home esoterica Original binnallofamerica.com Audio the United States of Esoterica merchandise contact


Visit Richard's blog
Check out Richard on myspace.
Contact Richard :: freemars2259(at)yahoo.com

Room 101


Neil Arnold :: A Room 101 Interview

So far in these new text interviews we've centred on Ufology, so I'm sure this monster interview will make a nice change. Neil Arnold has written Monster! - The A-Z of Zooform Phenomena, a truly unique book with a foreword by Dr Karl Shuker. He has also done over 20 years of research into the "big cat" phenomenon. So when he volunteered to do an interview (after reading my ABCs - Alien Big Cats in Wales? piece) I quickly took up his offer.

Richard: First things first. Thank you very much for getting in touch and taking the time to answer these questions. I really appreciate it and I'm sure the BoA readers will too.

How did you become interested in cryptozoology and related topics in the first place?

Neil Arnold: I first became interested in monster folklore when I was around nine. I'd always heard tales of strange local creatures and eerie stories from my dad and grandad, and so at a tender age I took it upon myself to log such reports. I was also heavily influemced by the chilling '70s movie THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK and a book by Carey Miller (1974) called MONSTERS & MYSTERIOUS BEASTS and of course programmes such as Arthur C. Clarke. I even began to collect crypto etc, documentaries and have a vast collection. I had a passing interest as a kid in UFOs and ghosts but there's nothing as exciting as a monster-hunt!

Richard: Your book is called Monster! - The A-Z of Zooform Phenomena. What exactly do you mean by "Zooform Phenomena"?

Neil Arnold: Zooform Phenomena was a term coined by Fortean researcher Jonathan Downes who runs the Centre for Fortean Zoology. It is a term which collates a void of creatures which clearly aren't flesh and blood, yet which cryptozoology and the paranormal realm attempts to file, and yet such 'monsters' fit into neither.

Richard: Black hellhounds, phantom dogs, winged humanoids...the book is an alphabetical listing of thousands of weird creatures. What are some of your favourites and why?

Neil Arnold: The book isn't that complex despite being 400 pages. It began life as a four-page article and then I realised that there's a veritable feast of info out there never before published, and these are classic campfire tales of real creatures which fit into some complex yet foggy void, i.e. black phantom dogs, winged humanoids (Mothman etc), it is difficult to pick out favourites, I just wanted to assemble the obscure info because no-one else had ever done it but creatures such as India's Monkey Man, the Highgate Vampire, Goatman and the varying phantom hounds of differing colour and purpose certainly hold my interest, but there are just so many monsters in the book, from the more known forms such as Mothman and the Jersey Devil to some very obscure stuff such as Noodleman, Sheepsquatch etc. These are creatures which have been witnessed but which clearly DO NOT lurk in the woods or the oceans despite what cryptozoologists believe.

Richard: What is the nature of this "complex void" you write about?

Neil Arnold: Zooform Phenomena is a unique study and I'm honoured that my book is the world's first on a subject. Sure, authors such as Loren Coleman have touched upon some of these creatures but they are NOT part of cryptozoology. I do not know where they are from but I believe there are connections to the human psyche because such critters can be the product of anything from hysteria, hoax, misidentification or local dread.

The classic example of this is the Chupacabras, the 'goatsucker' of Puerto Rico. This vampyric beast has terrorised this island for centuries but only since the '90s did it take on a form resembling a small-winged, bug-eyed bloodsucker with a feathery spine and small clawed hands, however, look back into south American folklore and you'll find that the Chupacabras has always been here and has many so-called relatives, and the same can be said for the Bray Road Beast of Wisconsin, or the Mothman of West Virginia. Society creates these 'demons', and I've always been of the saying that if you believe in something enough it starts to happen, but, if no-one is there to see it, does it still appear ?

These are manifestations that produce a snowball effect. The Jersey Devil of the New Jersey Pine Barrens has resembled everything from a large cat, a small dragon and a bat, and it has existed for centuries but it's NOT a flesh and blood creature and neither was Mothman, these are zooforms, strange entities with animal characteristics and they need to be collated together and NOT melt into the cryptozoological or paranormal void, they need their own place and that's what MONSTER! is.

Richard: Is there much overlap between "Zooform Phenomena" and UFOs or ghosts?

Neil Arnold: There are many cases in the book which mention UFOs and ghostly phenomena. Hellhounds have often been considered ghosts but clearly are something more complex. They aren't merely the spirit of someone's dog but instead guardians, or omens of misfortune which haunt old roads, graveyards, scenes where accidents have taken place, and pathways where funeral processions once marched. Naturally, some cases will melt into ghost folklore and UFOs will also be mentioned especially when involving witnesses who saw bizarre creatures in the vicinity of UFOs etc. I don't like the connections personally but maybe all this weird stuff is connected, it's us humans which have given it a label but maybe it's all part of the same jigsaw but many pieces are missing!

Richard: The idea that the Chupacabra, far from being extraterrestrial, might have a more earthly explanation appeals to me but what are your thoughts on the Chupacabra?

Neil Arnold: Although I mentioned the Chupacabra earlier, it remains one of the most baffling monster mysteries of the modern era. Jonathan Downes is of strong opinion, after many years of research, that the beast is a porcupine, and his theories add up because it seems that many of the attacks on pets were not in fact made by an unknown predator, however, we all love a mystery and we have attempted to create a monster in the Chupacabra by connecting it to covert experiments, UFOs, the Devil etc, but every country has one of these bogeymen...that's all they are, night prowlers no different from goblins and the mythical creatures we read about when we were kids. They'll always be here in some form whether as Harpies or as vampires.

Richard: As a researcher of more than 20 years into "big cat" sightings across the world (especially in the UK) what do you think the truth behind this phenomenon is?

Neil Arnold: The 'big cat' phenomenon is NO mystery at all, not in any country. As a race we always like to add mystery to even normal situations. Crop circles, Men In Black, cattle mutilations, have always been blamed on UFOs yet without proof and the 'big cat' situation is no different. In the UK the press are to blame for the local 'beast' stories. For many the 'big cat' enigma is a modern mystery but that's because the press only became that interested the last thirty or so years, although in the UK the Surrey Puma was making a few headlines in the 1950s. The main theory as to why so many cats are out there concerns the ease such animals were obtained in the '60s and '70s. lions, cheetahs, leopards etc, were available from local pet shops, major stores and bia adverts in the newspapers and then in the '70s the Dangerous Wild Animals Act was introduced which meant any owners had to pay huge license fees for their 'pets' and so instead of paying, instead of giving them up to zoo parks, they released them into the wilds. This is a good theory but it doesn't explain the sightings on record that date back a handful of centuries.

I have records which state that strange cat-like animals were sighted in the 1500s, and the main answer to such populations lies with many origins, 1) when the Roman's settled here they imported many wild animals, elephants, bears, and leopards, to perform in lethal combat in their amphitheatres, and I'm sure that some cats would have escaped. 2) Meanwhile, travelling menageries were very popular in the Victorian era, and not all of the exhibitions would have been up to scratch as rickety wagons took to the rough roads with their exotic cats behind bars, 3) Private collections. The Royal's had their own menagerie, the Tudors used to hunt their own large cats, some cats such as Jungle Cats were used aboard boats to kill rats and once docked here such animals may have escaped/been released. there are so many reasons as to why large cats roam our woods, and in the USA it's no different except that many people believe the black cats being seen are black pumas but there has never been a black puma. in the '60s black leopards (panthers) were certainly a very symbolic pet to house and it's this animal which makes up for a majority of 'big cat' sightings in the UK and this cat is a true 'big cat' as, like the lion, jaguar and tiger it can roar.

Other cats we have in the UK are the puma which the United States can boast as a native animal, and also the lynx which we last had a few thousand years ago, but, there are too many inadequate researchers out there creating too many unneccesary complexities. These cats are NOT ghosts, NOT demons, NOT prehistoric survivors, and not mutants. Even in the US I'm convinced that most black cat sightings concern black leopards. Until someone sees a black cat scream, we must stick with the black leopard. Such animals only produce black offspring but they themselves can originally come from a mixed litter but a recessive gene means, especially in the UK, that all the leopard sightings are of black (melanistic) specimens and not normal leopards, although in the black leopard the rosettes can still be seen under the dark coat.

The British 'big cat' situation is not a complex one. We have smaller cats also such as the caracal, jungle cats (which can breed with the domestic cat) and possibly other smaller cats such as ocelots and servals which have been released. I see no need to create a bigger mystery but instead look at the facts, but all the while so many crazy theories keep on emerging these cats will eternally be relegated to folklore and put alongside UFOs etc. I could go on foreever because a lot of people out there need to be made aware that the mystery cat situation is not a mystery.

Richard: I understand you don't like your "zooform" work to influence your "big cat" research, why is this?

Neil Arnold: The mystery cats out there are flesh and blood so there's no need to put them alongside ghosts and zooform creatures. I DO believe that Bigfoot is an unknown species of upright-walking ape so I've tried not to put many cases in the book, and I also believe a lot of sea serpent reports are of real creatures so again, anything I consider to be 'out there' in the woods, seas, rivers and skies will not be labelled a zooform. Of course, some researchers do think Bigfoot etc is supernatural, but I'm not so sure, I just think it's mankind's way of relegating an elusive creature to folklore.

Richard: Have you ever seen a "big cat" or had any other cryptozoological creature sightings yourself?

Neil Arnold: I've put many years of research into the 'big cat' situation and feel privileged that I've seen a black leopard on three occasions, possibly the same individual, in 2000 (twice) and then this year. I've also seen a lynx which took a few years to track and also two other cats, one possibly a puma the other I'm not so sure, but I just feel fortunate to see such beautiful animals, but I put alot of time in the field and just like to monitor what's going on. I'm not interested in filming them or any financial gain, I'm only interested in the welfare of the animals.

Richard: I'm a huge Doctor Who fan and try to tie it into Room 101 whenever I can. The Loch Ness monster, yeti and even werewolves have all appeared in the series, do you have any thoughts on these creatures?

Neil Arnold: I've met alot of researchers into Doctor Who! I've never been a great fan but it is exciting when such popular series incorporate crypto-related monsters. I've always thought that the Loch Ness Monster was a large eel or big catfish or sturgeon, certainly not a living dinosaur, and again, the media created the 'monster' that, if it was ever there, died a long time ago. As for werewolves, when you look at cases across the world there seems to be some inkling that such creatures exist, even if they are zooforms, i.e. Bray Road beast, Morbach Monster of Germany, Michigan Dogman. There are reports dating back many years of dog-headed humanoids. As for the Yeti, like Bigfoot, I think it's an undiscovered primate.

Richard: What do you think of this crossover between Doctor Who and real life myths and legends like these?

Neil Arnold: I have a massive collection of films, t.v. shows, cartoons etc that have featured/covered cryptozoological beasts and monsters so I think it's great when shows such as Doctor Who cover monsters. I'm planning a book on crypto-related movies and have a blogspot at: www.cryptomovies.blogspot.com which will eventually cover just about every tv programme/commercial and film to feature monsters which we call cryptids.

Richard: What are your plans for the future? Are you working on anything or has anything new grabbed your attention recently?

Neil Arnold: Around Halloween I should have a book out called MYSTERY ANIMALS OF KENT (www.mysteryanimalsofkent.blogspot.com), which will be unique locally, there are so many local ghost books but nothing has ever been published in regards to local sightings of creatures and my cat research. I may one day do a MONSTER! sequel but am also planning a London 'monster' nook and numerous projects out in the field.

Richard: Thanks again, I look forward to your future work.

Richard Thomas, BoA UK Correspondent and Columnist.

Contact Richard :: boxstacker(at)aol.com

Richard Thomas is also a columnist for Alien Worlds magazine. Check it out !

web stats