BURNHAM’S BEASTS – THE SECRET WILDLIFE OF SENEGAMBIA

by on May.14, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

What strange, secretive, and sometimes even sinister creatures of cryptozoology – or even of something else entirely – might still lurk undetected by science amid the shadowy depths of forbidding forests in the remotest regions of West Africa? (Pixabay/free usage)
Ati, bwana! There is a story you will not believe, because you are a white man. White men laugh at the stories told by the black man. They say this is not so, and that is not so. We have not seen this or that, so how can it be? They say, Ho, Ho! Black men are like little children, telling tales to each other in the dark. But remember, bwana, white men have been in this country for a time that is less than the life of one man, so how can you know all the things that have been known to black men for a hundred lifetimes and more?

   Roger Courtney – A Greenhorn in Africa, quoting an elderly African
                                                                                hunter, Ali
Whereas many mystery animals have been well documented from North, East, Central, and southern Africa, far fewer have been publicised from West Africa – especially from its westernmost corner, constituting The Gambia and its encompassing neighbour, Senegal. Yet these two small countries (sometimes referred to collectively as Senegambia) apparently harbour a sizeable array of bizarre, unidentified beasts rarely if ever brought to widespread cryptozoological attention…until now.
Owen Burnham in Kenya‘s Namanga Hills Forest(© Owen Burnham – photograph kindly made available to me by Owen for use in relation to my cryptozoological writings)
I owe a great debt of thanks to a longstanding colleague, naturalist Owen Burnham, who spent his childhood and teenage years in Senegal, for very kindly supplying me during our longstanding correspondence with information regarding the creatures documented here. While living in Senegal, Owen became formally accepted as an honorary member of the native Mandingo (Mandinka) tribe, and thus learnt much about this land’s mystery animals and also those of Gambia that has remained unknown to other Westerners.
One such creature, the Gambian sea serpent, or Gambo for short, launched my own career in cryptozoology when I investigated its case in detail during the mid-1980s, and has now become very well known and well-documented in the literature (click here to access my extensive coverage of this cryptid on ShukerNature). However, Owen also learnt of several other mystery beasts that have received far less publicity, and so it is with these hitherto little-documented yet no less interesting examples that this present ShukerNature blog article is concerned.
Illustration of Gambo produced by Mark North for publicity material appertaining to the Centre for Fortean Zoology’s 2006 Gambian expedition (© Mark North/CFZ)
MYSTERY STONE PARTRIDGE
This enigmatic Senegalese bird was originally documented by me in a World Pheasant Association News article (May 1991) on gallinaceous mystery birds.
The stone partridge is represented in Senegal by its nominate subspecies Ptilopachus petrosus petrosus – a familiar sight to Owen. However, he remains perplexed in relation to the covey of stone partridges that he spied at Fanda, Senegal, in 1985. Unlike this country’s normal brown-headed, buff-breasted specimens, these were very finely but noticeably mottled with white upon their head and neck, and their breast was whitish. They were also rather smaller in size, but most unexpected of all was their habitat.
A typical stone partridge, in The Gambia, which neighbours Senegal(© Francesco Veronesi/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)
Eschewing the rocky terrain or scrubland normally frequented by Ptilopachus, this covey was dwelling within a small but dense area of undergrowth in a rice field, many miles from the nearest expanse of stony ground. Owen saw a second covey of this strange form of stone partridge at Kouniara, and this time they were living in thick woodland, comprising a mixture of real forest and palm trees. Yet despite their radically different habitat, their behaviour was similar to that of typical stone partridges, scurrying rapidly across the ground – though in this case over fallen trees and through the forest, rather than over rocks and through scrub.
Local hunters had informed Owen that such birds existed, but he had not believed this until he had encountered them himself. In view of their morphological differences and markedly distinct habitat, could these stone partridges constitute a separate subspecies, isolated topographically from the nominate race? Bearing in mind, however, the tragic, continuing destruction of Senegal’s wildlife habitats, especially forests, it is to be hoped that this mystifying bird form can be thoroughly investigated in the near future, to enable it (if still surviving) to be saved not only from continued scientific obscurity but also from ensuing extinction. Interestingly, I recently discovered online a vintage colour illustration that portrays a pair of stone partridges closely matching Owen’s description, complete with white mottling upon their head and neck, plus a whitish breast, so clearly such a form has been seen and even depicted in the past.
A pair of stone partridges resembling those seen by Owen Burnham in Senegal – this vintage colour illustration was created some time between 1700 and 1880, and is from Iconographia Zoologica (public domain)
GIANT BUSHBABY
Related to the Madagascan lemurs and the Asian lorises, as well as to Africa‘s own pottos and angwantibos, the bushbabies or galagos constitute 19 currently-recognised species of primitive primate. Nocturnal and arboreal, they are characterised by their large ears, long tail, and fairly small size. Currently, the largest species are the three aptly-named greater bushbabies, with an average total length of 3 ft, of which over half comprises the tail.
Bushbaby – does Senegalharbour an undiscovered giant species? (public domain)
However, Senegal may be harbouring a rather more sizeable surprise. In June 1985, while exploring the heart of the Casamance Forest, Owen spied a mysterious creature resembling a giant form of bushbaby. It was the size of a half-grown domestic cat, with pale grey fur, and was accompanied by two or three young ones. Several years later, a similar animal was also reported from another West African country, the Ivory Coast. And in 1994, an assistant of bushbaby taxonomist Dr Simon K. Bearder, from Oxford Brookes University in England, encountered and even photographed a strange cat-sized creature in Cameroon that once again was superficially reminiscent of a giant bushbaby. Further details concerning these perplexing extra-large prosimians can be found in my book The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals.
HAIRY MAN-BEASTS OF FOREST AND STREAM
Another mystifying entity reported from Senegambia, and also from Guinea, but unrecognised by science is the fating’ho. Although still believed in by the more elderly members of native Senegalese society, younger people here tend to discount them as mere superstition or folklore, but occasionally something happens to make them think again.
For instance: one day in or around November 1992, one of Owen’s longtime Senegalese friends, a youthful native entomological researcher called Malang Mane, was conducting research in a densely forested area of northern Guinea at an altitude of about 3600 ft when he saw something that drove all thoughts of insects far from his mind. Without warning, and completely silently, a man-sized entity stepped out of the undergrowth only a short distance ahead of him. It was covered in long, shaggy black hair, had a noticeably large head, and emitted a guttural grunting sound. Most significant of all, however, was the fact that this veritable man-beast was walking on its hind legs, and was not holding onto any branches or foliage for support, i.e. it was fully bipedal, just like humans. Too shocked and frightened to move, Malang watched it approach to within a few feet of him before it ran away again.
Dramatic artistic representation of a confrontational Australopithecus group, exhibited in Brazil(public domain)
Malang is very familiar with the West African chimpanzee, and he was certain that the creature was not a chimp, bearing in mind that he had observed it in detail at very close range. Nor was it a gorilla, which is not native to this region of West Africa anyway. Only then did he realise that he must have seen one of the elusive, legendary fating’ho.
Similar man-beasts have been reported elsewhere in Africa too, and some cryptozoologists have suggested that they may be surviving australopithecines – primitive hominids that officially became extinct at least a million years ago. Like many West African ‘monsters’, however, the fating’ho seems to inhabit a twilit world midway between mythology and mystery, for it combines various ostensibly physical features with certain purportedly preternatural ones, thus frustrating traditional attempts at cryptozoological classification.
Artistic representation of a living australopithecine, as depicted on the front cover of Dr Bernard Heuvelmans book Les Bêtes Humaines d’Afrique, dealing with sightings of various mystery man-beasts in this continent (© Plon Publishing – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
Some eyewitnesses, for example, claim that these entities will sometimes disappear into thin air in full view of their human observers. It is also believed that they can fire arrows at humans that are not tangible, but are ‘spirit arrows’ instead. These reputedly cause disfiguring ulcers to break out on their victims’ skin, which never heal again.
The fating’ho is not the only mysterious man-beast reported from Senegal. Also on file is the wokolo, which is chiefly differentiated from the fating’ho morphologically by its yellow eyes (those of the fating’ho are red) and long pointed beard. However, whereas the fating’ho prefers dense forests, the wokolo is more commonly encountered near streams.
GUIAFAIRO AND KIKIYAON – ENCOUNTERS OF THE EERIE KIND
Two of the weirdest and most grotesque monsters reported from Senegambia – or anywhere else, for that matter – must surely be the guiafairo and the kikiyaon.
Said to remain hidden by day within the hollow trees and cave-ridden rocky outcrops rising above the hot savannahs, it is during the evening that the guiafairo takes to the wing, earning itself a fearful but memorable title – ‘the fear that flies by night’. Few people who have been unfortunate enough to receive a visitation from this dire entity can agree upon its precise appearance. Some claim that it is grey in colour and winged, with a human face and clawed feet – a form of giant bat? Yet others aver that it is phantasmal, with no permanent, corporeal form, and can even materialise through locked doors.
Is the guiafairo some mysterious form of giant bat? (© William M. Rebsamen)
All confirm, however, that its arrival is accompanied by a vile, nauseating smell that engenders a suffocating, mind-numbing fear never forgotten by those who experience it – always assuming that they do survive. Some of the guiafairo’s victims have died soon afterwards from a creeping, paralysing malaise, almost as if their fear has itself acquired a lethal, physical reality.
No less deadly, or dreadful, than the guiafairo is the kikiyaon, which is said by the Bambara tribe to inhabit only the darkest expanses of forest, and rarely emerges from this stygian gloom. On those occasions when it is seen, however, it is likened to a monstrous owl, with a pair of immense wings, huge talons on its feet, and, most notable of all, a razor-sharp spur projecting from the tip of each of its two shoulder joints. Yet whereas its wings are feathered like those of normal owls, the body of this awesome apparition is clothed in short, greenish-grey fur, and it is even said to possess a short tufted tail.
An exercise in imagining what form an encounter with the dreaded kikiyaon might take (Pixabay/free usage)
Most native people believe the kikiyaon to be a truly supernatural creature, rather than merely an elusive natural one. They claim that evil sorcerers utilise this entity to kill people, either physically or spiritually, and can even directly transform themselves into a kikiyaon.
Yet it can give voice to some very substantial cries. These include a deep far-reaching grunting call that has been likened to (albeit not conclusively identified with) that of Pel’s fishing owl Scotopelia peli, a sizeable owl that is native to Senegambia. However, there is another cry that does not seem to resemble that of any known species of owl here, and has been compared to the hideous shrieks of someone being slowly strangled!
Perhaps Pel’s fishing owl will one day prove to be the hitherto-unrevealed identity of the very vocal kikiyaon? This exquisite chromolithograph was produced in 1859 by Joseph Wolf (public domain)
Intriguingly, this is precisely the description applied to the voice of another still-unidentified, exceedingly elusive mystery beast. Namely, the devil bird of Sri Lanka, whose fascinating if highly frustrating case history I examine and document in considerable detail within my book From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings.
Who knows? Perhaps a real, reclusive creature, possibly even an undescribed species of owl, originally inspired belief in the kikiyaon, but was gradually ‘transformed’ by superstition and folklore into the bizarre monster claimed to exist here today. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that a seemingly impossible creature has ultimately been shown to have a somewhat less dramatic and hitherto unrecognised but unequivocally genuine animal at its source.
WERE-HYAENAS AND SABRE-TOOTHS
Another Senegalese mystery beast that may be more substantial than surrealistic is the booa. Although only rarely seen, when it is observed the booa is usually likened to a giant, abnormally-coloured form of hyaena. In contrast, it is very frequently heard, especially at night. Indeed, its name is onomatopoeic, being derived from the hideous screaming cry that reverberates loudly through the still evening air when one of these creatures is in the vicinity.
As with the kikiyaon, some Senegalese people are convinced that the booa is actually a transformed sorcerer, i.e. a were-hyaena. They claim that if a booa is shot and its trail of blood followed, it will surely lead to a human house, inside which a man or woman will be found, bleeding profusely from gunshot wounds. (This scenario closely echoes many medieval Western accounts of werewolves.) There is a similar Senegalese belief regarding the mo solo – said to be a type of were-leopard (not to be confused with the leopard-man cults).
Is the booaa a mysterious giant hyaena, such as the supposedly long-extinct short-faced hyaena Pachycrocuta brevirostris? (public domain)
However, reports of the booa also readily call to mind numerous accounts from East Africa, especially Kenya, of a seemingly allied but corporeal mystery beast variously termed the chemosit, kerit, or Nandi bear.
Many descriptions of this infamously ferocious, forest-dwelling creature have likened it to a huge form of hyaena, of aberrant colouration and with a relatively short face (click here for a recent ShukerNature blog article dealing with the Nandi bear). Perhaps the booaa is an occidental counterpart in Senegal?
Artistic representation of the wanjilanko’s possible appearance (I found this illustration on the Net, but I am currently unaware of the artist’s identity, despite having made extensive online searches in relation to it – consequently I am reproducing it here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
Due to poaching and political unrest, in quite recent times some of Senegal‘s forests have been destroyed, and its more exotic, rarer animals have become extinct. In addition, it is possible that some particularly secretive species have actually died out here even before their very existence was recognised by science.
During discussions with native hunters in Senegal‘s depleted Casamance Forest, Owen has learnt that they can still readily recall a huge but very mysterious form of cat, which they refer to as the wanjilanko. According to their descriptions, it was striped, possessed very large teeth, and was so ferocious that it could even kill lions. Tragically, however, it appears to have died out, as have the lions that it allegedly once attacked.
Could sabre-tooth survival be a reality in the most remote regions of West Africa? Meanwhile, here’s one that I made earlier! (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Reports of huge striped cats with very large teeth and savage temperament have also been recorded elsewhere in West Africa. In Chad, for example, such a creature is known as the mountain tiger or hadjel, whereas further east, moving into the Central African Republic, local tribes speak variously of the gassingram or vassoko. Their descriptions invariably recall Machairodus, the officially extinct African sabre-toothed tiger. In addition, when illustrations of this prehistoric stalwart’s likely appearance in life have been shown to native hunters, they have readily identified them as pictures of their lands’ striped, toothy mystery cats (see my books Mystery Cats of the Worldand Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery, as well as Still In Search Of PrehistoricSurvivors, for additional details).
The prospect of sabre-tooth persistence into modern times must rate as very slim indeed. Nevertheless, there are few places on earth more capable of sustaining such survival beyond the reach of scientific detection than the remote, little-explored jungle-lands of West Africa.
Proffering a portrait of Senegal‘s red-furred, leonine chakpuar (© Dr Karl Shuker – created by me from a Pixabay/free usage image)
Also needing an explanation are Senegalese stories of a strange long-necked red lion known as the chakpuar, and peculiar ‘cat-wolves’ referred to as the guomna and sing sing. To quote one of Owen’s communications to me concerning the sing sing:
The “cat-wolf” is a strange concept that I have invented really to explain the oddities of the Sing Sing which seems to have the speed and stealth of a cat but the tenacity and stamina of a dog. It appears to have a head like a wolf and non retractable claws. The pelage is said to be somewhat brindled, like that of a laughing hyena [= the spotted hyaena Crocuta crocuta] without the spots. Its tail is short and ringed. Again, this creature inspires fear in hardy hunters and is rarely talked about in case discussing it causes it to appear suddenly from the depths of the forest.
Except for the short tail, this description recalls the striped hyaena Hyaena hyaena, which is indeed native to Senegal. As this species is normally nocturnal, and therefore not readily seen, it may have engendered a heightened, exaggerated sense of fear among the local people, thus explaining their dread of it and its elevation in their minds to the status of a veritable monster – the sing sing.
THE TANTALISING TANKONGH
While visiting Guinea, another West African country that may still contain some intriguing zoological surprises, Owen learnt of yet another unidentified beast, the diminutive tankongh. This extremely shy beast is said by local hunters to resemble a small zebra, yet lives only in the high mountain forests and is rarely seen. However, Owen was once shown a pair of tiny dull grey hooves and some pieces of black and cream mottled skin – the remains of a tankongh that had been killed and eaten.
Owen mentions that according to local reports, this mysterious animal has a pair of small canine tusks, which makes me think of the water chevrotain Hyemoschus aquaticus. This is a small, hornless, but tusked ungulate adorned with stripes and spots, which is native to Guinea’s lowland forests and swamp margins. Could this known but exceedingly elusive mammal be the identity of the tankongh, or could the latter even be a related but scientifically-undescribed species adapted for a montane existence? And what of the un-named, uncaptured toad, also hailing from Guinea, that reputedly gives birth to live young – is this a new form?
Vintage chromolithograph depicting West Africa‘s handsomely-marked but extremely reclusive water chevrotain (public domain)
It was Pliny the Elder who said: “Ex Africa semper aliquod novi” – “There is always something new out of Africa“. Judging from the cryptic creatures documented here, all currently lurking within that dusky borderland between reverie and reality, the intrepid cryptozoologist would do well to heed his words, and pay a keen-eyed visit to this mysterious continent’s all-too-long-overlooked Western quarter. Who knows what extraordinary revelations may still await formal scientific disclosure here?
This ShukerNature blog article is exclusively excerpted from my book Dr Shuker’s Casebook: In Pursuit of Marvels and Mysteries.

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BURNHAM’S BEASTS – THE SECRET WILDLIFE OF SENEGAMBIA

by on May.14, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

What strange, secretive, and sometimes even sinister creatures of cryptozoology – or even of something else entirely – might still lurk undetected by science amid the shadowy depths of forbidding forests in the remotest regions of West Africa? (Pixabay/free usage)
Ati, bwana! There is a story you will not believe, because you are a white man. White men laugh at the stories told by the black man. They say this is not so, and that is not so. We have not seen this or that, so how can it be? They say, Ho, Ho! Black men are like little children, telling tales to each other in the dark. But remember, bwana, white men have been in this country for a time that is less than the life of one man, so how can you know all the things that have been known to black men for a hundred lifetimes and more?

   Roger Courtney – A Greenhorn in Africa, quoting an elderly African
                                                                                hunter, Ali
Whereas many mystery animals have been well documented from North, East, Central, and southern Africa, far fewer have been publicised from West Africa – especially from its westernmost corner, constituting The Gambia and its encompassing neighbour, Senegal. Yet these two small countries (sometimes referred to collectively as Senegambia) apparently harbour a sizeable array of bizarre, unidentified beasts rarely if ever brought to widespread cryptozoological attention…until now.
Owen Burnham in Kenya‘s Namanga Hills Forest(© Owen Burnham – photograph kindly made available to me by Owen for use in relation to my cryptozoological writings)
I owe a great debt of thanks to a longstanding colleague, naturalist Owen Burnham, who spent his childhood and teenage years in Senegal, for very kindly supplying me during our longstanding correspondence with information regarding the creatures documented here. While living in Senegal, Owen became formally accepted as an honorary member of the native Mandingo (Mandinka) tribe, and thus learnt much about this land’s mystery animals and also those of Gambia that has remained unknown to other Westerners.
One such creature, the Gambian sea serpent, or Gambo for short, launched my own career in cryptozoology when I investigated its case in detail during the mid-1980s, and has now become very well known and well-documented in the literature (click here to access my extensive coverage of this cryptid on ShukerNature). However, Owen also learnt of several other mystery beasts that have received far less publicity, and so it is with these hitherto little-documented yet no less interesting examples that this present ShukerNature blog article is concerned.
Illustration of Gambo produced by Mark North for publicity material appertaining to the Centre for Fortean Zoology’s 2006 Gambian expedition (© Mark North/CFZ)
MYSTERY STONE PARTRIDGE
This enigmatic Senegalese bird was originally documented by me in a World Pheasant Association News article (May 1991) on gallinaceous mystery birds.
The stone partridge is represented in Senegal by its nominate subspecies Ptilopachus petrosus petrosus – a familiar sight to Owen. However, he remains perplexed in relation to the covey of stone partridges that he spied at Fanda, Senegal, in 1985. Unlike this country’s normal brown-headed, buff-breasted specimens, these were very finely but noticeably mottled with white upon their head and neck, and their breast was whitish. They were also rather smaller in size, but most unexpected of all was their habitat.
A typical stone partridge, in The Gambia, which neighbours Senegal(© Francesco Veronesi/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)
Eschewing the rocky terrain or scrubland normally frequented by Ptilopachus, this covey was dwelling within a small but dense area of undergrowth in a rice field, many miles from the nearest expanse of stony ground. Owen saw a second covey of this strange form of stone partridge at Kouniara, and this time they were living in thick woodland, comprising a mixture of real forest and palm trees. Yet despite their radically different habitat, their behaviour was similar to that of typical stone partridges, scurrying rapidly across the ground – though in this case over fallen trees and through the forest, rather than over rocks and through scrub.
Local hunters had informed Owen that such birds existed, but he had not believed this until he had encountered them himself. In view of their morphological differences and markedly distinct habitat, could these stone partridges constitute a separate subspecies, isolated topographically from the nominate race? Bearing in mind, however, the tragic, continuing destruction of Senegal’s wildlife habitats, especially forests, it is to be hoped that this mystifying bird form can be thoroughly investigated in the near future, to enable it (if still surviving) to be saved not only from continued scientific obscurity but also from ensuing extinction. Interestingly, I recently discovered online a vintage colour illustration that portrays a pair of stone partridges closely matching Owen’s description, complete with white mottling upon their head and neck, plus a whitish breast, so clearly such a form has been seen and even depicted in the past.
A pair of stone partridges resembling those seen by Owen Burnham in Senegal – this vintage colour illustration was created some time between 1700 and 1880, and is from Iconographia Zoologica (public domain)
GIANT BUSHBABY
Related to the Madagascan lemurs and the Asian lorises, as well as to Africa‘s own pottos and angwantibos, the bushbabies or galagos constitute 19 currently-recognised species of primitive primate. Nocturnal and arboreal, they are characterised by their large ears, long tail, and fairly small size. Currently, the largest species are the three aptly-named greater bushbabies, with an average total length of 3 ft, of which over half comprises the tail.
Bushbaby – does Senegalharbour an undiscovered giant species? (public domain)
However, Senegal may be harbouring a rather more sizeable surprise. In June 1985, while exploring the heart of the Casamance Forest, Owen spied a mysterious creature resembling a giant form of bushbaby. It was the size of a half-grown domestic cat, with pale grey fur, and was accompanied by two or three young ones. Several years later, a similar animal was also reported from another West African country, the Ivory Coast. And in 1994, an assistant of bushbaby taxonomist Dr Simon K. Bearder, from Oxford Brookes University in England, encountered and even photographed a strange cat-sized creature in Cameroon that once again was superficially reminiscent of a giant bushbaby. Further details concerning these perplexing extra-large prosimians can be found in my book The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals.
HAIRY MAN-BEASTS OF FOREST AND STREAM
Another mystifying entity reported from Senegambia, and also from Guinea, but unrecognised by science is the fating’ho. Although still believed in by the more elderly members of native Senegalese society, younger people here tend to discount them as mere superstition or folklore, but occasionally something happens to make them think again.
For instance: one day in or around November 1992, one of Owen’s longtime Senegalese friends, a youthful native entomological researcher called Malang Mane, was conducting research in a densely forested area of northern Guinea at an altitude of about 3600 ft when he saw something that drove all thoughts of insects far from his mind. Without warning, and completely silently, a man-sized entity stepped out of the undergrowth only a short distance ahead of him. It was covered in long, shaggy black hair, had a noticeably large head, and emitted a guttural grunting sound. Most significant of all, however, was the fact that this veritable man-beast was walking on its hind legs, and was not holding onto any branches or foliage for support, i.e. it was fully bipedal, just like humans. Too shocked and frightened to move, Malang watched it approach to within a few feet of him before it ran away again.
Dramatic artistic representation of a confrontational Australopithecus group, exhibited in Brazil(public domain)
Malang is very familiar with the West African chimpanzee, and he was certain that the creature was not a chimp, bearing in mind that he had observed it in detail at very close range. Nor was it a gorilla, which is not native to this region of West Africa anyway. Only then did he realise that he must have seen one of the elusive, legendary fating’ho.
Similar man-beasts have been reported elsewhere in Africa too, and some cryptozoologists have suggested that they may be surviving australopithecines – primitive hominids that officially became extinct at least a million years ago. Like many West African ‘monsters’, however, the fating’ho seems to inhabit a twilit world midway between mythology and mystery, for it combines various ostensibly physical features with certain purportedly preternatural ones, thus frustrating traditional attempts at cryptozoological classification.
Artistic representation of a living australopithecine, as depicted on the front cover of Dr Bernard Heuvelmans book Les Bêtes Humaines d’Afrique, dealing with sightings of various mystery man-beasts in this continent (© Plon Publishing – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
Some eyewitnesses, for example, claim that these entities will sometimes disappear into thin air in full view of their human observers. It is also believed that they can fire arrows at humans that are not tangible, but are ‘spirit arrows’ instead. These reputedly cause disfiguring ulcers to break out on their victims’ skin, which never heal again.
The fating’ho is not the only mysterious man-beast reported from Senegal. Also on file is the wokolo, which is chiefly differentiated from the fating’ho morphologically by its yellow eyes (those of the fating’ho are red) and long pointed beard. However, whereas the fating’ho prefers dense forests, the wokolo is more commonly encountered near streams.
GUIAFAIRO AND KIKIYAON – ENCOUNTERS OF THE EERIE KIND
Two of the weirdest and most grotesque monsters reported from Senegambia – or anywhere else, for that matter – must surely be the guiafairo and the kikiyaon.
Said to remain hidden by day within the hollow trees and cave-ridden rocky outcrops rising above the hot savannahs, it is during the evening that the guiafairo takes to the wing, earning itself a fearful but memorable title – ‘the fear that flies by night’. Few people who have been unfortunate enough to receive a visitation from this dire entity can agree upon its precise appearance. Some claim that it is grey in colour and winged, with a human face and clawed feet – a form of giant bat? Yet others aver that it is phantasmal, with no permanent, corporeal form, and can even materialise through locked doors.
Is the guiafairo some mysterious form of giant bat? (© William M. Rebsamen)
All confirm, however, that its arrival is accompanied by a vile, nauseating smell that engenders a suffocating, mind-numbing fear never forgotten by those who experience it – always assuming that they do survive. Some of the guiafairo’s victims have died soon afterwards from a creeping, paralysing malaise, almost as if their fear has itself acquired a lethal, physical reality.
No less deadly, or dreadful, than the guiafairo is the kikiyaon, which is said by the Bambara tribe to inhabit only the darkest expanses of forest, and rarely emerges from this stygian gloom. On those occasions when it is seen, however, it is likened to a monstrous owl, with a pair of immense wings, huge talons on its feet, and, most notable of all, a razor-sharp spur projecting from the tip of each of its two shoulder joints. Yet whereas its wings are feathered like those of normal owls, the body of this awesome apparition is clothed in short, greenish-grey fur, and it is even said to possess a short tufted tail.
An exercise in imagining what form an encounter with the dreaded kikiyaon might take (Pixabay/free usage)
Most native people believe the kikiyaon to be a truly supernatural creature, rather than merely an elusive natural one. They claim that evil sorcerers utilise this entity to kill people, either physically or spiritually, and can even directly transform themselves into a kikiyaon.
Yet it can give voice to some very substantial cries. These include a deep far-reaching grunting call that has been likened to (albeit not conclusively identified with) that of Pel’s fishing owl Scotopelia peli, a sizeable owl that is native to Senegambia. However, there is another cry that does not seem to resemble that of any known species of owl here, and has been compared to the hideous shrieks of someone being slowly strangled!
Perhaps Pel’s fishing owl will one day prove to be the hitherto-unrevealed identity of the very vocal kikiyaon? This exquisite chromolithograph was produced in 1859 by Joseph Wolf (public domain)
Intriguingly, this is precisely the description applied to the voice of another still-unidentified, exceedingly elusive mystery beast. Namely, the devil bird of Sri Lanka, whose fascinating if highly frustrating case history I examine and document in considerable detail within my book From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings.
Who knows? Perhaps a real, reclusive creature, possibly even an undescribed species of owl, originally inspired belief in the kikiyaon, but was gradually ‘transformed’ by superstition and folklore into the bizarre monster claimed to exist here today. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that a seemingly impossible creature has ultimately been shown to have a somewhat less dramatic and hitherto unrecognised but unequivocally genuine animal at its source.
WERE-HYAENAS AND SABRE-TOOTHS
Another Senegalese mystery beast that may be more substantial than surrealistic is the booa. Although only rarely seen, when it is observed the booa is usually likened to a giant, abnormally-coloured form of hyaena. In contrast, it is very frequently heard, especially at night. Indeed, its name is onomatopoeic, being derived from the hideous screaming cry that reverberates loudly through the still evening air when one of these creatures is in the vicinity.
As with the kikiyaon, some Senegalese people are convinced that the booa is actually a transformed sorcerer, i.e. a were-hyaena. They claim that if a booa is shot and its trail of blood followed, it will surely lead to a human house, inside which a man or woman will be found, bleeding profusely from gunshot wounds. (This scenario closely echoes many medieval Western accounts of werewolves.) There is a similar Senegalese belief regarding the mo solo – said to be a type of were-leopard (not to be confused with the leopard-man cults).
Is the booaa a mysterious giant hyaena, such as the supposedly long-extinct short-faced hyaena Pachycrocuta brevirostris? (public domain)
However, reports of the booa also readily call to mind numerous accounts from East Africa, especially Kenya, of a seemingly allied but corporeal mystery beast variously termed the chemosit, kerit, or Nandi bear.
Many descriptions of this infamously ferocious, forest-dwelling creature have likened it to a huge form of hyaena, of aberrant colouration and with a relatively short face (click here for a recent ShukerNature blog article dealing with the Nandi bear). Perhaps the booaa is an occidental counterpart in Senegal?
Artistic representation of the wanjilanko’s possible appearance (I found this illustration on the Net, but I am currently unaware of the artist’s identity, despite having made extensive online searches in relation to it – consequently I am reproducing it here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
Due to poaching and political unrest, in quite recent times some of Senegal‘s forests have been destroyed, and its more exotic, rarer animals have become extinct. In addition, it is possible that some particularly secretive species have actually died out here even before their very existence was recognised by science.
During discussions with native hunters in Senegal‘s depleted Casamance Forest, Owen has learnt that they can still readily recall a huge but very mysterious form of cat, which they refer to as the wanjilanko. According to their descriptions, it was striped, possessed very large teeth, and was so ferocious that it could even kill lions. Tragically, however, it appears to have died out, as have the lions that it allegedly once attacked.
Could sabre-tooth survival be a reality in the most remote regions of West Africa? Meanwhile, here’s one that I made earlier! (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Reports of huge striped cats with very large teeth and savage temperament have also been recorded elsewhere in West Africa. In Chad, for example, such a creature is known as the mountain tiger or hadjel, whereas further east, moving into the Central African Republic, local tribes speak variously of the gassingram or vassoko. Their descriptions invariably recall Machairodus, the officially extinct African sabre-toothed tiger. In addition, when illustrations of this prehistoric stalwart’s likely appearance in life have been shown to native hunters, they have readily identified them as pictures of their lands’ striped, toothy mystery cats (see my books Mystery Cats of the Worldand Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery, as well as Still In Search Of PrehistoricSurvivors, for additional details).
The prospect of sabre-tooth persistence into modern times must rate as very slim indeed. Nevertheless, there are few places on earth more capable of sustaining such survival beyond the reach of scientific detection than the remote, little-explored jungle-lands of West Africa.
Proffering a portrait of Senegal‘s red-furred, leonine chakpuar (© Dr Karl Shuker – created by me from a Pixabay/free usage image)
Also needing an explanation are Senegalese stories of a strange long-necked red lion known as the chakpuar, and peculiar ‘cat-wolves’ referred to as the guomna and sing sing. To quote one of Owen’s communications to me concerning the sing sing:
The “cat-wolf” is a strange concept that I have invented really to explain the oddities of the Sing Sing which seems to have the speed and stealth of a cat but the tenacity and stamina of a dog. It appears to have a head like a wolf and non retractable claws. The pelage is said to be somewhat brindled, like that of a laughing hyena [= the spotted hyaena Crocuta crocuta] without the spots. Its tail is short and ringed. Again, this creature inspires fear in hardy hunters and is rarely talked about in case discussing it causes it to appear suddenly from the depths of the forest.
Except for the short tail, this description recalls the striped hyaena Hyaena hyaena, which is indeed native to Senegal. As this species is normally nocturnal, and therefore not readily seen, it may have engendered a heightened, exaggerated sense of fear among the local people, thus explaining their dread of it and its elevation in their minds to the status of a veritable monster – the sing sing.
THE TANTALISING TANKONGH
While visiting Guinea, another West African country that may still contain some intriguing zoological surprises, Owen learnt of yet another unidentified beast, the diminutive tankongh. This extremely shy beast is said by local hunters to resemble a small zebra, yet lives only in the high mountain forests and is rarely seen. However, Owen was once shown a pair of tiny dull grey hooves and some pieces of black and cream mottled skin – the remains of a tankongh that had been killed and eaten.
Owen mentions that according to local reports, this mysterious animal has a pair of small canine tusks, which makes me think of the water chevrotain Hyemoschus aquaticus. This is a small, hornless, but tusked ungulate adorned with stripes and spots, which is native to Guinea’s lowland forests and swamp margins. Could this known but exceedingly elusive mammal be the identity of the tankongh, or could the latter even be a related but scientifically-undescribed species adapted for a montane existence? And what of the un-named, uncaptured toad, also hailing from Guinea, that reputedly gives birth to live young – is this a new form?
Vintage chromolithograph depicting West Africa‘s handsomely-marked but extremely reclusive water chevrotain (public domain)
It was Pliny the Elder who said: “Ex Africa semper aliquod novi” – “There is always something new out of Africa“. Judging from the cryptic creatures documented here, all currently lurking within that dusky borderland between reverie and reality, the intrepid cryptozoologist would do well to heed his words, and pay a keen-eyed visit to this mysterious continent’s all-too-long-overlooked Western quarter. Who knows what extraordinary revelations may still await formal scientific disclosure here?
This ShukerNature blog article is exclusively excerpted from my book Dr Shuker’s Casebook: In Pursuit of Marvels and Mysteries.

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GAMBO, THE GAMBIAN SEA SERPENT – OR, HOW A VERY MYSTERIOUS STRANGER ON THE SHORE LAUNCHED MY CRYPTOZOOLOGICAL CAREER

by on May.10, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Artistic reconstruction of Owen Burnham’s discovery of the Gambian sea serpent carcase (© William M. Rebsamen)
Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun?! As I write this introduction to the present ShukerNature blog article, I can scarcely believe that over 30 years have gone by since I penned what became my very first investigative cryptozoological article, published as a two-parter in the September and October 1986 issues of a now long-defunct British magazine, The Unknown. And what was my article’s subject? Why, none other than a certain mysterious sea beast found dead a few years earlier on a beach in The Gambia, West Africa – the very same creature whose extraordinary history I am writing about now. Clearly, time not only flies but also on occasion takes delight in looping the loop!
Back in 1986, I became the first cryptozoologist to write about the Gambian sea serpent, and went on to document it further in a number of other publications, including various of my books, but most extensively of all within my two works on putative prehistoric survivors – In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (1995) and Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors(2016). Indeed, it was this remarkable case that single-handedly (or even single-flipperedly!) transformed me into a full-time independent researcher and writer on the ever-fascinating subject of mystery beasts. Although I have since investigated and duly introduced a very sizeable number of other hitherto little-publicised or wholly-unpublicised cryptids to the general international reading public, Gambo (as it was subsequently dubbed, although not by me – see later) remains one of the most intriguing, tantalising, and controversial cryptids that I have ever investigated.
My two books (not shown to scale) documenting putative prehistoric survivors (© Dr Karl Shuker/Blandford Press / (© Dr Karl Shuker/Coachwhip Publications)
Needless to say, therefore, it came as quite a shock when recently I suddenly realised to my considerable embarrassment that apart from a single exceedingly brief mention of its case in a Loch Ness monster article (click here to read it), I had never documented the Gambian sea serpent on ShukerNature. Consequently, in order to make very belated amends for this major oversight on my part, I have great pleasure in presenting herewith my complete coverage of this thoroughly captivating and still-unresolved cryptid from my book Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors. Please welcome Gambo, the very mysterious stranger on the shore that launched my cryptozoological career. I’m sure that Mr Acker Bilk would have approved. (You need to be of a certain age and musical persuasion to comprehend that comment!)
Incidentally, the coining of the name ‘Gambo’, by which the Gambian sea serpent is nowadays very commonly referred to colloquially in cryptozoological circles, is often mistakenly attributed to me, but here is the true origin of this famous mystery beast moniker. It made its debut within the title (‘Gambo – The Beaked Beast of Bungalow Beach’) of a three-page Fortean Timesarticle prepared in-house but credited to me as it constituted a condensed version of my two-part article from 1986 in The Unknown, and was published in FT‘s February/March 1993 issue (#67). Significantly, therefore, I did not directly pen either the FT article itself (within whose second paragraph of main text ‘Gambo’ was specifically introduced by whoever did pen it as the name by which this cryptid would be referred to thereafter within the article) or its title. Consequently, whoever the FT person was who did is also, therefore, the person who coined the now-iconic name ‘Gambo’, and, in so doing, serendipitously created a little snippet of cryptozoological history, but their identity has never been disclosed (at least not to me, anyway!).

The Fortean Times article of February/March 1993 on the Gambian sea serpent, credited to me, and whose FT-penned title constitutes the very first, now-historic appearance of the name ‘Gambo’  – please click to enlarge for reading purposes (© Dr Karl Shuker/Fortean Times)
It all began on 12 June 1983, when wildlife enthusiast Owen Burnham and three family members encountered the carcase of a huge sea creature, washed up onto Bungalow Beach in The Gambia, West Africa. Most sea monster remains are discovered in an advanced state of decomposition, greatly distorting their appearance and making positive identification very difficult, but the carcase found by Burnham was exceptional, as apparently it was largely intact, with no external decomposition.
Subsequently reallocating to England but having lived most of his childhood and teenage years in Senegal, Owen was very familiar with all of that region’s major land and sea creatures, but he had never seen anything like this before. Realising its potential zoological significance, he made meticulous sketches and observations of its outward morphology, and noted all of its principal measurements.
My renditions of the Gambian sea serpent, first published in the September and October 1986 issues of The Unknown, and based upon original sketches by Owen Burnham (© Dr Karl Shuker)
In May 1986, BBC Wildlife, a British monthly magazine, published a short account by Owen describing his discovery, and including versions of his original sketches. Greatly interested, I wrote to him, requesting further details, in order to attempt to identify this remarkable creature. During our ensuing correspondence, Owen kindly gave me a comprehensive description (plus his sketches) of its appearance. The following is an edited transcript of Owen’s first-hand account of his discovery, prepared from his letters to me of May, June, and July 1986:
I grew up in Senegal (West Africa) and am an honorary member of the Mandinka tribe. I speak the language fluently and this greatly helped me in getting around. I’m very interested in all forms of life and make copious observations on anything unusual.
In the neighbouring country of Gambia we often went on holiday and it was on one such event that I found this remarkable animal.
June 1983. An enormous animal was washed up on the beach during the night and this morning [June 12] at 8.30 am I, my brother and sister and father discovered two Africans trying to sever its head so as to sell the skull to tourists. The site of the discovery was on the beach below Bungalow Beach Hotel. The only river of any significance in the area is the Gambia river. We measured the animal by first drawing a line in the sand alongside the creature then measuring with a tape measure. The flippers and head were measured individually and I counted the teeth. [In the sketches accompanying his description, Burnham provided the following measurements: Total Length = 15-16 ft; Head+Body Length = 10 ft; Tail Length = 4.5-5 ft; Snout Length = 1.5 ft; Flipper Length = 1.5 ft.]
The creature was brown above and white below (to midway down the tail).
The jaws were long and thin with eighty teeth evenly distributed. They were similar in shape to a barracuda’s but whiter and thicker (also very sharp). All the teeth were uniform. The animal’s jaws were very tightly closed and it was a job to prise them apart.
The jaws were longer than a dolphin’s. There was no sign of any blowhole but there were what appeared to be two nostrils at the end of the snout. The creature can’t have been dead for long because its eyes were clearly visible and brown although I don’t know if this was due to death. (They weren’t protruding). The forehead was domed though not excessively. (No ears).
The animal was foul smelling but not falling apart. I’ve seen dolphins in a similar state after five days (after death) so I estimate it had been dead that long.
The skin surface was smooth, the only area of damage was where one of the flippers (hind) had been ripped off. A large piece of skin was loose. There were no mammary glands present and any male organs were too damaged to be recognizable. The other flipper (hind) was damaged but not too badly. I couldn’t see any bones.
I must mention clearly that the animal wasn’t falling apart and the only damage was in the area (above) I just mentioned. The only organs I saw were some intestines from the damaged area.
The paddles were round and solid. There were no toes, claws or nails. The body of the creature was distended by gas so I would imagine it to be more streamlined in life. It wasn’t noticeably flattened. The tail was rounded [in cross-section], not quite triangular.
Owen Burnham in Kenya‘s Namanga Hills Forest (© Owen Burnham – photograph kindly made available to me by Owen for use in relation to my Gambo writings)
I didn’t (unfortunately) have a camera with me at the time so I made the most detailed observations I could. It was a real shock. I couldn’t believe this creature was laying in front of me. I didn’t have a chance to collect the head because some Africans came and took the head (to keep skull) to sell to tourists at an exorbitant price. I almost bought it but didn’t know how I’d get it to England. The vertebrae were very thick and the flesh dark red (like beef). It took the men twenty minutes of hacking with a machete to sever it.
I asked the men on the scene what the name of this animal was. They were from a fishing community and gave me the Mandinka name kunthum belein. I asked around in many villages along the coast, notably Kap Skirring in Senegal where I once saw a dolphin’s head for sale. The name means ‘cutting jaws’ and is the term for dolphin everywhere. Although I gave good descriptions to native fishermen they said they had never seen it. The name kunthum belein always gave [elicited] a dolphin for reply and drawings they made were clearly that. I also asked at Kouniara, a fishing village further up the Casamance river but with no success. I can only assume that the butchers called it by that name due to its superficial similarities. In Mandinka, similar or unknown animals are given the name of a well known one. For example a serval is called a little leopard. So it obviously wasn’t common. I’ve been on the coast many times and have never seen anything like it again.
I wrote to various authorities. [One] said it was probably a dolphin whose flukes had worn off in the water. This doesn’t explain the long pointed tail or lack of dorsal fin (or damage).
[Another] decided it could be the rare Tasmacetus shepherdi [Shepherd’s beaked whale] whose tail flukes had worn off. This man mentioned that the blow hole could have closed after death. Again the tail and narrow jaws seem to conflict with this. Tasmacetus‘s jaws aren’t too long and the head itself seems to be smaller than my animal’s. Tasmacetushas two fore flippers and none in the pelvic region. The two flippers are quite small in relation to body size and pointed rather than round. Tasmacetushas a dorsal fin and ‘my’ animal didn’t seem to have one or any signs of one having once been there. Tasmacetus even without tail flukes wouldn’t have a tail long enough or pointed enough. The tail of the animal I saw was very long. It had a definite point and didn’t look suited for a pair of flukes. Apparently, Tasmacetus is brown above and white below and this seems to be the only link between the two animals. I’ve been to many remote and also popular fishing areas in Senegal and I have seen the decomposing remains of sharks and also dead dolphins and this was so different.
[A third] said it must have been a manatee. I’ve seen them and believe me it wasn’t that. The skin thickness was the same but the resemblance ended there.
Other authorities have suggested crocodiles and such things but as you see from the description it just can’t have been.
After I think of the coelacanth I don’t like to think what could be at the bottom of the sea. What about the shark (Megachasma) [megamouth shark] which was fished up on an anchor in 1976?
I looked through encyclopedias and every book I could lay hands on and eventually I found a photo of the skull of Kronosaurus queenslandicus which is the nearest thing so far. Unfortunately the skull of that beast is apparently ten feet long and clearly not of my find.
The skeleton of Ichthyosaurus (not head) is quite similar if you imagine the fleshed animal with a pointed tail instead of flukes. I spend hours at the Natural History Museum [in London, England] looking at their small plesiosaurs, many of which are similar.
I’m not looking to find a prehistoric animal, only to try and identify what was the strangest thing I’ll ever see. Even now I can remember every minute detail of it. To see such a thing was awesome.
Presented with such an amount of morphological detail, quite a few identities can be examined and discounted straight away – beginning with Tasmacetus shepherdi. Although somewhat dolphin-like in shape, this is a primitive species of beaked whale, described by science as recently as 1937, and known from only a handful of specimens, mainly recorded in New Zealand and Australian waters, but also reported from South Africa. Whereas all other beaked whales possess no more than four teeth (some only have two), Tasmacetushas 80, and its jaws are fairly long and slender.
Line drawing of Shepherd’s beaked whale Tasmacetus shepherdi, showing its general shape, plus its size relative to an average human (© Chris huh/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)
However, the Gambian beast’s two pairs of well-developed limbs effectively rule out allmodern-day cetaceans as plausible contenders, because these species lack hind limbs. They also eliminate those early prehistoric cetaceans the archaeocetes – even Ambulocetus. For although this palaeontologically-celebrated ‘walking whale’ did have two well-formed pairs of limbs, unlike the Gambian sea serpent its teeth were only half as many in number, yet of more than one type. The Gambian beast’s long tail and dentition effectively ruled out pinnipeds and sirenians from contention too.
Many ‘sea monster’ carcases have proved, upon close inspection, to be nothing more exciting than badly-decomposed sharks, but as the Gambian beast apparently displayed no notable degree of external decomposition, this ‘pseudoplesiosaur’ identity was another non-starter.
Artistic reconstruction of the likely appearance in life of Kronosaurus queenslandicus(public domain)
Indeed, after studying his detailed letters and sketches, it became clear that, incredibly, the only beasts bearing any close similarity to Owen’s Gambian sea serpent were two groups of marine reptilians that officially became extinct 66 million years (or more) ago.
One of these groups consisted of the pliosaurs – thus including among their number the mighty Australian Kronosaurus that Owen himself had mentioned. Yet whereas their nostrils’ external openings had migrated back to a position just in front of their eyes, those of the Gambian sea serpent were at the tip of its snout
Artistic reconstructions of the likely appearance in life, plus total size relative to an average human, of four thalattosuchian genera (© Mark T. Young et al., PLoS ONE 7(9): e44985/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.5 licence)
The other group constituted the thalattosuchians – always in contention here on account of their slender, non-scaly bodies, paddle-like limbs, and terminally-sited external nostrils. True, their tails possessed a dorsal fin, but a thalattosuchian whose fin had somehow been torn off or scuffed away would bear an amazingly close resemblance to the beast depicted in Owen’s sketches. Alternatively, assuming that a thalattosuchian lineage has indeed persisted (and continued to evolve accordingly) into the present day, its members may no longer possess such a fin anyway.
Without any physical remains of the beast available for direct examination, however, its identity can never be categorically confirmed. In 2006, using a map that Owen had prepared for them, a team from the Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) that included British cryptozoologist Richard Freeman visited the site in The Gambia where, 23 years earlier, the headless carcase had apparently been buried shortly after Owen had viewed it – but to their horror they discovered that a nightclub had since been built upon that exact same spot! Nevertheless, the team did attempt to do some digging as close as possible to the nightclub, but they did not uncover any remains.
Richard Freeman (left) and other team members from the CFZ’s 2006 Gambian expedition digging in search of Gambo’s carcase near the nightclub on Bungalow Beach (© CFZ)
As for myself, more than three decades on from my first article on this subject I remain totally open-minded as to what Gambo was. Contrary to a number of claims or assumptions made by others over the years, I have never stated that I believe it to have been a modern-day descendant of a prehistoric reptilian lineage. I have merely stated that, based upon Owen’s verbal description and sketches, this is what it most closely resembles – but as the saying goes, appearances can (and often do) deceive. Consequently, without having first examined physical evidence it would be ridiculous to make any firm assertion as to this animal’s taxonomic identity – which is why I have never done so.
After all, it is possible (although in my opinion unlikely) that Owen’s account and drawings are not very accurate, in which case Gambo may have been nothing more than some ordinary, known species of cetacean after all; or, at most, a previously unknown cetacean species – in which latter case I propose Gambiocetus burnhami gen. nov. sp. nov. (‘Burnham’s Gambian whale’) as a suitable scientific name for it, based upon the detailed morphological description presented by me above. In any event, here’s to one record finally – and very firmly – set straight, I trust!
Artistic reconstruction of Gambo’s possible appearance in life (© Tim Morris)
Finally, for those younger readers who may still be perplexed by my oblique reference at this present ShukerNature blog article’s onset to Mr Acker Bilk: notable for always including ‘Mr’ as part of his official stage name, he was a very popular British clarinettist who had many hit singles and albums during the 1960s and 1970s, of which the most famous was his original recording of a certain track that very swiftly became not only his signature tune but also an internationally-successful instrumental standard – ‘Stranger on the Shore’.
Written by Bilk for his daughter Jenny, it stayed in the UK singles chart for over a year following its initial release in 1961, was the first British single to hit the number one spot in the modern-day version of the USA’s Billboard Hot 100 (which it achieved in 1962), and went on to become the biggest-selling instrumental single of all time. So now you know!
Mr Acker Bilk in the 1960s performing ‘Live In The Clarence Ballroom’ (formerly The Duke Of Clarence Assembly Rooms) (© Marquisofqueensbury/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)
I wish to take this opportunity to thank Owen Burnham most sincerely for so kindly making available to me such a vast quantity of information and other materials concerning Gambo and also a number of other West African cryptids, as well as for his much-valued friendship down through the many years that have passed since our first communications to one another way back in the mid-1980s.
The CFZ’s official, published report of their 2006 expedition to The Gambia (© CFZ Press)
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GAMBO, THE GAMBIAN SEA SERPENT – OR, HOW A VERY MYSTERIOUS STRANGER ON THE SHORE LAUNCHED MY CRYPTOZOOLOGICAL CAREER

by on May.10, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Artistic reconstruction of Owen Burnham’s discovery of the Gambian sea serpent carcase (© William M. Rebsamen)
Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun?! As I write this introduction to the present ShukerNature blog article, I can scarcely believe that over 30 years have gone by since I penned what became my very first investigative cryptozoological article, published as a two-parter in the September and October 1986 issues of a now long-defunct British magazine, The Unknown. And what was my article’s subject? Why, none other than a certain mysterious sea beast found dead a few years earlier on a beach in The Gambia, West Africa – the very same creature whose extraordinary history I am writing about now. Clearly, time not only flies but also on occasion takes delight in looping the loop!
Back in 1986, I became the first cryptozoologist to write about the Gambian sea serpent, and went on to document it further in a number of other publications, including various of my books, but most extensively of all within my two works on putative prehistoric survivors – In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (1995) and Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors(2016). Indeed, it was this remarkable case that single-handedly (or even single-flipperedly!) transformed me into a full-time independent researcher and writer on the ever-fascinating subject of mystery beasts. Although I have since investigated and duly introduced a very sizeable number of other hitherto little-publicised or wholly-unpublicised cryptids to the general international reading public, Gambo (as it was subsequently dubbed, although not by me – see later) remains one of the most intriguing, tantalising, and controversial cryptids that I have ever investigated.
My two books (not shown to scale) documenting putative prehistoric survivors (© Dr Karl Shuker/Blandford Press / (© Dr Karl Shuker/Coachwhip Publications)
Needless to say, therefore, it came as quite a shock when recently I suddenly realised to my considerable embarrassment that apart from a single exceedingly brief mention of its case in a Loch Ness monster article (click here to read it), I had never documented the Gambian sea serpent on ShukerNature. Consequently, in order to make very belated amends for this major oversight on my part, I have great pleasure in presenting herewith my complete coverage of this thoroughly captivating and still-unresolved cryptid from my book Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors. Please welcome Gambo, the very mysterious stranger on the shore that launched my cryptozoological career. I’m sure that Mr Acker Bilk would have approved. (You need to be of a certain age and musical persuasion to comprehend that comment!)
Incidentally, the coining of the name ‘Gambo’, by which the Gambian sea serpent is nowadays very commonly referred to colloquially in cryptozoological circles, is often mistakenly attributed to me, but here is the true origin of this famous mystery beast moniker. It made its debut within the title (‘Gambo – The Beaked Beast of Bungalow Beach’) of a three-page Fortean Timesarticle prepared in-house but credited to me as it constituted a condensed version of my two-part article from 1986 in The Unknown, and was published in FT‘s February/March 1993 issue (#67). Significantly, therefore, I did not directly pen either the FT article itself (within whose second paragraph of main text ‘Gambo’ was specifically introduced by whoever did pen it as the name by which this cryptid would be referred to thereafter within the article) or its title. Consequently, whoever the FT person was who did is also, therefore, the person who coined the now-iconic name ‘Gambo’, and, in so doing, serendipitously created a little snippet of cryptozoological history, but their identity has never been disclosed (at least not to me, anyway!).

The Fortean Times article of February/March 1993 on the Gambian sea serpent, credited to me, and whose FT-penned title constitutes the very first, now-historic appearance of the name ‘Gambo’  – please click to enlarge for reading purposes (© Dr Karl Shuker/Fortean Times)
It all began on 12 June 1983, when wildlife enthusiast Owen Burnham and three family members encountered the carcase of a huge sea creature, washed up onto Bungalow Beach in The Gambia, West Africa. Most sea monster remains are discovered in an advanced state of decomposition, greatly distorting their appearance and making positive identification very difficult, but the carcase found by Burnham was exceptional, as apparently it was largely intact, with no external decomposition.
Subsequently reallocating to England but having lived most of his childhood and teenage years in Senegal, Owen was very familiar with all of that region’s major land and sea creatures, but he had never seen anything like this before. Realising its potential zoological significance, he made meticulous sketches and observations of its outward morphology, and noted all of its principal measurements.
My renditions of the Gambian sea serpent, first published in the September and October 1986 issues of The Unknown, and based upon original sketches by Owen Burnham (© Dr Karl Shuker)
In May 1986, BBC Wildlife, a British monthly magazine, published a short account by Owen describing his discovery, and including versions of his original sketches. Greatly interested, I wrote to him, requesting further details, in order to attempt to identify this remarkable creature. During our ensuing correspondence, Owen kindly gave me a comprehensive description (plus his sketches) of its appearance. The following is an edited transcript of Owen’s first-hand account of his discovery, prepared from his letters to me of May, June, and July 1986:
I grew up in Senegal (West Africa) and am an honorary member of the Mandinka tribe. I speak the language fluently and this greatly helped me in getting around. I’m very interested in all forms of life and make copious observations on anything unusual.
In the neighbouring country of Gambia we often went on holiday and it was on one such event that I found this remarkable animal.
June 1983. An enormous animal was washed up on the beach during the night and this morning [June 12] at 8.30 am I, my brother and sister and father discovered two Africans trying to sever its head so as to sell the skull to tourists. The site of the discovery was on the beach below Bungalow Beach Hotel. The only river of any significance in the area is the Gambia river. We measured the animal by first drawing a line in the sand alongside the creature then measuring with a tape measure. The flippers and head were measured individually and I counted the teeth. [In the sketches accompanying his description, Burnham provided the following measurements: Total Length = 15-16 ft; Head+Body Length = 10 ft; Tail Length = 4.5-5 ft; Snout Length = 1.5 ft; Flipper Length = 1.5 ft.]
The creature was brown above and white below (to midway down the tail).
The jaws were long and thin with eighty teeth evenly distributed. They were similar in shape to a barracuda’s but whiter and thicker (also very sharp). All the teeth were uniform. The animal’s jaws were very tightly closed and it was a job to prise them apart.
The jaws were longer than a dolphin’s. There was no sign of any blowhole but there were what appeared to be two nostrils at the end of the snout. The creature can’t have been dead for long because its eyes were clearly visible and brown although I don’t know if this was due to death. (They weren’t protruding). The forehead was domed though not excessively. (No ears).
The animal was foul smelling but not falling apart. I’ve seen dolphins in a similar state after five days (after death) so I estimate it had been dead that long.
The skin surface was smooth, the only area of damage was where one of the flippers (hind) had been ripped off. A large piece of skin was loose. There were no mammary glands present and any male organs were too damaged to be recognizable. The other flipper (hind) was damaged but not too badly. I couldn’t see any bones.
I must mention clearly that the animal wasn’t falling apart and the only damage was in the area (above) I just mentioned. The only organs I saw were some intestines from the damaged area.
The paddles were round and solid. There were no toes, claws or nails. The body of the creature was distended by gas so I would imagine it to be more streamlined in life. It wasn’t noticeably flattened. The tail was rounded [in cross-section], not quite triangular.
Owen Burnham in Kenya‘s Namanga Hills Forest (© Owen Burnham – photograph kindly made available to me by Owen for use in relation to my Gambo writings)
I didn’t (unfortunately) have a camera with me at the time so I made the most detailed observations I could. It was a real shock. I couldn’t believe this creature was laying in front of me. I didn’t have a chance to collect the head because some Africans came and took the head (to keep skull) to sell to tourists at an exorbitant price. I almost bought it but didn’t know how I’d get it to England. The vertebrae were very thick and the flesh dark red (like beef). It took the men twenty minutes of hacking with a machete to sever it.
I asked the men on the scene what the name of this animal was. They were from a fishing community and gave me the Mandinka name kunthum belein. I asked around in many villages along the coast, notably Kap Skirring in Senegal where I once saw a dolphin’s head for sale. The name means ‘cutting jaws’ and is the term for dolphin everywhere. Although I gave good descriptions to native fishermen they said they had never seen it. The name kunthum belein always gave [elicited] a dolphin for reply and drawings they made were clearly that. I also asked at Kouniara, a fishing village further up the Casamance river but with no success. I can only assume that the butchers called it by that name due to its superficial similarities. In Mandinka, similar or unknown animals are given the name of a well known one. For example a serval is called a little leopard. So it obviously wasn’t common. I’ve been on the coast many times and have never seen anything like it again.
I wrote to various authorities. [One] said it was probably a dolphin whose flukes had worn off in the water. This doesn’t explain the long pointed tail or lack of dorsal fin (or damage).
[Another] decided it could be the rare Tasmacetus shepherdi [Shepherd’s beaked whale] whose tail flukes had worn off. This man mentioned that the blow hole could have closed after death. Again the tail and narrow jaws seem to conflict with this. Tasmacetus‘s jaws aren’t too long and the head itself seems to be smaller than my animal’s. Tasmacetushas two fore flippers and none in the pelvic region. The two flippers are quite small in relation to body size and pointed rather than round. Tasmacetushas a dorsal fin and ‘my’ animal didn’t seem to have one or any signs of one having once been there. Tasmacetus even without tail flukes wouldn’t have a tail long enough or pointed enough. The tail of the animal I saw was very long. It had a definite point and didn’t look suited for a pair of flukes. Apparently, Tasmacetus is brown above and white below and this seems to be the only link between the two animals. I’ve been to many remote and also popular fishing areas in Senegal and I have seen the decomposing remains of sharks and also dead dolphins and this was so different.
[A third] said it must have been a manatee. I’ve seen them and believe me it wasn’t that. The skin thickness was the same but the resemblance ended there.
Other authorities have suggested crocodiles and such things but as you see from the description it just can’t have been.
After I think of the coelacanth I don’t like to think what could be at the bottom of the sea. What about the shark (Megachasma) [megamouth shark] which was fished up on an anchor in 1976?
I looked through encyclopedias and every book I could lay hands on and eventually I found a photo of the skull of Kronosaurus queenslandicus which is the nearest thing so far. Unfortunately the skull of that beast is apparently ten feet long and clearly not of my find.
The skeleton of Ichthyosaurus (not head) is quite similar if you imagine the fleshed animal with a pointed tail instead of flukes. I spend hours at the Natural History Museum [in London, England] looking at their small plesiosaurs, many of which are similar.
I’m not looking to find a prehistoric animal, only to try and identify what was the strangest thing I’ll ever see. Even now I can remember every minute detail of it. To see such a thing was awesome.
Presented with such an amount of morphological detail, quite a few identities can be examined and discounted straight away – beginning with Tasmacetus shepherdi. Although somewhat dolphin-like in shape, this is a primitive species of beaked whale, described by science as recently as 1937, and known from only a handful of specimens, mainly recorded in New Zealand and Australian waters, but also reported from South Africa. Whereas all other beaked whales possess no more than four teeth (some only have two), Tasmacetushas 80, and its jaws are fairly long and slender.
Line drawing of Shepherd’s beaked whale Tasmacetus shepherdi, showing its general shape, plus its size relative to an average human (© Chris huh/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)
However, the Gambian beast’s two pairs of well-developed limbs effectively rule out allmodern-day cetaceans as plausible contenders, because these species lack hind limbs. They also eliminate those early prehistoric cetaceans the archaeocetes – even Ambulocetus. For although this palaeontologically-celebrated ‘walking whale’ did have two well-formed pairs of limbs, unlike the Gambian sea serpent its teeth were only half as many in number, yet of more than one type. The Gambian beast’s long tail and dentition effectively ruled out pinnipeds and sirenians from contention too.
Many ‘sea monster’ carcases have proved, upon close inspection, to be nothing more exciting than badly-decomposed sharks, but as the Gambian beast apparently displayed no notable degree of external decomposition, this ‘pseudoplesiosaur’ identity was another non-starter.
Artistic reconstruction of the likely appearance in life of Kronosaurus queenslandicus(public domain)
Indeed, after studying his detailed letters and sketches, it became clear that, incredibly, the only beasts bearing any close similarity to Owen’s Gambian sea serpent were two groups of marine reptilians that officially became extinct 66 million years (or more) ago.
One of these groups consisted of the pliosaurs – thus including among their number the mighty Australian Kronosaurus that Owen himself had mentioned. Yet whereas their nostrils’ external openings had migrated back to a position just in front of their eyes, those of the Gambian sea serpent were at the tip of its snout
Artistic reconstructions of the likely appearance in life, plus total size relative to an average human, of four thalattosuchian genera (© Mark T. Young et al., PLoS ONE 7(9): e44985/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.5 licence)
The other group constituted the thalattosuchians – always in contention here on account of their slender, non-scaly bodies, paddle-like limbs, and terminally-sited external nostrils. True, their tails possessed a dorsal fin, but a thalattosuchian whose fin had somehow been torn off or scuffed away would bear an amazingly close resemblance to the beast depicted in Owen’s sketches. Alternatively, assuming that a thalattosuchian lineage has indeed persisted (and continued to evolve accordingly) into the present day, its members may no longer possess such a fin anyway.
Without any physical remains of the beast available for direct examination, however, its identity can never be categorically confirmed. In 2006, using a map that Owen had prepared for them, a team from the Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) that included British cryptozoologist Richard Freeman visited the site in The Gambia where, 23 years earlier, the headless carcase had apparently been buried shortly after Owen had viewed it – but to their horror they discovered that a nightclub had since been built upon that exact same spot! Nevertheless, the team did attempt to do some digging as close as possible to the nightclub, but they did not uncover any remains.
Richard Freeman (left) and other team members from the CFZ’s 2006 Gambian expedition digging in search of Gambo’s carcase near the nightclub on Bungalow Beach (© CFZ)
As for myself, more than three decades on from my first article on this subject I remain totally open-minded as to what Gambo was. Contrary to a number of claims or assumptions made by others over the years, I have never stated that I believe it to have been a modern-day descendant of a prehistoric reptilian lineage. I have merely stated that, based upon Owen’s verbal description and sketches, this is what it most closely resembles – but as the saying goes, appearances can (and often do) deceive. Consequently, without having first examined physical evidence it would be ridiculous to make any firm assertion as to this animal’s taxonomic identity – which is why I have never done so.
After all, it is possible (although in my opinion unlikely) that Owen’s account and drawings are not very accurate, in which case Gambo may have been nothing more than some ordinary, known species of cetacean after all; or, at most, a previously unknown cetacean species – in which latter case I propose Gambiocetus burnhami gen. nov. sp. nov. (‘Burnham’s Gambian whale’) as a suitable scientific name for it, based upon the detailed morphological description presented by me above. In any event, here’s to one record finally – and very firmly – set straight, I trust!
Artistic reconstruction of Gambo’s possible appearance in life (© Tim Morris)
Finally, for those younger readers who may still be perplexed by my oblique reference at this present ShukerNature blog article’s onset to Mr Acker Bilk: notable for always including ‘Mr’ as part of his official stage name, he was a very popular British clarinettist who had many hit singles and albums during the 1960s and 1970s, of which the most famous was his original recording of a certain track that very swiftly became not only his signature tune but also an internationally-successful instrumental standard – ‘Stranger on the Shore’.
Written by Bilk for his daughter Jenny, it stayed in the UK singles chart for over a year following its initial release in 1961, was the first British single to hit the number one spot in the modern-day version of the USA’s Billboard Hot 100 (which it achieved in 1962), and went on to become the biggest-selling instrumental single of all time. So now you know!
Mr Acker Bilk in the 1960s performing ‘Live In The Clarence Ballroom’ (formerly The Duke Of Clarence Assembly Rooms) (© Marquisofqueensbury/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)
I wish to take this opportunity to thank Owen Burnham most sincerely for so kindly making available to me such a vast quantity of information and other materials concerning Gambo and also a number of other West African cryptids, as well as for his much-valued friendship down through the many years that have passed since our first communications to one another way back in the mid-1980s.
The CFZ’s official, published report of their 2006 expedition to The Gambia (© CFZ Press)
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WHEN NANDI BEARS AND GROUND SLOTHS CAME TO TOWN? TWO EARLY EXHIBITIONS OF CRYPTIDS IN ENGLAND?

by on May.06, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Could modern-day chalicotheres occasionally emerging from the Nandi and Kakamega Forests‘ dense, shadowy interior explain reports of the formidable Nandi bear? Depicted here are two life-sized Anisodon grande chalicothere models at the Natural History Museumin Basel, Switzerland (© Ghedoghedo-Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)
Periodically come reports from the Kakamega forests in Kenya of sightings of the Nandi bear. The beast is described as having a gorilla-like stance with forelimbs longer than the hind, with clawed feet like a bear and with a horse-like face. Could the beast be a survivor of the chalicothere, thought to have become extinct in East Africa during the Pleistocene? The description above would fit with the skeletal remains of these extraordinary animals.
            R.J.G. Savage and M.R. Long – Mammal Evolution

One of the most formidable, ferocious mystery beasts on record, the Nandi bear of western Kenya’s Nandi and neighbouring Kakamega forest regions was once widely reported, but lately it seems to have gone out of fashion – or even out of existence – because there do not appear to have been any documented sightings of it for many years. Consequently, the Nandi bear (aka chemosit, kerit, koddoelo, khodumodumo, and gadett) is seldom referred to nowadays, even by cryptozoologists. As a result, this present ShukerNature blog article is the first in a planned occasional series whose intention is to raise awareness and interest once again in this long-forgotten yet thoroughly fascinating cryptid, which remains one of my all-time favourites.
As discussed by veteran cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans in On the Track of Unknown Animals(1958) and further assessed in my own books In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors and Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors, the Nandi bear seems to have been many things to many people, inasmuch as it was apparently a composite creature, i.e. ‘created’ from the erroneous lumping together of reports describing several taxonomically discrete animals. Some of these are already known to science, but others may not be, at least in the living state.
Reconstruction of Africa‘s supposedly long-extinct giant short-faced hyaena (public domain)
They include: old all-black ratels (honey badgers) Mellivora capensis; some form of extra-savage giant baboon; erythristic (freakishly red-furred) spotted hyaenas Crocuta crocuta and/or a supposedly long-extinct lion-sized relative called the short-faced hyaena Pachycrocuta brevirostris; the aardvark Orycteropus afer; perhaps even a relict true bear like the supposedly-extinct Agriotheriumor one related to (or synonymous with) the Atlas bear Ursus arctos crowtheri, which still existed in North Africa until as recently as the 1870s; and, most fascinating of all, a putative surviving species of chalicothere.
The latter were bizarre perissodactyl (odd-toed) ungulates that possessed claws instead of hooves, and which may have been somewhat hyaena-like in superficial appearance (due to their rearward-sloping back) but were much larger in size. According to the fossil record, chalicotheres lingered on until at least as recently as one million years ago in Africa, but died out earlier elsewhere in the world.
Artistic representation of a living chalicothere (© Hodari Nundu)
The prospect of a modern-day chalicothere being responsible for certain Nandi bear reports was popularised by Heuvelmans in his book On the Track…, but in spite of common assumption to the contrary, he definitely did not originate this notion. Instead, it was presented and discussed at length as far back as 1931, by Captain Charles R.S. Pitman in the first of his two autobiographical works, A Game Warden Among His Charges. Moreover, it was briefly alluded to even earlier, by Dr Charles W. Andrews in his Nature article from 1923 regarding the finding of chalicothere fossils in Central Africa. Even the renowned Kenyan palaeoanthropologist Louis S.B. Leakey contemplated it in an Illustrated London News article of 2 November 1935. Certainly, the idea has long held a particular fascination for me, because it alone could provide a reasonable explanation why the Nandi bear has seemingly vanished.
Artiodactyls (even-toed ungulates, e.g. cattle, antelopes, giraffes, pigs) were devastated by an epidemic of rinderpest (a morbillivirus) that swept across southern Africa during the late 19th Century. In 1995, it was revealed that a distantly-related morbillivirus was comparably deleterious to horses (which, like chalicotheres, are perissodactyls). So could a morbillivirus have wiped out a chalicotherian Nandi bear? None of the other Nandi bear identities would be affected by such a disease, so if only these identities were components of the Nandi bear composite (i.e. with no ungulate component ever involved), we would expect Nandi bear reports to be still surfacing, whereas in reality none has emerged for years.
Chalicothere skeletons (public domain)
Someone else who was very intrigued by the concept of a chalicotherian Nandi bear was British author and wildlife educator Clinton H. Keeling (click here to access a rare vintage photograph from 1955 depicting Clinton and his wife, on Shutterstock’s website), whose death in 2007 robbed the international zoological community of a uniquely knowledgeable expert on the histories and exhibits of zoological gardens, circuses, and menageries (travelling and stationary) throughout Britain and overseas, both in the present and in the past. During the course of a long, productive life as a zoo curator and also travelling widely to schools with animals to entertain and educate generations of children concerning the wonders of wildlife, Clinton wrote and self-published over 30 books (but all of which, tragically, are fiendishly difficult to track down nowadays) documenting wild animal husbandry and also the histories of demised and long-forgotten animal collections.
These works are a veritable treasure trove of extraordinary information and insights that are very unlikely to be found elsewhere, providing details of some truly remarkable and sometimes highly mysterious creatures that were at one time or another on display in Britain – and which in Clinton‘s opinion may have included at least three living chalicotherian Nandi bears!
Sivatherium (an extinct ‘antlered’ giraffid) and chalicothere models (© Markus Bühler)
Frustratingly, however, I have never managed to obtain a copy of any of Clinton‘s books. So after he published a summary of his Nandi bear accounts from two of them in the form of a short article appearing within the July 1995 issue of the Centre for Fortean Zoology’s periodical Animals and Men, I wrote to him requesting further information. In response, he kindly wrote me a very detailed letter, dated 3 July 1995, documenting all that he knew about this extremely exciting possibility and also regarding various other cryptozoological subjects.
Its contents made enthralling, thought-provoking reading, but I have never blogged its Nandi bear section (or even any excerpts from it) – until now. So here, for the very first time on ShukerNature, is Clinton Keeling’s full and thoroughly fascinating account of that tantalising bygone trio of unidentified captive beasts in Britain that just may have been living Nandi bears:
Rest assured I shall be happy to assist you in any way possible concerning the “Nandi Bear”, of which I am convinced at least three specimens have been exhibited in this country – although their owners had no idea what they were…
I think it would be best if I were to quote directly from two of my books…in this way you’ll know as much as I do when you’ve finished reading. The following – I’ll call it NB1 [i.e. Nandi Bear Case #1] – is from my book Where the Crane Danced, written in 1983; I’m dealing with the earliest travelling menageries:
“The first one I have been able to learn anything about must have been operating in the 1730s, and although not even its name has been recorded I was absolutely thrilled to discover that it contained what might well have been proof that an animal that most people relegate to the Loch Ness Monster bin really did exist – and comparatively recently too. In a nutshell, I have always been interested in the mysterious creature usually referred to as the Nandi Bear, which might still exist on the Uashin Gishu Plateau in Kenya; some people swear it was/is a belated Chalicotherium, a primitive ungulate with claw-like hooves which officially became extinct long ago, while others pooh-pooh the whole tale as an utter fabrication. Those who claim to have seen it, though, and they are many, all talk of a Hyena-like creature with the head of a Bear [some descriptions, however, offer the converse description, i.e. hyaena-headed and bear-bodied]. And please note this menagerie that might have shown one was operating getting on for two centuries before Kenya was opened up by Europeans, so in other words no-one had heard of it then. I first came upon this intriguing possibility when looking through some old numbers of Animal and Zoo Magazine, the long-defunct publication I mentioned in Where the Lion Trod [another of Clinton‘s books]. In the edition for February 1938 it stated that a reader in Yorkshire had found a bill “two hundred years old” that read:
“Posted at the sign of the Spread Eagle, Halifax. This is to give notice, to all Gentlemen, Ladies and others, that there is to be seen at the sign of the Coffee House, a curious collection of living creatures…”
“It then went on to list its attractions, chiefly Monkeys and smallish carnivores, the last of which was:
“A young HALF and HALF; the head of a Hyena, the hind part like a Frieseland [Polar? [this query was inserted by Clinton]] Bear.”
“Now it would certainly not have been a Hyena, or a Bear, as clearly whoever penned the advertisement apparently knew what they looked like, so one is left to ponder on this curiosity, which sounds so much like descriptions of that weird threshold-of-science creature which has so often been seen by sober people of high reputation as it has gone slinking through the long grass in the African night.”
Chalicothere painting seen at Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire, England (© Dr Karl Shuker/Twycross Zoo – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis, for educational/review purposes only)
NB2 [Nandi Bear Case #2] comes in my Where the Macaw Preened (1993), and its source is interesting. In Where the Crane Danced I dealt in some detail with Mander’s Menagerie, a huge display second in size only to Bostock and Wombwell’s, and which finally came off the road in 1875. As a result of this, I was contacted by a Mrs Rosanne Eccleston of Telford, Shropshire, who is a descendant of the Manders. She sent me a facsimile of an extremely lengthy advert, placed in a York newspaper in November 1869 which was, in effect, a stocklist of the show at that time (it included such unexpected items as Ligers); Mander was [a] very experienced animal-man, but sometimes he got his geographical area of distribution wrong, usually – and this could be significant – when he’d obtained a rare or obscure species (i.e. not what I call a Noah’s Ark animal – Lion, Tiger, Bear, etc.) about which he knew little or nothing. Anyway, I quote directly from the end of the section on Mander’s Menagerie in WTMP [Where the Macaw Preened]:
“I’ve deliberately left what I consider to have been the most remarkable exhibits until the last, so we can savour them for the marvels that I think they could have been. Oddly enough, they were one of the few species to be given what’s clearly the wrong area of distribution.
“Listed as “Indian Prairie Fiends” they were described as:
Most wonderful creatures. Head like the Hippopotamus. Body like a Bear. Claws similar to the Tiger, and ears similar to a Horse.
“That’s all, and forget the inference to North America [i.e. the prairie portion of the name applied to these creatures in the listing], as there’s nothing in that part of the world that has ever resembled anything like this, but, descriptions given by Africans apart, this is the best word-picture of the Chimiset or Nandi Bear I’ve ever happened upon.
“Many people, I know, relegate this astonishing creature to the same category as the Loch Ness Monster and other twilight beasts which might or might not exist, but here I feel they are being unjust as the question should really be “does it stillexist?”, as of all the “mystery” animals this is the one scientific sceptics come nearest to accepting, as paleontologists have learned a great deal about the Chalicotherium – which is believed to be the origin of the Nandi Bear. In short, it resembled a nightmarish (no pun intended) Horse – in fact it was related to the Equines – which had huge claws and preyed upon other animals, in fact many Africans have stated how fierce it is, and how destructive to their livestock (“Fiends”, I trust you’ve noticed; the only implication so far of viciousness – again, it fits). Readers of WTCD[Where the Crane Danced] will recall my suggestion that a menagerie touring northern England in the 1730s also boasted a young specimen – which is at least perfectly possible, as there now seems little doubt that a small relict population of Chalicotheriums (Chalicotheria?) hung out on the Uashin Gishu Plateau in East Africa until the very end of the 19th Century, when it was wiped out by the great rinderpest epidemic of 1899. Remember, it wasan ungulate, despite not having hooves and eating flesh. What a pity Mr Mander didn’t think anyone would be interested to learn what he fed his specimens on!”
All of which brings up some fascinating points. For a start, on the face of it, it sticks out a mile that the two reports are of completely different animals, but whereas the “Halifax” creature was a classic description of the beast seen so often in Africa a century ago, the “York” one is a word-perfect reconstruction of modern assessments of what the chalicotherium must have looked like – even to the Horse-like (Hippopotamus) head and massive claws. I agree it sounds paradoxical, but here are good descriptions of the creatures seen in the field by traveller and tribesman, and the armchair explorers’ and scientists’ word-picture of what it must have resembled. In other words, there’s a strong case for each.
An extremely impressive brief can be made for Mander’s animals, as it’s the only species in his list with a “made-up” name; all others either have appellations still in use, or old but then perfectly acceptable ones, such as “Yaxtruss” for Yak and “Horned Horse” for Wildebeests: this one alone has an outlandish name. It’s very highly significant, too, that again it’s the only one to be described in detail – presumably on the assumption that most people would know what a Camel or a Zebra or a Kangaroo was. In other words Mander, who most certainly knew an extremely wide range of species, hadn’t the slightest idea of what the Indian Prairie Fiends really were.
I cannot emphasise strongly enough that whatever these animals were, they would certainly have been on show, and more or less as described, as contrary to popular belief, the showmen of yesterday might have exaggerated the size or physical attributes of their exhibits, but they certainly didn’t advertise what they hadn’t got. They were not fools, and knew full well the measures a mob of 19th Century colliers, artisans, idlers and toughs would take if it thought it was being swindled or “conned”.
Most unfortunately it didn’t enter the heads of these very materialistic travellers to keep Occurrences Books (other than places visited and money taken) so unfortunately we’ll probably never know how these I.P.F.s [Indian Prairie Fiends] were obtained, how many there were, their diet, how long they lived, or – very important – what became of them. I mention this because there was often an arrangement with museums whereby unusual cadavers were eagerly purchased (in Weston Park Museum, Sheffield, for example, there are two hybrid big Cat cubs purchased long ago from a travelling show) so I suppose it’s just possible, in some dusty storeroom, there could be a couple of interesting skulls or pelts.
Scale illustration depicting an American chalicothere Moropus elatus alongside an average-sized human in silhouette form (© Nobu Tamura-Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)
As can be readily appreciated, the extensive Nandi bear sections quoted above from Clinton‘s letter to me constitute a captivating and very thought-provoking communication, to say the least! However, it contains certain assumptions that need to be addressed and rectified.
First and foremost: contrary, to Clinton’s claims, the chalicotheres were not carnivorous, they were wholly herbivorous – a major conflict with the Nandi bear’s bloodthirsty rapaciousness that Heuvelmans sought to explain by speculating that perhaps the occasional sight of so extraordinary a beast as a chalicothere, armed with its huge claws, was sufficient for a native observer to assume (wrongly) that they had spied a bona fide Nandi bear. In other words, even if there are any living chalicotheres, these perissodactyl ungulates are only Nandi bears by proxy. Having said that, however, as I pointed out in my two prehistoric survivors books, certain other perissodactyls, such as some zebras, tapirs, and most notably the rhinoceroses, can be notoriously bellicose if confronted. If the same were true of chalicotheres, one of these horse-sized creatures with formidable claws and an even more formidable, highly aggressive defensive stance would definitely make a veritable Nandi bear, even though it wouldn’t devour its victim afterwards.
A family of American chalicotheres, Moropus, with one of the adults savagely seeing off a couple of snarling Daphoenodon bear-dogs or amphicyonids, as depicted in an exquisite palaeoart mural produced by Jay Matternes and exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington DC, USA (public domain)
When referring to the Halifax mystery beast (NB1), Clinton wondered whether the “Frieseland [sic] bear” that it was likened to was a polar bear. In reality, however, the only bears native to Friesland, which is part of the present-day Netherlands, are brown bears Ursus arctos. Consequently, this suggests that the animal’s hind parts resembled a brown bear’s, not a polar bear’s.
My greatest concern, however, is Clinton’s determination to believe that the Halifax mystery beast and the York mystery beasts (NB2) were the same species (even after stating himself that at least on first sight the two reports describe two totally different types of animal). Personally, I fail to see how a hyaena-headed owecreature can be one and the same as a hippo-headed creature – unless, perhaps, these were simply differing ways of emphasising that the creatures had big, noticeable teeth? In the same way, likening their ears to those of horses might indicate that, as with horses’ ears, theirs were noticeable without being prominent. Alternatively (or additionally?), describing an animal’s head as hippo-like may imply that it had large, broad nostrils and/or mouth.
Is this what a Nandi bear trophy head might look like if it were truly a chalicothere? Many renowned hunters sought the Nandi bear during the early 20thCentury, hoping to add to their collections of mounted heads and pelt rugs a specimen of what they no doubt considered to be the ultimate trophy animal, but none succeeded. (The above photograph depicts an Ancylotheriumchalicothere model head from the ‘Walk With Beasts’ exhibition temporarily held at London‘s Horniman Museum.) (© Jim Linwood-Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)
Clinton‘s statement that the hippo-headed York cryptids corresponded with a chalicothere’s appearance cannot be countenanced, because chalicotheres’ heads were horse-like (which hippos aren’t), and chalicotheres didn’t have big teeth. So even if the hippo-head comparison was just an allusion to the size of the York cryptids’ teeth, a chalicothere identity is still ruled out for them.
My own view is that if either of the two cryptid types documented here were a Nandi bear, it is more likely to have been the hyaena-headed, bear-bodied Halifax animal. Even so, this latter beast sounds very reminiscent of a scientifically-recognised but publicly little-known species whose distinctive appearance would certainly have made it a most eyecatching exhibit. Today, three species of true hyaena exist, two of which – the striped hyaena Hyaena hyaena and the earlier-mentioned spotted hyaena – are familiar to zoologists and laymen alike. The third, and rarest, conversely, is seldom seen in captivity and is elusive even in its native southern African homeland.
An early, vintage photograph of a brown hyaena in captivity (top); and a modern-day photo of another captive specimen belonging to this same species (bottom) (public domain / © Markus Bühler)
This reclusive species is the brown hyaena H. brunnea, which just so happens to combine a hyaena’s head with a dark brown shaggy-furred body that is definitely ursine in superficial appearance (as I can personally testify, having been fortunate enough to espy this species in the wild in South Africa), and especially so in the eyes of a zoologically-untrained observer. So could the Halifax mystery beast have been a sub-adult brown hyaena, captured alive alongside various more common African species and then transported to Britain with them, where it was destined to be displayed to a wide-eyed public that had never before seen this exotic-looking species? It is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility, and is a more plausible identity than a Nandi bear.
As for the Mander cryptids, an identity very different from that of a Nandi bear but equally cryptozoological in nature came to mind as soon as I first read Clinton‘s account of them.
Might Mander’s ‘prairie fiends’ have been living ground sloths? Here is a life-sized museum model of a ground sloth in quadrupedal pose (© Alexandre Paz Vieira/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)
Clinton discounted their ‘Indian prairie fiend’ name by accurately stating that nothing resembling them is known from North America. But what if they had come from South America instead? The ‘Indian’ reference could simply have been in relation to whichever native Indian tribe(s) shared their specific distribution in South America. And could it be that ‘prairie’ was nothing more than an alternative name for ‘pampas’, perhaps substituted deliberately by Mander as he knew that ‘prairie’ would be a more familiar term than ‘pampas’ to his exhibition’s visitors?
But does the South American pampas harbour a creature resembling those cryptids exhibited by Mander? Until at least as recently as the close of the Pleistocene epoch a mere 11,700 years or so ago, this vast region (encompassing southernmost Brazil, much of Uruguay, and part of Argentina) did indeed harbour large shaggy bear-like beasts with huge claws, noticeable ears, plus sizeable nostrils and mouth. I refer of course to the ground sloths – those burly, predominantly terrestrial relatives of today’s much smaller tree sloths. Moreover, the pampas has hosted several modern-day sightings of cryptids bearing more than a passing resemblance to ground sloths – and thence to the Mander mystery beasts.
Reconstruction and skeleton of a living ground sloth in upright pose (public domain / © Dr Karl Shuker)
Some species of ground sloth were truly gigantic, but others were of much more modest proportions, and there is no doubt that a medium-sized species of surviving ground sloth would solve a number of currently unresolved cryptozoological conundra, not least of which is the identity of the mystifying Mander beasts. Specimens of many other South American beasts were commonly transported from their sultry homelands and exhibited in Europe back in the days of travelling menageries here. Could these have included a couple of ground sloths? In addition, armed with such huge claws a cornered ground sloth might well be more than sufficiently belligerent if threatened or attacked to warrant being dubbed a fiend.
So, who knows – perhaps the hypothetical dusty museum storeroom postulated by Clinton as a repository for some mortal remains of the Nandi bear may contain some modern-day ground sloth cadavers instead? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that surprising and highly significant zoological discoveries have been made not in the field but within hitherto unstudied or overlooked collections of museum specimens.
Holding my very own model of a chalicothere…and Nandi bear? (© Dr Karl Shuker)
NB – This ShukerNature blog article is based upon an earlier Fortean Times article of mine that subsequently reappeared as a chapter in my book A Manifestation of Monsters. Regrettably, however, in both of those previous incarnations a very rare (for me) and admittedly only minor yet nonetheless unfortunate error inexplicably crept in, but which via this present ShukerNature blog version I have finally been able to correct. Specifically in the FT and book versions, the antepenultimate paragraph in my account, which opens with the words “But does the South American pampas…”, erroneously contains the name ‘Halifax‘ (twice) when the correct name should have been ‘Mander’; and also this same error occurs once in the penultimate paragraph, opening with the words “Some species of ground sloth”. As seen above, however, I have made the necessary corrections in this blog version, so anyone owning my FT article and/or my Manifestation book can now either mentally or physically amend them accordingly there too.
The most extensive coverage of the enigmatic Nandi bear’s history and possible identity (or identities) included in any modern-day work can be found in my book Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors, which also contains a comprehensive coverage of putative ground sloth survival.

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WHEN NANDI BEARS AND GROUND SLOTHS CAME TO TOWN? TWO EARLY EXHIBITIONS OF CRYPTIDS IN ENGLAND?

by on May.06, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Could modern-day chalicotheres occasionally emerging from the Nandi and Kakamega Forests‘ dense, shadowy interior explain reports of the formidable Nandi bear? Depicted here are two life-sized Anisodon grande chalicothere models at the Natural History Museumin Basel, Switzerland (© Ghedoghedo-Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)
Periodically come reports from the Kakamega forests in Kenya of sightings of the Nandi bear. The beast is described as having a gorilla-like stance with forelimbs longer than the hind, with clawed feet like a bear and with a horse-like face. Could the beast be a survivor of the chalicothere, thought to have become extinct in East Africa during the Pleistocene? The description above would fit with the skeletal remains of these extraordinary animals.
            R.J.G. Savage and M.R. Long – Mammal Evolution

One of the most formidable, ferocious mystery beasts on record, the Nandi bear of western Kenya’s Nandi and neighbouring Kakamega forest regions was once widely reported, but lately it seems to have gone out of fashion – or even out of existence – because there do not appear to have been any documented sightings of it for many years. Consequently, the Nandi bear (aka chemosit, kerit, koddoelo, khodumodumo, and gadett) is seldom referred to nowadays, even by cryptozoologists. As a result, this present ShukerNature blog article is the first in a planned occasional series whose intention is to raise awareness and interest once again in this long-forgotten yet thoroughly fascinating cryptid, which remains one of my all-time favourites.
As discussed by veteran cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans in On the Track of Unknown Animals(1958) and further assessed in my own books In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors and Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors, the Nandi bear seems to have been many things to many people, inasmuch as it was apparently a composite creature, i.e. ‘created’ from the erroneous lumping together of reports describing several taxonomically discrete animals. Some of these are already known to science, but others may not be, at least in the living state.
Reconstruction of Africa‘s supposedly long-extinct giant short-faced hyaena (public domain)
They include: old all-black ratels (honey badgers) Mellivora capensis; some form of extra-savage giant baboon; erythristic (freakishly red-furred) spotted hyaenas Crocuta crocuta and/or a supposedly long-extinct lion-sized relative called the short-faced hyaena Pachycrocuta brevirostris; the aardvark Orycteropus afer; perhaps even a relict true bear like the supposedly-extinct Agriotheriumor one related to (or synonymous with) the Atlas bear Ursus arctos crowtheri, which still existed in North Africa until as recently as the 1870s; and, most fascinating of all, a putative surviving species of chalicothere.
The latter were bizarre perissodactyl (odd-toed) ungulates that possessed claws instead of hooves, and which may have been somewhat hyaena-like in superficial appearance (due to their rearward-sloping back) but were much larger in size. According to the fossil record, chalicotheres lingered on until at least as recently as one million years ago in Africa, but died out earlier elsewhere in the world.
Artistic representation of a living chalicothere (© Hodari Nundu)
The prospect of a modern-day chalicothere being responsible for certain Nandi bear reports was popularised by Heuvelmans in his book On the Track…, but in spite of common assumption to the contrary, he definitely did not originate this notion. Instead, it was presented and discussed at length as far back as 1931, by Captain Charles R.S. Pitman in the first of his two autobiographical works, A Game Warden Among His Charges. Moreover, it was briefly alluded to even earlier, by Dr Charles W. Andrews in his Nature article from 1923 regarding the finding of chalicothere fossils in Central Africa. Even the renowned Kenyan palaeoanthropologist Louis S.B. Leakey contemplated it in an Illustrated London News article of 2 November 1935. Certainly, the idea has long held a particular fascination for me, because it alone could provide a reasonable explanation why the Nandi bear has seemingly vanished.
Artiodactyls (even-toed ungulates, e.g. cattle, antelopes, giraffes, pigs) were devastated by an epidemic of rinderpest (a morbillivirus) that swept across southern Africa during the late 19th Century. In 1995, it was revealed that a distantly-related morbillivirus was comparably deleterious to horses (which, like chalicotheres, are perissodactyls). So could a morbillivirus have wiped out a chalicotherian Nandi bear? None of the other Nandi bear identities would be affected by such a disease, so if only these identities were components of the Nandi bear composite (i.e. with no ungulate component ever involved), we would expect Nandi bear reports to be still surfacing, whereas in reality none has emerged for years.
Chalicothere skeletons (public domain)
Someone else who was very intrigued by the concept of a chalicotherian Nandi bear was British author and wildlife educator Clinton H. Keeling (click here to access a rare vintage photograph from 1955 depicting Clinton and his wife, on Shutterstock’s website), whose death in 2007 robbed the international zoological community of a uniquely knowledgeable expert on the histories and exhibits of zoological gardens, circuses, and menageries (travelling and stationary) throughout Britain and overseas, both in the present and in the past. During the course of a long, productive life as a zoo curator and also travelling widely to schools with animals to entertain and educate generations of children concerning the wonders of wildlife, Clinton wrote and self-published over 30 books (but all of which, tragically, are fiendishly difficult to track down nowadays) documenting wild animal husbandry and also the histories of demised and long-forgotten animal collections.
These works are a veritable treasure trove of extraordinary information and insights that are very unlikely to be found elsewhere, providing details of some truly remarkable and sometimes highly mysterious creatures that were at one time or another on display in Britain – and which in Clinton‘s opinion may have included at least three living chalicotherian Nandi bears!
Sivatherium (an extinct ‘antlered’ giraffid) and chalicothere models (© Markus Bühler)
Frustratingly, however, I have never managed to obtain a copy of any of Clinton‘s books. So after he published a summary of his Nandi bear accounts from two of them in the form of a short article appearing within the July 1995 issue of the Centre for Fortean Zoology’s periodical Animals and Men, I wrote to him requesting further information. In response, he kindly wrote me a very detailed letter, dated 3 July 1995, documenting all that he knew about this extremely exciting possibility and also regarding various other cryptozoological subjects.
Its contents made enthralling, thought-provoking reading, but I have never blogged its Nandi bear section (or even any excerpts from it) – until now. So here, for the very first time on ShukerNature, is Clinton Keeling’s full and thoroughly fascinating account of that tantalising bygone trio of unidentified captive beasts in Britain that just may have been living Nandi bears:
Rest assured I shall be happy to assist you in any way possible concerning the “Nandi Bear”, of which I am convinced at least three specimens have been exhibited in this country – although their owners had no idea what they were…
I think it would be best if I were to quote directly from two of my books…in this way you’ll know as much as I do when you’ve finished reading. The following – I’ll call it NB1 [i.e. Nandi Bear Case #1] – is from my book Where the Crane Danced, written in 1983; I’m dealing with the earliest travelling menageries:
“The first one I have been able to learn anything about must have been operating in the 1730s, and although not even its name has been recorded I was absolutely thrilled to discover that it contained what might well have been proof that an animal that most people relegate to the Loch Ness Monster bin really did exist – and comparatively recently too. In a nutshell, I have always been interested in the mysterious creature usually referred to as the Nandi Bear, which might still exist on the Uashin Gishu Plateau in Kenya; some people swear it was/is a belated Chalicotherium, a primitive ungulate with claw-like hooves which officially became extinct long ago, while others pooh-pooh the whole tale as an utter fabrication. Those who claim to have seen it, though, and they are many, all talk of a Hyena-like creature with the head of a Bear [some descriptions, however, offer the converse description, i.e. hyaena-headed and bear-bodied]. And please note this menagerie that might have shown one was operating getting on for two centuries before Kenya was opened up by Europeans, so in other words no-one had heard of it then. I first came upon this intriguing possibility when looking through some old numbers of Animal and Zoo Magazine, the long-defunct publication I mentioned in Where the Lion Trod [another of Clinton‘s books]. In the edition for February 1938 it stated that a reader in Yorkshire had found a bill “two hundred years old” that read:
“Posted at the sign of the Spread Eagle, Halifax. This is to give notice, to all Gentlemen, Ladies and others, that there is to be seen at the sign of the Coffee House, a curious collection of living creatures…”
“It then went on to list its attractions, chiefly Monkeys and smallish carnivores, the last of which was:
“A young HALF and HALF; the head of a Hyena, the hind part like a Frieseland [Polar? [this query was inserted by Clinton]] Bear.”
“Now it would certainly not have been a Hyena, or a Bear, as clearly whoever penned the advertisement apparently knew what they looked like, so one is left to ponder on this curiosity, which sounds so much like descriptions of that weird threshold-of-science creature which has so often been seen by sober people of high reputation as it has gone slinking through the long grass in the African night.”
Chalicothere painting seen at Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire, England (© Dr Karl Shuker/Twycross Zoo – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis, for educational/review purposes only)
NB2 [Nandi Bear Case #2] comes in my Where the Macaw Preened (1993), and its source is interesting. In Where the Crane Danced I dealt in some detail with Mander’s Menagerie, a huge display second in size only to Bostock and Wombwell’s, and which finally came off the road in 1875. As a result of this, I was contacted by a Mrs Rosanne Eccleston of Telford, Shropshire, who is a descendant of the Manders. She sent me a facsimile of an extremely lengthy advert, placed in a York newspaper in November 1869 which was, in effect, a stocklist of the show at that time (it included such unexpected items as Ligers); Mander was [a] very experienced animal-man, but sometimes he got his geographical area of distribution wrong, usually – and this could be significant – when he’d obtained a rare or obscure species (i.e. not what I call a Noah’s Ark animal – Lion, Tiger, Bear, etc.) about which he knew little or nothing. Anyway, I quote directly from the end of the section on Mander’s Menagerie in WTMP [Where the Macaw Preened]:
“I’ve deliberately left what I consider to have been the most remarkable exhibits until the last, so we can savour them for the marvels that I think they could have been. Oddly enough, they were one of the few species to be given what’s clearly the wrong area of distribution.
“Listed as “Indian Prairie Fiends” they were described as:
Most wonderful creatures. Head like the Hippopotamus. Body like a Bear. Claws similar to the Tiger, and ears similar to a Horse.
“That’s all, and forget the inference to North America [i.e. the prairie portion of the name applied to these creatures in the listing], as there’s nothing in that part of the world that has ever resembled anything like this, but, descriptions given by Africans apart, this is the best word-picture of the Chimiset or Nandi Bear I’ve ever happened upon.
“Many people, I know, relegate this astonishing creature to the same category as the Loch Ness Monster and other twilight beasts which might or might not exist, but here I feel they are being unjust as the question should really be “does it stillexist?”, as of all the “mystery” animals this is the one scientific sceptics come nearest to accepting, as paleontologists have learned a great deal about the Chalicotherium – which is believed to be the origin of the Nandi Bear. In short, it resembled a nightmarish (no pun intended) Horse – in fact it was related to the Equines – which had huge claws and preyed upon other animals, in fact many Africans have stated how fierce it is, and how destructive to their livestock (“Fiends”, I trust you’ve noticed; the only implication so far of viciousness – again, it fits). Readers of WTCD[Where the Crane Danced] will recall my suggestion that a menagerie touring northern England in the 1730s also boasted a young specimen – which is at least perfectly possible, as there now seems little doubt that a small relict population of Chalicotheriums (Chalicotheria?) hung out on the Uashin Gishu Plateau in East Africa until the very end of the 19th Century, when it was wiped out by the great rinderpest epidemic of 1899. Remember, it wasan ungulate, despite not having hooves and eating flesh. What a pity Mr Mander didn’t think anyone would be interested to learn what he fed his specimens on!”
All of which brings up some fascinating points. For a start, on the face of it, it sticks out a mile that the two reports are of completely different animals, but whereas the “Halifax” creature was a classic description of the beast seen so often in Africa a century ago, the “York” one is a word-perfect reconstruction of modern assessments of what the chalicotherium must have looked like – even to the Horse-like (Hippopotamus) head and massive claws. I agree it sounds paradoxical, but here are good descriptions of the creatures seen in the field by traveller and tribesman, and the armchair explorers’ and scientists’ word-picture of what it must have resembled. In other words, there’s a strong case for each.
An extremely impressive brief can be made for Mander’s animals, as it’s the only species in his list with a “made-up” name; all others either have appellations still in use, or old but then perfectly acceptable ones, such as “Yaxtruss” for Yak and “Horned Horse” for Wildebeests: this one alone has an outlandish name. It’s very highly significant, too, that again it’s the only one to be described in detail – presumably on the assumption that most people would know what a Camel or a Zebra or a Kangaroo was. In other words Mander, who most certainly knew an extremely wide range of species, hadn’t the slightest idea of what the Indian Prairie Fiends really were.
I cannot emphasise strongly enough that whatever these animals were, they would certainly have been on show, and more or less as described, as contrary to popular belief, the showmen of yesterday might have exaggerated the size or physical attributes of their exhibits, but they certainly didn’t advertise what they hadn’t got. They were not fools, and knew full well the measures a mob of 19th Century colliers, artisans, idlers and toughs would take if it thought it was being swindled or “conned”.
Most unfortunately it didn’t enter the heads of these very materialistic travellers to keep Occurrences Books (other than places visited and money taken) so unfortunately we’ll probably never know how these I.P.F.s [Indian Prairie Fiends] were obtained, how many there were, their diet, how long they lived, or – very important – what became of them. I mention this because there was often an arrangement with museums whereby unusual cadavers were eagerly purchased (in Weston Park Museum, Sheffield, for example, there are two hybrid big Cat cubs purchased long ago from a travelling show) so I suppose it’s just possible, in some dusty storeroom, there could be a couple of interesting skulls or pelts.
Scale illustration depicting an American chalicothere Moropus elatus alongside an average-sized human in silhouette form (© Nobu Tamura-Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)
As can be readily appreciated, the extensive Nandi bear sections quoted above from Clinton‘s letter to me constitute a captivating and very thought-provoking communication, to say the least! However, it contains certain assumptions that need to be addressed and rectified.
First and foremost: contrary, to Clinton’s claims, the chalicotheres were not carnivorous, they were wholly herbivorous – a major conflict with the Nandi bear’s bloodthirsty rapaciousness that Heuvelmans sought to explain by speculating that perhaps the occasional sight of so extraordinary a beast as a chalicothere, armed with its huge claws, was sufficient for a native observer to assume (wrongly) that they had spied a bona fide Nandi bear. In other words, even if there are any living chalicotheres, these perissodactyl ungulates are only Nandi bears by proxy. Having said that, however, as I pointed out in my two prehistoric survivors books, certain other perissodactyls, such as some zebras, tapirs, and most notably the rhinoceroses, can be notoriously bellicose if confronted. If the same were true of chalicotheres, one of these horse-sized creatures with formidable claws and an even more formidable, highly aggressive defensive stance would definitely make a veritable Nandi bear, even though it wouldn’t devour its victim afterwards.
A family of American chalicotheres, Moropus, with one of the adults savagely seeing off a couple of snarling Daphoenodon bear-dogs or amphicyonids, as depicted in an exquisite palaeoart mural produced by Jay Matternes and exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington DC, USA (public domain)
When referring to the Halifax mystery beast (NB1), Clinton wondered whether the “Frieseland [sic] bear” that it was likened to was a polar bear. In reality, however, the only bears native to Friesland, which is part of the present-day Netherlands, are brown bears Ursus arctos. Consequently, this suggests that the animal’s hind parts resembled a brown bear’s, not a polar bear’s.
My greatest concern, however, is Clinton’s determination to believe that the Halifax mystery beast and the York mystery beasts (NB2) were the same species (even after stating himself that at least on first sight the two reports describe two totally different types of animal). Personally, I fail to see how a hyaena-headed owecreature can be one and the same as a hippo-headed creature – unless, perhaps, these were simply differing ways of emphasising that the creatures had big, noticeable teeth? In the same way, likening their ears to those of horses might indicate that, as with horses’ ears, theirs were noticeable without being prominent. Alternatively (or additionally?), describing an animal’s head as hippo-like may imply that it had large, broad nostrils and/or mouth.
Is this what a Nandi bear trophy head might look like if it were truly a chalicothere? Many renowned hunters sought the Nandi bear during the early 20thCentury, hoping to add to their collections of mounted heads and pelt rugs a specimen of what they no doubt considered to be the ultimate trophy animal, but none succeeded. (The above photograph depicts an Ancylotheriumchalicothere model head from the ‘Walk With Beasts’ exhibition temporarily held at London‘s Horniman Museum.) (© Jim Linwood-Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)
Clinton‘s statement that the hippo-headed York cryptids corresponded with a chalicothere’s appearance cannot be countenanced, because chalicotheres’ heads were horse-like (which hippos aren’t), and chalicotheres didn’t have big teeth. So even if the hippo-head comparison was just an allusion to the size of the York cryptids’ teeth, a chalicothere identity is still ruled out for them.
My own view is that if either of the two cryptid types documented here were a Nandi bear, it is more likely to have been the hyaena-headed, bear-bodied Halifax animal. Even so, this latter beast sounds very reminiscent of a scientifically-recognised but publicly little-known species whose distinctive appearance would certainly have made it a most eyecatching exhibit. Today, three species of true hyaena exist, two of which – the striped hyaena Hyaena hyaena and the earlier-mentioned spotted hyaena – are familiar to zoologists and laymen alike. The third, and rarest, conversely, is seldom seen in captivity and is elusive even in its native southern African homeland.
An early, vintage photograph of a brown hyaena in captivity (top); and a modern-day photo of another captive specimen belonging to this same species (bottom) (public domain / © Markus Bühler)
This reclusive species is the brown hyaena H. brunnea, which just so happens to combine a hyaena’s head with a dark brown shaggy-furred body that is definitely ursine in superficial appearance (as I can personally testify, having been fortunate enough to espy this species in the wild in South Africa), and especially so in the eyes of a zoologically-untrained observer. So could the Halifax mystery beast have been a sub-adult brown hyaena, captured alive alongside various more common African species and then transported to Britain with them, where it was destined to be displayed to a wide-eyed public that had never before seen this exotic-looking species? It is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility, and is a more plausible identity than a Nandi bear.
As for the Mander cryptids, an identity very different from that of a Nandi bear but equally cryptozoological in nature came to mind as soon as I first read Clinton‘s account of them.
Might Mander’s ‘prairie fiends’ have been living ground sloths? Here is a life-sized museum model of a ground sloth in quadrupedal pose (© Alexandre Paz Vieira/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)
Clinton discounted their ‘Indian prairie fiend’ name by accurately stating that nothing resembling them is known from North America. But what if they had come from South America instead? The ‘Indian’ reference could simply have been in relation to whichever native Indian tribe(s) shared their specific distribution in South America. And could it be that ‘prairie’ was nothing more than an alternative name for ‘pampas’, perhaps substituted deliberately by Mander as he knew that ‘prairie’ would be a more familiar term than ‘pampas’ to his exhibition’s visitors?
But does the South American pampas harbour a creature resembling those cryptids exhibited by Mander? Until at least as recently as the close of the Pleistocene epoch a mere 11,700 years or so ago, this vast region (encompassing southernmost Brazil, much of Uruguay, and part of Argentina) did indeed harbour large shaggy bear-like beasts with huge claws, noticeable ears, plus sizeable nostrils and mouth. I refer of course to the ground sloths – those burly, predominantly terrestrial relatives of today’s much smaller tree sloths. Moreover, the pampas has hosted several modern-day sightings of cryptids bearing more than a passing resemblance to ground sloths – and thence to the Mander mystery beasts.
Reconstruction and skeleton of a living ground sloth in upright pose (public domain / © Dr Karl Shuker)
Some species of ground sloth were truly gigantic, but others were of much more modest proportions, and there is no doubt that a medium-sized species of surviving ground sloth would solve a number of currently unresolved cryptozoological conundra, not least of which is the identity of the mystifying Mander beasts. Specimens of many other South American beasts were commonly transported from their sultry homelands and exhibited in Europe back in the days of travelling menageries here. Could these have included a couple of ground sloths? In addition, armed with such huge claws a cornered ground sloth might well be more than sufficiently belligerent if threatened or attacked to warrant being dubbed a fiend.
So, who knows – perhaps the hypothetical dusty museum storeroom postulated by Clinton as a repository for some mortal remains of the Nandi bear may contain some modern-day ground sloth cadavers instead? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that surprising and highly significant zoological discoveries have been made not in the field but within hitherto unstudied or overlooked collections of museum specimens.
Holding my very own model of a chalicothere…and Nandi bear? (© Dr Karl Shuker)
NB – This ShukerNature blog article is based upon an earlier Fortean Times article of mine that subsequently reappeared as a chapter in my book A Manifestation of Monsters. Regrettably, however, in both of those previous incarnations a very rare (for me) and admittedly only minor yet nonetheless unfortunate error inexplicably crept in, but which via this present ShukerNature blog version I have finally been able to correct. Specifically in the FT and book versions, the antepenultimate paragraph in my account, which opens with the words “But does the South American pampas…”, erroneously contains the name ‘Halifax‘ (twice) when the correct name should have been ‘Mander’; and also this same error occurs once in the penultimate paragraph, opening with the words “Some species of ground sloth”. As seen above, however, I have made the necessary corrections in this blog version, so anyone owning my FT article and/or my Manifestation book can now either mentally or physically amend them accordingly there too.
The most extensive coverage of the enigmatic Nandi bear’s history and possible identity (or identities) included in any modern-day work can be found in my book Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors, which also contains a comprehensive coverage of putative ground sloth survival.

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WHEN NANDI BEARS AND GROUND SLOTHS CAME TO TOWN? TWO EARLY EXHIBITIONS OF CRYPTIDS IN ENGLAND?

by on May.06, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Could modern-day chalicotheres occasionally emerging from the Nandi and Kakamega Forests‘ dense, shadowy interior explain reports of the formidable Nandi bear? Depicted here are two life-sized Anisodon grande chalicothere models at the Natural History Museumin Basel, Switzerland (© Ghedoghedo-Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)
Periodically come reports from the Kakamega forests in Kenya of sightings of the Nandi bear. The beast is described as having a gorilla-like stance with forelimbs longer than the hind, with clawed feet like a bear and with a horse-like face. Could the beast be a survivor of the chalicothere, thought to have become extinct in East Africa during the Pleistocene? The description above would fit with the skeletal remains of these extraordinary animals.
            R.J.G. Savage and M.R. Long – Mammal Evolution

One of the most formidable, ferocious mystery beasts on record, the Nandi bear of western Kenya’s Nandi and neighbouring Kakamega forest regions was once widely reported, but lately it seems to have gone out of fashion – or even out of existence – because there do not appear to have been any documented sightings of it for many years. Consequently, the Nandi bear (aka chemosit, kerit, koddoelo, khodumodumo, and gadett) is seldom referred to nowadays, even by cryptozoologists. As a result, this present ShukerNature blog article is the first in a planned occasional series whose intention is to raise awareness and interest once again in this long-forgotten yet thoroughly fascinating cryptid, which remains one of my all-time favourites.
As discussed by veteran cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans in On the Track of Unknown Animals(1958) and further assessed in my own books In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors and Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors, the Nandi bear seems to have been many things to many people, inasmuch as it was apparently a composite creature, i.e. ‘created’ from the erroneous lumping together of reports describing several taxonomically discrete animals. Some of these are already known to science, but others may not be, at least in the living state.
Reconstruction of Africa‘s supposedly long-extinct giant short-faced hyaena (public domain)
They include: old all-black ratels (honey badgers) Mellivora capensis; some form of extra-savage giant baboon; erythristic (freakishly red-furred) spotted hyaenas Crocuta crocuta and/or a supposedly long-extinct lion-sized relative called the short-faced hyaena Pachycrocuta brevirostris; the aardvark Orycteropus afer; perhaps even a relict true bear like the supposedly-extinct Agriotheriumor one related to (or synonymous with) the Atlas bear Ursus arctos crowtheri, which still existed in North Africa until as recently as the 1870s; and, most fascinating of all, a putative surviving species of chalicothere.
The latter were bizarre perissodactyl (odd-toed) ungulates that possessed claws instead of hooves, and which may have been somewhat hyaena-like in superficial appearance (due to their rearward-sloping back) but were much larger in size. According to the fossil record, chalicotheres lingered on until at least as recently as one million years ago in Africa, but died out earlier elsewhere in the world.
Artistic representation of a living chalicothere (© Hodari Nundu)
The prospect of a modern-day chalicothere being responsible for certain Nandi bear reports was popularised by Heuvelmans in his book On the Track…, but in spite of common assumption to the contrary, he definitely did not originate this notion. Instead, it was presented and discussed at length as far back as 1931, by Captain Charles R.S. Pitman in the first of his two autobiographical works, A Game Warden Among His Charges. Moreover, it was briefly alluded to even earlier, by Dr Charles W. Andrews in his Nature article from 1923 regarding the finding of chalicothere fossils in Central Africa. Even the renowned Kenyan palaeoanthropologist Louis S.B. Leakey contemplated it in an Illustrated London News article of 2 November 1935. Certainly, the idea has long held a particular fascination for me, because it alone could provide a reasonable explanation why the Nandi bear has seemingly vanished.
Artiodactyls (even-toed ungulates, e.g. cattle, antelopes, giraffes, pigs) were devastated by an epidemic of rinderpest (a morbillivirus) that swept across southern Africa during the late 19th Century. In 1995, it was revealed that a distantly-related morbillivirus was comparably deleterious to horses (which, like chalicotheres, are perissodactyls). So could a morbillivirus have wiped out a chalicotherian Nandi bear? None of the other Nandi bear identities would be affected by such a disease, so if only these identities were components of the Nandi bear composite (i.e. with no ungulate component ever involved), we would expect Nandi bear reports to be still surfacing, whereas in reality none has emerged for years.
Chalicothere skeletons (public domain)
Someone else who was very intrigued by the concept of a chalicotherian Nandi bear was British author and wildlife educator Clinton H. Keeling (click here to access a rare vintage photograph from 1955 depicting Clinton and his wife, on Shutterstock’s website), whose death in 2007 robbed the international zoological community of a uniquely knowledgeable expert on the histories and exhibits of zoological gardens, circuses, and menageries (travelling and stationary) throughout Britain and overseas, both in the present and in the past. During the course of a long, productive life as a zoo curator and also travelling widely to schools with animals to entertain and educate generations of children concerning the wonders of wildlife, Clinton wrote and self-published over 30 books (but all of which, tragically, are fiendishly difficult to track down nowadays) documenting wild animal husbandry and also the histories of demised and long-forgotten animal collections.
These works are a veritable treasure trove of extraordinary information and insights that are very unlikely to be found elsewhere, providing details of some truly remarkable and sometimes highly mysterious creatures that were at one time or another on display in Britain – and which in Clinton‘s opinion may have included at least three living chalicotherian Nandi bears!
Sivatherium (an extinct ‘antlered’ giraffid) and chalicothere models (© Markus Bühler)
Frustratingly, however, I have never managed to obtain a copy of any of Clinton‘s books. So after he published a summary of his Nandi bear accounts from two of them in the form of a short article appearing within the July 1995 issue of the Centre for Fortean Zoology’s periodical Animals and Men, I wrote to him requesting further information. In response, he kindly wrote me a very detailed letter, dated 3 July 1995, documenting all that he knew about this extremely exciting possibility and also regarding various other cryptozoological subjects.
Its contents made enthralling, thought-provoking reading, but I have never blogged its Nandi bear section (or even any excerpts from it) – until now. So here, for the very first time on ShukerNature, is Clinton Keeling’s full and thoroughly fascinating account of that tantalising bygone trio of unidentified captive beasts in Britain that just may have been living Nandi bears:
Rest assured I shall be happy to assist you in any way possible concerning the “Nandi Bear”, of which I am convinced at least three specimens have been exhibited in this country – although their owners had no idea what they were…
I think it would be best if I were to quote directly from two of my books…in this way you’ll know as much as I do when you’ve finished reading. The following – I’ll call it NB1 [i.e. Nandi Bear Case #1] – is from my book Where the Crane Danced, written in 1983; I’m dealing with the earliest travelling menageries:
“The first one I have been able to learn anything about must have been operating in the 1730s, and although not even its name has been recorded I was absolutely thrilled to discover that it contained what might well have been proof that an animal that most people relegate to the Loch Ness Monster bin really did exist – and comparatively recently too. In a nutshell, I have always been interested in the mysterious creature usually referred to as the Nandi Bear, which might still exist on the Uashin Gishu Plateau in Kenya; some people swear it was/is a belated Chalicotherium, a primitive ungulate with claw-like hooves which officially became extinct long ago, while others pooh-pooh the whole tale as an utter fabrication. Those who claim to have seen it, though, and they are many, all talk of a Hyena-like creature with the head of a Bear [some descriptions, however, offer the converse description, i.e. hyaena-headed and bear-bodied]. And please note this menagerie that might have shown one was operating getting on for two centuries before Kenya was opened up by Europeans, so in other words no-one had heard of it then. I first came upon this intriguing possibility when looking through some old numbers of Animal and Zoo Magazine, the long-defunct publication I mentioned in Where the Lion Trod [another of Clinton‘s books]. In the edition for February 1938 it stated that a reader in Yorkshire had found a bill “two hundred years old” that read:
“Posted at the sign of the Spread Eagle, Halifax. This is to give notice, to all Gentlemen, Ladies and others, that there is to be seen at the sign of the Coffee House, a curious collection of living creatures…”
“It then went on to list its attractions, chiefly Monkeys and smallish carnivores, the last of which was:
“A young HALF and HALF; the head of a Hyena, the hind part like a Frieseland [Polar? [this query was inserted by Clinton]] Bear.”
“Now it would certainly not have been a Hyena, or a Bear, as clearly whoever penned the advertisement apparently knew what they looked like, so one is left to ponder on this curiosity, which sounds so much like descriptions of that weird threshold-of-science creature which has so often been seen by sober people of high reputation as it has gone slinking through the long grass in the African night.”
Chalicothere painting seen at Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire, England (© Dr Karl Shuker/Twycross Zoo – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis, for educational/review purposes only)
NB2 [Nandi Bear Case #2] comes in my Where the Macaw Preened (1993), and its source is interesting. In Where the Crane Danced I dealt in some detail with Mander’s Menagerie, a huge display second in size only to Bostock and Wombwell’s, and which finally came off the road in 1875. As a result of this, I was contacted by a Mrs Rosanne Eccleston of Telford, Shropshire, who is a descendant of the Manders. She sent me a facsimile of an extremely lengthy advert, placed in a York newspaper in November 1869 which was, in effect, a stocklist of the show at that time (it included such unexpected items as Ligers); Mander was [a] very experienced animal-man, but sometimes he got his geographical area of distribution wrong, usually – and this could be significant – when he’d obtained a rare or obscure species (i.e. not what I call a Noah’s Ark animal – Lion, Tiger, Bear, etc.) about which he knew little or nothing. Anyway, I quote directly from the end of the section on Mander’s Menagerie in WTMP [Where the Macaw Preened]:
“I’ve deliberately left what I consider to have been the most remarkable exhibits until the last, so we can savour them for the marvels that I think they could have been. Oddly enough, they were one of the few species to be given what’s clearly the wrong area of distribution.
“Listed as “Indian Prairie Fiends” they were described as:
Most wonderful creatures. Head like the Hippopotamus. Body like a Bear. Claws similar to the Tiger, and ears similar to a Horse.
“That’s all, and forget the inference to North America [i.e. the prairie portion of the name applied to these creatures in the listing], as there’s nothing in that part of the world that has ever resembled anything like this, but, descriptions given by Africans apart, this is the best word-picture of the Chimiset or Nandi Bear I’ve ever happened upon.
“Many people, I know, relegate this astonishing creature to the same category as the Loch Ness Monster and other twilight beasts which might or might not exist, but here I feel they are being unjust as the question should really be “does it stillexist?”, as of all the “mystery” animals this is the one scientific sceptics come nearest to accepting, as paleontologists have learned a great deal about the Chalicotherium – which is believed to be the origin of the Nandi Bear. In short, it resembled a nightmarish (no pun intended) Horse – in fact it was related to the Equines – which had huge claws and preyed upon other animals, in fact many Africans have stated how fierce it is, and how destructive to their livestock (“Fiends”, I trust you’ve noticed; the only implication so far of viciousness – again, it fits). Readers of WTCD[Where the Crane Danced] will recall my suggestion that a menagerie touring northern England in the 1730s also boasted a young specimen – which is at least perfectly possible, as there now seems little doubt that a small relict population of Chalicotheriums (Chalicotheria?) hung out on the Uashin Gishu Plateau in East Africa until the very end of the 19th Century, when it was wiped out by the great rinderpest epidemic of 1899. Remember, it wasan ungulate, despite not having hooves and eating flesh. What a pity Mr Mander didn’t think anyone would be interested to learn what he fed his specimens on!”
All of which brings up some fascinating points. For a start, on the face of it, it sticks out a mile that the two reports are of completely different animals, but whereas the “Halifax” creature was a classic description of the beast seen so often in Africa a century ago, the “York” one is a word-perfect reconstruction of modern assessments of what the chalicotherium must have looked like – even to the Horse-like (Hippopotamus) head and massive claws. I agree it sounds paradoxical, but here are good descriptions of the creatures seen in the field by traveller and tribesman, and the armchair explorers’ and scientists’ word-picture of what it must have resembled. In other words, there’s a strong case for each.
An extremely impressive brief can be made for Mander’s animals, as it’s the only species in his list with a “made-up” name; all others either have appellations still in use, or old but then perfectly acceptable ones, such as “Yaxtruss” for Yak and “Horned Horse” for Wildebeests: this one alone has an outlandish name. It’s very highly significant, too, that again it’s the only one to be described in detail – presumably on the assumption that most people would know what a Camel or a Zebra or a Kangaroo was. In other words Mander, who most certainly knew an extremely wide range of species, hadn’t the slightest idea of what the Indian Prairie Fiends really were.
I cannot emphasise strongly enough that whatever these animals were, they would certainly have been on show, and more or less as described, as contrary to popular belief, the showmen of yesterday might have exaggerated the size or physical attributes of their exhibits, but they certainly didn’t advertise what they hadn’t got. They were not fools, and knew full well the measures a mob of 19th Century colliers, artisans, idlers and toughs would take if it thought it was being swindled or “conned”.
Most unfortunately it didn’t enter the heads of these very materialistic travellers to keep Occurrences Books (other than places visited and money taken) so unfortunately we’ll probably never know how these I.P.F.s [Indian Prairie Fiends] were obtained, how many there were, their diet, how long they lived, or – very important – what became of them. I mention this because there was often an arrangement with museums whereby unusual cadavers were eagerly purchased (in Weston Park Museum, Sheffield, for example, there are two hybrid big Cat cubs purchased long ago from a travelling show) so I suppose it’s just possible, in some dusty storeroom, there could be a couple of interesting skulls or pelts.
Scale illustration depicting an American chalicothere Moropus elatus alongside an average-sized human in silhouette form (© Nobu Tamura-Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)
As can be readily appreciated, the extensive Nandi bear sections quoted above from Clinton‘s letter to me constitute a captivating and very thought-provoking communication, to say the least! However, it contains certain assumptions that need to be addressed and rectified.
First and foremost: contrary, to Clinton’s claims, the chalicotheres were not carnivorous, they were wholly herbivorous – a major conflict with the Nandi bear’s bloodthirsty rapaciousness that Heuvelmans sought to explain by speculating that perhaps the occasional sight of so extraordinary a beast as a chalicothere, armed with its huge claws, was sufficient for a native observer to assume (wrongly) that they had spied a bona fide Nandi bear. In other words, even if there are any living chalicotheres, these perissodactyl ungulates are only Nandi bears by proxy. Having said that, however, as I pointed out in my two prehistoric survivors books, certain other perissodactyls, such as some zebras, tapirs, and most notably the rhinoceroses, can be notoriously bellicose if confronted. If the same were true of chalicotheres, one of these horse-sized creatures with formidable claws and an even more formidable, highly aggressive defensive stance would definitely make a veritable Nandi bear, even though it wouldn’t devour its victim afterwards.
A family of American chalicotheres, Moropus, with one of the adults savagely seeing off a couple of snarling Daphoenodon bear-dogs or amphicyonids, as depicted in an exquisite palaeoart mural produced by Jay Matternes and exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington DC, USA (public domain)
When referring to the Halifax mystery beast (NB1), Clinton wondered whether the “Frieseland [sic] bear” that it was likened to was a polar bear. In reality, however, the only bears native to Friesland, which is part of the present-day Netherlands, are brown bears Ursus arctos. Consequently, this suggests that the animal’s hind parts resembled a brown bear’s, not a polar bear’s.
My greatest concern, however, is Clinton’s determination to believe that the Halifax mystery beast and the York mystery beasts (NB2) were the same species (even after stating himself that at least on first sight the two reports describe two totally different types of animal). Personally, I fail to see how a hyaena-headed owecreature can be one and the same as a hippo-headed creature – unless, perhaps, these were simply differing ways of emphasising that the creatures had big, noticeable teeth? In the same way, likening their ears to those of horses might indicate that, as with horses’ ears, theirs were noticeable without being prominent. Alternatively (or additionally?), describing an animal’s head as hippo-like may imply that it had large, broad nostrils and/or mouth.
Is this what a Nandi bear trophy head might look like if it were truly a chalicothere? Many renowned hunters sought the Nandi bear during the early 20thCentury, hoping to add to their collections of mounted heads and pelt rugs a specimen of what they no doubt considered to be the ultimate trophy animal, but none succeeded. (The above photograph depicts an Ancylotheriumchalicothere model head from the ‘Walk With Beasts’ exhibition temporarily held at London‘s Horniman Museum.) (© Jim Linwood-Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)
Clinton‘s statement that the hippo-headed York cryptids corresponded with a chalicothere’s appearance cannot be countenanced, because chalicotheres’ heads were horse-like (which hippos aren’t), and chalicotheres didn’t have big teeth. So even if the hippo-head comparison was just an allusion to the size of the York cryptids’ teeth, a chalicothere identity is still ruled out for them.
My own view is that if either of the two cryptid types documented here were a Nandi bear, it is more likely to have been the hyaena-headed, bear-bodied Halifax animal. Even so, this latter beast sounds very reminiscent of a scientifically-recognised but publicly little-known species whose distinctive appearance would certainly have made it a most eyecatching exhibit. Today, three species of true hyaena exist, two of which – the striped hyaena Hyaena hyaena and the earlier-mentioned spotted hyaena – are familiar to zoologists and laymen alike. The third, and rarest, conversely, is seldom seen in captivity and is elusive even in its native southern African homeland.
An early, vintage photograph of a brown hyaena in captivity (top); and a modern-day photo of another captive specimen belonging to this same species (bottom) (public domain / © Markus Bühler)
This reclusive species is the brown hyaena H. brunnea, which just so happens to combine a hyaena’s head with a dark brown shaggy-furred body that is definitely ursine in superficial appearance (as I can personally testify, having been fortunate enough to espy this species in the wild in South Africa), and especially so in the eyes of a zoologically-untrained observer. So could the Halifax mystery beast have been a sub-adult brown hyaena, captured alive alongside various more common African species and then transported to Britain with them, where it was destined to be displayed to a wide-eyed public that had never before seen this exotic-looking species? It is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility, and is a more plausible identity than a Nandi bear.
As for the Mander cryptids, an identity very different from that of a Nandi bear but equally cryptozoological in nature came to mind as soon as I first read Clinton‘s account of them.
Might Mander’s ‘prairie fiends’ have been living ground sloths? Here is a life-sized museum model of a ground sloth in quadrupedal pose (© Alexandre Paz Vieira/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)
Clinton discounted their ‘Indian prairie fiend’ name by accurately stating that nothing resembling them is known from North America. But what if they had come from South America instead? The ‘Indian’ reference could simply have been in relation to whichever native Indian tribe(s) shared their specific distribution in South America. And could it be that ‘prairie’ was nothing more than an alternative name for ‘pampas’, perhaps substituted deliberately by Mander as he knew that ‘prairie’ would be a more familiar term than ‘pampas’ to his exhibition’s visitors?
But does the South American pampas harbour a creature resembling those cryptids exhibited by Mander? Until at least as recently as the close of the Pleistocene epoch a mere 11,700 years or so ago, this vast region (encompassing southernmost Brazil, much of Uruguay, and part of Argentina) did indeed harbour large shaggy bear-like beasts with huge claws, noticeable ears, plus sizeable nostrils and mouth. I refer of course to the ground sloths – those burly, predominantly terrestrial relatives of today’s much smaller tree sloths. Moreover, the pampas has hosted several modern-day sightings of cryptids bearing more than a passing resemblance to ground sloths – and thence to the Mander mystery beasts.
Reconstruction and skeleton of a living ground sloth in upright pose (public domain / © Dr Karl Shuker)
Some species of ground sloth were truly gigantic, but others were of much more modest proportions, and there is no doubt that a medium-sized species of surviving ground sloth would solve a number of currently unresolved cryptozoological conundra, not least of which is the identity of the mystifying Mander beasts. Specimens of many other South American beasts were commonly transported from their sultry homelands and exhibited in Europe back in the days of travelling menageries here. Could these have included a couple of ground sloths? In addition, armed with such huge claws a cornered ground sloth might well be more than sufficiently belligerent if threatened or attacked to warrant being dubbed a fiend.
So, who knows – perhaps the hypothetical dusty museum storeroom postulated by Clinton as a repository for some mortal remains of the Nandi bear may contain some modern-day ground sloth cadavers instead? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that surprising and highly significant zoological discoveries have been made not in the field but within hitherto unstudied or overlooked collections of museum specimens.
Holding my very own model of a chalicothere…and Nandi bear? (© Dr Karl Shuker)
NB – This ShukerNature blog article is based upon an earlier Fortean Times article of mine that subsequently reappeared as a chapter in my book A Manifestation of Monsters. Regrettably, however, in both of those previous incarnations a very rare (for me) and admittedly only minor yet nonetheless unfortunate error inexplicably crept in, but which via this present ShukerNature blog version I have finally been able to correct. Specifically in the FT and book versions, the antepenultimate paragraph in my account, which opens with the words “But does the South American pampas…”, erroneously contains the name ‘Halifax‘ (twice) when the correct name should have been ‘Mander’; and also this same error occurs once in the penultimate paragraph, opening with the words “Some species of ground sloth”. As seen above, however, I have made the necessary corrections in this blog version, so anyone owning my FT article and/or my Manifestation book can now either mentally or physically amend them accordingly there too.
The most extensive coverage of the enigmatic Nandi bear’s history and possible identity (or identities) included in any modern-day work can be found in my book Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors, which also contains a comprehensive coverage of putative ground sloth survival.

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WHEN NANDI BEARS AND GROUND SLOTHS CAME TO TOWN? TWO EARLY EXHIBITIONS OF CRYPTIDS IN ENGLAND?

by on May.06, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Could modern-day chalicotheres occasionally emerging from the Nandi and Kakamega Forests‘ dense, shadowy interior explain reports of the formidable Nandi bear? Depicted here are two life-sized Anisodon grande chalicothere models at the Natural History Museumin Basel, Switzerland (© Ghedoghedo-Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)
Periodically come reports from the Kakamega forests in Kenya of sightings of the Nandi bear. The beast is described as having a gorilla-like stance with forelimbs longer than the hind, with clawed feet like a bear and with a horse-like face. Could the beast be a survivor of the chalicothere, thought to have become extinct in East Africa during the Pleistocene? The description above would fit with the skeletal remains of these extraordinary animals.
            R.J.G. Savage and M.R. Long – Mammal Evolution

One of the most formidable, ferocious mystery beasts on record, the Nandi bear of western Kenya’s Nandi and neighbouring Kakamega forest regions was once widely reported, but lately it seems to have gone out of fashion – or even out of existence – because there do not appear to have been any documented sightings of it for many years. Consequently, the Nandi bear (aka chemosit, kerit, koddoelo, khodumodumo, and gadett) is seldom referred to nowadays, even by cryptozoologists. As a result, this present ShukerNature blog article is the first in a planned occasional series whose intention is to raise awareness and interest once again in this long-forgotten yet thoroughly fascinating cryptid, which remains one of my all-time favourites.
As discussed by veteran cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans in On the Track of Unknown Animals(1958) and further assessed in my own books In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors and Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors, the Nandi bear seems to have been many things to many people, inasmuch as it was apparently a composite creature, i.e. ‘created’ from the erroneous lumping together of reports describing several taxonomically discrete animals. Some of these are already known to science, but others may not be, at least in the living state.
Reconstruction of Africa‘s supposedly long-extinct giant short-faced hyaena (public domain)
They include: old all-black ratels (honey badgers) Mellivora capensis; some form of extra-savage giant baboon; erythristic (freakishly red-furred) spotted hyaenas Crocuta crocuta and/or a supposedly long-extinct lion-sized relative called the short-faced hyaena Pachycrocuta brevirostris; the aardvark Orycteropus afer; perhaps even a relict true bear like the supposedly-extinct Agriotheriumor one related to (or synonymous with) the Atlas bear Ursus arctos crowtheri, which still existed in North Africa until as recently as the 1870s; and, most fascinating of all, a putative surviving species of chalicothere.
The latter were bizarre perissodactyl (odd-toed) ungulates that possessed claws instead of hooves, and which may have been somewhat hyaena-like in superficial appearance (due to their rearward-sloping back) but were much larger in size. According to the fossil record, chalicotheres lingered on until at least as recently as one million years ago in Africa, but died out earlier elsewhere in the world.
Artistic representation of a living chalicothere (© Hodari Nundu)
The prospect of a modern-day chalicothere being responsible for certain Nandi bear reports was popularised by Heuvelmans in his book On the Track…, but in spite of common assumption to the contrary, he definitely did not originate this notion. Instead, it was presented and discussed at length as far back as 1931, by Captain Charles R.S. Pitman in the first of his two autobiographical works, A Game Warden Among His Charges. Moreover, it was briefly alluded to even earlier, by Dr Charles W. Andrews in his Nature article from 1923 regarding the finding of chalicothere fossils in Central Africa. Even the renowned Kenyan palaeoanthropologist Louis S.B. Leakey contemplated it in an Illustrated London News article of 2 November 1935. Certainly, the idea has long held a particular fascination for me, because it alone could provide a reasonable explanation why the Nandi bear has seemingly vanished.
Artiodactyls (even-toed ungulates, e.g. cattle, antelopes, giraffes, pigs) were devastated by an epidemic of rinderpest (a morbillivirus) that swept across southern Africa during the late 19th Century. In 1995, it was revealed that a distantly-related morbillivirus was comparably deleterious to horses (which, like chalicotheres, are perissodactyls). So could a morbillivirus have wiped out a chalicotherian Nandi bear? None of the other Nandi bear identities would be affected by such a disease, so if only these identities were components of the Nandi bear composite (i.e. with no ungulate component ever involved), we would expect Nandi bear reports to be still surfacing, whereas in reality none has emerged for years.
Chalicothere skeletons (public domain)
Someone else who was very intrigued by the concept of a chalicotherian Nandi bear was British author and wildlife educator Clinton H. Keeling (click here to access a rare vintage photograph from 1955 depicting Clinton and his wife, on Shutterstock’s website), whose death in 2007 robbed the international zoological community of a uniquely knowledgeable expert on the histories and exhibits of zoological gardens, circuses, and menageries (travelling and stationary) throughout Britain and overseas, both in the present and in the past. During the course of a long, productive life as a zoo curator and also travelling widely to schools with animals to entertain and educate generations of children concerning the wonders of wildlife, Clinton wrote and self-published over 30 books (but all of which, tragically, are fiendishly difficult to track down nowadays) documenting wild animal husbandry and also the histories of demised and long-forgotten animal collections.
These works are a veritable treasure trove of extraordinary information and insights that are very unlikely to be found elsewhere, providing details of some truly remarkable and sometimes highly mysterious creatures that were at one time or another on display in Britain – and which in Clinton‘s opinion may have included at least three living chalicotherian Nandi bears!
Sivatherium (an extinct ‘antlered’ giraffid) and chalicothere models (© Markus Bühler)
Frustratingly, however, I have never managed to obtain a copy of any of Clinton‘s books. So after he published a summary of his Nandi bear accounts from two of them in the form of a short article appearing within the July 1995 issue of the Centre for Fortean Zoology’s periodical Animals and Men, I wrote to him requesting further information. In response, he kindly wrote me a very detailed letter, dated 3 July 1995, documenting all that he knew about this extremely exciting possibility and also regarding various other cryptozoological subjects.
Its contents made enthralling, thought-provoking reading, but I have never blogged its Nandi bear section (or even any excerpts from it) – until now. So here, for the very first time on ShukerNature, is Clinton Keeling’s full and thoroughly fascinating account of that tantalising bygone trio of unidentified captive beasts in Britain that just may have been living Nandi bears:
Rest assured I shall be happy to assist you in any way possible concerning the “Nandi Bear”, of which I am convinced at least three specimens have been exhibited in this country – although their owners had no idea what they were…
I think it would be best if I were to quote directly from two of my books…in this way you’ll know as much as I do when you’ve finished reading. The following – I’ll call it NB1 [i.e. Nandi Bear Case #1] – is from my book Where the Crane Danced, written in 1983; I’m dealing with the earliest travelling menageries:
“The first one I have been able to learn anything about must have been operating in the 1730s, and although not even its name has been recorded I was absolutely thrilled to discover that it contained what might well have been proof that an animal that most people relegate to the Loch Ness Monster bin really did exist – and comparatively recently too. In a nutshell, I have always been interested in the mysterious creature usually referred to as the Nandi Bear, which might still exist on the Uashin Gishu Plateau in Kenya; some people swear it was/is a belated Chalicotherium, a primitive ungulate with claw-like hooves which officially became extinct long ago, while others pooh-pooh the whole tale as an utter fabrication. Those who claim to have seen it, though, and they are many, all talk of a Hyena-like creature with the head of a Bear [some descriptions, however, offer the converse description, i.e. hyaena-headed and bear-bodied]. And please note this menagerie that might have shown one was operating getting on for two centuries before Kenya was opened up by Europeans, so in other words no-one had heard of it then. I first came upon this intriguing possibility when looking through some old numbers of Animal and Zoo Magazine, the long-defunct publication I mentioned in Where the Lion Trod [another of Clinton‘s books]. In the edition for February 1938 it stated that a reader in Yorkshire had found a bill “two hundred years old” that read:
“Posted at the sign of the Spread Eagle, Halifax. This is to give notice, to all Gentlemen, Ladies and others, that there is to be seen at the sign of the Coffee House, a curious collection of living creatures…”
“It then went on to list its attractions, chiefly Monkeys and smallish carnivores, the last of which was:
“A young HALF and HALF; the head of a Hyena, the hind part like a Frieseland [Polar? [this query was inserted by Clinton]] Bear.”
“Now it would certainly not have been a Hyena, or a Bear, as clearly whoever penned the advertisement apparently knew what they looked like, so one is left to ponder on this curiosity, which sounds so much like descriptions of that weird threshold-of-science creature which has so often been seen by sober people of high reputation as it has gone slinking through the long grass in the African night.”
Chalicothere painting seen at Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire, England (© Dr Karl Shuker/Twycross Zoo – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis, for educational/review purposes only)
NB2 [Nandi Bear Case #2] comes in my Where the Macaw Preened (1993), and its source is interesting. In Where the Crane Danced I dealt in some detail with Mander’s Menagerie, a huge display second in size only to Bostock and Wombwell’s, and which finally came off the road in 1875. As a result of this, I was contacted by a Mrs Rosanne Eccleston of Telford, Shropshire, who is a descendant of the Manders. She sent me a facsimile of an extremely lengthy advert, placed in a York newspaper in November 1869 which was, in effect, a stocklist of the show at that time (it included such unexpected items as Ligers); Mander was [a] very experienced animal-man, but sometimes he got his geographical area of distribution wrong, usually – and this could be significant – when he’d obtained a rare or obscure species (i.e. not what I call a Noah’s Ark animal – Lion, Tiger, Bear, etc.) about which he knew little or nothing. Anyway, I quote directly from the end of the section on Mander’s Menagerie in WTMP [Where the Macaw Preened]:
“I’ve deliberately left what I consider to have been the most remarkable exhibits until the last, so we can savour them for the marvels that I think they could have been. Oddly enough, they were one of the few species to be given what’s clearly the wrong area of distribution.
“Listed as “Indian Prairie Fiends” they were described as:
Most wonderful creatures. Head like the Hippopotamus. Body like a Bear. Claws similar to the Tiger, and ears similar to a Horse.
“That’s all, and forget the inference to North America [i.e. the prairie portion of the name applied to these creatures in the listing], as there’s nothing in that part of the world that has ever resembled anything like this, but, descriptions given by Africans apart, this is the best word-picture of the Chimiset or Nandi Bear I’ve ever happened upon.
“Many people, I know, relegate this astonishing creature to the same category as the Loch Ness Monster and other twilight beasts which might or might not exist, but here I feel they are being unjust as the question should really be “does it stillexist?”, as of all the “mystery” animals this is the one scientific sceptics come nearest to accepting, as paleontologists have learned a great deal about the Chalicotherium – which is believed to be the origin of the Nandi Bear. In short, it resembled a nightmarish (no pun intended) Horse – in fact it was related to the Equines – which had huge claws and preyed upon other animals, in fact many Africans have stated how fierce it is, and how destructive to their livestock (“Fiends”, I trust you’ve noticed; the only implication so far of viciousness – again, it fits). Readers of WTCD[Where the Crane Danced] will recall my suggestion that a menagerie touring northern England in the 1730s also boasted a young specimen – which is at least perfectly possible, as there now seems little doubt that a small relict population of Chalicotheriums (Chalicotheria?) hung out on the Uashin Gishu Plateau in East Africa until the very end of the 19th Century, when it was wiped out by the great rinderpest epidemic of 1899. Remember, it wasan ungulate, despite not having hooves and eating flesh. What a pity Mr Mander didn’t think anyone would be interested to learn what he fed his specimens on!”
All of which brings up some fascinating points. For a start, on the face of it, it sticks out a mile that the two reports are of completely different animals, but whereas the “Halifax” creature was a classic description of the beast seen so often in Africa a century ago, the “York” one is a word-perfect reconstruction of modern assessments of what the chalicotherium must have looked like – even to the Horse-like (Hippopotamus) head and massive claws. I agree it sounds paradoxical, but here are good descriptions of the creatures seen in the field by traveller and tribesman, and the armchair explorers’ and scientists’ word-picture of what it must have resembled. In other words, there’s a strong case for each.
An extremely impressive brief can be made for Mander’s animals, as it’s the only species in his list with a “made-up” name; all others either have appellations still in use, or old but then perfectly acceptable ones, such as “Yaxtruss” for Yak and “Horned Horse” for Wildebeests: this one alone has an outlandish name. It’s very highly significant, too, that again it’s the only one to be described in detail – presumably on the assumption that most people would know what a Camel or a Zebra or a Kangaroo was. In other words Mander, who most certainly knew an extremely wide range of species, hadn’t the slightest idea of what the Indian Prairie Fiends really were.
I cannot emphasise strongly enough that whatever these animals were, they would certainly have been on show, and more or less as described, as contrary to popular belief, the showmen of yesterday might have exaggerated the size or physical attributes of their exhibits, but they certainly didn’t advertise what they hadn’t got. They were not fools, and knew full well the measures a mob of 19th Century colliers, artisans, idlers and toughs would take if it thought it was being swindled or “conned”.
Most unfortunately it didn’t enter the heads of these very materialistic travellers to keep Occurrences Books (other than places visited and money taken) so unfortunately we’ll probably never know how these I.P.F.s [Indian Prairie Fiends] were obtained, how many there were, their diet, how long they lived, or – very important – what became of them. I mention this because there was often an arrangement with museums whereby unusual cadavers were eagerly purchased (in Weston Park Museum, Sheffield, for example, there are two hybrid big Cat cubs purchased long ago from a travelling show) so I suppose it’s just possible, in some dusty storeroom, there could be a couple of interesting skulls or pelts.
Scale illustration depicting an American chalicothere Moropus elatus alongside an average-sized human in silhouette form (© Nobu Tamura-Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)
As can be readily appreciated, the extensive Nandi bear sections quoted above from Clinton‘s letter to me constitute a captivating and very thought-provoking communication, to say the least! However, it contains certain assumptions that need to be addressed and rectified.
First and foremost: contrary, to Clinton’s claims, the chalicotheres were not carnivorous, they were wholly herbivorous – a major conflict with the Nandi bear’s bloodthirsty rapaciousness that Heuvelmans sought to explain by speculating that perhaps the occasional sight of so extraordinary a beast as a chalicothere, armed with its huge claws, was sufficient for a native observer to assume (wrongly) that they had spied a bona fide Nandi bear. In other words, even if there are any living chalicotheres, these perissodactyl ungulates are only Nandi bears by proxy. Having said that, however, as I pointed out in my two prehistoric survivors books, certain other perissodactyls, such as some zebras, tapirs, and most notably the rhinoceroses, can be notoriously bellicose if confronted. If the same were true of chalicotheres, one of these horse-sized creatures with formidable claws and an even more formidable, highly aggressive defensive stance would definitely make a veritable Nandi bear, even though it wouldn’t devour its victim afterwards.
A family of American chalicotheres, Moropus, with one of the adults savagely seeing off a couple of snarling Daphoenodon bear-dogs or amphicyonids, as depicted in an exquisite palaeoart mural produced by Jay Matternes and exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington DC, USA (public domain)
When referring to the Halifax mystery beast (NB1), Clinton wondered whether the “Frieseland [sic] bear” that it was likened to was a polar bear. In reality, however, the only bears native to Friesland, which is part of the present-day Netherlands, are brown bears Ursus arctos. Consequently, this suggests that the animal’s hind parts resembled a brown bear’s, not a polar bear’s.
My greatest concern, however, is Clinton’s determination to believe that the Halifax mystery beast and the York mystery beasts (NB2) were the same species (even after stating himself that at least on first sight the two reports describe two totally different types of animal). Personally, I fail to see how a hyaena-headed owecreature can be one and the same as a hippo-headed creature – unless, perhaps, these were simply differing ways of emphasising that the creatures had big, noticeable teeth? In the same way, likening their ears to those of horses might indicate that, as with horses’ ears, theirs were noticeable without being prominent. Alternatively (or additionally?), describing an animal’s head as hippo-like may imply that it had large, broad nostrils and/or mouth.
Is this what a Nandi bear trophy head might look like if it were truly a chalicothere? Many renowned hunters sought the Nandi bear during the early 20thCentury, hoping to add to their collections of mounted heads and pelt rugs a specimen of what they no doubt considered to be the ultimate trophy animal, but none succeeded. (The above photograph depicts an Ancylotheriumchalicothere model head from the ‘Walk With Beasts’ exhibition temporarily held at London‘s Horniman Museum.) (© Jim Linwood-Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)
Clinton‘s statement that the hippo-headed York cryptids corresponded with a chalicothere’s appearance cannot be countenanced, because chalicotheres’ heads were horse-like (which hippos aren’t), and chalicotheres didn’t have big teeth. So even if the hippo-head comparison was just an allusion to the size of the York cryptids’ teeth, a chalicothere identity is still ruled out for them.
My own view is that if either of the two cryptid types documented here were a Nandi bear, it is more likely to have been the hyaena-headed, bear-bodied Halifax animal. Even so, this latter beast sounds very reminiscent of a scientifically-recognised but publicly little-known species whose distinctive appearance would certainly have made it a most eyecatching exhibit. Today, three species of true hyaena exist, two of which – the striped hyaena Hyaena hyaena and the earlier-mentioned spotted hyaena – are familiar to zoologists and laymen alike. The third, and rarest, conversely, is seldom seen in captivity and is elusive even in its native southern African homeland.
An early, vintage photograph of a brown hyaena in captivity (top); and a modern-day photo of another captive specimen belonging to this same species (bottom) (public domain / © Markus Bühler)
This reclusive species is the brown hyaena H. brunnea, which just so happens to combine a hyaena’s head with a dark brown shaggy-furred body that is definitely ursine in superficial appearance (as I can personally testify, having been fortunate enough to espy this species in the wild in South Africa), and especially so in the eyes of a zoologically-untrained observer. So could the Halifax mystery beast have been a sub-adult brown hyaena, captured alive alongside various more common African species and then transported to Britain with them, where it was destined to be displayed to a wide-eyed public that had never before seen this exotic-looking species? It is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility, and is a more plausible identity than a Nandi bear.
As for the Mander cryptids, an identity very different from that of a Nandi bear but equally cryptozoological in nature came to mind as soon as I first read Clinton‘s account of them.
Might Mander’s ‘prairie fiends’ have been living ground sloths? Here is a life-sized museum model of a ground sloth in quadrupedal pose (© Alexandre Paz Vieira/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)
Clinton discounted their ‘Indian prairie fiend’ name by accurately stating that nothing resembling them is known from North America. But what if they had come from South America instead? The ‘Indian’ reference could simply have been in relation to whichever native Indian tribe(s) shared their specific distribution in South America. And could it be that ‘prairie’ was nothing more than an alternative name for ‘pampas’, perhaps substituted deliberately by Mander as he knew that ‘prairie’ would be a more familiar term than ‘pampas’ to his exhibition’s visitors?
But does the South American pampas harbour a creature resembling those cryptids exhibited by Mander? Until at least as recently as the close of the Pleistocene epoch a mere 11,700 years or so ago, this vast region (encompassing southernmost Brazil, much of Uruguay, and part of Argentina) did indeed harbour large shaggy bear-like beasts with huge claws, noticeable ears, plus sizeable nostrils and mouth. I refer of course to the ground sloths – those burly, predominantly terrestrial relatives of today’s much smaller tree sloths. Moreover, the pampas has hosted several modern-day sightings of cryptids bearing more than a passing resemblance to ground sloths – and thence to the Mander mystery beasts.
Reconstruction and skeleton of a living ground sloth in upright pose (public domain / © Dr Karl Shuker)
Some species of ground sloth were truly gigantic, but others were of much more modest proportions, and there is no doubt that a medium-sized species of surviving ground sloth would solve a number of currently unresolved cryptozoological conundra, not least of which is the identity of the mystifying Mander beasts. Specimens of many other South American beasts were commonly transported from their sultry homelands and exhibited in Europe back in the days of travelling menageries here. Could these have included a couple of ground sloths? In addition, armed with such huge claws a cornered ground sloth might well be more than sufficiently belligerent if threatened or attacked to warrant being dubbed a fiend.
So, who knows – perhaps the hypothetical dusty museum storeroom postulated by Clinton as a repository for some mortal remains of the Nandi bear may contain some modern-day ground sloth cadavers instead? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that surprising and highly significant zoological discoveries have been made not in the field but within hitherto unstudied or overlooked collections of museum specimens.
Holding my very own model of a chalicothere…and Nandi bear? (© Dr Karl Shuker)
NB – This ShukerNature blog article is based upon an earlier Fortean Times article of mine that subsequently reappeared as a chapter in my book A Manifestation of Monsters. Regrettably, however, in both of those previous incarnations a very rare (for me) and admittedly only minor yet nonetheless unfortunate error inexplicably crept in, but which via this present ShukerNature blog version I have finally been able to correct. Specifically in the FT and book versions, the antepenultimate paragraph in my account, which opens with the words “But does the South American pampas…”, erroneously contains the name ‘Halifax‘ (twice) when the correct name should have been ‘Mander’; and also this same error occurs once in the penultimate paragraph, opening with the words “Some species of ground sloth”. As seen above, however, I have made the necessary corrections in this blog version, so anyone owning my FT article and/or my Manifestation book can now either mentally or physically amend them accordingly there too.
The most extensive coverage of the enigmatic Nandi bear’s history and possible identity (or identities) included in any modern-day work can be found in my book Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors, which also contains a comprehensive coverage of putative ground sloth survival.

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THE STRANGE SAGA OF THE PARROT WORLD’S SEA-GREEN SCARLET PIMPERNEL – DOES THE ULTRA-ELUSIVE GLAUCOUS MACAW STILL EXIST?

by on Apr.23, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Digital creation of glaucous macaws, by Andrés González (© Andrés González/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)
Most ornithologists currently recognise 17 species of living macaw. However, there are varying degrees of evidence to suggest that several additional forms have also existed in modern times but do so no longer. Some of them were confined to various Caribbeanislands, and I have previously reviewed those examples briefly here on ShukerNature (I have now conducted and written up a much more extensive investigation of their cases that will be appearing shortly). But the ostensibly lost, highly controversial species under consideration by me right now hailed from continental South America – and, who knows, it may still do so.
Some of the most spectacular of all macaws are unquestionably those breathtaking beauties in blue that belong to the genus Anodorhynchus. Both in size and in colour, the three officially-recognised blue macaw species belonging to this genus exhibit an interesting gradation.
Glaucous macaw (centre) with hyacinth macaw (left) and Lear’s macaw (right), on a Brazilian postage stamp (public domain)
The largest of this trio is the hyacinth or hyacinthine macaw A. hyacinthinus, named after its magnificent, exclusively blue plumage. Next in line is the mid-sized Lear’s macaw A. leari, in which much of the hyacinth macaw’s vivid cobalt shading has been replaced by subdued turquoise.
Then comes the glaucous macaw A. glaucus, slightly smaller than Lear’s, with a plumage incorporating (as its name stresses) a subtle range of greenish-blue and sea-green hues – particularly upon its head, belly, and the upper surface of its tail feathers. In addition, its throat is brownish-grey, and the feathers around the lower portion of its face are sooty in colour. Tragically, however, this last-mentioned species is now extinct – or is it?
Glaucous macaw, as painted by Paul Louis Oudart for Louis Pierre Vieillot’s work La Galerie des Oiseaux, 1825-1834, appearing in it as Plate 24 (public domain)
The scientific debut of the glaucous macaw took place in 1816, when it was formally described by French ornithologist Louis Pierre Vieillot. Its distribution at that time appeared to encompass southern Brazil, central and southern Paraguay, northern Argentina, and northeastern Uruguay, but by the end of the 19th Century this once-common species had seemingly vanished throughout its entire range. The reasons for this astonishing disappearance are still unknown, because the glaucous macaw had rarely been studied in the wild, although the major felling of yatay palms whose nuts were its staple diet, and the capturing of birds for the pet trade undoubtedly contributed.
Over the years, however, a few specimens had been exhibited in various of the world’s major zoos – one of these was received by London Zoo in 1886, and a well-known example lived at Paris‘s Jardin d’Acclimatation from 1895 until 1905. Indeed, it is often claimed that this Paris specimen was the very last glaucous macaw. Conversely, some authorities confer that sombre distinction upon an individual that arrived at Buenos Aires Zoo in the 1920s and was still alive there in 1936, but there are others who believe that this latter bird was actually a Lear’s macaw.
A glaucous macaw (foreground) with a Spix’s macaw Cyanopsitta spixii, in a Hamburg animal dealer’s premises, snapped by Karl Neunzig in 1895 (public domain)
Yet even if it was a genuine glaucous macaw, there is no certainty that it really was the last one. On the contrary, the published literature dealing with this exceptionally secretive species contains an appreciable number of reports alleging the much more recent existence of glaucous macaws, both in captivity and in the wild. Some of these are very vague, little more than rumours; but certain others are compelling enough to have stimulated cautious expectation within ornithological circles that this controversial bird’s formal rediscovery is not very far away.
For instance, in her book Macaws: A Complete Guide (1990), parrot specialist Rosemary Low revealed that in 1970 the late Rossi dalla Riva of Brazil, an occasional breeder of rare parrots and very knowledgeable regarding his local region’s avifauna, claimed that glaucous macaws nested there, but he would not name the precise locality, fearing that local collectors would send their hunters to trap them. Low also noted that in 1988, after spending some months in the field (she did not name the area), a very experienced bird trapper came back home and announced that he had spied glaucous macaws, but had not been able to photograph or capture any of them.
Another early glaucous macaw illustration, from Alexandre Bourjot Saint-Hilaire’s Histoire Naturelle des Perroquets, 1837-1838 (public domain)
In his own book, The World of Macaws (1985), Dieter Hoppe noted that he had heard tell that during the 1970s a glaucous macaw had apparently been exhibited in a bird park either in Belgium or in the Netherlands, and that another supposed specimen had been alive somewhere in Australia during or around 1960. Hoppe also documented a much more tangible, firsthand encounter. Several years earlier, he had visited an animal dealer who had shown him two very strange hyacinth macaws, much smaller than normal and with atypical sea-green plumage; Hoppe believed that these were glaucous macaws.
In addition, he has published a photo of an odd-looking macaw assumed by the photographer, Tony Silva, to have been a Lear’s macaw, but which was principally sea-green in colour instead of deep turquoise – another incognito specimen of A. glaucus? Certainly, there is a very real possibility that there are currently a number of unrecognised specimens of this scarcely-known species hiding ‘undercover’ in captivity, i.e. erroneously labelled as hyacinth or Lear’s macaws.
A glaucous macaw skin, at Huub Veldhuijzen van Zanten-Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands (© Huub Veldhuijzen van Zanten-Naturalis Biodiversity Center/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)
In 1982, writing in his Handbook of Macaws, Dr A.E. Decoteau claimed to be in regular correspondence with a European aviculturalist (no name or country of abode given) who was supposedly breeding a flock of glaucous macaws, from a tame pair that he had owned for several years. However, I have yet to see any mention elsewhere of this sensational programme of captive breeding.
Perhaps the most promising of the glaucous macaw’s many reputed reappearances in modern times took place during February 1992, following the arrival at British Customs of a pair of Lear’s macaws imported by parrot breeder Harry Sissen on loan from Mulhouse Zoo, situated near Strasbourg, in France. When he came to Customs to inspect them, Sissen was amazed to find that the female seemed to be a glaucous macaw. On 31 March 1992, London’s The Mail on Sunday newspaper contained a fascinating full-page account of this remarkable episode written by Howard Smith, which included an excellent colour photograph snapped by Lynn Hilton that clearly portrayed the sea-green colour of the bird’s breast and head, with indications of brown markings present upon its throat.
The Mail on Sunday newspaper’s article, featuring Lynn Hilton’s colour photo of the Mulhouse Zoo mystery macaw – please click to enlarge for reading purposes (© The Mail on Sunday/Howard Smith/Lynn Hilton – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational, review purposes only)
Subsequent to its arrival in Britain, this extraordinary specimen was scrutinised by at least two leading parrot experts, Robin Pickering and Joseph Cuddy – among the very few people to have examined every one of the eight preserved skins known to be from genuine glaucous macaws, housed in various of the major museums across the globe. Neither of them reportedly had any doubt regarding the bird’s identity as a bona fide A. glaucus.
Moreover, Peter Colston, then scientific officer at the London Natural History Museum’s ornithological department at Tring in Hertfordshire, was shown photos of the bird by The Mail on Sunday, and he agreed that its head was reminiscent of the glaucous macaw’s. However, he also pointed out that it did not seem to possess this species’ characteristic sooty facial feathers.
A second glaucous macaw skin, preserved as a taxiderm specimen, at Huub Veldhuijzen van Zanten-Naturalis Biodiversity Center (© Huub Veldhuijzen van Zanten-Naturalis Biodiversity Center/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)
At present, therefore, Sissen’s import remains unidentified. It may yet prove to be nothing more than a Lear’s macaw (albeit an aberrant, green-tinged one).
Yet if it really is a glaucous macaw and can be demonstrably shown to be one (perhaps by comparative DNA tests), and if other incognito specimens hiding in plain sight can also be found and unmasked, then the only sizeable species of South American bird believed to have become extinct since this continent’s western colonisation will be extinct no longer, and the search for the sea-green scarlet pimpernel of the parrot world will finally be at an end.
Glaucous macaw painting, from Monographia Psittacorum, 1832, authored by Johann Georg Wagler (public domain)
Having said that, expeditions by ornithologists during the 1990s to southwestern Paraguay, a potential hideaway for surviving glaucous macaws, failed to uncover any evidence for its continuing existence. Only the region’s oldest residents had any recollection of this species, which was apparently last confirmed there more than a century earlier, back in the 1870s. Conversely, the late George Smith, a naturalist who was very informed regarding the history of the glaucous macaw, believed that it still survived in remote areas of Bolivia, where trappers encountered by him were able to identify it.
Smith also noted that when he had flown over these areas, there were vast stands of palm trees, “as far as they eye could see”, but these have still never been scientifically investigated, so who knows what secrets they may be hiding? Tellingly, the IUCN still categorises this enigmatic bird as Critically Endangered rather than as Extinct.
A beautiful modern-day rendition of the glaucous macaw by Rafael Nascimento (© Rafael Nascimento)
Moreover, if we wish to confirm that the longterm concealment of a brightly-hued parrot species of stature in South America is by no means impossible or even unparalleled in modern times, we do not have to look far to offer a very apposite precedent, no further in fact than one of the glaucous macaw’s very own congeners – Lear’s macaw.
The existence of this famously elusive species first became known to science in 1831, when Victorian bird painter and nonsense-rhymes writer Edward Lear painted a macaw of unrecorded origin that he believed to be (and duly labelled as) a hyacinth macaw but which was later recognised to be a separate species. In 1856, it was named in honour of him by French biologist Charles L. Bonaparte (although some authorities also refer to it as the indigo macaw).
Edward Lear in 1867, and his exquisite painting from 1831 of the macaw species named after him (public domain)
Yet despite having been represented in aviaries worldwide since 1831, Lear’s macaw remained a major conundrum to ornithologists for over a century – because no-one knew where these captive specimens had actually been caught. Not even their country of origin, much less their precise provenance, was known. Indeed, a prevalent view back then was that this species might even be extinct in the wild – always assuming that it was a valid species, and not a hybrid of the hyacinth macaw and the glaucous macaw, as some researchers were beginning to suggest.
In 1964, the late Dr Helmut Sick, a German-born Brazilian ornithologist, began an intensive programme of searches for this mysterious missing macaw in a bid to solve its riddles once and for all. It was a programme that would take 14 years before success arrived, but arrive it did. On 31 December 1978, he spied three Lear’s macaws in a little-explored area of Brazil’s northeastern Bahia region, called the Raso de Catarina. And in January 1979 he sighted a flock of about 20, proving that it was not a hybrid form. These turned out to be part of a population numbering just over 100 birds.
Lear’s macaws (public domain)
Moreover, in June 1995, a team of Brazilian biologists discovered a second population of Lear’s macaw, several hundred miles from the first one, consisting of 22 birds on a nesting cliff. By 2010, the total wild population was estimated to be just over 1,000 birds, and it is also represented in captivity.
Although only three species of Anodorhynchusmacaw are formally recognised nowadays, there was once an alleged fourth, and even a fifth, member of this genus. The fourth, of which more is known, is (or was) the purple macaw, the fifth the black macaw.

A hyacinth macaw, revealing its plumage’s much more intense blue colouration in comparison with the more turquoise counterpart exhibited by Lear’s macaw (public domain)

As noted earlier here, in terms of plumage colouration this genus’s official trio of species can be arranged in a very neat gradation, beginning with, as its name indicates, the intense hyacinth-blue shade of the hyacinth macaw, then moving subtly into the slightly more turquoise-blue hues of Lear’s macaw, which then transforms further, yielding a paler, turquoise-green or sea-green shade, in the aptly-named glaucous macaw.
But what if this colour gradation were also extrapolated in the opposite direction? That is, in addition to the hyacinth macaw’s striking blue hue faintly greening into turquoise and thence even more so into a glaucous tone, how about deepening it, to yield a macaw whose plumage was a darker, predominantly violet or purple shade?
The purple macaw, as depicted by celebrated bird artist John G. Keulemans in Lord Walter Rothschild’s classic work Extinct Birds, 1907 (public domain)
If this quartet of macaws were then arranged in a continuous linear spectrum of transforming colour, running from purple into blue into turquoise-blue into pale turquoise-green, the line-up would be: purple macaw, hyacinth macaw, Lear’s macaw, and glaucous macaw. Of course, the purple macaw is purely hypothetical – isn’t it?
In reality, such a bird may actually have existed – so if you’d like to read about the purple macaw’s fascinating history, as well as that of a possible fifth Anodorhynnchusspecies, the even more obscure black macaw, as prepared by me exclusively for ShukerNature, all you need to do is click here!
A pair of digitally-created purple macaws discovered online (original source presently unknown to me – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational, review purposes only)
This ShukerNature article is very greatly expanded and updated from my original 1993-published coverage of the glaucous macaw contained in my book The Lost Ark, which in turn was the first in my trilogy of groundbreaking, definitive tomes collectively documenting new and rediscovered animals of the 20th and 21st Centuries.
Incidentally, please note that my glaucous macaw coverage did not reappear in either of The Lost Arks two sequel tomes – The New Zoo (2002) and The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals(2012). So now, and constituting yet another ShukerNature exclusive, this is the first time that it has been reprinted (and updated) in more than 25 years.

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THE IRISH WILDCAT – AN ENIGMA FROM THE EMERALD ISLE

by on Apr.17, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Sketch of the head of a European wildcat Felis silvestris (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Unlike Great Britain, relatively few reports emerge from Ireland concerning mystery cats of the very large puma-like or black panther-like varieties. Yet this island is far from bereft of feline mystery – on account of the Irish wildcat. It was traditionally thought that wildcats had never existed in the Emerald Isle, but in more recent times fossil evidence has emerged to confirm that such cats did indeed exist here up until approximately 3,000 years ago (see later). Moreover, there is a sizeable albeit highly controversial archive of reports on file claiming that bona fide Irish wildcats have been actually been sighted right up to and including the present day. More remarkable still is that these reports of alleged Irish wildcats have suggested a closer relationship for these felids to the African wildcat Felis lybica than to the European one F. silvestris.
Some of the material in support of Irish wildcats stretches back centuries, interwoven with ancient Celtic mythology. For example, an archaic poem believed to date from the 9th Century (translated by Eugene O’Curry and published by Sir William Wilde) tells of the Irish hero Fin mac Cumhaill being held captive by the king of Erinn, Cormac mac Art, who pledged to free him only if a male and female of every species of wild animal inhabiting Ireland were brought to him at the ancient city of Tara. The poem subsequently lists many different animal forms, including a pair of cats brought from the cave of Cruachain.
While on the subject of Irish mythology: in an article of 6 December 1941 in The Field, Irish writer Patrick R. Chalmers argued that despite the wildcat supposedly being unknown in both Ireland and the Western Islands, the warrior King Cairbar of Connacht was surely called ‘Cinn Chait’ on account of the pelt of wildcat that he bore on his casque.
This leads to another aspect of the Irish wildcat mystery. Chalmers’s comments drew a response by letter from A. MacDermott, who maintained that this cat form has never existed in Ireland, and that in his own boyhood the name `wildcat’ was actually applied not to any felid but instead to the pine marten Martes martes – an arboreal relative of the weasel.
Pine marten painting by Archibald Thorburn (public domain)
Compare this with information obtained nearly 50 years earlier by William Andrews, because he had discovered that the inhabitants of the remote glens of Kerry’s western reaches knew of both the pine marten and an apparently genuine wildcat form. They even had separate names for the two creatures, calling the marten ‘tree cat’ and the wildcat ‘hunting cat’, thereby destroying MacDermott’s notion that the Irish wildcat was nothing more than the result of an etymological ambiguity.
The usage of ‘hunting cat’ in Ireland relative to supposed wildcats was also noted within the mammalian tome of the Reverend J.G. Wood’s three-volume Illustrated Natural History(1859-63), together with an anecdotal account taken from Notes on the Irish Mammalia by the well-known Irish naturalist William Thompson. After having noted on several occasions grouse feathers strewn near a water-break in his Irish beat, as well as a number of grouse corpses beheaded but otherwise undamaged, the gamekeeper responsible for that area set a trap and caught two specimens of what appeared to be bona fide wildcats, one adult and one juvenile.
Thompson had taken a particular interest in reports of alleged wildcat sightings in Ireland, notably in the mountains of Erris in the county of Mayo. He had himself seen a very large cat, weighing 10 lb 9 oz, which had been shot in the wild at Shane’s Castle park, County Antrim. Apparently this specimen resembled the European wildcat in every way except for its tail (which was not bushy at its tip like the European wildcat’s is) and its fur (which was of a finer texture). Consequently, when the Larne Journal reported in February 1839 that the wildcat occurred in Tullamore Park and also used to be found along the shores of Ballintrae, Thompson naturally sought out further details. He questioned Lord Roden’s gamekeeper, who informed him that he had never seen wildcats in Ireland.
All through his researches, Thompson encountered similar conflicts of opinion on this subject, and even his own ultimate conclusion is somewhat paradoxical. Even though he never became entirely convinced (at least not in print) of the wildcat’s occurrence here, after comparing the Shane’s Castle specimen with two Scottish wildcats Thompson nonetheless offered the opinion that it was probably a wildcat x domestic cat hybrid. Needless to say, however, in order for a wildcat hybrid to occur in Ireland, there must be pure-bred wildcats there in the first place.
William Thompson (left) and the Reverend J.G. Wood (right) (public domain)
In his own Illustrated Natural History, Wood mentioned that William H. Maxwell’s book Wild Sports of the West (1838) contained several accounts concerning a fierce, wild-living felid form in Ireland that was depopulating the rabbit warrens. Apparently, one of these cats was killed after a severe battle, and was, according to Wood:
…of a dirty-grey color, double the size of the common house Cat, and its teeth and claws more than proportionately larger. This specimen was a female, which had been traced to a burrow under the rock, and caught in a rabbit-net. With her powerful teeth and claws she tore her way through the net, but was gallantly seized by the lad who set the toils. Upon him she turned her energies, and bit and scratched in a most savage style until she was despatched by a blow from a spade.
Although certainly fierce, feral domestics do not normally attain sizes larger than their tame counterparts (although as noted elsewhere in this present book, in recent years evidence has begun to accrue that extra-large melanistic ferals may be responsible in Britain and various overseas regions for certain sightings of unidentified medium-sized pantheresque beasts). Similarly, in his own wildcat write-up, Wood did not attempt to ally ferals with the much larger and mysterious cat form typified by the beast in the above incident documented by Maxwell. In any case, both in Wood’s time and in the present day, feral domestics are very familiar animals in Ireland, not likely to be mistaken for anything else.
In or around 1883, while shooting rabbits near County Galway‘s Annaghdown, F.C. Wallace sighted an animal that in his opinion seemed to be a magnificent specimen of a genuine wildcat. As no physical evidence was obtained, however, no formal identification could be made.
If the Irish wildcat controversy were ever to be resolved, it was evident that a specimen would have to be procured and submitted for official scientific examination. Such an event appeared, at least initially, to have finally taken place in 1885. For on 28 January of that year, English naturalist William B. Tegetmeier exhibited the skin of an alleged wildcat from Donegal at a meeting of the Zoological Society of London and subsequently permitted Dr E. Hamilton to examine it thoroughly. In the Society’s Proceedings for 3 March 1885, Hamilton’s report on this specimen was published – in which he unhesitatingly classified it as merely a feral domestic cat, and included excerpts from letters by earlier researchers interested in the Irish wildcat saga all supporting his own belief that the latter felid did not exist.
Dr Robert F Scharff (public domain)
Irish wildcat R.I.P.? Not quite – because a most unexpected discovery was made just a few years later that added a completely new dimension to the mystery. In the report of the Irish Cave Committee sent to the British Association meeting in 1904, Dr Robert F. Scharff announced that he had discovered amongst a collection of felid subfossil remains obtained from the Edendale and Newhall Caves near County Clare’s Ennis, a number that constituted two distinct series, one small in size, the other larger, and that he considered the larger to be of wildcat identity. Moreover, in a short report published by the Irish Naturalist during April 1905, Scharff dramatically reopened the case for the modern Irish wildcat by stating that the position and nature of the bones found suggested that the felid was not long extinct in Ireland, and that it was even possible that a few specimens still survived in the western regions’ more remote mountainous areas.
Scharff then went on to comment that, until then, it had always been assumed that if a wildcat did actually exist in Ireland it would naturally belong to the Scottish form. However, as a startling climax in his report, Scharff disclosed that the County Clare cave remains were comparable not with the Scottish but with the African wildcat, and that its tail was not bushy at its tip but pointed – just like that of the sizeable cat observed by William Thompson.
This complete turnabout in the tale of the Irish wildcat resulted in a series of letters on the subject by other interested parties appearing in the Irish Naturalist during subsequent months. Some received Scharff’s findings favourably and contributed further news regarding the Irish wildcat; others were more critical and remained sceptical.
For example, R. Welch related an old fisherman’s account originally given to Irish entomologist William F. de Vismes Kane concerning the wildcat’s supposed existence in some numbers on the banks of Lackagh. Conversely, Robert Warren poured cold water on this report, arguing that if such cats were indeed so common within this wild and little-traversed region, then some representatives should still be there today. Yet as noted later by Scharff, in view of the above-mentioned similarity between feral domestic cats and African wildcats (both having tapering tails), perhaps they are.
Sleeping feral domestic cat showing thin tail tip (public domain)
Warren also attested that the finding of sub-fossil bones of a wildcat in Ireland did not prove that the wildcat was a native of Ireland. This was a quite paradoxical statement to say the least, which the editors of the Irish Naturalist were swift to point out in a footnote at the end of his letter of June 1905.
The following year, Scharff published his findings as a scientific paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Series B, describing fully the unearthed remains. Meticulous comparisons made by Scharff between these and specimens of Scottish and African wildcats were also included, and which demonstrated conclusively in Scharff’s opinion that the Clare cave remains were indeed most closely related to the latter wildcat.
Similarly, Major G.E.H. Barrett-Hamilton, a prominent British-Irish natural historian, had planned to include historical evidence favouring this felid’s existence in a forthcoming book on British mammals. Unfortunately, however, his untimely death in his early 40s prevented this data from being published.
Nevertheless, one would have expected Scharff’s researches to have been of sufficient importance in themselves to have initiated a new surge of interest and investigation regarding the Irish wildcat enigma. Instead, the possible existence of modern-day wildcats living in Ireland is nowadays totally dismissed – but why?
African wildcat, showing its pointed tail tip (© Michal Maňas/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.5 licence)
In an Irish Naturalists’ Journal paper of July 1965, Belfast-born wildlife authority Arthur W. Stelfox re-examined Scharff’s findings, and offered a very different explanation for them. First of all, he considered that Scharff was too willing to accept anecdotal evidence of Irish wildcats unconditionally, and gave the Tegetmeier specimen as an example, which Scharff had used in support of their existence (even though it had been denounced as a feral domestic by Hamilton). And as far as the cave remains were concerned, Stelfox was convinced that a much simpler explanation than Scharff’s was available for these. Namely, that instead of the smaller ones being domestic cats and the larger ones being wildcats, both sets were of domestic identity – the smaller being females and the larger being males (especially as the two sets were found at the same geological level and in the same mineralised condition).
Stelfox also noted that although one would expect remains of fossil wildcats to be associated with those of other wild fossil species of mammal in Ireland if it did indeed harbour wildcats at one time, no such find had been discovered. Instead, all cat remains known from Ireland had occurred only at levels where the bones of domesticated mammals had been found, and Stelfox reported that he had not uncovered evidence of any cat remains in Ireland dating back further than the Bronze Age.
However, this is no longer true, as revealed in an extensive Quaternary Science Reviews paper published in 2014, whose co-authors included Queen’s University Belfast biologist W. Ian Montgomery and the University of Manchester‘s veteran British mammals expert Dr Derek W. Yalden. They disclosed that fossil European wildcat remains dating variously from 9,000 to 3,000 years old had indeed been discovered in Ireland.
Moreover, sightings of large felids not readily explained away as feral domestics have continued to emerge from Ireland. In 1968, for example, while seeking lake monsters in western Ireland, Captain Lionel Leslie and his team were taken aback when a very sizeable felid suddenly appeared on the opposite side of Connemara‘s Lough Nahooin (i.e. only about 100 yards away) from where they were standing. According to team member F.W. Holiday, who subsequently documented this encounter in his book The Goblin Universe (1986), Captain Leslie stated afterwards that he had never seen anything like it before. Dublin zoologists later contacted by Leslie concerning this were equally bemused – a suggestion that it might simply have been a fox was flatly rejected by the team.
Vintage photograph of European wildcat showing thick tail tip (public domain)
More recently, in their excellent book The Mystery Animals of Ireland (2010), authors Gary Cunningham and Ronan Coghlan noted that in May 2003 a very elderly man from Connemara named Francis Burke affirmed that wildcats had been reported here. He claimed that they were bigger than domestic cats and occurred mostly in wooded areas.
They also recorded a sighting dating from as recently as a decade ago that indicates wildcat-like felids (possibly even hybrids of original pure-bred wildcats and domestics) may still exist in Ireland:
In February 2002, Sandra Garvey saw an animal while driving at night at Knockfune (Co Tipperary) which shocked her so much she nearly drove off the road. She described it as larger than your average moggy with a very striking tail. It transpired that Mrs Garvey’s sighting was not an isolated one, with eyewitnesses coming forth, including park ranger Jimmy Greene who spotted such an animal with its two kittens whilst patrolling the Slieve Bloom Mountains in Co Offaly.
Appended to this report in their book was a detailed drawing by Gary Cunningham based upon Sandra Garvey’s description of the cat that she had spied that evening, and the result is a burly tabby-striped felid with a sharply-pointed tail that looks very like a bona fide African wildcat.
Even today, therefore, it would seem that with leprechaun-like elusiveness, the Irish wildcat continues to evade explanation.
Comparative illustrations from 1896 showing the European wildcat (top) and the African wildcat (bottom) (public domain)
This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted and expanded from the Irish wildcat coverage in my book Mystery Cats of the World.
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