One generally hears the term “charismatic megafauna” in relation to conservation. The public at large is usually more open to calls to protect endangered species if they are larger, likable animals they are already familiar with, animals like tigers, elephants and giant pandas, as opposed to, say, various species of insects, fish or frogs.
One also finds the idea of charismatic megafauna in the world of cryptozoology. Readers might be more interested in big, compelling animals they have previously heard of, like Bigfoot, the Yeti or the Loch Ness Monster.
Kate Shaw seems well aware of this bias, and eschews the most well-known cryptids for lesser-known maybe-they-exist-maybe-they-don’t creatures in her book Beyond Bigfoot & Nessie: Lesser-Known Mystery Animals From Around the World, (Katherine Shaw; 2022), which puts its focus on what we might consider more minor cryptids right in its title.
Obviously you won’t find Bigfoot or Nessie in these pages, nor will you find Yetis, Mothman or The Jersey Devil, but you will find animals commonly covered in the literature of the weird (winged cats, “the devil’s footprints”, the Dover Demon) or works of cryptozoology (the the Mongolian Death Worm, Nandi Bear, Steller’s Sea-Ape, the Minnesota Iceman, DeLoy’s Ape, The Tatzelwurm).. You’ll also find real animals they may have gone extinct, giant versions of real animals, strange prehistoric creatures, animals in unusual places and animals that are still being debated scientifically.
It’s a really quite marvelous mystery menagerie she’s put together.
Shaw breaks her book up into ten parts, each concerning itself with a certain sort of animal: Mystery Mammals, Strange Birds, Freshwater Monsters, Sea Monsters and so on. Within each are articles of several pages in length devoted to each entry of her worldwide survey, running a wide gamut of nature, from size and shape to reality (The on sea monsters for example, includes not only the famous sightings of the Daedalus and Gloucester Sea Serpents, but also an entry on the very real Oarsfish, and “Beebe’s Deep-Sea Mystery Fish”, fish sighted by a scientist exploring the deep but never seen again).
There are some sections on the more peculiar of animal mysteries, including Out of Place Animals (Alien Big Cats, Phantom Kangaroos), Mystery Primates (the Chinese Ink Monkey, Orang Pendek), Dragons and Dinosaurs (Mini Rex, the Sirrush), Mystery Carcasses (Globsters, the Montauk Monster) and Demons and Specters (the Ahool, Beast of Bungay).
Shaw, whose book spins out of her Strange Animals podcast, writes with authority, sensitivity and a palpably burning sense of curiosity about the strange world filled with strange creatures we all live in. The great thing about the book, aside from Shaw’s strong writing and fresh perspective, of course, is its focus on more out of the way cryptids. It helps redefine, or at least underscore, cryptozoology as more than just the stereotypical search for Bigfoot and sea monsters, and seems to welcome it back into the fold of the more “respectable” scenes, too. After all, while the potential existence of, say, freshwater sea horses don’t sell as many books as the idea that there may be a large, undiscovered ape lurking in America’s northwest, it would still be a major scientific breakthrough if they were discovered to exist.
Ohio makes only a single, unexpected appearances in the book. In the chapter on Phantom Kangaroos, Shaw mentions the Buckeye State in passing: “So let’s get back to more modern sightings of phantom kangaroos. There are a lot of reports from the United States and a few from Canada, including a 1949 sighting in Ohio, a 1958 sighting in Nebraska, the ‘Big Bunny’ kangaroo sightings in Minnesota that persisted for a decades between 1957 and 1967, and many more.”
Shaw theorizes that these sightings are all of escaped pet kangaroos and wallabies, which is, after all, the most rational explanation. I’m still reminded of something Loren Coleman, who has collected plenty of phantom kangaroo sightings, has said, though. And that is that perhaps some phantom kangaroo sightings are really sightings of “devil monkeys,” occasionally seen, ill-tempered creatures that are described as something of a cross between a baboon and a kangaroo, as unlikely a creature as that might be. These have been seen in Ohio over the years, specifically one case in Dunkinsville in Adams County. In 1997, a woman reported seeing an animal meeting the description of the devil monkey after being alerted to its presence by her dogs. Coleman writes about the sighting in his 1983 book, Mysterious America.