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

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Saturday, 16 April 2016

A DREAMTIME DROMEDARY? NOT REALLY, BUT STILL A ONE-HUMPED WONDER DOWN UNDER!


Dromedary in the desert (public domain)

Australia is renowned as a land of strange animals, both in the living world and in aboriginal Dreamtime lore. Marsupials, monotremes, monsters, and more, drawn forth from both reverie and reality, have deftly interacted, intermingled, and integrated with one another here for countless millennia to yield an extraordinary menagerie of creatures that is truly unique, and emphatically unlike anything that can be encountered elsewhere in the world.

During the early 1800s, however, reports surfaced Down Under of a creature that was decidedly bizarre even by this island continent's zoological standards, and unquestionably esoteric even in comparison with its native traditions.

Dromedary, illustration from Drawings of Animals of Greece and the Levant by eminent wildlife artist Ferdinand Bauer (1760-1826) (public domain)

The somewhat tragic history of this enigmatic, still-unresolved, yet nowadays long-forgotten entity was recalled in E. Lloyd's A Visit to the Antipodes: With Some Reminiscences of a Sojourn in Australia (1846) as follows:

I have to record a tradition that exists among the white people in the north country, with reference to an animal that sometimes appears, much to their alarm. This is no other than a camel. It is said, amongst the other wise things done by the sanguine people that first settled the land, that one gentleman, arguing from the natural dryness of the climate, that it was a country similar to the Zahara [sic], or Great Desert, and required animals of the same powers of endurance to travel over it, resolved upon doing nothing less than importing a camel, from which he anticipated reaping a fortune. However, calamitously, the camel, after its arrival in the colony, got lost, or ran away into the bush, and for a long time afterwards was never heard of. It is however stated, that he appeared to some shepherds, while tending their flocks, and who were not a little surprised, not to say amazed, at the unlooked-for visitation.

The blacks, in terror, fled at his approach, exclaiming, "big one bullocky! big one bullocky!" It is likewise stated, that the forlorn camel, for a long time roamed through the country, like the wandering Jew, seeking society but finding none; sometimes appearing unintentionally and unexpectedly to shepherds and black fellows, and being innocently the cause of great alarm, until at last another outcast left the realms of social intercourse, and cast himself upon his own energies. This was a harmless donkey, one of three which had found their way into this province. Having strayed from his sphere, like a comet, he took an orbit of his own, exceedingly eccentric, until the two forlorn and wandering planets came within the reach of each other's attraction, and were brought into contact, the result of which is, that they now roam the forest together, alike forsaken, and irrevocably lost.

Dromedary - plate by Simon Charles Miger after Nicolas Maréchal (1753-1803), from La Ménagerie du Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle by Bernard-Germain-Étienne de Lacépède, Georges Cuvier, and Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1804) (public domain)

This sad little episode was no doubt repeated many times thereafter too, with dromedaries Camelus dromedarius imported Down Under for desert exploration ultimately escaping (or being deliberately released), because today there are naturalised herds of these one-humped camels in many parts of Australia, including the Northern Territory, western Queensland, northern South Australia, and (especially) Western Australia. Indeed, by 2005 there were an estimated 500,000 individuals living in the wild amid this vast island continent, and increasing at an annual growth rate of 10 per cent (so if this rate had stayed constant from then until now, by the end of 2015 there would have been around 1 million).

What makes Lloyd's account so noteworthy however, is that according to official records, the first camels imported into Australia (all dromedaries) did not arrive until 1840, and their whereabouts were fully documented until beyond 1846 (the publication date of Lloyd's book). Moreover, the first major importations did not occur until 1860. Yet his account makes clear that the camel reported by Lloyd had been roaming the deserts Down Under long before the 1840s - so who was its original owner, and when exactly had it been imported into Australia?

A herd of domesticated dromedaries (public domain)

Unless this entire event is a hoax, or unless there are even earlier records still awaiting disclosure, it would appear that this bewildering 'big one bullocky' was the very first dromedary ever to set hoof in the Antipodes. Hardly surprising, therefore, that it elicited such consternation among its astonished aboriginal observers.

After all, even taking into account the dramatic zoological diversity to be found amid ancient native lore here, a dromedary would still seem a very daunting entity to anyone not previously cognisant of camelids. And so, even though it was not a bona fide dromedary of the Dreamtime, this unexpected itinerant was nonetheless a veritable one-humped wonder Down Under!

If you'd never seen a dromedary before, this very sizeable and strange-looking beast would certainly be a most daunting creature to encounter in the wild! (public domain)

NB - Although the imported camel's species was not specified in Lloyd's account, his above-quoted comparison of northern Australia's dry climate with that of North Africa's Sahara plus his argument that animals required to traverse the former territory's arid terrain would need to be ones that are capable of surviving in the latter desert readily confirm that it must have been a dromedary. For this species was indeed originally native to the Sahara, and also to the Arabian Desert in the Middle East, before becoming domesticated and transported widely across the globe (with its wild ancestors eventually dying out around 2,000 years ago).

In contrast, the only other modern-day species, the Bactrian or two-humped camel C. bactrianus, is much rarer, and is native only to the steppes of central Asia in the wild state. Moreover, in its domestic form this latter species has only been introduced into Australia much more recently and in much smaller numbers than the dromedary, with only a very few individuals known to be existing in a naturalised state anywhere in Australia

A young white domestic Bactrian camel (© Dr Karl Shuker)

This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted and expanded from my book Mysteries of Planet Earth: An Encyclopedia of the Inexplicable.







Friday, 15 April 2016

AN AMERICAN MYSTERY BLACK PANTHER DEPICTED IN A FAMOUS MODERN-DAY PAINTING


'Story Told By My Mother', painted in 1955 by Carroll Cloar (© Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Tennessee, USA – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only)

In various previous ShukerNature articles, I've documented several fascinating examples of apparent cryptids depicted by famous artists. Now, I am adding yet another such example to this select company.

I am very grateful to American correspondent David McAvoy for bringing to my attention a remarkable painting on display at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Tennessee, USA. Entitled 'Story Told By My Mother', and opening this present ShukerNature article, it was produced in 1955 by highly-acclaimed Arkansas-born artist Carroll Cloar (1913-1993), and depicts a snow scene in which a woman is stepping briskly away from a very large black panther-like cat standing at the edge of some trees.

David informed me that it was inspired by tales that Cloar had heard from his mother concerning so-called black panthers that had once roamed Arkansas. Moreover, David himself hails from Arkansas, and he mentioned that he has heard such stories for as long as he can remember. Indeed, mysterious, unidentified big cats of black panther-like appearance (i.e. resembling melanistic leopards, which are uniformly black in background coat colouration) have been reported all over North America for centuries.

A black panther (melanistic leopard) (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Leopards of course are not native to the New World, so if such beasts are indeed roaming the wilds here, they can only be escapee or released individuals from captivity. However, their eyewitnesses often claim that these cats are not black leopards anyway (nor black jaguars either, although normal spotted jaguars have been confirmed to exist at least in certain southern states such as Arizona and California on a fairly regular basis in earlier times), but are instead black pumas. (Other names for pumas, incidentally, include cougars, mountain lions, catamounts, painters, and - very confusingly - panthers.) Yet no such cat form has ever been scientifically confirmed from North America, only two such specimens have been procured in tropical Latin America, and no captive individuals are currently known to exist anywhere (I have previously documented one possible example exhibited at London Zoo during the 1800s). Moreover, all three of these latter specimens were not uniformly black anyway, but were only black dorsally; ventrally, they were much paler.

In short, even if they do occur, black pumas are exceptionally rare as far as physical evidence for their reality is concerned, and those few confirmed specimens do not match the sightings of large all-black felids in North America. Bearing in mind that countless normal-coloured pumas (i.e. either tawny or grey) have been shot there, however, and also bearing in mind that in view of the numerous reports of black panther-like cats on file from this continent, whatever this cat form may be it does not appear to be especially rare, why are no North America specimens ever forthcoming if it is indeed a melanistic version (morph) of the puma? This apparent paradox remains a major riddle for New World cryptozoology to solve, but at least we do now have an additional and most interesting, unexpected piece of evidence supporting the existence of black panther-like cats in North America, regardless of their formal taxonomic identity.

For a comprehensive examination of the black puma controversy, please click here, and see also my books Mystery Cats of the World and Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery.








Wednesday, 13 April 2016

FROM BARGUEST AND BOOBRIE TO BLUE MEN OF THE MINCH - A SHUKERNATURE SELECTION OF ESOTERIC ENTITIES FROM THE BRITISH ISLES



A Blue Man of the Minch (I found this image online some time ago, unsourced and uncredited, but it looks like it may be a modified version – by person(s) unknown – of a picture from highly-acclaimed London-based photographer Chris Parkes's spectacular 'All that Glitter is Green' series; if so, © Chris Parkes, and thus used here on a strictly non-commercial, Fair Use basis only; also, please click here to visit Chris Parkes's website and see some of his wonderful photographs)

The British Isles are said to contain more ghosts than anywhere else in the world. Less well-known is that a remarkable diversity of monsters, mythological creatures, and mystery beasts have also been reported from these ancient lands, as will be seen here in this exclusive ShukerNature selection of some notably esoteric entities from my homeland. The trick, however, is trying to decide which category each of them belongs to - fact or fable, legend or reality, the natural world or the supernatural realm - a perilous choice that I will leave, gentle reader, to you!


BAISTE-NA-SCOGHAIGH
It is not widely known that Britain can lay claim to its very own indigenous species of unicorn. Yet according to Hebridean folklore, the lochs on the Inner Hebrides island of Skye are home to just such a creature, called the baiste-na-Scoghaigh (aka biasd na Srogaig). Despite its long legs, however, its bulky, lumbering form renders it more akin to a rhinoceros than to the elegant unicorn of classical legend; and as it can assume human form, this deceptive creature is technically a were-unicorn. See also here for more details.

Is this what the baiste-na-Scoghaigh looks like? (public domain)


BARGUEST
One of England's most dreadful bogey-beasts, the barguest is able to assume several different guises, but its most common form is as a huge, shaggy-furred black dog with enormous fiery eyes, and sometimes even a pair of horns. According to tradition, this spectral hound haunts lonely areas of wasteland in Yorkshire, but especially between Wreghorn and Headingley Hill, near Leeds. Its appearance is widely believed to foretell an impending death, usually of some important figure living locally, and is often accompanied by fearful howling, baying, and sometimes the sound of rattling chains.

Beware of the barguest! (© Jane Cooper)


BLUE MEN OF THE MINCH
The Minch is a strait separating the largest Outer Hebridean island, Lewis-and-Harris, from the Scottish mainland. According to local maritime tradition, it is also home to a fierce race of mermen, distinguished from other fish-tailed folk by their vivid blue skin. Happily, however, their fondness for attacking sailors can be readily countered, simply by berating them exclusively in rhyme!


BOOBRIE
Scottish Highland lore describes the boobrie as a black lake-dwelling bird with white marks upon its neck and breast, resembling the great northern diver Gavia immer but very much bigger, and deadlier. For whereas divers (or loons, as these birds are referred to in North America) are content to feed upon fishes, the boobrie will allegedly seize any sheep or cow that dares venture near this monstrous bird's aquatic abode, and haul it beneath the water, thereafter to feed upon its drowned carcase.


HAIRLESS BLUE HORSE
During 1868, a very unusual horse was exhibited at London's famous Crystal Palace. Not only was it completely hairless, but its skin was blue, so that it looked as if it had been sculpted from some rare form of oriental blue marble. This singular steed had been captured on the plains of South Africa by a merchant called Lashmar in 1860, and had been associating with a herd of those now-extinct, incompletely-striped zebras known as quaggas. The fate of the hairless blue horse after its Crystal Palace days is unknown - as is its identity. Could it have been a freak quagga, rather than merely a freak domestic horse run wild? See also here for more details.

Photoshopped image of a horse resembling the Crystal Palace-exhibited curiosity described here (© Daisiem worth1000 – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only)


LOUGH DUBH MONSTER
One day in March 1962, schoolteacher Alphonsus Mullaney and his son went fishing to Lough Dubh ('Black Lake') in County Galway, Ireland...and caught a monster instead. Suddenly, their line became taut, and when they attempted to reel in their catch, they saw to their horror that they were hauling up an incredible water beast like nothing ever reported before - or since. The size of a cow, it had short thick legs, small ears, dark grey skin covered in short bristles, and a large hippopotamus-like face - with a sharp rhinoceros-like horn on the end of its snout! Not surprisingly, the two anglers fled away, but when they returned with a posse of local men, the lake's mysterious monster had vanished again. See also here for further details.

Artistic representation of the Lough Dubh monster (© Orbis Publishing - reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only)


LYMINSTER KNUCKER
An unexpectedly loquacious English dragon, the knucker lived in a deep pool near the church at Lyminster, close to Arundel, in Sussex. Unfortunately, however, it developed a great liking (in the gastronomic sense!) for sheep, pigs, and even the odd farmer or two...until a local youth called Jim Puttock came along. After deliberately over-feeding the knucker with a heavy pudding that gave it severe indigestion, Puttock promised to provide a remedy for curing its stomach ache. The remedy in question, albeit decidedly unorthodox, was also undeniably effective - after engaging it in seemingly innocent conversation, Puttock abruptly wielded his trusty sword and chopped off the knucker's head!


MINIATURE WOLVES OF ACHILL ISLAND
According to Irish tradition, County Mayo's Achill Island was home to a type of small wolf-like beast long after true wolves had died out elsewhere in the British Isles. They were said to resemble normal wolves in overall appearance except for their relatively small stature. No such creatures have been reported here in recent times, however, so even if they really did once exist they have now presumably died out.


ORKNEY BOAR-WHALE
According to Swedish archbishop Olaus Magnus (1490-1557), an extraordinary sea monster resembling a hybrid of whale and wild boar was sighted in the sea north of Scotland's Orkney Islands in 1537. In bestiary compiler Conrad Gesner's tome, Nomenclator Aquatilium Animantium... (1560), this Orcadian boar-whale was depicted with the head and body of a boar but with scales instead of fur, flippers instead of feet, and a fish-like tail. Not surprisingly, it has never been identified.

The Orkney boar-whale as depicted in Gesner's tome (public domain)


RENWICK COCKATRICE
During the demolition of an old church at Renwick in Cumbria, northern England, during 1733, workmen were terrified when a huge winged apparition rose up out of the foundations, for in appearance it closely resembled a cockatrice. According to legend, this was a lethal dragonesque monster combining reptilian scales,  leathery bat-like wings, and a snake-like tail with the feathered body and also the wattled, coxcomb-surmounted head of a farmyard rooster, and which was hatched by a toad from a shell-less egg laid by a cockerel! As this hideous creature sallied forth, the Renwick villagers fled in all directions - except for one brave man named John Tallantine. Armed with a lance hewn from the rowan tree, which is famed for its reputed power in warding off evil, Tallantine pursued the cockatrice into the churchyard, and after a fierce battle he succeeded in slaying it. As a reward, the grateful people of Renwick decreed that for ever afterwards Tallantine's descendants would be exempt from paying tithes. A copy of an account describing this alleged occurrence is preserved in Renwick's current church.

Cockatrice, depicted by Wenceslaus Hollar, 1600s (public domain)


ST SEONAN'S MONSTER
Like an amphibious cyclops, this maned water monster had a single eye gleaming brightly in the centre of its forehead. It also had a whale's fluked tail, and a mighty chest that sounded like a pair of huge bellows when it exhaled its scorching breath. It frequented the island of Iniscathy (aka Inis Cathaigh), located in Ireland's Shannon Estuary, and whenever it sharpened its razor-sharp iron talons, sparks of fire would dance upon the island's rocky surface. Eventually, however, it was allegedly banished by St Seonan.


SCREAMING WHITE RABBIT
Reputedly, an eerie spectral rabbit, pure white in colour and emitting a hideous screaming cry, has been encountered spasmodically in an area of Cobridge in northern Staffordshire, England, that is known locally as The Grove. It is claimed that this white rabbit is the restless ghost of teenager John Holdcroft, who was strangled to death by fellow teenager Charles Shaw one day in August 1833 after Shaw had accused him of cheating at a game of pitch and toss. Terrified by what he had done, Shaw hung a noose around his friend's neck and tried to pretend that he had committed suicide, but he later confessed to the murder and was sentenced to transportation. As for the rabbit, its eldritch shrieks are supposedly John Holdcroft's death screams.


WINGED FEATHERED SNAKES
Remarkably, until as recently as the early 1800s some local inhabitants believed that creatures apparently resembling winged feathered snakes congregated in large numbers within the wooded vales of Penllyne and Penmark in Glamorgan. Extraordinarily beautiful, they had shimmering bodies whose scales sparkled like multicoloured jewels, rainbow-hued crests, and outspread plumed wings. Despite their flamboyant finery, however, Glamorgan's feathered flying snakes were reputedly slaughtered like common vermin by farmers, on account of their taste for the farmers' poultry, until at last they were completely exterminated. See also here for more details.

Depiction of one of the winged feathered snakes that appeared on the front cover of the original 1997 American edition of my book From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (© Dr Karl Shuker/Llewellyn Publications)


YELPING BEAST OF MANY COLOURS
Finally, but staying with extraordinarily beautiful creatures: Loosely connected to the Arthurian corpus of legends and originally composed anonymously in French during the 1300s, Perceforest is a 6-volume prose romance presenting a fictionalised origin of Great Britain. One memorable scene from it features Maronex the Gilded Knight, magnificently bedecked in brilliant golden armour, encountering a huge and equally dazzling, rainbow-hued creature that gave voice to ear-splitting yelping cries when it was pursued by him after it seized a stag in its jaws. Hence it is generally referred to as the Yelping Beast or the Beast of Many Colours. After dropping the deer as it fled headlong through the forest, the Yelping Beast finally reached its lair, a dense thicket in the midst of a deep marsh, and successfully eluded Maronex when his horse became enmired up to its belly in the marsh's black mud. Although Maronex was eventually able to free his horse, he conceded that it would be perilous in the extreme to attempt any further pursuit of the Yelping Beast through such treacherous, potentially lethal terrain, so he reluctantly turned back, his multicoloured quarry far beyond his reach by now. The creature's penchant for exceedingly loud yelping cries, incidentally, readily calls to mind comparable behaviour described for the snake-headed, leopard-bodied, hart-footed Questing Beast in traditional Arthurian legend.

The Yelping Beast of Many Colours and Maronex the Gilded Knight, from Royal 19 E II mss, Perceforest, Anciennes croniques Dangleterre, faictz et gestes du roy Perceforest, et des chevaliers du Franc Palais, version transcribed by David Aubert in late 1400s, Holland (public domain)