Tag Archives: cryptozoology

169 – Hunting The Witch’s Familiar: Dr. Martin Walsh And The Zanzibar Leopard

The last time we had Dr. Martin Walsh on we discussed his experiences in Zanzibar during the Popobawa panic in the mid-90s and we knew that there was more that we wanted to talk to him about. Not only is Dr. Walsh an anthropologist who has studied social phenomena for decades, he’s also one of the leaders of the search for the Zanzibar Leopard, a unique species of big cat thought to be possibly extinct.

zanzibar leopard martin walsh
A stuffed version of the Zanzibar Leopard

Zanzibar is an island off the coast of Tanzania and because of that separation, it’s thought that the leopard native to the island developed in isolation for thousands of years. It became smaller than mainland leopards as well as literally “changing its spots”,  but it also was a victim of local folklore and that has contributed to its disappearance.

As Dr. Walsh wrote with his partner in the quest for the leopard, Dr. Helle Goldman in their work, “Killing the king: the demonization and extermination of the Zanzibar leopard“, while there has always been friction between humans and leopards (with documented attacks on livestock and even children) a legend that the leopards belonged to witches made the beasts a feared animal much of the time.

martin walsh helle goldman zanzibar leopard
Helle Goldman reviewing camera trap footage in September 2017

But that ended after the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution. A witch-hunter named Kitanzi led a movement to eliminate these witches from the island, and slaughtering the leopards was one way of getting that done. This extermination continued all the way to the 1990s and by that point a researcher hadn’t documented a wild Zanzibar leopard sighting since the 80s. In rural areas of the island though, reports of the leopard still turn up and that’s where our heroes have to look.

martin walsh helle goldman Zanzibar leopard
Another view of the faded stuffed leopard in the Zanzibar museum

Walsh and Goldman are following the case of the Zanzibar leopard like a Bigfoot hunter or a Nessie aficionado, they’re cryptozoological investigators who are hunting a mysterious animal and trying to find any evidence of its continued existence. That’s what this interview is all about and if you’re interested in cryptozoology or African culture,  there is a lot for you to enjoy in this episode.

martin walsh zanzibar leopard
Walsh interviewing local wildlife expert Shabani Imani in September 2017 (he’d recently fallen out of a coconut palm!)

In fact, in this interview, Martin talks about how sometimes people claim to have the leopards and they’ll contact Tanzanian wildlife officials saying they’ve captured one. One time they even said that they had leopard cubs in captivity, but when the proof was required, all they really seemed to be were a couple of (admittedly very cute) kittens.

martin walsh helle goldman zanzibar leopard
These look like leopard cubs to you?

If you’re academically inclined (and even if you’re not, it’s a fascinating read), please check out  Drs. Walsh and Goldman’s papers on “Cryptids and credulity: the Zanzibar leopard and other imaginary beings” and “Chasing imaginary leopards: science, witchcraft and the politics of conservation in Zanzibar“. We encourage you to check out their blog as well, it’s an awesome resource in learning how to hunt cryptids scientifically!

dr martin walsh zanzibar leopard
Dr. Martin Walsh

Now, not that this obsession consumed Martin (that we know of!) because the Zanzibar Leopard was killed off by superstition and political unrest, but the song this week inspired by the conversation is a little more about the Captain Ahab-esque hole that you can dig yourself into when your interest becomes an obsession, this is a new Sunspot track called “Chasing Devils”.

You dreamed of danger
you dreamed of risk
You dreamed of chasing devils dusk to dawn and waiting for their kiss
You wished for abuse
Hoped for neglect
Wishing for an oppressor you could fight and a cause you could insurrect

You want to roam
far away from home
but these imaginary devils
are all better left alone
And when they’re found
they won’t make a sound
because the creatures of the night will be gone
when you finally come down

You wanted action
You made it hot,
But the more you got the more you needed and the more that you got lost.
The taste of danger
the sweet of risk
When you’re busy chasing devils you’re too high to know you’re sick

You went to roam
far away from home
but these imaginary devils
were all better left alone
When they were found
they made no sound
because the creatures of the night were all gone
when you finally came down

And, hey, we’ve got a double dose of art this week, Allison from Milwaukee Ghosts was so inspired by the conversation that she wrote a poem, check it out!

Imaginary Animals

The leopard in the dark,
Was it ever really there?
Eyes dilate to welcome the night,
Body bristling,
Holding your breath,
Shuddering,
As it passes beside you,
Close enough to brush your skin.
That is certain.
Isn’t it?
Some sensation fanned out within,
Tasting it,
Feeling the heat,
Fingers of energy,
Reaching out and scalding,
Wheels of light,
Spiralling deep inside,
Spinning,
Dizzying,
Then nothing.
Conspicuously alone,
Again.
Left wondering,
What remains,
When the sacred night crumbles?

66 – Exploring Cryptozoology: A Panel with Linda Godfrey, J. Nathan Couch, and Jay Bachochin

Cryptozoology is the study of creatures that are only rumored to exist. “Crypto” is ancient Greek for “hidden” or “secret” and “zoology” is the study of animals. So, right there, the word defines itself – cryptozoology is the study of hidden or secret animals. These secret animals are called “cryptids”. The suffix “-id” is another part of language derived from Greek to mean “belonging to” or classified as – think the word “hybrid”, belonging to two things – a cryptid is something that is classified as hidden or secret. Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, the Chupacabra, and the Thunderbird are all examples of cryptids.

While there are plenty of legends and myths surrounding most cryptids, Cryptozoology is more science than magic. While new large animal species are discovered only rarely (as compared to insects, where it seems like new species are discovered all the time), it’s not unheard of for them to be discovered, particularly underwater. The most famous example of this is the Coelacanth, a fish that scientists thought was extinct for millions of years, but it turns out that we just weren’t looking deep enough into the ocean.

It’s so ugly, WHY did we want to find it again?

Even the kangaroo was thought of as a mythical beast at one time. When people brought back reports of a man-sized hopping animal that had two heads (one at the top and one by their stomach) people thought it was crazy. But by now, pretty much all of us have probably at least seen a kangaroo in a zoo, maybe even with a joey in its pouch. Mythical beast? Not really. Just more cute than anything else. The Komodo Dragon, Giant Squid, and even the Mountain Gorilla were all rumored at one time to be figments of overactive imaginations. Now we know better.

It’s a two-headed hopping monster! AGHGGHHHHHHHHHHH!

In this episode, we bring together three honest-to-goodness experts in the field of cryptozoology. While there are no accredited programs in the field currently, our intrepid panel has taken it upon themselves to dedicate much of their lives to understanding these mysteries and we respect their scholarship and field research.

Linda Godfrey uncovered tales of an upright wolf creature in Elkhorn, WI in the early 1990s called the Bray Road Beast. Since then she’s become a leader in the field when it comes to mysterious beasts and strange phenomena. J. Nathan Couch is the author of two books on paranormal topics His latest is the Goatman: Flesh or Folklore. And last, but not least is a Jay Bachochin, a Wisconsin researcher who hunts the truth, and one of the hardest working investigators out there in the field of Bigfoot research. He has clocked countless hours searching for the unknown.

The revolution will be webcast...
The revolution will be webcast…

So, it’s our biggest discussion ever as Wendy, Allison, and I share the table with our experts. From Mammoth Cave to Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine, Ireland’s Blarney Castle, and more, everyone retells their favorite stories as well as personal brushes with the uncanny that have had a big impact on our lives. Jay even tries to call Bigfoot with a special Sasquatch Call, so make sure to listen to this one with headphones on, because you don’t want to attract Bigfoot to your home!

Looking for Bigfoot? Just blow on this!
Looking for Bigfoot? Just blow on this!

No wonder we love monsters, no wonder we’re in awe of the unknowable. People love a mystery (remember LOST, I know you do and I miss it too, at least the good seasons), and we are in love with the notion that maybe that’s not all there is. If there are creatures out there that we cannot find, then maybe we don’t have it all figured out. Maybe the world is bigger than we can categorize or pinpoint, maybe we just want some romance back in our lives, where not everything is quantified and classified. A life’s work of searching for the unknown at least on its surface, feels much more meaningful than shuffling paper back and forth or analyzing spreadsheets. Because that sure doesn’t feel like a life’s work.†

Whatever post-Industrial Revolution Hell we’ve created for ourselves with factories churning out pollution to make trinkets that we don’t want, food that we’re told is bad for us, and vocations that are only meaningful in their relation to profits certainly could use a little mystery, couldn’t it?

And that’s what this week’s song is about, “Mystery” by Sunspot.

I met a girl who used to dance with some flowers in her hair, barefoot in the street to a song that seemed
only she could hear.
Well, we talked all night about wrong and right,
we talked the Bible and prophecy.
She said she don’t care to what God I swear,
as long as I don’t tell her what to believe.

She said

When we know all there is to know,
and there’s nothing left to comprehend,
when you think you found what you’re looking for,
I believe it’s time you think again.
Don’t try so hard to understand,
the things you don’t need your eyes to see.
For knowing it all ain’t part of the plan,
so just enjoy the mystery.

I met an old man who used to laugh,
at some gag I couldn’t hear,
out loud and big, while he took a swig,
with some joker that wasn’t there.
Well, he lectured me on our frailty,
the difference between man and divine,
so don’t waste your breath talking ’bout your death,
you’ll live longer than you are alive.

He said

When we know all there is to know,
and there’s nothing left to comprehend,
when you think you found what you’re looking for,
I believe it’s time you think again.
Don’t try so hard to understand,
the things you don’t need your eyes to see.
For knowing it all ain’t part of the plan,
so just enjoy the mystery.