When we discuss the potential existence of cryptids like Bigfoot or the ‘sea monsters’, we usually get a common objection from people:
“With so many reported sightings, why is there still no solid evidence of these creatures?”
If they were real, surely someone would have snapped a clear photo or found a skull or something, right?
When faced with this argument, it’s worth pointing out that many animals were once considered to be imaginary.
A number of former cryptids can now be found in school textbooks and are well-known to most people in the world.
Here, we’ll take a look at 3 of the most notable legendary creatures that were proven to be real.
In ancient times, travelers and explorers from Europe would sometimes return from Africa with fantastical tales.
They told of hulking, hairy, man-like beasts that were extremely strong and savage.
Today, we know these former cryptids as gorillas.
Ancient Accounts Of The Gorilla
The earliest mention of the gorilla is thought to come from an Ancient Greek periplus.
These writings described the voyage of one Hanno the Navigator — a prestigious Carthaginian explorer.
While sailing around the western part of Africa, Hanno and his crew reportedly came upon an island with a lot of “hairy and savage people”.
His interpreters called them Gorillai, which is where we get the modern name from.
The Carthaginian crew attempted to capture a group of the apes, but most of them, including all the males, escaped up a steep hill.
In the end, Hanno and his men managed to catch three female gorillas.
However, the animals soon turned out to be too wild to handle.
They bit and tore at their captors to such an extent that they ended up being killed.
The sailors then carved off the skins of the great apes and brought them back to Carthage.
The Strange Adventures Of Andrew Battel
To find the next major historical mention of the gorilla, we have to fast forward all the way to the 16th century.
In 1559, Andrew battel, an English traveler, was accompanying the crew of one Captain Abraham Cocke.
They were meant to be sailing through the Río de la Plata — an estuary formed by the Uruguay and Paraná rivers.
Before they reached it, however, they were struck by harsh, unrelenting winds.
The crew also became increasingly affected by hunger.
Eventually, they gave up their expedition and returned to the Brazilian coastline to recover.
They ended up docking at São Sebastião (known as Rio De Janeiro today).
As the crew split up to resupply and fill their empty bellies, Andrew Battel and five other men were separated from the rest.
A group of Natives observed them wandering around and decided to capture them.
The sailors were then handed over to the Portuguese, who had most of the power in the region at the time.
Exploring The World As A Portuguese Prisoner
Because of the abduction at São Sebastião, Andrew Battel spent nearly 10 years either in the service of, or being imprisoned by, Portuguese forces.
During this time, he sailed to various parts of West Africa with his captors.
While he was in the area, he ended up as the first Englishman who witnessed a gorilla in the flesh.
Battel described them as immensely-powerful, hairy monsters that resembled humans.
He added that, despite having gigantic fangs, they were completely vegetarian.
Andrew Battel’s accounts of the gorilla were quite detailed in nature.
Even so, as the centuries went by, most Westerners believed the animal to be nothing but a myth — created by African natives or imaginative sailors.
It was not until the mid-1800’s that new light would be shed on the hominids.
The Gorilla Becomes Officially Recognized
In 1836, an American clergyman and physician named Thomas Savage was sent on a missionary to Liberia.
After spending some years in the country, he came upon the skeletal remains of an unknown species.
Savage, sensing he had found something important, shipped the bones and a skull back to America.
He would later team up with anatomist Jeffries Wyman of Harvard in order to examine the parts in detail.
In 1847, the duo officially unveiled their findings at the Boston Society of Natural History.
They gave the creature the scientific name of Troglodytes gorilla — a nod to Hanno the Navigator’s ancient account.
Soon after, the gorilla went from being a legendary monster to a well-known species of animal.
2. The Giant Panda
Today, it is the national animal of China and one of the most iconic creatures on the planet.
Just a few centuries ago, however, most Westerners thought of it as a mythical beast of the East.
Clues From The Orient
Early eyewitnesses said there were strange bears wandering the dense forests of China — large in stature, with a black and white fur pattern.
They were said to be laid-back vegetarians, and rarely, if ever, attacked humans — even when their territories were under pressure.
These details, combined with a complete lack of evidence, made for a hard-to-believe story.
In 1869, the first piece of the puzzle was discovered when Armand David, a French missionary in China, sent a panda skin back home.
This spurred on a number of expeditions from various European countries.
Many wanted the fame and wealth that would surely come from capturing such a wondrous creature.
Despite their best efforts, however, no exotic bear was found in the thick bamboo forests.
Believers had to wait until 1916 before the first Westerner finally managed to track down a live specimen.
That year, the German zoologist Hugo Weigold purchased a panda cub from a local while traveling through remote areas of China.
After its existence was confirmed, many Westerners became fascinated by the strange bear.
In 1936, the American socialite and fashion designer named Ruth Elizabeth wanted to get one for herself.
She traveled to China with a team of professionals and managed to capture a nine-week-old cub.
The little panda was given the name Su Lin, meaning “a little bit of something cute”, before being shipped to America.
It was then paraded before the press — to the benefit of Harkness’ social status, no doubt.
After she was done with the cub, Su Lin was sold the Brookefield zoo, near Chicago.
Harkness delivered another panda, named Mei-Mei, to the zoo in February of 1938.
A few weeks later, only a year after being placed in his cage, Su Lin died of pneumonia.
Was The Panda A Cryptid In China?
While Westerners long thought of the panda as mythical, there are indications that it was a former cryptid to many Chinese as well.
Even though some citizens most likely had seen pandas before, their country’s old artistic works and written records lack any notable mentions of the animals.
This suggests that their existence was not common knowledge throughout the land.
In fact, historical Chinese artwork shows many different animals (including other bears) and bamboo forests, but no pandas.
Even the very mountains they live on were depicted without them included.
It was not until the 20th century that the black and white ursids were finally being clearly illustrated.
The highly-elusive Okapi, also known as the forest giraffe, is native to the northeastern parts of Congo.
With its long neck, elegant head, and striped, zebra-like limbs, it has a unique look to it.
These factors, combined with its elusive nature, earned it the prestigious nickname “Africa’s unicorn”.
The Okapi is gifted at avoiding detection for several reasons:
- Natural camouflage
- Quiet movement
- Cautious behavior
- Strong senses of smell and hearing
Because of this, very few people even knew about its existence.
Only pygmies, such as the Wambutti tribe, were intimately familiar with it.
They had been tracking and hunting the Okapi for thousands of years in the remote, dense Congolese forests.
In fact, the common name Okapi stems from “O’api” — the pygmy word for the animal.
Centuries went by without Europeans in Africa even getting a single good look at the strange creature.
During the 1800s, rumors of a forest-dwelling, zebra-like being started spreading among explorers.
They would sometimes see the Okapi’s striped hind legs as it bolted into the dense vegetation — often without making a sound.
Some would eventually get a better look at it and described the strange head, long neck, elegant horns, and striped limbs.
These accounts were often discounted, and many saw the animal as nothing more than a myth — a cryptid, if you will.
In 1889, the Welsh-American journalist and explorer Henry Morton Stanley wrote about a strange African ‘donkey’ that lived near the pygmies of Congo.
He didn’t manage to capture one, but wrote about its reported appearance and behavior.
Stanley called it ‘atti’, which he got from mishearing the pygmy word O’api.
The Official Discovery Of The Okapi
In the year 1900, the British governor of Uganda, Sir Harry Johnston, came upon a group of pygmies being abducted by a German showman and his men.
The Germans meant to bring them back to Europe, where they would place them in exhibitions.
Johnston put a stop to the abduction and returned the little people to their homes.
Having earned their trust, he ended up befriending them.
During the following weeks, they taught him a lot about the area where they lived.
Johnston, having read about the strange African ‘donkey’ in Morton Stanley’s writings, asked the pygmies if they knew about it.
They explained everything they knew about the Okapi and assisted him in finding its tracks in the forest.
Sir Harry Johnston never saw the animal himself, but got a hold of a skull and two intact skins (made into headbands).
In 1901, he sent these items to the Zoological Society of London, where the Okapi was finally recognized as a close relative of the giraffe.
To honor Mr. Johnston’s efforts, the animal was officially named Okapia johnstoni.
And there you have it — 3 former cryptids that were proven to be real.
Other notable mentions include:
- Giant squids
- Komodo dragons
These former cryptids had something very particular in common:
They were all found in relatively-remote areas, often with dense vegetation and hilly landscapes.
Many modern-day cryptids, like Bigfoot, is purported to live in (and under) exactly these types of locations.
If you add the alleged higher intelligence into the mix, one would expect them to be much more elusive than even the Okapi.
With advancing technology and researchers covering more ground every year, who knows what the future holds for cryptozoology?
One thing’s for certain, though:
If one of these “fantasy” creatures suddenly ends up in our biology books, it won’t be the first time.