“What is that out there?!” Sarah Lounsbury’s dad said to her mom one Christmas morning as he pulled back the curtain to a window that revealed three and a half acres of their wooded property. At the edge of the woods was a life-size replica of bigfoot’s silhouette that Sarah’s dad had made out of plywood and painted black. Sarah said her mom thought it was “so adorable” that now, when the two of them go on walks through the woods, she moves move it around to different locations.
Sarah, a junior zoology major, grew up with a love for animals and uncovering mysteries, and her family supported those passions.
“My mom kind of started me on [cryptozoology],” Sarah said. “It was always our thing to watch the sci-fi channel on Saturdays together. She got me into it, but also I always had this desire to work with animals.”
Sarah and her mom have watched shows such as Finding Bigfoot and Destination Truth, in addition to shows featuring Jack Hanna, Jeff Corwin, and “Crocodile Hunter” (Steve Irwin). Joshua Gates, host of Destination Truth, researches myths and legends of different countries and travels to search for them. His work inspired Sarah to begin researching cryptids (animals whose existence are disputed or unsubstantiated).
“Cryptozoology is kind of looking for the weird species, the stuff that myths and legends are made out of: hobbit skeletons, looking for Bigfoot, mermaids, yeti, stuff like that. Not your everyday ‘going to the office,’” Sarah said. “I definitely think you have to take what’s on tv — the legends — with a grain of salt of course, but I like to do my own research after I find something that intrigues me. I think that there are definitely some creatures that we have no idea about.”
For example, Sarah said that a variety of cultures on a number of continents have a very similar and popular legend: the idea of Bigfoot in North America, the Yowie in Australia, and the Yeti in Asia.
“There is this same description of the same creature and we see basically similar evidence on every single continent. We see footprints, we see hair samples, we see basically similar evidence of where they would all live,” Sarah said.
In light of her interests, finding a career was a series of trial and error for her — experimenting with new things and discovering why she didn’t like them. Originally, Sarah had planned to study equestrian sciences. After working at a stable for six years, she decided to explore other options: hospitality and management because she enjoys working with people, cosmetic chemistry due to her firm stance against animal testing, and veterinary work because of her love for animals. She eventually realized all of her interests had something in common: her love for animals and her desire to consistently make new discoveries, whether in the world around her or even in herself.
As a senior in high school, Sarah took an advanced placement biology course. She had always made strong grades in school, but biology was hard. So she decided to pursue a career in that field — one where she would be forced to push herself, to cultivate within herself the capacity to succeed outside of her comfort zone.
“I was totally challenged by biology. I struggled with it. I was intrigued by it. I ended up saying to myself — because I was not getting very good grades in bio and it was my only horrible grade in school — ‘I’m going to go to college and I want to challenge myself instead of just easing on by,’” Sarah said.
And she did just that. Last year, Sarah transferred to Union to study zoology after graduating from Hudson Valley Community College with an associate’s degree in biological sciences. Her goal is to start out as a zookeeper and, in her spare time, research cryptids and marine species. Over time, she would like to work her way up and eventually do research full-time.
“I really want to make animals’ lives better in captivity. That is really my end goal. I know I can’t change the world, but I would really like to make an impact at the very least.”
Union’s zoology degree is unique, especially since many four-year universities don’t offer that particular major. While studying zoology, Sarah uses every opportunity she can to research cryptids and discover unknown species. She said that several of the professors in her department have been exceptionally helpful in pointing her in the right direction for research topics and credible sources.
“[Cryptozoology] has been an interest of mine for a long time, because I like zoology and I like strange animals, strange creatures,” said Jeremy Blaschke, assistant professor of biology. “Since high school, I’ve been pretty interested in that, so it’s exciting to talk to someone else who’s interested in it, because it’s kind of off the beaten path.”
Blaschke, aware of the controversy surrounding the topic, believes that most people would be open to evidence supporting the existence of strange and unknown creatures if the evidence was concrete; but, there’s no solid proof. When Sarah asked for advice in researching the cryptids, he pointed her in the direction of a famous cryptozoologist who is a professor at the University of Florida.
“[Sarah] has a passion for discovery, so I think that’s part of what the interest in cryptids is,” Blaschke said. “There’s something mysterious, unknown.”
Featured image by Mattanah DeWitt