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!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my published books (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

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

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my Starsteeds blog's poetry and other lyrical writings (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

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Friday, 31 May 2013

A SURPRISE OF SERVICALS

A delightfully cute servical (serval x caracal hybrid) kitten (Dr Warren D. Thomas)

Many different hybrids between the smaller species of wild cat have been recorded over the years, but I would like to mention one particular interspecific (indeed, intergeneric) cross featuring smaller cats here - because, as far as I am aware, when I originally included details of it in the article of mine (Wild About Animals, February 1996) on which this ShukerNature blog post is based, it was the first time that a successful mating between these two species had ever been documented.

A serval, left; and a caracal, right (both public domain)

In 1993, Dr Warren D. Thomas informed me that a few years earlier, while he was director there, a litter of four feline hybrids was born at Los Angeles Zoo, sired by a serval Leptailurus serval and born to a caracal Caracal caracal. This very unusual mating took place quite by accident, while the two cats were participating in an educational programme.

Servical kittens have BIG ears! (Dr Warren D. Thomas)

Two of the four cubs died in the first 10 days after their birth; the other two survived, but at the age of 8 months they were given away to a local animal sanctuary. As cubs, these 'servicals' resembled sandy-brown balls of fur, with two enormously broad ears like those of their serval father yet bearing distinctive tufts at their tips like their caracal mother's. When adult, they would probably have been fox-sized, bearing in mind the adult size of servals and caracals.

A playful servical kitten (Dr Warren D. Thomas)

Since then, the reverse cross, between a male caracal and a female serval, has also been recorded with captive specimens. The resulting hybrids are known as caravals.

Providing further evidence that the serval is not as reproductively isolated from other cats as was once thought, a new ‘domestic’ breed of cat has been developed by crossing the serval with domestic cats F. catus. The result of this unexpected hybridisation is a very eyecatching breed termed the savannah, which is now popular in the USA. As might be expected from such a cross, the savannah is a very sizeable animal. One such specimen, a female called Mecca, was 18 in tall when sitting. Similarly, a male called Harley, kept as a pet in America during the late 1990s, weighed over 20 lb when only 9 months old, and could leap over a decent-sized settee in a single bound.

A savannah cat (public domain)

Savannahs look very like servals, sporting their characteristic pelage of blotches and polka dots, but are said to be very affectionate pets, playing with normal domestic kittens, enjoying human company, and purring like a normal domestic cat.
 
This ShukerNature blog is excerpted from my book Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery: A Feline Phantasmagoria (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2012).

 

 


Tuesday, 21 May 2013

A HITHERTO-UNSEEN PHOTOGRAPH OF RANGER - SCOTLAND'S (NEARLY) BLACK LION


Ranger as an adult lion at Glasgow Zoo, cropped version (Peter Adamson)

With almost 900,000 hits since I uploaded it on 12 June 2012, by far the most popular of all of my 300+ ShukerNature posts is my exposure of three online black lion photographs as computer-modified fakes (click here). In that same post, I also included some information concerning various alleged sightings in the wild of genuine black lions, plus a very interesting lion cub called Ranger, born at Glasgow (formerly Calderpark) Zoo in Scotland during 1975.

What made Ranger so interesting is that he possessed a black chest and a large patch of black pigment on one leg, possibly the result of a rare pigmentation phenomenon known as mozaicism. I learnt from the zoo's then director, the late Richard O'Grady, that in an attempt to create an entirely black lion, Ranger was mated with his mother, Kara, on several occasions when he reached adulthood, and also with other lionesses, but no offspring ever resulted. Consequently, it was suspected that Ranger was sterile, though he was in excellent overall health and lived to the ripe old age of 22.

Ranger and his mother Kara (Richard O'Grady/Zoological Society of Glasgow & West of Scotland)

Until very recently, the only photo of Ranger that I had ever seen was the above b/w photograph, which was kindly supplied to me by Richard O'Grady back in the late 1980s for use in my writings. It depicts Ranger as a cub held by Kara, and clearly reveals his black chest and the large patch of black pigment on his right foreleg.

On 28 March 2013, however, I received a short email from Mr Peter Adamson of St Andrews, Scotland, who, to my great excitement, not only mentioned that on 28 July 1984 he had seen Ranger as an adult lion at Glasgow Zoo but also attached with his email a colour photograph that he had snapped of him there, showing Ranger to have matured into a very impressive individual with a handsome black-tipped mane.

Ranger as an adult lion at Glasgow Zoo, uncropped version (Peter Adamson)

Reproduced here by kind permission of Peter, it clearly displays the patch of black pigment on Ranger's right foreleg, and, as pointed out by Peter in his email to me, it also reveals that he possessed another large, though slightly paler patch of black pigment on the rear upper portion of his left hind leg, which I hadn't previously known about, and which provides further support for the prospect that Ranger was exhibiting mozaicism.

My grateful thanks once again to Peter Adamson for bringing to my attention his extremely interesting yet hitherto-unpublished colour photograph of the adult Ranger, and for very generously allowing me to document it publicly for the first time - yet another ShukerNature exclusive!

Ranger as an adult lion at Glasgow Zoo, with increased contrast (Peter Adamson)

For more information concerning black lions and other melanistic mystery cats, check out my latest book, Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery: A Feline Phantasmagoria (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2012).






Saturday, 11 May 2013

A KINTAIL KAPYBARA?? - I DON'T THINK SO!!

A capybara Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris (public domain)

Things are rarely what they seem in cryptozoology, as epitomised by the following case investigated by me.

Reading through some correspondence tonight reminded me of the time when I received an interesting letter from one longstanding correspondent, Miss Lorna Lloyd of Worcester, England, describing the head of a strange animal mounted as a trophy on a shield, and seen in an antique shop in London's famous Portobello Road. My correspondent likened the head to that of a gigantic guinea pig with greyish rabbit-like colouring, mentioned that the shield was engraved "Kintail 1894" , and stated that Kintail is one of the wilder areas of Inverness-shire. What could this creature possibly be?

Needless to say, the prospect of a unknown species of gargantuan guinea pig scampering over the heather on the hills of northern Scotland seemed about as likely as an undiscovered species of okapi browsing in the New Forest. However, I did concede the possibility that it was an absconded inmate from the type of travelling menagerie-cum-circus that was still common in Victorian times, and which often exhibited many unusual non-native animals.

Capybaras (public domain)

Perhaps the Kintail mystery beast was a capybara, which not only resembles a gigantic guinea pig but is also closely related to guinea pigs. In 1990, an errant capybara named Bert went awol from Porfell Animal Land, near Lanreath, Cornwall, and thrived for 17 months in a man-made fishery close by before being recaptured alive. Bearing in mind, conversely, that its head was a mounted trophy, one can only assume that the Kintail specimen's period of freedom had been curtailed in a rather more terminal manner.

Resolving to unmask this cryptic creature, I tracked down the shop in question, and learnt that the animal was - of all things - a wombat! True, a wombat's head does look a little like that of an outsized guinea pig - but who would ever have imagined that a specimen of so exotic a species as this had been brought to Scotland a century ago (especially when even in modern times wombats have rarely been exhibited in British zoos)?

A common wombat Vombatus ursinus (public domain)

In fact, as I was soon to learn from the shop's owner, this particular wombat had died long before it had ever reached our shores - because it had been killed not in Kintail, Scotland, but in Kintail, Australia, where this marsupial mammal is of course native.

Many years ago, a cartoon in Life Magazine featured a New Jersey farmer visiting a circus where he sees a dromedary for the first time. "There ain't no such animal," exclaims the astonished farmer. Sometimes, I know just how he feels.

A wombat, the marsupial answer to a woodchuck (public domain)      

Friday, 10 May 2013

MY BOOK 'DINOSAURS AND OTHER PREHISTORIC ANIMALS ON STAMPS' WINS AN AWARD!



Today I received a most unexpected but very welcome, pleasant surprise. At the 13th New Zealand National Philatelic Literature Exhibition, held on 16 March 2013 at the Manawatu Philatelic Society in Palmerston North, my book Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals on Stamps: A Worldwide Catalogue (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2008) was awarded a certificate in the highly-prized Large Silver category, in recognition of its significant contribution to philatelic literature. And today I received the certificate in the post from the Society. Here it is:

My book's awarded certificate in the Large Silver category (Manawatu Philatelic Society)

True, they did spell my name incorrectly, but hey, it's the thought that counts! So, many thanks indeed to the judges for deeming my book worthy of such recognition - I am exceedingly grateful.

For full details concerning my book, which also contains an appendix devoted to cryptozoology-themed stamps, click here.

A selection of stamps from my book (Dr Karl Shuker)
 
 
 

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

THE NEW GUINEA THYLACINE - CRYING WOLF IN IRIAN JAYA?

Captive thylacine

The official extinction in 1936 on Tasmania of the remarkable thylacine (aka Tasmanian tiger and Tasmanian wolf - Tassie for short) Thylacinus cynocephalus, that tiger-striped canine marsupial mammal as big as a wolf but which could hop like a kangaroo and had a pouch like one too, is well-documented, as is its much earlier disappearance a couple of millennia ago on the Australian mainland. Less familiar, conversely, is the fact that during the Pleistocene epoch, ending a mere 11,700 years ago, the thylacine also existed on New Guinea. Similarly, whereas the chronicles of cryptozoology are fairly bulging with unconfirmed post-1936 thylacine sightings both on Tasmania and in mainland Australia, it is not so well known that modern-day reports of suspiciously thylacine-like beasts have also emerged from New Guinea, specifically Irian Jaya (New Guinea's less-explored western, Indonesian half), where such creatures are referred to by local people as the dobsegna.

A video of living thylacines in captivity (click here)

During the early 1990s, grazier Ned Terry visited Irian Jaya and procured the following details from local testimony. Rarely seen in daylight, the dobsegna generally emerges from its den in rocks or caves at dawn or dusk, to hunt for small prey animals. Its head and shoulders are dog-like, but its mouth is huge and strong, and its tail is very long and thin. Villagers claim that from its ribs to its hips it has no intestines (but this merely suggests that it is very thin in this particular body region), and that in this region it is striped.

Dorsal view of a living thylacine, showing its impressive striping

Needless to say, this is a remarkably accurate verbal portrait of a thylacine, from the canine head and sizeable jaws to the slender stripe-adorned hindquarters and lengthy tail. Moreover, in 2003 veteran Irian Jaya explorer Ralf Kiesel confirmed to me that since 1995 there have been persistent rumours of thylacines existing in at least two sections of Irian Jaya's Baliem Valley - the Yali area in the valley's northeast region, and the NP Carstenz in its southwest. The latter area is of particular significance because back in the early 1970s Jan Sarakang, a Papuan friend of Kiesel, had a most startling experience while working with a colleague in the mountains just west of NP Carstenz.

Taxiderm thylacine and mounted skeleton at Tring Natural History Museum, formerly owned by Lord Walter Rothschild (Dr Karl Shuker)

They had built a camp for some geologists near Puncac Jaya at an altitude of roughly 1.5 miles and were sitting by their tents that evening, eating their meal, when two unfamiliar dog-like animals emerged from the bush. One was an adult, the other a cub, and both appeared pale in colour, but most striking of all was their stiff, inflexible tails, and the incredible gape of their jaws when they yawned spasmodically. Clearly drawn by the smell of the food, the two animals walked nervously from side to side, eyeing the men and their food supplies, and approaching to within 20 yards. Eventually the cub became bold enough to walk up to the men, who tried to feed it, but when one of them also tried to catch it, the cub bit his hand and both animals then ran back into the bush and were not seen again.

Thylacines (Henry Constantine Richter, 1845)

Except for their seemingly unstriped form, which may well have been a trick of the moonlight, once again these animals recalled thylacines, especially with respect to their stiff tails (a thylacine characteristic) and huge gapes. Worth noting is that the thylacine could open its mouth up to an amazing 120 degrees - far more than any true dog or wolf can do (or any other mammal, for that matter).

Captive thylacine, revealing its jaws' extraordinarily wide gape

Searches for the thylacine on Tasmania and in mainland Australia continue on a frequent, but habitually unsuccessful, basis. Perhaps it is time for Tassie seekers to turn their attention elsewhere - to the verdant, shadowy mountain forests and caves of Irian Jaya.

In my study alongside a framed print of an original thylacine painting by Rod Scott, commissioned by Australian Geographic (Dr Karl Shuker)





Saturday, 4 May 2013

COBWEB PANTHERS - A SILVERED SURPRISE

The cobweb panther formerly exhibited at Glasgow Zoo (Graham Law)


Black panthers, i.e. melanistic leopards, are exotic-looking felids at the best of times, but the individual constituting the principal subject of this present ShukerNature blog post was a truly exceptional female black panther, purchased from Dublin Zoo during the early 1980s, and exhibited for a few years at Glasgow Zoo before being sold overseas, probably destined for Madrid Zoo.

On first sight, one could be forgiven for assuming that this extraordinary animal had recently strolled through an unusually dense sheet of cobwebs, for its entire coat appeared to be covered in a fine white filigree of gossamer. On closer inspection, however, this 'gossamer' proved to be a profuse sprinkling of white hairs among its otherwise uniformly-black coat.

Old black-furred mammals sometimes exhibit a gradual silvering of their fur with advancing age. However, this panther's silvering was so extensive that Richard O'Grady, a former director of Glasgow Zoo, was convinced that it was due to a genetic mutation, and he also noted that its gums were unusually pink. Moreover, although the panther was 10-11 years old when it arrived at Glasgow, Richard had first seen it some time earlier, when it was at Dublin, and it was no less silvered then, again ruling out an age-related explanation.

Consequently, I would assume that the Glasgow Zoo 'cobweb panther' possessed not only the Agouti gene's recessive non-agouti mutant allele (like normal black panthers), but also a mutant allele (of some other gene) for silvering. One writer has claimed that this cat was exhibiting piebaldism, but that is incorrect, because piebaldism typically features entire patches of white skin or fur (piebald horses are a well known example), not merely a sprinkling of white hairs in an otherwise dark pelage.

The cobweb panther (left) and a normal black panther (right) at Glasgow Zoo (Graham Law)


Although she gave birth to various cubs, all of which were black, none developed her remarkable pelage. As I learnt from Graham Law in June 2011:

"She had two litters of cubs that I am aware of, one on the 15/08/1981 consisting of 3 black cubs (gestation 96 days) - 1 DNS [Did Not Survive] leaving 1.1 to be reared. Another on the 24/04/1983 consisting of 1, black, male cub born after a gestation of 99 days. She was always mated to a melanistic male. She was a good mother as she reared two cubs from her first litter at Glasgow and was a calm, easy going individual."

I have been informed that at least one other captive cobweb panther has been recorded, but as yet I have no further details regarding it.

The cobweb panther (underneath) and a normal black panther (on top) at Glasgow Zoo (Graham Law)


This post is excerpted from my latest book, Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2012); my grateful thanks to Graham Law for so kindly making available his photographs for me to use in this segment of my book.






Wednesday, 1 May 2013

SONNERAT'S NON-EXISTENT PENGUINS (AND KOOKABURRA) OF NEW GUINEA

Sonnerat's 'manchot of New Guinea' - in reality, the king penguin

After I'd added a link on various Facebook group pages to my recent ShukerNature post concerning an extraordinary claim by French naturalist-explorer Pierre Sonnerat (1748-1814) that the Philippines were home to a species of secretary bird (click here) - a bird entirely confined to Africa - on 26 April 2013 Mike Grayson commented on my Journal of Cryptozoology FB group's page that Sonnerat had also claimed that New Guinea was home to various forms of penguin! Never having encountered this weird allegation by Sonnerat before, I was totally fascinated by it, and resolved to research the matter. This I have done, and I now have pleasure in revealing the truly bizarre history behind it. My sincere thanks to Mike for originally bringing it to my attention.

Pierre Sonnerat was also an artist and a writer, and his publications include Voyage à la Nouvelle-Guinée (1776), documenting an expedition that he claimed to have made to the Spice Islands (now called the Moluccas) and New Guinea in 1771. From an ornithological standpoint, this publication is particularly intriguing, inasmuch as it reports the presence in New Guinea of no less than three species of penguin as well as the common kookaburra or laughing jackass Dacelo novaeguineae. His book even contains illustrations signed by him that depict the penguins as well as the kookaburra, and the brief passage in it concerning the penguins states:

"I will mention the three Manchots [penguins] which I have observed, one the Manchot of New Guinea, another the Collared Manchot of New Guinea, and the third, the Manchot Papua."

In reality, however, New Guinea is unequivocally bereft of any penguin species; and whereas three smaller kookaburra species do occur in New Guinea, the common kookaburra is confined to Australia. So how can these extraordinary discrepancies in Sonnerat's book be explained? The answer is as startling as Sonnerat's unfounded ornithological allegations.

First and foremost: Sonnerat never actually visited New Guinea! His expedition there was a complete fiction, and was publicly exposed during his lifetime. Yet somehow he survived the shame with his scientific reputation intact, and the scandal was subsequently forgotten.

Conversely, his New Guinea penguins were not made-up birds. On the contrary, their respective species can be readily identified from the illustrations of them in his book.

Sonnerat's 'collared manchot of New Guinea' - in reality, the emperor penguin

The manchot of New Guinea is the king penguin Aptenodytes patagonicus (breeds on northern Antarctica and various subantarctic islands), the collared manchot of New Guinea is the emperor penguin A. forsteri (Antarctica), and the manchot Papua is the gentoo penguin Pygoscelis papua (various subantartic islands including the Falklands).

Sonnerat's 'manchot Papua' - in reality, the gentoo penguin

As revealed in Penny Olsen's fascinating book, Feather and Brush: Three Centuries of Australian Bird Art (2001), it transpired that a number of bird skins, including those of the penguin specimens depicted in those illustrations as well as that of the kookaburra specimen depicted in its own illustration, had apparently been given to Sonnerat in 1770 at South Africa's Cape of Good Hope by English naturalist Sir Joseph Banks, who had procured them during his global travels in the 1760s.

Sonnerat's 'New Guinea common kookaburra' - in reality, the Australian common kookaburra

Banks instructed Sonnerat to deliver them to fellow naturalist Dr Philibert Commerson in Mauritius. So Sonnerat sailed there, giving the skins to Commerson's draughtsman, Paul Philippe Sanguin de Jossigny, who sketched them. Following Commerson's premature death in 1773, however, Sonnerat not only kept Jossigny's illustrations of the penguins and kookaburra, but unscrupulously signed them, passing them off as his own work, and including them in his book on New Guinea.

Sadly, vestiges of Sonnerat's deception persists even today, in the misleading scientific names of the gentoo penguin and the kookaburra, which to anyone not familiar with their correct zoogeographical range suggests that the former species is native to Papua and the latter species to New Guinea.

Engraving of Pierre Sonnerat, engaged in sketching a bird