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), 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), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), 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.

ShukerNature - http://www.karlshuker.blogspot.com

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

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Sunday, 23 November 2014

GROUSING ABOUT THE RACKELHAHN – A SPECTACULARLY CROSS-TEMPERED CROSSBREED OF THE FEATHERED VARIETY!

19th-Century painting of a male rackelhahn

Whereas mammals on the whole are somewhat conservative as far as interspecific matings in the wild are concerned (all manner of exotic mammalian hybrids have of course been produced by deliberate captive breeding), birds show far less restraint in such matters, yielding all manner of spectacular crossbred creations. Some of these are famous, some are controversial, but all embody a fascinating montage of mixed morphology, yielding curious combinations of features drawn from both of their parental species so that they are at once similar to yet dissimilar from each of them.

One of my favourite examples of an interspecific avian hybrid (indeed, an intergeneric one if its two progenitor species are retained in the separate genera that they were long accorded before more recently being lumped back together within the same single genus) is not particularly well known outside gamebird hunting circles. Yet it is very distinctive in form as well as being quite large (and hence conspicuous) in size, and often uncompromisingly bellicose in behaviour too. Consequently, I felt that it was high time that this noteworthy bird receive some publicity here on ShukerNature. And so, without further ado, I give you…the rackelhahn.

Taxiderm specimen of a male rackelhahn (© Markus Bühler)

Also known as the rackelhane or rackelwild (all three names are apparently of Swedish origin, derived from the word 'rachla' - meaning 'snoring' or 'wheezing' - and refer to the curious pig-like grunting sounds that it is wont to give voice to in addition to combinations of the calls of both parental species), this interesting interspecific results from matings between two very readily-distinguishable species of grouse.

These are the Western capercaillie Tetrao urogallus and the Eurasian black grouse T. (=Lyrurus) tetrix, both of which occur across much of Europe and yield this hybrid throughout the zones of overlap within their respective distribution ranges, especially in Scandinavia. Having said that: because their ranges have become rather fragmented in modern times due to over-hunting, however, these overlap zones have diminished, and rackelhahn occurrence has decreased accordingly. Hence it is much rarer now than was once the case.

Male and female Eurasian black grouse (above) and male and female Western capercaillie (below)

Bearing in mind that the male capercaillie is considerably larger than the female black grouse, thereby making matings between them both difficult and unlikely, most rackelhahn specimens result from the reverse cross, i.e. between male black grouse and female capercaillies. Rackelhahn specimens also occur in regions where the distribution range of the Eurasian black grouse overlaps with that of the black-billed capercaillie T. urogalloides (native to eastern Russia as well as parts of northern Mongolia and China).

Another taxiderm specimen of a male rackelhahn (© Markus Bühler)

 Although long known to European naturalists (it was listed by Linnaeus back in 1758 when he was compiling his binomial system of nomenclature for plant and animal species), the rackelhahn was deemed by some to be a valid species rather than a hybrid, and thus received various binomial names, including Tetrao medius and T. hybridus (though as can be seen, such names clearly reflected the prevailing thought that it represented a form intermediate between the capercaillie and black grouse), but these were soon abandoned when its true, hybrid nature was confirmed by observations of successful matings in the wild between the two species.

Male rackelhahn, engraving in Alfred Brehm's Animal Life, 1882

Male rackelhahn specimens are much more common than females, but both sexes are apparently eager to mate. The first comprehensive description of the male rackelhahn's form was produced by Adolf Bernhard Meyer, who in 1824 also became the first person to describe the female rackelhahn's form – prior to then, there had only been unconfirmed speculations concerning the latter's appearance. Having said that, however, just like many other interspecific hybrids there is some degree of morphological variation between individual rackelhahn specimens, but in general terms they can be described as follows:

The male is intermediate in size between the larger male capercaillie and the smaller male black grouse, and is mostly dark in colour, with brownish-black shoulders and wings, plus deep metallic blue-purple to copper-red sheens upon its head, nape, chest, and sometimes the start of its back too. As in both parental species, it has a white spot upon each shoulder, and some specimens also have white spots upon the upper surface of their tail feathers and/or white tips to their tail feathers' underside. Its eyes' irises are brown, its eyebrow-wattles are bright red, and its beak is blackish-horn in colour. The terminal edge of its tail is semicircular, but sometimes has pronounced curving edges, reminiscent of the male black grouse's famously lyrate tail.

Female rackelhahn (above) and male rackelhahn (below), from Naturgeschichte der Vogel Mitteleuropas by Johann Friedrich Naumann, 1896

Like the male, the female rackelhahn is intermediate in size between the larger female capercaillie and the smaller female black grouse, and can be readily distinguished from both via its blackish-brown plumage, sprinkled with brown, grey, and rust-red. The tail of some specimens has a relatively straight terminal edge like a female capercaillie's tail, whereas in others it is lyrate, like that of a female black grouse.

Male rackelhahn, engraving in Richard Lydekker's The Royal Natural History, 1895

Both the capercaillie and the black grouse exhibit what is known as lekking behaviour. In each species, males congregate together in an aggregation known as a lek, and engage in competitive displays in order to attract females for mating purposes. In areas where male capercaillies have been depleted due to over-hunting, female capercaillies will sometimes enter black grouse leks and mate with these male black grouse, yielding rackelhahn specimens. Sometimes, they will even mate with rackelhahn males, but offspring from these backcrossings have not been verified in the wild, though they have occurred in captivity. Due to the larger size of male capercaillies in relation to rackelhahn males, the latter do not enter capercaillie leks, but display only on the outskirts or margins of such leks.

Conversely, rackelhahn males do sometimes invade black grouse leks, and due to their much larger size and aggressive temperament they have been known to disperse these leks by intimidating and directly attacking, even occasionally killing, some of the male grouse there. They will also kill female black grouse, especially if the latter are indifferent to their advances, showing no inclination to mate with them. Having said that, there are also reports on file of rackelhahn males that have been frightened away by smaller but belligerent male black grouse, so the rackelhahn does not always triumph in such confrontations. Rackelhahn females that have mated with male black grouse have laid eggs, but the hatching of viable offspring from them does not seem to have been confirmed.

A male rackelhahn (© F.C. Robiller/Wikipedia)

A video of a male rackelhahn interloper displaying in a black grouse lek and attacking one of the male black grouse in the lek can be accessed here

An even more pugnacious male rackelhahn can be viewed here fearlessly attacking a hapless cameraman gamely attempting to photograph it!

And here three male rackelhahn specimens can be seen fighting each other in a black grouse lek at Landvik, Grimstad, Norway, on 1 May 1994; a week earlier, this lek had also been visited by a single female capercaillie

Male rackelhahn, taxiderm specimen at the Zoological Institute of the University of Tübingen, Germany (© Markus Bühler)

It has sometimes been said that love is a battleground, and this is certainly true as far as warring, cross-tempered rackelhahn males are concerned!

Male rackelhahn portrayed on a card issued by Suchards Chocolate (© Suchards Chocolate)

Incidentally, the rackelhahn should not be confused with another unusual grouse hybrid, the riporre - which is a hybrid of the Eurasian black grouse and the willow grouse Lagopus lagopus. Here are two riporre specimens from northern Sweden that were documented in 1904 by Dr Einar Lönnberg and had resulted from a successful mating between a male willow grouse and a female black grouse:





Saturday, 22 November 2014

THE MENAGERIE OF MARVELS IS HERE!! – MY TRILOGY OF BOOKS ON EXTRAORDINARY ANIMALS IS NOW COMPLETE


My newly-published, 21st book – The Menagerie of Marvels (© Dr Karl Shuker/CFZ Press)

Until recently, I hadn't fully realised that the vast majority of my 21 published books consist of pairs or trilogies – in most cases, I hadn't planned this, it just seems to have happened.

Thus I have written two books on controversial felids (Mystery Cats of the World and Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery); two on dragons (Dragons: A Natural History and Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture); two specific compilations of articles of mine that originally appeared in the magazines Fate and Fortean Times respectively (From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings and Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo); two non-specific compilations of articles of mine, now updated and expanded but which originally appeared in a range of different magazines (The Beasts That Hide From Man and Mirabilis); two books on general mysteries that were published by Carlton, with the second being a direct sequel to the first (The Unexplained and Mysteries of Planet Earth); and a trilogy on the subject of new and rediscovered animals (The Lost Ark, followed by The New Zoo, and then The Encyclopaedia of New and RediscoveredAnimals).

In addition, there are advanced plans afoot to publish a new, retitled edition of In Search of Prehistoric Survivors; and also an expanded edition of my poetry volume Star Steeds and Other Dreams (as well as a downloadable spoken version of the original edition).

My trilogy of books on the subject of new and rediscovered animals (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Meanwhile, my second trilogy of books is now complete, with the publication of The Menagerie of Marvels, whose subtitle, A Third Compendium of Extraordinary Animals, reveals that it is volume #3 in my series dealing with extraordinary animals from both cryptozoology and mainstream zoology. Its two predecessors were Extraordinary Animals Worldwide and Extraordinary Animals Revisited. But what can you expect to find inside it? Well…

Welcome one and all to my Menagerie of Marvels! Where else would you encounter venomous bis-cobra lizards from India and a never-before-documented flying dragon-lizard from Zimbabwe, minuscule fairy armadillos and clamorous go-away birds, genuine roc feathers and a veritable werewolf paw, whale-headed pseudo-pterodactyls and hammer-headed lightning birds, a park of monsters in Italy and mystery beasts in the Vatican, beech martens in Britain and winged toads in France, an invisible catfish and a dicephalous kestrel, the cryptic comadreja and a controversial Caribbean racoon, reverse mermaids and the music of Ogopogo, Africa's missing marmot and Vespucci's vanished mega-rat, earth hounds, vampire shrews, moonrats, nandinias and Nandi bears, undiscovered ajolotes, bemusing bristle-heads, monumental mammoths, gorilla-sized man-eating baboons and giant rhinoceros-eating terror birds, some fishy lake monsters and duplicitous sea serpents, Rift Valley mystery reptiles, vermiform rock-slicing laser gazers, and so much more too, all within the scenic yet comfortingly-secure confines of a single book?

The Menagerie of Marvels can be purchased on Amazon (click here for direct links to it on the UK and on the USA sites), and there is also a special offer on it if purchased directly from its publisher, CFZ Press (click here). It can also be ordered through all good online and physical bookstores.

So, I hope and trust that you will enjoy your visit to my menagerie, and please do return whenever you wish – its unique collection of extraordinary zoological esoterica and inexplicabilia will always be here to mystify and mesmerise you anew. You have only to step inside...if you dare!

My trilogy of books on extraordinary animals from zoology and cryptozoology (© Dr Karl Shuker)






Friday, 21 November 2014

FLYING TOADS AND FLYING GURNARDS



A flying gurnard, depicted in Marcus Bloch's 12-vol Encyclopedia of Fishes, 1782-95; note its toad-like profile

In my book From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), the flying toad in question that I chronicled was the llamhigyn y dwr or Welsh water leaper. At that time, it was popularly assumed to be an obscure yet bona fide legendary creature from traditional Welsh folklore. However, I subsequently learnt that it was almost certainly a modern-day hoax invented during the early 1800s by an inveterate, infamous spinner of yarns and other tall tales called Han Owen, as exposed by CFZ researcher and native Welshman Oll Lewis.

My Flying Toads book alongside my very own flying toad! (© Dr Karl Shuker)

In later years, conversely, as documented and assessed within an entire chapter devoted to them in my newly-published book The Menagerie of Marvels: A Third Compendium of Extraordinary Animals (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2014), I uncovered and received a number of reports featuring mystifying but seemingly genuine creatures variously likened to winged toads, flying toads, or flying frogs that had been reported from the U.K., France, and the Far East, yet which were decidedly different from the famous flying or (more accurately) gliding frogs Rhacophorus spp. of southeast Asia (which are wingless but after leaping from trees can glide through the air for short periods by virtue of their toes' enlarged interdigital webbing membranes acting as mini-parachutes).

A real-life flying frog in gliding mode, as depicted on the cover of the Czech edition of my book From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (© Dr Karl Shuker)

So bizarre in form are these creatures that they remain unidentified, decades or even centuries after they were first reported. To read about them, check out my new book here

My Balinese flying toad, carved from wood and brightly painted (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Just a few days after I sent my book's final version to the publishers and thence to the printers for publication, I received from English bibliographical crypto-sleuth Richard Muirhead (thanks, Richard!) a fascinating newspaper report concerning what was described in it as a flying toad, but this time from the USA. Sadly, the downside was that it was too late for me to include this report in my book, but the upside was that after reading it I felt confident that unlike those in my book, this was one flying toad whose identity I could definitely lay bare.

Here is the text (there were no images) of the report in question, which had appeared on 28 August 1869 in an English newspaper called the Grantham Journal:

"An American paper reports the capture of a flying toad at Cape Henry [on Virginia's Atlantic shore] a few days ago, and says it is now in Washington. It is of most singular conformation and of beautiful variated hues, measuring about six inches in length, with a perfectly flat, bony back, eyes wide spaced and in the centre of a…mouth, and fins as large as wings about the centre of the body on each side."

The reference to the specimen being "now in Washington" suggests that following its capture it was sent to the Smithsonian Institution, so that would seem to be the most promising place to contact in the hope of uncovering further information concerning this strange creature. Having said that, however, I feel sure that we can ascertain its identity with a high degree of probability just from the report alone. For although the above account may sound truly bizarre, it is in fact an accurate description of an extremely distinctive and quite spectacular species of small marine fish – Dactylopterus volitans, the so-called flying gurnard.

Atlantic flying gurnard Dactylopterus volitans with its beautiful wing-like pectoral fins outstretched (© Beckmannjan/Wikipedia GFDL)

Flying gurnards, of which there are several species, are exceptionally difficult to classify. Measuring up to 1 ft long, the Atlantic flying gurnard Dactylopterus volitans (whose distribution along the USA's eastern coast includes Virginia, where the so-called flying toad was captured) and the comparably-sized starry flying gurnard Dactyloptena (=Daicocus) peterseni from the Indo-Pacific are among the most familiar representatives of these curious fishes. Over the course of time, they have been variously categorised with the true gurnards, the sea-robins, and the sea-horses, but are nowadays generally housed in their own suborder within the taxonomic order Scorpaeniformes, or even within an order entirely to themselves. Apart from Dactylopterus volitans, flying gurnards are mostly of Indo-Pacific distribution, and are benthic (bottom-dwelling) species.

Note the unquestionably toad-like appearance of the flying gurnard's head and face (© Marco Chang/Flickr)

Superficially similar to true gurnards but distinguished from them anatomically by subtle differences in the arrangement of their head bones and the spines of their pectoral fins, flying gurnards are characterised by their large, bulky heads encased in hard bone and surprisingly toad-like in appearance when viewed both in profile and face-on; their brightly-coloured, box-shaped bodies, dappled with multi-hued spots; and, above all else, by the enormously enlarged pectoral fins of the adults, expanded like giant, heavily-ribbed fans or paired wings.

Compare this description with that of the 'flying toad' of Cape Henry and it seems evident that they are referring to one and the same creature.

But this is not the only mystery of natural history to feature the flying gurnards. Even more perplexing is whether, in spite of their longstanding 'flying' epithet, these wing-finned fishes ever actually do become airborne.

Flying gurnards, depicted airborne in a chromolithograph from 1893 – but can they really glide through the air?

Back in 1991, I investigated this curious riddle in the first of my trilogy of extraordinary animals books – Extraordinary Animals Worldwide; and returned to it 16 years later in my trilogy's second book – Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007). Here is what I wrote and revealed in that latter book:

Records dating back as far as Greek and Roman times tell of how these attractive fishes are able to launch themselves out of the water and glide over the surface for a notable distance, just like the better known ‘flying fishes’ (Exocoetus spp.), before plunging back down into the sea again, and even compared their gliding with that of swallows. According to early authorities such as Salvianus, Belon, and Rondelet, the reason for this behaviour was to escape predators in the water (even though by leaping out of it they surely exposed themselves to the danger of being swooped upon by gulls and other seabirds).

A true flying fish taking off (public domain)

Yet whatever the reason for gliding, for a long time there seemed no reason to doubt that they did glide. There are numerous reports on record from schooners and other ocean-going vessels, recounting the impressive sight of whole schools of these colourful sea creatures suddenly breaking through the surface of the sea and gliding for up to 300 ft or more on their varicoloured outstretched pectorals, before sinking back beneath the waves, only to be replaced by a second school, and then by a third, and so on, in a breathtaking display of piscean aerobatics.

One of the chief reasons for subsequent scepticism arose from a grave error by naturalist H.N. Moseley and fellow researchers aboard the late 19th Century research vessel Challenger. Their reports testified to the frequent occurrence of schools of flying gurnards rising up out of the water and gliding past on wing-like pectorals; tragically, however, it was later shown that they had misidentified these fishes. Instead of flying gurnards, they had been the true Exocoetus flying fishes! Naturally, this did not help the flying gurnard’s case. Since then, the general consensus has been that flying gurnards are too heavy and cumbersome even to lift themselves up out of the water, much less to soar above it. Not everyone, however, is convinced by this.

Drawing of an Oriental flying gurnard Dactyloptena orientalis (public domain)

During communications with distinguished ichthyologist Dr Humphrey Greenwood, I learnt that he once saw a single flying gurnard (probably a Dactyloptena orientalis) glide up out of the disturbed waters at the bows of a small tug moving slowly in shallow water (about 10 ft deep) off the Indo-Pacific island of Inhaca, in Maputo Bay. Dr Greenwood stressed that when the fish emerged, it did become airborne, and that its passage through the air seemed to be supported by its spread pectoral fins (spanning roughly 8 in). The movement genuinely appeared to be a controlled glide, tracing more of a gentle parabola than the sharp, uncontrolled, haphazard leap out of and back into the water that many authorities consider to be the very most that could be expected of such fishes, especially benthic types like the flying gurnards. Greenwood believes that the reason for his fish’s uncharacteristic occurrence in shallow water was most likely disturbance by the noisy, water-displacing passage of the tug, the fish ascending to the sea’s surface as an escape response.

Correspondingly, it seems reasonable to assume that although the flying gurnards’ lifestyle is one that does not normally involve gliding, their pectoral fins can sustain it if some exceptional circumstance should arise to warrant such activity. Yet until precisely monitored (preferably filmed) observations of flying gurnards engaged in purposeful gliding are (if ever) obtained, it is likely that their aerial capability will continue to be dismissed as (in every sense of the expression) a pure flight of fancy.

A flying toad of the photoshopped variety!

For more cases and information concerning supposed winged toads and other alleged amphibians of the aerial variety, and to complete your extraordinary animals trilogy, be sure to check out my newly-published book The Menagerie of Marvels: A Third Compendium of Extraordinary Animals.






Wednesday, 12 November 2014

THE BEAST OF BUDERIM - IS AUSTRALIAN CRYPTOZOOLOGY'S STAR IN STRIPES A MAINLAND THYLACINE?

Thylacine print from 1919

Here is the first article that I ever wrote on the subject of possible thylacine survival on mainland Australia, which was published in the May 1996 issue of the now long-defunct British magazine Wild About Animals, but has never been reprinted anywhere since then – until now, in this ShukerNature exclusive:


During the mid-1990s, the Internet was awash with fascinating reports concerning the Beast of Buderim - an unidentified creature reported from Buderim (a mountainous Sunshine Coast region) in Queensland, mainland Australia, which bears an uncanny resemblance to an animal that supposedly died out here more than 2000 years ago.

Thylacine illustration from Gerald Krefft's The Mammals of Australia (1871)

Take, for example, the sighting made in March 1995 by Buderim dentist Dr Lance Mesh, who spied a mysterious creature on the fringe of an expanse of rainforest while driving near his home. According to his description, it was: "...goldy, brindly in colour, had a doggish shape and a prominent bump on its head above its eyes". Its most striking feature, however, were the black stripes across its back - "I could not take my eyes off them", said Mesh.

One of several Beast of Buderim articles from Brisbane's Sunday Mail newspaper (click it to enlarge it for reading) (© Sunday Mail, Brisbane)

On 8 August, a much more dramatic incident took place, featuring a very similar animal but this time in the vicinity of Bundaberg. Roy Swaby was driving along the main road when suddenly a full-grown male grey kangaroo bounded in front of his vehicle, forcing him to brake heavily in order to avoid hitting it. The kangaroo was evidently fleeing in terror from something - and a few moments later, Swaby discovered what it was:

"This incredible sandy-coloured striped animal leapt out from the side of the road a full fifteen feet and into the glare of my 100-watt halogen spots and four headlights. It stopped on the road, turned to look at me and fell back on to its huge hindquarters, its large green-yellow eyes glowing in the light, and then it opened its jaws and snarled at me. I have never seen anything like it. The white teeth were large and the jaws like a crocodile, like a mantrap. It took two steps and then suddenly crouched and sprang again, 15-20 feet, this time into the scrub...The animal was 4-5 feet long and its huge tail was another 2-3 feet. The stripes started halfway down its back. I thought it was like someone had cut a dingo in half and a 'roo in half and joined them together...On the Thursday following [i.e. 10 August] I went to Bundaberg to try to check in the library what it was I'd seen and I found a lithograph of a Tasmanian tiger. There is absolutely no doubt that is what I saw."

Artist's impression of the Beast of Buderim (© Sunday Mail, Brisbane)

Just like 'zebra wolf' and 'Tasmanian wolf', 'Tasmanian tiger' is one of several colloquial names for Australia's most spectacular species of carnivorous marsupial - Thylacinus cynocephalus, the thylacine - which makes it all the more tragic that this remarkable creature is 'officially' extinct. Closely resembling a golden-brown wolf or large dog, but patterned across the rear portion of its back and tail with black stripes, on mainland Australia the thylacine suffered greatly from competition with the dingo, introduced by man, and is believed to have died out here over two millennia ago. On Tasmania, however, it survived until as recently as 1936, when the last fully-confirmed specimen died in Hobart Zoo.

Taxiderm specimen of a thylacine (© Markus Bühler)

Nevertheless, numerous reports describing thylacine-like beasts have come from Tasmania since then, and it does seem possible that a small population may have survived among some of this island's wilder, less-explored regions. On the mainland, conversely, such survival would seem far less plausible - were it not for such impressive reports as those given here, and many others like them. What makes them so convincing is that their descriptions contain tell-tale thylacine features that readily discount normal dogs as likely identities.

Photograph of a thylacine revealing its jaws' exceptional gape (public domain)

Although, in evolutionary terms, the thylacine is the marsupials' answer to the wolf, its ancestry is totally separate from that of true wolves and dogs. Hence it exhibits several significant differences. Most noticeable of these are its stripes, and also its jaws. Thylacines could open their mouths to a much wider extent than wolves, yielding an incredible 120° gape - which would certainly explain's Swaby's comparison of his mystery beast's jaws with those of a crocodile. Equally unexpected was the thylacine's ability to hop on its hind legs like a kangaroo - but corresponding perfectly with Swaby's description of his beast as half-dingo, half-kangaroo. Another thylacine idiosyncrasy was a bump above its eyes - matching the account given by Dr Mesh. Also its long tail was very stiff, far less flexible than a wolf's - and several reports of thylacine-like beasts specifically refer to a stiff, rod-like tail.

Captive thylacine in kangaroo-like pose (public domain)

Time and again, Queensland and other mainland eyewitnesses have selected the thylacine as the species most similar in appearance and behaviour to the striped canine mystery beasts that they have seen - but there is an intriguing twist to this tale of would-be resurrection. The aboriginal people have their own native names for all of Australia's known modern-day animals - but they do not appear to have any for the thylacine lookalikes. Yet if these really were native mainland thylacines, surely they would have their own aboriginal names?

There is, however, one further idea to consider in relation to this apparent anomaly. Perhaps they are genuine thylacines, but not native mainland specimens. When still common in Tasmania, thylacines were imported onto the mainland as exhibits and even as exotic pets. Did some of these escape and establish populations in the wild here? If so, this could uniquely explain not only the current spate of claimed thylacine sightings but also the lack of any native Aboriginal name for them.

Thylacines, Henry Constantine Richter, 1845


POSTSCRIPT

Since writing the above article, I have uncovered one possible mainland aboriginal name (albeit not originating from Queensland) for the thylacine, which I have documented as follows in my book Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008):

Another dog of the Dreamtime is the marrukurii, which, according to aboriginal traditions prevalent in the vicinity of South Australia's Lake Callabonna, resembled a dog in outline, but was brindled with many stripes. They were believed to be dangerous, especially to human children, carrying away any that they could find to their own special camp at night, where they would savagely devour them. When questioned, the native Australians denied that the marrukurii were either domestic dogs or dingoes. Is it possible, therefore, particularly in view of their brindled appearance, that these Dreamtime beasts were actually based upon memories of the striped Tasmanian wolf or thylacine Thylacinus cynocephalus? After all, this famous dog-like marsupial did not die out on the Australian mainland until about 2300 years ago.

Name considerations aside, however, is the Beast of Buderim still being reported today? If so, I'd greatly welcome any information that ShukerNature readers can post here – thanks!






Saturday, 8 November 2014

AN INTERVIEW WITH PROF. ROY P. MACKAL ON CRYPTOZOOLOGY - FROM THE SHUKERNATURE ARCHIVES


Prof. Roy P. Mackal (1925-2013) (© Roy P. Mackal)

Back in 1998, I prepared and conducted an interview with esteemed American cryptozoologist Prof. Roy P. Mackal (who was also a well-respected, much-published biochemist at the University of Chicago during his professional scientific career). This was then published in the British partwork magazine The X Factor, which was devoted to mysteries (including cryptozoological ones) and the unexplained (and was no relation, incidentally, to the later TV pop star talent show of the same title!). Sadly, Roy, who was also a personal friend of mine and had kindly written the foreword to my book In Search of Prehistoric Survivors, passed away in September 2013.

My X Factor interview with Roy enabled him to provide his own personal insights into some of the many cryptozoological researches that he had conducted down through the years, and thus made fascinating reading. Consequently, as The X Factor was not readily available outside the UK during its run, I am reprinting it here now as a ShukerNature exclusive.

I also offer it as my personal tribute to someone who was both a greatly-valued friend and a leading, highly-influential figure in the field of cryptozoology who will continue to be so for as long as there are cryptids out there still awaiting discovery. Thank you, Roy, for inspiring me and so many others like me to search for hidden animals, both in the field and in the archives. May we be worthy of you.


MY X-FACTOR INTERVIEW WITH PROF. ROY P. MACKAL:

Now retired from the University of Chicago after a lifetime of internationally-acclaimed research in the fields of biochemistry and molecular biology, Professor Roy P. Mackal is also the world's leading field cryptozoologist, and has investigated many classic mystery beasts over the years. He has, for instance, performed a biochemical examination of preserved tissue samples from a supposed gigantic octopus washed ashore on a Florida beach in 1896, and during the 1980s he famously led two expeditions into the People's Republic of the Congo in search of a putative living dinosaur known locally as the mokele-mbembe. He has also been involved with various research projects conducted at Loch Ness, and even experienced a close encounter with a mysterious flippered creature that briefly appeared above the water near his boat. In Namibia he has investigated reports of pterodactyl-like 'flying snakes'; and during the early 1990s he acted as scientific advisor to a Japanese TV crew who filmed a controversial lake monster called the migo in Lake Dakataua, on the island of New Britain, near New Guinea.

Vice-President of the International Society of Cryptozoology and also the author of three well-respected books on cryptozoology, Professor Mackal took time out recently to chat with The X Factor concerning his longstanding involvements, interests, and thoughts on the ever-intriguing subject of mystery beasts.

Q1: As a professional biochemist, what originally attracted you to cryptozoology?
A1: I was always interested in new species of animals, zoology being my second love. My reading of The Lungfish and the Unicorn, Dragons In Amber, and other pioneering cryptozoology-oriented books by self-dubbed 'romantic zoologist' Willy Ley in the 1950s played a major role in fanning my interest. My first serious cryptozoological investigation began in 1965, at Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands, during the golden years of the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau.

One of Willy Ley's most famous books with cryptozoological content (© Willy Ley/Viking Press)

Q2: Assuming that the mokele-mbembe does exist and is indeed a living dinosaur, why did early Western explorers and other travellers never bring back any physical remains of this very large mystery beast for scientific study?
A2: Although there were efforts by people like the famous animal collector Carl Hagenbeck and others to obtain hard evidence for the mokele-mbembe, the circumstances of the difficult, disease-ridden Congolese swamps produced no results to speak of. The main problem is that the area is so formidable and is so large - approximately 55,000 square miles of unexplored jungle swamp in the Likouala region where the creature is reported - that it takes a great deal of time and effort to mount an expedition. Furthermore, one must remain in the area for long periods of time, which is extremely difficult, in order to obtain any information about these animals, which are apparently quite rare.

Roy's famous book documenting his searches for the Congolese mokele-mbembe, published in 1987 (© Prof. Roy P. Mackal/E.J. Brill)

Q3: Since first spying it in 1994, your opinion has changed concerning the likely identity of the migo, the monster of Laka Dakataua in New Britain. Why is this, and what do you now believe the migo to be?
A3: Our original video recordings of the migo clearly established that there were animals, or animal, at least 50 ft or about 14 m in overall length present in the lake from time to time. Lake Dakataua is a freshwater lake, completely isolated from the sea by only 400-500 ft. It is freshwater without any fish in it, due primarily to the salts spewed out by the active volcano at its edge. Images of the serrated back and the contours of the migo that we obtained on the videos in the Japanese expedition suggested that its zoological identity might involve reptiles, or even primitive whales known as archaeocetes.
During the second expedition a few months later, additional video sequences and observations were made at close range, establishing that the 50 ft creature was in fact three specimens of the saltwater or estuarine crocodile Crocodylus porosus - a female in heat being tracked by two males. One of the males was clasping the female's tail, and the other male was clasping the tail of the first male. Altogether this produced a composite 'creature' possessing what had seemed to be a head, neck, and two humps, and measuring in the order of 50 ft or so in total length.

Q4: Another close encounter with a lake monster featured Nessie, spied by you at Urquhart Bay, in September 1970. Tell us about your sighting, which is among the most notable of all Nessie reports.
A4: My observation at Loch Ness occurred at approximately 4-5 pm in the afternoon, on an absolutely clear, sunny, calm day. The water was as smooth as glass from time to time, but of course occasionally small ripples would appear. My underwater engineer Robert Love and his assistant Jeff Blonder were servicing hydrofoam equipment that we had deployed in the depths of the bay in order to record any unusual animal sounds. I was minding our work boat Fussy Hen, supposedly keeping it in trim. Actually, I was only half-awake, sort of dozing off with boredom, when to my surprise, about 30 ft away, 10 m or so, I noticed the water begin to boil up, as a result of a large mass moving towards the surface.
In a moment, the black back of a creature, which was elongated and convex, broke the surface. The texture appeared like the skin of an elephant - no hair, scales, or anything else notable. The back had a slight ridge-like configuration, but no serrations. The part that showed was of the order of 2-3 m, protruding in length above the water, more or less twisting or rolling from left to right. As it rotated to the right, occasionally a black triangular flipper-like structure broke the surface on the left anterior side of the creature. It was separated from the main body of the creature by probably about 1 ft or so of water. This varied as the animal twisted from left to right and right to left. I estimate that the triangular object at the water line when it protruded maximally was probably 12 in or so, and protruding 10-12 in at maximum height. The object looked very much like a black rubbery flipper, exactly like what was later photographed underwater by Robert Rines. Nothing else ever became visible.
I called Bob and Jeff's attention to the object as we watched with racing pulses for 2-3 minutes, after which the object submerged almost straight down, with only a slight forward motion. Nothing that could be attributed to a head, neck, or any other structure was ever observed.

Roy's classic, extensively-researched book investigating the Loch Ness Monster phenomenon, published in 1976

Q5: Nowadays, anyone with an interest in cryptozoology, however slight, readily refers to themselves as a cryptozoologist. Do you agree with this trend?
A5: If people are doing cryptozoological research, I have no objection to calling them cryptozoologists. If some day cryptozoology becomes a recognised scientific discipline, and scientific training in this area is formally available, then I would consider that perhaps the term should be applied more to those who have actually undergone training and studied the subject and obtained academic, scientific credentials, although I feel that the term 'amateur cryptozoologist' would still be appropriate for others. At the present time, we all are amateurs in a strict sense.

Q6: As a world-acclaimed professional scientist, what types of response have you received from colleagues over the years regarding your cryptozoological interests, and how (if at all) have attitudes towards cryptozoology changed within scientific circles in recent times?
A6: In the 1960s, I experienced a great many raised eyebrows among my colleagues regarding my taking things like Loch Ness seriously. There were many exceptions, however, which were encouraging. In the past 40 years or so, I have experienced a significant change in attitudes towards consideration of cryptozoology as a legitimate science rather than pseudoscience. After all, in the 19th Century, while it was not formally named it was always considered zoology. There are still, of course, plenty of philistines inside and outside of the academic community who take a very negative view towards cryptozoological research.

TWO BOX FEATURES WRITTEN BY ME THAT WERE PUBLISHED ALONGSIDE MY INTERVIEW WITH PROF. ROY MACKAL IN THE X FACTOR:

Was the Florida 'globster' really a giant octopus?

On 30 November 1896, a massive, highly-decomposed carcase was washed onto a beach near St Augustine, Florida. When its description was first read by esteemed biologist Professor A.E. Verrill of Yale University, he stated that it was probably a colossal octopus, with a tentacular span of up to 200 ft - far greater than any currently accepted by science - and he christened this spectacular new species Octopus giganteus. A little later, however, Verrill changed his mind, claiming that the carcase, nowadays dubbed the Florida globster, was merely rotting whale blubber. Since then, there has been appreciable dispute as to what this really was, so in the 1980s Professor Mackal subjected to amino acid analyses some of its tissue samples (preserved at the Smithsonian Institution), alongside control tissue samples obtained from a number of other animal species, including two octopuses. And the result?

Photograph of the Florida globster from 1896

In a scientific paper documenting his study, Mackal revealed: "Comparison with the amino acid composition of known proteins indicates that the O. giganteus tissue is mainly collagen and certainly not 'whale blubber'...Comparative determinations of Cu [copper] and Fe [iron] content of O. giganteus tissues and controls were inconclusive, but consistent with a cephalopod [squid, octopus] identification. These analytical results support the original identification of the tissue and carcass by A.E. Verrill as an exceptionally large cephalopod, probably octopus, not referable to any known species".

In 1995, conversely, a zoological team from Maryland University announced that according to their own recent biochemical and microscopical study of the Florida globster's tissues, the collagen's specific composition was mammalian, thus supporting the whale identity. In reality, however, as noted by Florida University cytobiologist Dr Joseph Gennaro, whose histological researches on the globster's tissues back in 1971 had indicated an octopus identity, the preserving fluid in which the tissue samples have been retained for over a century may well have distorted their chemical composition, rendering any conclusive taxonomic identification of the Florida globster impossible.


Could flying reptiles unknown to science await discovery in Namibia?

According to traditional native lore, the hilly, desert terrain of Namibia in southwestern Africa is home to a mysterious flying creature, which if real is certainly unknown to science. The Namaqua people of southern Namibia claim that it is a winged snake, and a creature fitting this description has apparently been seen by eyewitnesses of European descent too, as revealed by Professor Mackal in his book Searching For Hidden Animals (1980).

One of the most famous eyewitnesses is Michael Esterhuise, who as a teenager in 1942 encountered a very large snake with a pair of wing-like structures projecting from the sides of its mouth. On a second occasion, a huge serpent-like beast actually launched itself from the top of a rocky ledge and soared down through the air towards Esterhuise, creating a very loud air disturbance as it did so, and hitting the ground with such force that it left its tracks behind, to be later examined by perplexed scientists.

Roy's first cryptozoology book, originally published in 1980; the version illustrated here is the first UK edition, published in 1983

Writing about this bizarre incident in his book, Mackal discounted earlier proposals that the snake had merely been an injured python falling to earth, adding: "In fact, it is hard to attribute such a disturbance even to a large gliding creature, suggesting instead that some kind of wing action must have been involved".

Mackal had also collected accounts of a pterodactyl-like beast supposedly spied in Namibia. So in summer 1988, he and a group of fellow investigators journeyed to an isolated private property owned by German Namibians, where reports had emerged. According to these, the creature was apparently "...capable of sustained flight, thus was not just a glider. In particular, one of the animals was said to fly (mainly glide) at dusk between crevices in two kopjes [hills] separated by about a mile. The animal was described as having a wingspan close to 30 feet, and having no feathers". Despite daily watches, however, the team failed to observe such a creature, and Professor Mackal returned home to America. Conversely, one member of the team who remained there, James Kosi, later claimed to have spied a giant creature, black with white markings, gliding through the air approximately 1000 ft away.

So could such a creature truly exist? Mackal's thoughts on the matter encapsulate the sober scientific attitude that he has shown in relation to all of his cryptozoological investigations:

"In contrast to some who state, 'Today there is no possibility whatsoever of finding a flying reptile or any of its progeny in some lost corner of the world; all such reports can be nothing but hoaxes,' I suggest we keep an open mind".


One day…? (© Dr Karl Shuker)