Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is already considered to be his magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

Dr Karl Shuker's Official Website - http://www.karlshuker.com/index.htm

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Tuesday, 6 November 2018


Magnificent painting portraying William Beebe's striped manta ray (© William M. Rebsamen)

In 1999, my book Mysteries of Planet Earth became the first cryptozoologically-oriented book to include a specific section on what must surely be one of the most strikingly beautiful mystery beasts ever reported, and its coverage was greatly enhanced by the inclusion of a spectacular full-colour painting of this animal - another first for it - prepared specially for my book by renowned cryptozoological artist William M. Rebsamen (and which also opens this present ShukerNature blog article). Neither of us realised at that time, however, that only a few years later I would actually witness just such an animal, and in a wholly unexpected manner. The following article – the most detailed that I have ever prepared on this particular subject and constituting a ShukerNature exclusive – contains not only all of the information that I included in my 1999 book but also various additional cases uncovered by me since then, including my own afore-mentioned observation. So where better to begin it than with that observation – and here it is.

On 20 July 2005, I was sitting in front of the television at home in the UK, flicking idly between channels, when I happened to click onto Channel 5, and within a few seconds beheld an extraordinary sight. The programme being screened was a documentary entitled 'Whale Shark: Journey of the Biggest Fish in the World'. However, the fish that I was staring at in amazement was anything but a whale shark. It was a giant manta ray Manta birostris - a huge, superficially nightmarish beast popularly dubbed a devil-fish (see also here) due to its mouth's pair of demonic, horn-resembling, laterally-sited cephalic fins, and its huge batwing-like pectoral fins, uniformly dark on top, white below...except that this particular manta's pectorals were most definitely not uniformly dark on top. Instead, they were dramatically adorned by a longitudinal series of white v-shaped chevrons, and also sported pure white wing tips. This spectacular vision soared gracefully through its underwater domain for a few moments before the camera moved on to other subaqueous delights, and it did not appear again.

Not having tuned in to this programme from the beginning, I had no idea where the striped manta had been filmed, but the very next section of the documentary stated that the whale shark star of the show had now reached the Mozambique Channel, apparently having travelled there from the Seychelles region of the Indian Ocean. So this may have been where the manta footage had been shot.

A typical, non-striped specimen of the giant manta ray, as depicted in an 18th/19th-Century illustration from Iconographia Zoologica (public domain)

What made this serendipitous sighting so notable was that for a great many years (right up to the time when I viewed the above-cited TV programme, in fact), mainstream zoology had tended not to recognise the existence of mantas other than the mundanely standard dark-dorsal, pale-ventral version. Yet there on screen was positive proof that at least one manta of a decidedly more flamboyant variety was indeed real. Nor was it unique. Several other specimens have been documented down through the decades, exhibiting a range of patterns, and spied in many different oceanic localities.

The earliest one that I have on record, and which remains the most famous (it was the subject of William Rebsamen's magnificent painting), was witnessed on 27 April 1923 by American naturalist William Beebe and several others while aboard his expedition vessel Noma, as it approached Tower Island in the Pacific Ocean's Galapagos archipelago. The manta ray briefly struck the side of the vessel and then sped swiftly away along the surface, providing its observers with an excellent view. According to Beebe, who later sketched it:

From tip to tip of wings it was at least ten feet, of somewhat the usual manta or devil-fish shape, except that the wings were not noticeably concave behind, and the lateral angles were not acute. The cephalic horn-like structures were conspicuous and more straight than incurved. In general the back was dark brown, faintly mottled, while the most conspicuous character was a pair of broad, pure white bands extending halfway down the back from each side of the head. The wing tips also shaded abruptly into pure white.

Documenting this dorsally-bicoloured manta in his book Galapagos: World's End (1924), Beebe considered that it may represent an unknown species.

Beebe's sketch of the striped manta ray observed by him off the Galapagos archipelago's Tower Island in 1923 (public domain)

In Vol. 12 of the now-defunct International Society of Cryptozoology's scientific journal Cryptozoology (covering the period 1993-1996), German researcher Gunter G. Sehm's paper on striped manta rays surveyed some other specimens. In 1924, fr example, a small manta was harpooned off the shore reef at Kiribati's Fanning Island (renamed Tabuaeran). Its dorsal surface was blue-black but also bore two large ash-coloured v-shaped chevrons that spanned the entire dorsum from left pectoral edge to right. In 1934 this specimen was deemed a new species and dubbed Manta fowleri, but its separate taxonomic status is no longer recognised.

In 1975, British Museum ichthyologist Alwyne Wheeler's book Fishes of the World contained a colour photograph of a manta ray that appeared to have some white striping on its right shoulder, although few details can be discerned because the picture had been taken side-on. A year later, a book by Pierre Fourmanoir and Pierre Laboute detailing the fishes native to the waters around New Caledonia and the New Hebrides included a colour photo of a manta ornately adorned with dorsal white banding and cephalic fins. In his paper, Sehm also included three hitherto-unpublished stills from a 30-second footage of film showing a manta with a pair of striking, laterally-sited, v-shaped dorsal markings, filmed off the coast of Mexico's Baja California by Sigurd Tesche, which had been broadcast by German TV on 28 December 1989 within a programme entitled 'Sharks: Hunters of the Seas'.

Correspondent Alan Pringle contacted me shortly after watching, on 7 November 1999, a BBC1 television programme 'Holiday Guide to Australia', to inform me that it had contained a snippet of film depicting a manta with two converging longitudinal dorsal white bands, filmed from above by a helicopter, as it swam above a reef in Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

A striped giant manta ray at Hin Daeng, Thailand, on 30 November 2005 (© Jon Hanson/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

I learnt from fellow crypto-enthusiast Matt Bille that on 19 September 2003, yet another striped manta made an unexpected television appearance, this time in the American reality game show 'Survivor', when a manta ray sporting a very prominent pair of white shoulder markings, resembling filled-in triangles along the body, cruised fleetingly just under the clear waters off Panama's Pacific coast.

Not long after my own television sighting in July 2005, I was informed of two separate webpages each containing a colour photograph of a striped manta. One of these, which still appears here, shows a manta with symmetrical lateral chevrons resembling those of the Baja California individual, but it also has white rings around its cephalic fins, a pale patch at the dorsal tip of its left pectoral fin (its right cannot be seen dorsally), and what looks like a white dorsal tail surface. More photos of it have since appeared on Wikipedia and elsewhere online, confirming that it does have a white patch at the dorsal tip of its right pectoral fin too. It was photographed at Hin Daeng, off Thailand.

The other page (no longer directly online at http://www.accessnoaa.noaa.gov/images/monitor1.jpg but still accessible here - thanks to the Wayback Machine Internet Archive) – in a website run by America's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) - showed an ornately-marked specimen with very extensive white wing tips linked posteriorly by a pair of white converging arcs, as well as white cephalic fins. No details of where this photo was taken were given.

The striped manta ray photograph formerly directly visible online in America's NOAA site (© NOAA – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational and review purposes only)

In short, a diverse spectrum of striped mantas is on record, with no two alike, but collectively confirming that dorsally bicoloured individuals do indeed exist. So how can they be explained? Interestingly, some of them, notably Beebe's specimen, the Fanning Island manta, and the Baja California example, have conspicuously shorter-than-typical tails, and also the shape of their pectorals do not exhibit such marked convexity of the front edge and concavity of the trailing edge as those of 'normal' mantas do, leading Sehm to consider the possibility that these represent a separate taxonomic form. Equally, however, sometimes genes linked to colour or body pattern also influence the size or shape of an individual (pleiotropic genes), so there is no guarantee that these morphological differences have independent significance.

Moreover, it is known that attacks by other fishes can leave white marks on the dark dorsal surface of a manta. In fact, its dark pigment can even be removed merely by rubbing the surface, creating pale patches. And the elasmodiver website's manta page states that the wing tips often fade to white. Worth noting, incidentally, is that back in the early 2000s this latter site was one of the very few mainstream sources that openly acknowledged the existence of striped mantas, stating at that time: "Dorsum black or dark often with symmetrical white patches forming a chevron across the shoulders".

Intriguingly, Sehm attempted to explain away the white wing tips of Beebe's specimen as an illusion, claiming that what Beebe and his colleagues saw was the white undersurface of the wing tips upraised, fooling the observers into thinking that the dorsal wing tips were white. However, I do not believe this interpretation - the NOAA website's manta unequivocally possesses white dorsal wing tips, as did the specimen that I watched in the whale shark film. Instead, judging from the elasmodiver website's comments, it may be that white-tipped mantas are aged specimens. However, so precise is the symmetry of the white markings on all specimens of striped manta, whether they be wing tip markings, shoulder markings, or chevrons, that this seems unlikely - as do, for the same reason, explanations invoking injury or rubbing as the source of such markings.

A striped manta ray at Hin Muang, Thailand on 30 November 2005 (© Jon Hanson/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

In 2005, within a Fortean Times article of mine devoted to these mystery mantas, I expressed the view is that a mutant gene allele was most probably responsible, engendering on rare occasions these stunning and sometimes quite elaborate patterns in mantas - analogous, perhaps, to black-and-white specimens of blackbirds, black bears, crows, and other normally monochromatic species, and creating an additional vision of wonder and mystery amid the breathtaking splendour present beneath the surface of our planet's mighty seas.

Sure enough, thanks to observations and photographs taken of many additional specimens since then, the existence of striped manta specimens is nowadays not only universally accepted among ichthyologists but also, far from constituting a separate species, is deemed to be nothing more than an expression of individual non-taxonomic variation within the long-recognised giant manta species Manta birostris.

Unrelated to such considerations but still worth noting, however, is that in 2009, a second, somewhat smaller, and non-migratory manta ray species, the reef manta M. alfredi, was officially distinguished, named, and formally described – see my Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals, 2012, for more details.

A reef manta ray at Manta Alley, near Komodo, Indonesia, in September 2010 (© Alexander Vasenin/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

But this is not all. In autumn 2014, a mainstream ichthyological discovery was made public via a scientific paper that revealed an exceedingly significant but hitherto entirely unsuspected aspect concerning the true nature of striped mantas. Ironically, however, this crucial find has attracted relatively little attention, especially in cryptozoological circles. Indeed, as far as I am aware, the following documentation of it by me is the first time that this remarkable discovery has ever been referred to in such a capacity, even though it holds the key to these distinctive fishes' very existence.

Published by the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society on 1 September 2014, the paper in question (click here to read it in its entirety) was authored by Csilla Ari, from the University of South Florida's Hyperbaric Biomedical Research Laboratory, and revealed for the very first time that giant manta rays possess the ability to change colour and pattern at will. Ari's study showed that a manta's typical (or, as termed in the study, its baseline) colouration state (i.e. its dark dorsal surface) can change rapidly at feeding times, or if it encounters another manta ray in close proximity to itself, or during intense social interaction between itself and another manta ray. And the precise nature of this colour change is a very noticeable increase in the brightness of hitherto pale, inconspicuous shoulder and pectoral wing tip markings.

In other words, when faced with any of the situations listed above, a typical dorsally-dark manta can transform directly into a striped manta!

A striped manta ray encountered at South Point, Pulau Sipadan, off the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo, in February 2010 (© Bernard Dupont/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

Here is the principal Results paragraph excerpted from Ari's paper, detailing this extraordinary manta metamorphosis with reference to various 'before' and 'after' photographs of the mantas (these photos can be viewed directly if the paper is accessed using the above link):

Captive manta rays were observed to undergo rapid changes (within a few minutes) in their body coloration. Specifically, white markings appeared and changed intensity on certain body regions (Fig. 1, 2, 3, 4; the two most representative specimens from each species are shown). The intensity of the white markings would increase rapidly to the ‘intense coloration state’ (Fig. 1D, E, F, G, H, 2D, E, F) more times during the day within a few minutes, and then return to the normal ‘baseline coloration state’. Changes in coloration were observed to occur in temporal proximity to a variety of situations, including at feeding times (Fig. 1H), whenever a new manta ray was introduced to the tank, and during intense social interaction between the two manta rays (Fig. 1G). Feeding occurred twice a day and the rapid coloration changes started shortly (5–10 min) before each feeding on both specimens. The ‘intense coloration state’ was most intense during feeding and slowly returned to the ‘baseline coloration state’ over a period of 20–30 min after the end of the feedings. In addition, rapid coloration changes were observed in association with intense social interaction; for example, when Manta 2 was introduced into the tank or when mantas were chasing each other rapidly and closely, which appeared to comprise courtship behaviour.

In short, the striped manta state was not even a permanent one. Consequently, it would appear that in most if not all cases, such mantas that have been reported and photographed in the past were nothing more than normal mantas exhibiting the temporary pattern and colour transformation ability that had been discovered for their species by Ari. (Incidentally, Ari also revealed that reef mantas possess this same ability.)

The mystery of the striped mantas is a mystery no longer. True, there may be occasional specimens that do exhibit such markings on a permanent basis as an expression of individual non-taxonomic variation, but in most cases such markings would seem to be merely a temporary feature, induced on a non-permanent basis by various fluctuating external stimuli.

Finally: even though we now know the secret of the striped mantas, it is still thrilling when one of these spectacular creatures turns up unexpectedly – and that is precisely what happened to me a second time just last night. I had been watching the 2016 Disney cartoon film Moana, whose storyline was inspired by traditional Polynesian mythology and featured the famous demi-god Maui, when suddenly, in a split-second segment right at the end of the film, an animated striped manta sporting a vivid pair of white shoulder bars and pectoral wing tips soared majestically through the water just beneath the surface. A fitting finale, assuredly, for a movie of magic and mythology to feature a maritime denizen so long associated with mystery and mystification.

My very own striped manta ray – a model of one that I purchased at London Zoo in September 2014 (© Dr Karl Shuker/London Zoo)

Thursday, 25 October 2018


Carl Hubert de Villeneuve's sketch of German botanist Philipp Franz von Siebold's captive shamanu, which he had purchased in 1826; sketch produced sometime during 1826-1830 (public domain)

According to traditional mainstream zoology, the shamanu or Japanese dwarf wolf Canis lupus hodophilax was, as its names suggest, a noticeably small subspecies of grey wolf indigenous to Japan (specifically the islands of Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku, but not Hokkaido – where a second, much larger grey wolf subspecies, C. l. hattai, once existed instead) but not otherwise significant from an evolutionary standpoint, and was hunted into extinction in 1905.

During September 2018, however, some startling news emerged that very emphatically overturned the first of these two longstanding assumptions.

Taxiderm shamanus at Ueno Zoo, Tokyo (© Katuuya/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

For that was when, during the International Symposium on Biomolecular Archaeology, held at Jena in Germany, graduate student Jonas Niemann from Denmark's University of Copenhagen revealed that after he and a team of fellow researchers had analysed the genome of a shamanu skeleton from London's Natural History Museum, they had made the startling, highly unexpected discovery that its DNA more closely resembled that of a long-extinct wolf that had lived in Siberia over 35,000 years ago than that of living Eurasian and American wolves, and that the shamanu therefore appeared to be a modern-day relic of an ancient, ostensibly long-vanished group of wolves that had once ranged across the Northern Hemisphere but had hitherto been deemed to have become extinct around 20,000 years ago.

As commented upon by paleogeneticist Mikkel Sinding from the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources in Nuuk, who had extracted the DNA from the shamanu skeleton, this remarkable disclosure could offer a new window on the evolution of wolves, as well as dogs.

Shamanu skeleton, in the National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo, Japan (© Momotarou2012/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

Suddenly, a long-held belief regarding the shamanu was no more. But this is not all. Might the second traditional shamanu tenet – that this veritable bonsai wolf became extinct in 1905 – also be disproved one day?

This is by no means impossible, because long after that fateful year, eyewitness reports of small, mysterious wolf-like creatures in various regions of Japan have continued to emerge, encouraging some investigators to become cautiously optimistic that the shamanu may indeed still persist.

Shamanu engraving, from Cambridge Natural History, Mammalia, 1902 (public domain)

I first became aware of and interested in this exciting possibility back in the 1990s, and after researching it I penned an article on the subject, which was duly published in the July-August 1997 issue of the now long-defunct British bimonthly magazine All About Dogs (and contained a delightful colour drawing of a shamanu by Philippa Coxall (now Foster), who illustrated many magazine articles of mine during that decade). As this article may not have ever been seen by readers outside Europe, however, I am reprinting it herewith as a ShukerNature exclusive. Please click on each of its pages to expand it for reading purposes.

 (NB – Since I wrote that article back in 1997, it has been shown that the Arab wolf C. l. arabs is slightly smaller on average than the shamanu, so the latter is no longer deemed to be the world's smallest subspecies of grey wolf; and the shamanu is no longer believed to have existed on Hokkaido.)

My All About Dogs article, of July-August 1997, concerning the possible survival of the shamanu (© Dr Karl Shuker)

My article attracted sufficient interest from readers to inspire me to continue researching this fascinating subject, and in my book The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003) I added some further, more recent information, which reads as follows:

In January 1997, a significant new piece of evidence for the shamanu's putative survival was publicised - a series of recent photographs depicting a dog-like beast that bears a startling similarity to a living shamanu. The photos were snapped on 14 October 1996 by 47-year-old Hiroshi Yagi in the mountain district of Chichibu. He had been driving a van along a forestry road that evening when a short-legged dog-like beast with a black-tipped tail suddenly appeared further down the road. A longstanding shamanu seeker, Yagi reached for his camera, but the animal vanished. After driving back and forth along the road in search of it, however, Yagi saw it again, and this time was able to take no fewer than 19 photos from just a few feet away. He even threw a rice cake towards it, hoping to tempt it closer still, but the creature turned away and disappeared into a forest. When the pictures were examined by eminent Japanese zoologist Prof. Imaizumi Yoshinori, he felt sure that the animal was indeed a shamanu.

In November 2000, Akira Nishida took a photo of a canine mystery beast on a mountain in Kyushu that was widely acclaimed afterwards as evidence of shamanu survival - until March 2001, that is. For that was when a sign appeared on a hut on Ogata Mountain claiming that the creature in the photo was nothing more than a Shikoku-region domestic dog that the hut's owner had been forced to abandon for private reasons. However, Yoshinori Izumi, a former head of the National Science Museum's animal research section, dismisses this claim as a hoax, and remains adamant that the photographed canid is a bona fide shamanu, even stating that the pattern of the creature's fur is completely different from that of Shikoku dogs. This is evidently a saga with many more chapters still to be written!

Japan's very poignant, official memorial statue to the shamanu, which stands by the banks of the Takami River in Higashiyoshino, Nara, and is a replica of the last confirmed individual killed by hunters nearby in 1905. Inscribed is the haiku: I walk/ With that wolf/ That is no more. (© Katuuya/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

I have recently discovered online an extensive scientific paper analysing the photographs snapped by Hiroshi Yagi of the so-called Chichibu wild dog, as this mystery canid individual has since become known. Authored by him and Japanese scientist Masazumi Morita, and published by the Japanese journal Animate in 2015, its findings indicate that the creature may indeed have been a shamanu, as revealed by the paper's summary:

Nineteen photographs of an animal "Chichibu wild dog" were taken on 14th October 1996 at the Chichibu mountains. Four of photos that captured artificial structures on the same picture, were analyzed for determination of body, head and face sizes. The estimated sizes were similar to those of a specimen of the Japanese wolf, Canis hodophilax that went extinction in 1905. Based on the results, we applied the super-impose method between the photos of head or whole body and skeletal photos of C. hodophilax specimen. The results showed that the photographed animal approximated to C. hodophilax specimen with appearance, size and shape. It indicated that a canine animal similar to C. hodophilax was present in 1996.

Taxiderm shamanu, in the National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo, Japan (© Momotarou2012/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

I haven't read any reports of putative shamanu survival lately, but in view of this enigmatic little canid's elevated evolutionary significance and recent outing as a prehistoric survivor of sorts, perhaps it's time that I took up its case once more to search for and publicise any new sightings and accounts that may be on record.

So, watch this space!

Shamanu illustration by Kawahara Keiga, produced sometime during 1823-1829 (public domain)

Finally: it is nothing if not ironic that perhaps the best known shamanu illustration may not actually portray a shamanu at all. In 1826, German botanist Philipp Franz von Siebold purchased two living canids. One was a genuine shamanu (and was unequivocally depicted by Carl Hubert de Villeneuve; his depiction of it opens this present ShukerNature article), the other was an adult female specimen of a strain of domestic dog familiar in Japan and referred to variously as the yamainu or mountain dog. He made detailed notes and sketches of the two animals, taking pains to delineate their morphological differences.

Notwithstanding this, however, when Dutch zoologist Coenraad Jacob Temminck subsequently consulted Siebold's notes while preparing his own documentation of the shamanu for his great work Fauna Japonica (1833), he somehow confused the two different canids, ultimately synonymising them as one and the same form. Consequently, there has been much controversy and conjecture ever since as to whether the shamanu illustration in his work does indeed depict a shamanu or whether it is instead based upon the mountain dog. Nevertheless, this image has been reproduced and presented as a bona fide shamanu representation in many later publications, making it the most (in)famous shamanu picture ever.

Illustration of a possible shamanu but more probably just a yamainu or mountain dog, in Dutch zoologist Coenraad Jacob Temminck's Fauna Japonica, 1833 (public domain)

Tuesday, 25 September 2018


Geoffroy's cat – the doubly-deceiving feline bête noire of British zoologist John Edward Gray; illustration from Alcide Dessalines d'Orbigny's Voyage dans l'Amérique Méridionale, published in 1847 (public domain)

During the course of zoological history, mistakes have sometimes been made when recording the provenance of an animal specimen, often resulting in all manner of confusion and controversy. Fortunately, the mistake is generally nothing more dramatic than a wrongly-noted locality within a given country, or, more rarely, a wrongly-ascribed country. It is quite exceptional, however, for a specimen to be assigned to entirely the wrong continent. Nevertheless, this monumental error happened with both of the short-lived felid species documented here - and, to make matters even worse, it was the same well-respected zoologist who was responsible for having done so in each case!

On 11 April 1867, within a Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London paper, eminent British zoologist Dr John Edward Gray formally described and named several new species of felid, based upon specimens in the collection of the British Museum. One of these new species was Felis pardinoides, whose type specimen was the preserved skin and skull of a juvenile individual that had been received by the British Museum from the Zoological Society's own museum. According to its provenance label, it had been obtained in India by a Captain Innes. A small spotted cat, its head and body length was 19 inches, and its tail length was 9 inches.

This present ShukerNature blog article's principal personae dramatis - from left to right: John Edward Gray, Daniel G. Elliot, Edward Blyth, Philip L. Sclater (public domain)

Everything seemed perfectly straightforward and unremarkable concerning F. pardinoides – until 20 February 1872, that is, when the following revealing response to Gray's description, penned by fellow zoologist and cat specialist Daniel G. Elliot, was received by the PZSL and duly published:

In the 'Proceedings' of this Society for 1867, p. 400, Dr. Gray has described a Cat as Felis pardinoides, giving as its habitat India. The typical [i.e. type] specimen is evidently not an adult animal; and from its resemblance to F. geoffroyi [Geoffroy's cat, nowadays known scientifically as Leopardus geoffroyi], I felt certain, while examining it, that its habitat was not correctly given. During my late visit to Leyden I found another specimen of a Cat, almost precisely similar to Dr. Gray's type, marked as F. geoffroyi, and stated to have been brought from Patagonia, the native country of that species. This Leyden specimen (which is also that of a young animal) by the kindness of Prof. Schlegel I have been enabled to remove to London, and thus to identify with the so-called F. pardinoides. The young F. geoffroyi appears to differ from the adult in the larger size and somewhat different arrangement of the spots, those upon the sides, shoulder, and rump being, as Dr. Gray describes them, "varied with grey hairs in the centre, making them appear somewhat as if they were formed of a ring of smaller black spots." But the general colours of the animal, with its lengthened annulated tail, is precisely that of typical F. geoffroyi.

Suddenly, India's F. pardinoides had seemingly metamorphosed into the already-described F. geoffroyi from Patagonia – in South America! Gray, however, did not agree with Elliot's conclusion; and in a concise response published in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History for 1874, he sought to distinguish various morphological and cranial differences between his species and Geoffroy's cat.

Geoffroy's cat (© Daf-de/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.5 licence)

Clearly, Elliot's radical re-identification would only be conclusively accepted if a more mature F. geoffroyi specimen that was visibly conspecific with the lone F. pardinoides example were to be found and documented accordingly. Shortly after Gray's response was published, however, this is precisely what happened, and by none other than Gray himself, as he revealed in a second response published within a later issue of the very same journal for 1874:

The Bogotá Cat (Felis pardinoides, Gray).

In the 'Annals' for 1874, xiii, p. 51, I gave the reasons for differing from Mr. Elliot's opinion that the cat I named Felis pardinoides in the British Museum, received from the Zoological Society as coming from India, was the same as Felis Geoffroyi [sic]. At the same time I observed, "the Indian habitat has not been confirmed; and the species has a very South-American aspect."

The British Museum has received, from Mr. Edward Gerrard, a cat from Bogotá that I have no doubt is the same species as the typical specimen of Felis pardinoides; but it differs from it in being a nearly adult specimen, as is proved by the examination of the skull; and it has a more fulvous tint, and the fur is softer; but this may only depend upon the age and season in which it was killed.

Thus ended the odd little history of India's non-existent F. pardinoides. What makes this such an ironic (and embarrassing) episode for Gray, however, is that he had already made an almost identical error only a short time earlier with another wrongly-labelled felid specimen, giving rise to the equally ephemeral species Pardalina warwickii - Warwick's cat.

Warwick's cat, illustrated by Joseph Wolf in 1867 (public domain)

As already noted, Felis pardinoides was one of several new cat species formally described and named by Gray in his PZSL paper of 11 April 1867. Another one (the very last in it, in fact) was Pardalina warwickii. In addition to his own short verbal description of this species' type specimen, Gray included the magnificent colour plate reproduced here, reconstructing its likely appearance when alive, and painted by celebrated wildlife artist Joseph Wolf. As for the specimen itself, Gray preceded his description of it with the following explanatory account of its mysterious history:

There is in the British Museum a Cat that was formerly alive in the Surrey Zoological Gardens, and was there called the Himalayan Cat, and which, in the 'List of Mammalia in the British Museum,' published in 1842, I called Leopardus himalayanus. This animal is figured, from the specimen at the Surrey Zoological Gardens, in Jardine's 'Naturalist's Library' as Felis himalayanus, Warwick. The figure is by no means a characteristic one. The Cat has not been brought from Himalaya by any of the numerous sportsmen and collectors that have searched that country. It is not known to Mr. Blyth [prominent 19th-Century zoologist Edward Blyth], nor to any other Indian zoologist to whom I have shown it; indeed Mr. Blyth states that he believes it to be a South American Cat.

The examination of the skull shows that it forms a group by itself; and in my paper, read at the last Meeting but one, I formed for it a genus under the name of Pardalina.

This enigmatic specimen, of supposed Himalayan provenance, had been obtained by a Mr Warwick, whom Gray duly honoured by naming its new species after him, but nothing more precise regarding its early history seems to be on record.

Two typical, golden-furred specimens (top and bottom left) of the African golden cat plus a specimen of this same species' grey-furred 'silver cat' morph (bottom right) (public domain)

Conversely, several years before Gray's 1867 PZSL paper had even been published, Warwick's cat had already begun inciting controversy regarding its taxonomic identity. In a PZSL paper of 1863, English zoologist Edward Blyth had deemed it possible that this unusual specimen was actually a silver cat Felis celidogaster – a species that he in turn considered to be conspecific with the fishing cat Felis viverrina. (In reality, the silver cat was subsequently shown to be nothing more than a colour morph of the African golden cat Caracal aurata.)

In stark contrast, Gray strongly disagreed with Blyth's classification of Warwick's cat, noting in his own PZSL paper of 1867 that its skull was very different from that of the fishing cat. In particular, he stressed the length of its brain case, the shortness of its face, and the convexity of its brow. As with F. pardinoides, however, it was not long after that latter paper had been published before the perplexing Pardalina was put under independent scrutiny, and Gray's statements were found to be very wanting in both the taxonomic and the zoogeographical departments.

Fishing cat (© Viksah626/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

In 1870, the Zoological Society's secretary, zoologist Philip L. Sclater, published a paper in its Proceedings that revealed the origin of Warwick's cat to have been far removed indeed from the Himalayas. In fact, it had been purchased alive from a Captain Hairby in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and had originated either in Paraguay or in Patagonia! Once again, a supposed Asian cat had been shown to be of South American extraction – but that was not the end of the unfortunate parallels in erroneous documentation between Warwick's cat and F. pardinoides, because studies of the former's type specimen exposed it to be none other than another specimen of Geoffroy's cat!

Once again, therefore, in 1874, and in the very same volume of the very same journal in which he had recanted his opinion concerning the identity of F. pardinoides, Gray now did the same regarding Pardalina warwickii – reprising in his own defence his earlier statements concerning the absence of reports of such a cat in the Himalayan region and the craniological reasons why he deemed the specimen distinct enough to warrant its own genus. He also explained that because it was supposedly a Himalayan cat, he had never thought to compare it with specimens of Geoffroy's cat or, indeed, of any other South American felid.

Geoffroy's cat (© Greg Hume/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

But where did the notion come from that it had originated in the Himalayas anyway? This was Gray's answer:

When this cat was alive it was just the time that we began to receive fine skins of animals from the Himalayas; and there was an inclination of the dealers to give Himalaya as the habitat of animals of which they did not know whence they came, as animals from that country were interesting and fetched a good price...it has been suggested by Mr. Blyth and others that it may be an inhabitant of South America; but I have not seen any specimens from there.

Poor Dr Gray – whereas some people superstitiously believe it to be black cats or white cats that bring bad luck, in his case it was most definitely Geoffroy's cat!

Exquisite painting from 1883, depicting coat pattern variation in Geoffroy's cat (public domain)

Indeed, it is fortunate that Oscar Wilde's formidable literary creation, Lady Bracknell, was both fictitious and unassociated with feline systematics – otherwise, in her usual terrifyingly acerbic manner, she might well have observed: "To misplace one cat may be regarded as a misfortunate. To misplace two looks like carelessness."!!

This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted from my book Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery.