March 17, 2010

On an elusive questAuthor mines the mysteries of nature in his search to document animals.

RAY ROUTHIER

— By

Staff Writer

Loren Coleman is a leading authority on some diverse topics.

He has a master's degree in clinical social work and has worked for years as a researcher and consultant in the field of suicide prevention and school violence, all over the country.

But he also has degrees in anthropology and zoology, and over the years he's become a national figure in cryptozoology, the area of documenting new or unknown animals. Cryptozoology includes the study of legendary mystery creatures like Bigfoot or the Abominable Snowman, as well as the search for not-yet-documented birds, reptiles or cats.

Coleman, 60, is a former adjunct professor at the University of Southern Maine and has written 30 books on cryptozoology and related fields. He's also consulted on TV shows like NBC's ''Unsolved Mysteries,'' the History Channel's ''Monster Quest,'' and A&E's ''Ancient Mysteries.''

He lives in Portland.

Q: Are there overlaps between your two fields, cryptozoology and suicide prevention?

A: There are research and interview skills that are very useful in both fields. I think that the whole intriguing part of school violence and suicide prevention is that suicide is definitely a mystery and yet there are some patterns and trends and some human involvement in that I need also to use in my investigation of cryptozoology, because in cryptozoology it always starts, number one, with the witness, the eyewitness. So I really come into the field as an investigative journalist in many ways. I want to know the anthropology of the situation, or the zoology of the situation, but also I understand that a lot of people make misidentifications, mistakes. Hoaxing is not that common, but certainly the human element involved in both understanding suicide as well as looking at cryptozoological investigations is paramount for me.

Q:What is the standard definition of cryptozoology?

A: Cryptozoology is the study of unknown or hidden animals. Animals yet to be classified as zoological species. Cryptozoology is really a method of investigation. During the Victorian era, when people went exploring wilderness areas, they were practicing cryptozoology. Back then it was called romantic zoology or romantic natural history. So the Victorians in the pith helmets going into the deep jungle, they were coming across new animals, animals not yet accepted by Western science. We still see that same situation. Most new animals are known by the local people, it's just that it's never been important for them to know whether or not it's in a zoological text.

Some of these animals were extinct, and were rediscovered, such as the whole controversy going on right now with the ivory-billed woodpecker. In cryptozoology, the big three or four, the Abominable Snowman, Bigfoot, and the Loch Ness Monster, and then number four is the sea serpent, those big four got all the publicity. But in my book ''Cryptozoology A to Z,'' there are 200 entries of creatures around the world that we're looking for right now. They can be a small reptile reported in Japan, or a tiger in Australia.

Q: Do you think the big four, as you call them, maybe give cryptozoology a bad name since they seem so far-fetched?

A: Oh yeah, definitely. In my years of being in the field, ridicule is certainly a part of the game. I could come out of an academic meeting (when he was at the University of Southern Maine) and somebody who had met me for the first time would come over to me and say ''Oh you're the guy who studies the little green men.'' I've never been involved in ufology (study of UFOs), I've never been involved in ghost stories. I deal with animals. How I usually rebut them is by saying I'm interested in animals and I'm interested in tangible evidence, I'm not interested in ''woo woo'' stories. So if you're talking about Bigfoot or you're talking about Nessie, it's been made so ridiculous in cartoons or the media, that I usually have to get through that so I can talk about a small cat we're investigating off the coast of Japan, and there's some good reports of it, it looks like it's a new animal. Last week there were scientific journal articles on three new salamanders being found in Central America.

Q: Do you go out in the field much yourself?

A: Well, the last two years you've probably heard about the Maine Mutant, the creature that was reported in central Maine, which is (purported to be) a panther-hyena-like creature. I would go out in the field, and I ended up debunking. People said there was one of them killed on a road in Turner, and I arrived, looked at the body, looked at the photographs, and it was a chow dog. The locals said, ''We finally killed the Maine Mutant.''

I'm going to Florida in March to investigate the skunk ape, a Florida version of Bigfoot. It's much more like a chimpanzee than Bigfoot.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com

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