Not all mystery beasts on record are shy, reclusive creatures that take great pains to avoid humankind at all cost. Some, conversely, are actively belligerent, ferocious animals that have reputedly attacked and killed people with impunity, or at the very least, if confronted, possess all manner of ingenious but equally devastating ways of dispatching their foolhardy antagonists.
Here, then, in no particular order is my own personal listing of the world’s top ten deadliest cryptids – lethal life-forms that only the most brash, or rash, field cryptozoologist is likely to consider pursuing…at their peril!
The year was 1925. A six-year-old girl had been mysteriously abducted from her village in the Nandi region of Kenya by a greatly-feared monster known locally as the chimiset, and Captain William Hichens of the Intelligence and Administrative Services of East Africa had been instructed by the Kenyan government to investigate. Science did not – and still does not – recognise the existence of the chimiset, but it is an all-too-familiar creature to the native Nandi people, and also to European settlers here, who call it the Nandi bear on account of its bear-like head.
Consequently, Hichens took the matter seriously, and set up camp near to a small forest-clad kopje (boulder hill) from where the chimiset reputedly emerged periodically. One night, Hichens was asleep in his tent, with his mongrel hunting dog, Mbwambi, tied to a pole outside, when suddenly:
“…the whole tent rocked; the pole to which Mbwambi was tied flew out and let down the ridge-pole, enveloping me in flapping canvas. At the same moment the most awful howl I have ever heard split the night. The sheer demoniac horror of it froze me still…I heard my pi-dog yelp just once. There was a crashing of branches in the bush, and then thud, thud, thud, of some huge beast making off. But that howl! I have heard half a dozen lions roaring in a stampede-chorus not twenty yards away; I have heard a maddened cow-elephant trumpeting; I have heard a trapped leopard make the silent night miles a rocking agony with screaming, snarling roars. But never have I heard, nor do I wish to hear again, such a howl as that of the chimiset. A trail of red spots on the sand showed where my pi-dog had gone. Beside that trail were huge footprints, four times as big as a man’s, showing the imprint of three huge clawed toes, with trefoil marks like a lion’s pad where the sole of the foot pressed down. But no lion ever boasted such a paw as that of the monster which had made that terrifying spoor.”
Although Hichens pursued these tracks, which did indeed lead to the kopje, and spent at least a week searching the forest for whatever had made them, he did not succeed in his quest – but in view of his dog’s dreadful fate, that may not have been such a bad thing!
The Nandi bear may well comprise more than one type of animal. As revealed by cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans in his pioneering book On the Track of Unknown Animals (1958), accounts of several wholly distinct animals appear to have been erroneously assigned by earlier authors at one time or another to this formidable mystery beast – involving spotted hyaenas, unusually large baboons, honey badgers, aardvarks, even the occasional murderous witchdoctor. However, there may also be one or two genuinely unknown species involved.
Some Nandi bear reports describe hyaena-like beasts, but far larger than any known to exist today, and sporting a dark shaggy pelage quite unlike that of the spotted hyaena Crocuta crocuta, which is the world’s largest modern-day hyaena species. Also, the Nandi bear is far more aggressive than typical contemporary hyaenas. Prior to the close of the Pleistocene epoch, a mere 10,000 years ago, however, Africa was known to harbour a terrifying species called the short-faced hyaena Procrocuta brevirostris. Although related to the small modern-day brown hyaena Hyaena brunnea, it was characterised by its enormous lion-sized stature, and also by its short bear-like muzzle and active hunting behaviour (in marked contrast to the carrion-sustaining lifestyle typifying today’s hyaenas). If such a creature as this has persisted into the present day within the dense little-explored forests of Kenya’s Nandi region, we may not need to seek further for the Nandi bear’s identity.
Moreover, Pleistocene Africa was also home to a bizarre type of ungulate known as a chalicothere, which resembled a horse-sized hyaena in general outline, and possessed sharp claws instead of hooves typical of other ungulates. Although chalicotheres were herbivores, a brief sighting of such a creature could well convince a native hunter or anyone else not well-versed in zoological taxonomy that they had encountered a giant hyaena. Accordingly, several zoologists have seriously entertained the idea that perhaps a species of African chalicothere survived beyond the Pleistocene into modern times, giving rise to reports of Nandi bears.
One intriguing item of Nandi bear lore that supports this identity is the claim by Kenyan residents that this mystery beast was once quite common here but was almost exterminated in the 1890s by a plague of rinderpest that swept across most of Africa, devastating livestock and wild buffaloes. Rinderpest, of course, principally kills ungulates, not carnivores – a fact cited by sceptical scientists as evidence that the Nandi bear is a native fantasy. Yet if this animal is a species of chalicothere, it could indeed be susceptible to rinderpest.
And if, like some other ungulates, including bull elephants, hippos, Cape buffaloes, and peccaries, chalicotheres display bouts of savage unpredictable aggression (vegetarian lifestyle notwithstanding), we can easily comprehend why the Nandi bear is so greatly feared.
For additional details on ShukerNature re the Nandi bear, click here.
ARTRELLIA (PAPUAN DRAGON)
After spending many hard hours on the trail of wallabies and other animals for food through the jungles bordering the Binatori River, the young Papuan hunter was weary. Consequently, he was very pleased to spy an extremely large, fallen tree trunk lying on the ground nearby, half-hidden in the lush green undergrowth. Hurrying over, he sat down in aching relief upon its supporting, welcoming bole – but not for very long. Seconds later, his sturdy seat began to move, raising itself – and him – off the ground in a violent surge of energy. Leaping off in alarm, the hunter turned round – and was horrified to discover that the ‘tree trunk’ was actually a gigantic lizard! And as he gazed, motionless with fear, the lizard reared up onto its hind legs like a veritable dragon, standing more than 10 ft high, with its long tail splayed out behind, and its huge crocodile-like jaws open wide, revealing a brimming armoury of dagger-like teeth – and a long orange-yellow tongue, which flicked rapidly like living fire!
Faced with this towering monstrosity, the hunter did what any self-respecting person would do in similar circumstances – he fled with all speed, back along his hunting trail to the safety of his home village, Giringarede, not even glancing back to see whether his saurian aggressor was following him. Happily, it was not – or, at least, not swiftly enough, because he reached his village safely, and lived long enough to tell the dramatic tale of his escape to his children, and to theirs. He was one of the lucky ones – not everyone survives an encounter with what the tribes inhabiting Papua New Guinea (the eastern half of New Guinea) call the artrellia, and what cryptozoologists call the Papuan dragon.
With a total area of approximately 342,000 square miles, New Guinea is the world’s second largest island after Greenland, and contains immense expanses of tropical jungle and swamplands only sparsely explored by scientists and western travellers. Not surprisingly, therefore, cryptozoologists believe that it holds considerable promise as a locality for major zoological discoveries in the future – a belief fuelled by reports of several mysterious creatures still unrecognised or unidentified by science.
One of the most spectacular of these cryptic creatures is the artrellia, which the local people describe as a gigantic crocodile-like lizard or dragon, up to 30 ft long, capable of climbing trees, breathing fire, and liable to kill and eat any humans who chance upon it amid its dense jungleland domain. Nor are artrellia reports confined to native testimony.
A number of British, American, and Japanese soldiers stationed in Papua during World War II reported seeing huge lizards estimated by them to be 15-20 ft long prowling the forests. Similarly, in 1960, David Marsh, Port Moresby’s district commissioner, revealed that he had made two giant lizard sightings in western Papua during the early 1940s.
In 1980, an international scientific expedition called ‘Operation Drake’ visited Papua New Guinea, and its leader, renowned explorer Lieutenant-Colonel John Blashford-Snell, was particularly interested by native testimony and accounts regarding the artrellia, including the incident recalled at the beginning of this article.
After bribing local hunters to capture an artrellia and bring it to him, he was delighted when they succeeded in doing precisely that – enabling its species to be formally identified at last. It was a monitor lizard, specifically Salvadori’s monitor Varanus salvadorii, also called the tree dragon, which is the world’s longest known species of lizard, and has been confirmed to attain lengths of up to 15.5 ft.
Salvadori’s monitor – the real artrellia?
Having said that, the specimen obtained for Blashford-Snell was hardly a monster, measuring only a little over 6 ft long. When its body was examined, however, it was found to be just a youngster, a juvenile specimen, so its potential maximum adult size could only be guessed at. Needless to say, its flickering orange-yellow tongue would certainly have been sufficient to inspire local claims that it breathed fire like a dragon. In addition, as revealed by one of its common names, this species does climb trees, and large monitors are indeed known to rear up and even run for a short time on their hind legs – all of which corresponds well with native accounts of the greatly-feared artrellia.
During this same expedition, moreover, one team member had a close, albeit brief, encounter with an artrellia that appeared to be rather more akin to the legendary giant specimens spoken of by the tribespeople. English zoologist Ian Redmond had been sitting quietly by a waterhole in a creek bed below the level of the forest floor in the Fly River region of Papua when he heard a series of heavy crunching footsteps coming ever closer across the forest’s leaf-covered ground, sounding like human steps and not at all like the lighter, rapid scurrying noise that one would expect from a lizard.
Thinking that it was a colleague playing a joke on him, Redmond refused to look round at first, but when his curiosity finally got the better of him he did turn round – and saw an exceedingly large monitor lizard looking at him over a log close by. He couldn’t see the whole lizard, just its head and shoulders – but they were as big as a horse’s! And as Salvadori’s monitor does not have a disproportionately large head and shoulders, how big must the rest of this lizard have been? Redmond bent down to reach for his camera, but as he did so the lizard moved away, and he did not see it again.
The famous gigantic Komodo dragon Varanus komodoensis of Indonesia, up to 10 ft long, is proof enough that huge – and occasionally man-eating – monitor lizards do exist. And amid the vast unexplored rainforests of New Guinea, extra-large specimens of Salvadori’s monitor could readily thrive, avoided by native people, rarely spied by western visitors, and occupying much the same top predator niche here that their Komodo relatives occupy on their eponymous Indonesian island home.
A mystery beast inciting immense terror among local people sharing its homeland is the mngwa or nunda – Swahili for ‘strange one’. Aptly named and reputedly indigenous to the coastal forests of mainland Tanzania, this unidentified creature is said to be an enormous and singularly ferocious grey cat, larger than a lion and further differentiated from all known species of African cat by its peculiar brindled fur.
During the 1920s, there was a spate of savage killings claimed to be the work of a nunda, in which several people in the Tanzanian coastal village of Lindi were attacked and their bodies horrifically mangled. As with the Nandi bear rampage described earlier, Captain William Hichens investigated, but although he did not succeed in spying a nunda, he did examine the body of one of its victims, and found a matted clump of strange brindle-grey fur clenched in his fist, as if he had torn it out while attempting to fight off his feline assailant.
A nunda attack (William Rebsamen)
Another European investigator, Patrick Bowen, observed some nunda pawprints, which resembled those of a leopard but were as large as a lion’s. Cryptozoologists have proposed that the nunda may be a giant form of golden cat Profelis aurata, an extremely savage species with very varying fur colour and patterns, which might conceivably account for the nunda’s odd brindled pelage.
For a more detailed ShukerNature blog post re the nunda, click here.
Several seemingly unknown species of extra-large jellyfishes have been reported over the years, but these have usually been fairly typical in shape, if not in size. However, there is one very macabre mystery beast on record that may well be a scientifically-unknown representative of one of their more specialized, deepwater forms.
This is the singularly eerie creature spied in 1953 by an Australian diver while testing a new type of deep-sea diving suit in the South Pacific. As revealed by Eric Frank Russell in his book Great World Mysteries (1957), the diver had been following a shark, and was resting on the edge of a chasm leading down to much deeper depths, still watching the shark, when an immense, dull-brown, shapeless mass rose up out of the chasm, pulsating sluggishly, and flat in general outline with ragged edges.
Despite appearing devoid of eyes or other instantly-recognizable sensory organs, this malign presence evidently discerned the shark’s presence somehow, because it floated upwards until its upper surface made direct contact. The shark instantly gave a convulsive shudder, and was then drawn without resistance into the hideous monster’s body. After that, the creature sank back down into the chasm, leaving behind a very frightened diver to ponder what might have happened if that nightmarish, nameless entity had not been attracted towards the shark!
In the past, a deep-sea octopus has been put forward as a possible identity for this disturbing creature, but in reality, as I first revealed in my book From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), a deep-sea jellyfish is a much more plausible candidate. To begin with, all octopuses have tentacles, but a number of jellyfishes (including various known deep-sea species) do not. However, all jellyfishes are armed with nematocysts (sometimes on their body surface as well as upon their tentacles), which in some species, as noted earlier, can elicit paralysis or indescribable pain. Accordingly, if the amorphous creature observed by the diver was equipped with a plentiful supply of these, the immediate paralysis of the shark could be readily explained.
In addition, although the shark’s killer lacked such obvious sensory organs as eyes (this is true of all jellyfishes), its ability to detect the shark can again be explained via the jellyfish identity. This is because these animals possess primitive sensory structures receptive to water movements. Hence the creature would have been able to detect the water disturbances created by the shark’s swimming. How fortunate it was, therefore, that, by choosing to watch the shark, the diver had remained stationary!
Deepstaria enigmatica, a bizarre, flattened species of deep-sea jellyfish (http://2.bp.blogspot.com)
Deep-sea jellyfishes similar (though not identical) to the above-described creature encountered by the diver may explain Chilean legends of a grotesque sea monster termed the hide, documented by Jorge Luis Borges in his famous work The Book of Imaginary Beings (1969). According to Borges, the hide is an octopus that resembles in shape and size a cowhide stretched out flat, with countless eyes all round its body’s perimeter, and four larger ones in the centre. It lives by rising to the surface of the sea and swallowing any animals, or people, swimming there.
As this description makes no mention of tentacles, it seems highly unlikely that such a beast (assuming that it really does exist) could be any form of octopus. In any event, octopuses only have a single pair of eyes, not a whole series around the edge of their body and two pairs of principal eyes. Conversely, many jellyfishes possess peripheral sensory organs called rhopalia, which incorporate simple light-sensitive eyespots or ocelli.
Moreover, although no jellyfish has true eyes, some – such as the common moon jellyfish Aurelia aurita – have four deceptively eye-like organs visible in the centre of their bell (which are actually portions of their gut, known as gastric pouches). In short, a jellyfish candidate provides a far more realistic answer to the question of the hide’s identity than an octopus.
In May 2012, a hitherto scarcely-known and somewhat amorphous, sheet-like species of deep-sea jellyfish known as Deepstaria enigmatica hit the global headlines when a specimen was filmed by underwater cameras during a deep-water drilling operation near the U.K. It is usually found at depths of 5000 ft in the south Atlantic Ocean. Who knows what other, and conceivably much more deadly, relatives lurk within the uncharted chasms of our planet’s deepest waters?
ETHIOPIAN DEATH BIRD
Just before Ethiopia was invaded by Italy in 1935, archaeologist Byron de Prorok took part in an expedition to the southern Ethiopian province of Walaga, where, as noted in his book Dead Men Do Tell Tales (1943), he was shown a dreaded cavern called Devil’s Cave. Here, according to native tradition, live flocks of a small but terrible blood-drinking bat known as the death bird, which emerge at night and surreptitiously drink the blood of local goatherds while they sleep until they eventually die and are replaced by new goatherds.
Does an unknown species of Old World blood-drinking bat lurk in Ethiopia’s Devil’s Cave?
As the only sanguinivorous bats known to science are the three species of vampire, all of which are found only in the New World, de Prorok did not believe these stories – until he was taken to the goatherds’ camp nearby, where he saw that all of the herders had wounds on their arms resembling small puncture wounds. He also saw one herder close to death – little more than a skin-clothed skeleton surrounded by blood-stained rags.
Over 70 years have passed since then and the death bird’s identity is still a mystery, but with sizeable areas of Ethiopia scarcely explored due to civil unrest, it is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.
MONGOLIAN DEATH WORM
Also known to the nomadic inhabitants of the southern Gobi desert as the allghoi khorkhoi (‘intestine worm’) because of its supposed resemblance to a living intestine, the death worm is said to be up to 5 ft long, dark red in colour with brown spots, and has pointed projections at both ends of its body. Spending much of the year hidden beneath the desert sands, it emerges only during the two hottest months (June and July), but is avoided by humans and even camels, because it can kill instantly, and via two wholly different means.
This deadly mystery beast can allegedly squirt a highly virulent, corrosive venom, which presumably acts by burning its way through the victim’s flesh into the bloodstream like a potent acid. It can also kill much more mysteriously, by touch. Indeed, its lethal power can even be transmitted via metallic objects – as fatally discovered by a visiting geologist many years ago, when he accidentally prodded a death worm with a metal rod.
If true, this suggests that the worm can kill by electrocution, and must therefore be able to generate electricity, like the electric eel and certain other fishes. At present, however, despite a number of expeditions in search of this macabre mystery beast led by Czech explorer Ivan Mackerle during the 1990s, and several others by additional field investigators in more recent years, the death worm’s reality has yet to be formally confirmed.
Mongolian death worm, shocking and spitting (Philippa Foster)
In terms of its morphology, it most closely resembles an extra-large worm-lizard or amphisbaenian. If this is indeed its identity, however, the death worm’s lethal talents may be nothing more than folklore, because all currently-known species of amphisbaenian are harmless.
For a more detailed ShukerNature blog post re the Mongolian death worm, click here.
Native villagers in Burundi, in eastern Africa, especially those living alongside the Lukuga River and on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, live in considerable fear of a still-unidentified water beast known to them as the mamba mutu. Their descriptions call to mind a weird monster, half-human and half-fish, which kills people and sucks their bodies dry of blood – a kind of vampire mermaid.
When such reports as these were analysed by Spanish investigator Carlos Bonet in 1995, however, he proposed a more sober explanation – suggesting that an unknown species of extra-large, flat-skulled otter may be responsible. A popular alternative identity on offer is that the mamba mutu is merely a lake-dwelling manatee, transformed by fearful native superstition from a shy inoffensive herbivore into a lurking monstrous blood-sucker.
According to those few travellers intrepid enough to traverse the remote forest and tundra constituting the borderland of eastern Alaska and Canada’s Yukon Territory, this forbidding terrain is home to a truly formidable beast termed the waheela – justifiably feared by the local Amerindians for its terrifying ability to decapitate a human with just a single bite!
One of these cryptids was encountered and shot at twice by a hunter friend of cryptozoologist Ivan T. Sanderson called Frank while tracking along a tributary of the Nahanni Valley in the Northwest Territories during the 1940s or 50s. However, the creature merely moved off, apparently unharmed.
In general appearance, the waheela allegedly resembles a huge snow-white wolf, but its head is proportionately wider and its limbs shorter, its coat is notably long and dense, its feet are very splayed, its ears are surprisingly small, and its tail is extremely thick. In addition, whereas true wolves hunt in packs, waheelas are solitary creatures.
Waheela reconstruction (Randy Merrill)
Although this mystery beast does not seem to resemble anything known to modern-day zoology, it does bear a remarkable resemblance to the amphicyonids or bear-dogs. These very large, sturdy bear-like carnivores but with wolf-like heads supposedly died out several million years ago in North America, but in the inhospitable tundra terrain rarely explored or traversed by humans, perhaps a relict species, adapted for existence in this bleak habitat, has survived, and is still occasionally spied by the more intrepid Inuit or western tracker.
CROWING CRESTED COBRA
Many strange reptiles have been reported, and some officially recorded and recognised, from Africa since European zoologists first began to explore this vast, fauna-rich continent – but few are more bizarre, elusive, or dangerous than the crowing crested cobra, reports of which have emerged from many parts of Africa, but particularly its eastern and central regions.
Known by many local names, one of its most common ones is ‘inkhomi’ – ‘the killer’, which it has earned as a result of its tendency to conceal itself on sturdy overhanging branches, waiting for an unwary human to walk underneath, whereupon this highly aggressive, exceedingly venomous snake is said to lung down and swiftly inflict a lethal bite with its deadly fangs.
Despite its wide distribution, the crowing crested cobra’s description is markedly consistent – a very lengthy, greatly-feared serpent greyish-black or buffish-brown in colour, but instantly distinguished from all others by its scarlet face, the remarkable bright-red coxcomb-like crest projecting forwards on its head, a pair of red facial wattles (in the male), and the amazing ability to crow, just like a farmyard rooster!
Nevertheless, however similar to the legendary cockatrice this monstrous snake may seem, countless eyewitnesses claim to have seen it, and there are even some preserved partial specimens on record. In 1944, Dr J.O. Shircore published a report describing what he claimed to be the bony skeleton of the fleshy coxcomb and part of the neck (containing several vertebrae) from a crowing crested cobra, which he personally owned. Sadly, however, these cryptozoologically-priceless relics current origin is unknown – like so many other such specimens, they have probably been discarded without ever having been submitted to a scientific establishment for formal examination.
In May 1959, John Knott apparently ran over one of these extraordinary serpents while driving home in his Land Rover from Binga in the Kariba region of what is nowadays Zimbabwe. Measuring 6.5-7 ft long and mortally wounded but still alive, the snake was dark in colour and bore a very conspicuous crest on its head. Sometimes, old black mambas Dendroaspis polylepis have crests, consisting of incompletely sloughed skin, which may have given rise to some reports of crowing crested cobras. However, the crest of Knott’s snake was distinctly formed, perfectly symmetrical in shape, and containing five internal prop-like structures that enabled it to be erected. Understandably, the prospect of attempting to capture a very large, severely-injured snake belonging to a wholly unfamiliar species and bring it back home for identification did not appeal to Knott, who drove off after observing it closely. Once again, therefore, conclusive evidence for this creature’s existence was lost.
Perhaps the most extraordinary attribute of the crowing crested cobra is its famed ability to crow. Even so, it is now known that some snakes are able to give voice to more than the limited range of sibilant hissing traditionally associated with these limbless reptiles. Indeed, during the 1980s, a scientific team in Borneo was very startled to encounter a bright blue subspecies of cave-dwelling racer snake that emitted an extremely loud yowling miaow, just like a cat! Clearly, therefore, a crowing serpent is not beyond the realms of possibility.
The caves on the island of Rambutyo (also spelled Rambunzo), sited off the eastern coast of Papua New Guinea, are reportedly home to a modest-sized but highly intriguing cave-dwelling cryptid with wings known as the ropen (‘demon flyer’). With a wingspan of 0.9-1.2 m, and sporting a long toothy beak and an even longer tail terminating in a diamond-shaped flange, descriptions of the ropen collected from the local people strongly recall an early fossil pterosaur known as Rhamphorhynchus.
Also claimed to exist on the island of Umboi, situated between eastern Papua New Guinea and the large island of New Britain, it is greatly feared despite its relatively modest dimensions. This is because it is said to be attracted from its cave by the smell of rotting flesh, and has been known to attack funeral parties and dig up newly-buried corpses.
Ropen = CGI mock-up (monster.wikia.com)
The ropen should not be (but very frequently is) confused with a much bigger mystery beast known correctly as the duah. Although it too is superficially pterosaurian, it has a long neck, a bony crest, and enormous leathery wings said to span up to 6.1 m, making it more similar in overall appearance to later, more advanced pterosaurs like Pteranodon.
The duah has been reported from mainland Papua New Guinea during the 1990s by various missionaries as well as the local people here. They claim that its underside glows when it flies overhead at night.
In On the Track of Unknown Animals, Heuvelmans closed one chapter with the memorable statement: “The trail of unknown animals sometimes leads to Hell”. In view of the devilishly deadly company of cryptids reviewed here, he may have had a point!