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The Times March 06, 2006


Nessie the elephant?
By David Lister

Palaeontologist 'solves' the riddle of Loch Ness


SHE has been described as everything from a wave on the surface of Britain’s most famous loch to an overweight eel or a misdirected sturgeon; but after years of conflicting eyewitness accounts, fuzzy black and white photographs and appalling amateur hoaxes, one of Britain’s leading palaeontologists claims that he has finally solved the riddle of the Loch Ness monster.

According to Neil Clark, curator of palaeontology at Glasgow University’s Hunterian Museum, unexplained sightings of a monster in the loch could, in fact, be of an elephant.

Dr Clark, who spent two years investigating the myth, suggested yesterday that the idea for Nessie was dreamt up as a “magnificent piece of marketing” by a circus impresario after he saw one of his elephants bathing in the loch.

In 1933, the same year as the first modern “sighting” of Nessie, Bertram Mills offered £20,000 — £1 million in today’s money — to anyone who could capture the monster for his circus at Olympia, London, sparking international interest.

Mr Clark, who made a name for himself by discovering a 165 million-year-old dinosaur footprint on the Isle of Skye in 2004, said that the legend of the Loch Ness monster was “largely a product of the 20th century”.

He said: “Most sightings occurred after 1933, when the A82 trunk road was completed along the west of Loch Ness. All we have are eyewitness accounts, fuzzy photographs, distant video footage and proven hoaxes.

“Most can be explained by floating logs or waves, but there are a number of unexplained sightings of a creature — elephant grey, with a long neck and humped back — particularly from 1933.

“My research suggests that these were elephants belonging to circuses. Circus fairs visiting Inverness stopped on the banks of Loch Ness to allow their animals to rest.

“When their elephants were allowed to swim in the loch, only the trunk and two humps could be seen: the first hump being the top of the head and the second being the back of the animal.

“The resulting impression would be of an animal with a long neck and two humps — perhaps more if there were more than one elephant in the water. It is not suprising Bertram Mills offered a £20,000 reward to anyone who could capture the monster for his circus. He already had the Loch Ness monster in his circus.”

Dr Clark’s findings are published in March’s Open University Geological Society journal this month. Nessie fans appear unimpressed by the latest attempts to debunk their myth: there were four sightings in 2005 alone.

thetimesonline.co.uk