The Mammoths of Paris

I got an email asking me about my opinion of the field of cryptozoology. The following is the gist of my reply:

I haven’t gotten familiar with what gets published in cryptozoology, so it would be difficult — or inappropriate — for me to pronounce any sort of “authoritative” judgement on it. That said, I personally have not bothered to get acquainted because it does not seem likely to prove worth the time.

There is a point to the idea that we have not identified most of the species that inhabit the earth, therefore we should not be overly surprised to find new species. On the other hand, the sorts of animal populations most associated with cryptozoology are macroscopic, meso-scale organisms, not yet another beetle species.

It was through the inverse of the cryptozoological argument that Georges Cuvier convinced the scientific world that extinction of species was a real phenomenon, by demonstrating the existence of mammoth fossils in the Paris basin. If extinction were not a real phenomenon, asked Cuvier, then where are the present-day mammoths of Paris? The obvious conclusion was that extinction was real. Cryptozoology, it seems to me, relies on saying that the mammoths of Paris could still be there, and we cannot exclude their present-day existence with anything less than a completely exhaustive search. If there is some more subtle argument for cryptozoology, I don’t know about it. (But I suspect a reader will provide it for me shortly…)

There is something whimsically appealing to the notion of mammoths making themselves at home in Paris, as the mass of humanity remains completely oblivious of their presence. There’s no need to treat it as anything other than whimsy, though, that I see.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.