Ivan Sanderson, Celebrity Cryptozoologist: A Naturalist and Prolific Writer Had a Great Impact on Cryptozoology


During the mid-1900s, Sanderson wrote numerous articles for nonfiction magazines, including Argosy, an adventure publication, FATE and the Saturday Evening Post. Most of the articles were about cryptozoology.

Only one scientific publication, an Italian Journal, Genus, published some of his articles. Sanderson also had international fame as a radio and television talk show guest. He related some of his experiences with cryptids. Sanderson’s peers admired Sanderson’s dedication to the academic pursuit of Unidentified Mysterious Animals, UMAs. Bernard Heuvelmans, called by many the father of cryptozoology and who coined the term, credited Sanderson for inspiring him to further explore the field.

Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained

The purpose of The Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained (SITU) was to acquire, investigate and distribute information on reports about issues in chemistry, astronomy, geology, biology and anthropology not readily explained by conventional science.

For decades, it was the leading organization pursuing research on Fortean phenomena associated with and named for Charles Fort. SITU encouraged investigations and offered advice. Investigations and research were reviewed by a panel of twenty scientists. It helped raising funds and arranged contacts for members who planned expeditions. The society published a quarterly journal, Pursuit and maintained files of original material, maps and a library. It was disbanded in the 1980s.

After Sanderson’s death in 1973, his wife donated his personal papers, not in SITU’s library, to the American Philosophical Society Library in Philadelphia. This collection of 17,000 items contains diaries, correspondence, manuscripts, drawings, photographs and notebooks.

ivan sanderson

Sanderson’s Experiences with Kongamato and the Clearwater “Penguin”

He led an expedition in Cameroon when he encountered what the natives called Kongamato.He was retrieving a fruit bat he shot from the water. His partner shouted for him to duck. Sanderson saw an eagle-sized black creature with sharp teeth and reptilian features. Its wings resembled Dracula’s when the fictional vampire transformed into a bat. Sanderson believed the creature was an unusually large hammerhead bat, not the cryptid. This fueled his interest in cryptozoology.

In February to October 1948, Floridians were puzzled by giant entity that roamed beaches near Clearwater and left huge three-toed tracks, indicating it weighed around three tons. Sanderson was filming a series for CBS and flew to the city with a camera crew to investigate. He interviewed many witnesses who saw the fifteen to twenty foot creature waddling about on two legs. Four pilots saw a large black critter on Suwannee’s riverbanks. One witness said it looked like a giant penguin.

Aware that this might be a hoax, Sanderson asked some engineers to design a machine that could duplicate the footprints. They discovered such a machine would be very expensive and difficult to control. It would have to be small to go through flora without leaving evidence, but large enough to weigh three tons. The conclusion was that it was simpler to acknowledge a fifteen foot penguin existed than to build the machine.

Sanderson’s Major Contributions to Cryptozoology

Some believe that his contributions are second only to Bernard Heuvelmans. As a celebrity cryptozoologist, Sanderson brought an awareness of the field to the general public through TV appearances, magazine articles and books.

The American Philosophical Society Library, open to the public, is a primary national center for people who research the history of traditional sciences, technology and medicine. Sanderson’s personal library collection is an asset for the scientific community.

Sanderson’s most influential book is Abominable Snowmen: Legend Comes to Life about the varieties of Yeti and Sasquatch or Bigfoot, published in 1961. It’s the unofficial handbook for those who hunt for and research these elusive cryptids.

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