By Nicole Martin
Last Updated: 6:06PM BST 20/05/2008
They may be the stuff of folklore but Big Foot, the Loch Ness monster and other creatures of fantasy could actually exist, it has been claimed.
Is the Loch Ness monster of Scotland really a very large eel?
Jonathan Downes, a cryptozoologist who searches for animals rumoured to be alive, said that scores of creatures thought to be extinct are discovered every year, including monkeys and pigs.
"The problem is that in the public eye the things that we are looking for have been put one the same shelf as the lunatic fringe, as the ghosts, the UFOs and the people who believe that Elvis is still alive and working in Walmart," he told Radio 4ís Today programme.
"Over the last 17 years we have done expeditions around the world and searched for a wide range of creatures. We are just about to send a team to southern Russia to investigate reports from local people of Wildmen living in the mountains."
So is the Loch Ness monster alive and well?
"Do I believe in a prehistoric reptile living in Loch Ness like something out of Jurassic Park, of course not, thatís nonsense," said Mr Downes, the director of the Centre for Fortean Zoology.
"But do I think that thereís a genetic anomaly in the gene pool of eels in various lakes in northern Scotland, which can cause the occasional much larger eel than usual, of course."
"The jury is still out," he said. "Up until recently I didnít believe in it at all but I was on an expedition in Orange County in Texas five years ago and I met some local people who changed my mind."
Many animals believed to be extinct have been rediscovered in recent years.
They include the ivory-billed woodpecker found in Canada in 2005; the chacoan peccary, a boarlike creature from South America, found in 1975; the Gallotia Gomerana lizard, rediscovered in the Canary Islands in 1999; and the takahe, a flightless bird from New Zealand, found in 1948.
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