|How did you get into cryptozoology?
I can answer that in two words: Doctor Who. In the 1970s, with the great Jon Pertwee at the reigns, Dr Who was genuinely frightening. Incarcerated on Earth by the Time Lords, the Doctor faced horrors in the here and now, and this made the stories more disturbing and compelling. Marine lizard men swarming out of the sea, shop dummies jerking to life and attacking people, huge mutant maggots seething out of slag heaps in Wales, cults worshipping inter-dimensional, giant, psychic spiders. This was great stuff. I soon found out that some of the monsters the Doctor had faced in the past were based on real life creatures such as the yeti, sea serpents, and the Loch Ness monster.
I had always been interested in animals so when I left school I took a job at Twycross Zoo in the midlands. I became head of reptiles. In the next few years I worked in exotic pet shops and animal sanctuaries and even became a gravedigger briefly (yes I ran a reptile house AND was a gravedigger, can you get any more gothic?).
I took a degree in zoology at Leeds University. Whilst searching for the beast of Bodmin Moor I came across a magazine called Animals & Men (no it wasn't THAT kind of magazine) in Potter's Museum of Curiosities. I subscribed and became a regular writer. After I finished at university I came down to work with the publishers at the Centre for Fortean Zoology, the World's only full time organization dedicated to the study of mystery animals.
Has anything scary ever happened to you?
I can honestly say I have never been scared on an investigation. Whilst exploring the Naga caves in Thailand (mentioned later) I was acutely aware that if my elderly guide died I would not be able to find my way out of the labyrinth. However I have never been scared of the monsters I look for. Species loss, pollution, human overpopulation, deforestation - those are things that really scare me.
What reactions have you encountered when you tell people you are a cryptozoologist?
Most people don't know what a cryptozoologist is so I have to explain. Usually they are very interested. Most people think it's great that I am following my dream and spending my life doing something I want to do. People who dismiss cryptozoology are armchair scientists to a man.
They never leave their comfy chairs and lecture halls yet they proclaim this and that “cannot exist or I would have known about it”. These malodorousexcuses for scientists are beneath contempt.
What is the weirdest creature you have come across?
In 2000 (year of the dragon!) I travelled to Thailand with the Discovery Channel. I explored the caves, jungles, and rivers in search of the Naga, a legendary serpent dragon. The beast is said to be 60 feet long and bear a crest on its head. One of the witnesses, Pimpa Suvakan took me deep into some caves in a remote part of the jungle to show
me an underground river where he had encountered a Naga.
I was the first westerner to go into these caves. The old man led me down by candle light into a honeycomb of twisting, claustrophobic tunnels that stretched for ten miles beneath a jungle-covered mountain. There were rock formations like gargantuan coffins and Greek pillars all festooned with jasmine wreaths in honour of the semi-divine beast. Stalactites like massive guillotines hung from the roof and there were clusters of what looked like luminous beads. These were, in fact, carnivorous midge lava that secrete glowing strands of saliva festooned silk to catch their prey. It was the most truly alien place I have ever been in.