Here’s a cautionary little tale for cryptozoology that I included during a lecture presented by me on modern-day mystery beast reports at the very first Fortean Times UnConvention, held in London during 18-19 June 1994. However, I’ve never previously documented it anywhere online – so it’s high time that I did.
In April 1994, naturalist Martin Trippett from the Isle of Wight (a large island situated off southern England) informed me that a garden in the IOW town of Ride had recently received an unusual visitor. The garden had been freshly dug on the day in question by its owners, who then placed their garden rubbish in some bin-liners. The garden was completely enclosed by a 3-ft-high wall and its only entrance was via a gate, which they locked that night.
Showing what a bona fide big cat footprint looks like, here is a real lion spoor cast in brass as a (very!) heavy paperweight, placed alongside a ruler for scale purposes; it was purchased for me by my mother Mary Shuker in South Africa, November 2008 ( Dr Karl Shuker
The next morning, they found that some unidentified animal had been in their garden, ripping the bin liners to shreds and leaving huge footprints all over the freshly dug soil. The photograph opening this present ShukerNature article is of a cast of one set of those prints (later described to me over the phone by some IOW newspaper reporters), which Martin very kindly posted to me for my examination and permanent retention.
Measuring 4.5 in long and 4 in across, the prints had no claw marks at all, which ostensibly leaned towards a huge cat as an identity. However, when the casts were sent to me, I could see from the shape of the heel pad and the diverging placement of the toe pads that they were in fact dog prints, albeit from a very large and extremely well-manicured dog – so this is what I told the reporters.
Inevitably, they were rather disappointed, as this dashed any hopes for them of dramatic headlines concerning giant cats on the loose. Nevertheless, they then confessed to me that they had actually been informed by the police that a Great Dane dog had been loose in this particular area for the past week, a huge breed that could very easily scale a 3-ft-high wall if it so chose (more details here,
All of which proves that however tempted you may be to give the media the story that it wants, regardless of your own personal opinion, it is not a good idea to do so. Cryptozoology has a nasty knack of coming back to haunt those who flirt with its favours.
Vintage photograph from 1910 of a Harlequin Great Dane (public domain)