Appalachian cryptozoology

Last week’s first ever Harlan Crypto Con was an event that generated a lot of curiosity and thought. Cryptozoology sounds like a very strange scientific field of study. Some consider it nonsense.

Cryptozoology is the search for and study of the possibilities of unknown species. A cryptid is a creature that has not been scientifically proven to exist. Famous examples of such creatures are the Loch Ness Monster, Sasquatch, Chupacabra and the shark Megalodon.

Eyewitness accounts for all of these creatures are numerous. Yet, the scientific community refuses to accept the existence of such creatures without a body, DNA samples, video, tracks, photographs, scat, footprint casts or tissue samples. Some scientists say that this field is “false science” and is nothing more than monster hunting, or people trying to bring folklore to life. Eyewitness accounts, regardless of how many their might be, are said to be only anecdotal records that carry no weight.

In Appalachia, there are two main cryptids that have hundreds of eyewitness accounts (maybe thousands) but are totally unaccepted by the scientific community. These two cryptids are the black panther and bigfoot. Hundreds report sightings of each of these animals, but they are both denied by officials. The number of eyewitness accounts does not matter. Until the demands of the scientific community are answered with a body, or a live creature, photos, etc. the existence of either creature will continue to be denied.

Since I have seen black panther myself on more than one occasion, I care little about whether the big cats are a separate species, a mutation of an old species coloring, or exotic pets that have been released into the environment and now thriving in the rich woodland resources of Appalachia. For me the point is that there are large black cats in our region that do exist and are seen on a regular basis.

For the recently released book, Panther Tales and Woodland Encounters, reports came in from a wide range of states, but there was a heavy concentration in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and North Carolina. Locations were very specific for the most part, and descriptions of the big cat were very similar. The animal seen by so many is about the size of a large dog like a German shepherd, black all over, muscular, beautiful, able to make huge leaps, fast, and with a very long cylindrical tail. In other words, they look very much like a cougar or mountain lion but are solid black. Sightings of mountain lions are also on the rise.

I have not seen Bigfoot. I haven’t made up my mind what I think Bigfoot might actually be, but I do know the people who have shared their stories with me have seen something they believe to be Bigfoot. Their conviction is just as strong as mine is about having seen black panther. I wouldn’t dare to make fun of anyone or ridicule anyone who shares a story with me.

I’m a story gatherer. My job is not to pass judgement on other people about their stories. I respect people too much to do that. To me, the important part of all of this is that people would be able to share the stories of what they’ve seen and be taken seriously. I feel certain that the more people who tell their stories, the more there will be who come forward to tell what they’ve seen. I have had several people tell me their stories and say they’ve never told anyone else because they didn’t want to have others make fun of them.

I hope someone in Harlan County gets a photograph of a black panther that is undeniable. I hope that whatever people see will be taken seriously whether it is a giant shark, a monster squid, the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot. I hope there will come a day when people’s stories are listened to with respect instead of ridicule.

Reach longtime Enterprise columnist Judith Victoria Hensley at judith99@bellsouth.net or on Facebook. Check out her blog: One Step Beyond the Door.