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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Cryptozoology History: The Giant Panda

(Me with Bigfoot in California)

With this being Cryptozoology Week here at The Ring Master's Realm, I think I will do something a bit different from normal reviews by sprinkling some real-life history of Cryptozoology and profiles of some of the famed cryptids in with the different flicks I select to review. Although I am a writer and horror movie fan, I also enjoy researching and investigating the unknown, with Cryptozoology being not only one of my favorite subjects, I believe one of the most underappriciated sciences.

For naysayer's who do not recognize Cryptozoology as an actual science, researchers tend to use successful discoveries to prove the validity of their work. There have been a handful of discoveries scattered throughout the past centuries that lend credence to cryptozoological research and as history has shown, there are more to follow. Here is one of the stories of a monumental finding that has reshaped the zoological mainstream, as we know it today.

The Giant Panda

I am sure that everyone has heard of the Ailuropoda Melanoleuca but not even realized it. Ailuropoda Melanoleuca is the scientific name given to the world renowned Giant Panda, an international symbol of peace.

Although the Chinese have described this animal for thousands of years, it was not until March 23, 1869, that it was described for the first time, when Pere Armand David, a French missionary, first saw the Panda after one was killed by hunters. This was his description,

 "My Christian hunters returned today after a ten-day absence. They bring me a white bear, which they took alive but unfortunately killed so that it could be carried more easily, The young white bear, which they sell me very dearly, is all white except for the legs, ears and around the eyes, which are deep black. The colours are the same as those I saw in the skin of an adult bear the other day at the home of Li, the hunter. This must be a new species of Ursus, very remarkable not only because of its colour, but also for its paws which are hairy underneath, and for other characteristics."

Today, we would all realize that he was talking about a giant panda bear. However, that was not the case in 1869. Looking back at history, this giant was not ignored by the Chinese. Cryptids fitting the description was mentioned in The Book of History and The Book of Songs, both written during the Western Chou Dynasty, roughly 3000 years ago. This animal was referred to as 'Pi' in those writings. It was also mentioned in numerous other writings in the 30-centuries that followed, often times taking on different names such as Zhu Yi, and simply Mo.

After the initial viewing in 1869, the French missionary wrote a letter to Alphonse Milne-Edwards, in which he states: "I have not seen this species, which is easily the prettiest kind of animal I know, in the museums of Europe; perhaps it is new to science!" He was right. Milne-Edwards received a dead specimen from his correspondent in the heart of China in 1870. After dissecting the specimen, he realized that Armand David had incorrectly placed it in the genus Ursus. While the creature had some characteristics of a bear, with its blunt ears, stocky legs, and round body, anatomically, it shared more characteristics with the red panda, Ailurus Fulgens.

A discovery which led Milne-Edwards to place this new cryptid in its own genus and own branch of the tree of life. Just like the Coelacanth, it took scientists 45 years to find another specimen, when German zoologist Hugo Weigold became the first scientist to spot the giant panda alive.

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