Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is already considered to be his magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

Dr Karl Shuker's Official Website - http://www.karlshuker.com/index.htm

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my ShukerNature blog's articles (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

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Tuesday, 22 December 2009

CHRISTMAS CREATURES


As the Christmas season draws nearer, here is a survey of some of the many fascinating animal associations with this very special time of year that occur in Yuletide legend and tradition.

THE NIGHT WHEN ANIMALS SPEAK

In many lands, there is an age-old folk belief that from midnight on Christmas Eve until dawn breaks on Christmas Day morning, animals are blessed with the gift of human speech, in memory of the lowly stable creatures that surrounded the Holy Family in the manger. During that magical period, they are able to converse with one another, enabling them to voice their adoration of the newborn Jesus, and also to discuss how well (or otherwise) they are cared for by their human masters.

This belief formed the basis of a wonderful Gamma Films cartoon special entitled 'The Night The Animals Talked' (1970), which was regularly shown on television at Christmas in the UK when I was a child, but which, sadly, has not made an appearance now for many years. Bring it back, please!! (Happily, it can be viewed on YouTube.)

A still from 'The Night The Animals Talked'

Moreover, according to the same folk belief the farmyard cattle and horses kneel in prayer, turning to the east as they recall how they knelt in humble homage before the divine infant on that first Christmas of all, in a stable far away at Bethlehem. After being converted to Christianity by European missionaries, many native American Indians adopted a similar tradition to their Old World teachers, claiming that the wild deer kneel in the forests at midnight on Christmas Eve, in respect for the Great Spirit.

Even today, according to rural superstition in parts of Britain it is said to be extremely unlucky to observe farm animals in their stables and stalls during the early hours of Christmas morning. Not only will the animals not carry out their homage, but misfortune will plague those whose prying behaviour has prevented the creatures from doing so. By the same token, because farm animals were present at the birth of Jesus, it is a longstanding farming tradition to give their livestock extra food at Christmas - a gift in recognition of their ancestors' sacred status as witnesses during that first Christmas. Of course, in modern times this custom has been extended to pet animals too, especially dogs.


THE BEES AND THE BIRDS

According to a very charming folk tradition, bees awaken from sleep in Missouri at midnight on Christmas Eve and, in loud buzzing resonance, hum the Old Hundredth Psalm. In Eastern Europe, birds are said to sing throughout the night before Christmas, and even the least musical species are temporarily blessed with dulcet voices as sweet as those of the melodious nightingale, so that they can offer their own paean of praise and thanks for the birth of Jesus. Similarly, cockerels crow joyfully all night, to announce the Holy Child's arrival.


CALLING BIRDS, OR COLLY BIRDS?

Speaking of singing birds: one of the most familiar Christmas songs is 'The Twelve Days of Christmas'. Everyone has sung it, but how many people can confidently identify the species to which the four birds given on the fourth day of Christmas belong? In some modern-day versions, they are referred to, very vaguely, as calling birds. In the more popular, original version, however, they are described as colly birds - but what are colly birds?

In fact, 'colly' (also spelled 'colley') is a rural name, particularly prevalent in Somerset and Gloucestershire, for the blackbird, and translates literally as coal-black.

Incidentally, this should not be confused with the real colly birds or colies, which constitute an exclusively-African taxonomic order of birds also known as mousebirds, on account of their rodent-like scurrying movements and predominantly grey plumage.

An African colly bird, wholly unrelated to its Christmastime namesake.


THE CHRISTMAS ROBIN

Closely related to the blackbird is the robin, whose small, cheery, red-breasted form is nowadays synonymous with Christmas and appears on millions of Christmas cards each year. Its links with Christmas, however, like so many other current Yuletide symbols and customs, actually stem from beliefs dating back to cultures prevalent long before Christianity.

The robin's fiery-plumaged breast readily inspires images of flames. Accordingly, in ancient times it was deemed to be responsible for bringing fire to mankind. In Norse mythology, it was also associated with Thor, god of thunder and lightning. This symbolism was perpetuated but subtly transformed in an early Christian fable, which tells of how the small fire warming the Holy Family in the stable began to die out, until a flock of robins succeeded in rekindling it by fanning its embers with their wings. In so doing, however, their breast feathers were scorched black, but in thanks for their act of kindness the Virgin Mary rewarded them by bestowing upon their singed feathers a bright scarlet hue that would be perpetuated by their descendants forever.


NOT FROM TURKEY, BUT FROM MEXICO

Another bird closely associated with Christmas, but for a very different reason, is the turkey. As this species is native to the New World, however, it only became known in Europe following the first great Western voyages to the Americas, particularly the expedition to Mexico led by Cortes. Until then, the most popular bird consumed at Christmas in Europe was the goose, plus, for those wealthy enough to afford them, the swan and the peacock - but the turkey's succulent flesh helped it to usurp all of these as the favourite bird for Christmas feasting. Although today's domestic version is popularly believed to derive from the wild turkeys of North America, in reality it is descended from counterparts that had already been domesticated by the Aztecs in Mexico, as discovered by Cortes.

The reason why it is called the turkey seems to stem from an unfortunate confusion of names. When the first turkeys reached Europe, they were mistaken by some for the African guineafowl, which at that time was known as the turkey (because it was exported from Turkey). Consequently, they acquired this same name - to the extent that, today, most people have long forgotten that the 'original' turkey was actually a species of guineafowl.


HOW SANTA CLAUS GAINED HIS REINDEER - AND HIS KANGAROOS!

Perhaps the most popular of all animals in Christmas tradition are the reindeer that draw the presents-loaded sleigh of Father Christmas, alias Santa Claus. In fact, this is quite a recent addition to Yuletide lore, stemming for the most part from the fertile imagination of a languages professor from New York called Clement Moore - best-remembered today, however, for his delightful poem 'A Visit From St Nicholas'. Penned in 1822, its opening lines famously read: "'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;".

It was here that Santa's eight trusty reindeer, each with its own name, made their debut, but just as Santa supposedly derives from Lapland, so too, most probably, did Moore's inspiration for his antlered steeds. For according to Lapp mythology, the snow and freezing cold weather typical of northern Finland at this time of year is brought down from the mountains to the plains each winter by a herd of reindeer, driven by a suitably chilly figure known as Old Man Winter. Prior to Moore's poem, Santa was normally depicted as riding a white horse, and sometimes even a goat!

Last, but certainly not least, in our zoological Christmas is its most unlikely member - the kangaroo! However, in modern times it has indeed gained Yuletide associations, at least in Australia, where modern fables tell of how Santa's sleigh is drawn through the sky here not by reindeer but instead by a team of burly bull kangaroos, or boomers (as immortalised in a Rolf Harris song entitled 'Six White Boomers'). Wonderful!

Rolf Harris's hit record, 'Six White Boomers'

Have a great Christmas! See you next year.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

STAR STEEDS AND OTHER DREAMS - A PRE-CHRISTMAS OFFER

Pre-Xmas Special: I've a few spare copies of Star Steeds and Other Dreams here, so if anyone wishes to buy one from me before Christmas I'll be happy to sign it. Send me an email at karlshuker@aol.com with details & I'll reply with payment & address info. If you already have a copy, I'll be happy to post you a Star Steed-personalised self-adhesive label signed from me to you, which you can affix inside your copy. Again, just send me an email for details.

All the best, Karl

Sunday, 22 November 2009

A LAKE IS A LAKE IS A LAKE...ISN'T IT?

Taimen


Some months ago, Richard Freeman in his blog was perplexed about the location of a certain Tibetan lake said to house monsters, which I was able to resolve by revealing that for reasons still unknown to me it has been referred to by a variety of different names, of which Lake Wembo is just one.

As it happens, moreover, there is another Chinese 'monster' lake that is mystifying me for a similar reason - over the years, its name has inexplicably changed, causing some confusion at first as to whether the two names did indeed refer to the same body of water. I refer to what was originally called Lake Hanas, but which in more recent years is now repeatedly called Lake Kanasi. Has the name officially changed, or it is merely a question of a different transliteration from Chinese to English being adopted (as with Peking to Beijing, for instance)? If anyone has any info, I'd love to receive it.

Meanwhile, for anyone who may not know about the fascinating monsters of Lake Hanas/Kanasi, here is what I wrote about them in 2002 within my book The New Zoo: New and Rediscovered Animals of the Twentieth Century (which will be republished in 2011 in a new, expanded, updated edition):


"THE MONSTER FISHES OF CHINA'S LAKE HANAS

"Officially, the largest specimen of freshwater fish on record is a 15 ft European catfish Silurus glanis, caught in Russia's Dniepper River sometime prior to the mid-1800s (though this species as a whole is generally shorter than the pa beuk, officially deemed to be the world's largest freshwater fish). As a consequence, the lake-dwelling fishes reported in July 1985 by no less an authority than China's eminent biologist Prof. Xiang Lihao, from Xinjiang University, attracted appreciable scientific interest.

"In July, the professor and a party of students arrived at a large but remote body of water called Lake Hanas, situated in northwestern China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region, in order to examine its potential as the site of a future nature reserve. On 24 July, one of the students observing the lake from a watchtower built two years earlier noticed several huge reddish-coloured objects moving at the water's surface. When the professor and students scrutinised them closely through binoculars, they discovered to their astonishment that they were enormous salmon-like fishes, whose heads, tails, and spiny dorsal rays could all be clearly discerned. Just how enormous they were, however, was not revealed until the next day.

"That morning, while again being observed through binoculars by Xiang Lihao, one of the fishes very obligingly aligned itself in parallel with a stretch of the bank extending between two trees. Armed not only with binoculars this time but also with a camera, the professor took some photos, then measured the distance between the trees. Using this measurement, he was able to calculate from the photos that the fish was at least 33 ft long!

"A large salmon known as the taimen Hucho taimen is indeed known from several rivers in northern China, but this species' maximum recorded length is a mere 6.5 ft - far short of the Lake Hanas monsters. Worth noting is that giant red fishes in this lake have been reported for decades by local villagers, but as the lake had not previously attracted scientific attention such reports had not been widely circulated. Now, with an eyewitness of Prof. Xiang Lihao's scientific standing, there should be no question concerning their existence or authenticity as giant fishes. So unless they are abnormally huge taimen, the Lake Hanas fishes must surely comprise a spectacular new species, requiring formal description and study."


An updated account of these creatures will appear in my new, updated New Zoo.


Tuesday, 3 November 2009

FIELDS OF REMEMBRANCE


I'm happy to say that my poetry book, Star Steeds and Other Dreams, is now in print and can be purchased from Amazon, directly from its publisher CFZ Press, and by order via all good bookshops. Consequently, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Jon very sincerely for enabling this long-held hope of mine - to see my poetry published one day - to come true.

As my book contains some cryptozoologically-relevant poems, normally I would have included one here, to launch it. Reading through its contents, however, I was reminded that there was a far more relevant poem - bearing in mind that this forthcoming weekend sees Remembrance Sunday. Consequently, although this blog is typically devoted to mystery beasts and the like, I hope that you will forgive my deviating from the norm, just this once, in order to pay my respects to all of the brave men and women in England and elsewhere throughout the world during wartime who have sacrificed so much:


The symbolic association of the poppy with the remembrance of those who fought and fell during wartime is very potent, and is one that I sought to capture and honour in the following poem – my own tribute to those brave heroes who gave their lives so that we could live ours. May we never forget them, and the sacrifice that they made for all of us.

FIELDS OF REMEMBRANCE

Far through the countryside’s languorous dreaming
Strolled I one morning in summertime past,
Wondering why this enrapturing vista
Couldn’t unchanging forever more last.

And as I gazed o’er its velvet-gowned valleys,
There lay a poppy field, burnished and bright;
Scarlet heads tossing on stems green and slender,
Swaying round ever to meet the sun’s light.

Crimson and fiery as dancing infernos,
Eyes filled with darkness like eveningtide’s shades,
Peering through petals emblazoned with ruby,
Outwards forever to sunlight displayed.

And as I stood there, their message came softly,
Brought by the zephyr on swift wings of Love;
For, as I listened, their spirits drew nearer,
Borne ’neath the cloudbanks of Heaven above.

E’en though they spoke without words, without voices,
Eyes sparkling brightly from tall fiery heads,
Theirs was a message more real, yet more distant,
Stranger than any before – for they said:

“We are the spirits of those who for Freedom
Gave up their lives in the struggle of War.
We are reborn in the world they created,
Shedding the tears and the ills that they bore.”

And as I watched them, their petals drooped downwards,
Burdened with dewdrops, each tender and clear,
Capturing memories borne through all ages,
Living again in each poppy-shed tear.

Theirs was a love more intense, more consuming,
Than could be ever disrupted by War;
Peace was their dream and their only ambition,
This was their goal – this is what they died for.

And as I left, still their beauty burnt brighter,
Bright as the sun scorching upwards and higher;
Ne’er would their courage and hope be forgotten,
Cherished fore’er in the poppies’ bright fire,

Burning fore’er in the hearts of all mankind
Living in peace after violence and War.
Freedom has come to this fair English country:
This was their dream – this is what they fought for.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

A PERFECT PICTURE OF MYSTERY - A POSITIVE OUTLOOK?




Following the query in my previous blog about what the enigmatic Canzanella mystery beasts painting, which looks very like a photo-negative with black background and ghostly white-furred animals, might look like if it were converted to a photo-positive version by colour-inverting it to yield a white background and colour-furred animals, I have duly done this. So here is the original version (top pic). And here's the very thought-provoking colour-inverted version (bottom pic). What do you think? Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice may well have said!

Monday, 12 October 2009

A PERFECT PICTURE OF MYSTERY


As I've often noted, mystery animals can turn up in the most unlikely places - and back in 2002 one of these just so happened to be the American version of ebay, the online auction house.

From 16 to 26 September 2002, a most extraordinary painting was offered there, as Item #907237942, by a seller from Old Town, Florida, using the name ectopistes@webtv.net and requiring an undisclosed reserve price. According to the seller's description of this painting, it was an original unframed water-colour, measuring 22" by 30", bearing the signature Canzanella, and it depicted a pair of very odd-looking mammals - see above photo.

The one in the foreground was described by the seller as white with a very slight pinkish hue (as the seller's video-camera photo of the painting had made it seem yellow). The seller had owned the painting for roughly 28 years after paying a thousand dollars for it, but had no information as to what the animals in it were. Emphasising their curious appearance, he/she had entitled the item 'Strange Cryptozoology Animal Painting'.

Certainly, the creatures depicted are decidedly unusual, even sinister, and I cannot readily identify them with any known species. There are certain similarities to badgers (though the portrayed animals' legs seem too long for all but perhaps the Asian hog badger Arctonyx collaris), and others to various viverrids. The pink-hued white fur of the foreground specimen may indicate albinism.

In any event, the painting is reproduced here, and I'd welcome any opinions or information concerning the mystifying animals depicted, and the equally mysterious artist responsible for depicting them.

Friday, 18 September 2009

FINDING OUT ABOUT 'FINDING OUT'!

Naga king, from Finding Out (Angus McBride)


Scottish cryptozoologist Alan Pringle has brought to my attention a very intriguing mystery of the cryptozoologically-related kind. Back in 1970 or 1971, at a friend's home, he saw a complete set of a magazine partwork series containing at least 30-40 issues, on an encyclopaedic or scientific theme (possibly aimed at children), and entitled Finding Out.

However, it was not their contents, but their covers, that attracted his particular interest and attention, because each issue's back cover featured an animal or entity from the myths and legends of the world, including a number that have cryptozoological relevance. A very dramatic, full-colour illustration of the creature occupied one half of the cover's page, with accompanying text occupying the other half.

The creatures that Alan can definitely remember appearing in this set of covers included the western dragon, eastern dragon, siren, tokoloshe, leshy, thunderbird, Midgard serpent, Assyrian winged bull, minotaur, centaur, bunyip, Egyptian ammut (soul eater), sphinx, and harpy. Others that he thinks may have been present include the werewolf, vampire, unicorn, cyclops, zombie, and banshee.

Alan has never seen this partwork again (and has long since lost contact with the friend who owned it), but he can still vividly recall some of the back covers due to their very eyecatching nature. I have certainly never seen them, and despite their dramatic appeal they do not seem to have been reproduced in any other publication. Moreover, in a letter to me from Phil Hide of Aylesbury, I learned that he actually owns most issues of this partwork up to volume 11, and that it was published by Purnell & Sons. Unfortunately, none of those particular issues' covers has any cryptozoology painting!

Happily, however, I have also received a letter from Alex Lamprey of Cardiff, who owns seven issues from volumes 16 and 17, and each of these issues' covers does depict a mystery beast or legendary entity. These are: sea serpents, bunyips, the cailleach-bheur, morrigan, gnomes, the Little People, and lamassu. Obviously, therefore, this series of illustrations did not begin until sometime after volume 11. The artist responsible for them was Angus McBride.

If there is anyone else out there who has seen this partwork (or, better still, owns an edition of it ior at least a run of those issues with cryptozoological back covers), or can offer any extra details, I'd love to hear from you.


STOP PRESS: 20 February 2011.

I'm delighted - and extremely grateful - to say that Alex Lamprey has very kindly donated to me his above-mentioned seven copies of Finding Out. They arrived this weekend, and their Angus McBride back-cover illustrations are every bit as spectacular as I'd hoped for! Needless to say, these near-legendary magazines (at least in my eyes!) now constitute a greatly-treasured addition to my library and images archive, and I shall be keeping a sharp lookout for the remaining 23 issues with McBride zoomythological back covers in order to complete my collection. Meanwhile, a massive THANK YOU!! to Alex for fulfilling a long-held ambition of mine to own at least some of them.


STOP PRESS: 3 March 2011.

Click here to read the fully-illustrated version of my ShukerNature blog post containing today's very exciting news! Thanks to the kindness of correspondent Ivan Waldock, who owns all 36 issues of Finding Out that possess cryptozoological/mythological back cover illustrations, and has sent me a scan of every one of them, I have been able at long last to provide the full set here online!


Friday, 11 September 2009

STAR STEEDS...AND FEATHERED SNAKES



Jon at CFZ Press tells me that my poetry book, Star Steeds and Other Dreams, could well be out by the end of this month, so here, as a taster, is one of its poems, in which I portray the Mesoamerican deity Quetzalcoatl in his feathered serpent guise. As a contrast, the above photo, of a statuette purchased by me a few years ago in Tijuana, Mexico, depicts him in his human form.


The concept of Quetzalcoatl – an Aztec serpent god adorned with feathers rather than scales, and gifted with the ability to soar majestically through the heavens without needing wings – is one that has long fascinated me, so it was inevitable that sooner or later I would attempt to capture the wonder of this spectacular reptilian deity in verse.

A TRIBUTE TO QUETZALCOATL

Green feathered serpent like Heaven's liana,
Plumes of bright malachite, jasper, and jade,
Furled in rich flourishes, dazzling in glory,
Verdurous rays borne on emerald blades.

And, as you gleam in your jewel-clustered temple,
Coils gliding over your tributes of gold,
Ruby eyes glow with the flames of the cosmos,
Deadly yet passionate, blazing but cold.

Now, as your lightning-forked tongue flickers brightly,
Sibilant breath hissing softly and long,
Bowing before you in rapt veneration
Kneel your disciples in reverent throngs.

Yet, do you laugh at these weak, puny mortals,
Scuttling like ants in the fire of your gaze,
Shielding their eyes in the depths of your shadow –
Turquoise and terrible, willing their praise?

Quetzalcoatl – ophidian idol,
Soaring through Space like a radiant stream.
Aztec divinity, ageless, eternal –
Incarnate god, or a deified dream?

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

SHAN HAI JIN - AN ANCIENT CHINESE WONDER BOOK


There are a number of highly significant tomes out there that have never attracted the degree of cryptozoological and zoomythological attention that they deserve. One such example is the Shan Hai Jin (or Jing) - a classic Chinese text at least 2,200 years old, roughly 31,000 words long, divided into 18 sections, and containing a wealth of information on all manner of extraordinary beasts. Although most are assuredly mythical, there could well be some genuine cryptids amongst them - the trick is deciding which is which.

To give you an idea of the scope of this remarkable book, the following mentions of entities referrred to in it are quoted from an extensive, highly informative communication that I received quite a while ago concerning the Shan Hai Jin (and also various other notable Chinese sources of info re mystery/legendary beasts) from one of my correspondents, Chinese-born S. Lu, now living in Washington, USA:

"Throughout the years I found so many, many, many parallels between the East and West myths and legends...For instance, the cockatrice's Chinese "cousin" described in Shan Hai Jin [SHJ] is the Suan Yu bird. It's like a snake with four wings, six eyes and three legs. If we picture it as having a bird's/rooster's head and talons, it'll look almost exactly like a cockatrice. The book also says that the Suan Yu bird's appearance foreshadows the coming of bad things.

"Shan Hai Jin is such a treasure with extensive knowledge of lots of things, it's a shame that many people keep a close mind toward the strange creatures and phenomena documented inside.

"There are accounts of mermaids (it's called Ling fish in SHJ), the kind that has human legs and arms with a fish/dolphin tail. I've seen depictions of this creature in the Arabian Nights when Sinbad was taken to an underwater palace by such a man or a merman.

"Europeans' view of the Indian people as dog-headed [cynocephali] is not completely out of the question. In SHJ yellow humanoid creatures with dogs' heads are described. Their name is Huan dog. There are also three-leg people, three-head people, egg-laying people, bird-body people (Siren?), one-foot people, snake-body people (Lamia?) [one such entity is the nuwa, as pictured here in this blog utilising an SHJ illustration], etc.

"Chinese centaurs have often been referred to as deities of some sort, they are horses or bulls with "human heads and hands". Chinese satyrs or pans are a people from the country of Dinling. Their upper bodies are like humans and lower parts are of the hairy horse legs with hooves, and they like to run. Water horses, the kind you talked about in Flying Toads and many other Western folklores, can also be found in SHJ...

"There are much more in other ancient texts in China that document similar things. One even says that the yerens [Chinese wildmen] are able to make themselves invisible and transform to dodge humans....

"There is a china.com [not any longer, sadly] that contains reports from Shen Nong Jia about yeren, albino animals, giant toad monsters, donkey-head wolves, rooster-crest snakes (my grandma told me her mother's story of how such a snake was found in a local "Tu Di" (earth god) temple in the rural Nanjing, Jiangsui Province, the snake didn't siss, but sounded like chicken, the locals thought it has a crest because it was old), unicorns (the website has personal stories of hunters [who] shot dead a couple of unicorns, they say the creature is not exactly a horse, nor a goat, nor a deer; in one account the single horn tilts/curls backward and another forward; they are very agile, and their meat was good; again the local people are sure that they are there), scarlet bats and hogs, etc.

"Have you heard about the famous 'Legend of the White Snake' about a white snake, accompanied by her friend or maid a green snake, transformed into a beautiful woman to marry a mortal, who saved her life a thousand years ago (reincarnation)? In Shen Nong Jia, scientists found that the rare white snakes are often seen to be with green snakes."

And this is just a taster of the treasures to be found inside this amazing work. Of all the subjects mentioned above, however, the one that possibly intrigues me the most received the least mention - scarlet bats. They're certainly new to me, so if there's anyone out there who has any info on Chinese scarlet bats, I'd be delighted to receive it.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

FROM LIGHTNING DOGS TO MIRRII DOGS


Mirrii dog (Philippa Foster)


As its name clearly reveals, the Centre for Fortean Zoology is interested not just in corporeal mystery beasts but also in other, more esoteric, paranormal creatures, i.e. zooform entities, of which there seems to be an abundance of canine versions.

It is well known, for example, that many reputedly paranormal, phantasmal dogs - in particular the so-called Black Dogs - have been reported from the British Isles and from North America. However, a surprising variety of comparable entities have also been recorded from elsewhere around the world. Some of these canine curiosities are every bit as exotic as their localities, but others appear surprisingly familiar.

Take, for instance, the linani of East Africa. Judging from its description, this erstwhile phantom beast was very similar to Britain's famous spectral black dogs with flaming eyes and mouths. According to Kenya's Bantu people, the linani was a big black dog with sparks of fire spurting out of its mouth. By day, it slept tranquilly in the grass, but at night it roamed the countryside in search of unfortunate human victims to devour. Happily, by the early years of this century it had apparently disappeared, as no-one speaks of it any more.

Equally daunting is the lightning dog of the Lower Congo. Here, in traditional lore, lightning is believed to take the form of a magical dog that springs down to earth in a single great bound, and emits a single sharp bark. As soon as it gives voice to a second bark, however, it leaps back into the sky. The lightning dog is said to be either black or red in colour, with a shaggy coat and a curly tail. If it should happen to touch someone, that person will immediately catch fire and die, but no magical charm has any effect upon this creature, and not even the most skilful witch-doctors and wizards can prevent its attacks.

As we might expect, the mystic lands of the Orient are well-supplied with unearthly hounds. One of these is a peculiar composite of sorts, combining the striped body of a tiger with the head of a wolf. Reported from Nepal and known as the chuti, it is frequently portrayed in traditional Nepalese art, in which each of its paws is depicted with four claws pointing forwards and one pointing backwards. As revealed in his book Look Behind the Ranges (1979), when renowned mountaineer Hamish MacInnes visited Nepal he was informed by the local lamas that chutis could be found in the Choyang and Iswa Valleys. One Russian scientist, Dr Vladimir Tschernesky, suggested that the chuti may actually be one and the same as the striped hyaena, but at present it remains firmly entrenched in Nepalese legend.

So too, luckily, do the sharameyas or yama-dutas of India, for according to Vedic belief, each of these monstrous dogs has a huge muzzle, smoke-belching nostrils, and four eyes! A pair of sharameyas guards the road to Yamapur - India's Underworld, or City of the Dead. Equally terrifying is the t'ien kou - the red-furred celestial dog of China. Its normal abode is the night sky, but sometimes it descends to earth, and when it does it resembles a blazing comet with a great fiery tail. Emphasising its comet affinities is the tradition that this beast's appearances portend disaster and doom - an ancient belief in relation to comets too.

Chile in South America lays claim to a very distinctive preternatural dog, called the calchona. It is described as a huge white dog resembling a Newfoundland but with a very woolly coat and a billy goat's beard. Notwithstanding its placid, almost sheep-like form, however, the calchona is exceedingly mischievous, delighting in playing tricks upon evening travellers passing through its dark mountainous domain, and also frightening their horses.

Perhaps the most intriguing phantom dogs of all are the mirrii dogs or mirriuula, featuring in the ancient lore of the Wiradjuri aboriginals inhabiting the central west of New South Wales, Australia - because in spite of their wholly separate ethnological origin, they bear an uncanny resemblance to the black dogs of British and North American traditions.

Several stories concerning these weird entities are contained in You Kids Count Your Shadows (1990) - a fascinating book dealing with Wiradjuri folk traditions, by folklore researcher Frank Povah from Wollar in New South Wales. According to the Wiradjuri, when a mirrii dog is first seen it is only quite small, with red eyes and noticeably pointed ears - but the longer that someone looks at a mirrii dog, the bigger it will grow. Indeed, it can sometimes attain the size of a calf or even a pony. As with certain British black dogs, mirriuula are often associated with water, and some are actually referred to as water dogs:

"They'll follow you and coax you away. They live in the river, in the water, and they've got real big eyes like saucers. The eyes is [sic] on the side of their face, like a fish...I've heard a lot of stories about people being followed home at night by these big dogs. People just see em. Down the river fishin, a dog'll come out of the river, or a dog'll suddenly be behind em, followin em. Every time you look back, it's a bit bigger. Look back again and there's nothin there. We got a very special site called the Mirriigana and mirriigana means - well mirrii is a dog and gana is like ganya, place. Place where the water dog lives. It's one of our sacred sites."

Several Wiradjuris recalled modern encounters with mirriuula to Povah. For instance:

"They used to go to the pictures and when they'd come home this little dog used to follow them. He had pointy ears and red eyes. When they got to their house he used to disappear. Another one, too, you'd see a little dog in front of you about sundown, and as you get closer it'd get bigger and bigger. And it was hairy, real hairy. Oh yeh, it'd send you. It'd make you run, I'll tell you...Goin' to Bushranger's Creek one night and this big, black Doberman lookin thing kept appearin and disappearin. You'd see it and then you wouldn't. Oh it was a scary lookin thing. Mirriuula they used to call em. Great big dogs that grow."

Today, most scientists would swiftly dismiss tales of the mirrii dogs as mere folklore, discounting them as fanciful spirit beasts of the Dreamtime - belonging to an early age long since past. But time is never still, and perhaps, one day, their time will come again.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

GIANT BATS IN MY BELFRY, AND OTHER UPDATES

Time for some more updates, I think.

Firstly, the current issue of Britain's ever-excellent Paranormal Magazine has an article of mine on giant bats and bat-like entities from around the world. The Javanese ahool, African olitiau and sasabonsam, a bat-winged monkey bird from Kent, and a truly weird assortment of North American man-bats (including the LaCrosse entity depicted here in spectacular form by awesome Swedish artist Richard Svenssen - thanks, Richard!) are just some of the things with wings documented therein - so if you're batty (groan!) about cryptozoology, you know where to look!



Turning to books: first up is the exciting news that Extraordinary Animals Revisited has now achieved its first reprint, which contains a few updates and amendments, including extra info regarding the shunka warak'in and an American platypus-like mystery beast, and the inclusion of some Cobra Courting references that didn't make the original printing.

The updated, expanded edition of In Search of Prehistoric Survivors is still in preparation, and should be out next year, in good time, I hope, for Weird Weekend 2010.

Meanwhile, my collected poetry volume, currently entitled Star Steeds and Other Dreams (its original title was The Mirror of Mnemosyne, but as Mnemosyne is not the most readily-remembered - or pronounceable! - of names, I decided that a change of title might be in order, since when it has changed several times!) is now complete, and should be out fairly soon, courtesy of those fine people at CFZ Press.

And last, but definitely not least, the latest, fully-updated edition of The New Zoo: New and Rediscovered Animals of the Twentieth Century (which originally appeared in 1993 as The Lost Ark, and was republished as The New Zoo in greatly expanded form in 2002) has been accepted for publication! So look out for that too, which will be published in colour.

Exciting times, indeed!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

LOOK OUT, LOOK OUT, THERE'S A DINOSAUR ABOUT...IN ALBUQUERQUE!

Wearing my 'Operation Congo 1985' Fortean Times mokele-mbembe t-shirt with pride (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Over the years, there have been a number of so-called 'living dinosaur' reports filed from the USA, describing a mystery reptile seen running erect on its hind legs and likened by its startled eyewitnesses to a small bipedal dinosaur. I pesonally consider it likely that these sightings are based upon encounters with escapee monitor lizards (varanids), which can indeed run for short bursts on their hind legs.

However, this very morning I received a letter from a longstanding colleague of mine, English zoologist Prof. John L. Cloudsley-Thompson, that contains a very different, and hitherto-unreported, American mystery dinosaur report:

"During 1969, I was a National Science Foundation Senior Research Fellow at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, U.S.A. One evening, my wife Anne and I were invited to dinner by an anthropologist we knew. He told us how the driver of the school bus was driving to collect the children when he saw a large animal step over the fence at the side of the road. Some weeks later, he saw our friend's children with a dinosaur book. He claimed he had never seen a picture of a dinosaur before and the animal he had seen was exactly like the picture of Diplodocus. So our friend advised him to keep a camera in the bus. He saw the animal once again, but he had forgotten the camera!"

Apart from the extraordinary thought that there could be anyone out there in the States who had reached adulthood without ever having seen the image of a dinosaur before, this is a very intriguing account, to say the least!

If you can shed any light on it, or know of similar reports of American long-necked quadruped dinosaur-lookalikes - veritable mokele-mbembes in miniature! - I'd love to hear from you!

Me holding a mokele-mbembe-type model (© Dr Karl Shuker)


Saturday, 27 June 2009

A STUFFED THUNDERBIRD IN ONTARIO?

Painting of a close encounter between a thunderbird and a light aircraft (William Rebsamen)


Following on from last week's rainbow cat posting, here's another of my 'open' (i.e. still-unresolved) cryptozoological cases for you to read - and, hopefully, pursue yourself if possible.

In 1998, I received the following fascinating information of possible relevance to North America's ongoing thunderbird or 'big bird' mystery. And this time it involves something much more substantial than a missing thunderbird photo - nothing less, in fact, than what may be a missing stuffed thunderbird!

In an email to me of 19 October 1998, Canadian correspondent Prof. Terry Matheson from Saskatchewan University stated:

"Years ago, a friend of mine who had lived in northern Ontario told me that in the town of Spanish, Ontario, there is a stuffed specimen of a huge bird that no one has ever been able to identify. The bird had (I presume) been sighted locally and killed. I wrote the town hall asking about this, but received no reply, and, although I vowed that I'd investigate whenever I happened to be in the vicinity, I've never had occasion to be there. Who knows? Although I got nowhere, an inquiry from a person with genuine credentials, an acknowledged expert such as yourself, might elicit a response. It might be worth pursuing."

Indeed it might, which is why I lost no time in following Prof. Matheson's lead in contacting the town hall in the Ontario town of Spanish noted above, but received no reply. And email searches for additional info have failed to uncover anything either.

So if there is anyone out there with info or the opportunity to shed any light on this tantalising mystery, I'd love to hear from you!


UPDATE - 3 August 2012

Today I received the following email message from Facebook friend Rebecca Tosh Xayasith, who has been very kindly investigating this case on my behalf:

"An update on the stuffed Thunderbird in Spanish, Ontario. Couldn't find much info. I did however find out, through a friend, that the nearby Massey Area Museum had never heard anything about it. He e-mailed the museum, and they did respond back. Also, the local library has heard nothing about it either. Spanish is a small town, population around 650+ people, and it is on the decline. They lose more people every year. If indeed there IS a stuffed bird, I'm wondering if it is a bird that is known to the world, but, maybe not known to the people of that area. And this town is slowly dying. I would imagine, if they had such a thing as a stuffed Thunderbird, they would use it to the town's advantage. They would attract MANY tourists if they had such a thing, and it just might save the town. So, I seriously doubt there is anything there, or anything that is unknown to the world."

Rebecca makes some very valid, pertinent points - after all, there is little doubt that a stuffed thunderbird, or any spectacularly large bird, would help in attracting tourism to any town possessing one. So, sadly, it appears that the bird has flown - at least figuratively!

If the thunderbird were the giant extinct teratorn Argentavis, this is how it would compare in size with a human (Tim Morris)



Wednesday, 17 June 2009

ANGEL AND HIS AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAM CAT

Tshenkutshen - Ecuador's extraordinary 'rainbow jaguar' (Tim Morris)


I was very encouraged by the number of responses, both via the blog and directly to me, that I have received in reply to my request for info re the coelacanth goblet - so much so, in fact, that I see ShukerNature as a useful forum in which to bring forward other crypto mysteries that have come to my attention but remained unresolved. So from now on, I intend to publicise a number of these here, in case somewhere out there is a reader with important new info to share.

Next up, therefore, is the following mystery cat for consideration, one that is unlike any other that I have ever encountered in the literature.

During some fieldwork in southern Ecuador’s Amazonian region in summer 1999 Spanish cryptozoologist Angel Morant Forés made enquiries as to whether this South American country also harboured any reclusive crypto-cats or other mystery beasts. As revealed in his field report of October 1999, he was staggered to learn that several hitherto-undocumented forms may indeed exist here, still evading scientific detection and description, and including one enigmatic cat of extraordinarily colourful appearance.

Known to the Shuar Indians in the Macas region (Morona-Santiago province) as the tshenkutshen, this incredible cryptid is reputed to be the size of a jaguar, and black in colour, but ornately decorated with several stripes of different colours – black, white, red, and yellow – on its chest, “just like a rainbow”, in the words of one native hunter interviewed by Angel.

Said to inhabit the Trans-Cutucú region, Sierra de Cutucú, and the Sangay volcano area near Chiguaza, Ecuador’s mystifying rainbow cat is described by the Shuar as having monkey-like forepaws and being an exceptionally good tree-climber, leaping from tree-trunk to tree-trunk at great speed, and greatly feared as an extremely dangerous animal. One such cat may well have been killed in 1959 by Policarpio Rivadeneira, a Macas settler, while walking through the rainforest of Cerro Kilamo, a low mountain near the Abanico River. He had seen the creature leaping from tree to tree and, scared that it would attack him, shot it.

When he examined it, he discovered that it was a jaguar-sized cat, but instantly distinguishable from all cats that he had ever seen by virtue of the series of multicoloured stripes running across its chest, and also by its simian forepaws. Sadly, Rivadeneira does not appear to have retained the creature’s carcase, or even its pelt, so as yet there is no physical evidence available to support the existence of this fascinating felid.

Does anyone else know anything about this remarkable crypto-cat? If so, please send in details. Also, if there are any crypto-artists out there who would like to prepare a piece of artwork portraying this beautiful animal, I'd love to see it - it would certainly make a spectacular subject!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

SETTING THE SEAL ON THE COELACANTH GOBLET - YOUR ASSISTANCE IS REQUESTED!


Coelacanth (William M. Rebsamen)


I've made this request for info before, but to no avail. However, I don't give up easily, so here we go again!

In 1996, French crypto-correspondent Michel Raynal sent me details of a remarkable Spanish goblet described to him (and also sketched) by one of his own contacts. The goblet in question is supposed to date from the 17th Century and depicts a strange fish that greatly resembles the modern-day coelacanth Latimeria chalumnae, which remained undiscovered by science until December 1938, and has never been caught off European waters - only off South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, and (mostly) the Comoro Islands. (A second, closely-related species was captured off Sulawesi, Indonesia, during the late 1990s.)

Does the goblet provide evidence, therefore, for an unknown Latimeria population existing in the seas around Spain, or even Mexico - if the goblet was of Mexican origin but was brought back to Spain at a later date?

Michel's correspondent stated that the mystifying goblet was on display in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History at Pittsburgh, and that, emphasising the similarity of its portrayed fish to Latimeria, a specimen of Latimeria preserved in formaldehyde was exhibited alongside the goblet, with a caption asking whether there could indeed be coelacanths in the Atlantic still undiscovered by science. Greatly intrigued by this, on 30 April I wrote to the museum to request further details concerning the goblet - its origin, previous ownership, opinions from the museum's zoologists, whether any photos of it could be made available to me - and on 9 May I received a kind but very unexpected reply from Elizabeth A. Hill, Collection Manager of the museum's Section of Vertebrate Paleontology.

According to Ms Hill, the goblet was not on display there, and she could find no information that the museum had ever possessed such an item! Moreover, its Recent (i.e. modern-day) fish collection was disposed of many years ago to another museum, which meant that it does not exhibit any fish in formaldehyde. As a further check, Hill contacted the museum's Anthropology Division, which holds a collection of glassware, just in case the goblet was here instead, but it was not - nor did its records have any listing of anything fitting its description that had arrived there on long-term loan from another museum.

Indeed, the only remotely similar item on display in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History proved to be a small blue and white Wedgwood plate with Latimeria itself in the centre - according to its label, this plate was presented to the museum by the Buten Museum of Wedgwood in Merion, Pennsylvania.

I can only assume that if the story of the goblet is genuine, Michel's correspondent was mistaken as to which museum was displaying it - which is where you, gentle readers, come in! If anyone out there has seen this goblet while visiting a museum in the U.S.A. (or anywhere else, for that matter), I would greatly welcome details. Who knows - we may even have another 'quest for the thunderbird photo' in the makings here!

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

THE STAMP OF CRYPTOZOOLOGICAL APPROVAL

In addition to the most comprehensive listing of palaeontological animal stamps ever published, my book Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals on Stamps (CFZ Press, 2008) contains an entire illustrated appendix devoted to cryptozoological animal stamps. To prevent the book from being inordinately expensive to produce, all pictures in it were reproduced in b/w, but the originals were in colour.


And so I have pleasure in presenting here, for the first time anywhere, the original colour versions of some of the crypto stamps and First Day Covers featured in my book. They include various new and rediscovered species, and a number of current cryptids. I hope that you enjoy seeing them.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

TIGER, TIGER, BURNING BLUE...

Blue tiger, full-face image (William Rebsamen)


Encountering a tiger at close range in the wild is an exciting experience at the best of times. For Methodist missionary Harry R. Caldwell, however, it was more than just exciting – it was truly exceptional, because that is precisely what the tiger in question was. Eschewing the fiery-furred appearance of normal tigers, this extraordinary specimen, sighted in what is now Fujian, China, must have been a truly astonishing creature to behold, because its black-striped coat was deep blue!

It was during the early years of the 20th Century when Harry R. Caldwell first heard of a mystifying, almost preternatural man-eating tiger stalking the forests of southeastern China’s Fukien (now renamed Fujian) province. What made this particular killer so distinctive, however, was the local people’s vehement assertion that it was blue in colour, not the typical blazing, orange-tawny shade of typical tigers. Not surprisingly, Caldwell initially dismissed such claims as native folklore – until, while searching for this creature with his son, John, he discovered on several occasions a number of unquestionably blue-tinged tiger hairs along the mountain trails that the great cat was said to traverse. Nicknaming it Bluebeard, Caldwell decided to hunt down and kill this astounding animal, not only to rid the villages of its bloodthirsty menace but also to prove to science that at least one blue tiger really did exist.


Computer-generated blue tiger (Dr Karl Shuker)

For a time, the legendary Bluebeard eluded Caldwell’s best efforts to track it down, even though, as well as being a missionary, he was also an experienced big-game hunter. In April 1910, however, he finally obtained all the proof that he needed to convince him that a blue tiger was far more than a legend – by successfully luring Bluebeard out of the forest and into view, using a tethered goat. Nevertheless, the blue tiger did not approach closely enough for Caldwell to be certain that he would kill it outright, and so he had to watch impotently as Bluebeard retreated into the forest. However, Caldwell was sufficiently heartened to repeat the ploy at a later date, when, in September 1910, after learning that it had attacked a local child, he and a companion, his native cook Da Da, found themselves sitting in hiding, waiting for Bluebeard to emerge again.

For some time they waited in vain, then, abruptly, Da Da motioned towards what he claimed was a creature, but when Caldwell looked, all he could see was what seemed to be one of Da Da’s fellow natives, dressed in the familiar light blue garment that most of the men in this area wore. As best as Caldwell could see, peeking through the undergrowth, the man appeared to be crouching near the ground, as if picking herbs, so Caldwell shook his head to Da Da. “Man”, he said, and looked back towards the tethered goat. Da Da, however, was not so easily dissuaded. As Caldwell later recalled in his book Blue Tiger (1925):

"Again the cook tugged at my elbow, saying, “Tiger, surely a tiger,” and I once more looked at the object, this time to see what I thought was a man still upon his knees in the trail. I was about to turn again toward the goat when my cook excitedly said, “Look, look, it is a tiger,” and, turning, saw the great beast lengthen out and move cautiously along the trail a couple of rods and then come to a sitting position near a clump of grass. Now focusing upon what I had altogether overlooked in my previous hurried glances, I saw the huge head of the tiger above the blue which had appeared to me to be the clothes of a man. What I had been looking at was the chest and belly of the beast…The markings of the animal were marvellously beautiful. The ground colour seemed to be a deep shade of maltese, changing into almost deep blue on the under parts. The stripes were well defined, and so far as I was able to make out similar to those on a tiger of the regular type."

After finally encountering at close range the mystical blue tiger that had seemed for so long to be little more than a dream, Caldwell was not about to let it fade away as dreams so often do, but as he prepared to shoot, he realised that the tiger was gazing very intently at something below in the nearby ravine. Looking down to find out what it was, Caldwell was shocked to see that the objects of Bluebeard’s attention were two boys gathering bundles of grass and ferns there, oblivious to the tiger watching them. Caldwell realised straight away that the angle at which he would be shooting Bluebeard was such that the wounded tiger would fall directly into the ravine, and its presence there, maddened with pain from the bullet, would severely endanger the children. Consequently, he knew that he had no option but to move his position, in order to shoot the tiger from a different angle and thereby ensure that it did not fall into the ravine, but first he had to draw its attention away from the children.

Very slowly and cautiously, Caldwell stood up, in full view of Bluebeard – and for the next half hour, hunter and tiger stared at one another, neither of them moving a muscle. Clearly, the cat had now forgotten the children, but Caldwell knew that he still had to move position if he were to approach it from a different angle for shooting purposes. And so, reluctantly, he took his eyes off his sky-blue quarry, albeit only for a short time, as he moved away through some undergrowth – but that short time was enough. When Caldwell reached his new position, the blue tiger was no more. Like a Chinese leprechaun, Bluebeard had vanished – disappearing back into the depths of the forest, leaving behind as proof of its reality only its tracks, and also, for Caldwell, the memory of his encounter with what must truly be the most marvellous of all mystery cats. Despite continuing his searches, Caldwell was never lucky enough to catch sight of Bluebeard again.

Needless to say, despite Caldwell’s well-respected status as an eyewitness, not to mention the assorted blue hairs found by him and his son, the existence of a blue tiger may seem, at least from a strictly scientific standpoint, a highly unlikely proposition. Yet, as I discovered when researching this subject while preparing my book Mystery Cats of the World (1989), there is actually a firm genetic foundation for the occurrence of such a creature.

Photograph of a blue tiger as created by me using some photo-magic on my laptop! (Dr Karl Shuker)

Genetically, its unusual coat colouration could be caused merely by the presence of the same two recessive mutant alleles (gene forms) - namely, the non-agouti allele of the Agouti gene and the dilute allele of the Dense Pigmentation gene - that are collectively responsible for the smoky blue-grey coat exhibited by certain ‘blue’ breeds of domestic cat – a coat colouration known as blue dilution. Moreover, there are certain preserved blue-furred pelts on record from at least two species of wild cat – the lynx and the bobcat – confirming that a mutant blue pelage can indeed occur in feline species other than the domestic cat. If there can be blue lynxes and blue bobcats, why can’t the same combination of mutant genes yield a blue tiger…or two?

The only problem with this 'blue dilution' identity for the blue tiger is its black stripes, which wouldn't be so dark if the latter identity were correct - unless of course the stripes were not actually black but only appeared so to Caldwell due to lighting conditions at the time of his sighting; or, if they were genuinely black, are of polygenic creation, i.e. they are due to the action of modifying genes functioning independently of the combined effect of the non-agouti and dilute alleles.

Whatever the answer, the blue tiger must surely be the most aesthetically appealing cryptozoological cat ever reported.

Blue tiger in profile (William Rebsamen)


Indeed, Bluebeard may not even have been unique. I have learnt of “a blue-grey tiger with black stripes” having been reported in a Chinese town given as Lung-tao. This locality may either be Lungyao, a town in southwest Hopeh province, or (taking into account Chinese pronunciation and the new phonetic convention for spelling Chinese names) Longdu, in China’s Jiangsu Sheng province.

Furthermore, an American correspondent, Bill McKee, informed me in 2001 that while serving with the US army in Korea during the Korean War, his father, Lt Col. James McKee, claimed to have seen a blue tiger in the mountains one morning in December 1952, and that the locals were also aware of it. His father was stationed in central Korea, near what is now the Demilitarised Zone, and his sighting occurred about a mile to the east of the Mong Don Ni Valley.

The two spectacular blue tiger paintings included here were specially prepared for me by highly acclaimed wildlife artist William Rebsamen, and I am both proud and honoured that the original, signed version of the blue tiger profile painting was kindly given to me as a gift by Bill a few years ago - thanks Bill!

With Bill Rebsamen's original blue tiger profile painting (Dr Karl Shuker)

For more information on blue tigers and other controversial colour morphs of big cats, be sure to check out my forthcoming full-colour book, Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery, due to be published by CFZ Press in late 2012.



Tuesday, 12 May 2009

TIME FOR A RHYME


Quite aside from my scientific writings, and also from my retelling of myths and legends (as seen in my Dragons book and my forthcoming Unicorns volume), I enjoy writing poetry, concentrating in particular upon subjects drawn from the natural and supernatural worlds. My first volume of poetry, presently entitled The Mirror of Mnemosyne, is currently in preparation, and is planned for publication within the next 12 months. Consequently, I hope that you will indulge me if I occasionally include a relevant poem or two within my blog, beginning with the following example:



THE GHOST

Who stands ‘neath the eaves draped in shadows?
Who dwells ‘midst the darkness of Night?
Who calls with a whisper of pathos,
In sorrowful, meaningless flight?

“I stand – ‘midst the dusk of the evening;
I call – from the far side of Time;
I flit – ‘midst the valleys of Sadness,
Rhyme lacking in reasonless rhyme.

“I call – I alone, I unnoticed
In Morning’s pale sun-shadowed dawn.
I call – from the noontide’s bright wonder,
As I through all kingdoms am borne.

“I dwell ‘midst a grey world of Shadow
E’erlasting, past all mortal sight –
A parallel world, silhouetted
In pools’ depthless doorways of Light.

“And here you may see me reflected –
A phantom transparent in Space.
And in your eyes, Memory-painted,
Look inward to witness my face –

“A face from the Past and the Future,
Recaptured and borne into being –
A shadow – till stand I unblemished,
An infant before the All-Seeing”.

Monday, 11 May 2009

SOUTH AMERICAN MYSTERY BEASTS - Part 2

White-throated black jaguar (William Rebsamen)


A CRYPTOZOOLOGICAL CAT-ALOGUE FROM PERU

During several years of persistent field research, Peruvian zoologist Dr Peter Hocking has gathered convincing anecdotal testimony concerning at least four different kinds of mysterious Peruvian big cat all currently unrecognised by science.

One of these, reported from Peru's Ucayali and Pasco provinces, is particularly distinctive, because not only is it as large as a jaguar, but also it is said to be striped, just like a tiger. There is no known species of striped cat indigenous to South America, but reports of a large, highly elusive species of striped cat have previously been documented from Colombia and Ecuador. These latter reports are thought by some cryptozoologists to be evidence for the existence of a living species of sabre-toothed cat.

The second Peruvian mystery cat, known to the Amuesha native hunters and inhabiting the lower Palcazu River valley in Pasco province, is equally remarkable. It too is as large as a jaguar, but instead of possessing the jaguar's characteristic rosette markings, its entire body is uniquely patterned with solid black speckles. For this reason it has been variously nicknamed the speckled or mottled jaguar. Intriguingly, this description is reminiscent of another, equally cryptic cat, reported from Brazil and Guyana, and referred to by the Wapishana Indians as the cunarid din.

Peruvian mystery cat #3 allegedly resembles a giant black panther, is said to be twice as big as a jaguar, and is known to the Quechua Indians as the yana puma ('black puma'). Fully confirmed specimens of melanistic (all-black) pumas, however, are exceedingly rare, so perhaps it may be an unusually large version of melanistic jaguar instead, one whose coat markings are completely hidden by its fur's abnormally dark background colour.

As for the fourth member of this cryptic quartet, Hocking refers to it as the jungle lion - for good reason. According to rangers who have reported it in the Yanachaga National Park, this mystery cat has reddish-brown fur, is lion-sized, and has long hair around its neck.

The existence of four still-undiscovered species of big cat in Peru alone seems scarcely conceivable, even in this modern age of unexpected zoological surprises (such as the several notable new species of New World monkey, marmoset, and other mammal already discovered in South America during the 1990s and 2000s). Some may merely be unusual mutant forms of known species. However, Hocking's amassed evidence is not limited entirely to the anecdotal variety. In 1993, Hocking procured from Indian hunters the skull of what was said to be a female specimen of the striped mystery cat, which has since been passed to felid specialist Dr Steven C. Conkling for study. Moreover, he has also obtained the skull of an alleged 'speckled jaguar', which has been examined by a number of American zoologists, whose verdict is that it is notably different from the skull of any known cat.

Spurred on by these finds and comments, Hocking is continuing his search for physical evidence, such as pelts and, ultimately, entire carcases, with which to ascertain once and for all the true taxonomic identities of these feline riddles from Peru.

[Update: In 2014, a study was published in which the skulls from two of the above mystery cat types had been examined and their likely identities ascertained - click here to read my ShukerNature blog article concerning this.]

Nor is that the end of possible feline discoveries to be made in South America.

During a year-long expedition through Brazil in 1996-7, Dutch primatologist Dr Marc van Roosmalen - personally responsible for discovering most of the 1990s' and 2000s’ extraordinary number of new South American primates, as well as the giant peccary, dwarf lowland tapir, pygmy manatee, and other remarkable new mammals in South America - spied what he claims to be a new species of jaguar. He described it as being predominantly black, but readily distinguished from normal melanistic specimens by virtue of a distinctive white collar-like patterning around its throat, which he likened to that of the Brazilian giant otter, and also a lion-like (i.e. bushy-tipped?) tail.

IN PURSUIT OF THE ISNACHI

Peruvian mystery cat investigator Dr Peter Hocking has also been following up reports of a mysterious 'mega-monkey'. Several totally new species of monkey have already been discovered in South America during the 1990s, but according to Hocking a very spectacular example may still await formal disclosure in Peru. Referred to by the local Indians as the isnachi as well as by several other names too, their descriptions of it call to mind a monkey with a body as large as that of a chimpanzee, but with a baboon-like face, and a short tail. They also claim that it is rare but very fierce, so they avoid it whenever possible.

One of the isnachi's most characteristic activities is to rip apart the tops of chonta palm trees in order to obtain the tender vegetable matter inside. Consequently, its presence within a given locality can be readily confirmed simply by encountering trees damaged in this way, because the isnachi is the only animal strong enough to accomplish such a feat. Should such a creature as this be ultimately unveiled, it would constitute the biggest living species of South American monkey known to science

FINE FEATHERED FICTION - OR FACT?

Some highly controversial birds have been reported from South America. Notable among these is the glaucous macaw Anodorhynchus glaucus. This beautiful species, resembling the larger, famous hyacinth macaw but with sea-green shades to its plumage as well as the deep cobalt hues of its larger relative, was formally described in 1818, and seemingly had a wide distribution across this continent. Yet by the end of the 1800s, it had apparently become extinct in the wild, with just a few specimens left in captivity. In recent years, however, a number of odd-looking, sea-green-feathered birds officially deemed to be hyacinth macaws (or, in some cases, the slightly smaller, turquoise-tinged Lear's macaw) have turned up in aviaries around the world, which some experts claim to be bona fide glaucous macaws. One of the most noteworthy examples was a distinctive specimen imported into Britain by parrot breeder Harry Sissen in February 1992, on loan from France's Mulhouse Zoo, under the impression that it was one of a pair of Lear's macaws. Nevertheless, none of these has so far been confirmed as glaucous macaws - but if any are, this suggests that somewhere in the wilds of South America is an undiscovered population of this elusive, mysterious parrot.

The salt lakes beyond the Atacama desert in the high peaks of the Chilean Andes harbour three different types of flamingo - officially. Unofficially, however, there may be a fourth, still-undiscovered type. The local Indians inhabiting this region refer to the three known flamingos as the tococo (Andean flamingo), guaichete (Chilean flamingo), and chururo (James's flamingo) respectively. However, they also distinguish an additional type, which they speak of as the jetete. Bearing in mind that the breeding grounds of James's flamingo in this remote, scarcely accessible locality remained hidden to science until as recently as 1957, it would not be impossible that a new flamingo does indeed linger undetected here.

Also worthy of investigation are reports of a peculiar type of guan gathered by Peruvian zoologist Dr Peter Hocking. Guans are gallinaceous birds distantly related to pheasants and grouse, but found only in the New World. Numbering several different species, they generally possess fleshy facial wattles. However, rangers working in the Yanachaga National Park, in Peru's Pasco province, have informed Hocking that an all-black form of guan occurs amid the park's higher elevations that does not possess any wattles at all - unlike the known species of black guan, Aburri aburria, which also occurs in this park but only at lower elevations. Just a freak, wattle-lacking version, or a new species awaiting disclosure?

During the 1990s, the place to be for any enthusiastic cryptozoologist was Indochina, especially Vietnam and neighbouring Laos, where an extraordinary number of large new hoofed mammals and other species have been sensationally revealed to scientists. If the ongoing investigations of Drs Hocking, van Roosmalen, and Oren prove successful, however, we may well be looking to Peru and Brazil as the hotbeds of major cryptozoological revelations during the opening decades of the 21st Century.

Click here to read Part 1 of this article.




Tuesday, 5 May 2009

SOUTH AMERICAN MYSTERY BEASTS – Part 1

A mapinguary confrontation (William Rebsamen)

A few blogs ago, I noted that the ITV sci-fi series ‘Primeval’ is one of my all-time favourite television shows. And many of you know that I am currently working upon an expanded, updated version of my 1995 cryptozoology book In Search of Prehistoric Survivors. Consequently, I could not be anything but greatly intrigued to stumble upon an internet article recently that was entitled ‘Primeval Survivors?’ – and, reading it, I was certainly not disappointed.

As you’ll see if you access it in issue #38 (April 2009) of the online teenage magazine Flipside Extra – at http://www.flipside.org.uk/38/primeval.cfm and published by the Institution of Engineering and Technology - the article in question deftly utilises the excellent ‘Primeval’ TV series as a means of introducing cryptozoology, including the possibility that there are undiscovered prehistoric creatures lurking in the modern world (and without needing access here via any Anomaly), my own cryptozoological views, and those of science journal Nature’s editor, Dr Henry Gee, who looks upon cryptozoology in a positive light. All in all, then, a pleasant surprise indeed! BTW, I’m still considering ideas for the title to my book’s update. How about In Search of Primeval Survivors?! Now there’s a thought!

Back to the present, however, and herewith my latest blog post – the first of a two-part account regarding some of South America’s cryptids. These will include some mystery birds, so if you’re interested in them, check out the current issue of Paranormal Magazine, which has an entire article on crypto-birds by me.



SOUTH AMERICAN MYSTERY BEASTS
Part 1.



A 62-ft-long anaconda may sound like the stuff of nightmares, but according to the renowned South American explorer Lt.-Col. Percy Fawcett, this is precisely what he and his exploration team encountered in western Brazil during 1907 while voyaging by canoe along the Rio Abuna, near to its confluence with the Rio Negro. Uncomfortably close to Fawcett's canoe, several feet of broad, powerful, undulating, serpentine coils and a huge triangular head rose up above the surface of the river, and as he and his team watched in horror, a truly colossal anaconda began emerging onto the riverbank. Greatly alarmed by the threat posed to his team by this limbless leviathan, Fawcett shot the snake dead, and then proceeded to measure its gargantuan form. To his amazement, he discovered that the portion of its body that had emerged from the water prior to being shot was 45 ft long, and the portion remaining in the water was 17 ft, thereby adding up to a grand total of 62 ft!

Needless to say, however, Fawcett and his team had no means of transporting an immensely heavy, rapidly-decomposing (and extremely odiferous!), 62-ft carcase back to civilisation. Consequently, his claims concerning its size remain unconfirmed - and Fawcett himself famously vanished in the Brazilian jungle during 1925, never to be seen again.

As there has never been a fully-confirmed specimen of anaconda measuring over 30 ft, some snake experts today are highly sceptical of Fawcett's account. Others, conversely, are not so dismissive. One thing, however, is for sure - giant anacondas are just one of a remarkable number of controversial, still-unrecognised creatures reported over the years from the vast uncharted depths of South America's verdant jungles of mystery.

Giant anaconda (William Rebsamen)


SUCURIJU GIGANTE - OR, BEWARE OF THE SERPENT!

Immense anacondas may seem fanciful to western science, but they are apparently very real to the Indian tribes inhabiting riverside localities within the 'green hell' of Amazonia, who even give these oversized serpents their own specific name - sucuriju gigante.

Some reports seem too incredible to be taken seriously, yet have been vehemently championed by eyewitnesses to the events in question. Thus, in 1948 a stupendous anaconda emerged from the River Oiapoc in Brazil's Guapore territory, and hid itself within the fortifications of Fort Tabatinga - until it was finally dispatched by a hail of at least 500 machine-gun bullets fired by a team of soldiers sent to kill it. According to an illustrated report of this incident later published in a Rio de Janeiro newspaper, when its colossal carcase was measured this monstrous snake was found to be 115 ft long! How accurate this claim is, however, will never be known, because after they had killed it the soldiers pushed the anaconda's body back into the river.

Less incredible but still very impressive was the anaconda once spotted by Amazon voyager F.W. Up de Graffe lying in shallow water underneath his canoe. Writing in 1923:

"It measured 50 ft for certainty, and probably nearer 60. This I know from the position in which it lay. Our canoe was a 24 footer; the snake's head was 10 or 12 ft beyond the bow; its tail was a good 4 ft beyond the stern; the center of its body was looped up into a huge S, whose length was the length of our dugout and whose breadth was a good 5 ft."

There are certain fundamental problems facing anyone attempting to assess reports of giant snakes. Eyewitnesses tend to be notoriously inaccurate when estimating the length of a long snake - especially one that is coiled up. Evidence supplied in the form of extra-lengthy snake skins is of little value either, as skins can be stretched quite considerably. As for photographs purporting to show giant snakes, these rarely contain any scale by which the reptile's size can be determined. And, for obvious reasons, the prospect of capturing and bringing back for scientific examination a living specimen of a serpentine giant is a daunting one to say the very least!

Nevertheless, the likelihood of anacondas existing that do exceed 30 ft, and possibly quite considerably, cannot be ruled out of hand. If the anaconda were a terrestrial species, giant specimens would be highly unlikely, simply because they would be too heavy to move efficiently. As the anaconda is primarily aquatic, however, its body weight - even if fairly immense - would be effectively buoyed by its surrounding watery medium, thus permitting it to grow to sizes far in excess of anything that a land-living serpent could emulate.


THE ANOMALOUS ANDEAN WOLF

The pelt depicted below is currently unique - the only preserved example of a pelt from the elusive, still-controversial Andean wolf. It came from a market in Buenos Aires, where it and three others just like it were spotted by German animal dealer Lorenz Hagenbeck in 1927. After learning that it was from a strange form of dog allegedly inhabiting the Andes, Hagenbeck purchased this pelt - the fate of the others is unknown - and brought it back to Europe, where it is now housed at the Zoological State Museum in Munich, Germany.

Perplexed scientists examined its luxuriant, dense pelage, unlike anything previously documented, and proposed that it originated from an as-yet-undescribed, mountain-dwelling version of the maned wolf Chrysocyon jubatus. German zoologist Dr Ingo Krumbiegel paired it with an equally mysterious canine skull of Andean origin, and in 1949 published a paper in which he formally described this reclusive, montane-adapted maned wolf, and subsequently named it Dasycyon hagenbecki ('Hagenbeck's thick-furred dog'). No sightings or further specimens of this supposed new species, however, have ever been recorded. Hair analyses later suggested that the pelt may be (or may at least be descended) from a domestic sheepdog, but this identity of a wolf in sheepdog's clothing has not been confirmed. During the late 1990s, Guillaume Chapron, a member of the IUCN/SSC-Veterinary Specialist Group, expressed an interest in researching the Andean wolf during some planned field work in Argentina, but again there have been no further developments to date.

Andean wolf pelt (Dennis Vrettos)

MAKE WAY FOR THE MINHOCÃO

Every so often, an unexpected, unheralded upheaval of land occurs in Uruguay and in Parana, southern Brazil, substantial enough in some cases to have caused the collapse of roads and hillsides, and even the diversion of river courses. Even so, this could be dismissed as nothing more than an earth tremor or suchlike - were it not for the amazing fact that a bizarre subterranean creature sometimes reveals itself during this subsidence.

Described by eyewitnesses as resembling a huge worm, but with a pair of small stubby horns on its head, and covered in black scaly skin, it is generally referred to as the minhocão (see an earlier blog of mine for a detailed account of this cryptid). Over the years, many attempts have been made to offer a zoological identity for this cryptic beast - ranging from a giant lungfish to a surviving species of gargantuan armadillo-related prehistoric mammal known as a glyptodont. As I have proposed in previous publications and also in a previous ShukerNature blog post, however, the minhocão's description and behaviour corresponds closest to what one would expect for a giant species of caecilian - a limbless, worm-like, burrowing amphibian, which sometimes does have a pair of small tentacles on its head, and skin embedded with small scales.

IN SEARCH OF THE MAPINGUARY

For a number of years, Brazilian zoologist Dr David Oren, from the Goeldi Museum, has led expeditions into the dense jungle heartland of the Mato Grosso in search of an extraordinary mystery beast known to the local Indians as the mapinguary. According to their description, it is covered in reddish fur, stands as tall as an average adult human when squatting on its hind legs, leaves peculiar footprints that look as if they are back-to-front and other, equally strange bottletop-shaped impressions, emits a loud shouting cry, defecates horse-like droppings, and is claimed to be invulnerable to bullets. Rather more bizarrely, they also claim that it gives off a foul, lethal stench to ward away would-be attackers, and has a second mouth in its stomach! Despite its grotesque-sounding appearance, Oren is confident that although he has yet to observe a specimen, he has at least determined the mapinguary's identity - stating that he believes it to be a surviving species of mylodontid ground sloth.

Officially deemed to have become extinct several thousand years ago, various mummified specimens have been discovered in sealed-away caves. These reveal that they did indeed have red fur, feet that could leave footprints which may appear reversed to anyone unfamiliar with ground sloth foot structure, and a powerful tail whose tip, if used for support while squatting upright, could yield the strange bottletop prints. Moreover, preserved mylodontid faecal pellets that do resemble those of horses have also been found, as have preserved mylodontid pelts, which contain bony nodules that may actually deflect bullets and other missiles. As for the mapinguary's stench emission and stomach-sited 'second mouth': Oren proposes that a specialised scent gland may be present on the mapinguary's belly, releasing a vile skunk-like gaseous odour as a defence mechanism. If the mapinguary is indeed revealed one day to be a living ground sloth, it may well comprise the largest species of mammal native to South America - and hence a major cryptozoological success story.

LAKE TITICACA'S MYSTERY BEAST

One of South America's least-known creatures of cryptozoology is the enigmatic water beast reported from Peru's mighty Lake Titicaca in 1910 by Adolph F. Bandelier, within his book The Islands of Titicaca and Koati. According to Bandelier, a 12-ft-long animal variously said to resemble a manatee or a seal has been sighted near the islands of Tiquina and Titicaca, and also close to the peninsulas of Tiquina and Copacavana, in Lake Titicaca. As yet, however, no formal verification of its existence, let alone its identity, has been forthcoming.

THE CHACO'S DEADLY SLUG-SNAKE

Equally obscure is the formidable mystery beast reported from the Paraguayan Chaco region in 1954 within the autobiography of Charles W.T. Craig, entitled Black Jack's Spurs. The locals claim that this weird-sounding creature resembles a slug-like serpent, but sports the head of a dog, a poisonous barbed spike in its stumpy tail, and is as broad as a horse. Veteran cryptozologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans opined in 1986 that it could be a form of giant catfish known to the locals as the manguruyu. Moreover, they claim that this fish can grow up to 18 ft long and weigh up to half a ton, but such gargantuan sizes have never been scientifically verified.

GUMS! - IDENTIFYING FAWCETT'S GIANT TOOTHLESS RIVER SHARK

According to Lt.-Col. Fawcett, the Paraguay River contains "...a freshwater shark, huge but toothless, said to attack men and swallow them whole if it gets a chance". However, very few shark species inhabit freshwater, and those that do are well supplied with teeth. Consequently, not all cryptozoologists who accept Fawcett's statement believe this creature to be a shark. British investigator Mike Grayson, for instance, has suggested that it may in reality be a sturgeon, some species of which do bear a very superficial resemblance to sharks and can attain a huge size. Having said that, as Grayson readily concedes, sturgeons normally do not attack and eat people (but perhaps this component of the report is based upon local superstition?). However, there is also a zoogeographical problem with this identity, inasmuch as there is not a single known species of sturgeon native to South America.

My own view is that if such a creature exists and is not a real shark, it may conceivably be a giant catfish. There are more catfish species in South America than anywhere else, and some of these are also among the world's largest. Moreover, some other very big species, such as the European catfish (wels) have been accused of swallowing people (albeit, again, a claim more probably folkloric than factual), and elderly specimens of certain giant catfishes, such as the Mekong River's pa beuk, are indeed toothless. So perhaps 'Gums' (an apt name coined by Grayson for Fawcett's edentate enigma) is actually an old toothless catfish, possibly belonging to a still-undescribed extra-large species.

Click here to read Part 2 of this article.