Bernard Heuvelmans (10 October 1916 – 22 August 2001) was a Belgian-French scientist, explorer, researcher, and a writer probably best known as “the father of cryptozoology”. His 1958 book On the Track of Unknown Animals (originally published in French in 1955 as Sur la Piste des Bêtes Ignorées) is often regarded as one of the best and most influential cryptozoological works.
Heuvelmans was born on 10 October 1916, in Le Havre, France, and raised in Belgium and earned a doctorate in zoology from the Free University of Brussels (now split into the Université Libre de Bruxelles and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel). Heuvelmans was a pupil of Serge Frechkop, a proponent of the Theory of Initial Bipedalism. His doctoral dissertation concerned the teeth of the aardvark, which had previously defied classification. Though earlier interested in zoological oddities, he credits a 1948 Saturday Evening Post article, “There Could be Dinosaurs”, by Ivan T. Sanderson with inspiring a determined interest in unknown animals. Sanderson discussed the possibility of dinosaurs surviving in remote corners of the world.
Heuvelmans undertook a massive amount of research and wrote On the Track of Unknown Animals, considered by some the most influential work of cryptozoology in the twentieth century. In this work, which is organised geographically, a dominating theme is that folktales and legends concerning unusual and sometimes implausible creatures have often been found to have a substratum of truth. He argued that those referring to hitherto-unknown species should be investigated scientifically, and criticized researchers who dismiss such tales out of hand. One of his predictions was fulfilled with the recent identification of the African forest elephant as a new species Loxodonta cyclotis.
After On the Track, Heuvelmans wrote many other books and articles, only a few of which have been translated into English. His works sold well among general audiences but saw little attention from mainstream scientists and experts. In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents was his second book translated into English and sold in the United States in 1968. It consisted of his book on sea serpents with parts of his book on the giant squid (and colossal squid) added. As he continued his researches he saw the need to “give a name to the totally new discipline in zoology my research implied. That is how I coined the word ‘cryptozoology’, the science of hidden animals.” In his book he documented over 600 claimed sightings (about 10% of which he dismissed as hoaxes) and tentatively identified nine possible genera or species into which those which were sufficiently described might be classified. He argued that the most common types of sighting were best explained by mammalian creatures – contrary to the popular “sea serpent” label – and suggested fully aquatic pinnipeds, primitive cetaceans or sirenians as the most likely candidates.
There is evidence that Heuvelmans planned to author a third book on fresh-water cryptozoology, but instead he assisted Irish author Peter Costello to produce his 1974 book In Search of Lake Monsters, providing source material from his files.
In the late 1960s, Heuvelmans helped spread the controversy surrounding the Minnesota Iceman when he examined the “ice man” then in the possession of a road-traveling circus exhibitor. Heuvelmans thought the creature could be genuine and published a formal description, naming it as the new species Homo pongoides. There was never conclusive evidence given to either substantiate or discredit the Minnesota Iceman, and the idea that it represented a new species of living hominid has never been accepted by mainstream zoologists.
In 1975 Heuvelmans established the Center for Cryptozoology in France, where his library is housed. In 1982 he helped to found the International Society of Cryptozoology and served as its first president. He was also the first president of the Centre for Fortean Zoology. In 1999 he donated over 50,000 documents, photos, and specimens to the Museum of Zoology in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Although much admired and considered “the father of cryptozoology” among many general readers and cryptozoologists, and respected by some naturalists such as Gerald Durrell (who wrote an introduction to On the Track of Unknown Animals), Heuvelmans was also criticized and even ridiculed for his belief in cryptids by skeptics, notably Swedish author and naturalist Bengt Sjögren.
Heuvelmans’s wife was the novelist and artist Monique Watteau; she was also the main illustrator of his books. They divorced in 1961, but remained friends and colleagues.
Heuvelmans eventually converted to Buddhism. He died on 22 August 2001 at the age of 84.
Heuvelmans, Bernard (1955). Sur la piste des bêtes ignorées. Paris: Plon.
Heuvelmans, Bernard (1958). Dans le sillage des monstres marins – Le Kraken et le Poulpe Colossal. Paris: Plon.
Heuvelmans, Bernard (1958). On the Track of Unknown Animals. London: Hart-Davis. ISBN 0-7103-0498-6.
Heuvelmans, Bernard (1959). On the Track of Unknown Animals. New York: Hill and Wang. ISBN 0-7103-0498-6.
Heuvelmans, Bernard (1965). Le Grand-Serpent-de-Mer, le problème zoologique et sa solution. Paris: Plon.
Heuvelmans, Bernard (1965). On the Track of Unknown Animals. New York: Hill and Wang. ISBN 0-7103-0498-6. Abridged, revised.
Heuvelmans, Bernard (1968). In the Wake of Sea Serpents. New York: Hill and Wang. ISBN 0-8090-5815-4.
Heuvelmans, Bernard; Boris F. Porchnev (1974). L’homme de Néanderthal est toujours vivant. Paris: Plon.
Heuvelmans, Bernard (1975). Dans le sillage des monstres marins – Le Kraken et le Poulpe Colossal. Paris: François Beauval. Second Edition.
Heuvelmans, Bernard (1975). Le Grand-Serpent-de-Mer, le problème zoologique et sa solution. Paris: Plon. Second Edition.
Heuvelmans, Bernard (1978). Les derniers dragons d’Afrique. Paris: Plon.
Heuvelmans, Bernard (1980). Les bêtes humaines d’Afrique. Paris: Plon.
Heuvelmans, Bernard (1995). On the Track of Unknown Animals. London: Kegan Paul International. ISBN 0-7103-0498-6.
Heuvelmans, Bernard (2003). The Kraken and the Colossal Octopus: In the Wake of Sea-Monsters. London: Kegan Paul International. ISBN 0-7103-0870-1.