Monday, January 04, 2016

International Cryptozoology Museum Conference, Night 1

International Cryptozoology Museum Conference
Night 1
January 4, 2016

I like cryptozoologists.  Even though I don’t use the term for myself anymore (too much TV baggage), I like the people I meet in the business.  I like their stubborn optimism, their enthusiasm, and their determination. Except for the hoaxers, they’re a great bunch to hang out with.  I critique the field a lot for its collective habit of endorsing particular “crypids” before the evidence justifies it, but science needs optimists, even wild-eyed ones.
So here I am at the inaugural ICM Conference in St. Augustine, FL.  Loren Coleman, founder of the ICM in Portland, Maine, ably seconded by his effervescent wife Jenny, has gathered some of the most active people in the field.  He hoped for 100+ attendees to create one of the leading conferences on the subject, but it’s the first year, and maybe half that have gathered. What they lack in numbers, though, they make up for in energy, and the white-bearded Coleman is as enthusiastic as they come. 
I wish I could describe all of Night 1, but I spent the opening social on the road after a two-hour delay in Atlanta to fix a fuel pump in the airplane and re-top the tanks. This was annoying but ok with us passengers: a retired Navy pilot sitting next to me commented that the only time a plane can have too much fuel is when it’s on fire. 
So what I missed was the awarding of the Golden Yeti, a rather intimidating-looking statuette that went to the Cryptozoologist of the Year. The awardee was Jeremy Efroymson, a film-maker, attorney, writer, and philanthropist who I honestly hadn’t heard of, but he’s been important: as Loren wrote, “Jeremy is bestowed this honor for his quiet but steady support of serious cryptozoological pursuits. Jeremy and the Efroymson Family Foundation have awarded grants and funds since at least, 2012, to such grantees as the Virtual Footprints Archive at Idaho State University, the Ohio Bigfoot Conference, and the International Cryptozoology Museum.”  Cryptozoology doesn’t exactly top the list for National Science Foundation grants, so the field is fortunate to have Jeremy.

The Golden Yeti

I did make the presentation on the Florida Skunk Ape, a subject of interest since I grew up down the coast from here in Vero Beach.  I heard only rumors of sightings as a kid, but I knew what it was, or was supposed to be. 
(Quick aside: I was volunteering on a political campaign in 1976 when a newspaper from the town of St. Cloud headlined a "900-lb Hairy Creature Stalking Reedy Creek Area." I pinned it to the wall with the note that we now knew where our opponent was campaigning. It was funny at the time.) 

Tonight’s presenter was Rob Robinson.  I’ve used the word “enthusiastic” a lot, but I had to use it again here.  He was an infectious speaker, weaving a great story with bits of humor like the time he was scared out of his wits by a large nocturnal animal that turned out to be a cow. He debunked some recent photo and video hoaxes but showed some images no one present had seen before. (Still too distant, too dark, etc., although a video of a dark figure gliding easily through swampy areas where human would normally walk with great difficulty was interesting despite the poor quality of the image.  )  When I asked him the standard question – why isn’t there better evidence, when we have roadkills and photos of the extremely rare Florida panther – he replied he thinks the evidence is mounting, even if mostly “blobsqatch" imagery and footprints so far – as people become more aware. He thinks a small population of smart primates very wary of humans could hide in Florida wilderness a long time. Despite my skepticism on all things squatch-related, I can’t really say that’s impossible, although there's still the huge problem of how a large primate got to North America, when, and from where..  His belief Florida supports two anomalous primates, Bigfoot and the smaller (and smellier) Skunk Ape, is even harder to accept, but his belief there is SOMETHING going on is intriguing.

On the subject of another cryptid, or near-cryptid, Rob commented on my mention of the Florida panther by reporting he and his wife watched a black Florida panther walk right in front of their car in daylight. There aren’t supposed to be melanistic panthers in Florida, but there aren’t supposed to be any in Maine, either, and my dad is pretty certain about the one he saw 60 years ago. Mammologist Jeff Corwin described his own Florida panther sighting thus: “It was darker than the panthers I'd seen in photos, more charcoal than sage.” So I’ve never ruled out black, or at least dark, panthers, although Florida wildlife authorities blew Rob off when he said “black.” 
There was an interesting documentary showing after that meeting, but I had work to do for my day job and had to beg off. But I enjoyed Night 1, as brief as it was, and look forward to Day 2, including my own talk on bears. 
It’s all off to a howling good start. 

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