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19th June 2008
2:34 PM

Man beasts and cave men in the 21st Century? Surely not. But a group of British explorers and scientists, backed by a renowned Geneticist from Oxford University, embark on an intrepid expedition into a war zone on Saturday, and they hope to come back with compelling evidence for the existence of such things.

The yeti is one of the most iconic mystery animals in the world. Even in the 21st Century when mankind likes to think that it has conquered all the wild places of the planet, this hulking, hairy man beast still rears its ancient head and intrigues zoologists and explorers alike.

Only this week, there has been news of a new yeti sighting in the remote West Garo hills of north-eastern India. Park ranger Dipu Marak described seeing "a black and grey ape-like animal which stands about 3m (nearly 10ft) tall". Recently Derbyshire based artist and conservationist Pollyanna Pickering hit the headlines when she released details of what appears, on the face of it, to be a specimen of a yeti scalp found in a remote monastery in Bhutan. The yeti appears to be an unknown species of ape, but sightings of such creatures, and perhaps more intriguingly, sightings of alleged primitive human-like creatures, which appear similar to the iconic Hollywood images of cave-men, still come in on a regular basis from around the world.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology [CFZ] in North Devon (the world's largest organisation which searches for unknown animal species) is launching a major new expedition this week. The five explorers, led by zoologist Richard Freeman (38) - the Zoological Director of the Bideford-based centre - will be ignoring Foreign Office suggestions and flying to the tiny Russian state of Karbadino-Balkaria for a three week expedition. In Russia they will be liaising with Ukranian biologist Grigoriy Panchenko who has been studying the creatures for fourteen years and who has had four sightings of the wildmen, which are known locally as almasty. The expedition is being backed by renowned academic Prof. Bryan Sykes of Oxford University, who hit the headlines a few years ago with his remarkable book The Seven Daughters of Eve which conclusively proved, through analysis of the mitochondrial DNA of a large sampling of people across the continent, that nearly everyone living in Europe today is descended from one of just seven women who lived between 10,000 and 45,000 years ago.

The Foreign Office website warns against travel to several Russian republics including Kabardino-Balkaria "as terrorism and kidnapping in these regions remain a serious problem", but in a statement released today Freeman explains why the expedition will still be going ahead.

"We haven't really got an option", he says. "If we pull out now, a lot of money and even more work will have been wasted. Grigoriy has told us that kidnapping and terrorism have not been an issue in the parts of the country where we are going, and anyway,  the path of science MUST continue unhindered, if we are to push back the boundaries of human knowledge. There will be eight or ten of us in the party, if you include Grigoriy's guides, and any band of potential kidnappers would find that they had a fight on their hands".

The expedition will be tracking the almasty and using sophisticated infra-red trigger cameras and ex-military nightsight equipment, but will also be carrying out a campaign of DNA testing amongst the inhabitants of the remote mountainous forests. "According to local folklore the almasty can interbreed with humans" says Jonathan Downes (48), the Director of the Centre for Fortean Zoology. "Professor Sykes has done some remarkable work with mitochondrial DNA, and if any of the people whom we are testing have any trace of DNA from anything other than a modern human, it will tell us that somewhere in the maternal line, one of his or her ancestors was not a member of the same species as the rest of us."

Although the expedition will not be returning to the UK until mid-July, you needn't wait until then for news from the expedition. Through the wonders of satellite technology the expedition website will be running updates every few days. On the 17th August the team will be presenting their findings to the world as part of the three-day annual convention of the CFZ. Pollyanna Pickering will also be there and, following the interest that her revelations about a putative yeti scalp in Bhutan caused recently, will be taking questions from cryptozoological researchers from around the world.

CFZ Director Jonathan Downes is available for interview. Images are also available. Please telephone Jon or Corinna on +44 (0)1237 431413 for details.

Notes for Editors:

  • The Centre for Fortean Zoology [CFZ] is the world’s largest mystery animal research organisation. It was founded in 1992 by British author Jonathan Downes (48) and is a non-profit making (not for profit) organisation registered with H.M. Stamp Office.
  • Life-president of the CFZ is Colonel John Blashford-Snell OBE, best known for his groundbreaking youth work organising the ‘Operation Drake’ and ‘Operation Raleigh’ expeditions in the 1970s and 1980s.
  • CFZ Director Jonathan Downes is the author and/or editor of over 20 books. Island of Paradise, his first hand account of two expeditions to the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico in search of the grotesque vampiric chupacabra, will be published in the next few weeks.
  • The CFZ have carried out expeditions across the world including Sumatra, Mongolia, Guyana, Gambia, Texas, Mexico, Thailand, Puerto Rico, Illinois, Loch Ness, and Loch Morar.
  • CFZ Press are the world’s largest publishers of books on mystery animals. They also publish Animals & Men, the world’s only cryptozoology magazine, and Exotic Pets, Britain’s only dedicated magazine on the subject.
  • The CFZ produce their own full-length documentaries through their media division called CFZtv ( One of their films Lair of the Red Worm which was released in early 2007 and documents their 2005 Mongolia expedition has now been seen by nearly 40,000 people.
  • The CFZ is based in Jon Downes’ old family home in rural North Devon which he shares with his wife Corinna (51). It is also home to various members of the CFZ’s permanent directorate and a collection of exotic animals.
  • Corinna and Jonathan Downes are shareholders in Tropiquaria – a small zoo in North Somerset (
  • Jonathan Downes presents a monthly web TV show called On the Track ( which covers cryptozoology and work of the CFZ.
  • The CFZ are opening a Visitor Centre and Museum in Woolsery, North Devon.
  • Each year the CFZ presents an annual conference. This year’s event will be held in August, and will feature the first public appearance by the Russian Expedition team.

 Following their successful partnership with Capcom on the 2007 Guyana expedition, the CFZ are looking for more commercial sponsors.
Jonathan Downes
(Director, CFZ)
[Editor, Animals & Men Magazine]
[Editor, Exotic Pets Magazine]
[Publicity Director, Tropiquaria Zoo]
Centre for Fortean Zoology [CFZ],
Myrtle Cottage,
North Devon
EX39 5QR

Telephone:   +44 (0) 1237 431413


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