It is nauseatingly common to see someone compare “lack of discovery” to “relatively recent discoveries” in a vain attempt to justify the existence of cryptids. For example: “Just because Bigfoot hasn’t been found doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist; a lot of people didn’t believe the rumors about the gorilla until they were discovered.” Or, “Just because no one has found a living dinosaur doesn’t mean they aren’t out there, just look at the coelacanth, everyone thought it had been extinct for millions of years.”
The people who make these partial comparisons never complete them, and are too blind (or too foolish) to see and understand that such comparisons always fail. Why? Because when we look for gorillas or the coelacanth, we find them!!!. It’s as simple as that. Still, I can’t help but feel that such a basic and yet undeniably obvious fact did little more than bounce off all those who completely lack logic and common sense, so perhaps I should elaborate a bit, as well as offer a few contrast comparisons.
Let’s begin with the gorillas. The statement that “nobody believed” or “a lot of people didn’t believe” that gorillas existed is false. The fact is, before Robert von Beringe shot two of them in 1902, little more than a small circle of people even knew anything about gorillas. Prior to their official discovery, there was no media as we enjoy it today. Africa was unfriendly to photographers; the elements, difficult terrain and frequent theft made the already difficult process of photography almost impossible. Newspapers and freelance writers, for the most part, saw no profit in venturing into the remote parts of Africa, so any information they received was second hand or worse. The most reliable information came from a handful of explorers and missionaries. In 1847, one of those missionaries, a Thomas S. Savage, obtained the skull of a gorilla from a clergyman. Later, he easily acquired more skulls, along with other gorilla bones, from the local natives; which leads one to wonder how many other earlier Europeans and Americans were able to easily obtain bones, or even bodies. With the help of Jeffries Wyman, Savage named the creature Troglodytes gorilla, after the species name 'gorilla' they adopted from the report of the Carthaginian seafarer Hanno1. Wyman would later describe the gorilla a full fifty years before its official discovery. A supremely small number of people—because ignorance and pride played a large part in science in those days—would reject that description out of hand without even bothering to go and see for themselves; if they had, they would certainly have found the gorillas. Those same people would also influence others, who were completely ignorant of the subject, to agree with their rejection. Hence, the false rumor and blatant exaggeration that “a lot” of people didn’t believe gorillas existed until they were discovered.
It’s a tad different with Bigfoot though: The media is absolutely everywhere today. Instead of an insignificantly small number of ignorant people disbelieving without good reason, an overwhelming majority of knowledgeable people (thanks to the media) disbelieve with very good reason. Gorillas were hidden in the remote parts of a greatly unexplored 19th century Africa. Bigfoot is said to be romping all over the forested areas of a vastly explored 21st century North America. Many people native to the gorilla’s habitat saw them frequently, and were easily able to produce conclusive evidence and , more importantly, type specimens. A tiny fraction of the people who have visited, or live in or near, the forested areas of the North American continent claim to have seen Bigfoot or accept the possibility of its existence, but have completely failed to obtain even a shred of conclusive evidence, despite some of them (including scientists) making concerted efforts to search for that evidence. In less than a hundred years after discovering them, they had gorillas in zoos. In well over a hundred years of stories about Bigfoot, we have nothing.
The coelacanth is an even poorer comparison. For years, a smattering of people have gone looking for living dinosaurs, or indisputable evidence of such (without success), but before the coelacanth was discovered, no one was looking for it at all. Its discovery wasn’t preceded by years of rumored existence surrounded by doubt and disbelief. In fact, it was discovered entirely by accident at a fish market. If a comparison should be made, it should be that if a prehistoric creature thought to be extinct for millions of years can be captured (frequently at that time, according to the local fisherman), then why haven’t mokele mbembe or the ropen, or some such been captured as well? Why hasn’t anyone found mokele mbembe meat being sold at a street market? Also, now that the existence of the coelacanth is common knowledge, we know where to go, and can readily study living specimens in their habitat. If the existence of mokele mbembe is so obvious, then why can we not study it as readily as we study the coelacanth? Saying that the coelacanth can be more easily captured by a fisherman’s net than mokele can be captured in a swamp is a fallacy. Creatures large and small, that are extremely elusive, have been captured (dead or alive) in even the most dangerous swamps time and time again.
These are but a few contrast comparisons. I’m sure that many of you reading this could come up with a number of others that would further support my point. If people are going to toss skepticism aside to make ridiculous comparisons, the least they can do is make complete comparisons, not partial comparisons that show a reprehensible lack of thought. But if they did that, it would be self-defeating, wouldn’t it?
In a relatively short time, gorillas were proven to exist while the coelacanth just suddenly appeared. After many years, on the other hand, Bigfoot and mokele mbembe have proven to be little more than shadows of the imagination. In fact, the more these alleged creatures are investigated, the stronger the evidence leans toward their non-existence. Comparing them to the discoveries of the gorilla and the coelacanth only serves to strengthen their non-existence, not the reverse.
1.) There is some debate as to whether Hanno actually captured gorillas during his voyage of about 450 B.C. In his own words:
In the recess of this bay [which would later be known as the Southern Horn] there was an island, like the former one, having a lake, in which there was another island, full of savage men. There were women, too, in even greater number. They had hairy bodies, and the interpreters called them Gorillae. When we pursued them we were unable to take any of the men; for they had all escaped, by climbing the steep places and defending themselves with stones; but we took three of the women, who bit and scratched their leaders, and would not follow us. So we killed them and flayed them, and brought their skins to Carthage. For we did not voyage further, provisions failing us.
Some scholars believe Hanno actually encountered pygmies and not gorillas; others speculate that he found chimpanzees or perhaps another smaller ape or monkey. I feel it is unlikely that he happened upon pygmies; else he would not have described them as having “hairy” bodies, unless he justified the description for no other reason than that the pygmies were hairier than the Carthaginians. Even then, it is very doubtful that his crew would skin something that was human. It is just as unlikely that he captured gorillas or chimpanzees, because their superior strength would have assisted them in doing a great deal more damage than mere biting and scratching. It’s possible that a much smaller simian was originally given the name, “gorilla”.