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.

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Tuesday, 15 April 2014


Close-up photo of China's one-legged mystery snake (© CEN/Europics) - click it to enlarge it

Some zoological photographs are so bizarre that long after they first hit the news headlines, they still continue to circulate online, like restless ghosts doomed to wander forever down the highways and byways of the worldwide web, resisting all attempts to expose them as hoaxes or explain them as grotesque yet nonetheless natural phenomena. One such image that seems to fall into the latter category is the example that opens this present ShukerNature blog post – namely, a supposed one-legged, claw-footed snake from China.

This anomalous serpent made its media debut as far back as mid-September 2009, since when it has been the online focus of various less than credible claims and all manner of decidedly credulous comments, but no rigorous, in-depth assessment. Consequently, I felt that it was high time that this sorry situation was rectified, so here is my own personal appraisal of this very curious case.

The story broke on 14 September 2009, with news reports worldwide presenting the now-(in)famous photograph reproduced above of a dead snake seemingly possessing a single small but perfectly-formed claw-footed leg, and providing the following scant details concerning it. One typical report appeared in the UK's Daily Telegraph newspaper for that particular date, and provides the standard set of details reiterated in all other media accounts that I have seen. It stated that Mrs Duan (aka Dean) Qiongxiu, a 66-year-old woman from Suining in Southwest China, had woken up during the middle of the night, heard a scratching sound, turned on her bedroom's light, and then, in her quoted words, "saw this monster working its way along the wall using his claw". She was so frightened by it that she grabbed one of her shoes and beat the unfortunate if uncanny serpent to death before preserving its battered carcase – measuring 16 in long and as thick as a human little finger - in a bottle of alcohol. It was subsequently forwarded to the Life Sciences Department at China's West Normal University in Nanchang. Snake expert Long Shuai was quoted as saying: "It is truly shocking but we won't know the cause until we've conducted an autopsy".

Those, then, are the facts of this case – such that they are. Not even the snake's species is identified. However, a popular identity nominated in various internet reptile forum/discussion groups is Dinodon rufozonatum, a colubrid with a wide distribution in East Asia, including China. It measures up to 28 in long, but is very slender, with brown background colouration marked with transverse crimson bands dorsally, pearl-coloured ventrally. It preys upon a wide range of small animals, including other snakes, lizards, small birds, fishes, and frogs, but is not believed to be venomous. This species certainly resembles the mystery snake in the photograph.

A Chinese specimen of Dinodon rufozonatum (©Zhangmoon618/Wikipedia)

As for the results of the autopsy, more than four-and-a-half years later the world is apparently still waiting for them, because as far as I am aware, none have ever been made public. All that we do have, therefore, is supposition, and plenty of it, but nothing substantiated by corroborative evidence. So, based solely upon its appearance as portrayed within this photograph, how can the one-legged snake of China be explained?

Four plausible theories exist (i.e. discounting those claiming it to be an unnatural freak created in some secret laboratory, an alien entity, a radiation-induced mutant, or some paranormal aberration of occult origin).

Theory #1 is that it is a hoax. In other words, either the photograph is a fake image created by computerised photo-manipulation, or it is real but depicts a skilfully-manufactured model or comparable artifact. Despite much online research, I have found no evidence to support either of these possibilities, and none of the famous hoaxbusting websites has outed it either.

Theory #2 is that the creature is genuine and represents a striking, extreme example of atavism, i.e. the spontaneous development by an individual of a morphological feature possessed by far-distant ancestral forms or species but normally lost in their present-day descendants. I have many cases of atavism on file, covering a wide range of examples and species (click here for my ShukerNature blog post on atavistic extra toes in horses). Particularly pertinent to this case, however, are those featuring whales and other cetaceans exhibiting rudimentary external hind limbs – normally, cetaceans lack such limbs and even the pelvic girdle itself is very small. A comparable, but even more specialised situation occurs in snakes.

Millions of years ago, the ancestors of snakes possessed four well-formed legs and two limb girdles, but these became ever more reduced in form during ophidian evolution, so that modern-day snakes have entirely lost their forelimbs and pectoral girdle as well as – in most cases - their pelvic girdle and hind limbs. Famously, however, boas and pythons still possess a vestigial pelvic girdle and rudimentary external hind limbs. These latter limbs take the form of a pair of very small spur-like femur bones (known as pelvic or anal spurs) appressed to their body wall (on either side of the vent in males).

Could the claw-footed leg of China's unipodal serpent wonder therefore be an evolutionary, atavistic throwback to the snakes' distant antecedents? If so, a genetic mutation may have occurred during its embryonic development that somehow unlocked the still-preserved but normally-suppressed code in its DNA for creating a well-formed limb, foot, and clawed digits.

The pelvic (anal) spurs on a male albino Burmese python (© Dawson/Wikipedia)

Although the various fully-verified cases of hind-limbed cetaceans demonstrate that such a concept is not beyond the realms of possibility, there are some serious problems to consider when attempting to apply this same scenario to China's legged snake. First and foremost is the anomalous limb's position. Far from being situated in the vicinity of where either the snake's pectoral girdle or its pelvic girdle would be if it too had been recalled into existence via atavism, the leg is located, very oddly, in the middle of the snake's body instead, seeming to emerge from somewhere in the rib-cage. Even in atavism, a recalled appendage normally arises in the anatomically correct location for it, not in some entirely incorrect position. Secondly, the foot's orientation is wrong too, as its sole is facing forward, towards the proximal end of the snake, instead of facing backward, like all animal feet do. Thirdly, the limb, feet, and clawed digits appear to be fully-developed, not rudimentary or at least incompletely formed, like hind limbs in whales and other examples of atavistic appendages normally are. Consequently, I consider it unlikely that the limb of China's legged snake is an atavistic appendage.

Theory #3 is that the leg does not belong to the snake, but rather is from some originally external source that the snake has swallowed, and has burst through its gut and body wall. This could have happened if, for instance, the snake had swallowed whole (as snakes generally do) a seized lizard or toad (both of which are animal types represented in China by species with limbs resembling the snake's ambiguous example), and the still-living victim had kicked out violently while trying to escape from the snake's gut.

Three features of the snake make this prospect a plausible one. Firstly, the region of the snake's body from which the leg is emerging is swollen both fore and aft, which would be consistent with the presence there of the snake victim's ingested body. Click here (and then scroll halfway down the page) to see a photo of a living specimen of D. rufozonatum pictured directly after having swallowed a frog - the size, shape, and position of the swelling inside the snake that is the ingested whole frog look identical to those of the swelling inside China's legged snake. Secondly, at the base of the leg is a swollen, pedicel-like region, which could conceivably be an oedematic swelling (explaining why it has the same markings as the body of the snake) and/or an accumulation of scar tissue resulting from healing of the hole in the snake's body wall that had been created when its victim kicked through it. Thirdly, the fact that the sole of the foot points forward is inconsistent with its being an atavistic limb of the snake but is wholly consistent with its being the foreleg of a prey victim that had been swallowed head-first, as is normal practice by snakes.

Incidentally, confirmed, comparable cases have been recorded from antelope-ingesting pythons whose victims' horns have pierced through their ophidian engulfers' gut and body wall.

Theory #4: There has been some online speculation as to whether such rupturing of the snake's body wall may actually have occurred only when the woman beat it to death (i.e. the leg was not present externally prior to this), and that her description of the snake as being legged beforehand was therefore mistaken or incorrectly reported. If this were correct, however, there would not be any presence of what appears to be scar tissue consistent with healing of the hole. Instead, all that would be present would be just a unhealed hole with the leg protruding directly through it and probably stained at its base with congealed blood that had leaked out through the hole. Yet no such blood is visible there in the photograph.

Obviously, an autopsy, or even a mere x-ray, of the snake's body would readily reveal whether its gut did indeed contain the body of a prey victim and also whether the mysterious leg belonged to that victim. Equally, if the leg was instead an appendage of the snake itself, an autopsy would expose this. So it is a great puzzle why the results of the autopsy – always assuming, of course, that one was ever conducted – seem never to have been publicly released. Riddles like this legged snake need a solution, and the solution needs to be aired, even it is as mundane as a snake whose engulfed prey victim proved to be not just alive but also kicking – and very emphatically so.  Otherwise they are destined to appear and reappear in the freak shows of cyberspace ad infinitum, not to mention ad nauseam.


At the time of uploading this article of mine onto ShukerNature earlier today, I was only aware of one photograph depicting China's legged snake. Tonight, however, Facebook correspondent Andrew Webster drew my attention to a website (click here) containing two more , including this one, depicting the dead snake being held by a lady I assume to be Mrs Duan Qiongxiu:

Mrs Duan Qiongxiu(?) holding the dead legged snake (copyright holder unknown to me)

As noted by Andrew, viewed from this angle the limb appears to be that of a toad.

Speaking of which: Also well worthy of inclusion here is the following photograph (copyright owner unknown to me) of a South African night adder Causus sp. that has swallowed a toad which, in keeping with the defence mechanism of such creatures, evidently inflated itself when ingested, forcing two of its limbs through the snake's gut and body wall:

For more mysterious snakes, be sure to check out my book The Beasts That Hide From Man (Paraview: New York, 2003)

Tuesday, 8 April 2014


19th-Century engraving of a praying mantis

The longest species of praying mantis currently known to science is the giant stick mantis Ischnomantis gigas. Brown in colour, enabling it to blend in with the bushes upon which it lives and lies in wait for unwary prey to approach, this mighty mantid is native to Senegal, southern Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Mali, northern Nigeria, Cameroon, and Sudan. The longest specimen on record is an adult female collected in Kankiya, northern Nigeria, which measured a very impressive 17.2 cm long, and is now preserved in London's Natural History Museum.

Ischnomantis media, a smaller relative of I. gigas (public domain)

Africa is also home to the world's largest mantis species, the aptly-named mega-mantis Plistospilota guineensis, native to Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Liberia, and Ghana. Adult females grow up to 11 cm long, but are bulkier and heavier (weighing up to 10 g) than those of the giant stick mantis. They also have much larger wings; the wings of females belonging to the giant stick mantis I. gigas are so small that the females are rendered flightless.

But could there be even bigger species of mantid still awaiting formal scientific discovery and description? The reason why I ask this question is that a few years ago I had a first-hand encounter with a mysterious giant mantis, one that I was unable to identify and which has puzzled me ever since. So I am now documenting it here – as an online ShukerNature exclusive – in the hope that someone reading this post of mine may be able to offer a solution.

Mantids of many kinds (public domain)

In November 2008, my mother Mary D. Shuker and I spent four days at the private Shamwari Game Reserve, situated just outside Port Elizabeth in South Africa's Eastern Cape. On the last day of our stay there, just a few moments before the car arrived to take us and some other Shamwari guests back to the airport at Port Elizabeth, one of the safari guides walked over towards where we were all waiting, and squatting on the outstretched palm of his right hand was what I can only describe as an absolutely enormous praying mantis.

Brown in colour and very burly, this extraordinary specimen was so big that it was easily the length of his entire hand, and it was very much alive. Its 'praying' front limbs were moving slightly, and its head turned to look at us as we gazed at it in astonishment. As it made no attempt to fly away, however, I am assuming that it was flightless.

Frustratingly, my camera was packed away in one of my cases, so I couldn't take any photographs of this amazing insect. Nor could I question the guide about it, because at that same moment the car arrived to take us to the airport, so the guide walked off, still carrying the huge mantis on his hand.

19th-Century engraving illustrating a selection of mantids

Needless to say, I have never forgotten that spectacular creature, and I have sought ever since to uncover its taxonomic identity, but I have been unable to reconcile it with any mantis species recorded from South Africa (or, indeed, from anywhere else for that matter!).

So what was this mystery mantis of truly monstrous dimensions? If anyone can provide an answer, I'd love to hear from you!

Mom (on right) with a fellow guest in front of Long Lee Manor, our place of residence while staying in Shamwari Private Game Reserve, South Africa, November 2008 (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Saturday, 5 April 2014


Ventral and dorsal view of a Philippines colugo, plus an American false vampire bat (above), depicted in Plate 58 from the first volume of Albertus Seba's Thesaurus (1734)

Colugos must surely be among the most bizarre yet bewitching of all mammals. Native to the tropical forests of southeast Asia, most famous for the extensive gliding membrane (patagium) connecting their limbs, tail, and even the digits of their paws, and as big as a medium-sized possum or very large squirrel, the two modern-day species of colugo are the only surviving members of the mammalian order Dermoptera.

Photograph of a colugo at rest upon a tree trunk (public domain)

The larger and more familiar of these two species is the Philippines colugo Cynocephalus volans, which is endemic to this multi-island southeast Asian nation, and measures up to 17 in long. The second, smaller, and less familiar species is the Malayan or Sunda colugo Galeopterus variegatus, but this colugo has a much wider distribution - occurring in Borneo, Java, Sumatra, Singapore, peninsular Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos.

Widely deemed from the findings of recent molecular phylogenetic studies to be the primates' closest living relatives, these extraordinary yet surprisingly little-known gliding mammals are also called caguans and cobegos, as well as flying lemurs - even though they glide rather than fly and are not lemurs!

Perhaps the most memorable description of a colugo that I've ever read appears in Bill Garnett's book Oddbods! (1984):

"Imagine a floppy shopping bag with an avocado sticking out sideways at the top; hang it by claws beneath a branch; put a huge round eye on the avocado - and cover the lot in a soft furry pelt, mottled fawn and grey. You've now got yourself a colugo."

19th-Century engraving of a colugo gliding, revealing its extensive patagium

But what on earth (or in the air!), I hear you ask, do colugos have to do with flying cats? I'm very glad that you asked me that question!

Let me begin answering it by introducing the grotesque Asian bat-cat depicted in the eminent Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher's tome China Monumentis (1667). Kircher claimed that such creatures (which he referred to as flying cats - 'Catti Volantes' - in his Latin text) existed in the forested mountains of India's Kashmir Province, but that upon closer examination they merely proved to be bats, albeit ones as big as (if not bigger than) chickens or geese.

Athanasius Kircher’s bat-cat engraving

Zoologically speaking, however, the animal in this weird illustration does not resemble a bat, not least because the membranes of its wings are much more extensive than those of bats. Instead, it may conceivably have been an early attempt to portray a colugo, because the bat-cat's wings are actually pictured as a membrane extending from the forelegs to the hind legs and onto the tail, exactly mirroring the gliding membrane of colugos. But it could well be that as someone not trained in zoology, Kircher might simply have considered colugos to be bats anyway

Moreover, a distorted, secondhand (or more) account of a colugo may explain traveller Marco Polo's curious mention of a still-unidentified beast from the Far East known as a cat-a-mountain. This was said to be a predatory cat with the body of a leopard but also with a strange skin that stretched out when it hunted, enabling it to fly in pursuit of its prey.

A somewhat aggressive-looking colugo in an early engraving

A third potential case of cat-into-colugo reared its furry head in the 1990s, because that was when I uncovered the following intriguing but (at that time) previously-unpublicised report, entitled 'Flying Cat', which had been published in the volume for 1868 of a long-forgotten British journal entitled The Naturalist's Note Book:

"A nondescript animal, said to be a flying cat, and called by the Bhells pauca billee, has just been shot by Mr. Alexander Gibson, in the Punch Mehali [India]. The dried skin was exhibited at the last meeting of the Bombay Asiatic Society. It measured 18 inches in length, and was quite as broad when extended in the air. Mr. Gibson, who is well known as a member of the Asiatic Society and a contributor to its journal, believes the animal to be really a cat, and not a bat or a flying-fox [fruit bat], as some contend."

As I pondered in various articles and later in my book Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), could this extraordinary animal have been an early example of a winged cat (click here for more info re these bizarre yet totally bona fide felids, and here for a video of one such individual)? Or was it a large species of bat – or even a colugo?

More than 145 years have now passed by since this strange creature was reported in The Naturalist's Note Book, yet its taxonomic identity remains unclear – or does it? In fact, thanks to a wonderful tome that I acquired only very recently, I have finally solved the tenacious mystery of Gibson's flying cat.

My copy of Taschen's spectacular compendium of the illustration plates from Albertus Seba's Thesaurus (© Taschen)

Entitled Cabinet of Natural Curiosities and first published by Taschen in 2001 (mine is a 2011 reprint of it), the spectacular book in question that I purchased last month is a lavishly reproduced compendium of all of the glorious illustration plates from the four-volume magnum opus of Albertus Seba (1665-1736). An exceedingly wealthy Dutch businessman who was one of the most celebrated collectors of natural history specimens ever, Seba had amassed not one but two immense, internationally-renowned collections (click here to access a separate ShukerNature post containing additional details concerning Seba and his collections), and his four-volume tome, his Thesaurus as he entitled it, was basically a lavishly-illustrated catalogue of his collections' numerous specimens, containing more than 400 colour plates and published from 1734 to 1765.

Portrait of Albertus Seba, by Jacobus Houbraken (1698-1780)

Taschen's compendium of Seba's Thesaurus plates does not include any of his original accompanying text, which was written in both Latin and French and described each specimen in detail, but it does contains a lengthy introduction written by this compendium's German compilers. And it was tucked within this where, with great excitement and delight, I came upon an ostensibly inauspicious yet truly revelationary paragraph - a hitherto-cryptic nugget of knowledge that finally and fully elucidated the longstanding enigma of the flying cats. Contained within a section headed 'Curiosities and Special Attractions in the Thesaurus', this crucial paragraph reads as follows:

"A particular rarity in the Thesaurus are the so-called "Fliegende Katzen" (flying cats) and "Fliegende Hunde" (flying dogs) from tropical regions, although – contrary to what their names imply – they are not related to feline or canine species. Flughund (lit. flying dog) nevertheless remains the German designation for the fruit bat even today (in English it is also called a flying fox). Amongst the animals which Seba describes as "flying dogs" is a true fruit bat (Pteropus sp., I, 57, Figs. 1-2) and a tropical American false vampire bat (Vampyrum spectrum, I, 58, Fig. 1). Among the "flying cats" in the Thesaurus (I, 58, Figs. 2-3) we find the giant flying lemur of the Philippines (Cynocephalus volans), which together with another species forms a separate group of mammals."

Plate 58 is the illustration opening this present ShukerNature blog post, which does indeed portray the American false vampire Vampyrum spectrum (which happens to be the world's largest species of carnivorous bat) plus the ventral and dorsal view of a Philippines colugo. Below is the clearer version of this plate that appears in the Taschen compendium.

Ventral and dorsal view of a Philippines colugo, plus an American false vampire bat (above), depicted in Plate 58 as reproduced within the Taschen compendium of Albertus Seba's Thesaurus plates (© Taschen)

Spurred on by this vital insight, yesterday I tracked down and consulted online a pdf of the original Seba's Thesaurus, which not only contained the plates but also Seba's own descriptions of the specimens depicted in them. And sure enough, the colugo was referred to by Seba in his descriptions as Felis volans ('flying cat'), and the Chat qui volé ('cat that flies'), as revealed here:

The colugo-relevant Latin and French text from the original 1734 edition of Seba's Thesaurus, Vol. 1

So there it is – the mystery laid bare, a mystery no longer. Asia's so-called flying cats were indeed colugos - or flying lemurs, as they are still popularly referred to. Bearing in mind, however, that colugos have very dog-like heads (as indeed have some lemurs, hence 'flying lemur' as a name applied to colugos), it's something of a riddle how they ever came to be dubbed 'flying cats', but at least the suspected connection has now finally been verified.

Only one mysterious aspect of this case remains unsolved. Colugos are southeast Asian species; they are not native to anywhere in India - including the disputed Kashmir territory (remember Kircher's bat-cat?). Perhaps, therefore, the Gibson 'flying cat' was not actually shot in India after all, but had merely been preserved or exhibited there - with the claim that it had originally been shot there too merely being a journalistic error. It certainly wouldn't be the first time that an unusual animal has incited all manner of outlandish, error-ridden reporting by poorly-informed or overly-imaginative hacks.

Far less likely, but by no means impossible, and certainly much more intriguing, is the possibility that there were once (and maybe still are?) colugos belonging to one or other of the two known species– or perhaps even to an entirely-distinct third colugo species – inhabiting regions of Asia such as India and Kashmir that fall outside their currently-confirmed modern-day distribution range, but have remained undiscovered and undescribed by science. Who knows – those erstwhile 'flying cats' may still have the potential to surprise us after all.

19th-Century engraving of a Philippines colugo

Tuesday, 1 April 2014


Mom, wearing the beautiful protea-decorated coat that she purchased in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2008 (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Today it is one year since, on Easter Monday (1 April) 2013, my dear mother, Mary Doreen Shuker, passed away, leaving me totally devastated at the loss of the most wonderful, loving person in my life. During the days, weeks, and months that have followed this traumatic event, I have sought to put into words just how much she has always meant to me, how profoundly influential she has been throughout my life, and how grief-stricken I remain by her passing. Here is a selection of what I have written and compiled.

Whatever good there may be in me came from you.
Thank you for blessing my life by being in it
as my mother.
You were, are, and always will be quite simply
the best person I shall ever know,
and I love you with all of my heart.
God bless you, little Mom,
please wait for me,
watch over me in this lonely existence of mine now,
and come for me when my time here is over.
Au revoir, Mom, until we meet again.

My tribute to Mom, posted on my Facebook wall on 1 April 2013 when announcing her passing; and it is also my Dedication to her in my book 'Mirabilis' (Anomalist Books: New York, 2013).

"Beauty was hers in all its brightness and she was determined to embrace every shape, line and color imbued in her spirit."

Quotation on the lid of the memory box (pictured here) that I bought for my Mom a few hours ago; it describes her perfectly - indeed, it could have been written specifically for her.

God bless you, little Mom - how I wish you were still here with me.

Posted on my Facebook wall on 8 April 2013.

God bless you, Mom.
Thank you for everything that has ever been good in my life.
How I wish that you were still here with me, fit and well,
ready to set off with me on our next adventure together.
I love you, little Mom, always.

The concluding words in my eulogy to Mom, which I read aloud at her funeral on 16 April 2013 (and which can be read in full online here on ShukerNature).

13 weeks ago this evening, my dear little Mom passed away -
a whole quarter-year has somehow gone by,
during which time I have found myself locked inside a strange and very sad new life.
I can never return to the past,
except in dreams,
and the future is as ever opaque.
And so I live life now a moment at a time,
and dream...

Posted on my Facebook wall on 1 July 2013

A hand-coloured photograph of Mom in her 20s during the 1940s (© Mary D. Shuker/Dr Karl Shuker)

I attended my Mom's Memorial Service tonight at church,
and I placed a candle for her on a table before me,
where its light gently flickered until the end of the service, after which, once I had left the church, it would be extinguished.

But the candle of love that my Mom had lit inside my heart on the day that I was born,
and which now burns there for her,
is infinitely brighter, warmer, and will never be extinguished.

And although the memorial service for my Mom in church is over now,
the memorial service for her that has been performing inside my mind every moment of every day since she passed away will never come to an end –
it will continue in perpetuity for the rest of my life.

God bless you Mom - I love you, always.

 Posted on my Facebook wall on 21 July 2013 following my attendance of my Mom's Memorial Service earlier that evening.

One part of the show that really registered with me was the song
 'They Live In You',
when the shaman-type mandrill Rafiki was telling the adult Simba that his father will always be a part of him,
will always live in him,
and that when he looks into the mirror of a forest pool,
he will see his father in his own reflection,
looking back at him.
I'd never thought of that before.

Also, several people have told me that I have my Mom's eyes,
different colour but same shape and depth;
and Mom often joked that I had her squat, pudgy nose,
and I do.

So now, whenever I look into a mirror,
I'll see Mom there in my reflection,
spiritually and physically,
looking back at me,
and I'll know that she is part of me,
is with me still,

Posted on my Facebook wall on 10 August 2013 after attending a performance of Disney's 'The Lion King' stage musical at the Birmingham Hippodrome that afternoon.

This evening marks exactly 26 weeks = 6 months = half a year since my mother, Mary Shuker, passed away, leaving behind an aching void inside my heart that I have papered over with memories but which can never be filled and will never heal. I recently came upon the following words while browsing online, which encapsulate so many of my own thoughts, feelings, truths, and beliefs. God bless you Mom, how I miss you and wish you were here with me still. With all my love:

Posted on my Facebook wall on 30 September 2013.

This morning, I visited the newly-completed gravestone of my mother, Mary Doreen Shuker (1921-2013), which has taken 6 months to prepare. Standing there in the solitude of the cemetery, it all still seemed so unreal, that the vibrant little lady always so full of life, of living, and of love was gone, her time in this world marked only by the stone and grave there before me, beautiful and elegant though they were, just like she had always been. Come the closing of December, I shall not grieve the passing of 2013, but I shall forever grieve the passing within it of my mother, whose light is gone from my world until that joyous day when we will be reunited forever.

From the introduction to my composition 'The Chained Gates' (click here to read it in full on my Star Steeds blog), written by me on 22 October 2013.


I shall not mourn the passing of this year,
Nor shall I mourn its months of grief and strife.
All I shall mourn is that one person dear,
My mother, whom it stole out of my life.

God bless you, Little Mom - I love you always.
Happy New Year - may we be together again one day.

One of my framed photographs of Mom (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Composed by me and posted on my Facebook wall on 31 December 2013.

Happy Birthday in Heaven, Mom
- how I wish that I could share it with you.
God Bless.

Posted on my Facebook wall on my mother's birthday, 29 January 2014.

To my dear mother, Mary D. Shuker (1921-2013), whose lifelong interest in wildlife guided and encouraged my own from my earliest days. Thank you for filling my world with wonder, joy, and love for such a long and very happy time. How I miss you, and how I wish that you were still here with me today and always. God bless you, little Mom.

"The mother's heart is the child's schoolroom."

   Henry Ward Beecher – Life Thoughts

My Dedication to my mother in my forthcoming book, 'The Menagerie of Marvels: A Third Compendium of Extraordinary Animals' (CFZ Press: Bideford, in press; due for publication in summer 2014).

Mom, wearing one of her favourite and most beautiful jumpers (© Dr Karl Shuker)

"Remembrance is the only paradise out of which we cannot be driven away."

   Jean Paul Friedrich Richter

The above quotation, chosen long ago by my mother, is inscribed upon the tombstone of the first of my family's two three-person grave plots. Here lie her parents (my Nan and Grandad), Gertrude and Ernest Timmins, and her first husband, Harold Hooper - who died aged only 30 as a result of serving in the armed forces during World War II.

How very true is that quotation, which must have been such a source of comfort to her in the face of her great losses, and which is now of equal comfort to me in the face of mine.

"God gave us memories so that we may have roses in December."

   Adapted from a line in a rectorial address given by James M. Barrie on 3 May 1922 at St Andrews University, Scotland.

The above quotation, also chosen long ago by my mother, is inscribed upon the tombstone of my family's second three-person grave plot, situated alongside the first one. Here is where my little brother André (who passed away in 1955) and my mother lie, and where, when it is my time, I too shall lie, reunited at last with my family and never to be parted from them again.

Time waits for no-one, for nothing, not even for grief. Tomorrow will be 52 Saturdays since Mom and I set off on what would be our last outing together, though mercifully we had no realisation of that at the time, and had a lovely afternoon. On Sunday it is Mother's Day this year, and it will also be 52 Sundays since Mom was taken ill late that evening. Monday will be 12 months to the day since she gently slipped away early that evening in hospital, with me beside her, holding her hand and telling her how much I loved her. And Tuesday will be 12 months to the date since that most traumatic of all events in my life happened - the event that I had always dreaded most throughout my entire time here on earth. So, wish me well during the next four very momentous days for me, as they revive all of those mixed memories, and bring to a close the worst year of my life - a year which, if I am honest, I may not have survived had it not been for the kind words and continuing support of so many friends here on Facebook. So thank you all - I am truly grateful.

Mom in our garden (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Above is a photo of Mom in happier times, wearing one of her beautiful, vibrant coats that she loved so much, epitomising her own lifelong love of Nature's wonders and beauty, and which she nurtured in me too from my earliest days. Thank you, little Mom, how I wish that you were still here.

Posted on my Facebook wall on 28 March 2014.

The card that I bought for Mom for Mother's Day this year, 30 March 2014, continuing a tradition that shall last for as long as I last.

Can it be just a year ago today since you passed from my life, my little Mom?

Sometimes it seems but a heartbeat away, other times a thousand lives, a thousand worlds, from where I am now.

People try to show sympathy and understanding when they learn that you have gone, but they have no concept of the true nature of my loss - the immeasurable breadth and limitless depth of the black chasm created in my life and within my heart by your passing. Yes, I have indeed lost my mother - a loss that in itself would be all but unbearable. But I have also lost my best friend, my ever-present housemate, my constant travelling companion, my most trusted confidante, my number one supporter, and my entire family. You were all of those persons, Mom, and so much more besides. Is it any wonder why I grieve without ending, why my life is now but a paltry, meaningless existence, a mere shadow of its former state, why I look only to the past for happiness and security now, and to the future with only loneliness and fear?

I never cried as a child, because I'd never give the school bully, the playground tormentor, the satisfaction of seeing my tears. Instead, I'd save them all, each one a precious pearl of emotion, only to be released in my darkest of all hours some day. Well that day and that hour finally came, a year ago today, the hour in which I lost you, Mom. The tears flowed, and have continued to flow ever since - every tear that I've ever saved throughout my life, torrents of tears that even now after a year of unbroken outpouring continue in unabated profusion, threatening to drown my very being in their salty, burning despair, or to carry me away, borne upon a veritable ocean of tears to who knows where.

. . .

This first year of being without you, of being alone in this world, knowing that wherever I look, whichever street I walk along, whatever shop I walk into, I shall never see you again, shall never hear your voice speaking to me again, shall never see your face in the crowd looking for mine again, has been the worst time of my life. Nothing else ever will, ever could, be as devastating, but I shall miss you always, all the days of my life. I now stand on the brink of entering my second year alone, and I can only pray that acceptance will at last be mine, that grief will lift and give me a measure of release, of peace, and that I shall be worthy of you, Mom, that I shall go on to achieve all that you have ever hoped and dreamed for me.

God bless you, little Mom. Please always stay beside me where you always used to be when here, please always give me hope and encouragement as you always used to do when here, and, above all else, please always love me as you always did when here. If you will do these, I will do the rest – this I promise you, Mom, with all my heart and with all my love, always.

Excerpts from my composition 'A Year Ago Today', which was uploaded in full here on my Star Steeds blog today, upon this first anniversary of my mother's passing.

Happy days: Setting off on another adventure together – Mom and I on our outward-bound Emirates flight to Dubai and the Far East, 2005 (© Dr Karl Shuker)