande Burung, or “forest man,” is a large, bipedal creature supposedly native to the steamy jungles of eastern India. The beast is something of a legend among the local West Garo hills tribespeople, who have passed on stories of a gorilla-like animal for decades. Those who have spotted the Mande Burung say it is covered in grey and black fur, stands nearly ten feet tall and may weigh up to 700 pounds. One of the most notable encounters dates to 2002, when a team of government workers who were in the jungle to study tigers claimed they saw a giant ape lumbering through the foliage. Other witnesses have discovered hair and mysterious 18-inch-long footprints, but so far no one has managed to snap a photo of the elusive anthropoid. Eastern India was home to a species of massive ape known as gigantopithecus until as recently as 200,000 years ago, leading some to argue that the Mande Burung may be a holdover from a bygone age.

 

Devonshire Devil

On the morning of February 9, 1855, residents of Devon, England awoke to find a series of mysterious footprints in the freshly fallen winter snow. According to some accounts, the trail followed a meandering 100-mile course through the countryside, often traversing walls, gates, rivers and even the tops of houses. The prints appeared to have been made by a creature walking upright on two legs, but they also had the bizarre shape of a cloven hoof like that of a donkey. Most frightening of all, the path showed that the beast had crept to the threshold of many people’s front doors. With no explanation for the trail, the town’s more pious residents became convinced the marks were made by none other than Satan himself, and stories of the “Devil’s Footprints” soon found their way into the national papers. Skeptics blamed everything from badgers and unusual atmospheric conditions to runaway weather balloons, but the matter was never settled. More than 150 years later, some still believe the Prince of Darkness once took a midnight stroll through southwest England.

 

Wild Man in the Woods

Human cultures have always told tales of animalistic “ape-men” living in the remote and unmapped areas of the wilderness. These “wild men” first gained prominence in medieval Europe, where they were a common feature of art and folklore, but the myths have cropped up independently in different societies around the globe. Wild men can take on different forms. Some cultures frame them as hunter-gatherer hominids resembling Neanderthals, while others see them as cryptozoological behemoths like the Yeti or the Sasquatch. In each case, they are described as being hairy, feral and generally more ape-like than humans. Most historians argue the creatures are most likely legends based around early encounters with gorillas and other primates, but some believe they may be a kind of collective memory of humanity’s Neanderthal past. Still others see the accounts as proof that “missing links” like the Bigfoot and the Almasty still walk the earth and may have even migrated to different continents along with prehistoric humans.

 

The Chinese Yeren

A "yeren cave" in China (Credit: Getty Images)

China’s version of the Bigfoot, the Yeren is an ape-like “wild man” supposedly found in the mountainous Hubei Province. Wild men and large primates have been a part of Chinese mythology for centuries, but stories of yeren encounters first ramped up in the 1970s, after a government expedition discovered footprints, fur, droppings and a nest belonging to a previously undocumented animal. Since then, hundreds of eyewitnesses have reported Yeren sightings. According to most accounts, the beast stands between six and eight feet tall, sports a thick coat of red and brown fur, and has protracted arms and massive hands. Despite its size, it is said to be quite peaceful, and usually flees into the forest when spotted. In recent years, Yeren-hunting has become a cottage industry in Hubei Province. One nature preserve even offered a 500,000-yuan (around $80,000) reward for anyone who managed to capture a specimen. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

 

Beast of Bladenboro

The mayor of Bladenboro, North Carolina, poses with deadly "beast."

In late 1953 and early 1954, the small North Carolina mill town of Bladenboro was rocked by a string of unexplained and gruesome animal deaths. In the span of a few days, several dogs were found slaughtered; their jaws broken, their skulls crushed and all the blood drained from their bodies as though a vampire had feasted on them. Those who spotted the culprit described it as small, cat-like creature with a frightening voice that sounded like a crying woman or child. Many speculated the beast might be a mountain lion or even a rabid wolf, but police posses and hunting dogs failed to track it down. Locals soon became terrified that the killer would turn its attention to human prey, and as the hysteria mounted, around 1,000 big game hunters and would-be monster slayers descended on Bladenboro. A dead bobcat was eventually held up as the “vampire,” but many locals speculated the real creature had simply stalked back into the safety of the swamps. Reports of big cat sightings trailed off in late-January 1954, but the legend of the “Beast of Bladenboro” endures to this day. The town even holds an annual “BeastFest” in honor of the incident.

 

The Honey Island Swamp Monster

Painting depicting the Honey Island Swamp Monster

A famous legend from Louisiana tells of a frightening hominid that stalks the deepest recesses of the bayou. The monster is said to be around seven feet tall, with strange amber eyes and a coat of matted grey hair. Eyewitnesses claim the creature resembles a man and is capable of running, swimming and even climbing trees, but its most distinctive feature is its putrid scent, which some say resembles the smell of a rotting carcass. The Honey Island Swamp Monster first got attention in 1974, when hunters Harlan E. Ford and Ray Mills found giant four-toed footprints next to a dead hog with its throat ripped open. Ford later caught the creature on film, and since then many trappers, fishermen and hunters have told tales of spotting it in remote sloughs of the bayou. One particularly colorful legend claims the monster was the result of interbreeding between swamp alligators and a group of chimpanzees that had escaped from a circus train. This cryptid is often considered the same as the Skunk Ape, and a regional variety of Bigfoot.

 

The Alligator Man

"Jake the Alligator Man" on display in Star Lake, Washington.

A blood-curdling hybrid of mammal and reptile, the “Alligator Man” is a humanoid creature with the scaly body of an alligator and the head of a razor-toothed man. Stories of these strange mongrels often appear in swampland folklore from the southeastern United States, but they are especially common in the Louisiana bayou and the Florida Everglades. Legend has it that the beasts have lurked in the marshes since the 1700s, traveling in packs and even learning to use small tools. The creatures are often associated with “Jake the Alligator Man,” a taxidermied oddity on display at a roadside museum in Washington.

 

Bigfoot, Sasquatch

A legendary resident of the forests of the Pacific Northwest, the Bigfoot supposedly stands seven to twelve feet tall with red or brown fur and gargantuan feet measuring up to 24 inches long and eight inches wide. Stories of wild men and forest dwelling giants are found in Native American myths dating back to the pre-colonial era, but the modern Bigfoot legend began in the late-1950s. Since then, researchers and amateur Bigfoot hunters have presented hundreds of plaster footprint casts, photographs and film clips as proof for the beast’s existence. Perhaps the most famous footage is a 1967 film taken by Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, which purportedly shows a female Bigfoot trudging along a creek near Orleans, California. The Patterson-Gimlin film stands as the most compelling piece of Bigfoot evidence, but many skeptics have written it off as a simple man-in-a-suit fake. Even if the film is a hoax, polls still show that nearly 30 percent of Americans think Bigfoot is out there somewhere, and a few prominent scientists—including the famed primatologist Jane Goodall—have even gone on the record with their belief.