Dr KARL SHUKER

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

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my ShukerNature blog's articles (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my published books (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my Eclectarium blog's articles (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my Starsteeds blog's poetry and other lyrical writings (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

Search This Blog

PLEASE COME IN, I'VE BEEN EXPECTING YOU...

PLEASE COME IN, I'VE BEEN EXPECTING YOU...
WELCOME TO SHUKERNATURE - ENJOY YOUR VISIT - BEWARE OF THE RAPTOR!

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

MADAGASCAN MYSTERY CATS - WITH FELINE FELICITATIONS FROM THE FITOATY AND THE FOSSA


Depiction of the fitoaty (© Tim Morris)

South-east of the African mainland lies the island of Madagascar - a zoological time-capsule. For it is the home of a vast variety of creatures extinct elsewhere or totally unique - a wonderland of lemurs and tenrecs, falanoucs and vanga-shrikes. It has no native canids or felids, instead the euplerids, i.e. Malagasy civets and mongooses, reign supreme here.

Among this heterogeneous assemblage, the largest species - and the creature that assumes on Madagascar the ecological roles occupied elsewhere by sizeable felid species - is the fossa Cryptoprocta ferox (not to be confused with the Madagascan civet or fanaloka, whose scientific name is Fossa fossa). Despite its euplerid affinities, the puma-sized fossa is strikingly cat-like in appearance (indeed, in earlier ages several zoologists classified it as an aberrant felid), and is especially comparable to the Neotropical jaguarundi.

Ultra-realistic fossa illustration produced some time between 1700 and 1880 (public domain)

However, Madagascar may also possess some uncategorised true felids. In a report published by the Chasseur Français in October 1939, Paul Cazard recalled that whilst in Madagascar he had been informed by civil engineer Mr Belime that native tales originating from areas of the island still unexplored by Westerners told of giant lions that lived in caves, and which ravaged the island's other fauna as well as the inhabitants of these regions' native villages.

Cazard contemplated whether these lions of the rocks could possibly be living sabre-tooths, and wondered if it would be feasible for an expedition to be mounted to seek out these mighty beasts. Feasible or not, no such expedition has set out on their trail to date, so their identity remains unknown. Needless to say, zoogeographically-speaking it would be a great jolt to scientific conceptions if a bona fide cat form were to be discovered here. Yet it would certainly not be without precedent, as the discovery of so many hitherto unknown and highly unexpected animals within the 20th and 21st Centuries can readily verify.

Could Madagascar's mystifying 'lions of the rocks' be living sabre-tooths? (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Domestic cats Felis catus had been introduced into Madagascar by the 17th Century, and many have since run wild, yielding widely-distributed feral populations across this extremely large island. However, in a cz@yahoogroups.com posting of 19 May 2003, I recalled that back in 1967, within his book The Life, History, and Magic of the Cat, Fernand Mery had included the following tantalising snippet concerning a felid specimen procured in Madagascar that may constitute something much more significant than a mere feral domestic:

The Malagasy Academy possesses a specimen of a magnificent tabby cat, larger than a domestic cat. Details of its capture on Madagascar are uncertain, but of interest is that in the local Malagasy language, pisu = domestic cat, with kary used to denote 'wild cats', even though wildcats do not officially exist on the island.

Mery considered that this lent support for the probable existence of wildcats on Madagascar.  Interestingly, in a Fortean Times letter (November 2003), Dr Geoff Hosey from the Bolton Institute in Manchester, England, noted that Mery's above-quoted information from his book appeared to have been lifted almost verbatim from an earlier work, Raymond Decary's book La Faune Malgache (1950). Decary had also alluded to wildcats appearing in various Malagasy folktales, thereby providing further evidence that such cats do indeed exist in Madagascar. Moreover, Dr Hosey included in his published FT letter a very intriguing colour photograph snapped by him in August 1998 of a cat curled up asleep that may have been merely a feral domestic cat but which in his opinion looked very like an African wildcat Felis lybica. The cat was in an unlabelled cage at Parc Tsimbazaza, the zoo that occupies the grounds of the old Academie Malgache. Unfortunately, however, due to its curled-up position, the cat presented insufficient morphological details for a precise identification of it to be made from the photo alone.

My cz@yahoogroups.com posting had been in response to a previous one that same day by British palaeontologist Dr Darren Naish, who, a little earlier in May 2003, had unexpectedly obtained some most interesting information while watching a television programme - information that bestowed added significance upon Mery's statement.

Do African wildcats exist in Madagascar? (copyright-free/Wikipedia)

The programme was a documentary in National Geographic's 'Out There' series, during which, while conducting some studies in northwestern Madagascar's Ankarafantsika National Park, Tennessee University fossa researcher Luke Dollar trapped what looked like a wildcat - the second such creature that he had caught there. Moreover, instead of resembling a feral domestic cat, it seemed exactly like the African wildcat Felis lybica. In the programme, Dollar hinted that it may be either a valid new record for Madagascar, or even a bona fide new species. A blood sample from this intriguing specimen, a pregnant juvenile, was taken for examination - how remarkable it would be if Mery's belief in Madagascan wildcats had finally been justified. Sadly, however, although I emailed Dollar concerning it in February 2012, I never received any response from him, so I have no idea whether any information of significance was obtained from this sample (but as I have not uncovered online or elsewhere any follow-up details regarding it, I am assuming that nothing of note was obtained).

Meanwhile, just one day ago (10 March 2020) an article by Joshua Sokol appeared in the journal Science that finally revealed  the precise nature and origin of Madagascar's tabby-striped feral domestic cats. It announced that a team of researchers including Missouri University cat genomics expert Dr Leslie Lyons had been conducting comparative DNA analyses using blood samples from specimens of these cats and from other domestics around the globe, which revealed the closest match with the Madagascan ferals to be domestics from Arabian Sea locales. Consequently, the team proposes that perhaps as far back in time as 1000 years ago, some such Arabian domestics had made their way to Madagascar by stowing away on Arab trade ships, then disembarking onto the island and over time establishing thriving populations here. My thanks to Robert Lohman for kindly bringing this significant article to my attention.

Nor does the fascinating saga of mystery felids on Madagascar end there, as my continuing researches have duly discovered. In November 2013, a remarkable paper authored by Massachusetts University anthropologist Dr Cortni Borgerson was published in the journal Madagascar Conservation and Development, concerning a Madagascan mystery beast hitherto unknown to me. It was referred to locally as the fitoaty, and native descriptions of it given to Borgerson and her assistants suggested a gracile, entirely black-furred felid (as opposed to any form of euplerid), but larger and leaner than feral domestics and confined to the rainforests of northeastern Madagascar's little-studied Masoala peninsula.

Moreover, during 2011 Borgerson was fortunate enough to observe a fitoaty personally, when she saw what she described in her paper as "a medium-sized melanistic car­nivoran crossing a village trail just outside the Masoala National Park boundary. The sighting occurred at approximately 15:00h, in a transitional area of primary and secondary forest". She tentatively classified the fitoaty as Felis sp., and stated that trapping and genetic testing of this unidentified felid was needed in order to assess adequately its taxonomic identity, distribution range, and potential impact upon local ecosystems.

Tim Morris's fitoaty illustration again (© Tim Morris)

In December 2015, a second paper concerning the fitoaty appeared, authored by a seven-strong team of researchers (including two from Madagascar's Wildlife Conservation Society), and published in the Journal of Mammalogy. It presented not only the first population assessment of the fitoaty, or black forest cat as it was now being referred to colloquially, but also a series of excellent full-colour and black-and-white photographs of fitoaty specimens obtained via camera-trapping methods (click here to view a selection of these photos).

Interestingly, the team discovered that there was minimal interaction between the fitosty and feral domestics in the wild. Nevertheless, based upon their field research they suggested that this mystifying melanistic was "a phenotypically-different form of the feral cat [rather than constituting either an African wildcat or any other felid species, known or unknown], but additional research is needed". In view of the successful new findings concerning the genetic identity and origin of Madagascar's typical feral domestics, I now look forward to equivalent fitoaty studies, to determine conclusively the precise taxonomic and genetic nature of this unexpected 'new' member of Madagascar's mammalian fauna.

Incidentally, just in case you are wondering, the fitoaty's name is Malagasy for 'seven livers', which stems from a somewhat strange native belief concerning this animal's internal anatomy. Moreover, its flesh is claimed by locals to be poisonous, and therefore is never eaten by them.

Finally: please click here to read about another feline mystery beast from Madagascar – the antamba, believed by some to be a surviving representative of the officially-extinct giant fossa Cryptoprocta spelea, estimated from subfossil remains to have been twice the size of the modern-day fossa. Also of interest is that Madagascan native people across the island speak not only of the normal, reddish-brown fossa, which they refer to as the fosa mena ('red fossa'), but also of a larger, all-black version known to them as the fosa mainty ('black fossa'), which has yet to be seen by scientists (initially it was wondered whether the fitoaty was this mysterious melanistic fossa, until photographic evidence confirmed that the fitoaty was a felid, not a fossa).  There is even native talk of a white fossa version, but whether reports of black fossas and white fossas are based upon genuine creatures (respectively melanistic and leucistic specimens, perhaps?) or are merely folkloric creatures remains unclear.

What fossa-formed mysteries still lurk amid the shadows of Madagascar's jungles? (public domain)




Wednesday, 4 March 2020

THE CURIOUS CASE OF JACQUES COUSTEAU'S MISSING SEA MONSTER


Is the sheytan based upon sightings of manta rays? (public domain)

On 29 November 2018, fellow UK cryptozoologist Richard Freeman brought to my attention a most intriguing article (click here to access it), written by Zineb Boujrada and posted earlier that year on Culture Trip's website, concerning a hitherto-obscure East African aquatic cryptid. Djibouti's so-called Island of the Devil (Goubbet Al-Kharab) earns its name from a terrifying sea monster called the sheytan (translated as 'devil') that locals vehemently believe exists in the bay (the Goubbet) surrounding the island.

Making this account especially interesting was its inclusion of what seemed to be a truly extraordinary and very noteworthy claim if true. Namely, that no less eminent a maritime expert than France's internationally famous undersea explorer and diver Jacques Cousteau had not only obtained proof of the sheytan's reality but also "insisted it never be revealed to humanity".

Quoting from Boujrada's Culture Trip article:

According to local newspapers at the time, Cousteau and his team conducted an experiment to explore the depths of the Goubbet by submerging a camel carcass in a cage. To their surprise, as they took it out of the water, they discovered that the cage had been entirely smashed and deformed, resulting in the disappearance of the carcass.

All of this was entirely new to me, so I lost no time in posting links to Boujrada's article on my various Facebook cryptozoology-related groups in the hope of eliciting further information or clarification. Happily, assistance soon came, courtesy of veteran French cryptozoologist Michel Raynal, who duly informed me on 30 November that the local Djibouti newspapers' claims were unfounded rumour, and that in 1971 Cousteau had publicly denied it in one of his own books, Life and Death in a Coral Sea (with Michel kindly sending me a copy of the relevant section from it).

Jacques Cousteau (copyright-free)

As this incident appears never to have attracted specific cryptozoological attention prior to my subsequent documentation of it in my Alien Zoo column for Fortean Times, however, I am presenting herewith Cousteau's own statement as contained in his book:

...we decided to visit the Goubet, a famous gulf of the Red Sea. Before leaving Djibouti that morning, one of our crew had by chance asked a local Arab diver about the Goubet. "Ah, sir," the man had replied, "it is a most extraordinary place. It is bottomless, and it is inhabited by monsters so large that they can drag down lines attached to 200-liter cans. Moreover, in 1963, Commandant Cousteau went there with Fredéric Dumas and his best divers, and they were so terrified by what they saw that they ran away."

Naturally, we were eager to see the place in which, according to local gossip, we had earned so ignominious a reputation. I must report, however, that the Goubet was a disappointment. It is an inland sea or gulf that connects with the Red Sea by a narrow pass in which there is a very strong current, running up to seven knots. The surrounding area is very beautiful, and very wild, being dominated by volcanic mountains bare of foliage and marked in shades of red, yellow, and black.

Once in the Goubet itself, we lowered the diving saucer to a depth of over six hundred feet without catching sight of even a small monster. The divers then suited up and went down also, but they saw nothing more remarkable than some very large sea urchins. There seemed to be very few fish of any kind. It is my guess that the "Goubet monster" of Arab legend was originally a manta ray, seen by some shepherd from a hill top. Manta rays are plentiful in this area, and it must happen occasionally that they wander into the Goubet and – because the inlet is so narrow and because mantas are not the most intelligent of beasts – have trouble finding their way out again.

Consequently, it would seem that either the sheytan is real but remained remarkably well hidden when Cousteau conducted his actual, genuine search for it, or it is indeed just a monstrous local legend. Worth noting, incidentally, is that a commonly-used colloquial name for the giant manta ray Manta birostris is the devil-fish (click here for more details). Alternatively, as this term has also been used in relation to giant squids and octopuses, perhaps if it truly exists the sheytan might be a gargantuan cephalopod, especially as mantas are pelagic creatures, not deepsea ones, whereas giant squids do inhabit deep waters. My thanks to Richard and Michel for alerting and assisting me in my investigation of this curious case.

In view of how the sheytan allegedly inhabits great depths and drags down lines to these depths, if it truly exists might it be some form of giant deepsea octopus? (public domain)




Sunday, 16 February 2020

'BORDER' – A MINI-REVIEW OF A MAJOR MOVIE INSPIRED BY SCANDINAVIAN MYTHOLOGY AND CRYPTOZOOLOGY


Publicity poster for Border, featuring Eva Melander as Tina (© Ali Abbasi/John Ajvide Lindqvist/META Film/Black Spark Film & TV/Karnfilm/TriArt Film – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational and review purposes only)

Last night, I watched a very strange Scandinavian fantasy movie, made in Sweden, but it was strange for all the right reasons. Entitled 'Border', it was directed by Ali Abbasi, produced by META Film/Black Spark Film & TV/Karnfilm, and released by TriArt Film in 2018. I'd wanted to see it for ages, but it only received limited cinema release here in the UK despite being an Academy Award nominee. Happily, however, I recently managed to purchase it on DVD.

Based upon an original short story entitled 'Gräns', written by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote this movie version's screenplay, 'Border' tells the story of a shy Swedish customs/border guard named Tina, whose decidedly homely physical appearance belied her remarkable gift for quite literally sniffing out human emotions, enabling her to detect by olfactory means if a person was feeling guilt, shame, anxiety, or other normally concealed traits. Needless to say, this unusual talent proved very useful in identifying incoming visitors to Sweden who were smuggling contraband or worse.

Always ill at ease with other people, Tina was only truly at peace when alone in the forest, among Nature - until an equally strange and homely-looking man named Vore appeared on the scene, and to whom she was instantly attracted, especially when she discovered that just like her, he bore a mysterious scar at the base of his spine, as if something had been surgically removed, something like a tail...? Those readers of this mini-review who are au fait with Scandinavian mythology and/or manbeast-related cryptozoology will no doubt have already guessed where this plot is going. Suffice it to say that Tina finally learns the shocking truth that although they are humanoid, she and Vore are not human. But more shocks are to come, especially in relation both to a very disturbing investigation that she is involved in as part of her work, and also to her origin.

See the present ShukerNature article's Postscript to read the story of this delightful 'Border'-relevant entity (© Dr Karl Shuker)

This movie at times makes for very dark, bleak, desolate, and quite merciless but also very compelling viewing, its otherworldliness holding my interest and attention at all times, although the penultimate scene, when Tina finally visits the past that had been hidden from her throughout her life is truly heartrending. Having read a great deal on the subject of the entities that Tina and Vore are, I have to say that I strongly suspect that this movie's makers took great liberties when it came to depicting certain aspects relating to their, shall we say, procreative anatomy and behaviour, but perhaps I am simply ill-informed here (if I am, I hope that my Scandinavian friends and colleagues will educate me accordingly!).

Ideally, 'Border' could have benefited from being dubbed into English, but its English subtitles more than adequately sufficed, especially as the acting prowess of its two leading stars (Eva Melander as Tina, Eero Milonoff as Vore) was of such quiet (and occasionally not so quiet) intensity that very often words were not required, their visual strength was more than sufficient to tell the audience all that it needed to know. All in all, 'Border' is quite simply unlike any movie that I have ever seen before, truly bewitching, often disturbing, and ineffably sad, a very unexpected example of humanity's inhumanity to those who are different, for whatever reason. As for anyone who hasn't seen this movie but would like to know the true nature of Tina and Vore, let's just say that those who enjoy insulting, demeaning, and arguing with others on social media provide a major clue, albeit in name only - think about it...

Finally, please click here to view a trailer for 'Border' that is currently accessible on YouTube.

Another publicity poster for Border, featuring Eva Melander as Tina and Eero Milonoff as Vore (© Ali Abbasi/John Ajvide Lindqvist/META Film/Black Spark Film & TV/Karnfilm/TriArt Film – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational and review purposes only)


POSTSCRIPT – CONTAINS 'BORDER' SPOILERS!!
If you don't want to discover what Tina and Vore were in 'Borders', read no further!

About 13 years ago, I was walking round a local car boot sale at the end, while all of the sellers were packing away their unsold wares, ready to go home, when, lying amidst a pile of unsold items discarded by various sellers, and staring up at me disconsolately, was the delightful plush-furred, tufted-tailed, Scandinavian troll pictured in the two photographs included above and below by me in this present ShukerNature article.

I knew full well that, just like all discarded items there, his fate was to be loaded onto a lorry by one of the car boot sale's litter pickers and then tipped onto a fire and burnt. Needless to say, therefore, without further ado I picked him up, and found that he was perfectly clean and intact, but unwanted by his owner and unchosen by any of the buyers at the sale. So I duly took him back home with me. Ever since my rescuing him from his destined fiery fate, he has sat very happily upon a pile of postcards and CDs in my study, surveying his surroundings and clearly very content to be here, just as I am to have been able to save him and add him to my eclectic menagerie.

Don't you just love a happy ending!!

Rescued from a fiery fate! (© Dr Karl Shuker)