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WHITHER THE WOOLLY CHEETAH?

by on May.03, 2017, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

The only known illustration of a woolly cheetah (Public domain)
Nowadays, the once-obscure, elusive king cheetah, a mutant morph of the normal cheetah Acinonyx jubatusfamously adorned with an ornate patterning of stripes and blotches very different from the latter species’ polka-dotted wild-type counterpart, is enjoying a well-earned scientific renaissance.
In marked contrast, however, a second, equally eyecatching cheetah form seems to have vanished without trace into the mists of scientific anonymity, after only the briefest of spells in the zoological limelight.
A king cheetah, famed for its exquisite and very elaborate markings, produced by a mutant gene allele (© Steve Jurvetson/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)
On 19 June 1877, Philip L. Sclater, longstanding secretary of the Zoological Society of London, recorded in its Proceedings (i.e. the PZSL) the acquisition by London Zoo of a most unusual cat – male and apparently not fully grown – which he described as follows:
It presents generally the appearance of a cheetah (Felis jubatus) [the cheetah’s old scientific name], but is thicker in the body, and has shorter and stouter limbs, and a much thicker tail. When adult it will probably be considerably larger than the Cheetah, and is larger even now than our three specimens of that animal. The fur is much more woolly and dense than in the Cheetah, as is particularly noticeable on the ears, mane and tail. The whole of the body is of a pale isabelline colour, rather paler on the belly and lower parts, but covered all over, including the belly, with roundish dark fulvous blotches. There are no traces of the black spots which are so conspicuous in all of the varieties of the Cheetah which I have seen, nor of the characteristic black line between the mouth and eye.
Evidently this brown-blotched felid appeared very different from the usual form – to the extent that Sclater stated that it was impossible to associate it with this. Instead, he proposed for it the temporary name of Felis lanea, the woolly cheetah. It had been obtained from Beaufort West, South Africa, and, as Sclater himself remarked: “It is difficult to understand how such a distinct animal can have so long escaped the observations of naturalists”.
One other matter is also difficult to understand, and remains a source of confusion concerning this mystery cat. Sclater referred to its markings as ‘blotches’, but in the illustration that accompanied this report, the creature was depicted with numerous tiny spots!
The PZSL 1877 chromolithograph of the woolly cheetah that accompanied Sclater’s report of it (Public domain)
A year later, on 18 June 1878, Sclater noted in the Society’s Proceedings that he had received a letter from a Mr E.L. Layard, informing him that a second woolly cheetah was currently preserved in the South African Museum. Like the first, it had been procured from Beaufort West. It had been killed by Arthur V. Jackson who, like Layard himself, assumed that it was an erythristic (abnormally red) variant of the normal cheetah. At the end of this item, in answer to an enquiry by Layard, Sclater recorded that the claws of the London Zoo specimen were non-retractile.
Sharing Sclater’s own bewilderment as to how so large and unusual an animal could have evaded scientific detection until then, many zoologists had grave reservations concerning his optimism that the woolly cheetah constituted a totally separate species. In 1881, English biologist Dr St George J. Mivart commented that the noted American zoologist Prof. Daniel G. Elliot regarded this felid simply as a variety of the known cheetah species (curiously, Mivart ascribed the presence of a stripe to one side – but not both sides – of the woolly cheetah’s muzzle when describing this feline form in his book The Cat, a feature not mentioned by Sclater, and in any event highly abnormal, thereby confusing the issue even further).
Dramatis personae in the woolly cheetah saga: Philip L. Sclater (public domain), Dr St George J. Mivart (Wellcome Images/Wikipedia – CC BY 4.0 licence), and Prof. Daniel G. Elliot (public domain)
By then, London Zoo’s specimen had died, and Elliot’s opinion received support from the discovery by eminent mammalogist Oldfield Thomas of the then British Museum (Natural History) – now known as the Natural History Museum – that this cat’s skull did not differ from that of any other cheetah.
On 4 November 1884, Sclater recorded in the PZSL a woolly cheetah skin sent to him by the Reverend G. Fisk, again obtained from Beaufort West. In comparison with the zoo specimen, this example was more distinctly spotted, less densely furred, and rather smaller in size. Reverend Fisk believed that these differences were due to the specimen being a female, an explanation accepted by Sclater, who felt that this new skin consolidated his opinion concerning the woolly cheetah’s separate status. The rest of the scientific world, conversely, remained unconvinced, so that since then it has been regarded as merely an unusual variant of the typical cheetah species.
A normal, polka-dotted cheetah (public domain)
The woolly cheetah may indeed be nothing more surprising than an atypical colour morph – perhaps a partial albino, as suggested by king cheetah researcher Lena Bottriell and felid geneticist Roy Robinson, or an erythristic version, as opined by Jackson and Layard. At the same time, Sclater’s more radical views can also be appreciated, because this cat form differs from the typical cheetah not only in colour and markings but also in fur density and even in relative limb length. Simple colour variants do not generally exhibit such pronounced differences as these from normal individuals of the same species. Its shorter limbs suggest a non-cursorial life – could it possibly have been a forest form?
It is worth noting that a ‘lion-like forest cheetah’ known as the kitanga was described in the 20th Century’s early years to Major G. St J. Orde-Brown by the Embu natives of south-eastern Kenya (as recorded by Kenneth C. Gandar Dower in his book The Spotted Lion, 1937,  chronicling Dower’s own searches for another of Africa’s mystery cats, the elusive marozi). Moreover, according to correspondent Owen Burnham who lived there for many years, a comparable felid has occasionally been reported from the little-explored forests of Senegal, West Africa, where this region’s subspecies of the typical cheetah, A. j. hecki, is extremely rare.
A pair of marozis or spotted lions (© William M. Rebsamen)
The possibility of a cheetah form becoming modified for life in this type of habitat is by no means implausible. On the contrary, even the normal spotted form is not an exclusive denizen of the savannahs. This was well demonstrated in March 1983, when Lise Campbell spied a single cheetah at a height of 2.5 miles in the vicinity of the Sirimon Track in the moorland zone of Mount Kenya. She had a second sighting later that day of what may have been the same animal, even higher, amidst the tufted high-altitude grass, and documented her observations in an East African Natural History Society Bulletincommunication (May-June 1983).
As for the woolly cheetah: according to mammalogists Daphne Hills and Dr Reay Smithers in their Arnoldia Zimbabwe paper of 1980 (concerning the king cheetah), this odd form no longer occurs in Beaufort West.Presumably, therefore, it is extinct, and the chance to investigate further its precise taxonomic status similarly lost. Or is it? The Natural History Museum owns the skin of London Zoo’s specimen – so now, with the ever-advancing techniques of DNA-based genetic analyses readily available to researchers, perhaps it may be possible to carry out some such tests upon small samples of this skin and finally reveal the precise genetic identity of the mystifying woolly cheetah.
This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted and expanded from my book Mystery Cats of the World.

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WHITHER THE WOOLLY CHEETAH?

by on May.03, 2017, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

The only known illustration of a woolly cheetah (Public domain)
Nowadays, the once-obscure, elusive king cheetah, a mutant morph of the normal cheetah Acinonyx jubatusfamously adorned with an ornate patterning of stripes and blotches very different from the latter species’ polka-dotted wild-type counterpart, is enjoying a well-earned scientific renaissance.
In marked contrast, however, a second, equally eyecatching cheetah form seems to have vanished without trace into the mists of scientific anonymity, after only the briefest of spells in the zoological limelight.
A king cheetah, famed for its exquisite and very elaborate markings, produced by a mutant gene allele (© Steve Jurvetson/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)
On 19 June 1877, Philip L. Sclater, longstanding secretary of the Zoological Society of London, recorded in its Proceedings (i.e. the PZSL) the acquisition by London Zoo of a most unusual cat – male and apparently not fully grown – which he described as follows:
It presents generally the appearance of a cheetah (Felis jubatus) [the cheetah’s old scientific name], but is thicker in the body, and has shorter and stouter limbs, and a much thicker tail. When adult it will probably be considerably larger than the Cheetah, and is larger even now than our three specimens of that animal. The fur is much more woolly and dense than in the Cheetah, as is particularly noticeable on the ears, mane and tail. The whole of the body is of a pale isabelline colour, rather paler on the belly and lower parts, but covered all over, including the belly, with roundish dark fulvous blotches. There are no traces of the black spots which are so conspicuous in all of the varieties of the Cheetah which I have seen, nor of the characteristic black line between the mouth and eye.
Evidently this brown-blotched felid appeared very different from the usual form – to the extent that Sclater stated that it was impossible to associate it with this. Instead, he proposed for it the temporary name of Felis lanea, the woolly cheetah. It had been obtained from Beaufort West, South Africa, and, as Sclater himself remarked: “It is difficult to understand how such a distinct animal can have so long escaped the observations of naturalists”.
One other matter is also difficult to understand, and remains a source of confusion concerning this mystery cat. Sclater referred to its markings as ‘blotches’, but in the illustration that accompanied this report, the creature was depicted with numerous tiny spots!
The PZSL 1877 chromolithograph of the woolly cheetah that accompanied Sclater’s report of it (Public domain)
A year later, on 18 June 1878, Sclater noted in the Society’s Proceedings that he had received a letter from a Mr E.L. Layard, informing him that a second woolly cheetah was currently preserved in the South African Museum. Like the first, it had been procured from Beaufort West. It had been killed by Arthur V. Jackson who, like Layard himself, assumed that it was an erythristic (abnormally red) variant of the normal cheetah. At the end of this item, in answer to an enquiry by Layard, Sclater recorded that the claws of the London Zoo specimen were non-retractile.
Sharing Sclater’s own bewilderment as to how so large and unusual an animal could have evaded scientific detection until then, many zoologists had grave reservations concerning his optimism that the woolly cheetah constituted a totally separate species. In 1881, English biologist Dr St George J. Mivart commented that the noted American zoologist Prof. Daniel G. Elliot regarded this felid simply as a variety of the known cheetah species (curiously, Mivart ascribed the presence of a stripe to one side – but not both sides – of the woolly cheetah’s muzzle when describing this feline form in his book The Cat, a feature not mentioned by Sclater, and in any event highly abnormal, thereby confusing the issue even further).
Dramatis personae in the woolly cheetah saga: Philip L. Sclater (public domain), Dr St George J. Mivart (Wellcome Images/Wikipedia – CC BY 4.0 licence), and Prof. Daniel G. Elliot (public domain)
By then, London Zoo’s specimen had died, and Elliot’s opinion received support from the discovery by eminent mammalogist Oldfield Thomas of the then British Museum (Natural History) – now known as the Natural History Museum – that this cat’s skull did not differ from that of any other cheetah.
On 4 November 1884, Sclater recorded in the PZSL a woolly cheetah skin sent to him by the Reverend G. Fisk, again obtained from Beaufort West. In comparison with the zoo specimen, this example was more distinctly spotted, less densely furred, and rather smaller in size. Reverend Fisk believed that these differences were due to the specimen being a female, an explanation accepted by Sclater, who felt that this new skin consolidated his opinion concerning the woolly cheetah’s separate status. The rest of the scientific world, conversely, remained unconvinced, so that since then it has been regarded as merely an unusual variant of the typical cheetah species.
A normal, polka-dotted cheetah (public domain)
The woolly cheetah may indeed be nothing more surprising than an atypical colour morph – perhaps a partial albino, as suggested by king cheetah researcher Lena Bottriell and felid geneticist Roy Robinson, or an erythristic version, as opined by Jackson and Layard. At the same time, Sclater’s more radical views can also be appreciated, because this cat form differs from the typical cheetah not only in colour and markings but also in fur density and even in relative limb length. Simple colour variants do not generally exhibit such pronounced differences as these from normal individuals of the same species. Its shorter limbs suggest a non-cursorial life – could it possibly have been a forest form?
It is worth noting that a ‘lion-like forest cheetah’ known as the kitanga was described in the 20th Century’s early years to Major G. St J. Orde-Brown by the Embu natives of south-eastern Kenya (as recorded by Kenneth C. Gandar Dower in his book The Spotted Lion, 1937,  chronicling Dower’s own searches for another of Africa’s mystery cats, the elusive marozi). Moreover, according to correspondent Owen Burnham who lived there for many years, a comparable felid has occasionally been reported from the little-explored forests of Senegal, West Africa, where this region’s subspecies of the typical cheetah, A. j. hecki, is extremely rare.
A pair of marozis or spotted lions (© William M. Rebsamen)
The possibility of a cheetah form becoming modified for life in this type of habitat is by no means implausible. On the contrary, even the normal spotted form is not an exclusive denizen of the savannahs. This was well demonstrated in March 1983, when Lise Campbell spied a single cheetah at a height of 2.5 miles in the vicinity of the Sirimon Track in the moorland zone of Mount Kenya. She had a second sighting later that day of what may have been the same animal, even higher, amidst the tufted high-altitude grass, and documented her observations in an East African Natural History Society Bulletincommunication (May-June 1983).
As for the woolly cheetah: according to mammalogists Daphne Hills and Dr Reay Smithers in their Arnoldia Zimbabwe paper of 1980 (concerning the king cheetah), this odd form no longer occurs in Beaufort West.Presumably, therefore, it is extinct, and the chance to investigate further its precise taxonomic status similarly lost. Or is it? The Natural History Museum owns the skin of London Zoo’s specimen – so now, with the ever-advancing techniques of DNA-based genetic analyses readily available to researchers, perhaps it may be possible to carry out some such tests upon small samples of this skin and finally reveal the precise genetic identity of the mystifying woolly cheetah.
This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted and expanded from my book Mystery Cats of the World.

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THE YARA-MA-YHA-WHO

by on May.01, 2017, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post


The yara-ma-yha-who (© Andy Paciorek)
The yara-ma-yha-who is one of Australia’s most feared supernatural entities, but it may also have a basis in reality, at least according to veteran cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans. For he speculated in his classic tome On the Track of Unknown Animals (1958) that perhaps it was inspired by ancient memories of southeast Asian tarsiers, those small but exclusively carnivorous, nocturnal primates with gargantuan orbs for eyes and weird superficially sucker-like finger-tips and toe-tips.
Heuvelmans deemed it possible that their unearthly, goblinesque appearance may have sufficiently impressed itself upon the native peoples whose descendants subsequently travelled to and settled in Australia, giving rise there to the aboriginal nations, for their collective memories, passed down from generation to generation Down Under, to have preserved a still-lingering version of it, distorted and embellished with lurid imaginings, ultimately yielding the nightmarish yara-ma-yha-who.
Whatever the explanation for it, however, the yara-ma-yha-who is truly terrifying, not only in appearance but also in activity, as now revealed here in my retelling of its traditional grisly behaviour upon encountering an unfortunate human.
Did ancient memories of tarsiers inspire native aboriginal belief in the yara-ma-yha-who? (© LDC, Inc Foundation/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence; © Pierre Fidenci/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.5 licence)
Creatures of shadow come in many forms, but few are not only more monstrous in physical form but also more hideous in predatory behaviour than the horrific yara-ma-yha-who of the Australian bush, which is active during the daylight hours but lurks hidden in tall fig trees amid the concealing darkness encompassed by their burly overlapping branches. Here it sits, waiting…
Twilight had not yet fallen as the hunter walked down a long tree-fringed path leading towards his settlement just beyond the forest’s perimeter. Peering fearfully all around, he inwardly cursed himself for not having waited until the sun had set in the sky before journeying through this ill-omened place. For his people’s ancient lore warned of the terrors that dark, lonely locales concealed within their black hearts even during the span of daytime.
Shafts of sunlight filtered through the roof-like canopy of interspersed branches overhead, lighting the gloom below – and revealing a fairly large creature squatting on a sturdy branch just ahead. A koala, perhaps, or even a tree kangaroo? Gripping his spear, he moved closer, as the sunlight slowly transformed the entity from a featureless silhouette into a furry being that seemed to have scarlet skin. Surely, though, reasoned the hunter, this abnormal hue was due merely to the fiery rays of the soon-to-be-setting sun falling upon it? He fervently hoped so, because the alternative was too terrifying even to contemplate. Fortunately, the creature was sitting with its back to him, so if he could just walk by softly, without attracting its attention, all would be well.
Unfortunately, his foot trod heavily upon a dry, shed twig, which snapped loudly in the evening stillness. Immediately, the creature turned, and as the hunter gazed up into that hideous visage, he knew without hesitation that it was already too late. Just as he had dreaded, what he had encountered was neither koala nor tree kangaroo but was, instead, a yara-ma-yha-who!
The eyes of this fiendish entity were enormous – twin globes of glowing evil that almost filled its entire face within its disproportionately large head. And as its hands stretched towards him, the doomed hunter observed with skin-crawling fascination that each of its long spindly fingers and toes bore a large flat sucker at its tip. Instantly, the yara-ma-yha-who leaped down upon the terrified hunter, knocking him onto the floor, its suckers pressed against his quivering body. And as he lay there, with this foul vampyric beast upon his chest, he could feel each sucker drawing blood from his body, draining him of his life-force.
That alone would have been more than enough horror to withstand, but the hunter knew from his people’s lore that there was even worse to come – much, much worse. Suddenly, when finally satiated with blood, the yara-ma-yha-who opened its wide toothless mouth – and, just like a snake, dislocated its jaws, so that its gaping maw now resembled an immense black cavern. Then, leaning forward, in a single enormous gulp it swallowed whole the hapless hunter, weak and paralysed with fear, but still living.
After executing a macabre dance designed solely to facilitate the movement of its engulfed human victim down its gullet into its distended stomach, the yara-ma-yha-who squatted back down…and waited. After a while, it opened its gigantic mouth again, and vomited forth its prey. Although hideously disfigured by the creature’s highly corrosive gastric juices, the hunter, incredibly, remained alive, but was somewhat smaller in size. When the yara-ma-yha-who saw this, it promptly swallowed him once more, then performed its bizarre dance of digestion.
This grotesque sequence of events was repeated several times, until finally, when vomited up yet again, the hunter, barely living but still breathing, was no bigger than the yara-ma-yha-who, and totally unrecognisable. When it inspected him this time, the yara-ma-yha-who seemed satisfied, and in an instant it had gone, leaping into a nearby tree – to await another victim.
What had formerly been the hunter, meanwhile, lay there on the ground as it gradually revived, its furry skin burnt scarlet from the yara-ma-yha-who’s metabolic acid. Then it raised itself up onto its haunches, its huge eyes blinking in the darkness, its suckered fingers twitching as if electrified. Soon, just like its creator, it would leap into a tree, to watch, and wait – a new yara-ma-yha-who, hungry for human blood and life-force, having already forgotten that it too had once been human.
This ShukerNature blog article is exclusively excerpted from Creatures of Shadow and Night, a book-in-progress written by me in which I retell the legends associated with a global range of supernatural entities of darkness, and complemented throughout by spectacular full-colour illustrations specially prepared by highly-acclaimed graphics artist Andy Paciorek.

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THE YARA-MA-YHA-WHO

by on May.01, 2017, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post


The yara-ma-yha-who (© Andy Paciorek)
The yara-ma-yha-who is one of Australia’s most feared supernatural entities, but it may also have a basis in reality, at least according to veteran cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans. For he speculated in his classic tome On the Track of Unknown Animals (1958) that perhaps it was inspired by ancient memories of southeast Asian tarsiers, those small but exclusively carnivorous, nocturnal primates with gargantuan orbs for eyes and weird superficially sucker-like finger-tips and toe-tips.
Heuvelmans deemed it possible that their unearthly, goblinesque appearance may have sufficiently impressed itself upon the native peoples whose descendants subsequently travelled to and settled in Australia, giving rise there to the aboriginal nations, for their collective memories, passed down from generation to generation Down Under, to have preserved a still-lingering version of it, distorted and embellished with lurid imaginings, ultimately yielding the nightmarish yara-ma-yha-who.
Whatever the explanation for it, however, the yara-ma-yha-who is truly terrifying, not only in appearance but also in activity, as now revealed here in my retelling of its traditional grisly behaviour upon encountering an unfortunate human.
Did ancient memories of tarsiers inspire native aboriginal belief in the yara-ma-yha-who? (© LDC, Inc Foundation/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence; © Pierre Fidenci/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.5 licence)
Creatures of shadow come in many forms, but few are not only more monstrous in physical form but also more hideous in predatory behaviour than the horrific yara-ma-yha-who of the Australian bush, which is active during the daylight hours but lurks hidden in tall fig trees amid the concealing darkness encompassed by their burly overlapping branches. Here it sits, waiting…
Twilight had not yet fallen as the hunter walked down a long tree-fringed path leading towards his settlement just beyond the forest’s perimeter. Peering fearfully all around, he inwardly cursed himself for not having waited until the sun had set in the sky before journeying through this ill-omened place. For his people’s ancient lore warned of the terrors that dark, lonely locales concealed within their black hearts even during the span of daytime.
Shafts of sunlight filtered through the roof-like canopy of interspersed branches overhead, lighting the gloom below – and revealing a fairly large creature squatting on a sturdy branch just ahead. A koala, perhaps, or even a tree kangaroo? Gripping his spear, he moved closer, as the sunlight slowly transformed the entity from a featureless silhouette into a furry being that seemed to have scarlet skin. Surely, though, reasoned the hunter, this abnormal hue was due merely to the fiery rays of the soon-to-be-setting sun falling upon it? He fervently hoped so, because the alternative was too terrifying even to contemplate. Fortunately, the creature was sitting with its back to him, so if he could just walk by softly, without attracting its attention, all would be well.
Unfortunately, his foot trod heavily upon a dry, shed twig, which snapped loudly in the evening stillness. Immediately, the creature turned, and as the hunter gazed up into that hideous visage, he knew without hesitation that it was already too late. Just as he had dreaded, what he had encountered was neither koala nor tree kangaroo but was, instead, a yara-ma-yha-who!
The eyes of this fiendish entity were enormous – twin globes of glowing evil that almost filled its entire face within its disproportionately large head. And as its hands stretched towards him, the doomed hunter observed with skin-crawling fascination that each of its long spindly fingers and toes bore a large flat sucker at its tip. Instantly, the yara-ma-yha-who leaped down upon the terrified hunter, knocking him onto the floor, its suckers pressed against his quivering body. And as he lay there, with this foul vampyric beast upon his chest, he could feel each sucker drawing blood from his body, draining him of his life-force.
That alone would have been more than enough horror to withstand, but the hunter knew from his people’s lore that there was even worse to come – much, much worse. Suddenly, when finally satiated with blood, the yara-ma-yha-who opened its wide toothless mouth – and, just like a snake, dislocated its jaws, so that its gaping maw now resembled an immense black cavern. Then, leaning forward, in a single enormous gulp it swallowed whole the hapless hunter, weak and paralysed with fear, but still living.
After executing a macabre dance designed solely to facilitate the movement of its engulfed human victim down its gullet into its distended stomach, the yara-ma-yha-who squatted back down…and waited. After a while, it opened its gigantic mouth again, and vomited forth its prey. Although hideously disfigured by the creature’s highly corrosive gastric juices, the hunter, incredibly, remained alive, but was somewhat smaller in size. When the yara-ma-yha-who saw this, it promptly swallowed him once more, then performed its bizarre dance of digestion.
This grotesque sequence of events was repeated several times, until finally, when vomited up yet again, the hunter, barely living but still breathing, was no bigger than the yara-ma-yha-who, and totally unrecognisable. When it inspected him this time, the yara-ma-yha-who seemed satisfied, and in an instant it had gone, leaping into a nearby tree – to await another victim.
What had formerly been the hunter, meanwhile, lay there on the ground as it gradually revived, its furry skin burnt scarlet from the yara-ma-yha-who’s metabolic acid. Then it raised itself up onto its haunches, its huge eyes blinking in the darkness, its suckered fingers twitching as if electrified. Soon, just like its creator, it would leap into a tree, to watch, and wait – a new yara-ma-yha-who, hungry for human blood and life-force, having already forgotten that it too had once been human.
This ShukerNature blog article is exclusively excerpted from Creatures of Shadow and Night, a book-in-progress written by me in which I retell the legends associated with a global range of supernatural entities of darkness, and complemented throughout by spectacular full-colour illustrations specially prepared by highly-acclaimed graphics artist Andy Paciorek.

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THE NAGA HAG

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

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

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

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THE NAGA HAG

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

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

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

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THE FRASERCOT PELTS – A VERITABLE CHINESE PUZZLE SOLVED AT LAST

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

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

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

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

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

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

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

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

PACK-HUNTING MYSTERY FELIDS OF PERU AND ECUADOR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SEEKING THE SANDWELL VALLEYGATOR!

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

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post


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

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

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post


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