Syndicated from the Web

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

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

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

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

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

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

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

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

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

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

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

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

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

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

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

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

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

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

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

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

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

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

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

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

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

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

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THE IRISH WILDCAT – AN ENIGMA FROM THE EMERALD ISLE

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

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Sketch of the head of a European wildcat Felis silvestris (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Unlike Great Britain, relatively few reports emerge from Ireland concerning mystery cats of the very large puma-like or black panther-like varieties. Yet this island is far from bereft of feline mystery – on account of the Irish wildcat. It was traditionally thought that wildcats had never existed in the Emerald Isle, but in more recent times fossil evidence has emerged to confirm that such cats did indeed exist here up until approximately 3,000 years ago (see later). Moreover, there is a sizeable albeit highly controversial archive of reports on file claiming that bona fide Irish wildcats have been actually been sighted right up to and including the present day. More remarkable still is that these reports of alleged Irish wildcats have suggested a closer relationship for these felids to the African wildcat Felis lybica than to the European one F. silvestris.
Some of the material in support of Irish wildcats stretches back centuries, interwoven with ancient Celtic mythology. For example, an archaic poem believed to date from the 9th Century (translated by Eugene O’Curry and published by Sir William Wilde) tells of the Irish hero Fin mac Cumhaill being held captive by the king of Erinn, Cormac mac Art, who pledged to free him only if a male and female of every species of wild animal inhabiting Ireland were brought to him at the ancient city of Tara. The poem subsequently lists many different animal forms, including a pair of cats brought from the cave of Cruachain.
While on the subject of Irish mythology: in an article of 6 December 1941 in The Field, Irish writer Patrick R. Chalmers argued that despite the wildcat supposedly being unknown in both Ireland and the Western Islands, the warrior King Cairbar of Connacht was surely called ‘Cinn Chait’ on account of the pelt of wildcat that he bore on his casque.
This leads to another aspect of the Irish wildcat mystery. Chalmers’s comments drew a response by letter from A. MacDermott, who maintained that this cat form has never existed in Ireland, and that in his own boyhood the name `wildcat’ was actually applied not to any felid but instead to the pine marten Martes martes – an arboreal relative of the weasel.
Pine marten painting by Archibald Thorburn (public domain)
Compare this with information obtained nearly 50 years earlier by William Andrews, because he had discovered that the inhabitants of the remote glens of Kerry’s western reaches knew of both the pine marten and an apparently genuine wildcat form. They even had separate names for the two creatures, calling the marten ‘tree cat’ and the wildcat ‘hunting cat’, thereby destroying MacDermott’s notion that the Irish wildcat was nothing more than the result of an etymological ambiguity.
The usage of ‘hunting cat’ in Ireland relative to supposed wildcats was also noted within the mammalian tome of the Reverend J.G. Wood’s three-volume Illustrated Natural History(1859-63), together with an anecdotal account taken from Notes on the Irish Mammalia by the well-known Irish naturalist William Thompson. After having noted on several occasions grouse feathers strewn near a water-break in his Irish beat, as well as a number of grouse corpses beheaded but otherwise undamaged, the gamekeeper responsible for that area set a trap and caught two specimens of what appeared to be bona fide wildcats, one adult and one juvenile.
Thompson had taken a particular interest in reports of alleged wildcat sightings in Ireland, notably in the mountains of Erris in the county of Mayo. He had himself seen a very large cat, weighing 10 lb 9 oz, which had been shot in the wild at Shane’s Castle park, County Antrim. Apparently this specimen resembled the European wildcat in every way except for its tail (which was not bushy at its tip like the European wildcat’s is) and its fur (which was of a finer texture). Consequently, when the Larne Journal reported in February 1839 that the wildcat occurred in Tullamore Park and also used to be found along the shores of Ballintrae, Thompson naturally sought out further details. He questioned Lord Roden’s gamekeeper, who informed him that he had never seen wildcats in Ireland.
All through his researches, Thompson encountered similar conflicts of opinion on this subject, and even his own ultimate conclusion is somewhat paradoxical. Even though he never became entirely convinced (at least not in print) of the wildcat’s occurrence here, after comparing the Shane’s Castle specimen with two Scottish wildcats Thompson nonetheless offered the opinion that it was probably a wildcat x domestic cat hybrid. Needless to say, however, in order for a wildcat hybrid to occur in Ireland, there must be pure-bred wildcats there in the first place.
William Thompson (left) and the Reverend J.G. Wood (right) (public domain)
In his own Illustrated Natural History, Wood mentioned that William H. Maxwell’s book Wild Sports of the West (1838) contained several accounts concerning a fierce, wild-living felid form in Ireland that was depopulating the rabbit warrens. Apparently, one of these cats was killed after a severe battle, and was, according to Wood:
…of a dirty-grey color, double the size of the common house Cat, and its teeth and claws more than proportionately larger. This specimen was a female, which had been traced to a burrow under the rock, and caught in a rabbit-net. With her powerful teeth and claws she tore her way through the net, but was gallantly seized by the lad who set the toils. Upon him she turned her energies, and bit and scratched in a most savage style until she was despatched by a blow from a spade.
Although certainly fierce, feral domestics do not normally attain sizes larger than their tame counterparts (although as noted elsewhere in this present book, in recent years evidence has begun to accrue that extra-large melanistic ferals may be responsible in Britain and various overseas regions for certain sightings of unidentified medium-sized pantheresque beasts). Similarly, in his own wildcat write-up, Wood did not attempt to ally ferals with the much larger and mysterious cat form typified by the beast in the above incident documented by Maxwell. In any case, both in Wood’s time and in the present day, feral domestics are very familiar animals in Ireland, not likely to be mistaken for anything else.
In or around 1883, while shooting rabbits near County Galway‘s Annaghdown, F.C. Wallace sighted an animal that in his opinion seemed to be a magnificent specimen of a genuine wildcat. As no physical evidence was obtained, however, no formal identification could be made.
If the Irish wildcat controversy were ever to be resolved, it was evident that a specimen would have to be procured and submitted for official scientific examination. Such an event appeared, at least initially, to have finally taken place in 1885. For on 28 January of that year, English naturalist William B. Tegetmeier exhibited the skin of an alleged wildcat from Donegal at a meeting of the Zoological Society of London and subsequently permitted Dr E. Hamilton to examine it thoroughly. In the Society’s Proceedings for 3 March 1885, Hamilton’s report on this specimen was published – in which he unhesitatingly classified it as merely a feral domestic cat, and included excerpts from letters by earlier researchers interested in the Irish wildcat saga all supporting his own belief that the latter felid did not exist.
Dr Robert F Scharff (public domain)
Irish wildcat R.I.P.? Not quite – because a most unexpected discovery was made just a few years later that added a completely new dimension to the mystery. In the report of the Irish Cave Committee sent to the British Association meeting in 1904, Dr Robert F. Scharff announced that he had discovered amongst a collection of felid subfossil remains obtained from the Edendale and Newhall Caves near County Clare’s Ennis, a number that constituted two distinct series, one small in size, the other larger, and that he considered the larger to be of wildcat identity. Moreover, in a short report published by the Irish Naturalist during April 1905, Scharff dramatically reopened the case for the modern Irish wildcat by stating that the position and nature of the bones found suggested that the felid was not long extinct in Ireland, and that it was even possible that a few specimens still survived in the western regions’ more remote mountainous areas.
Scharff then went on to comment that, until then, it had always been assumed that if a wildcat did actually exist in Ireland it would naturally belong to the Scottish form. However, as a startling climax in his report, Scharff disclosed that the County Clare cave remains were comparable not with the Scottish but with the African wildcat, and that its tail was not bushy at its tip but pointed – just like that of the sizeable cat observed by William Thompson.
This complete turnabout in the tale of the Irish wildcat resulted in a series of letters on the subject by other interested parties appearing in the Irish Naturalist during subsequent months. Some received Scharff’s findings favourably and contributed further news regarding the Irish wildcat; others were more critical and remained sceptical.
For example, R. Welch related an old fisherman’s account originally given to Irish entomologist William F. de Vismes Kane concerning the wildcat’s supposed existence in some numbers on the banks of Lackagh. Conversely, Robert Warren poured cold water on this report, arguing that if such cats were indeed so common within this wild and little-traversed region, then some representatives should still be there today. Yet as noted later by Scharff, in view of the above-mentioned similarity between feral domestic cats and African wildcats (both having tapering tails), perhaps they are.
Sleeping feral domestic cat showing thin tail tip (public domain)
Warren also attested that the finding of sub-fossil bones of a wildcat in Ireland did not prove that the wildcat was a native of Ireland. This was a quite paradoxical statement to say the least, which the editors of the Irish Naturalist were swift to point out in a footnote at the end of his letter of June 1905.
The following year, Scharff published his findings as a scientific paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Series B, describing fully the unearthed remains. Meticulous comparisons made by Scharff between these and specimens of Scottish and African wildcats were also included, and which demonstrated conclusively in Scharff’s opinion that the Clare cave remains were indeed most closely related to the latter wildcat.
Similarly, Major G.E.H. Barrett-Hamilton, a prominent British-Irish natural historian, had planned to include historical evidence favouring this felid’s existence in a forthcoming book on British mammals. Unfortunately, however, his untimely death in his early 40s prevented this data from being published.
Nevertheless, one would have expected Scharff’s researches to have been of sufficient importance in themselves to have initiated a new surge of interest and investigation regarding the Irish wildcat enigma. Instead, the possible existence of modern-day wildcats living in Ireland is nowadays totally dismissed – but why?
African wildcat, showing its pointed tail tip (© Michal Maňas/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.5 licence)
In an Irish Naturalists’ Journal paper of July 1965, Belfast-born wildlife authority Arthur W. Stelfox re-examined Scharff’s findings, and offered a very different explanation for them. First of all, he considered that Scharff was too willing to accept anecdotal evidence of Irish wildcats unconditionally, and gave the Tegetmeier specimen as an example, which Scharff had used in support of their existence (even though it had been denounced as a feral domestic by Hamilton). And as far as the cave remains were concerned, Stelfox was convinced that a much simpler explanation than Scharff’s was available for these. Namely, that instead of the smaller ones being domestic cats and the larger ones being wildcats, both sets were of domestic identity – the smaller being females and the larger being males (especially as the two sets were found at the same geological level and in the same mineralised condition).
Stelfox also noted that although one would expect remains of fossil wildcats to be associated with those of other wild fossil species of mammal in Ireland if it did indeed harbour wildcats at one time, no such find had been discovered. Instead, all cat remains known from Ireland had occurred only at levels where the bones of domesticated mammals had been found, and Stelfox reported that he had not uncovered evidence of any cat remains in Ireland dating back further than the Bronze Age.
However, this is no longer true, as revealed in an extensive Quaternary Science Reviews paper published in 2014, whose co-authors included Queen’s University Belfast biologist W. Ian Montgomery and the University of Manchester‘s veteran British mammals expert Dr Derek W. Yalden. They disclosed that fossil European wildcat remains dating variously from 9,000 to 3,000 years old had indeed been discovered in Ireland.
Moreover, sightings of large felids not readily explained away as feral domestics have continued to emerge from Ireland. In 1968, for example, while seeking lake monsters in western Ireland, Captain Lionel Leslie and his team were taken aback when a very sizeable felid suddenly appeared on the opposite side of Connemara‘s Lough Nahooin (i.e. only about 100 yards away) from where they were standing. According to team member F.W. Holiday, who subsequently documented this encounter in his book The Goblin Universe (1986), Captain Leslie stated afterwards that he had never seen anything like it before. Dublin zoologists later contacted by Leslie concerning this were equally bemused – a suggestion that it might simply have been a fox was flatly rejected by the team.
Vintage photograph of European wildcat showing thick tail tip (public domain)
More recently, in their excellent book The Mystery Animals of Ireland (2010), authors Gary Cunningham and Ronan Coghlan noted that in May 2003 a very elderly man from Connemara named Francis Burke affirmed that wildcats had been reported here. He claimed that they were bigger than domestic cats and occurred mostly in wooded areas.
They also recorded a sighting dating from as recently as a decade ago that indicates wildcat-like felids (possibly even hybrids of original pure-bred wildcats and domestics) may still exist in Ireland:
In February 2002, Sandra Garvey saw an animal while driving at night at Knockfune (Co Tipperary) which shocked her so much she nearly drove off the road. She described it as larger than your average moggy with a very striking tail. It transpired that Mrs Garvey’s sighting was not an isolated one, with eyewitnesses coming forth, including park ranger Jimmy Greene who spotted such an animal with its two kittens whilst patrolling the Slieve Bloom Mountains in Co Offaly.
Appended to this report in their book was a detailed drawing by Gary Cunningham based upon Sandra Garvey’s description of the cat that she had spied that evening, and the result is a burly tabby-striped felid with a sharply-pointed tail that looks very like a bona fide African wildcat.
Even today, therefore, it would seem that with leprechaun-like elusiveness, the Irish wildcat continues to evade explanation.
Comparative illustrations from 1896 showing the European wildcat (top) and the African wildcat (bottom) (public domain)
This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted and expanded from the Irish wildcat coverage in my book Mystery Cats of the World.
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PUBLISHED TODAY! – SHUKERNATURE BOOK 1: ANTLERED ELEPHANTS, LOCUST DRAGONS, AND OTHER CRYPTIC BLOG BEASTS

by on Apr.07, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Hot off the press – with magnificent front-cover artwork by Anthony Wallis, here is my very first ShukerNature book! (© Dr Karl Shuker/Coachwhip Publications)

If I wish to read a blog which is *only* about the narrow, limited topics of my own interests, I’ll write it myself. If I wish to read a well written, extremely well researched blog on a wide variety of suspected, imagined, claimed, portrayed creatures from the mundane to the monstrous, from the Byzantine and the bizarre to the modern and the miraculous – I’ll read ShukerNature.

Richard S. White, retired museum professional and vertebrate palaeontologist 
 – Facebook, 12 August 2017
It’s been a long time coming – over eight years, in fact, since I first mooted the idea of preserving my ShukerNature blog posts in permanent, hard-copy book format – but it’s finally here. In what is planned to be a regular series, today, 8 April 2019, sees the official publication of ShukerNature Book 1: Antlered Elephants, Locust Dragons, and Other Cryptic Blog Beasts.
Although I first became yoked to the internet via an email account back in 1997, followed by my own official website a year later (created by the late, much-mourned American cryptozoologist Scott T. Norman), I steadfastly remained immune to the world of online blogging until as relatively recently as 2009 – 20 January 2009, to be precise, when I finally gave in to temptation.
For after the Centre of Fortean Zoology (CFZ) kindly established it for me in tandem with their own ‘umbrella’ of CFZ-affiliated blogs called the CFZ Bloggo, that was the fateful date upon which a short item entitled ‘Wolves of the Weird’ (click here to read it) became the first of what currently stands at over 600 illustrated articles of varying lengths and exceedingly varied subjects that have been researched, written, and uploaded by me onto my very own, unique blog. As its many loyal readers will confirm, ShukerNature is devoted to cryptozoology, zoomythology, anomalous animals, animal anomalies, and unnatural history of every kind, as well as some investigations and reviews of certain ostensibly zooform entities that may be of paranormal, supernatural identity rather than corporeal creatures of zoology. It has also enabled me to preview various in-progress and forthcoming books of mine from 2009 onwards, and, via its Comments section at the end of each of my articles, allows readers to post their own thoughts, opinions, and information, thereby becoming a valuable source of original ideas, news, and data.
Knowing that my blog’s contents would cover such a vast diversity of subjects, and that they would all be written in my own particular style (unencumbered by the necessities to conform to any one specific style convention as is so often the case when writing for specific publishers or publications), posed an especial problem for me with regard to what my blog’s name would be. How could I possibly come up with a title that would encompass all of those subjects in a succinct yet definitive manner, and also emphasise that these were my writings, penned in my style? In fact, as it turned out, I didn’t come up with such a title – someone else did.
That person was fellow cryptozoologist and CFZ colleague Oll Lewis. After hearing that I was having trouble coining a suitable title for my blog, he achieved what to me seemed the impossible – suggesting a title that fulfilled every requirement, covered every subject, incorporated a direct reference to me in it, and much more besides, yet, incredibly, did all of this by way of just a single word! And that word, which did indeed become my blog’s title? ShukerNature. Oll has never disclosed his inspirations for what was indeed a truly inspired suggestion; but because he and I are of similar generations, I think it likely that a certain book and also quite possibly a certain song that both achieved considerable fame during our youth may have played their part, consciously or otherwise.
The book was the bestseller Supernature, written by the late anthropologist/ethologist Dr Lyall Watson, and first published in 1973. Its self-explanatory subtitle A Natural History of the Supernatural also set the scene for many of his equally-acclaimed future books; as did its very memorable front-cover illustration by renowned American artist Jerry Pinkney, depicting a flowering plant growing out of an egg. Indeed, this eyecatching artwork became something of an icon in its own right (and may be a homage to ‘Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man’ – a famous painting from 1943 by the celebrated Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali, which contains a reminiscent image). And speaking of homages:
A ShukerNature homage to Dr Lyall Watson’s inspirational book Supernature and to Jerry Pinkney’s iconic front-cover illustration for it (© Mark North / © Jerry Pinkney – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
The song, entitled ‘SuperNature’ and released in 1977, was a disco classic by Cerrone (aka the Italio-French disco drummer/composer/record producer Marc Cerrone). In its original format, more than 10 minutes long, this song was the title (and opening) track of Cerrone’s third album; but in a shorter format, just under 4 minutes long, it hit the singles charts all around the world in 1978. Its verses’ lyrics (written by an uncredited Lene Lovich) took as their unusual theme for a dance song the dangers of tampering with the environment, turning ordinary creatures into dangerous monsters, with its infuriatingly-catchy chorus simply the repeatedly-sung word ‘SuperNature’.
Thus was my blog, ShukerNature, born. (Amusingly, some time afterwards, a reader wrote to me saying how he had always been puzzled by my blog’s title, wondering how and where it had originated – until one day, that is, when, while he had been thinking about this mystery yet again, Cerrone’s song had suddenly begun to play inside his head, and the proverbial penny duly dropped with a loud clang!)
Within just a couple of years from my blog’s creation, I was already receiving enquiries from readers as to whether I would be producing a ShukerNature companion book, or books, at some stage, containing selections of its most popular and intriguing blog articles. And when I enquired both on the blog itself and also via my various cryptozoology-linked Facebook pages and groups (including one devoted specifically to ShukerNature) whether there was indeed an interest out there for such a project, I swiftly received a very emphatic affirmative.
An additional reason for doing so was that by converting selections of my ShukerNature articles into a hard-copy published format, they would be rendered permanently accessible in a manner that online data, so often ephemeral in status, can rarely emulate. For whereas a book, once in print, has a guaranteed existence, a website can exist online one moment and vanish the next, thereby expunging a fund of unique, irreplaceable information.
And so I began planning what at that stage I was referring to as ShukerNature: The Book, alongside various additional writings. However, as sometimes happens, life – and death – had other plans for the direction in which my future would take. Or, as my wise little Mom used to remind me gently if I railed against my dreams and ambitions faltering or falling into disarray: “Man proposes, but God disposes” (which is a translation of the Latin phrase ‘Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit’, from Book I, chapter 19, of The Imitation of Christ by the German cleric Thomas à Kempis).
Thus it came to pass that my blog book was set to one side, and other projects that for one reason or another needed to take precedence were duly completed and published in its stead. Notable among these were my second, long-planned, and extremely comprehensive dragons book – Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture; a wide-ranging compilation of my most notable Loch Ness monster writings – Here’s Nessie!; and of course my fully-updated, massively-enlarged, biggest-ever cryptozoology volume – Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors.
My three above-mentioned books (© Dr Karl Shuker)
These are all now published, and in the meantime the very many additional blog articles that I have continued to research, write, and post each year have provided me with an immensely expanded list of possible examples to include in my eventual ShukerNature compendium.
Formulating how such a book could be prepared, however, was not an easy task, and took a long time to accomplish to my own satisfaction. Indeed, the eventual volume that resulted proved to be so sizeable that the decision was finally taken to divide it into two separate ones, of equal length, to be published sequentially. Consequently, and after much deliberation in the choosing of its specific subjects, I now have great pleasure in publicising herewith on its official date of publication, 8 April 2019, the first of those two volumes, in what I hope will be an ongoing series of ShukerNature books.
Its contents – now saved forever from the vicissitudes of the internet, available for you to read and re-read whenever and wherever you choose to do, updated and expanded when new information has come my way since the original articles were uploaded online, and unequivocally unlike any other collection of writings, whether in print or out of it – document some of the most remarkable, spellbinding entities from my blog’s furthest frontiers and most shadowy hinterlands.
After all, where else, within the covers of a single 418-page book (and sumptuously illustrated throughout via spectacular full-colour and rare vintage b/w pictures), are you likely to find such exotic zoological esoterica as locust dragons, antlered elephants, North America’s alligator men and Egypt’s crocodile children, reptilian seals and seal dragons, king hares and giant rabbits, fan-tailed mermen and scaly bishops, flying cats and even flying elephants, green tigers and blue lions, giant oil-drinking spiders and bemusing sea-monkeys, demonic dragonflies and fury worms, marginalia snail-cats and elephant rats, pukwudgies and Pigasus, ape-man Oliver, lightbulb lizards, mini-mummies, my very own mystery animal, and how ShukerNature famously hit the cryptozoological headlines globally with a series of astonishing world-exclusives exposing the long-awaited truth about Trunko?
To find out more about all of these, and numerous other no less fascinating, equally eclectic fauna too, loiter no longer – it’s time to pay a visit to the weirdly wonderful (and wonderfully weird!) world of ShukerNature. So, please come in, I’ve been expecting you…
And if you’re wondering how can I possibly follow all of that, the answer is simple – ShukerNature Book 2: Living Gorgons, Bottled Homunculi, and Other Monstrous Blog Beasts – due out later this year. And don’t forget – you read about it here first!
You lookin’ at me?? (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Last – but certainly not least – of all: I wish to offer a massive, sincere vote of thanks to all of you for reading and supporting my ShukerNature blog since its launch in 2009 – without your enthusiasm and interest, it could not have survived – and I look forward to sharing with you many more exotic, entertaining, esoteric, educational, and always thoroughly extraordinary wildlife secrets, controversies, mysteries, surprises, and curiosities, as well celebrating many more ShukerNature anniversaries, both online and in book form, through the years to come!
Copies of ShukerNature Book 1 can be ordered through all good bookstores, and can be purchased online at such outlets as Amazon UK (click here), Amazon USA (click here), and Barnes & Noble (click here). For further details concerning it and also my three previous books published by Coachwhip Publications, please click here.
Full cover wrap, including back-cover blurb (click picture to expand for reading purposes), from ShukerNatureBook 1 (© Dr Karl Shuker/Coachwhip Publications)
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PUBLISHED TODAY! – SHUKERNATURE BOOK 1: ANTLERED ELEPHANTS, LOCUST DRAGONS, AND OTHER CRYPTIC BLOG BEASTS

by on Apr.07, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Hot off the press – with magnificent front-cover artwork by Anthony Wallis, here is my very first ShukerNature book! (© Dr Karl Shuker/Coachwhip Publications)

If I wish to read a blog which is *only* about the narrow, limited topics of my own interests, I’ll write it myself. If I wish to read a well written, extremely well researched blog on a wide variety of suspected, imagined, claimed, portrayed creatures from the mundane to the monstrous, from the Byzantine and the bizarre to the modern and the miraculous – I’ll read ShukerNature.

Richard S. White, retired museum professional and vertebrate palaeontologist 
 – Facebook, 12 August 2017
It’s been a long time coming – over eight years, in fact, since I first mooted the idea of preserving my ShukerNature blog posts in permanent, hard-copy book format – but it’s finally here. In what is planned to be a regular series, today, 8 April 2019, sees the official publication of ShukerNature Book 1: Antlered Elephants, Locust Dragons, and Other Cryptic Blog Beasts.
Although I first became yoked to the internet via an email account back in 1997, followed by my own official website a year later (created by the late, much-mourned American cryptozoologist Scott T. Norman), I steadfastly remained immune to the world of online blogging until as relatively recently as 2009 – 20 January 2009, to be precise, when I finally gave in to temptation.
For after the Centre of Fortean Zoology (CFZ) kindly established it for me in tandem with their own ‘umbrella’ of CFZ-affiliated blogs called the CFZ Bloggo, that was the fateful date upon which a short item entitled ‘Wolves of the Weird’ (click here to read it) became the first of what currently stands at over 600 illustrated articles of varying lengths and exceedingly varied subjects that have been researched, written, and uploaded by me onto my very own, unique blog. As its many loyal readers will confirm, ShukerNature is devoted to cryptozoology, zoomythology, anomalous animals, animal anomalies, and unnatural history of every kind, as well as some investigations and reviews of certain ostensibly zooform entities that may be of paranormal, supernatural identity rather than corporeal creatures of zoology. It has also enabled me to preview various in-progress and forthcoming books of mine from 2009 onwards, and, via its Comments section at the end of each of my articles, allows readers to post their own thoughts, opinions, and information, thereby becoming a valuable source of original ideas, news, and data.
Knowing that my blog’s contents would cover such a vast diversity of subjects, and that they would all be written in my own particular style (unencumbered by the necessities to conform to any one specific style convention as is so often the case when writing for specific publishers or publications), posed an especial problem for me with regard to what my blog’s name would be. How could I possibly come up with a title that would encompass all of those subjects in a succinct yet definitive manner, and also emphasise that these were my writings, penned in my style? In fact, as it turned out, I didn’t come up with such a title – someone else did.
That person was fellow cryptozoologist and CFZ colleague Oll Lewis. After hearing that I was having trouble coining a suitable title for my blog, he achieved what to me seemed the impossible – suggesting a title that fulfilled every requirement, covered every subject, incorporated a direct reference to me in it, and much more besides, yet, incredibly, did all of this by way of just a single word! And that word, which did indeed become my blog’s title? ShukerNature. Oll has never disclosed his inspirations for what was indeed a truly inspired suggestion; but because he and I are of similar generations, I think it likely that a certain book and also quite possibly a certain song that both achieved considerable fame during our youth may have played their part, consciously or otherwise.
The book was the bestseller Supernature, written by the late anthropologist/ethologist Dr Lyall Watson, and first published in 1973. Its self-explanatory subtitle A Natural History of the Supernatural also set the scene for many of his equally-acclaimed future books; as did its very memorable front-cover illustration by renowned American artist Jerry Pinkney, depicting a flowering plant growing out of an egg. Indeed, this eyecatching artwork became something of an icon in its own right (and may be a homage to ‘Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man’ – a famous painting from 1943 by the celebrated Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali, which contains a reminiscent image). And speaking of homages:
A ShukerNature homage to Dr Lyall Watson’s inspirational book Supernature and to Jerry Pinkney’s iconic front-cover illustration for it (© Mark North / © Jerry Pinkney – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
The song, entitled ‘SuperNature’ and released in 1977, was a disco classic by Cerrone (aka the Italio-French disco drummer/composer/record producer Marc Cerrone). In its original format, more than 10 minutes long, this song was the title (and opening) track of Cerrone’s third album; but in a shorter format, just under 4 minutes long, it hit the singles charts all around the world in 1978. Its verses’ lyrics (written by an uncredited Lene Lovich) took as their unusual theme for a dance song the dangers of tampering with the environment, turning ordinary creatures into dangerous monsters, with its infuriatingly-catchy chorus simply the repeatedly-sung word ‘SuperNature’.
Thus was my blog, ShukerNature, born. (Amusingly, some time afterwards, a reader wrote to me saying how he had always been puzzled by my blog’s title, wondering how and where it had originated – until one day, that is, when, while he had been thinking about this mystery yet again, Cerrone’s song had suddenly begun to play inside his head, and the proverbial penny duly dropped with a loud clang!)
Within just a couple of years from my blog’s creation, I was already receiving enquiries from readers as to whether I would be producing a ShukerNature companion book, or books, at some stage, containing selections of its most popular and intriguing blog articles. And when I enquired both on the blog itself and also via my various cryptozoology-linked Facebook pages and groups (including one devoted specifically to ShukerNature) whether there was indeed an interest out there for such a project, I swiftly received a very emphatic affirmative.
An additional reason for doing so was that by converting selections of my ShukerNature articles into a hard-copy published format, they would be rendered permanently accessible in a manner that online data, so often ephemeral in status, can rarely emulate. For whereas a book, once in print, has a guaranteed existence, a website can exist online one moment and vanish the next, thereby expunging a fund of unique, irreplaceable information.
And so I began planning what at that stage I was referring to as ShukerNature: The Book, alongside various additional writings. However, as sometimes happens, life – and death – had other plans for the direction in which my future would take. Or, as my wise little Mom used to remind me gently if I railed against my dreams and ambitions faltering or falling into disarray: “Man proposes, but God disposes” (which is a translation of the Latin phrase ‘Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit’, from Book I, chapter 19, of The Imitation of Christ by the German cleric Thomas à Kempis).
Thus it came to pass that my blog book was set to one side, and other projects that for one reason or another needed to take precedence were duly completed and published in its stead. Notable among these were my second, long-planned, and extremely comprehensive dragons book – Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture; a wide-ranging compilation of my most notable Loch Ness monster writings – Here’s Nessie!; and of course my fully-updated, massively-enlarged, biggest-ever cryptozoology volume – Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors.
My three above-mentioned books (© Dr Karl Shuker)
These are all now published, and in the meantime the very many additional blog articles that I have continued to research, write, and post each year have provided me with an immensely expanded list of possible examples to include in my eventual ShukerNature compendium.
Formulating how such a book could be prepared, however, was not an easy task, and took a long time to accomplish to my own satisfaction. Indeed, the eventual volume that resulted proved to be so sizeable that the decision was finally taken to divide it into two separate ones, of equal length, to be published sequentially. Consequently, and after much deliberation in the choosing of its specific subjects, I now have great pleasure in publicising herewith on its official date of publication, 8 April 2019, the first of those two volumes, in what I hope will be an ongoing series of ShukerNature books.
Its contents – now saved forever from the vicissitudes of the internet, available for you to read and re-read whenever and wherever you choose to do, updated and expanded when new information has come my way since the original articles were uploaded online, and unequivocally unlike any other collection of writings, whether in print or out of it – document some of the most remarkable, spellbinding entities from my blog’s furthest frontiers and most shadowy hinterlands.
After all, where else, within the covers of a single 418-page book (and sumptuously illustrated throughout via spectacular full-colour and rare vintage b/w pictures), are you likely to find such exotic zoological esoterica as locust dragons, antlered elephants, North America’s alligator men and Egypt’s crocodile children, reptilian seals and seal dragons, king hares and giant rabbits, fan-tailed mermen and scaly bishops, flying cats and even flying elephants, green tigers and blue lions, giant oil-drinking spiders and bemusing sea-monkeys, demonic dragonflies and fury worms, marginalia snail-cats and elephant rats, pukwudgies and Pigasus, ape-man Oliver, lightbulb lizards, mini-mummies, my very own mystery animal, and how ShukerNature famously hit the cryptozoological headlines globally with a series of astonishing world-exclusives exposing the long-awaited truth about Trunko?
To find out more about all of these, and numerous other no less fascinating, equally eclectic fauna too, loiter no longer – it’s time to pay a visit to the weirdly wonderful (and wonderfully weird!) world of ShukerNature. So, please come in, I’ve been expecting you…
And if you’re wondering how can I possibly follow all of that, the answer is simple – ShukerNature Book 2: Living Gorgons, Bottled Homunculi, and Other Monstrous Blog Beasts – due out later this year. And don’t forget – you read about it here first!
You lookin’ at me?? (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Last – but certainly not least – of all: I wish to offer a massive, sincere vote of thanks to all of you for reading and supporting my ShukerNature blog since its launch in 2009 – without your enthusiasm and interest, it could not have survived – and I look forward to sharing with you many more exotic, entertaining, esoteric, educational, and always thoroughly extraordinary wildlife secrets, controversies, mysteries, surprises, and curiosities, as well celebrating many more ShukerNature anniversaries, both online and in book form, through the years to come!
Copies of ShukerNature Book 1 can be ordered through all good bookstores, and can be purchased online at such outlets as Amazon UK (click here), Amazon USA (click here), and Barnes & Noble (click here). For further details concerning it and also my three previous books published by Coachwhip Publications, please click here.
Full cover wrap, including back-cover blurb (click picture to expand for reading purposes), from ShukerNatureBook 1 (© Dr Karl Shuker/Coachwhip Publications)
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SEALING THE IDENTITY OF AN ALLEGED STELLER’S SEA-COW SKIN

by on Mar.25, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Steller’s sea-cows with Kotick the white seal – an 1895 engraving for ‘The White Seal’, from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (public domain)
“By the Great Combers of Magellan!” he said, beneath his moustache. “Who in the Deep Sea are these people?”
They were like no walrus, sea-lion, seal, bear, whale, shark, fish, squid, or scallop that Kotick [the white seal] had ever seen before. They were between twenty and thirty feet long, and they had no hind flippers, but a shovel-like tail that looked as if it had been whittled out of wet leather. Their heads were the most foolish-looking things you ever saw, and they balanced on the ends of their tails in deep water when they weren’t grazing, bowing solemnly to each other and waving their front flippers as a fat man waves his arm.
“Ahem!” said Kotick. “Good sport, gentlemen?” The big things answered by bowing and waving their flippers like the Frog-Footman [from Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland]. When they began feeding again Kotick saw that their upper lip was split into two pieces that they could twitch apart about a foot and bring together again with a whole bushel of seaweed between the splits. They tucked the stuff into their mouths and chumped solemnly…
“Well!” said Kotick. “You’re the only people I’ve ever met uglier than Sea Vitch – and with worse manners.”
Then he remembered in a flash what the Burgomaster gull had screamed to him when he was a little yearling at Walrus Islet, and he tumbled backward in the water, for he knew that he had found Sea Cow at last.
   Rudyard Kipling – ‘The White Seal’, from The Jungle Book
Back in the 1800s, naturalists were much more open to zoological anomalies, mysteries, and curiosities, including those of the cryptozoological kind, than they are today. Never was this openness more readily visible, however, than in the pages of a fascinating British monthly periodical entitled The Zoologist (published 1843-1916), which was packed throughout with contributions from amateur wildlife enthusiasts and eminent biologists alike on every conceivable (and inconceivable!) aspect of natural and, especially, unnatural history.
Today, conversely, such oddities that cannot be readily pigeon-holed into ‘acceptable’, mainstream zoological categories rarely receive widespread hard-copy coverage outside of newspapers and Fortean publications – which is why Flying Snake, a periodical founded, published, edited, and lovingly compiled every 4-6 months by the indefatigable, inestimable cryptozoological and animal anomalies researcher Richard Muirhead is such an absolute delight, a veritable diamond among so much modern-day dross, especially online.
Steller’s sea-cow, depicted on a local postage stamp issued for Russia’s Commander (=Komandorski) Islands, a 17-strong group situated in the Bering Sea (east of the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East), and around which this huge sea mammal once lived (public domain)
A natural, very worthy successor to The Zoologist, this wonderful little journal contains so much extraordinary, non-conventional Nature, the kind that cannot be readily found in any other present-day publication, that whenever I receive the latest issue I know full well that once I have opened it I shall find it impossible to put down until I have read it from cover to cover.
In the April 2014 issue (vol. 3, #7), however, Richard surpassed even his superlative ability to surprise me with his researches, by virtue of this issue’s front cover-highlighted lead article. It consisted of an investigation conducted by Richard that quite simply took my breath away – by featuring the history and two vintage photographs (one of which appeared on the front cover) of what has seemingly long been claimed to be a bona fide torso skin (i.e. lacking the head, flippers, and tail) of Hydrodamalis [=Rhytina] gigas, the long-extinct Steller’s sea-cow!
The front cover of Flying Snake, April 2014, showcasing one of the two vintage photographs uncovered by Richard that allegedly depict a preserved Steller’s sea-cow skin (© Richard Muirhead/Flying Snake – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
As I have documented in greater detail within an earlier ShukerNature article (click hereto read it), at up to 30 ft long Steller’s sea-cow was by far the largest modern-day species of sirenian ever to have existed, very significantly bigger than the dugong and any of the manatees that still survive today. It was discovered in shallow waters around the Commander (aka Komandorski) Islands in what was later dubbed the Bering Sea, separating Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula from Alaska, by Arctic explorer Dr Georg W. Steller in 1741, during Danish explorer Vitus Bering’s Russian expeditions there. Tragically, however, the inoffensive, unafraid behaviour of this huge herbivorous marine mammal, coupled with the abundance and very tasty nature of its meat, swiftly proved to be its undoing, dooming it to a rapid extinction despite its great numbers. For it was mercilessly, relentlessly slaughtered by hungry mariners penetrating its icy, inhospitable domain.
By 1768, Steller’s sea-cow was no more, exterminated from the Commander Islands’ coastal waters that had been its home since time immemorial. Having said that, there have been infrequent subsequent reports from various remote Arctic outposts of extremely large, mystifying sea beasts that may – just may – be surviving sea-cows, but none has ever been confirmed.
Reconstruction of Dr Georg W. Steller measuring a Steller’s sea cow on Bering Island, 12 July 1742 (public domain)
As for preserved physical remains of this veritable behemoth: a number of museums around the world have skeletons (complete, partial, or composite), skulls (ditto), or isolated bones (limb bones, vertebrae, ribs, etc) from Steller’s sea-cows (click hereto access an extensive listing of such specimens).
In addition, there are a few scraps of preserved skin on record that have been claimed to be from this lost species, but there are also counterclaims averring that they are actually from seals or cetaceans. According to the above listing of specimens, one such scrap is present in the Überseemuseum at Bremen, Germany (a photograph of it snapped on 29 January 2011 by Flickriver user MareCrisium can be viewed here). A second is (or was) held by Germany’s Hamburg Zoological Museum (it may have been destroyed by bombing during World War II, and the above listing presumes that it is/was a misinterpreted whale skin anyway). And a third is held by the Zoological Institute of the Academy of Sciences in St Petersburg, Russia (queried in the listing as a probable whale skin fragment again, and originally discovered in the Institute’s collections by an A. Brandt). However, no museum or scientific institution anywhere in the world lays claim of any kind to possessing an entire torso skin from such a creature – which is why Richard’s report and accompanying photographs were of such profound interest to me.
Skeleton of a Steller’s sea-cow at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France (© FunkMonk/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)
I strongly recommend everyone interested in this case to read Richard’s original article, but in the meantime here is a summary of what he uncovered.
It all began with a local newspaper article. On 6 April 1956, the Kansas City Star in the U.S.A. published the photograph that appears on the above-reproduced front cover of Flying Snake for April 2014, together with the following details. The person holding the torso skin, and pictured with it in her East Tenth Street, Intercity District, Kansas home’s living room, was Mrs Faye Keyton, who had inherited it jointly with her brother, W.L. Shafer, from their aunt, Miss Myrtle Shafer, who had died in May 1955. It was normally kept rolled up inside a long cardboard tube, was quite stiff, and according to Mrs Keyton it was an Alaskan Indian burial robe that had been made from the skin of a Steller’s sea-cow. But how did she know this?
Vintage photograph from the late 1800s/very early 1900s depicting Prof. Willoughby with the burial robe (public domain)
Keyton revealed that her aunt had herself inherited it, from Jim Willoughby, a distant relative, who in turn had received it from his father, a certain Prof. Richard (‘Dick’) D. Willoughby (1832-1902), who had lived in Alaska for half a century, where he had been made an Indian chief and spoke their language. The robe was one of his possessions that he had acquired there during that period, and when he died in 1902 it was placed over him during his funeral as part of a native Alaskan Indian burial ceremony.
Reading this intriguing little history, I was immediately struck by the curious fact that there was no explanation as to why or how this robe was ever deemed to be the skin of a Steller’s sea-cow. All that I can assume is that it had been labelled as such by Prof. Willoughby himself, with that identity having subsequently been accepted unquestioningly by, and duly passed on down through, the generations of the robe’s inheritors. Unfortunately, however, this in turn leads to a major problem in accepting such an identification. For as revealed by Richard Muirhead in his Flying Snake article, Willoughby was a notorious practical joker and had a longstanding reputation as a teller of exceedingly tall tales. He was also known for attaching highly imaginative and often decidedly lurid back-stories to the many curios contained in his house that he had gathered from different parts of the Alaskan coast, many of which were of native Alaskan Indian origin. Taking all of this into account, it is by no means certain, therefore, that the robe really was a Steller’s sea-cow skin – this could just as easily have been yet another fanciful yarn spun by Willoughby.
Steller’s sea-cow model at London’s Natural History Museum (© Emöke Dénes/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)
But that is not all. Based upon direct eyewitness descriptions and sketches of Steller’s sea-cow by Steller himself and other maritime travellers during the all-too-brief period of time spanning this species’ discovery and destruction, the robe doesn’t look at all like the skin of this officially extinct species. For whereas the latter’s skin was said to be rough and spotted, this robe is smooth and bears two very distinctive, highly conspicuous white rings upon it as well as an upper and a lower white band. True, the robe’s leather may have been tanned, making it smooth, but those very large white rings and bands are unlike anything ever recorded for Steller’s sea-cow. In addition, judging from the photographs and allowing for forced perspective (in both photos, the skin was closer to the camera than the person was, thereby making the former appear bigger than it actually was), the skin was far smaller than any but the youngest of juvenile sea-cows would have been.
One of Richard’s correspondents, regular Flying Snake contributor Richard George, opined that he was certain that these distinctive markings had been painted on the skin. Bearing in mind that it was used as a ceremonial burial robe, adding such decorations to it as some form of symbolic representation would not be at all beyond the realms of possibility. If only the robe could be examined directly, however – this would soon determine whether they were a natural component of it or had been artificially added. Moreover, with today’s advances in DNA analyses, a sample of tissue taken from it would readily reveal the true taxonomic nature of the species from which the skin had been obtained. But therein lies a fundamental problem – its current whereabouts are presently unknown.
Exquisite engraving from 1898 depicting mature and juvenile Steller’s sea-cows (public domain)
After reading Richard’s article, I did consider attempting to trace the robe, by pursuing the current whereabouts of Mrs Keyton, her brother, or any children that either of them may have had. However, as so often happens, other matters diverted my attention, and eventually I forgot about this mysterious object – until this week, that is.
After having read with my usual enthusiasm the latest, newly-published issue (#14, January 2019) of Flying Snake a few days ago, I was about to place it with the other 13 issues on their allotted shelf in my study’s cryptozoological section when, while idly flicking through them, I noticed the front cover of the April 2014 issue once more, the first time that I’d looked at it in a very long while – but this time something suddenly clicked inside my mind. I know that ringed patterning on the robe! I’ve seen it somewhere before, somewhere else.
Steller’s sea-cow (right) with a Steller’s sea lion and a northern fur seal, from a map of the Commander Islands drawn by Sven Waxell in 1891 (public domain)
Sitting there in thought, I recalled the above-linked listing of Steller’s sea-cow material held by various museums around the world, and in particular I remembered those controversial fragments of skin that a few of the museums possessed, claimed by some to be genuine Steller’s sea-cow relics but by others to be derived from whales or seals.
And then, without warning, an image flashed into my mind – an image of an extremely distinctive species of sea mammal, one that, uniquely, possessed exactly the same ringed pelage as was so visibly present on the Alaskan burial robe, but a species that unlike Steller’s sea-cow was still very much alive today. Suddenly, I knew exactly what the Alaskan burial robe had been obtained from – and it most definitely was not a Steller’s sea-cow!
The ribbon or banded seal – an absolutely unmistakeable species (public domain)
Instead, it was from an exceptionally beautiful, exquisitely marked species of phocid (earless) seal – namely, Histriophoca fasciata, the ribbon or banded seal. Up to 5 ft long, it is native to the Arctic and subarctic regions of the northern Pacific Ocean, but especially the Bering Sea…separating Russia from Alaska! Moreover, it is immediately distinguished from all other seal species (and all other species of any kind of mammal, for that matter) by virtue of the two very large white circles on its body (one on each side) and also the two wide white bands encircling its neck and tail respectively that collectively decorate very strikingly its otherwise uniformly dark-brown or black pelage.
All that I needed to do now in order to be absolutely certain was to uncover if I could a photograph of a torso skin of a ribbon seal to compare it directly with the Alaskan burial robe, and once I was on the trail it didn’t take me long to find an excellent example. Comparing the two side by side, they were virtually identical, as shown below. Consequently, there could be absolutely no doubt whatsoever – just like so many other examples of his yarns on record, Willoughby’s Steller’s sea-cow skin was nothing but a tall tale. It was in reality the skin of a ribbon seal. Case closed.
Comparing Willoughby’s Alaskan burial skin (left) with the skin of a ribbon seal (right) (© Kansas  City Star, reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only / public domain)
I am delighted that Richard Muirhead brought this fascinating but hitherto little-publicised case to cryptozoological attention with his customary investigative zeal via his Flying Snake article, and that I in turn have been able to provide the solution to the longstanding riddle that its subject posed.
For anyone seeking more information concerning Flying Snake, a publication that I thoroughly recommend to everyone interested in the more unusual, unexpected facets of natural history, please click here.
Finally: although the following flying snake illustration has nothing to do whatsoever either with Richard’s periodical or with Steller’s sea-cow, its fictional subject is nonetheless cryptozoological in nature and is such an extraordinary image in its own right that it deserves to be included here, especially as at least to my knowledge it has never before been featured in any cryptozoological article. So here it is, from the front cover of an issue of an American men’s magazine entitled Man’s Conquest:
Front cover of the March 1967 issue of Man’s Conquest, depicting an attack of flying snakes, the subject of a fiction short story contained inside (© Man’s Conquest – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
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SEALING THE IDENTITY OF AN ALLEGED STELLER’S SEA-COW SKIN

by on Mar.25, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Steller’s sea-cows with Kotick the white seal – an 1895 engraving for ‘The White Seal’, from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (public domain)
“By the Great Combers of Magellan!” he said, beneath his moustache. “Who in the Deep Sea are these people?”
They were like no walrus, sea-lion, seal, bear, whale, shark, fish, squid, or scallop that Kotick [the white seal] had ever seen before. They were between twenty and thirty feet long, and they had no hind flippers, but a shovel-like tail that looked as if it had been whittled out of wet leather. Their heads were the most foolish-looking things you ever saw, and they balanced on the ends of their tails in deep water when they weren’t grazing, bowing solemnly to each other and waving their front flippers as a fat man waves his arm.
“Ahem!” said Kotick. “Good sport, gentlemen?” The big things answered by bowing and waving their flippers like the Frog-Footman [from Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland]. When they began feeding again Kotick saw that their upper lip was split into two pieces that they could twitch apart about a foot and bring together again with a whole bushel of seaweed between the splits. They tucked the stuff into their mouths and chumped solemnly…
“Well!” said Kotick. “You’re the only people I’ve ever met uglier than Sea Vitch – and with worse manners.”
Then he remembered in a flash what the Burgomaster gull had screamed to him when he was a little yearling at Walrus Islet, and he tumbled backward in the water, for he knew that he had found Sea Cow at last.
   Rudyard Kipling – ‘The White Seal’, from The Jungle Book
Back in the 1800s, naturalists were much more open to zoological anomalies, mysteries, and curiosities, including those of the cryptozoological kind, than they are today. Never was this openness more readily visible, however, than in the pages of a fascinating British monthly periodical entitled The Zoologist (published 1843-1916), which was packed throughout with contributions from amateur wildlife enthusiasts and eminent biologists alike on every conceivable (and inconceivable!) aspect of natural and, especially, unnatural history.
Today, conversely, such oddities that cannot be readily pigeon-holed into ‘acceptable’, mainstream zoological categories rarely receive widespread hard-copy coverage outside of newspapers and Fortean publications – which is why Flying Snake, a periodical founded, published, edited, and lovingly compiled every 4-6 months by the indefatigable, inestimable cryptozoological and animal anomalies researcher Richard Muirhead is such an absolute delight, a veritable diamond among so much modern-day dross, especially online.
Steller’s sea-cow, depicted on a local postage stamp issued for Russia’s Commander (=Komandorski) Islands, a 17-strong group situated in the Bering Sea (east of the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East), and around which this huge sea mammal once lived (public domain)
A natural, very worthy successor to The Zoologist, this wonderful little journal contains so much extraordinary, non-conventional Nature, the kind that cannot be readily found in any other present-day publication, that whenever I receive the latest issue I know full well that once I have opened it I shall find it impossible to put down until I have read it from cover to cover.
In the April 2014 issue (vol. 3, #7), however, Richard surpassed even his superlative ability to surprise me with his researches, by virtue of this issue’s front cover-highlighted lead article. It consisted of an investigation conducted by Richard that quite simply took my breath away – by featuring the history and two vintage photographs (one of which appeared on the front cover) of what has seemingly long been claimed to be a bona fide torso skin (i.e. lacking the head, flippers, and tail) of Hydrodamalis [=Rhytina] gigas, the long-extinct Steller’s sea-cow!
The front cover of Flying Snake, April 2014, showcasing one of the two vintage photographs uncovered by Richard that allegedly depict a preserved Steller’s sea-cow skin (© Richard Muirhead/Flying Snake – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
As I have documented in greater detail within an earlier ShukerNature article (click hereto read it), at up to 30 ft long Steller’s sea-cow was by far the largest modern-day species of sirenian ever to have existed, very significantly bigger than the dugong and any of the manatees that still survive today. It was discovered in shallow waters around the Commander (aka Komandorski) Islands in what was later dubbed the Bering Sea, separating Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula from Alaska, by Arctic explorer Dr Georg W. Steller in 1741, during Danish explorer Vitus Bering’s Russian expeditions there. Tragically, however, the inoffensive, unafraid behaviour of this huge herbivorous marine mammal, coupled with the abundance and very tasty nature of its meat, swiftly proved to be its undoing, dooming it to a rapid extinction despite its great numbers. For it was mercilessly, relentlessly slaughtered by hungry mariners penetrating its icy, inhospitable domain.
By 1768, Steller’s sea-cow was no more, exterminated from the Commander Islands’ coastal waters that had been its home since time immemorial. Having said that, there have been infrequent subsequent reports from various remote Arctic outposts of extremely large, mystifying sea beasts that may – just may – be surviving sea-cows, but none has ever been confirmed.
Reconstruction of Dr Georg W. Steller measuring a Steller’s sea cow on Bering Island, 12 July 1742 (public domain)
As for preserved physical remains of this veritable behemoth: a number of museums around the world have skeletons (complete, partial, or composite), skulls (ditto), or isolated bones (limb bones, vertebrae, ribs, etc) from Steller’s sea-cows (click hereto access an extensive listing of such specimens).
In addition, there are a few scraps of preserved skin on record that have been claimed to be from this lost species, but there are also counterclaims averring that they are actually from seals or cetaceans. According to the above listing of specimens, one such scrap is present in the Überseemuseum at Bremen, Germany (a photograph of it snapped on 29 January 2011 by Flickriver user MareCrisium can be viewed here). A second is (or was) held by Germany’s Hamburg Zoological Museum (it may have been destroyed by bombing during World War II, and the above listing presumes that it is/was a misinterpreted whale skin anyway). And a third is held by the Zoological Institute of the Academy of Sciences in St Petersburg, Russia (queried in the listing as a probable whale skin fragment again, and originally discovered in the Institute’s collections by an A. Brandt). However, no museum or scientific institution anywhere in the world lays claim of any kind to possessing an entire torso skin from such a creature – which is why Richard’s report and accompanying photographs were of such profound interest to me.
Skeleton of a Steller’s sea-cow at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France (© FunkMonk/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)
I strongly recommend everyone interested in this case to read Richard’s original article, but in the meantime here is a summary of what he uncovered.
It all began with a local newspaper article. On 6 April 1956, the Kansas City Star in the U.S.A. published the photograph that appears on the above-reproduced front cover of Flying Snake for April 2014, together with the following details. The person holding the torso skin, and pictured with it in her East Tenth Street, Intercity District, Kansas home’s living room, was Mrs Faye Keyton, who had inherited it jointly with her brother, W.L. Shafer, from their aunt, Miss Myrtle Shafer, who had died in May 1955. It was normally kept rolled up inside a long cardboard tube, was quite stiff, and according to Mrs Keyton it was an Alaskan Indian burial robe that had been made from the skin of a Steller’s sea-cow. But how did she know this?
Vintage photograph from the late 1800s/very early 1900s depicting Prof. Willoughby with the burial robe (public domain)
Keyton revealed that her aunt had herself inherited it, from Jim Willoughby, a distant relative, who in turn had received it from his father, a certain Prof. Richard (‘Dick’) D. Willoughby (1832-1902), who had lived in Alaska for half a century, where he had been made an Indian chief and spoke their language. The robe was one of his possessions that he had acquired there during that period, and when he died in 1902 it was placed over him during his funeral as part of a native Alaskan Indian burial ceremony.
Reading this intriguing little history, I was immediately struck by the curious fact that there was no explanation as to why or how this robe was ever deemed to be the skin of a Steller’s sea-cow. All that I can assume is that it had been labelled as such by Prof. Willoughby himself, with that identity having subsequently been accepted unquestioningly by, and duly passed on down through, the generations of the robe’s inheritors. Unfortunately, however, this in turn leads to a major problem in accepting such an identification. For as revealed by Richard Muirhead in his Flying Snake article, Willoughby was a notorious practical joker and had a longstanding reputation as a teller of exceedingly tall tales. He was also known for attaching highly imaginative and often decidedly lurid back-stories to the many curios contained in his house that he had gathered from different parts of the Alaskan coast, many of which were of native Alaskan Indian origin. Taking all of this into account, it is by no means certain, therefore, that the robe really was a Steller’s sea-cow skin – this could just as easily have been yet another fanciful yarn spun by Willoughby.
Steller’s sea-cow model at London’s Natural History Museum (© Emöke Dénes/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)
But that is not all. Based upon direct eyewitness descriptions and sketches of Steller’s sea-cow by Steller himself and other maritime travellers during the all-too-brief period of time spanning this species’ discovery and destruction, the robe doesn’t look at all like the skin of this officially extinct species. For whereas the latter’s skin was said to be rough and spotted, this robe is smooth and bears two very distinctive, highly conspicuous white rings upon it as well as an upper and a lower white band. True, the robe’s leather may have been tanned, making it smooth, but those very large white rings and bands are unlike anything ever recorded for Steller’s sea-cow. In addition, judging from the photographs and allowing for forced perspective (in both photos, the skin was closer to the camera than the person was, thereby making the former appear bigger than it actually was), the skin was far smaller than any but the youngest of juvenile sea-cows would have been.
One of Richard’s correspondents, regular Flying Snake contributor Richard George, opined that he was certain that these distinctive markings had been painted on the skin. Bearing in mind that it was used as a ceremonial burial robe, adding such decorations to it as some form of symbolic representation would not be at all beyond the realms of possibility. If only the robe could be examined directly, however – this would soon determine whether they were a natural component of it or had been artificially added. Moreover, with today’s advances in DNA analyses, a sample of tissue taken from it would readily reveal the true taxonomic nature of the species from which the skin had been obtained. But therein lies a fundamental problem – its current whereabouts are presently unknown.
Exquisite engraving from 1898 depicting mature and juvenile Steller’s sea-cows (public domain)
After reading Richard’s article, I did consider attempting to trace the robe, by pursuing the current whereabouts of Mrs Keyton, her brother, or any children that either of them may have had. However, as so often happens, other matters diverted my attention, and eventually I forgot about this mysterious object – until this week, that is.
After having read with my usual enthusiasm the latest, newly-published issue (#14, January 2019) of Flying Snake a few days ago, I was about to place it with the other 13 issues on their allotted shelf in my study’s cryptozoological section when, while idly flicking through them, I noticed the front cover of the April 2014 issue once more, the first time that I’d looked at it in a very long while – but this time something suddenly clicked inside my mind. I know that ringed patterning on the robe! I’ve seen it somewhere before, somewhere else.
Steller’s sea-cow (right) with a Steller’s sea lion and a northern fur seal, from a map of the Commander Islands drawn by Sven Waxell in 1891 (public domain)
Sitting there in thought, I recalled the above-linked listing of Steller’s sea-cow material held by various museums around the world, and in particular I remembered those controversial fragments of skin that a few of the museums possessed, claimed by some to be genuine Steller’s sea-cow relics but by others to be derived from whales or seals.
And then, without warning, an image flashed into my mind – an image of an extremely distinctive species of sea mammal, one that, uniquely, possessed exactly the same ringed pelage as was so visibly present on the Alaskan burial robe, but a species that unlike Steller’s sea-cow was still very much alive today. Suddenly, I knew exactly what the Alaskan burial robe had been obtained from – and it most definitely was not a Steller’s sea-cow!
The ribbon or banded seal – an absolutely unmistakeable species (public domain)
Instead, it was from an exceptionally beautiful, exquisitely marked species of phocid (earless) seal – namely, Histriophoca fasciata, the ribbon or banded seal. Up to 5 ft long, it is native to the Arctic and subarctic regions of the northern Pacific Ocean, but especially the Bering Sea…separating Russia from Alaska! Moreover, it is immediately distinguished from all other seal species (and all other species of any kind of mammal, for that matter) by virtue of the two very large white circles on its body (one on each side) and also the two wide white bands encircling its neck and tail respectively that collectively decorate very strikingly its otherwise uniformly dark-brown or black pelage.
All that I needed to do now in order to be absolutely certain was to uncover if I could a photograph of a torso skin of a ribbon seal to compare it directly with the Alaskan burial robe, and once I was on the trail it didn’t take me long to find an excellent example. Comparing the two side by side, they were virtually identical, as shown below. Consequently, there could be absolutely no doubt whatsoever – just like so many other examples of his yarns on record, Willoughby’s Steller’s sea-cow skin was nothing but a tall tale. It was in reality the skin of a ribbon seal. Case closed.
Comparing Willoughby’s Alaskan burial skin (left) with the skin of a ribbon seal (right) (© Kansas  City Star, reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only / public domain)
I am delighted that Richard Muirhead brought this fascinating but hitherto little-publicised case to cryptozoological attention with his customary investigative zeal via his Flying Snake article, and that I in turn have been able to provide the solution to the longstanding riddle that its subject posed.
For anyone seeking more information concerning Flying Snake, a publication that I thoroughly recommend to everyone interested in the more unusual, unexpected facets of natural history, please click here.
Finally: although the following flying snake illustration has nothing to do whatsoever either with Richard’s periodical or with Steller’s sea-cow, its fictional subject is nonetheless cryptozoological in nature and is such an extraordinary image in its own right that it deserves to be included here, especially as at least to my knowledge it has never before been featured in any cryptozoological article. So here it is, from the front cover of an issue of an American men’s magazine entitled Man’s Conquest:
Front cover of the March 1967 issue of Man’s Conquest, depicting an attack of flying snakes, the subject of a fiction short story contained inside (© Man’s Conquest – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
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