Where the wild things are

By MIKE MILIARD  |  January 12, 2009

Many people who read Cryptomundo religiously do so "because I bring excitement," says Coleman. "I let them know that there are new animals being found. That people are seeing these creatures around the world. That there are expeditions going out, and films being made. They want to be part of an exciting part of the world, [one] that I certainly know is there."

In the world of cryptozoology, there are, of course, varying levels of participation. "There are people that are fans, there are people that are researchers, and there are all those people in between," says Coleman. "A lot of people really think they're going to be the first one to take their cell phone and photograph Bigfoot. I don't think it's gonna happen that way. But I'm not out to discourage people, because there's a sense of adventure in cryptozoology that's really part of it. Who am I to tell someone that they're not going to be the first person to find a new species?"

Into the mystic
It's probably a safe bet that the hollow earth is not filled, as Hodgman contends, with legions of mole-men, "tending their glowshrooms, their bloodbeetle hutches, and the various under-creatures they [raise] for food, transportation, and companionship."

But lumbering through the fetid bogs and atop the snow-swirled mountaintops of the surface world, the truth is out there. Somewhere. "I'm a believer," says Belanger. "I think there's something to the fact that these stories crop up all over the world, in various languages and cultures. They go back millennia. Really credible witnesses have documented this stuff. I just think there's something to it."

And if it's easy to chide faithful cryptid hunters for being naive, Belanger points out, "debunkers and disbelievers are operating from belief systems as well — they're assuming we know everything. Which, by God, we don't."

Coleman approaches each supposed sighting with healthy skepticism. Fully cognizant that pop culture influences cryptozoology — and vice versa — he always checks to see what's playing at local movie theaters before attempting to verify each cryptid report.

In fact, he says, "when I go talk to a Bigfoot crowd, the first sentence I say is, 'I do not believe in Bigfoot.' I accept or deny evidence. You true believers over here, you're very interesting, but that's not me. You skeptics and debunkers, that's interesting, too. But I really am the open-minded person in the middle.

"I've done a lot of screening, and excluded 80 percent of [the evidence] as misidentifications, hoaxes, or mundane. But there's still that 20 percent of what I feel is unknown. There's a lot of mysteries out there, and this one may interest you. Here's the data. You decide."

Mike Miliard is putting on his pith helmet and heading into the field. He can be reached at mmiliard@phx.com.

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