THE NAGA HAG

by on Apr.20, 2017, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

A naga hag (© Andy Paciorek)
Ancient India – a land of gods, demons, and cobras, and sometimes all three combined within a single dread form: the naga, or human serpent. Some of these ophidian deities were benevolent to humanity, such as the great seven-headed naga Muchilinda, whose magnificent heptarchy of expanded hoods shielded the sleeping Lord Buddha from the blazing mid-day sun. Others, especially the female naga hags or nagini, could be far less benign…
It had started as a playful game of hide and seek between the youth and his lover, taking turns to stay concealed for a while behind a tree or a bush at the edge of the jungle, before suddenly leaping forth to startle the other, then laughing, embracing, and kissing. But now the youth was becoming concerned. He had been searching for his lover, calling out her name, for what seemed like an eternity, finally entering into the jungle itself, as the sun gradually dimmed and diminished, its noontide incandescence replaced by the shimmering haze of early evening.
And then, as if from nowhere, his lover had risen up from the tall grass just ahead, her slim, pale form no longer clothed, and almost sinuous amid the half-light of the jungle’s shade. He called to her, but in answer his lover merely extended her arms to him, as her dark hair cascaded over her shoulders in ripples of obsidian. Her limbs remained hidden amid the grass, but her waist and torso swayed slowly, almost hypnotically, willing him to draw nearer, ever closer, to her waiting arms.
The youth smiled, his earlier fear at her absence now totally dissipated as he moved forward. He had only known her for a short while, yet he had fallen passionately, uncontrollably in love with her almost from the first moment of their meeting. And now, at last, it seemed that his love would be returned.
He stood before her, trembling slightly in anticipation as the cool evening breeze ruffled her dark hair until it seemed almost alive, flickering and entwining. The grass at her waist stirred – and as he looked down, the youth was horrified to see what appeared to be a huge serpent writhing where his lover’s feet must surely be standing.
But even as he opened his mouth to cry out in fear, the cry shrivelled and died in his throat. The breeze had become much stronger, blowing aside the grass, bowing it down in all directions, and the youth’s eyes stared, transfixed, unbelieving, at the huge serpent – which, as he now could see only too plainly, was not a serpent at all, but the limbless, scaly-skinned lower torso of his lover. She was not human – or, at least, not entirely so. She was a naga hag!
Even as he forced himself to look back up at her face, dragging his eyes away from the thrashing, serpentine abomination that was an intrinsic part of her body, he knew that it was too late. He gazed into her cold, amber, reptilian eyes, noticing for the first time that they were lidless, and then, with detached, almost preternatural calmness – or perhaps resigned acquiescence – observed how her slender canine teeth had enlarged into venom-dripping fangs.
He closed his eyes once more, for the last time, and so was spared the ultimate horror of seeing his lover’s face transform into that of a human cobra, its hair flailing outward and coalescing into a dark expanded hood, as it leaned forward to sink its fangs into his throat. Once sustained, the naga hag drew back again, and the youth’s limp brittle shell, which had once known life but only an empty promise of love, dropped soundlessly to the ground, drained and dead, like the last rays of the setting sun that were sinking beneath the sable canopy of the jungle.
This ShukerNature blog article is exclusively excerpted from Creatures of Shadow and Night – a book-in-progress in which I am retelling the folklore and legends of a wide range of sinister and decidedly dark supernatural entities of the night, most of which are relatively or entirely unknown outside their respective homelands. Moreover, each of my verbal portrayals is accompanied visually by a spectacular full-colour illustration specially prepared by highly-acclaimed graphics artist Andy Paciorek.
Nag hag or nagina figurine (© Dr Karl Shuker)

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THE NAGA HAG

by on Apr.20, 2017, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

A naga hag (© Andy Paciorek)
Ancient India – a land of gods, demons, and cobras, and sometimes all three combined within a single dread form: the naga, or human serpent. Some of these ophidian deities were benevolent to humanity, such as the great seven-headed naga Muchilinda, whose magnificent heptarchy of expanded hoods shielded the sleeping Lord Buddha from the blazing mid-day sun. Others, especially the female naga hags or nagini, could be far less benign…
It had started as a playful game of hide and seek between the youth and his lover, taking turns to stay concealed for a while behind a tree or a bush at the edge of the jungle, before suddenly leaping forth to startle the other, then laughing, embracing, and kissing. But now the youth was becoming concerned. He had been searching for his lover, calling out her name, for what seemed like an eternity, finally entering into the jungle itself, as the sun gradually dimmed and diminished, its noontide incandescence replaced by the shimmering haze of early evening.
And then, as if from nowhere, his lover had risen up from the tall grass just ahead, her slim, pale form no longer clothed, and almost sinuous amid the half-light of the jungle’s shade. He called to her, but in answer his lover merely extended her arms to him, as her dark hair cascaded over her shoulders in ripples of obsidian. Her limbs remained hidden amid the grass, but her waist and torso swayed slowly, almost hypnotically, willing him to draw nearer, ever closer, to her waiting arms.
The youth smiled, his earlier fear at her absence now totally dissipated as he moved forward. He had only known her for a short while, yet he had fallen passionately, uncontrollably in love with her almost from the first moment of their meeting. And now, at last, it seemed that his love would be returned.
He stood before her, trembling slightly in anticipation as the cool evening breeze ruffled her dark hair until it seemed almost alive, flickering and entwining. The grass at her waist stirred – and as he looked down, the youth was horrified to see what appeared to be a huge serpent writhing where his lover’s feet must surely be standing.
But even as he opened his mouth to cry out in fear, the cry shrivelled and died in his throat. The breeze had become much stronger, blowing aside the grass, bowing it down in all directions, and the youth’s eyes stared, transfixed, unbelieving, at the huge serpent – which, as he now could see only too plainly, was not a serpent at all, but the limbless, scaly-skinned lower torso of his lover. She was not human – or, at least, not entirely so. She was a naga hag!
Even as he forced himself to look back up at her face, dragging his eyes away from the thrashing, serpentine abomination that was an intrinsic part of her body, he knew that it was too late. He gazed into her cold, amber, reptilian eyes, noticing for the first time that they were lidless, and then, with detached, almost preternatural calmness – or perhaps resigned acquiescence – observed how her slender canine teeth had enlarged into venom-dripping fangs.
He closed his eyes once more, for the last time, and so was spared the ultimate horror of seeing his lover’s face transform into that of a human cobra, its hair flailing outward and coalescing into a dark expanded hood, as it leaned forward to sink its fangs into his throat. Once sustained, the naga hag drew back again, and the youth’s limp brittle shell, which had once known life but only an empty promise of love, dropped soundlessly to the ground, drained and dead, like the last rays of the setting sun that were sinking beneath the sable canopy of the jungle.
This ShukerNature blog article is exclusively excerpted from Creatures of Shadow and Night – a book-in-progress in which I am retelling the folklore and legends of a wide range of sinister and decidedly dark supernatural entities of the night, most of which are relatively or entirely unknown outside their respective homelands. Moreover, each of my verbal portrayals is accompanied visually by a spectacular full-colour illustration specially prepared by highly-acclaimed graphics artist Andy Paciorek.
Nag hag or nagina figurine (© Dr Karl Shuker)

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THE FRASERCOT PELTS – A VERITABLE CHINESE PUZZLE SOLVED AT LAST

by on Apr.19, 2017, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

The Frasercot pelt originally owned (see Epilogue) by Mark Fraser (© Dr Karl Shuker)
In a short Tetrapod Zoology online blog post of 13 August 2007 (click here), English palaeontologist Dr Darren Naish, who also has a longstanding interest in mystery animals, discussed a very eyecatching, enigmatic pelt owned by Big Cats in Britain (BCIB) founder Mark Fraser. As revealed by a colour photograph of it in his post, this most distinctive long-furred pelt sported a beautiful pattern of dark scallop-shaped markings resembling overlapping fish-scales, but which bore no resemblance to the pelage of any known mammal.
This interesting post swiftly attracted numerous responses from readers, most of whom favoured various feline identities, including king cheetah, aberrant leopard, and woolly cheetah (a freak cheetah form reported from South Africa during the late 1800s and represented by a living specimen exhibited at London Zoo during that same period), although viverrid and hyaena identities were also mooted. Alternatively, could it be a fake – but, if so, how was it done? After all, surely it would take great skill to paint a pelt so meticulously with such a detailed pattern…wouldn’t it?
A chromolithograph from 1877 of the woolly cheetah briefly exhibited at LondonZoo at that time (public domain)
In his blog post, Darren dubbed this mystifying pelt a Frasercot, in honour of its owner. He also noted that another pelt of this same type had been doing the rounds of antique fairs in Britain.
Moreover, in October 2009 Darren was in Libya, conducting some palaeontological fieldwork, and while visiting a market in Tripoli he was surprised to see a Frasercot pelt for sale there, hanging down on one of the stalls. It was too expensive for him to purchase, and in any case he was naturally concerned as to whether he would be permitted to bring such an item through customs, so he had to content himself with photographing it (a photo of it duly appeared in a Tetrapod Zoology blog article by Darren uploaded on 16 November 2009 – click here to see the photo).
Greatly intrigued by these pelts, in February 2012 I conducted some internet research concerning them. While doing so, I discovered a couple of photos of a smaller but otherwise identical pelt (alongside what looked like a second, larger one, but which was partly concealed from view by other furs) among the wares on the hand-cart of a fur vendor in Xiamen (aka Amoy), which is a major city in Fujian, southeastern China (these photos are viewable online here). The photos had been snapped on 31 October 2006 by a professional writer (name unknown to me) hailing from Mendocino in California, USA, but based in Xiamen during that time. Under her Flickr username ‘Room With A View’, she had later uploaded them into one of her online Flickr albums.
Further investigations revealed that such pelts were actually from domestic dogs but had been skilfully imbued in some way with the distinctive Frasercot-style scalloping in order for the traders to pass them off as exotic big cat pelts and sell them for lucrative amounts to unsuspecting Western tourists. When I contacted Darren concerning my findings, he confirmed that he had made the same discovery in relation to the Libyan pelt. Indeed, on 15 December 2010, one of his blog’s readers, with the username NaturePunk, had provided the following highly illuminating response to Darren’s post regarding the Tripoli pelt, verifying my own independent findings:
This is a dog skin that has been dyed to look like a cat skin. Common thing for vendors to do in Asian countries where dogs are killed for fur. I used to see this a lot when I lived there, and they would sell the dyed pelts along with pelts which were left un-altered. They see this sort of thing all the time at the Wildlife Forensics Center in Ashland [Oregon] where I live now.
Here are some links to photos of vendors selling dog pelts on the streets, trying to convince people that they’re either wolf or big cat skins, a few of which are dyed with the EXACT same patterns as the pelt pictured above [i.e. the Tripoli pelt].
One of the links provided was the same as the one that I’d also discovered (and which I’ve given earlier here), to the photo of the Xiamen fur vendor with the pelts. A second one was to a photo that had been snapped and uploaded onto Flickr by Tennessee-born teacher Bill Benson, now living in Tianjin, northern China. It depicted another Chinese fur vendor, this time in Dalian (a big city and seaport in northeastern China’s Liaoning Province), whose hand-cart bore a fully laid-out Frasercot pelt. Unfortunately, that particular photo is no longer accessible online (but I have a copy of it on file). Apparently, the vendor had tried to pass it off to Benson as a leopard skin (which it certainly wasn’t – no leopard possesses the Frasercot scalloping pattern), but Benson affirmed that it was a dyed dog skin.
Close-up of Mark’s Frasercot pelt, showing its distinctive scalloping pattern (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Even so, I was still unclear as to the manner in which such an intricate pattern was applied to the pelts, although I wondered whether it may involve a stencil or something similar in order to produce such a precise effect.
At much the same time, I learnt from British naturalist and taxidermist Jonathan McGowan that he had included on his website (www.thenaturalstuff.co.uk) a photo of the Frasercot pelt that had been doing the rounds of the antique fairs – he saw it at one in Lincolnshire. Of particular interest, however, was that Jonathan was convinced that this particular pelt on which the scalloping had been applied was not from a dog but from a large cat, probably a unicoloured species such as a puma. Memorably, the stall-holder claimed that it was from a rare species that she called a fishscale leopard! On 5 March 2012, Jonathan kindly provided me with the following additional details:
The pelt I found was at the RAF Swinderby antique fair in Lincolnshire about three years ago. I at first thought it was a painted dog pelt and asked the lady if I could have a look. On doing so I noticed the short legs with typical cat like short bristly fur on the ankles. The feet were cut off unfortunately but the head was on and it had typical cat shape with leopard like ears and big long whiskers, although few in number but not like small dog whiskers. The woman said that it came from South Africa and mentioned that even the dark scales have the skin underneath also black which proves that it is real! I replied that this does indeed suggest that it is a fake as dark pigmented skin does not correspond with dark hairs. It had nothing to do with it, but looking closely at it, only a few of the scallops had dark pigment under them anyway! And when I held the fur up to the light, I could see that each individual hair was black tipped correctly with lighter underneath. If it were a fake, I wondered just why some very skilled person went to the trouble of painting every individual hair just to produce this! However I am well aware of the Chinese ingenuity in regards to faking all kinds of things. Just maybe a mutant leopard did have such scalloping fish scale spots! I don’t know but it is unlikely and I would rather see it as a hoax as a genuine thing. She wanted £200 for it and I had already spent my quota for the day.
Messaging Mark Fraser online via Facebook also on 5 March concerning his Frasercot specimen, I learnt that its head was distinctly dog-like in appearance rather than cat-like, and that he had purchased it from Coventry-based taxidermy enthusiast Martin Cotterill, who in turn informed me that he had bought it several years ago from a dealer at Swinderby Antiques Fair! In other words, exactly the same fair where Jonathan subsequently saw the one that he photographed.
As Mark’s pelt is dog-headed whereas the one seen by Jonathan was cat-headed, they are evidently not the same specimen, but it seems reasonable to assume that they were from the same dealer – otherwise it is a truly formidable coincidence that two such similar yet extremely unusual pelts should come up for sale at the very same antique fair. If so, does this mean that the dealer had a regular supply of them, or had merely bought the two together as a one-off purchase? Whatever the answer, the very fact that a dog-headed pelt and a cat-headed pelt exhibited precisely the same highly-unusual scalloping pattern provided, I felt, conclusive evidence that the pattern was indeed applied artificially rather than being natural.
Three photos of Mark’s Frasercot pelt, showing its pelt, head, and a paw (© Mark Fraser)
Mark uploaded some photos of his pelt’s head and feet onto Facebook, and these were certainly canine rather than feline in shape. On 10 March 2012, moreover, I was able to confirm this directly, as well as ascertaining its total length (55 in from nose-tip to tail-tip) when Mark very kindly sent the pelt to me on loan in order for me to examine it. I was also able to see for myself that the artistic workmanship of the applied scalloping pattern was of an extremely high standard – but the biggest surprise, and revelation, was still to come.
I showed it to my mother, Mary Shuker, who had always been very knowledgeable regarding clothes and fashion in general, and she told me straight away that she’d seen real and artificial (faux) fur coats with this same pattern in the past, and also with other exotic-looking patterns. She then took out of one of her wardrobes a faux fur jacket with an extraordinary pattern on it, totally unlike that of any real species but which, when I examined it, could be seen to have been applied in precisely the same way as the pattern on Mark’s Frasercot pelt – i.e. with the pattern visible on the upper surface of the hairs but not on the undersurface.
Mom’s faux fur jacket exhibiting artificial patterning (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Moreover, when I asked her how such a pattern could have been applied, she told me that she knew how – because the person from whom she’d bought this jacket had told her, informing her that it was applied by a machine that physically stamps the pattern onto the faux pelt using a form of heated inked plate bearing the pattern. And so, with that all-important disclosure, my mother duly solved the mystery of the Frasercot pelts!
My mother, Mary Shuker (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Meanwhile, for absolute confirmation of its taxonomic identity, Mark had kindly given me permission to snip some sample hairs from his pelt and submit them for formal trichological examination and identification. This I did, sending them to Danish zoologist Lars Thomas, based at the Zoological Museum of the University of Copenhagen, who has considerable experience in hair analysis. And to ensure absolute objectivity during their examination, I did not provide him with any information whatsoever as to the source of the hair samples.
However, when Lars provided me with his findings, and which here on ShukerNature are now revealed for the very first time online, I was extremely surprised. This was because his initial, provisional examination of them had indicated to him that they were definitely not felid, but likely not canid either, seeming instead to be most probably of mustelid origin, and, more specifically, from the genus Mustela (containing weasels, stoats, ferrets, and polecats). Yet he was far from happy about this, because the hairs had also presented him with various anomalous features that he had not anticipated finding.
In particular, their pigment granules looked very strange, and Lars wondered if they had received chemical treatment, because a lot of the colour in outlying regions of the hairs seemed unnatural, and therefore had possibly been dyed. Moreover, he mentioned to me that chemical treatment can make pigment granules split, thus making canid or felid hairs look like mustelid hairs, because pigment granules in the latter are clearly separate, whereas they are not in canid and felid hairs.
I then provided Lars with full details of the hair samples’ origin, knowing that he had heard of (but never examined) the Frasercot pelts, and I also sent him some photographs of Mark’s specimen. After receiving my news and pictures, Lars then conducted a more detailed examination of the hair samples, which included sectioning one of the hairs – whereupon he discovered that it was round in cross-section. Crucially, this eliminated mustelids, because their hairs are oval or elliptical in cross-section. He also discovered that some of the hairs showed signs of heat damage and of being compressed, some of them being completely flat in very specific areas, as if they had been under pressure.
Needless to say, this would be the case if the edge of a heated stamping device had been applied to them – which in turn is exactly what my mother had described concerning the artificial application of the Frasercot patterning on fur coats that she had seen. In addition, when Lars rubbed some of the darkest hairs with ethanol and various other solvents on a Q-tip, he was actually able to rub off some of the colouring. Consequently, he informed me that he now had no doubt that the hairs had indeed been somehow artificially treated and dyed.
The scalloped markings of Mark’s Frasercot pelt (© Dr Karl Shuker)
An independent confirmation of his findings came unexpectedly when, while subsequently browsing online in the hope of finding further photos of Frasercot pelts, I revisited Bill Benson’s Flickr albums and discovered that although his earlier-mentioned missing Frasercot pelt photo had not reappeared there, a second one was present in a different album by him. He had snapped it on 26 September 2006, and it shows an extremely large Frasercot pelt being held up by its street vendor, somewhere in eastern China (it is viewable here). However, whereas all previous Frasercot pelts seen by me have exhibited a pristine pattern, in this one the pattern is very patchy in appearance, with certain portions faded or even entirely worn off, clearly demonstrating that it had been artificially applied. Benson affirmed again that these pelts are indeed dyed dog furs, and he also noted that poor vendors from western China come to eastern China in the hope of selling their wares.
Just as the riddle of the Frasercot pelts finally seemed solved, however, a further mystery arose concerning them. Prior to receiving the results of Lars’s examination of the hair samples from Mark’s specimen, I had discovered online a photograph of yet another Frasercot-patterned pelt – but crucially, unlike all previous ones encountered by me, this was not a detached pelt. Instead, it was a livedog, yet whose fur bore the characteristic fish-scale scalloping of the Frasercot pattern!
The only information accompanying this remarkable, currently unique example was that the photograph had allegedly been snapped by a Mr Richard Brooks on the Indonesian island of Bali. I have spent considerable time trying to trace Mr Brooks, but all to no avail. And so, due to its great significance to the subject in hand, I’m including a small, low-resolution version of his photo here on a strictly Fair Use, educational, non-commercial basis only, acknowledging fully that Mr Brooks is its copyright holder.
Live dog allegedly on Bali exhibiting Frasercot fur pattern (© Richard Brooks – reproduced here in low-resolution format on a strictly non-commercial, educational, Fair Use basis only; despite considerable attempts, I have so far been unable to trace Mr Brooks)
Of course, in this age of readily-available photo-manipulation techniques, it needs to be stressed here that the worrying possibility of this photograph actually being the result of one such process cannot be ruled out, especially as its supposed originator has so far resisted all attempts to be traced and his name may therefore be fictitious, just a pseudonym.
What makes this living Frasercot-patterned canine specimen so fascinating if indeed genuine, however, is that clearly its pattern could not have been applied to it by a mechanical, heat-stamping device. So as the Frasercot pattern is of artificial, man-made design, it must have been applied to the dog’s fur by being painstakingly painted upon it, and surely with the dog fully anaesthetised while this very delicate process was being performed.
The obvious question to be asked here is why anyone should wish to perform such an elaborate form of decoration upon a live dog anyway. But perhaps its Frasercot-adorned coat made it valuable or much sought-after as a pet, or even for sale as an exotic ‘rare breed’ to some unsuspecting tourist, and it is certainly not the first time that I have seen domestic animals with intricately-embellished coats.
Dog with fake spots in Kalimpong, West Bengal, India (© Sukanto Debnath/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)
For instance, there are photos of many different examples online involving dogs, including tiger-striped, leopard-spotted, and even black-and-white giant-panda-rendered versions (utilising chows). Also, while visiting Tijuana, Mexico, in 2004 I saw one of the famous ‘Tijuana zebras’ – in reality, donkeys that have been painted with stripes in order to look like zebras – being used for photo sessions with tourists.
One of Tijuana‘s famous ‘zebras’ – in reality a donkey with painted-on stripes (public domain)
So it would seem that after perplexing cryptozoologists and mainstream zoologists alike for many years, the mystifying Frasercot pelts are finally a (Chinese) puzzle no longer.
My sincere thanks to Mark Fraser, Lars Thomas, Dr Darren Naish, Jonathan McGowan, Martin Cotterill, and above all my late mother Mary Shuker for their greatly valued contributions to my Frasercot investigations; and additionally to Mark for so kindly loaning to me his Frasercot pelt for examination.
EPILOGUE – 19 April 2017
Today I discovered herethat Mark’s Frasercot pelt was sold on the internet auction site Ebay UK on 28 June 2014, but at present I have no further details concerning this transaction or its new owner/whereabouts.
Photographed alongside me for scale purposes (I stand 5’10” tall) while on loan to me during March 2012, the Frasercot pelt then-owned by Mark Fraser (© Dr Karl Shuker)
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THE WARRACABA TIGER AND OTHER SOUTH AMERICAN PACK-HUNTING MYSTERY CATS

by on Apr.12, 2017, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Bush dog (public domain)
According to native Indian testimony, as well as that of certain Western explorers and cryptozoological investigators, South America is home to several different types of mysterious, scientifically-unidentified cat that are very distinct from one another morphologically but which are reputedly united by a single characteristic that if genuine is highly unusual for jungle-dwelling felids – for they supposedly hunt in packs, like dogs. Indeed, so unusual do these ostensibly canine cats seem that, as will be revealed here, some authorities have suggested that perhaps they truly are canids, and not felids at all. (And for another South American mystery cat that may in reality be a dog, click here to read my ShukerNature article re the mitla)..
TRUMPETING ABOUT GUYANA‘S FEROCIOUS WARRACABA TIGERS
The warracaba (or waracabra) tiger, as it is known to the Guyanan natives, differs from the typical jaguar (called ‘tigre‘ by Hispanics here) in an extremely significant way with respect to behaviour. For whereas the recognised jaguar Panthera onca (whether spotted or black) is a solitary hunter, Guyana’s elusive warracaba tiger allegedly hunts in packs, which in turn may contain dozens of individuals. Needless to say, any felid that hunted in this manner would be a very special kind of cat indeed.
Normal spotted jaguar with black (melanistic) jaguar (public domain)
Not surprisingly, therefore, the warracaba tiger has attracted considerable interest from travellers to Guyana. In an Animal Kingdom periodical article from 1957, the eminent American naturalist and author William Bridges incorporated an impressive series of reports concerning this animal, dating back to the end of the 19th Century (oddly, modern-day reports are all but non-existent). These include the following selection.
In his book Twenty-Five Years in British Guiana, published in 1898, Henry Kirke, a former Sheriff of Demerara, noted:
There is a mysterious beast in the forest called by the native Indians the “waracabra tiger.” All travellers in the forests of Guiana speak of this dreaded animal, but strange to say, none of them appear to have seen it. The Indians profess the greatest terror of it. It is said to hunt in packs (which tigers [jaguars] never do), and when its howls awake the echoes of the forest, the Indians at once take to their canoes and wood skins as the only safe refuge from its ravages.
Indeed, this was precisely the action taken by Indian attendants of British explorer C. Barrington Brown upon hearing (though not seeing) the approach of one such pack in an incident occurring at the edge of Guyana‘s Curiebrong River during the mid-1800s. On this occasion, a single boat was used as the means of escape, which Brown boarded too. Enquiring the nature of these evidently much-feared felids, Brown was informed by the Indians that they were small but exceedingly ferocious tigers; that they hunted in packs; and that they were not frightened by camp fires or anything except the barking of dogs. Upon crossing the river, however:
…a shrill scream rent the air from the opposite side of the river, not two hundred yards above our camp, and waking up echoes in the forest, died away as suddenly as it rose. This was answered by another cry, coming from the depths of the forest, the intervals being filled up by low growls and trumpeting sounds, which smote most disagreeably on the ear. Gradually the cries became fainter and fainter, as the band retired from our vicinity, till they utterly died away.
Brown remarked that these beasts’ cry resembled that of the waracabra bird (better known as the grey-winged trumpeter Psophia crepitans, a predominantly glossy-black relative of the cranes, coots and bustards), hence the name ‘waracabra tiger’. These latter mystery animals are called y’agamisheri by the Accawoio Indians, who state that they vary in both size and colour and that as many as a hundred individuals can constitute a single pack. Little wonder that Brown’s Indian companions were so desperate to depart. The prospect of meeting up with a hundred or so jaguars (even under-sized ones) all at once would surely daunt even the most courageous of human hunters!
Vintage photos of trumpeters (public domain)
In Among the Indians of Guiana, published in 1883, author and explorer Sir Everard F. im Thurn alleged that he had actually encountered three warracaba tiger eyewitnesses but admitted that it was clear that the tale related by one of them was much exaggerated. Im Thurn also offered his own suggestion concerning these fabled felids, that reports of them had taken their roots from the fact that puma families occasionally travel together.
During the early part of the 20th Century, Lee S. Crandall, who went on to become the General Curator of New York‘s Bronx Zoo, spent time working in Guyana and encountered many reports of the warracaba tiger. Once again, however, he never met an Indian who affirmed unequivocally that he had not merely heard but had also actually seen any of these mysterious creatures. This latter aspect is a frequent but notably perplexing com­ponent of warracaba tiger reports – the creatures are heard but never seen.
Consequently, as a solution to the mystery of the warracaba tiger and especially to this notably strange facet of their case history, Crandall proposed the following elegant explanation. Namely, that this beast was not a special form of jaguar at all; instead, it was simply some animal species that hunted in packs at night, yet which voiced such terrifying sounds whilst doing so that no Indian had ever been brave enough to investigate the identity of these sounds’ originators – as a result of which they had never realised that this aurally abhorrent creature was in fact already known to them by sight during the daytime.
Crandall even named the species that he felt was responsible – an animal that is neither jaguar nor, in fact, any form of felid, but is one of South America‘s most unusual species of wild dog. Namely, the bush dog Speothos (formerly Icticyon) venaticus, a very curious, little-known canid not closely related to other species.
Bush dogs (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Measuring no more than 3 ft in total length and a mere 1 ft in shoulder height, in colour it is dark reddish-brown dorsally and virtually black ventrally (rather rare amongst non-melanistic mammals). The bush dog’s distribu­tion extends from Panama and Colombia to northern Venezuela, Brazil, Guyana, Surinam, French Guiana, northernmost Ecuador, eastern Peru, northern Bolivia, and Paraguay. According to certain reports, it does hunt in packs (indeed, it may spend its entire life in packs), but in general behaviour is exceedingly secretive.

Worth noting was the impression by botanist Dr Nicholas Guppy (who had spent much time in Guyana) that, whereas the older Indians still believe that packs of warracaba tigers exist in the more remote mountainous regions, the younger Indians seem more disposed to believing the Western identification of them as bush dogs.
And certainly, as far as its distribution, hunting behaviour, and general elusiveness are concerned, the bush dog does compare favourably with the legendary warracaba tiger (and, as the latter is not normally seen, morphological comparisons are superfluous). Conversely, the famous hideous scream of the warracaba tiger contrasts sharply with the relatively feeble whine voiced by bush dogs. Also, it is rather difficult to believe that the Guyanan Indians, frightened or not, could really confuse – visually and/or aurally, singly and/or in packs – a bush dog with any form of jaguar. The mystery of the warracaba tiger may not be solved after all.

PACK-HUNTING MYSTERY FELIDS OF PERU AND ECUADOR

The most obscure pack-hunting crypto-cats reputedly inhabiting South America, however, are those that have been variously reported from Peru and Ecuador.
During the 1990s, Peru-born zoologist Dr Peter Hocking collected native reports concerning a number of mystifying cat forms allegedly existing in Peru but which are not known to science. One of these is the so-called ‘jungle wildcat’, reported from montane forests in the lower Urubamba River valley. Apparently, it is no larger than an average domestic cat, is patterned in a varied assortment of blotches, and has noticeably long fangs. Far more distinctive, however, is its apparent proclivity for hunting in packs, containing ten or more individuals.
While visiting southern Ecuador‘s Morona-Santiago province in July 1999, Spanish cryptozoologist Angel Morant Forés learnt of several mystery cats said to inhabit this country’s Amazonian jungles. Upon his return home, he documented them in an online field report, entitled ‘An investigation into some unidentified Ecuadorian mammals’, which he uploaded in autumn 1999 onto French cryptozoologist Michel Raynal’s website, the Virtual Institute of Cryptozoology, and from where I downloaded a copy of it (fortunately, as it turned out, because, like so often happens in the ephemeral world of cyberspace, it now seems to have vanished). These very intriguing crypto-felids included two different alleged pack-hunting forms.
Vintage photograph from 1913 of a captive small-eared dog (public domain)

One of them is the tsere-yawá, which is also said by the native tribes to be semi-aquatic. Angel was informed that this 3-ft-long felid hunted in packs of 8-10 individuals, and was brown in colour, like the brown capuchin monkey whose local name, tsere, it shares. In 1999, a young man named Christian Chumbi from Sauntza allegedly saw eight of these cats less than 50 ft away in the river Yukipa. Unfortunately, there are insufficient morphological details available to attempt any taxonomic identification of this mystery felid.

Interestingly, the small-eared dog or zorro Atelocynus microtis, a surprisingly cat-like wild dog, inhabits Ecuador, and is known to be semi-aquatic – it even has partly-webbed feet. So might this reclusive canid species. already proposed elsewhere by me as an identity for a feline mystery mammal called the mitla (click here), once again be in contention as the true identity of a supposed crypto-cat?

Alternatively, otters are social creatures, so could the tsere-yawá actually turn out to be lutrine rather than either feline or canine? Indeed, one South American species, the marine otter Lontra felina, is so feline in outward mien that it is even referred to colloquially as the sea cat (it is predominantly coastal in distribution but will sometimes enter rivers in search of freshwater crustaceans). The other three species of South American otter currently known to science are the neotropical river otter L. longicaudis, the southern river otter L. provocax, and the aptly-named giant otter or saro Pteronura brasiliensis.

An 1848 illustration of the marine otter or sea cat Lontra felina (public domain)

The second Ecuadorian feline pack-hunter is known as the jiukam-yawá. As Angel was only able to collect second-hand reports of it, not personal eyewitness accounts, however, he declined to document this cryptid in his field report.

With so little in terms of morphological details to analyse, the supposed pack-hunting felids of Peru and Ecuador currently remain enigmatic to say the least. However, should any zoologist with cryptozoological interests be visiting either or both of these South American countries on official research business at some stage in the future, they should consider devoting some of their spare time there to the questioning of local inhabitants concerning the above mystery cats(?), in the hope of obtaining additional details.
After all, when dealing with creatures as paradoxical as pack-hunting mystery cats – not to mention a semi-aquatic cat! – every snippet of information procured is a major bonus that may conceivably shed much-needed light upon these baffling beasts’ identities.

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SEEKING THE SANDWELL VALLEYGATOR!

by on Apr.08, 2017, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post


North America’s common snapping turtle, from John Edwards Holbrook’s book North American Herpetology (1842) (public domain)
It may be the town in which I was born, but West Bromwich in the West Midlands, England, is more readily associated with football, courtesy of West Bromwich Albion FC, than cryptozoology – until the Sandwell Valleygator came on the scene, that is, as now recalled in this ShukerNature retrospective.
Also nicknamed the Sandwell Snapper in early media accounts and initially likened to a crocodile, caiman, or alligator, this elusive aquatic cryptid first reared its snouted head on 30 March 1999. That was when fisherman Mike Sinnatt saw what he initially thought to be “a marvellously shaped piece of wood”, measuring over 2 ft long, suddenly come alive and attempt to seize an unsuspecting Canada goose on Swan Pool.
Partial view of Sandwell Valley RSPB Reserve (© Bill Payer/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)
Situated in an RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) reserve within the Sandwell Valley Country Park – a verdant oasis for nature right in the heart of urbanised West Brom – Swan Pool measures more than a mile in circumference, and is not only inhabited by a rich variety of waterbirds but also is popular for angling, yachting, and wind-surfing.
Or at least it was until, within a short time of Sinnatt’s sighting, a dozen other similar reports had surfaced, all describing a fairly sizeable four-legged aquatic beast with a notable snout, long tail, and a penchant for snapping at anything avian or piscean that came too near. Eyewitnesses included local angler Tony Price and pool lifeguard Ricky Downes, who spied its two “very chunky” hind legs and tail.
Was an alligator lurking in the Sandwell Valley?? (public domain)
Occurring so close to the beginning of April, the Sandwell Valleygator was originally dismissed by sceptics as a hoax, but this was strenuously denied by Sandwell Council, who were so concerned about the potential danger posed to the general public by the creature that they closed the pool to all watersports throughout the Easter Bank Holiday (3-6 April 1999). Needless to say, however, the considerable media publicity generated not only locally but also nationally and even internationally by Swan Pool’s stealthy snapper resulted in a massive influx of visitors here (estimated at more than 9,000) during the Bank Holiday, all eagerly scanning the reed beds and shallows in search of its cryptic alligatorian (or crocodilesque?) interloper.
As I deemed it highly unlikely that the creature would appear when confronted by such a barrage of human activity, however, I waited until the holiday period was over before visiting Swan Pool myself. Walking around this sizeable lake, peering at the large island present at its centre, at the smaller pools and marshes fringing its border, and down into its murky depths, it swiftly became evident that an aquatic creature of the proportions described by the Valleygator’s eyewitnesses could live out a secluded, rarely-spied existence here indefinitely.
I’m keeping a sharp lookout for the Sandwell Valleygator! (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Yet although neither the Valleygator itself nor any convincing reports of it surfaced during the Bank Holiday or my own subsequent visit, official opinion as to its identity had by now veered away from the scenario of a vicious snap-happy crocodile, caiman, or suchlike to the rather more placid scenario of a giant salamander. Specifically, the North American hellbender Cryptobranchus alleganiensis, which measures up to 30 in long, subsists upon small animal life such as frogs, fishes, snails, crustaceans, and insect larvae, and is native to the eastern United States.
Such a beast could certainly survive, therefore, in the prey-filled, temperate waters of Swan Pool. However, the fatal flaw in this otherwise promising proposal is that unlike certain crocodilian species the hellbender is hardly ever maintained in captivity by private individuals, especially in Britain. So the chance of one having escaped (or been deliberately released) and taken up residence in Swan Pool is extremely remote.
Head-on with a hellbender (public domain)
On 7 April, Swan Pool was formally re-opened, with the Sandwellmander, as it had by now been redubbed in media accounts, no longer deemed to pose a risk to watersport enthusiasts. Or, to quote from a local newspaper report the optimistic words of Sandwell’s senior countryside ranger Roy Croucher: “We have decided to re-open the pool on the basis that this thing is not going to leap out of the water and grab someone around the throat”.
Less than a week later, however, an unexpected water beast did make an appearance – a North American common snapping turtle Chelydra serpentina, discovered sunbathing on a marsh close to Swan Pool. As its name suggests, this belligerent, sturdy species of freshwater tortoise is famous for snapping viciously, possesses a prominent snout, a long tail, and can grow up to 2 ft long (its close relative the alligator turtle can reach lengths of almost 3 ft). Hence it exhibits the very same features consistently described by eyewitnesses of the Swan Pool mystery beast. Moreover, in sharp contrast to the hellbender, the snapping turtle is commonly kept by amateur herpetologists, so an escapee (or even a deliberately released) specimen of this species turning up here is by no means implausible.
Handle with care! A common snapping turtle (public domain)
All of which only adds, therefore, to the mystery of why, or how, an unnamed Sandwell Council spokesman could confidently state in subsequent media accounts that this captured snapping turtle was not the elusive Swan Pool cryptid. How did he, or anyone else, know? Snapping turtles are readily able to walk on land, so one could easily have made its way back and forth between Swan Pool and any of the neighbouring marshes
In late July 2001, moreover, a notable sequel occurred – the netting in Swan Pool of an 18-in-long American common snapping turtle, weighing in at a hefty 4 lb. Captured alive but in a distinctly irate state by teenager Harry Billingham, assisted by his stepdad Mark, Harry’s brother Jack, and friend Dean Cooke, the aggressive reptile was swiftly brought to the attention of the local RSPCA office by its astonished captors.
A snapper rises to the occasion (public domain)
As this species is not native to Britain or anywhere else in Europe, the Swan Pool specimen must have been abandoned there by someone, no doubt when it was much smaller – hence quite some time ago, and possibly far back enough for it to have been responsible for the 1999 Sandwell Valleygator flap? Perhaps, when some initial media accounts nicknamed it the Sandwell Snapper, they were closer to the truth than anyone realised.
Further support for this identity as a plausible solution to the Valleygator mystery was obtained on 18 July 2003, when a second sizeable adult American common snapping turtle, sporting a shell diameter of 14 inches and believed to be up to 20 years old, was snared in another West Midlands pool, this time one just north of Slacky Lane in Walsall. As for the Valleygator itself, meanwhile, nothing more has been seen or heard of it, so one or both of the above-mentioned snappers captured respectively near to or at Swan Pool may indeed have been responsible for those pre-Easter sightings of it back in spring 1999. Then again…
A snapper seen underwater (© Manfred Werner/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)
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SEEKING THE SANDWELL VALLEYGATOR!

by on Apr.08, 2017, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post


North America’s common snapping turtle, from John Edwards Holbrook’s book North American Herpetology (1842) (public domain)
It may be the town in which I was born, but West Bromwich in the West Midlands, England, is more readily associated with football, courtesy of West Bromwich Albion FC, than cryptozoology – until the Sandwell Valleygator came on the scene, that is, as now recalled in this ShukerNature retrospective.
Also nicknamed the Sandwell Snapper in early media accounts and initially likened to a crocodile, caiman, or alligator, this elusive aquatic cryptid first reared its snouted head on 30 March 1999. That was when fisherman Mike Sinnatt saw what he initially thought to be “a marvellously shaped piece of wood”, measuring over 2 ft long, suddenly come alive and attempt to seize an unsuspecting Canada goose on Swan Pool.
Partial view of Sandwell Valley RSPB Reserve (© Bill Payer/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)
Situated in an RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) reserve within the Sandwell Valley Country Park – a verdant oasis for nature right in the heart of urbanised West Brom – Swan Pool measures more than a mile in circumference, and is not only inhabited by a rich variety of waterbirds but also is popular for angling, yachting, and wind-surfing.
Or at least it was until, within a short time of Sinnatt’s sighting, a dozen other similar reports had surfaced, all describing a fairly sizeable four-legged aquatic beast with a notable snout, long tail, and a penchant for snapping at anything avian or piscean that came too near. Eyewitnesses included local angler Tony Price and pool lifeguard Ricky Downes, who spied its two “very chunky” hind legs and tail.
Was an alligator lurking in the Sandwell Valley?? (public domain)
Occurring so close to the beginning of April, the Sandwell Valleygator was originally dismissed by sceptics as a hoax, but this was strenuously denied by Sandwell Council, who were so concerned about the potential danger posed to the general public by the creature that they closed the pool to all watersports throughout the Easter Bank Holiday (3-6 April 1999). Needless to say, however, the considerable media publicity generated not only locally but also nationally and even internationally by Swan Pool’s stealthy snapper resulted in a massive influx of visitors here (estimated at more than 9,000) during the Bank Holiday, all eagerly scanning the reed beds and shallows in search of its cryptic alligatorian (or crocodilesque?) interloper.
As I deemed it highly unlikely that the creature would appear when confronted by such a barrage of human activity, however, I waited until the holiday period was over before visiting Swan Pool myself. Walking around this sizeable lake, peering at the large island present at its centre, at the smaller pools and marshes fringing its border, and down into its murky depths, it swiftly became evident that an aquatic creature of the proportions described by the Valleygator’s eyewitnesses could live out a secluded, rarely-spied existence here indefinitely.
I’m keeping a sharp lookout for the Sandwell Valleygator! (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Yet although neither the Valleygator itself nor any convincing reports of it surfaced during the Bank Holiday or my own subsequent visit, official opinion as to its identity had by now veered away from the scenario of a vicious snap-happy crocodile, caiman, or suchlike to the rather more placid scenario of a giant salamander. Specifically, the North American hellbender Cryptobranchus alleganiensis, which measures up to 30 in long, subsists upon small animal life such as frogs, fishes, snails, crustaceans, and insect larvae, and is native to the eastern United States.
Such a beast could certainly survive, therefore, in the prey-filled, temperate waters of Swan Pool. However, the fatal flaw in this otherwise promising proposal is that unlike certain crocodilian species the hellbender is hardly ever maintained in captivity by private individuals, especially in Britain. So the chance of one having escaped (or been deliberately released) and taken up residence in Swan Pool is extremely remote.
Head-on with a hellbender (public domain)
On 7 April, Swan Pool was formally re-opened, with the Sandwellmander, as it had by now been redubbed in media accounts, no longer deemed to pose a risk to watersport enthusiasts. Or, to quote from a local newspaper report the optimistic words of Sandwell’s senior countryside ranger Roy Croucher: “We have decided to re-open the pool on the basis that this thing is not going to leap out of the water and grab someone around the throat”.
Less than a week later, however, an unexpected water beast did make an appearance – a North American common snapping turtle Chelydra serpentina, discovered sunbathing on a marsh close to Swan Pool. As its name suggests, this belligerent, sturdy species of freshwater tortoise is famous for snapping viciously, possesses a prominent snout, a long tail, and can grow up to 2 ft long (its close relative the alligator turtle can reach lengths of almost 3 ft). Hence it exhibits the very same features consistently described by eyewitnesses of the Swan Pool mystery beast. Moreover, in sharp contrast to the hellbender, the snapping turtle is commonly kept by amateur herpetologists, so an escapee (or even a deliberately released) specimen of this species turning up here is by no means implausible.
Handle with care! A common snapping turtle (public domain)
All of which only adds, therefore, to the mystery of why, or how, an unnamed Sandwell Council spokesman could confidently state in subsequent media accounts that this captured snapping turtle was not the elusive Swan Pool cryptid. How did he, or anyone else, know? Snapping turtles are readily able to walk on land, so one could easily have made its way back and forth between Swan Pool and any of the neighbouring marshes
In late July 2001, moreover, a notable sequel occurred – the netting in Swan Pool of an 18-in-long American common snapping turtle, weighing in at a hefty 4 lb. Captured alive but in a distinctly irate state by teenager Harry Billingham, assisted by his stepdad Mark, Harry’s brother Jack, and friend Dean Cooke, the aggressive reptile was swiftly brought to the attention of the local RSPCA office by its astonished captors.
A snapper rises to the occasion (public domain)
As this species is not native to Britain or anywhere else in Europe, the Swan Pool specimen must have been abandoned there by someone, no doubt when it was much smaller – hence quite some time ago, and possibly far back enough for it to have been responsible for the 1999 Sandwell Valleygator flap? Perhaps, when some initial media accounts nicknamed it the Sandwell Snapper, they were closer to the truth than anyone realised.
Further support for this identity as a plausible solution to the Valleygator mystery was obtained on 18 July 2003, when a second sizeable adult American common snapping turtle, sporting a shell diameter of 14 inches and believed to be up to 20 years old, was snared in another West Midlands pool, this time one just north of Slacky Lane in Walsall. As for the Valleygator itself, meanwhile, nothing more has been seen or heard of it, so one or both of the above-mentioned snappers captured respectively near to or at Swan Pool may indeed have been responsible for those pre-Easter sightings of it back in spring 1999. Then again…
A snapper seen underwater (© Manfred Werner/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)
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A COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY OF MY BOOKS

by on Mar.31, 2017, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

My first 25 books – click picture to enlarge (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Today is the fourth anniversary of my mother Mary Shuker’s passing. I owe my lifelong love of reading, writing, and nature to Mom – her love for all wildlife nurtured my own from my earliest days, and her impeccable command of the English language tutored and guided my own throughout my life. Consequently, to commemorate and celebrate her kindly, positive, and truly immeasurable influence upon my entire existence and career, the present ShukerNature blog article is dedicated to my mother, and consists of a frequently-requested, currentlycomplete listing of all of the books that I have written, have acted as consultant for, have contributed to, or to which I have written a foreword. It will be updated whenever new books need to be added here.

Without you, Mom, none of my writings would have existed – God bless you, and thank you for the inestimable love, joy, happiness, and blessings that you gave to me and bestowed upon me by being in my life as my mother.

Mom and my Jack Russell terrier Patch during the mid-late 1970s (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Extraordinary Animals Worldwide (Robert Hale: London, 1991)
Dragons: A Natural History (Aurum Press: London/Simon & Schuster: New York, 1995)
From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings: From the Pages of FATE Magazine (Llewellyn Publications: St Paul, Minnesota,1997)
The Hidden Powers of Animals: Uncovering the Secrets of Nature (Reader’s Digest: Pleasantville/Marshall Editions: London, 2001)
The New Zoo: New and Rediscovered Animals of the Twentieth Century [fully-updated, greatly-expanded, new edition of The Lost Ark] (House of Stratus Ltd: Thirsk, UK/House of Stratus Inc: Poughkeepsie, USA, 2002)
Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (Coachwhip Publications: Greenville, 2013)
Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors – The Creatures That Time Forgot? (Coachwhip Publications: Darke County, 2016)

Some alternative-cover editions of various of my books (© Dr Karl Shuker)

NB – Several of my books have also been published in editions sporting various alternative covers and/or titles, and/or also in various foreign-language editions, as demonstrated via the selections of examples depicted directly above and directly below this present paragraph, but for reasons of conciseness I have not itemised these editions separately here.

A selection of the many foreign-language editions of my book Dragons: A Natural History currently published – click picture to enlarge (those shown here are as follows – From left to right, top row: English, Czech, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese; bottom row: Estonian, Hungarian, German, Dutch, and French. There are others, but I don’t have copies of them so far – publishers are not always good at sending complimentary copies to the authors!) (© Dr Karl Shuker) 

Consultant and also Contributor

Man and Beast (Reader’s Digest: Pleasantville, New York, 1993)
Secrets of the Natural World (Reader’s Digest: Pleasantville, New York, 1993)
Almanac of the Uncanny (Reader’s Digest: Surry Hills, Australia, 1995)

Consultant

Monsters (Lorenz Books: London, 2001)

Contributor

Fortean Times Weird Year 1996 (Fortean Times/John Brown Publishing Ltd: London, 1996)
Mysteries of the Deep (Llewellyn: St Paul, 1998)
Guinness Amazing Future (Guinness: London, 1999) 
The Earth (Channel 4 Books: London, 2000) 
Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained (Chambers: Edinburgh, 2007) 
Chambers Myths and Mysteries (Chambers: Edinburgh, 2008) 
The Fortean Times Paranormal Handbook (Dennis Publishing: London, 2009) 
Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies (Wyrd Harvest Press/Lulu, 2015) 
Tales of the Damned: An Anthology of Fortean Horror (Fortean Fiction: Bideford, 2016)

Plus numerous contributions to the Centre for Fortean Zoology’s Animals and Men Yearbooks, Fortean Studies volumes, and various other annual publications.

Contributor (CD ROM Format)

Of Monsters and Miracles (Croydon Museum Services & Interactive Designs Ltd: Oxton, 1995)

Editor

Journal of Cryptozoology (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2012-present day)

Contributor of Foreword to Other Authors’ Books

DOWNES, Jonathan, The Smaller Mystery Carnivores of the Westcountry (CFZ Publications: Exwick, 1996) 
SCREETON, Paul, Whisht Lads and Haad Yor Gobs: The Lambton Worm and Other Northumbrian Dragon Legends (Northeast Press Ltd: Pennywell, 1998) 
BEER, Trevor, Trevor Beer’s Nature Watch (Halsgrove: Tiverton, 1998) 
BEER, Endymion, Down Ferny Lane (Edward Gaskell: Bideford, 2005) 
JAMES, Corinna, and DOWNES, Jonathan (eds) CFZ Expedition Report 2006 Gambia (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2006) 
ARNOLD, Neil, Monster! The A-Z of Zooform Phenomena (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2007) 

DOWNES, Jonathan, and DOWNES, Corinna (eds), CFZ Expedition Report 2007 Guyana (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2007)

WOODLEY, Michael A., In the Wake of Bernard Heuvelmans: An Introduction to the History and Future of Sea Serpent Classification (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2008) 

DOWNES, Jonathan (ed.), CFZ Expedition Report 2008 Russia (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2008) 

MOLLOY, Nick, Predator Deathmatch (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2009) 
FREEMAN, Richard, CFZ Expedition Report 2010 India (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2010) 
PACIOREK, Andrew L., Strange Lands: A Field-Guide to the Celtic Otherworld (Andrew L. Paciorek: Howden-le-Wear, 2011) 
GERHARD, Ken, Encounters With Flying Humanoids: Mothman, Manbirds, Gargoyles and Other Winged Beasts (Llewellyn Publications: St Paul, Minnesota, 2013) 
LANG, Rebecca (ed.) The Tasmanian Tiger: Extinct or Extant? (Strange Nation Publishing: Sydney, 2014) 
MUIRHEAD, Richard, Muirhead’s Mysteries (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2016)
Something different – how various of my books’ front covers would look if viewed as negatives (© Dr Karl Shuker)
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A COUPLE OF CRYPTO-PLATYPUSES FROM NORTH AMERICA

by on Mar.29, 2017, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Platypus, painted by John Lewin, 1808 (public domain)
The egg-laying, venom-spurred, electroreceptive, and thoroughly astonishing duck-billed platypus Ornithorhynchus anatinus has always been one of my favourite wild animals, and even today I can still readily recall how, as a small child during the early 1960s, my tiny plastic platypuses from my model zoo would, if left overlooked on a carpet or rug at home, unerringly find themselves sucked up into my unsuspecting mother’s vacuum cleaner, resulting in an all-too-familiar, ominous clattering sound that always swiftly ensued before they were ejected in varying states of mangled morphology!
Platypus, depicted upon an Australian postage stamp issued in 1937 (public domain)
Famed as an exclusively Australian oddity in the modern-day living state, no platypus species, from either the present or the palaeontological past, has ever been confirmed from North America – which is why the following couple of cryptozoological cases have long intrigued me.
A platypus being shown to the public (© TwoWings/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0)
Mystery beast investigators everywhere owe a great debt of thanks to longstanding cryptozoological and herpetological enthusiast Chad Arment, author of The Search For Hidden Animals (1995), for establishing a highly successful internet cryptozoological discussion group cz@onelist.com (subsequently cz@yahoogroups.com) – that lasted for many years online. As its webmaster, Chad oversaw discussions concerning all manner of fascinating cryptids, including numerous examples not aired outside of cyberspace. Among the most remarkable, however, is one that Chad himself brought to the group’s attention – the exceedingly curious case of the putative platypus from San Luis Valley, in Colorado.
Platypus engraving, 1800s (public domain)
In a short cz@onelist posting of 18 June 1999, Chad referred to Christopher O’Brien’s book The Mysterious Valley (1996), in which O’Brien had briefly mentioned that strange animals have been seen for many years in San Luis Valley and that during the 1960s some individuals claimed to have found a supposed platypus in a high mountain lake within the Blanca Peaks area.
Platypus swimming (© Klaus/Wikipedia CCBY-SA 2.0 licence)
Not surprisingly, Chad was curious to learn whether anyone else knew anything further. On 7 August 1999, Colorado-based cz@onelist crypto-contributor Bobbie Short posted an e-mail received by her that same day from a correspondent, Rob Alley, concerning this same subject. It read as follows:
Several years ago Mike F., a successful Ketchikan businessman, contractor and retired fisherman asked me following a chat about Sasquatches whether I had ever studied or read anything about platypuses in North America, specifically whether I knew of any prehistoric giant forms. When I got back to him on this and replied that there may have been a slightly larger earlier form known but not in N.A., but nothing really big, he looked puzzled. I asked him why and after a moment’s hesitation he answered that as a young man forty or so years ago he had stood on shore near Mountain Point south of Ketchikan [in Alaska, USA] and spent a minute watching an animal in the water at very close range that simply resembled a giant platypus. He described the creature as dark with a bill and feet like a platypus only the overall size was six feet or possibly greater. He gave no mention of the tail if there was one. The sighting was in shallow water on a rocky shoreline and the creature was close to the surface. I could probably get a few more details such as season and so on. This man is an experienced commercial fisherman and stated categorically that it was not a known species of seal. Ocean temp here doesn’t vary much from 50 degrees. All I have right now.
I’ve never seen or known of a platypus sitting upright – but if one did, or could, it may look like this wonderful 19th-Century natural history book engraving (public domain)
The platypus is an egg-laying, monotreme mammal, and as noted by Rob Alley there are indeed larger species of monotreme on record, but these are all fossil forms, from Australasia (one such species, originally thought to have been a giant platypus, has since been reclassified as a zaglossid spiny anteater). In more recent years, fossil remains of monotremes have also been uncovered in the New World, but currently only in South America.
My painted concrete platypus (© Dr Karl Shuker)
These latter remains consist of a single upper and two lower teeth, which were found in Patagonia, Argentina, and date from the lower Palaeocene epoch (61 million years ago). In 1992, the species from which they originated was formally christened Monotrematum sudamericanum (but more recently some researchers have reclassified it within the existing Australian fossil genus Obdurodon). Its teeth are approximately twice as large as those of any other species of platypus, living or fossil, and it is currently the only platypus species known from outside Australia.
Platypus, from Wild Life of the World, A Descriptive Survey of the Geographical Distribution of Animals Volume III, by Richard Lydekker, 1916 (public domain)
As for living representatives, however, only one platypus species, Ornithorhynchus anatinus, is known, and that is of course exclusively Australian and freshwater. So if it was definitely not a seal, just what did Michael F. see near Mountain Point? An otter is the most likely non-cryptozoological possibility. Yet if his sighting was as good as it appears to have been, such an identity can hardly reconcile his description of a platypus-like bill and feet.
Platypus diving underwater (© Ester Inbar/Wikipedia free use)
As for the mountain lake, unnamed by Christopher O’Brien: in an e-mail to me of 26 September 1999, Bobbie stated that Blanca Peak is in Colorado‘s Sangre de Cristo mountains and the only lake up that high (approximately 14,300 ft) is Lake Como, so this is presumably the body of water in which the creature was sighted.
Platypuses, painted by John Gould, mid-1800s (public domain)
Nevertheless, these two mystery platypus-lookalike beasts – one freshwater in Colorado, the other marine in Alaska – remain among the most tenuous, but also most tantalising, to have emerged from the depths of the Crypto-Web.
And finally – Ever imagined Ernst Stavro Blofeld as a cryptozoologist? Imagine no longer: “Good evening, Dr Shuker, I’ve been expecting you…” (© Dr Karl Shuker)

UPDATE: 30 March 2017

Today, Chad Arment kindly drew to my attention a third crypto-platypus version reported from North America, but this time from Canada. In John Warms’s book Strange Creatures Seldom Seen (2015), John collated a number of reports received by him of a mysterious aquatic beast allegedly resembling the North American beaver Castor canadensis in overall appearance and size, but instantly differentiated from this familiar rodent species by sporting a distinctive duck-like beak, which has reputedly been seen in several Manitoban and Saskatchewan lakes. Moreover, it is known locally by various First Nation names that translate into English as duck beaver, beaver duck, or duck mole.

John also recorded claims that specimens of this cryptid have actually been killed, but as is all too often the norm in cryptozoology these potentially invaluable specimens were never preserved and submitted for formal scientific examination to determine their precise zoological identity. One person affirmed that he had once captured such a creature in a beaver lodge – so could it be that at least this Canadian crypto-platypus form is in fact a developmentally aberrant, teratological version of the normal beaver? It could explain why, if true, a specimen was discovered inside a beaver lodge.

This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted and expanded from my book Extraordinary Animals Revisited.

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THREE-HORNED RHINOCEROSES AND ALBRECHT DÜRER’S SHOULDER-HORNED SURPRISE

by on Mar.19, 2017, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Digital creation of a three-horned white rhinoceros (digital manipulation © Dr Karl Shuker using a public domain photograph)
There was the forest three-horned dark rhino that would be in small herds that would occasionally run into the snares of man. These forest rhinos were deemed by many as a prized possession.
   Douglas S. Taylor – Sword of Souls: Chronicles of Caledon
The three-horned rhinoceroses referred to in the above quotation are fictitious, but factual records do indeed exist of rhino specimens possessing extra (supernumerary) horns. Of the five species of rhinoceros alive today, two of them (the great Indian Rhinoceros unicornisand the Javan R. sondaicus) each typically sports one horn, whereas the other three (the Sumatran Dicerorhinus sumatrensis, African white Ceratotherium simum, and African black Diceros bicornis) each typically sports two. Very rarely, however, exceptions to this standard rule arise, and as reported widely in the media during late December 2015 one such exception has lately been encountered and photographed in Namibia’s Etosha National Park by 73-year-old Jim Gibson.
Eschewing its species’ normal two-horn condition (and its taxonomic name too), the adult black rhinoceros Diceros bicornis(translating as ‘two-horned two-horned’) in question also bears a slender but distinctive, forward-curving third horn, sprouting forth from the centre of its brow (click hereto see photos of this singular beast, and hereto view a short video clip of it). Its extra horn would not cause this rhino any discomfort; and if resulting from a non-genetic developmental abnormality occurring when the rhino was a foetus, it would not be inherited by any of its offspring. If caused by a mutant gene, however, it could be inherited – this latter situation probably explaining why triple-horned black rhinoceroses were once quite common around Zambia’s Lake Young.
On 10 February 1906, big game hunter Abel Chapman shot a three-horned black rhinoceros at Elmenteita in British East Africa (now Kenya), and a photograph of Chapman posing alongside its head subsequently appeared in his book Retrospect: 1851-1928 (1928). That same book also included a drawing of this animal. And a similar specimen was exhibited alive at Lisbon Zoo, Portugal, as documented in two International Zoo Yearbook reports of 1978.

Digital creation of a three-horned black rhinoceros (digital manipulation © Dr Karl Shuker using a public domain photograph)

Three-horned examples of unspecified two-horned rhinoceros species in southern Africa were alluded to by Swedish explorer-naturalist Charles J. Andersson in his book Lake Ngami (1861), which documented his four years spent exploring southwestern Africa, including time spent during 1854 at this nowadays very famous but then newly-discovered lake in Botswana:
I have met persons who told me that they have killed rhinoceroses with three horns; but in all such cases (and they have been but few), the third, or posterior horn is so small as to be scarcely perceptible.
Even Linnaeus mentioned three-horned rhinoceroses – to his description of the black rhinoceros in Gmelin’s edition (1788) of Systema Naturae was added: “Rarior est Rhinoceros tricornis, tertia cum cornu ex alterato priorem excrescente”. In the past, moreover, Sumatran native hunters asserted that three-horned specimens of the Sumatran rhinoceros were occasionally met with too.
In most cases, the extra horn is usually nothing more than a small, rounded knob – a rudimentary third horn positioned behind the two normal ones. Similarly, towards the end of the 19th Century, London Zoo exhibited a female great Indian rhinoceros that bore a rudimentary second horn upon her forehead. Alternatively, a pseudo-third horn can develop via the splitting into two of one of the normal, pre-existing horns, as seen in the following photograph of one such zoo specimen:
Captive rhinoceros with pseudo-third horn (© Owen Burnham)
Occasionally, even more extreme cases are recorded. One such individual was the abnormal female black rhinoceros shot during August 1904 in a dense covert west of Kenya’s Jambeni Mountains, at an elevation of 4150 ft above sea-level, and reported by Colonel W.H. Broun in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London on 14 November 1905. In addition to the two normal horns, this rhino had a third, rudimentary horn between its ears, plus a fourth, equally diminutive example located about 4 in further back.
During his extensive black rhinoceros researches, renowned German zoologist Dr Bernard Grzimek encountered reports of a five-horned specimen, and even of rhinos with horns growing out of their bodies. He also suggested that the famous woodcut of a great Indian rhinoceros bearing an incongruously-sited horn on its shoulder produced by Albrecht Dürer in 1515 (and later copied by Conrad Gesner in his Historiae Animalium, Liber I, 1551) may have been truly based upon an abnormally horned specimen.
Albrecht Dürer’s famous shoulder-horned rhinoceros woodcut (public domain)
At one time, this idea was discounted in favour of the theory that the horn was either an error on the part of Dürer, or, if genuine, merely an excrescence developed by the rhinoceros in question during its long confinement in the ship bringing it from India to Portugal’s King Manuel the Great, at Lisbon (the king then offering it up as a gift to Pope Leo X). Moreover, as discussed in 1961 via an entire paper on the subject written by Dr K.C.A. Schulz and published in African Wild Life, rough sores of a horny nature have been observed for some time among black rhinos too.
However, Grzimek’s view was reinforced in spring 1968, when Prof. Heini Hediger photographed a white rhinoceros living in San Francisco Zoo that bore a bona fide, unequivocal shoulder horn, measuring some 4 in high. Prof. Hediger subsequently documented this distinctive creature via an illustrated Zoologische Garten article published in 1970.
At present, the precise reasons for the development of extra horns by rhinoceroses remain relatively unclear. In some cases, a genetic origin is indicated, especially when they involve several multi-horned specimens inhabiting one specific locality, as with the Lake Young individuals. Injury-induced development (echoing the ‘excrescence theory’ for Dürer’s specimen) may also occur – as documented from various antelopes and deer possessing supernumerary (and often oddly located) horns, sometimes emerging from the forehead, face, or even sites on the body.
Digital creation of a three-horned southern white rhinoceros (photograph and digital manipulation © Dr Karl Shuker)
NB – As noted in their respective credits above, all of the photographs of three-horned rhinoceroses included here have been created by me via digital manipulation of existing photographs of normal two-horned specimens, because although, as this present article of mine unequivocally demonstrates, rhinos with supernumerary horns are a reality, I am not aware of any existing photos of such specimens other than those of the above-documented Namibian individual and the photo in Abel Chapman’s book depicting him alongside his three-horned rhino head (unfortunately, however, I have so far been unable to obtain sight of this latter picture).

Consequently, if anyone knows of any photographs depicting supernumerary-horned rhinos, or drawings based upon documented specimens of such creatures, I would greatly welcome details.

This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted and greatly expanded from my book Extraordinary Animals Revisited.

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POSTHUMOUS SIGHTINGS OF PASSENGER PIGEONS?

by on Mar.07, 2017, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Passenger pigeons (juvenile, left; male, centre; female, right), from Birds of New York by Louis Agassiz Fuertes, 1910 – did this species survive beyond 1914? (public domain)
The most numerous species of wild bird ever known was the phenomenally plentiful passenger pigeon Ectopistes migratorius, a dainty, slender-bodied, long-tailed bird with blue-grey head, neck, back, and wings, and cinnamon-pink underparts. It has been estimated that during the 19thCentury’s early years, its total population contained between five and ten thousand million birds. Or to put it another way, this single species may have accounted for as much as 45 per cent of the entire bird population of America! One of the most evocative descriptions of its immense numbers during its heyday appeared in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction for 16 November 1822:
 
The accounts of the enormous flocks in which the passenger, or wild pigeons, fly about in North America, seem to an European like the tales of Baron Munchausen; but the travellers are ‘all in a story.’ In Upper Canada, says Mr. Howison, in his entertaining ‘Sketches,’ you may kill 20 or 30 at one shot, out of the masses which darken the air. And in the United States, according to Wilson, the ornithologist, they sometimes desolate and lay waste a tract of country 40 or 50 miles long, and 5 or 6 broad, by making it their breeding-place. While in the state of Ohio, Mr. Wilson saw a flock of these birds which extended, he judged, more than a mile in breadth, and continued to pass over his head at the rate of one mile in a minute, during four hours — thus making its whole length about 240 miles. According to his moderate estimate, this flock contained two thousand two hundred and thirty millions, two hundred and seventy-two pigeons.
A flock of passenger pigeons being hunted in Louisiana, The Illustrated Shooting and Dramatic News, 1875 (public domain)
It seems inconceivable that less than a century after the above report had been published the passenger pigeon had been completely exterminated, but this is precisely what happened.
As a result of an unutterably ruthless, relentless programme of persecution (on a scale unparalleled even in man’s nefarious history of wildlife destruction), perpetrated by trigger-happy gun-toters attracted by the awesome spectacle of the birds’ mass migrations, by 1 September 1914 only one solitary specimen remained alive. This was a 29-year-old hen bird named ‘Martha Washington’, exhibited at Cincinnati Zoo. And shortly after noonon that fateful September day, this last humble survivor of an ostensibly indomitable, indestructible species died. The unthinkable had happened – the passenger pigeon, whose vast migrating flocks had virtually eclipsed the sun in the time of the great American painter John James Audubon, was no more.
Martha Washington, the last known passenger pigeon, pictured alive on left, and as a taxiderm specimen at Washington DC’s Smithsonian Institution on right (public domain)
Officially, that is. For at least another decade, alleged sightings of passenger pigeons were frequently reported, but scientists tended to dismiss these as mistaken observations of the smaller but closely related mourning dove Zenaida macroura, still a common species. In September 1929, however, a remarkable report emerged that could not be discarded so readily. This was the month in which Michigan University bacteriologist Prof. Philip Hadley, in the company of a Mr Foard, an old friend familiar with the land, had been hunting in a virtually uninhabited wilderness nestling within Michigan’s northern peninsula.
They had been hunting there for some time when Foard drew Hadley’s attention to a bird perched close by, and declared that it was a passenger pigeon – which he had observed in enormous numbers when younger. Needless to say, Hadley turned at once to spy this exceedingly unexpected specimen, but just as he caught sight of it the bird took flight. Nevertheless, it did seem to him to be pigeon-like in form, with a pointed tail, and he clearly believed the incident to be of significance, because he sent details to the eminent US journal Science, which in turn judged it to be important enough to warrant publication in its issue of 14 February 1930.
Passenger pigeon, from Pigeons, Sir William Jardine, 1835 (public domain)
Within his letter, Hadley also referred to a couple of other recent sightings, documented a month earlier by Kendrick Kimball in the Detroit News (5 January). One of these sightings had been made on 10 June 1929, by Robert H. Wright of Munissing, Michigan. Wright was convinced that the pair of birds that he saw at close range on Highway M-28, about 16 miles from Munissing, were passenger pigeons. In the other sighting, made between Indianapolis and Kokomo while driving from Florida, Dr Samuel R. Landes spotted a flock of approximately 15 birds that he readily identified as passenger pigeons. Both Wright and Landes were familiar with this species’ appearance — like so many others, they had shot hundreds of them during the late 1870s.
Nonetheless, the last confirmed wild specimen was shot in 1899, at Babcock, Wisconsin, so is it really possible that the birds reported three decades later by the eyewitnesses above were truly passenger pigeons? It seems rather unlikely, at least at first, because after the last major flocks had been slaughtered (in 1878), stragglers did not survive long, and matings became ever fewer. It seemed as if the species could only persist and reproduce when present in huge flocks. At the same time, of course, the familiarity of the eyewitnesses with the species makes their testimony all that more difficult to discount.
A pair of taxiderm passenger pigeons at San Antonio, Texas (© Jonathan Downes/CFZ)
Perhaps certain fairly secluded localities did house a last few specimens, which existed undetected beyond the date of Martha’s death, and possibly even mated every now and then, and which were encountered only when their flights traversed areas frequented by humans, or when humans occasionally passed by their hideaways. Yet without the immense congregations necessary to provide the stimulus for normal, full-scale reproduction, they could surely do no more than extend their species’ survival by a few years. Long before the last individual had died, whether in 1914 or in the 1930s, the passenger pigeon’s descent into extinction had already begun, irrevocably and inevitably, with the disappearance of its vast flocks. After that, it could only be a matter of time.
Surely, then, the ‘passenger pigeon’ spied in March 1965 at Homer, Michigan, by Irene Llewellyn (Fate, September 1965) and another spied the same year by Stella Fenell at New Jersey’s Park Ridge (Fate, January 1966), not to mention an intriguing series of recently-claimed passenger pigeon sightings chronicled online in 2014, 2015, and 2016 by the website HoriconBirds.com, were only mourning doves … weren’t they?
John James Audubon’s famous painting of a pair of passenger pigeons, from his spectacular tome The Birds of America, 1827-1838 (public domain)
An Antipodean equivalent of sorts is the flock pigeon Phaps (=Histriophaps)histrionica, also known as the flock bronzewing. In the 1800s, huge flocks, containing millions of birds, lived on the grass plains of New South Wales and Queensland. Today, though, it is a relatively rare species (it was once thought to be extinct), categorised as Threatened by the IUCN.
This time, however, the cause is not man himself but his animals. The flock pigeon is a seed-eater, but generations of grazing cattle and sheep have prevented the plains’ grass from seeding adequately.
A flock pigeon (© Christopher Walker/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

Of course, courtesy of the extraordinary technological advances taking place daily in the modern-day world that we all inhabit, perhaps we should never say never in relation to the prospect of one day seeing bona fide passenger pigeons alive and well again. On 8 February 2012, a meeting was convened at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, by a group of interested researchers from the non-profit genetic research organisation Revive & Restore, to explore the technical plausibility of resurrecting this iconic species via genomic engineering, as well as to examine the potential cultural, social, political, and ecological ramifications of restoring it to life and perhaps even reintroducing it into the wild. After presentations by a range of participants and discussions concerning their contributions, the group concluded that the genetic technique proposed should be tested to see how effective it may be, and how it could be improved, with this goal in mind.

So who knows? Maybe one day the passenger pigeon will indeed return, if no longer to darken the skies with vast flocks as in former times but at least to live again in the land where it rightfully belongs and where it would certainly have remained had its existence not been wilfully extinguished by our own species.

Passenger pigeons, frontispiece to The Passenger Pigeon, 1907 (public domain)
For my tribute in verse to the passenger pigeon, please click here; and for its philatelic prominence, please click here.

This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted and expanded from my book Extraordinary Animals Revisited.

Passenger pigeon, Plate 23 in Vol 1 of The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and Bahamas by Mark Catesby, George Edwards, 1754 (public domain)
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