Cryptozoology is the study of rumored or mythological animals that are presumed by many to exist, but for which proof does not yet exist. Those who study these as-yet undiscovered animals hold that such animals do exist, and are either rare, or once existed but have become extinct. Those who search for such animals are called cryptozoologists.
Scientists have shown that some creatures of mythology, legend or local folklore were rooted in a real animal or phenomenon. Thus, cryptozoologists hold that people should be open to the possibility that many more such animals exist.
The invention of the term is usually attributed to the zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans. The hypothetical creatures involved are referred to by some with the slang term of cryptid. Some cryptozoologists align themselves with a more scientifically rigorous field like zoology, while others tend toward an anthropological slant or even forteana. The fringes of cryptozoology are considered pseudoscience by mainstream biologists, but the general idea of searching for new animals is a legitimate area of biology. Thus cryptozoologists searching for dragons would be considered on the lunatic fringe; those searching for animals now considered very unlikely to exist such as Bigfoot are considered fringe scientists.
While many cryptozoologists strive for legitimacy and many are already respected scientists in other fields, cryptozoology has never been fully embraced by the scientific community. A cryptozoologist may propose that an interest in such a phenomenon doesn't entail belief, but a detractor will reply the illusions of sightings are a form of belief. Cryptozoologists tend to be responsible for disproving their own objects of study. For example, cryptozoologists have largely been responsible for collecting statistical data and studying witness accounts that have just about disproved the notion that bigfoot sightings have any legitimacy.
A common example among cryptozoologists for why their field is important is the coelacanth, a prehistoric fish. Believed to have been extinct for 65 million years, one was caught in a fishing net in 1938 off the coast of Africa. Cryptozoologists point this out to demonstrate that there are many unexplored regions of the world left, and that remote exotic locations or specialized ecosystems untouched by man can contain life we didn't expect to find. Along similar lines, the emblem of the Society for Cryptozoology is the okapi, a shy, forest-dwelling relative of the giraffe that was unknown to Western scientists prior to 1901.
Notable topics of interest in cryptozoology:
Due to some fields of study in cryptozoology, see also pseudoscience and protoscience.