At the beginning of the 21st Century monsters still roam the remote, and sometimes not so remote, corners of our planet. It is our job to search for them. The Centre for Fortean Zoology [CFZ] is - we believe - the largest professional, scientific and full-time organisation in the world dedicated to cryptozoology - the study of unknown animals. Since 1992 the CFZ has carried out an unparalleled programme of research and investigation all over the world. Since 2009 we have been running the increasingly popular CFZ Blog Network, and although there has been an American branch of the CFZ for over ten years now, it is only now that it has a dedicated blog.

Friday 31 January 2014


White Things Part 2
          Over the course of three August days in the close-nit Amish community of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a strange beast unlike anything they were use to seeing emerged to ‘terrorize’ the humble farmers.
On a warm August day two brothers where driving a team of horses with their cargo of freshly cut hay, when up ahead on the dirt road a strange creature emerged in front of them. The appearance of this beast frightened the horses so badly they broke free from their harnesses and started running wildly away from the creature. Eventually all the horses where recovered. The next day about five miles away, a farmer was out pulling weeds in his yard when he heard a tremendous roar behind him. He turned to see a huge beast on all fours charging at him. He raised his scythe in defense, but the creature rose to its hind feet and knocked it out of his hands with a swipe from its massive clawed hands. The farmer wasted no time in fleeing.
The following day on a farm midway between the first two incidents, a woman out feeding her poultry heard a commotion coming from the other hen house. She was horrified to see a huge shaggy creature trying to make off with two geese. Armed with nothing this brave women actually charged at the beast waving her apron at it in an attempt to scare it off. The beast then threw one of the geese at her knocking her over before turning and leaving with the other goose still honking and crying. Neither animal was ever seen again. All the witnesses described a beast the size of a large heifer (a cow that has not borne a calf), walking on all fours yet able to briefly stand on two feet, with grayish white shaggy fur, a long tail, grizzly bear like claws and very sharp teeth. Often these stories get lumped into cases of Bigfoot sightings in several books, but as you can see from their descriptions, these bear almost no resemblance to how Bigfoot has been portrayed so consistently over the years.
So last time we talked about the creatures collectively known as “White Things”. This time we will talk about what they might be. As previously stated many try and label them as an albino Bigfoot. See my previous post as to why that is almost certainly not the case.
I was talking to a friend recently about them and suggested misidentification of a bear. A couple things might lend themselves to this idea. First of all, they primarily walk on four legs, but can stand on two. The face is sometimes described as bearlike and bears come in white. Not just Polar bears (Ursus maritimus), but also on occasions albino bears. Heck even black bears can come in a very light almost blonde color. Further proof you can’t judge by an animal by its common name.  However, most of the characteristics like the long tail, multiple body parts and over all fear of the creatures is not what you would expect in bears. After all, in all these places bears are fairly common, but the natives insist it is something different.   The same arguments against an albino Bigfoot apply here as well.
So what could they be if real? As unlikely as it may seem at first, I believe an angle worth serious consideration, is that they might (brace yourself for it) represent a population of surviving Ground Sloths.
That’s right, Ground Sloths.  Ground Sloths is a term used to cover the various species and families of large sloths that first evolved in South America over 35 million years ago, though the most familiar to most people will be the truly giant sloths of the Pleistocene era, like Megatherium, an elephant sized Ground Sloth. They became quite biodiverse in their native South America and, when the North American and South American Continents collided several million years ago, Ground Sloths were some of the few families of animals that successfully migrated northward and established a solid range.  Then at the end of the Pleistocene all the many different families and forms of Ground Sloths supposedly went extinct. Officially today the only sloths are the much smaller tree dwelling species.
Unofficially, Ground Sloths have remained a huge point of interest from many in the Cryptozoological world for some time. Most of the focus has been put on the idea that surviving Ground Sloths might be an explanation for the mysterious Brazilian Cryptid, the Mapinguari (more on them later).  I will say that I have always thought of this as the most logical explanation for this and many other South American sloth like monsters. A whole other blog entry (or even a book) could be written on them, but let’s save that for another day and try to stay on the topic of such creatures here in the USA

First, Ground Sloths did roam the forests of North America just 11,000 years ago. No time at all, geologically speaking. The habitat in most places, save for the few degrees in temperature difference, is actually the same as it was then. In fact the Appalachian Mountains, where most of these White Thing stories and sightings come from, is an ecological pocket, meaning that it is very resistant to change from time period to time period. Also speaking of the Appalachians, if you take a map of this mountain range and plot out the general areas where so many of these sightings take place, you’ll notice that the highest concentrations happen along a ridge line that goes from Pennsylvania, down through West Virginia (where most of the sightings take place) and down into Georgia.
Second, many of the ‘normal’ physical characteristics match up well with what we know about Ground Sloths. The claws, the overall body design, the face being monkey or bear-like and the tail are all hallmarks of the Ground Sloths. Even the way witnesses describe them walking is how paleontologists have always depicted Ground Sloths  walking, with their claws curled up in order to keep them from breaking. We also know that these sloths traveled on all fours, but were able to stand on their two back legs for a moment and even take a few steps. This is something that bears display today.

While staying on the subject of the claws, I have read that a number of local investigators, mostly from West Virginia,  have while investigating claims of these creatures have found large disturbances in the soil.  They have said they are like something was digging around in the ground using very large ‘tools’. This could be this creature using its claws to dig in the dirt. What they are after is anybody’s guess, though some ‘normal’ sloths today will occasionally consume small lizards, carrion, and grubs (a fact not many people know about).  The main reason these sloths had such large claws was for pulling down branches for food. However, marks in trees and in soil deposits have suggested that Ground Sloths used their claws for a few other more specialized reasons.
It may even be a good explanation for the sounds they are supposed to make. If you offered people a million dollars to do an accurate replica of a sloth cry most people would walk away with empty pockets and broken dreams. That’s because everybody knows that sloths are “lazy”, but most people don’t know what kinds of vocalizations sloths make. They make a screaming kind of whine. It’s a truly frightening kind of sound that you would certainly not expect such a cute little animal make. Now raise the volume and amplify it and you would have a sound just like what the White Things are supposed to sound like.
Even the aggressive nature of these creatures may have a root in sloths. Again the common notion is that the sloth is a slow and sleepy animal  and, while that is true to a certain extent, you would be surprised just how aggressive these little beasts can be especially when humans get too close.
Another really interesting thing I noticed when looking at the sloth theory was just how similar these White Things are  both physically and behaviorally to the sloth-like beasts of South America, specifically the Mapinguari. In fact a 2011 eyewitness in Georgia claimed to have seen a strange beast while out working in the woods on property he was land surveying. When he got home he looked on the internet and the thing he said it most similar resembled was images of Ground Sloth on a website using them as a stand in for the Mapinguari.
Yes, the irony of trying to rationalize one unknown with another is not lost on me, but I think it is a very interesting thing to look at. If you were to write down all the physical and behavioral traits of these two beasts, like I did, you would be surprised just how much they are similar. They both walk on four feet, but can stand and move a bit on two, they both have long claws, they both seem to be very aggressive towards people (for whatever reasons), they both stink (something I foolishly forgot to mention about White Things in my last post), they both admit a horrific shrieking cry and both seem to be impervious to bullets.
That’s another angle we have yet to explore, how a creature could really be immune to bullets. Well a number of well-preserved Ground Sloth skins revealed that some human sized species of Ground Sloths, like Mylodon, developed these studs of calcium under their fur. The theory is that they were used to protect themselves against the teeth and claws of large Ice Age predators. So far only these medium sized Ground Sloths have been discovered with these studs, but isn’t interesting that both the White Things and the Mapinguari are the same size as these prehistoric sloths? Hum?
There is still yet another angle to go over when it comes to White Things that at first seemed to defy a real world explanation, how do you account for the sightings and stories of these beasts sporting an extra set of eyes or extra feet? Surely the sloth theory can’t explain that, right? Wrong. As anyone who knows anything about sloths will tell you, mother sloths carry their young on their backs when moving. And it is widely accepted in the paleontological world that Ground Sloths did the same. So maybe when these individuals had their encounters they were actually seeing not one creature, but two, a mother and her baby. If the baby was holding on tightly to mamma then the only really distinguishable bits would be extra feet hanging off the sides and maybe seeing the baby’s face if you were looking at it head on. That would account for the extra eyes. They aren’t part of one animal, but two.
So Ground Sloths in America? It isn’t as farfetched as it might seem at first. In fact one very interesting piece of evidence for the idea of Ground Sloths in America was written about by the legendary paranormal/Cryptid researcher John Keel. John Keel is most famous for being the most prolific chronicler and author on the (in) famous West Virginia Mothman. But he received many different reports about many different subjects for decades. In a time before blogs, chat rooms and YouTube, if you had an unusual sort of story to tell, John was one of the few people you could talk to without fear of ridicule.
 In 1970 he received an anonymous letter written by a 15 year old boy from the small town of Sherman, New York. I looked it up and Sherman is a small town in the southwest corner of New York State, with a population of only 2,000 even today. The letter states that three to four years prior to his writing it, so mid-sixties, he and his family had started to regularly see some huge creatures in the swamps and woods around their farm and they have been seeing them ever since. The boy claims that not only had he and every member of his family seen them, but two other men who worked on the farm had seen them as well. The creatures where usually seen separately, but on more than one occasion two beasts were seen at the same time. In fact one night one of these beasts went so far as to come up into their yard right by their house!
The creatures always looked the same. He described them as having long shaggy fur, the fur was dirty white in color, normally walking on four legs but could walk about on two feet, between 6-8 feet when talking on all fours and double that when standing. They also admitted a terrifying noise like a screaming roar (they never saw they creatures make this noise, but with strange beasts sighted and strange noise heard they put two and two together). He even writes in his letter that they could have “doubled for a prehistoric Sloth.”
This is a very interesting report. Now let’s start by saying that whenever you deal with reported sightings of Cryptids, you must use caution, but when dealing with anonymous reports, you must be extra cautious. Since you have nobody to directly talk to or be able to conduct follow up inquires, it can be hard to gauge any truthfulness out of the report. But I will say that it is very interesting that, one, the boy specifically linked the creatures to “those prehistoric Sloths” in his letter and, two, that so much of his descriptions are exactly like the White Things being reported elsewhere in the South and  this at a time before the Internet or even when these kind of reports were being published in any kind of major or national books on strange phenomena. A hoax? Possibly, there don’t seem to be any more significant reports of such beasts from the area, but you never know. Maybe no one else is taking the time to seriously look.
I know it is hard to try and imagine several different kinds of truly spectacular creatures at large. Many people have trouble believing in one such kind of creature and you want them to believe there are many different, and wholly unrelated kinds of creature at large. I understand it can be a bit overwhelming. But to try and lump dozens of very consistent reports over decades, some stretching back over a century, into a category that really doesn’t fit them at all is just as wrong. If we start trying to pigeon- hole all reports into one set type, we could start to overlook thing truly novel, truly unique. Are these beasts Ground Sloths? Are they real at all? Only time will tell. But if you are ever hiking the Appalachian Trail keep both of your eyes peeled. One for Bigfoot the other for (possibly) something else entirely.  

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