Why you should care

Because this app could help you find Bigfoot.

When I was 8, I saw Bigfoot in my backyard. I heard crashing noises in the woods, ran into the house for a camera, and, later, proudly Sharpied the outline of an apelike head on the grainy print. My brief but glorious stint as a Bigfoot hunter, captured in a single sentence and one lousy photograph.

Nevertheless, my fascination lingered. These days, though, hunting Bigfoot with a camera (and, maybe, an ape suit in the back of the car) just doesn’t cut it. If you’re looking to solve the unsolvable in the internet era, what do you do?

Pull out your smartphone, of course. Cryptozoology Today is the latest in a series of attempts to adapt monster hunting for the 21st century. The creation of British brothers Rob and James Lester, Cryptozoology Today allows users to log sightings of everything from the Loch Ness monster and the Jersey Devil to more obscure creatures. Near where I live in England, people have recently spotted the Pershore Panther and amphibious humanoids in Brighton.

The Lesters say they try to balance fun with logical scientific inquiry, but point out that many animals — including giant squid, okapis and gorillas — started out as “cryptids.” Curiosity about these paranormal creatures can lead to scientific discoveries, or at the very least, a tantalizing puzzle. “We’re hoping that as more reports are recorded and added to the map, that our users can draw correlations,” James Lester says.

Some people just want explanations for weird things they’ve seen in the woods: Could this be a black bear with mange? A disabled dog?

The brothers believe cryptozoology — the study of paranormal and undiscovered creatures — could be fast approaching a make-or-break moment. The ubiquity of cellphones has created demanding expectations for would-be cryptozoologists. People want proof, but now they want it in hi-def.

How is that changing things for older generations who’ve dedicated their lives to cryptozoology? I decided to ask some experts.

Matt Moneymaker, director of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, gets in touch with me via iPhone dictation from the bottom of a crumbling cliff. He’s out there in the dark, he tells me, filming an episode of Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot — the latest endeavor in his decades-long quest to document North America’s elusive hairy cryptid.

Before he climbs to safety, Moneymaker is quick to dispel some myths. When nonexperts think of Bigfoot, they might flash back to a 1990s Weekly World News cover, glimpsed while in the supermarket checkout line. “Those absurdity tabloids had a huge effect on people’s attitude toward the subject,” Moneymaker says. “Witnesses didn’t want to be laughed at. And a Bigfoot sighting in the boonies was not something you’d call the police about — would you?”

The internet, he says, changed things overnight. When Moneymaker launched his own website in 1995 — one of the first to reach out to the public for Bigfoot research, and a proto-version of apps like Cryptozoology Today — reports came flooding in “within hours.” He reckons about a third of the sightings were legit, from levelheaded adults who didn’t have anything to gain by passing on credible stories. More than 20 years after seeing his first Bigfoot, Moneymaker has moved from collecting stories to pursuing hard evidence, i.e., video and sound recordings.

But is this obsession with the unknown a generational craze, I wondered — maybe one specific to a time when technology could still fuel a good old-fashioned conspiracy theory? The Roswell UFO incident happened in 1947; the first recorded sighting of something dubbed Bigfoot occurred in 1958. Maybe it’s no coincidence that most professional cryptozoologists are baby boomers.

Many casual cryptid fans feel no shame in downloading Cryptozoology Today — the Lesters say they’ve gotten a pleasingly diverse crowd of users. And unlike people deterred by the thought of calling the cops or alerting the press pre-internet, cryptid hunters today can pursue their curiosity anonymously. “I usually get very nice people coming to me,” says Tumblr user cryptid-wendigo, who runs the popular Cryptozoology Informational Blog, adding that millennials are as fascinated as older generations — they’re just using different tools. Most of them are curious about cryptids in their area, or they want to get a personal experience off their chest. “Rather than feeling like they might be crazy,” cryptid-wendigo says, “they want to go to people who might be able to debunk what they saw and not judge them for telling their story.”

At cryptid-wendigo’s suggestion, I scroll through some of the most recent sightings, many from Cryptozoology Today users. There are some vivid reports of hellhounds and alien abductions. Some people just want reasonable explanations for weird things they’ve seen in the woods: Could this be a black bear with mange? A disabled dog?

Either way, there’s catharsis in this new cryptid technology. “I feel relieved to get these out there,” wrote one anonymous user. “If anyone has spotted anything like these, I’ll be happy to see some more submissions so I know I’m not alone!”

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