Encyclopaedia of Cryptozoology
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On the Track of Unknown Animals

The two volumes of the original 1955 edition of Sur la Piste des Bêtes Ignorées, covering South Asia and Oceania; and the Americas, North Asia, and Africa, respectively.

Author Bernard Heuvelmans
Publication date 1955
Publisher Libraire Plon
ISBN ISBN 978-1138977525 (latest 2014 edition)

On the Track of Unknown Animals (French: Sur la Piste des Bêtes Ignorées) is a 1955 cryptozoological book by Bernard Heuvelmans. Although not the first book to deal entirely with undescribed animals, its publication is regarded as the founding moment of cryptozoology, and it established Heuvelmans as the "Father of Cryptozoology".[1] Translations and revised editions have been published in 1958, 1972, 1982, 1995, and 2014.

The book principally covers the nittaewo, the orang-pendek, the yeti, the bunyi, the queensland tiger, moas, the Patagonian ground sloth, giant anacondas, the minhocão, the woolly mammoth, the Nandi bear, Congo dragons, and subfossil lemurs.


The book begins with a refutation of "Cuvier's rash dictum," a statement made by eminent pioneering palaeontologist Georges Cuvier to the effect that no medium or large mammals remained to be discovered, and that animals known only from fossils are especially unlikely to be found alive. Heuvelmans details several largely-unexplained regions where large animals could still survive unknown to science; the discoveries of a number of large mammals in recent years; and the discoveries of animals, such as the coelacanth, previously known only from fossils.

The first section to deal entirely with cryptozoology, "The Man-Faced Animals of Southeast Asia," covers, as its name implies, the various hairy hominids of Southeast Asia, including the nittaewo, the orang-pendek, and the several varieties of yeti.

The next part, "The Living Fossils of Oceania," begins with a description of the known animals of Australia, which were widely considered to be hoaxes when they were first discovered, and goes on to describe some still-unrecognised animals, including the row, the bunyip, "giant rabbits," the Queensland tiger, the moa, and the waitoreke.

Part four, "Riddles of the Green Continent," covers South American cryptids, including possible living ground sloths in Patagonia, alongside Patagonian water tigers such as the iemisch and yaquaru; giant anacondas and "other inland sea serpents" such as the minhocão; and various apes or large primates, including the mapinguari.

Part five, "The Giants of the Far North," deals with only one cryptid: the woolly mammoth of the Siberian taiga, and also describes the history of the discovery of that animal.

Heuvelmans demonstrated that sightings of the Nandi bear actually referred to a number of disparate animals.

The sixth section, "The Terrors of Africa," covers "three large pygmies," the forest rhinoceros, water elephant, and marozi; the Nandi bear; the mngwal "little hairy men" including the agogwe; "Congo dragons," including supposed living dinosaurs and pterosaurs, mystery crocodilians, and water lions; and the kongamato and other alleged living pterosaurs. Heuvelmans' coverage of the Nandi bear was especially significant, as sightings of that cryptid had hitherto been considered to refer to a single known or unknown animal: Heuvelmans, examining the features of each sighting individually, revealed that they seemed to refer to different animals, both known and unknown.

The final chapter, "The Lesson of the Malagasy Ghosts," deals with the relict animals of Madgascar, particularly giant lemurs. Many of these animals are believed to have gone extinct in historical times before being wiped out by human activities without even being studied, and Heuvelmans ends by writing:

Tomorrow we may know one of our other relatives: the abominable snowman, for instance, who is surely a shy and gentle great ape; or perhaps an even more human primate like the tiny agogwe or the elusive orang pendek. I hope with all my heart that when he is captured there will be no needless murder. Have pity on them all, for it is we who are the real monsters.

Cryptids covered[]

Notes and references[]