Cryptozoology, BioForteana, Zoological Oddities, Unusual Natural History

BioFortean Review, (June 2007, No. 12)

Notes on a Minor Set of Correspondence from Bernard Heuvelmans

Chad Arment

The role of Bernard Heuvelmans in the organization and popularization of cryptozoology will rarely be overstated. While he has left us with numerous texts and articles, there is also a sense in which we (as cryptozoological researchers) really don't have enough. From an English-language perspective, several of his books are as yet untranslated, and I don't know that any investigator has yet examined what he left to a Swiss archive to determine the extent of any unpublished work, correspondence, or miscellaneous writings.

I was able to obtain two brief letters that Heuvelmans wrote to a man from Carmel, California, in 1960. It appears that the man had originally written Heuvelmans with descriptions of strange animals which he either saw or heard about while in Vietnam. Unfortunately, having only one side of the correspondence, we don't have access to those original descriptions (though they might just be in that Swiss archive). Heuvelmans, however, gives his brief opinions on these animals, which at least gives us an idea of what the California man reported. Heuvelmans' notes from this first letter (postmarked July 18, 1960) are as follows:

  • "Rhinos in Vietnam. This is very important, because the present status of these animals, now becoming desperately rare, is very ill-known. Do you remember whether de Cohos were referring to a one-horned or a two-horned species?
  • "Giant Bat. This leaves me a little sceptical because it is very improbable that a bat with a body like a 6 years old child could fly. This is probably much exaggerated. Such a heavily built bat must have a wing-span of at least 30 or 40 feet. Of course it might be an unknown species of bat, bigger than the Edible Fruit Bat, which has already a 5 feet wing-span. But what puzzles me then: all the Megachiroptera are not carnivorous. Is it some sort of entirely different animal? A Pterosaurian? The matter is worth investigating.
  • "Large lizard: This does not look like a legend at all: its description is so matter-of-fact. Such a big lizard capable of running erect like the small Frilled Lizard (Chlamydosaurus kingi) from Australia would be something entirely new. Who knows if it is not some small-sized dinosaur!
  • "Indo-Chinese long-tailed bird: As I am more a mammalogist than an ornithologist I cannot even try to identify the bird you happened to see. But I will - with the aid of the proper books - as soon as I will be back in Paris."

The second letter, dated in writing Sept. 25, 1960, is briefer, noting that Heuvelmans is "snowed under" with letters and is still "struggling desperately" with the last chapter of his book on sea serpents. He does note, "About the Annam tombs, I will get in touch with a friend of mine, an ethnologist working at the Musée de l'Homme, in Paris, M. Georges Condominas..." Nothing is stated about why these tombs might be of interest, but it is not unreasonable to suggest that there might be some tomb carvings of cryptozoological interest waiting to be examined.

Why is older correspondence of interest? There are several reasons, from the historical documentation of the development of cryptozoology, to off-the-cuff insights or speculations that might point current investigators to a new direction for research. Unfortunately, a lot of older material in the field (from both investigators and investigative societies) has been lost or thrown out, or is otherwise unavailable to the average investigator. I would urge those who have been long-time investigators not to discard old correspondence, and to make provision for it, perhaps an archival collection, where it can remain useful to the next crop of investigators.

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