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Cryptozoology is the study of rumored or mythological animals that are presumed to exist, but for which conclusive proof does not yet exist; or are generally considered extinct, but occasionally reported. Those who study or search for such animals are called cryptozoologists.

Invention of the term is usually attributed to zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans. The hypothetical creatures involved are referred to by some as "cryptids", though this neologism has not entered into mainstream usage and is considered to be slang by scientists, many cryptozoologists among them. Some cryptozoologists align themselves with a more scientifically rigorous field like zoology, while others tend toward an anthropological slant or even forteana. The fringes of cryptozoology are often considered pseudoscience by mainstream biologists.

While many cryptozoologists strive for legitimacy and many are respected scientists in other fields, cryptozoology has never been fully embraced by the scientific community. A cryptozoologist may propose that an interest in such a phenomenon doesn't entail belief, but a detractor will reply that accepting unsubstantiated sightings is itself a belief. Cryptozoologists tend to be responsible for disproving their own objects of study. For example, some cryptozoologists have collected statistical data and studied witness accounts that challenge the validity of many Bigfoot sightings.

Scientists have demonstrated some creatures of mythology, legend or local folklore were rooted in real animals or phenomena. Thus, cryptozoologists hold that people should be open to the possibility that many more such animals exist. In the early days of western exploration of the word, many native tales of unknown animals were initially dismissed as mythology or superstition by western scientists, but consequently proven to have a real basis in biological fact. Cryptozoologists often point out that natives often know a great deal more about their immediate environment (and the animals that inhabit it) than western investigators, and therefore suggest that, even today, thus far unproven tales and traditions regarding unknown undescribed animals in native folklore should not be summarily dismissed in the same way.

The coelacanth is often cited as an important reason to continue cryptozoological efforts: The primitive fish, a "living fossil" believed to have been extinct for 65 million years, was caught in a fishing net in 1938 off the coast of Africa. Similarly cited is the 1976 discovery of the previously unknown megamouth shark, discovered off Oahu, Hawaii, when it tried to eat a ship's anchor. Of an even older lineage are the Graptolites. A living representative was found in 1989, although the group had previously been presumed to have been extinct for 300 million years. Cryptozoologists point these out to demonstrate that there are many unexplored regions of the world left, and that remote exotic locations or specialized ecosystems relatively untouched by man may contain unexpected life.

Cryptozoological supporters have noted that many unfamiliar animals, when first reported, were considered hoaxes, delusions or misidentifications. The platypus, giant squid, mountain gorilla, and komodo dragon are a few such creatures. Supporters note that unyielding skepticism may in fact inhibit discovery of unknown animals. Others have suggested a rigid World view disallows many academics from accepting evidence contrary to their preconceptions.

Along similar lines, the emblem of the Society for Cryptozoology is the okapi, a forest-dwelling relative of the giraffe that was unknown to Western scientists prior to 1901.

Notable topics of interest in cryptozoology

There are also some areas of Cryptozoology that deal with "mysterious" animals, though in some cases this could also be considered forteana or parapsychology:

See also: ; List of notable cryptozoologists; Monster; Legendary creature; Index of fictional species

related studies: xenobiology; cryptotaxonomy; paleocryptoanthropology; UFOlogy

Due to some fields of study in cryptozoology, see also pseudoscience and protoscience.

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