Welcome to Superoceras, a blog about science and natural history, slightly biased towards paleontology and zoology, but inclusive of all sciences. Started in October of 2009, my goal is to communicate scientific knowledge (and the occasional piece of nonsense) in an informative and entertaining manner. Feel free to contact me with questions, comments, concerns, or criticism at superoceras(at)gmail(dot)com, and follow me on Twitter @Superoceras for all that and more in 140 characters or less!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

"Oriental Yeti"? I don't think so.

Ok, I'll be the first to admit that I've always had an interest in cryptozoology (and xenobiology, and really bad science fiction, among other things). The world is a big place, and new species are discovered every day. That being said, I'm still a skeptic at heart. People report creatures they can't identify. That doesn't make it a cryptid. It just means that they couldn't identify it. And with astonishing speed, the media picks up the story, and the whole world is on the lookout for Sasquatch in their backyards. Not necessary.

As I spend my days wasting away on the internet, I see plenty of articles about so called "mystery creatures". Creatures that are clearly not a mystery. And what really gets me in these situations is the fact that, had any zoologist, wildlife biologist, or comparative anatomist, been asked to examine the photo, film, or remains of the animal, they probably would have been able to tell you exactly what it was. Mystery solved. I mean, I'm not any of the above mentioned professions, but I've spent enough time in museums, zoos, and reading literature on known animals to identify one when I see it. And if I can't, I'd try to do some research before I called in the camera crews.

For example, the "Montauk Monster" is not a monster. It's a dead, bloated, hairless raccoon that's missing a few teeth. The "Cerro Azul Monster" is a three-toed sloth, again, suffering the same waterlogged condition of its cousin from Long Island. I'm sure that if you aren't familiar with the diversity of living species on Earth today, and you come across the dead, dessicated remains of something that doesn't look like an animal you recognize, you might at first be a little creeped out. But should you call the FBI and tell them to put Scully and Mulder on the case? Probably not.

In the last day or so, the media picked up on a new monster from China, the "Oriental Yeti". Apparently, this mysterious creature either emerged from ancient woodlands in remote central China, and was caught by a bunch of hunters. It's hairless, looks like a bear with a long tail, and sounds like a cat. According to ABC news, the creature "baffles scientists". I highly doubt that. In fact, I'm sure if you try, you can even solve the mystery. I'll give you a little head start. Do an internet search for "bear + cat". In fact, let me Google that for you (thanks to Daniel for the link). What's the first thing that comes up? Hmm. An animal called a Binturong (Arctictis binturong), also known as a "bearcat". It's a viverrid from Asia, related to the civets (you know, the feliforms that poop out high end coffee).

Now I'm not claiming to know for a fact that this is a Binturong. I've only seen the two pictures I've posted here. But it stands to reason that this is simply a mangy, hairless viverrid of some sort. Considering the fact that they are native to the region where this "mysterious creature" was discovered, you'd think scientists would be a little bit less perplexed as to the identity of this animal. More importantly, you'd think they wouldn't be calling it a "yeti". I'm pretty sure that yetis are supposed to be large and hairy, not small and hairless.

Regardless, as if the animal isn't already suffering enough, it's been crated up and shipped off to scientists in Beijing so that a DNA analysis can determine it's identity. I'm eagerly looking forward to the results. What do I think the odds are that it will be a new species? Not so great. But hey, go on science, prove me wrong.

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