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KIPLING AND KARAIT – AN OPHIDIAN BUNGLE IN THE JUNGLE BOOK?

by on Jun.28, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Exquisite illustration of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi the mongoose and an unspecified Indian snake, from a 1924 French edition of The Jungle Book (public domain)
…when Teddy came running down the path, Rikki-tikki was ready to be petted.
But just as Teddy was stooping, something flinched a little in the dust, and a tiny voice said: ‘Be careful. I am death!’ It was Karait, the dusty brown snakeling that lies for choice on the dusty earth; and his bite is as dangerous as the cobra’s. But he is so small that nobody thinks of him, and so he does the more harm to people.
…Karait struck out. Rikki jumped sideways and tried to run in, but the wicked little dusty grey head lashed within a fraction of his shoulder, and he had to jump over the body, and the head followed his heels close…[but] Karait had lunged out once too far, and Rikki-tikki had sprung, jumped on the snake’s back, dropped his head far between his fore-legs, bitten as high up the back as he could get hold, and rolled away. That bite paralysed Karait [killing him].
        Rudyard Kipling – ‘Rikki-Tikki-Tavi’, in The Jungle Book
Two of my best-loved books as a child (and still today, for that matter) were The Jungle Book (1894) and The Second Jungle Book (1895), both authored by Rudyard Kipling, which I first read at much the same time that Disney’s classic animated movie version was first screened in cinemas (1967), and which I also adored despite its many liberties taken with Kipling’s source material. Although they are most famous for their Mowgli stories, these two books also contained a number of others that did not feature him and were not set in the Indian jungle.
Of these non-Mowgli tales, my own personal favourite was ‘Rikki-Tikki-Tavi’, which was included in the first of Kipling’s two Jungle Books. Its eponymous mongoose star (henceforth referred to here simply as RTT for brevity) successfully and successively saved from a series of potentially lethal attacks by Nag and Nagaina – a malign pair of garden-inhabiting Indian (spectacled) cobras Naja naja – the human family that he had ‘adopted’ after their young son Teddy had rescued him from almost drowning in a flood.
The front cover and spine (the latter depicting RTT confronting a cobra) from the hardback first edition of The Jungle Book (1894) (public domain)
However, cobras were not the only snakes that RTT dispatched. He also killed a much smaller but seemingly no less deadly serpentine threat to Teddy and family – namely, the “dusty brown snakeling” Karait, whose meagre description provided by Kipling is quoted in full at the beginning of this present ShukerNature blog article. Even as a child (and nascent cryptozoologist), I was fascinated by Karait, for whereas cobras were readily familiar to me, Karait remained mysterious, because no formal identification of his species was provided by Kipling.
So what was Karait – possibly an inaccurately-described known living species (i.e. a veritable bungle in The Jungle Book), or an entirely fictitious one that Kipling had specifically invented for his RTT story, or conceivably even a real species but one that was either now long-extinct or had still to be formally described and named by science? There was only one way to deal with these and other options on offer. So after watching a cartoon version of it and then re-reading the original story a few months ago, I conducted some investigations into Kipling’s minute but highly mystifying Karait, and here is what I found out.
Adult specimen of the common Indian krait Bungarus caeruleus (© Jayendra Chiplunkar/Wikipedia  CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)
Naturally, the name ‘Karait’ instantly calls to mind the very similar name ‘krait’, applied both colloquially and scientifically to a number of species of venomous elapid snake native to India and elsewhere in Asia, and belonging to the genus Bungarus – which is why as a child I had simply assumed from his name that Karait had indeed merely been a krait. However, my fascination with Kipling’s diminutive yet deadly dust serpent increased during subsequent years, in tandem with my burgeoning ophidian knowledge, when I realised that what little morphological and behavioural information concerning Karait had been given by Kipling did not accord with any krait species (either in its adult or in its juvenile form) that was known to exist anywhere within or even beyond the Indian Subcontinent.
The most familiar krait species, and also the most abundant, widely distributed one in India, is the common Indian krait B. caeruleus. When adult, however, it can attain a total length of up to 5.75 ft (3 ft on average, but still very much longer than Kipling’s Karait), and its body is handsomely marked with a characteristic banded pattern of light and dark stripes (often black and white, but famously black and gold in the closely-related banded krait B. fasciatus, also native to India and up to 7 ft long). Moreover, when it is a juvenile and therefore much smaller (hence much more comparable in size to Karait than the adult is), its stripes are even more distinct than they are in the adult snake and its background colouration is bluish, not brown.
The banded krait Bungarus fasciatus as depicted in Joseph Ewart’s book The Poisonous Snakes of India (1878) (public domain)
Most other krait species also exhibit striping, albeit of different degrees of vividness. Needless to say, however, any mention of such markings in Kipling’s description of Karait is conspicuous only by its absence, which would be highly unusual for Kipling if he had indeed intended Karait to be a krait, because his knowledge and descriptions of other Indian fauna was always very skilled. True, a few krait species do not possess stripes, but these still tend to have a very bold background body colour, such as shiny brown, glossy black, or even deep blue with a bright red head in one species (B. flaviceps from southeast Asia), so once again they differ substantially from the nondescript appearance ascribed by Kipling to Karait.
It is odd, therefore, that Wikipedia’s entry for the genus Bungarus refers to Kipling’s Karait as “a small sand-colored krait”, apparently unaware of the fundamental morphological flaws in such an identification that I have enumerated above. Similarly unaware, it would seem, is the Kipling Society, because on its official website its brief entry for Karait states: “karait (or krait) A small highly poisonous snake, known to Kipling and common in India“. Common in India it may be (and, indeed, is), but small it certainly is not.
Red-headed krait Bungarus flaviceps (© Touchthestove/Wikipedia – CC BY 4.0 licence)
No less damaging to a krait identity claim for Karait than incompatible morphology is the notable reluctance of these snakes to bite or strike out at a potential aggressor, preferring to coil up and hide their head within their coils, exposing and lifting up their tail tip instead. This behaviour does not correspond at all with the much more active, antagonistic striking behaviour of Karait, plus their predominantly nocturnal lifestyle means that kraits rarely encounter humans during the daytime anyway, which is when Karait encountered Teddy. Consequently, as the only link between the kraits and Karait is a shared colloquial name, it would seem most parsimonious to assume that Kipling simply selected the name Karait for its sound or familiarity, rather than to indicate any taxonomic affinity between his story’s snake and the genuine kraits.
The website Litcharts offers a very different ophidian identity from a krait for Karait – nothing less, in fact, than an infant cobra. In its list of minor characters that appear in Kipling’s story ‘Rikki-Tikki-Tavi’, it describes Karait as:
The young cobra hatchling, implied to be a child of Nag and Nagaina, whom Rikki-tikki battles in the garden early in the story. His small size in fact makes him more dangerous than the older snakes, as he is quicker and harder to catch, but Rikki-tikki defeats him nonetheless.
This entry’s claim baffles me, because nowhere in Kipling’s coverage of Karait and his unsuccessful attack upon RTT can I spot any implication that Karait was a young cobra hatchling, other than perhaps the term ‘snakeling’, which may imply a young snake. Equally, however, it may imply a small adult snake. In any case, even the smallest Indian cobra hatchlings, which still measure a respectable 10 in long, possess their species’ characteristic hood yet which, just like the stripes of kraits, is again conspicuous only by its absence in Kipling’s description of Karait. Furthermore, by specifically stating that Karait’s bite “is as dangerous as the cobra’s”, surely Kipling is actually delineating Karait from the cobra, rather than assimilating it with the latter snake? Certainly, that is how this statement reads to me.
A young Indian cobra Naja najaexhibiting its species’ characteristic hood (© Muhammad Sharif Khan/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.5 licence)
A third snake identity, and one that I feel has much greater plausibility than either of the previous two discussed here, is a species of saw-scaled viper, belonging to the genus Echis, which includes among its number the Indian saw-scaled viper E. carinatus, the best-known representative. Just like Karait, these snakes are small, predominantly brown with only faint patterning sometimes, extremely venomous, notoriously irascible, and often found in dry, dusty, arid terrain, where they are very inconspicuous, frequently burying themselves in sand or dirt until only their head is visible, thereby enabling them to ambush unsuspecting approaching prey. Is it just a coincidence, therefore, that Kipling specifically states that Karait “lies for choice on the dusty earth”?
Moreover, these snakes readily strike out aggressively if threatened, just as Karait did, and so potent is their venom (as was Karait’s) that saw-scaled vipers are one of the most significant snake-bite threats throughout their zoogeographical range, killing many people every year. Yet some such species are no more than 1 ft long even as adults. Clearly, therefore, this type of snake corresponds very closely with Karait across a wide range of different characteristics – morphological, behavioural, and ecological. Also worthy of note here is the hump-nosed viper Hypnale hypnale, which is native to India, greyish-brown in colour with a double row of large black spots, and no more than around 2 ft long (averages 12-15 in). However, it generally frequents dense jungles and hilly coffee plantations, rather than the more arid, dusty terrain favoured by Echis, and spends the day hidden in thick bushes and leaf litter.
Indian saw-scaled viper Echis carinatus (© Saleem Hameed/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.5 licence)
The fourth identity to be considered here is fundamentally different from the others inasmuch as it is based not upon factual similarities but rather upon fallacious ones. Superstitious, non-scientific traditional native lore in many regions of the world often ascribes all manner of fanciful, often highly venomous attributes to various animal species that in reality are entirely harmless. For instance, there is an Indian lizard known locally as the bis-cobra that for untold ages has been deemed by fearful villagers in rural areas to be totally lethal in every way, yet as confirmed by scientific examination of specimens it is in reality completely innocuous (click hereto read my ShukerNature blog article concerning this unfairly-maligned saurian). Various geckos and chameleons are viewed with comparable yet wholly unwarranted native dread too. Certain equally inoffensive species of worm-like limbless amphibian known as caecilians, various worm-like limbless reptiles called amphisbaenians, and some reclusive fossorial snakes like sand boas and blind (thread) snakes have also suffered persecution due to similarly erroneous layman beliefs.
While investigating the possible taxonomic identity of Karait, I communicated with Mark O’Shea, the internationally-renowned snake researcher and handler from the West Midlands Safari Park, based not very far from where I live, and Mark echoed my own thoughts regarding this identity option, stating: “People fear what they think are dangerous even if they aren’t, i.e. blue-tongued skink or large geckos”. Could it be, therefore, that Karait belongs to one such species, i.e. a very small and thoroughly harmless dust-dwelling serpent (or serpentine herp of some other kind) that has been wrongly deemed to be venomous? But why would Kipling continue to perpetrate such a fallacy? Surely as a keen amateur naturalist he would have preferred to expose it in his story as being nonsensical folklore with no foundation in fact?
Brahminy blind snake Indotyphlops braminus (© Jjargoud/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)
Also well worth considering is that Karait may have been a total invention on Kipling’s part, created perhaps to add an unexpected, additional element of danger into a plot that already contained the ever-present threat posed by the malevolent pair of cobras Nag and Nagaina (whose evil plan was to kill RTT and the humans, and then move into their house). There is, after all, a notable literary precedent for the incorporation of a deadly but zoologically non-existent Indian serpent into a work of fiction – none other than the lethal Indian swamp adder or ‘speckled band’ that confronted the master detective Sherlock Holmes in a famous short story penned by Holmes’s creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’ was first published in 1892 (by London‘s Strand Magazine), i.e. just a couple of years before Kipling’s Jungle Books were published (click hereto see my comprehensive investigation of Conan Doyle’s sinister swamp adder on ShukerNature). Who knows, might it even have directly inspired Kipling to dream up a fictitious death-dealing serpent of his own?
Rather less likely, but by no means impossible, is that Karait represented either a valid species that did exist back in Kipling’s time but has since become extinct without ever having been formally named and described, or one that still exists but is so elusive that it has yet to be officially discovered and recognised by science. With no supportive evidence known to me for either of these two options, however, they must remain for now entirely speculative.
Artistic representation of the possible morphology of Conan Doyle’s fictitious Indian swamp adder (© Tim Morris)
At this stage in my investigation, therefore, the identity for Karait that I personally deemed to be most tenable was that of a saw-scaled viper, but I always greatly value receiving the thoughts, opinions, and possible additional information offered by other interested parties too. Consequently, on 25 March 2019 I posted the following concise summary of the Karait case on my Facebook timeline and also in various snake-relevant FB groups:
Watching the 1974 Chuck Jones cartoon version of Rudyard Kipling’s mongoose-starring story Rikki-Tikki-Tavi recently, I was reminded of a mystery that always puzzled me when reading it as a child. To which species did the extremely venomous but tiny dust-inhabiting, “dusty brown snakeling” Karait belong? As a child, I’d simply assumed that it was a species of krait, on account of the similarity in names and the occurrence of kraits in India. but when I learnt more about such snakes I discovered that young Indian kraits Bungarus caeruleus are actually vividly striped and bluish in colour, not unmarked and dusty brown. And even young kraits seem bigger than Karait was. I’ve since read various alternative suggestions, e.g. that Karait was actually a saw-scaled viper, or even an infant cobra. Or could he have been a wholly fictional species, as apparently the Indian swamp adder that confronted Conan Doyle’s detective Sherlock Holmes was? There may even be the possibility that it is a real yet totally harmless small species, like one of the Gerrhopilidae blind snakes of India, but which is erroneously deemed in local folklore to be very venomous. There are many such cases on record, from caecilians to an Indian lizard dubbed the bis-cobra, which I have previously documented. Do any of my herpetological friends or those of Indian heritage have any ideas as to Karait’s likely identity? If so, I’d love to read your thoughts! Here is Kipling’s all-too-brief description of Karait’s morphology: [I then quoted the first major paragraph of the excerpt from Kipling’s book that opens this present ShukerNature article.]
The common Indian krait as depicted in Joseph Ewart’s book The Poisonous Snakes of India (1878) (public domain)
I then sat back to await any postings that may be forthcoming. In the event, I received quite a number of comments (including a greatly welcomed, detailed evaluation by American biologist Dr Christopher Mallery that closely echoed my own thought processes regarding the case), which revealed that the overriding opinion concerning Karait’s likely identity was the same as mine – a saw-scaled viper.
However, there was one nagging problem with this identity that I could neither resolve nor overlook. If Karait had truly been based upon a saw-scaled viper, why did Kipling, who was so knowledgeable concerning Indian fauna, give to it a name that is applied locally to the krait? This made no sense at all – until, that is, Robert Twombley, a longstanding Facebook friend who is passionately interested in both herpetology and cryptozoology, and is also the creator of the reptile/amphibian-specific cryptozoological group Ethnoherpetology, posted a brief but remarkable revelation there on 29 March 2019 that was entirely new to me, but which in my opinion provides the long sought-after missing piece of the perplexing Karait jigsaw puzzle. Here is what he wrote:
Bungarus caeruleus (Schneider, 1801) and Bungarus fasciatus (Schneider, 1801), were once placed in the same genus Pseudoboa (Schneider, 1801) same with Echis carinatus (Schneider, 1801).
Johann G.T. Schneider (public domain)
In other words, back in 1801 the Indian (as well as the banded) krait and the Indian saw-scaled viper had been taxonomically lumped together by German naturalist Johann G.T. Schneider within the very same genus, Pseudoboa (which he had officially coined in his 1801 treatise Historiae Amphibiorum Naturalis et Literariae Fasciculus Secundus Continens Crocodilos, Scincos, Chamaesauras, Boas, Pseudoboas, Elaps, Angues, Amphisbaenas et Caecilias), and were therefore viewed scientifically as closely-related, similar serpents. (It was only in later years that they were eventually shown to be quite distinct, both anatomically and genetically, so were duly split not only into separate genera but also into separate taxonomic families – Elapidae for the kraits as well as the cobras, and Viperidae for the vipers.) So it is not unreasonable to assume that back then the colloquial name ‘karait’ had been more inclusive too, all of which could in turn explain why Kipling had applied the latter name to a snake that was quite evidently not a krait but a saw-scaled viper.
My sincere thanks to Robert Twombley, Dr Christopher Mallery, Mark O’Shea, and all of the other correspondents who so kindly responded to my FB enquiry with their greatly-valued thoughts and views.
Photographic portrait of Rudyard Kipling (public domain)
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SHUNKA WARAK’IN, RINGDOCUS, GUYASTICUTUS, ROCKY MOUNTAIN HYAENA – A TANGLE OF TERMS FOR A VERY TAXING TAXIDERM BEAST

by on Jun.24, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Enlargement photograph of a picture postcard of The Beast displayed alongside its glass case (photograph © Shane Lea)
Last month, a friend of mine informed me that just a few years ago he had been fortunate enough to view up close and personal(ly) something truly rare in cryptozoology – an actual physical specimen of a putative cryptid. And not just any cryptid either. Nothing less, in fact, than a suspected shunka warak’in – one of North America‘s lesser-known but no less interesting mystery creatures.
I first documented the shunka warak’in back in 2007, within my book Extraordinary Animals Revisited, and I added a very important update to my account when that book was reprinted not long afterwards. So, before I document my friend’s first-hand impressions of the afore-mentioned specimen, here is what I originally wrote 12 years ago concerning this very intriguing New World unknown animal:
The taxiderm ringdocus exhibit (aka The Beast) originally displayed in Sherwood’s store/museum, where it was also labelled as a guyasticutus and a Rocky Mountainhyena (public domain)
Translating as ‘carrying-off dogs’, ‘shunka warak’in’ is the name given by the Ioway and other Native Americans living along the U.S.A.-Canada border to a strange dark-furred creature likened morphologically to a cross between a wolf and a hyaena, which sports a lupine head and high shoulders, but also a sloping back and short hindlimbs – bestowing upon it a hyaenid outline. As its name suggests, the shunka warak’in is said to sneak into the tribes’ camps at night and seize any unwary dogs, and it cries like a human if killed.
Sometime during the 1880s, a mystifying creature fitting this description was shot and killed by the grandfather of zoologist Dr Ross E. Hutchins (who documented the incident in his book Trails to Nature’s Mysteries, 1977) on his ranch in the Madison River Valley north of Ennis, Montana. Unlike so many other cryptozoological corpses, however, this one was actually preserved, becoming a cased taxiderm specimen that was subsequently exhibited for many years by a grocer called Sherwood at his store-cum-museum near Henry Lake, Idaho, Sherwood terming it a ‘ringdocus’. Moreover, a good-quality photograph of this unique specimen was taken, revealing its somewhat composite form – and appears in Hutchins’s book. This is just as well, because the whereabouts of the specimen itself are currently unknown, as it has apparently been moved in recent years to somewhere in the West Yellowstonearea.
After reading Hutchins’s account and seeing the photo, veteran American cryptozoologist Loren Coleman keenly pursued this intriguing subject further, and together with fellow cryptozoologist Mark A. Hall he uncovered other accounts and data concerning odd hyaena-like beasts reported in North America over the years, which he duly collated in an article devoted entirely to the shunka warak’in (Fortean Times, June 1996). One further report dates from as recently as 1991, in Canada, when a peculiar hyaena-lookalike beast was observed by several eyewitnesses near to the Alberta Wildlife Park (Fortean Times, February-March 1992).
A seemingly different, clearer photograph of the taxiderm ringdocus/The Beast specimen (photographer’s identity presently unknown to me, photograph seemingly in the public domain, but in any case reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
Moreover, an additional report that may well have bearing upon the shunka warak’in case but which has not been published until now is one that was brought to my attention by cryptozoological artist William Rebsamen in an email to me of 19 May 1998. In it, Bill recalled meeting up a few days earlier with his high school art teacher, Ron Thomas, and had been very surprised to learn that Ron had a longstanding interest in cryptozoology. Described by Bill as a very non-nonsense person with a lifetime’s woodsman experience from growing up on a New Jersey horse ranch and moving to the Oklahoma pan-handle working with horses before finally settling down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, to become an art teacher, Ron passed on to Bill some very interesting information:
Ron also asked me if I’d ever heard of a strange predator that was not to be mistaken by locals as a bear or dog. Ron said he did not think much after first hearing about this from an old farmer who lived near him until he heard the same description from a totally unrelated second source near the same area. It is described as massively built in the front of its body while having shorter legs in back and travels in an unusual gait. As though Ron read my mind he next told me it sounds to him like some sort of hyena except that it is coal black in color. This reminded me of an article in Fortean Times (FT 87, page 42) in Loren’s ‘On the Trail’ of the mysterious (but poorly taxidermed) hyena like creature pictured in a photo from the Southwest.
I totally agree with Bill that Ron’s mystery beast certainly recalls Loren’s shunka warak’in – but if such a beast does indeed exist, what could it be? The most conservative notion is that reports of it feature nothing more than freak/deformed wolves or odd feral mongrel dogs. Even the stuffed specimen, sloping back notwithstanding, appears more canine than hyaenine in overall form as depicted in the photo of it. Additionally, an escaped/released genuine hyaena or two may also have been sighted. However, with the exception of the very dark-furred but also very rare brown hyaena Hyaena brunnea, modern-day hyaenas are generally light-coloured with distinctive spots or stripes (depending upon the species).
Brown hyaena in the Gemsbok National Park, South Africa (© Bernard Dupont/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)
As for any possibility that it really is a wolf x hyaena hybrid, this is not tenable, because canids and hyaenids belong to two totally separate taxonomic families. Consequently, it is highly unlikely that a wolf-hyaena mating would even produce offspring at all, let alone viable ones.
Three very dramatic identities that have been proposed [by various cryptozoological investigators] involve the prospect of prehistoric survival. One of these identities is an undiscovered, modern-day borophagine – a superficially hyaena-like subfamily of canids represented by fossils in North America’s Oligocene to Pliocene epochs (34-2.5 million years ago). However, their hypershortened faces differ markedly from the long-snouted profile of the stuffed creature. The second suggestion is a surviving Chasmaporthetes ossifragus, America’s formidable hunting hyaena, which officially became extinct around 10,000 years ago [since revised to around 0.78 million years ago]. And the third is a relict amphicyonid, an identity that has also been applied to another mystery mammalian carnivore reported from North America, the waheela [click here to read more about this cryptid on ShukerNature].
Of course, one of the best possible ways of ascertaining the identity of at least one supposed shunka warak’in is to trace the Sherwood-owned taxiderm specimen, and perform DNA analysis on hair samples taken from it. So if you live in or plan to visit the West Yellowstonearea, and you happen to spot a strange-looking, stuffed ‘hyaena-wolf’ ensconced in a large glass case there, don’t shun it as a freak or a fake. Take some photos, ask its owners as many questions about it as you can, and please send me whatever images and information concerning it and its new location that you are able to. It may indeed prove to be nothing more startling than a shabbily-preserved wolf or dog – then again, it might prove to be a major cryptozoological find.
Cormocyon copei, a species of dog-like borophagine, depicted by Roger Witter in his Turtle Cove mural (public domain, according to Wikipedia – click herefor details)
Not long after my book containing the above account was published, a highly significant rediscovery was made – none other than the seemingly long-lost taxiderm ringdocus itself! Needless to say, I was most anxious to add details of this very important new episode in the history of the shunka warak’in to my earlier documentation of it, so an updated reprint of my book was swiftly published that contained the following additional coverage:
STOP PRESS: The long-lost stuffed ‘ringdocus’ (p. 99), which corresponded well with descriptions of the mysterious shunka warak’in, has been found! After reading a story about it in late October 2007, Jack Kirby, another grandson of Israel Hutchins, tracked down the elusive exhibit to the Idaho Museum of Natural History [IMNH] in Pocatello [where, unbeknownst to cryptozoologists, it had long been in storage together with Sherwood’s other taxiderm specimens, ever since they had all been donated to this museum]. Moreover, the museum agreed to loan it to Kirkby in order for it to be displayed at the Madison Valley History [Association] Museum [MVHAM, in Ennis, Montana]. A new examination of this famous specimen has revealed some previously-undocumented details. It measures 48 inches from the tip of its snout to its rump, not including its tail, and stands 27-28 in high at the shoulder. As portrayed in a photograph accompanying an article concerning its unexpected rediscovery published by the Bozeman Daily Chronicle on 15 November 2007 [click here to read this article and view the full-colour photo of it alongside Jack Kirby], its snout is noticeably narrow, and its coat is dark-brown, almost black, in colour, with lighter tan areas, and includes the faint impression of stripes on its flanks. Despite its age and travels around America, this potentially significant taxiderm specimen is in remarkably good condition, with no signs of wear or tear or even any fading of coat colouration. Could it truly be a shunka warak’in? And, if so, what in taxonomic terms is the shunka warak’in? Now that the lost has been found, DNA analyses of hair and tissue from the long-preserved exhibit may at last provide some answers.
More than a decade after I wrote the above stop-press account, however, my hopes and expectations that samples from the stuffed ringdocus (nowadays also known as The Beast) would be submitted for DNA analysis to reveal its taxonomic identity have still to be fulfilled. Apparently, this is or has been due at least in part to legality issues concerning which of the two museums featuring in this specimen’s modern-day history (i.e. the INHM and the MVHAM) has the legal authority to allow such samples to be procured from it and dispatched for testing – click herefor more details regarding this complex matter as contained within a Cryptomundo article authored and posted by Loren Coleman on 27 May 2009. Having said that: according to a noteworthy comment posted below that article on 21 September 2012 by now-retired museum professional/vertebrate palaeontologist Richard S. White, the INHM has deaccessioned the specimen and conveyed ownership of it to the person who had previously borrowed it, i.e. Jack Kirby, which if so presumably means, therefore, that responsibility for permitting or preventing DNA analyses now lies wholly within the MVHAM’s remit.
Meanwhile, I am pleased to be able to present herewith some interesting, hitherto-unpublished Beast data, in the form of first-hand eyewitness information and photographs kindly supplied to me by Shane Lea from Montana, plus details of a second, much more recent Montana mystery canid. Shane is a longstanding cryptozoological correspondent and friend of mine, who specifically visited Ennis’s MVHAM a few years ago in order to observe its most enigmatic exhibit, The Beast, where it has been housed ever since it was originally loaned there from the IMNH in 2007.
Enlargement photograph of a second picture postcard of The Beast (photograph © Shane Lea)
In a series of emails sent to me during May and June 2019, Shane revealed that the MVHAM is a small natural history museum containing a nice collection of familiar North American mammals, plus The Beast, which is contained within a large glass case at the front of the building. Due to a combination of poor lighting and camera-flash reflections off its glass case dooming to inevitable failure any attempt made to photograph this specimen directly, Shane chose instead to photograph in close-up a couple of full-colour picture postcards depicting it that he purchased there, and then print enlargements of his photos on glossy paper in order to exhibit and examine The Beast’s features afterwards in more detail.
When subsequently discussing its possible identity with me via email, Shane stated that he favoured a wolf, whereas I mentioned in reply that I leaned more towards either an exceedingly cross-bred domestic dog or the hybrid offspring of some such dog and a wolf. Both of us readily discounted any hyaena or prehistoric survivor identity, because it clearly was not the former and it appeared far too nondescript in appearance, relatively speaking, for it to be any of the latter options noted earlier here. To quote Shane:
[The] specimen I saw was no larger than an ordinary wolf…As I viewed “The Beast,” the whole time I was thinking in my mind “wolf.” Believe you me, I was looking for any hyena-like characteristics. No-one would love to find something “prehistoric” more than me, but, you have to keep your head on straight and be realistic, otherwise you’ll just end up fooling yourself. You brought up a very valid point that I had not considered before, the cross-breed consideration. One thing that always bothered me about the account of this beast, was that as recalled in the book: “Trails To Nature’s Mysteries,” this animal that was shot and killed, was described as being friendly toward the dogs around the ranch in Montana. Now, why would an animal described as “carrying-off-dogs” be friendly and non-aggressive w/dogs, unless it was actually part dog itself?
Trails To Nature’s Mysteries by Dr Ross E. Hutchins (© Dr Ross E. Hutchins/Dodd, Mead – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only – click here to purchase a copy on Amazon’s USA site)
This latter comment by Shane is a very valid one. For although it is not unknown for a wild canid to lack hostility towards an encountered domestic dog, such encounters generally involve either downright hostility or open avoidance between the two animals.
Equally worthy of note, however, is a comment dated 10 January 2008 and posted underneath a Cryptomundo news item authored on 15 November 2007 by Loren Coleman regarding The Beast’s rediscovery (click hereto read it), in which a reader with the username MustangAppy claimed:
I know for a fact that the previous Mammology [sic] Curator and the current Paleontology Curator at IMNH have both examined this animal and stated that this is a poorly mounted black wolf, period.
John James Audubon’s classic painting of a black wolf (public domain)
Also of interest is that in May 2018 a large canine mystery beast was once again shot in Montana. Here is what I subsequently wrote about it in one of my Alien Zoo cryptozoology news columns of 2018 for Fortean Times:
IS A MONTANACRYPTID CRYING WOLF? Even more perplexing and media headlines-generating is the mystifying canine cryptid that was shot on a private ranch near Denton in the Lewistown area of northcentral Montana, USA, on 16 May 2018. With long greyish-brown fur, a large head, and a definite canine appearance, it superficially recalls a wolf in overall form. Yet according to Ty Smucker, wolf management specialist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), who has examined close-up colour photos of this creature’s body, its feet seem too small, its ears too large, and its body and limbs too short. As to be expected, the story of its procurement and unresolved taxonomic status soon went viral on social media, resulting in a diverse array of identities having been proposed for it, ranging from the mundane to the monstrous. At one end of this taxonomic spectrum are suggestions that it may be a specimen of the elusive dogman, a bizarre entity whose existence remains unconfirmed but is said to be capable of walking bipedally, like a humanoid dog. A related notion, whose seriousness remains as undetermined as the creature’s identity, is that it is a werewolf. No less thought-provoking are opinions that it is nothing less than a dire wolf Canis dirus, a very large, burly New World species believed to have become extinct almost 10,000 years ago. Another postulated cryptozoological connection is one that links it to an equally contentious wolf-like or even hyaena-like American mystery beast known variously as the shunka warak’in or ringdocus, an alleged (but never verified) taxiderm specimen of which is currently on display at the Madison Valley History Association Museum [MVHAM] in Ennis, Montana. And then there is the proposal that it is a young, emaciated grizzly bear – but I have yet to see any young bear, emaciated or otherwise, that has a characteristically canine head and jaws, not to mention a long bushy tail! My own thoughts are that it is a pure-bred wolf, a wolf x domestic dog hybrid, or a pure-bred domestic dog but of decidedly crossbred ancestry in terms of the number and varieties of breeds that may well have contributed to it (i.e. a mongrel or mutt of no recognised heritage). Among domestic species of mammal, the domestic dog is unparalleled in terms of its morphological and genetic diversity, so much so that I have little doubt that this diversity could readily engender the phenotype of the Dentonbeast under consideration here. All too often in cryptozoology, an unusual specimen is procured, only for its remains to be discarded or lost without any samples having been secured from it and subjected to formal scientific examination. Happily, however, in this particular instance that sorry series of events has not occurred. Instead, FWP game wardens went to investigate it after it had been shot, and its entire carcase has been sent to their laboratory at Bozeman for continued study. Bruce Auchly, information manager for Montana FWP, has publicly stated that they are now awaiting a DNA report back from the lab, after which we may finally know whether Denton‘s cryptid was merely crying wolf or whether it really was something out of the ordinary. In mid-June, the results contained in that keenly-awaited DNA report were made public by Montana‘s FWP in an official press release. This revealed that despite the fact that certain investigators had opined that it looked odd, the mystery beast in question was in reality nothing more than a very ordinary adult female grey wolf Canis lupus. In other words, not a dire wolf at all, merely a dire disappointment, at least as far as some cryptozoologists were concerned. [A CBS news report of this specimen’s discovery and denouement that includes photographs of it can be accessed here.]
Conversely, neither of the two cryptozoologically fundamental questions regarding The Beast can be answered conclusively at present. What is its taxonomic identity? And regardless of what it is taxonomically, is The Beast one and the same as whatever the shunka warak’in is? (Always assuming, of course, that the shunka warak’in traditional folklore is actually based upon a real creature, rather than merely a wholly mythical, non-existent one.) Or, to combine the two: assuming once again that it is indeed real and not just a myth, is the shunka warak’in whatever The Beast is?
Digitally-created shunka warak’in image created by ‘69.146.147.248 aka A FANDOM User’ (who states here: “I’m happy to see it still floating around the internet” (© 69.146.147.248 aka A FANDOM User, reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
Let us hope that whatever legal wrangles may be impeding the prospect of samples from The Beast being made available for DNA analyses can be resolved in the near future, so that at least the first of these two questions can at last be answered. Of course, who can say whether the likelihood that an unidentified mystery beast will always attract more visitors than an identified non-mystery one may also be playing a part in this complex scenario…?
The last words on The Beast, ringdocus, guyasticutus, shunka warak’in, Rocky Mountain hyaena, or whatever else one chooses to term this most taxing of taxiderm specimens belong to Shane, to whom I owe a great debt of thanks for so very kindly providing me with his very informative insights and photographs regarding The Beast, and also for his unfailing support and encouragement that he has always given to me down through our many years of cryptozoological correspondence, which I appreciate most sincerely – thank you so much, Shane!!
For lack of a better name, the cryptid in Montana was also called “Ringdocus,” an unfortunate moniker. But…at least the “Ringdocus” was preserved and can be viewed to this day. That at least is some small consolation for the poor cryptid’s unfortunate demise. R.I.P. “Ringdocus,” whatever you are.
Amen to that!
My book Extraordinary Animals Revisited, in which I first documented the shunka warak’in and The Beast (© Dr Karl Shuker/CFZ Press)
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SHUNKA WARAK’IN, RINGDOCUS, GUYASTICUTUS, ROCKY MOUNTAIN HYAENA – A TANGLE OF TERMS FOR A VERY TAXING TAXIDERM BEAST

by on Jun.24, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Enlargement photograph of a picture postcard of The Beast displayed alongside its glass case (photograph © Shane Lea)
Last month, a friend of mine informed me that just a few years ago he had been fortunate enough to view up close and personal(ly) something truly rare in cryptozoology – an actual physical specimen of a putative cryptid. And not just any cryptid either. Nothing less, in fact, than a suspected shunka warak’in – one of North America‘s lesser-known but no less interesting mystery creatures.
I first documented the shunka warak’in back in 2007, within my book Extraordinary Animals Revisited, and I added a very important update to my account when that book was reprinted not long afterwards. So, before I document my friend’s first-hand impressions of the afore-mentioned specimen, here is what I originally wrote 12 years ago concerning this very intriguing New World unknown animal:
The taxiderm ringdocus exhibit (aka The Beast) originally displayed in Sherwood’s store/museum, where it was also labelled as a guyasticutus and a Rocky Mountainhyena (public domain)
Translating as ‘carrying-off dogs’, ‘shunka warak’in’ is the name given by the Ioway and other Native Americans living along the U.S.A.-Canada border to a strange dark-furred creature likened morphologically to a cross between a wolf and a hyaena, which sports a lupine head and high shoulders, but also a sloping back and short hindlimbs – bestowing upon it a hyaenid outline. As its name suggests, the shunka warak’in is said to sneak into the tribes’ camps at night and seize any unwary dogs, and it cries like a human if killed.
Sometime during the 1880s, a mystifying creature fitting this description was shot and killed by the grandfather of zoologist Dr Ross E. Hutchins (who documented the incident in his book Trails to Nature’s Mysteries, 1977) on his ranch in the Madison River Valley north of Ennis, Montana. Unlike so many other cryptozoological corpses, however, this one was actually preserved, becoming a cased taxiderm specimen that was subsequently exhibited for many years by a grocer called Sherwood at his store-cum-museum near Henry Lake, Idaho, Sherwood terming it a ‘ringdocus’. Moreover, a good-quality photograph of this unique specimen was taken, revealing its somewhat composite form – and appears in Hutchins’s book. This is just as well, because the whereabouts of the specimen itself are currently unknown, as it has apparently been moved in recent years to somewhere in the West Yellowstonearea.
After reading Hutchins’s account and seeing the photo, veteran American cryptozoologist Loren Coleman keenly pursued this intriguing subject further, and together with fellow cryptozoologist Mark A. Hall he uncovered other accounts and data concerning odd hyaena-like beasts reported in North America over the years, which he duly collated in an article devoted entirely to the shunka warak’in (Fortean Times, June 1996). One further report dates from as recently as 1991, in Canada, when a peculiar hyaena-lookalike beast was observed by several eyewitnesses near to the Alberta Wildlife Park (Fortean Times, February-March 1992).
A seemingly different, clearer photograph of the taxiderm ringdocus/The Beast specimen (photographer’s identity presently unknown to me, photograph seemingly in the public domain, but in any case reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
Moreover, an additional report that may well have bearing upon the shunka warak’in case but which has not been published until now is one that was brought to my attention by cryptozoological artist William Rebsamen in an email to me of 19 May 1998. In it, Bill recalled meeting up a few days earlier with his high school art teacher, Ron Thomas, and had been very surprised to learn that Ron had a longstanding interest in cryptozoology. Described by Bill as a very non-nonsense person with a lifetime’s woodsman experience from growing up on a New Jersey horse ranch and moving to the Oklahoma pan-handle working with horses before finally settling down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, to become an art teacher, Ron passed on to Bill some very interesting information:
Ron also asked me if I’d ever heard of a strange predator that was not to be mistaken by locals as a bear or dog. Ron said he did not think much after first hearing about this from an old farmer who lived near him until he heard the same description from a totally unrelated second source near the same area. It is described as massively built in the front of its body while having shorter legs in back and travels in an unusual gait. As though Ron read my mind he next told me it sounds to him like some sort of hyena except that it is coal black in color. This reminded me of an article in Fortean Times (FT 87, page 42) in Loren’s ‘On the Trail’ of the mysterious (but poorly taxidermed) hyena like creature pictured in a photo from the Southwest.
I totally agree with Bill that Ron’s mystery beast certainly recalls Loren’s shunka warak’in – but if such a beast does indeed exist, what could it be? The most conservative notion is that reports of it feature nothing more than freak/deformed wolves or odd feral mongrel dogs. Even the stuffed specimen, sloping back notwithstanding, appears more canine than hyaenine in overall form as depicted in the photo of it. Additionally, an escaped/released genuine hyaena or two may also have been sighted. However, with the exception of the very dark-furred but also very rare brown hyaena Hyaena brunnea, modern-day hyaenas are generally light-coloured with distinctive spots or stripes (depending upon the species).
Brown hyaena in the Gemsbok National Park, South Africa (© Bernard Dupont/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)
As for any possibility that it really is a wolf x hyaena hybrid, this is not tenable, because canids and hyaenids belong to two totally separate taxonomic families. Consequently, it is highly unlikely that a wolf-hyaena mating would even produce offspring at all, let alone viable ones.
Three very dramatic identities that have been proposed [by various cryptozoological investigators] involve the prospect of prehistoric survival. One of these identities is an undiscovered, modern-day borophagine – a superficially hyaena-like subfamily of canids represented by fossils in North America’s Oligocene to Pliocene epochs (34-2.5 million years ago). However, their hypershortened faces differ markedly from the long-snouted profile of the stuffed creature. The second suggestion is a surviving Chasmaporthetes ossifragus, America’s formidable hunting hyaena, which officially became extinct around 10,000 years ago [since revised to around 0.78 million years ago]. And the third is a relict amphicyonid, an identity that has also been applied to another mystery mammalian carnivore reported from North America, the waheela [click here to read more about this cryptid on ShukerNature].
Of course, one of the best possible ways of ascertaining the identity of at least one supposed shunka warak’in is to trace the Sherwood-owned taxiderm specimen, and perform DNA analysis on hair samples taken from it. So if you live in or plan to visit the West Yellowstonearea, and you happen to spot a strange-looking, stuffed ‘hyaena-wolf’ ensconced in a large glass case there, don’t shun it as a freak or a fake. Take some photos, ask its owners as many questions about it as you can, and please send me whatever images and information concerning it and its new location that you are able to. It may indeed prove to be nothing more startling than a shabbily-preserved wolf or dog – then again, it might prove to be a major cryptozoological find.
Cormocyon copei, a species of dog-like borophagine, depicted by Roger Witter in his Turtle Cove mural (public domain, according to Wikipedia – click herefor details)
Not long after my book containing the above account was published, a highly significant rediscovery was made – none other than the seemingly long-lost taxiderm ringdocus itself! Needless to say, I was most anxious to add details of this very important new episode in the history of the shunka warak’in to my earlier documentation of it, so an updated reprint of my book was swiftly published that contained the following additional coverage:
STOP PRESS: The long-lost stuffed ‘ringdocus’ (p. 99), which corresponded well with descriptions of the mysterious shunka warak’in, has been found! After reading a story about it in late October 2007, Jack Kirby, another grandson of Israel Hutchins, tracked down the elusive exhibit to the Idaho Museum of Natural History [IMNH] in Pocatello [where, unbeknownst to cryptozoologists, it had long been in storage together with Sherwood’s other taxiderm specimens, ever since they had all been donated to this museum]. Moreover, the museum agreed to loan it to Kirkby in order for it to be displayed at the Madison Valley History [Association] Museum [MVHAM, in Ennis, Montana]. A new examination of this famous specimen has revealed some previously-undocumented details. It measures 48 inches from the tip of its snout to its rump, not including its tail, and stands 27-28 in high at the shoulder. As portrayed in a photograph accompanying an article concerning its unexpected rediscovery published by the Bozeman Daily Chronicle on 15 November 2007 [click here to read this article and view the full-colour photo of it alongside Jack Kirby], its snout is noticeably narrow, and its coat is dark-brown, almost black, in colour, with lighter tan areas, and includes the faint impression of stripes on its flanks. Despite its age and travels around America, this potentially significant taxiderm specimen is in remarkably good condition, with no signs of wear or tear or even any fading of coat colouration. Could it truly be a shunka warak’in? And, if so, what in taxonomic terms is the shunka warak’in? Now that the lost has been found, DNA analyses of hair and tissue from the long-preserved exhibit may at last provide some answers.
More than a decade after I wrote the above stop-press account, however, my hopes and expectations that samples from the stuffed ringdocus (nowadays also known as The Beast) would be submitted for DNA analysis to reveal its taxonomic identity have still to be fulfilled. Apparently, this is or has been due at least in part to legality issues concerning which of the two museums featuring in this specimen’s modern-day history (i.e. the INHM and the MVHAM) has the legal authority to allow such samples to be procured from it and dispatched for testing – click herefor more details regarding this complex matter as contained within a Cryptomundo article authored and posted by Loren Coleman on 27 May 2009. Having said that: according to a noteworthy comment posted below that article on 21 September 2012 by now-retired museum professional/vertebrate palaeontologist Richard S. White, the INHM has deaccessioned the specimen and conveyed ownership of it to the person who had previously borrowed it, i.e. Jack Kirby, which if so presumably means, therefore, that responsibility for permitting or preventing DNA analyses now lies wholly within the MVHAM’s remit.
Meanwhile, I am pleased to be able to present herewith some interesting, hitherto-unpublished Beast data, in the form of first-hand eyewitness information and photographs kindly supplied to me by Shane Lea from Montana, plus details of a second, much more recent Montana mystery canid. Shane is a longstanding cryptozoological correspondent and friend of mine, who specifically visited Ennis’s MVHAM a few years ago in order to observe its most enigmatic exhibit, The Beast, where it has been housed ever since it was originally loaned there from the IMNH in 2007.
Enlargement photograph of a second picture postcard of The Beast (photograph © Shane Lea)
In a series of emails sent to me during May and June 2019, Shane revealed that the MVHAM is a small natural history museum containing a nice collection of familiar North American mammals, plus The Beast, which is contained within a large glass case at the front of the building. Due to a combination of poor lighting and camera-flash reflections off its glass case dooming to inevitable failure any attempt made to photograph this specimen directly, Shane chose instead to photograph in close-up a couple of full-colour picture postcards depicting it that he purchased there, and then print enlargements of his photos on glossy paper in order to exhibit and examine The Beast’s features afterwards in more detail.
When subsequently discussing its possible identity with me via email, Shane stated that he favoured a wolf, whereas I mentioned in reply that I leaned more towards either an exceedingly cross-bred domestic dog or the hybrid offspring of some such dog and a wolf. Both of us readily discounted any hyaena or prehistoric survivor identity, because it clearly was not the former and it appeared far too nondescript in appearance, relatively speaking, for it to be any of the latter options noted earlier here. To quote Shane:
[The] specimen I saw was no larger than an ordinary wolf…As I viewed “The Beast,” the whole time I was thinking in my mind “wolf.” Believe you me, I was looking for any hyena-like characteristics. No-one would love to find something “prehistoric” more than me, but, you have to keep your head on straight and be realistic, otherwise you’ll just end up fooling yourself. You brought up a very valid point that I had not considered before, the cross-breed consideration. One thing that always bothered me about the account of this beast, was that as recalled in the book: “Trails To Nature’s Mysteries,” this animal that was shot and killed, was described as being friendly toward the dogs around the ranch in Montana. Now, why would an animal described as “carrying-off-dogs” be friendly and non-aggressive w/dogs, unless it was actually part dog itself?
Trails To Nature’s Mysteries by Dr Ross E. Hutchins (© Dr Ross E. Hutchins/Dodd, Mead – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only – click here to purchase a copy on Amazon’s USA site)
This latter comment by Shane is a very valid one. For although it is not unknown for a wild canid to lack hostility towards an encountered domestic dog, such encounters generally involve either downright hostility or open avoidance between the two animals.
Equally worthy of note, however, is a comment dated 10 January 2008 and posted underneath a Cryptomundo news item authored on 15 November 2007 by Loren Coleman regarding The Beast’s rediscovery (click hereto read it), in which a reader with the username MustangAppy claimed:
I know for a fact that the previous Mammology [sic] Curator and the current Paleontology Curator at IMNH have both examined this animal and stated that this is a poorly mounted black wolf, period.
John James Audubon’s classic painting of a black wolf (public domain)
Also of interest is that in May 2018 a large canine mystery beast was once again shot in Montana. Here is what I subsequently wrote about it in one of my Alien Zoo cryptozoology news columns of 2018 for Fortean Times:
IS A MONTANACRYPTID CRYING WOLF? Even more perplexing and media headlines-generating is the mystifying canine cryptid that was shot on a private ranch near Denton in the Lewistown area of northcentral Montana, USA, on 16 May 2018. With long greyish-brown fur, a large head, and a definite canine appearance, it superficially recalls a wolf in overall form. Yet according to Ty Smucker, wolf management specialist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), who has examined close-up colour photos of this creature’s body, its feet seem too small, its ears too large, and its body and limbs too short. As to be expected, the story of its procurement and unresolved taxonomic status soon went viral on social media, resulting in a diverse array of identities having been proposed for it, ranging from the mundane to the monstrous. At one end of this taxonomic spectrum are suggestions that it may be a specimen of the elusive dogman, a bizarre entity whose existence remains unconfirmed but is said to be capable of walking bipedally, like a humanoid dog. A related notion, whose seriousness remains as undetermined as the creature’s identity, is that it is a werewolf. No less thought-provoking are opinions that it is nothing less than a dire wolf Canis dirus, a very large, burly New World species believed to have become extinct almost 10,000 years ago. Another postulated cryptozoological connection is one that links it to an equally contentious wolf-like or even hyaena-like American mystery beast known variously as the shunka warak’in or ringdocus, an alleged (but never verified) taxiderm specimen of which is currently on display at the Madison Valley History Association Museum [MVHAM] in Ennis, Montana. And then there is the proposal that it is a young, emaciated grizzly bear – but I have yet to see any young bear, emaciated or otherwise, that has a characteristically canine head and jaws, not to mention a long bushy tail! My own thoughts are that it is a pure-bred wolf, a wolf x domestic dog hybrid, or a pure-bred domestic dog but of decidedly crossbred ancestry in terms of the number and varieties of breeds that may well have contributed to it (i.e. a mongrel or mutt of no recognised heritage). Among domestic species of mammal, the domestic dog is unparalleled in terms of its morphological and genetic diversity, so much so that I have little doubt that this diversity could readily engender the phenotype of the Dentonbeast under consideration here. All too often in cryptozoology, an unusual specimen is procured, only for its remains to be discarded or lost without any samples having been secured from it and subjected to formal scientific examination. Happily, however, in this particular instance that sorry series of events has not occurred. Instead, FWP game wardens went to investigate it after it had been shot, and its entire carcase has been sent to their laboratory at Bozeman for continued study. Bruce Auchly, information manager for Montana FWP, has publicly stated that they are now awaiting a DNA report back from the lab, after which we may finally know whether Denton‘s cryptid was merely crying wolf or whether it really was something out of the ordinary. In mid-June, the results contained in that keenly-awaited DNA report were made public by Montana‘s FWP in an official press release. This revealed that despite the fact that certain investigators had opined that it looked odd, the mystery beast in question was in reality nothing more than a very ordinary adult female grey wolf Canis lupus. In other words, not a dire wolf at all, merely a dire disappointment, at least as far as some cryptozoologists were concerned. [A CBS news report of this specimen’s discovery and denouement that includes photographs of it can be accessed here.]
Conversely, neither of the two cryptozoologically fundamental questions regarding The Beast can be answered conclusively at present. What is its taxonomic identity? And regardless of what it is taxonomically, is The Beast one and the same as whatever the shunka warak’in is? (Always assuming, of course, that the shunka warak’in traditional folklore is actually based upon a real creature, rather than merely a wholly mythical, non-existent one.) Or, to combine the two: assuming once again that it is indeed real and not just a myth, is the shunka warak’in whatever The Beast is?
Digitally-created shunka warak’in image created by ‘69.146.147.248 aka A FANDOM User’ (who states here: “I’m happy to see it still floating around the internet” (© 69.146.147.248 aka A FANDOM User, reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
Let us hope that whatever legal wrangles may be impeding the prospect of samples from The Beast being made available for DNA analyses can be resolved in the near future, so that at least the first of these two questions can at last be answered. Of course, who can say whether the likelihood that an unidentified mystery beast will always attract more visitors than an identified non-mystery one may also be playing a part in this complex scenario…?
The last words on The Beast, ringdocus, guyasticutus, shunka warak’in, Rocky Mountain hyaena, or whatever else one chooses to term this most taxing of taxiderm specimens belong to Shane, to whom I owe a great debt of thanks for so very kindly providing me with his very informative insights and photographs regarding The Beast, and also for his unfailing support and encouragement that he has always given to me down through our many years of cryptozoological correspondence, which I appreciate most sincerely – thank you so much, Shane!!
For lack of a better name, the cryptid in Montana was also called “Ringdocus,” an unfortunate moniker. But…at least the “Ringdocus” was preserved and can be viewed to this day. That at least is some small consolation for the poor cryptid’s unfortunate demise. R.I.P. “Ringdocus,” whatever you are.
Amen to that!
My book Extraordinary Animals Revisited, in which I first documented the shunka warak’in and The Beast (© Dr Karl Shuker/CFZ Press)
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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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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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