Why the olinguito is bad news for cryptozoologists

I kept refreshing the screen, waiting for the press conference earlier today to hear what new mammal had been discovered. Yes, for a minute I wondered… would it be a cryptid? Maybe an ape?

But then, reality hit. No, this would be something evolutionarily interesting, zoologically neat and, no matter what it was, cryptozoologists were going to use it to their advantage. I was correct.

BBC News – Olinguito: ‘Overlooked’ mammal carnivore is major discovery.

Scientists in the US have discovered a new animal living in the cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador.

It has been named olinguito and is the first new species of carnivore to be identified in the Western hemisphere in 35 years.

It has taken more than a decade to identify the mammal, a discovery that scientists say is incredibly rare in the 21st Century.

The credit goes to a team from the Smithsonian Institution.

The trail began when zoologist Kristofer Helgen uncovered some bones and animal skins in storage at a museum in Chicago.

[…]

The 35cm-long (14in) olinguito is the latest addition to the animal family that includes racoons. By comparing DNA samples with the other five known species, Dr Helgen was able to confirm his discovery.

Notice two key concepts… the discovery was the result of years of work by a zoologist using information that was already available, as well as DNA technology. The paper will be published in the journal Zookeys.

Today’s announcement, presentation and results were extraordinarily different from the Ketchum fiasco. This was actual proper science backed up with sound evidence with little dispute that there was something of value to see here. Others must examine the results to see if there are any weaknesses but when professional zoologists make this kind of announcement in the Smithsonian Castle, you can be assured he has his ducks in line.

Not so long ago, species were harder to tell apart. It was suspected that we had the olinguito all along but did not recognize it as unique. This is how many new species are discovered today, we look a little closer and find a surprise.

What does the crypto-circle think of this? Humans have discovered this cute little fruit eater fuzz ball in the Andean forests. No one seems to be able to find Bigfoot that is supposedly eating bagels in the backyard and leaving tracks all around the campsite. What is wrong with this picture?

I saw one blog post that I won’t link to here that will probably be the standard trope used in defense of the non-scientific practitioners of cryptozoology:  “Look how much we don’t know about the planet! New species are out there if only science wasn’t so closed-minded and looked at the evidence.” It’s hard to know where to start to unpack such misguided thinking. They pulled the same nonsense with the coelacanth. The finding of the olinguito is not cryptozoology. There were no extraordinary claims made about it beforehand. This is science that is being done by the rules, uncovering ACTUAL new species that fit another piece into a puzzle we are assembling regarding life on earth. It’s a lovely surprise that makes sense. (It explains why the female olinguito would not mate with the olinga – they were different species.) The researchers used clues from the specimens to discern where it might exist today, went and looked, and FOUND IT. It is thought to inhabit an extended area from Central Colombia to western Ecuador.

Olinguito: Been here all the time

Olinguito: Been here all the time

The current speculation about many and various cryptids, in contrast, usually makes little sense, doesn’t hang together, but most importantly, the framework has failed for decades to get us any better evidence let alone find the headliner cryptids.

While today’s announced finding was not Bigfoot, some may have been a bit anticipatory. This was one of the dates that serial leg-puller Rick Dyer claimed he was going to reveal his Bigfoot in captivity. Some people may have wondered, could it be? (He has since pushing it off AGAIN [perpetually] to January 1, 2014.)

While we liked to hope, the setup for this announcement today was professional, planned and actual science. It was not a circus like the current state of cryptozoology – full of clowns, gaffs, ringmasters and silly tricks. There is a lesson in today’s announcement, alright. It does NOT provide hope for cryptids out there. In fact, just the opposite. It makes the case for cryptids look that much more weak.

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  13 comments for “Why the olinguito is bad news for cryptozoologists

  1. Chris Howard
    August 15, 2013 at 3:23 PM

    Which makes me sad, in a way.

    I really, REALLY want for there to be a Bigfoot, and a Loch Ness creature, and all sorts of wonderful undiscovered creatures lurking about.

    Sadly, I can’t believe any of it because, try as I might, the hard evidence doesn’t support the claim that they exist.

  2. August 15, 2013 at 3:44 PM

    Impressively written, Sharon. (Hardy applause)

  3. Kitty Lapin Agile
    August 15, 2013 at 3:56 PM

    it is giving hope to Bigfoot fans, as they claim “scientists said there weren’t anymore large mammals to be discovered!” Well, we sort of knew about this mammal. Probably people where it lives knew it was there. Bigfoot is either incredible clever, like smarter than most humans since they live among us yet avoid cameras and capture, or just not around at all.

  4. spookyparadigm
    August 15, 2013 at 4:17 PM

    Is it made of angels and/or spirit beings?

    If not, it isn’t really relevant to Bigfoot.

  5. August 15, 2013 at 7:15 PM

    I can’t help but chuckle at your line Sharon “(It explains why the female olinguito would not mate with the olinga – they were different species.)”
    I write kids books. We make anthropomorphic characters all the time. I suspect I couldn’t draw the difference between the two creatures. but it is funny to image the conversation they might have as they looked each other over.
    Even better is the image of a zoologist stomping their foot and yelling “why won’t you at least date?”

  6. August 15, 2013 at 9:20 PM

    Hey Sharon, would you be up to sending me a link to the blog via my email? I will use DONOTLINK to view it, I think it would be an interesting topic for my podcast.

  7. August 15, 2013 at 9:30 PM

    I do agree that the discovery of the olinguito is not news which cryptozoological researchers should be claiming as support for the possibility of “cryptids” remaining hidden, but my reason for feeling this way is also the same reason which I feel that it is also not necessarily bad news for the aforementioned researchers. This reason is because it was a species which was already recognized, even though it wasn’t recognized as something unique at the time. So while I don’t think this discovery has any cryptozoological importance, I don’t think it has any anti-cryptozoological importance either. And actually, the whole of “cryptozoology” is NOT stockpiled with hoaxers. While the “bigfoot community” could definitely use some cleaning up, other cryptozoological fields don’t involve such nonsense and there are some very respectable people involved. Other than that, nice article Sharon.

    • August 16, 2013 at 8:56 AM

      Hi Jay: I wrote this piece for a number of reasons. First, some bloggers DO jump on any new species finding as bolstering their views that cryptids are out there to find. That does not follow for many reasons which I won’t spell out because I think you can see why. The reason I thought this was interesting (if “bad” news) for CZ-ers is indeed how it was discovered. Discovering new species is not done by capturing one in a cage in Russia. It is done this more mundane way. Not so exciting (except for the zoologists doing the work!). I have people like Richard Freeman telling me that I’m clueless and should spend some time in the Sumatran jungle. Fine. But there are zoologists searching in the jungle finding great new insects and slightly different species of reptiles or even monkeys! But NOT the orang-pendek (unfortunately). Times have changed. The world really is well explored. I believe some big surprises await but the cryptids that people know and love and WANT to be real just are not out there to find. The explanation for them is worth finding but it’s not going to simply be ONE animal, it’s more complicated than that.

      The history of cryptozoology is pretty chock full of hoaxes to the point where hoax must be considered as a viable explanation in many cases. Sad but true. This is mainly because the claims are extraordinary. (We wouldn’t be so dubious of the tracks/hair of a commonly known animal.) Even hoaxes make news. Some people are just about attention.

      Unless cryptozoology changes focus from the Bigfoot/Nessie iconic cryptids to a more reasonable assessment of new species, then this story was another nail in the coffin for them. Where CZ can go in the future is an interesting one. What will be the focus? Folklore? What people saw? (actual unbiased investigation) New species? (zoology proper) Somehow, I don’t think the iconic monsters are going away, they are too much of a draw. So, we end up with quite a muddled mess of zoology, myth, belief and unanswered questions.

  8. Brian
    August 16, 2013 at 9:23 AM

    Psssst! A carnivore doesn’t really like fruit…..

  9. August 16, 2013 at 11:21 AM

    Hi Sharon,

    I noticed that you linked to my blog. My purpose in the post was to point out what I see as a double standard in science and not entirely why Sasquatch could not exist. While the blog was titled for effect it was meant to show more of a double standard in the skeptic community. Your using it seemed to assist in making my point more for the fact that you took away what you wanted out of it and nothing more. This is often a problem that is seen in cryptozoology.

    I stated that the onlinguito was known about for years and implied it was treated as a subspecies of olingos in zoos where they attempted mating with olingos. After realizing it was not olingo it was recognized as an unknown species in 2006 which precipitated the study on the species thus the discovery of olinguito and the four subspecies.

    I did not miss the fact that there was scientific work involved but did not allude to it as the only proof to get the study going. In effect the study had to start with inconsistencies in the two species, bones in a box, folklore, and eye witness reports which all resulted in a lengthy study. There was some conjecture as to where this species live and in your words, “they went and found it.”

    While I am not a zoologist or even a science major I am attempting to get the Bigfoot/Sasquatch community to take a real scientific approach such as diagramming tree structures that are perceived as created by Bigfoot (prove that something extraordinary happened based on real data, e.g. measurements distance, locations etc.) I am also encouraging the standardizing of evidence collection procedures and how to effectively and scientifically measure perceived track ways. How about also identifying vocalizations from other species in the woods as Elk, deer, moose and bear are often mistaken for Bigfoot? Grouse taking off or startling predators is often mistaken for breast beating. I also encourage independent evaluation of perceived evidence by several critical sources. I even went so far as to make a website devoted to evidence review and collection so there can be a safe place to find independent researchers interested in the truth instead of what they believe or want. It seems your take on my blog post mis characterized the point I was truly making.

    Science and the skeptic community are often found lacking in reviewing evidence but are very good at finding reasons to not review said evidence overall. I know there will be many who disagree and will try to take me to task for that statement but it cannot be denied based upon the work done by science and skeptics toward finding Bigfoot. Very little has been done by way of work on evidence but more has been done to discredit the self proclaimed researchers instead.

    Go back to the blog and read some more posts. You will see that I am sincere and I do not announce myself as a cryptozoologist and prefer not to refer to myself as a researcher overall. I prefer to be called a tracker or woodsman with the experience to know my areas and the subjects to which I refer.

    Bigfoothunting.Blogspot.com

    Thanks for your thoughts on the post.

  10. August 16, 2013 at 1:31 PM

    The methods you mention are admirable, but shouldn’t you also be encouraging studies of minimum viable populations in relation to the numerous sightings that nearly blanket the North American continent, as well as looking more closely as hoaxing methods so as to better separate them from natural phenomena. There is so much more to scientific investigation than typing suggestions on the internet, or walking through the woods and guesstimating.

    • August 16, 2013 at 2:08 PM

      I agree with you Karl. Many of the sightings are mistaken or reported hoaxes and we should be finding ways to eliminate them or cull the herd so to speak. That is why I encourage the researchers to have independent evaluation of their evidence. It allows the serious ones to present their evidence and have it evaluated as authentic and evaluated for strength of evidence. Hoaxed evidence likely will not pass that kind of scrutiny without question. I am attempting to separate hoax phenomena from natural phenomena by promoting more critical thinking along those lines. As for studies of minimum viable populations in relation to the numerous sightings across North America, this should be done but I believe much of the existing evidence that way has been badly tainted by the wanna be reporters.

      Sure there is more to scientific investigation than typing suggestions on the internet. That is why I created a website for evidence collection and collaboration. At this time nobody wants to share their information which is another issue in this community. That lends no credibility to the subject. As for walking through the woods guesstimating, (you were being quite kind), I find with many groups that there are some that finding no ready answer to what is experienced or seen, they assume it is bigfoot. There does have to be some supposition when dealing with unknowns in nature, however converting it to real data whenever possible is more helpful which is what I do encourage. This is one subject were I feel the researchers are afraid of the science that it takes to provide proof of evidence of a species.

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