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

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Wednesday, 13 March 2019

SEEKING NEODINOSAURS IN NEW GUINEA


Life-sized statue representing the postulated appearance in life of Therizinosaurus (© Dr Karl Shuker)

North of Australia is the extremely large island of New Guinea, still plentifully supplied with little-explored expanses of rainforest and mountainland. Might it be hiding some modern-day non-avian dinosaurs, living neodinosaurs, no less? Over the years, a number of searches for such creatures have been made there, inspired by local testimony of elusive cryptids bearing varying degrees of resemblance to dinosaurian reptiles, as will now be revealed.

Having said that, we begin our quest for surviving prehistoric Papuans with what must surely be one of the most bizarre episodes in the entire history of cryptozoology.

Political map of New Guinea, showing its division into Indonesia-owned Papua (left) and the independent sovereign state Papua New Guinea (right) (Wikipedia)

During the late 1930s, Java-born explorer/camera-man Charles C. Miller and his newly-married wife, former American society girl Leona Jay, spent their honeymoon visiting the Sterren Mountains in what was then Dutch New Guinea (the western half of New Guinea, now known variously, and confusingly, as Western New Guinea, Papua, Western Papua, Irian Jaya, or Indonesian New Guinea). Here they allegedly encountered not only a hitherto-unknown tribe of cannibals called the Kirrirri but also what Miller believed to be a living dinosaur. Their introduction to this latter beast came about in a somewhat unusual manner - courtesy of a coconut de-husker used by one of the native women.

Leona noticed that the tool in question, roughly 18 in long and 20 lb in weight, resembled the distal portion of an elephant tusk or rhino horn, but as there are no elephants or rhinos in New Guinea she was very perplexed as to its true identity and origin. When she told her husband, he made some enquiries and was shown several of these curious objects, which were made of a horn-like substance present in cone-shaped layers - i.e. resembling a stacked pile of paper drinking cups, one cup inside another. When pressed for more details, some of the natives drew a strange lizard-like creature in the sand, whose tail terminated in one of these horns. They called this beast the row (after its loud cry), and said that it was 40 ft long,

Although Miller was initially sceptical of their claims, he could not deny the evidence of the horns and could offer no alternative explanation for their origin, and so when he learned that the hills to the northwest of the Kirrirri camp reputedly harboured these gigantic beasts, he set out with his wife and a native party in the hope of filming them. After a couple of days' journey, they reached a triangular swamp situated between two plateaux and occupying an area of roughly 40 acres. As Miller sat there, looking at a bed of tall reeds a quarter of a mile away, the reeds suddenly moved. Something was behind them. Hardly daring to breathe, Miller waited for them to move again, camera in hand - and when they did, the result was so shocking that Leona collapsed to the ground, almost fainting with fear.

A long thin neck bearing a small head fringed with a flaring bony hood had risen up through the reeds, followed by a sturdy elephantine body bearing a series of huge triangular plates running along its backbone, and a lengthy tapering tail bearing at its tip one of the mysterious horns that Miller had come to know so well. Its front limbs were shorter than its hind limbs, and while Miller was filming it, the row unexpectedly paused, raised itself up onto its hind limbs, and peered in the party's direction, almost as if it sensed the presence of these human interlopers within its private, prehistoric domain. In colour, it was precisely the same shade of light yellow-brown as the surrounding reeds, no doubt affording it excellent camouflage should it seek anonymity, but it was presently intent upon more extrovert behaviour - rearing up on two further occasions before disappearing from sight behind a clump of dwarf eucalyptus trees, just as Miller's film ran out.

My copy of the 1951 Travel Book Club reprint of Cannibal Caravan (© Travel Book Club, reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

In 1939, his extraordinary adventure was first published in book form - Cannibal Caravan. Yet despite containing many interesting pictures, there was none of his most spectacular discovery, the row. There was not even a photograph of one of the tail horns. Similarly, although Miller claimed to have shown the film to various (unnamed) authorities, nothing more has ever emerged regarding it, or the Kirrirri either, for that matter, as this tribe has apparently never been encountered again by any other explorer.

Equally odd was that in Cannibals and Orchids (1941), Leona Miller's own book recalling their ostensibly highly eventful New Guinea honeymoon, she relegated the row episode to just a few short paragraphs (of which only a single half-paragraph directly documented their actual supposed sighting of it), and which contained none of the descriptive details given by her husband in his book (indeed, her entire description of it was confined to a single sentence, concerning its length). Needless to say, this is hardly what one might expect from someone who had supposedly encountered (and been thoroughly unnerved by) a living dinosaur!

Nevertheless, because I am unaware of any previous cryptozoological document ever having quoted her account of the row (as opposed to his), I am doing so now for its historical (if not its descriptive) value:

In the village we found the horny tail-tip of the row. It looked like a rhinoceros horn, except that one side had been worn flat and smooth from dragging across the ground. The Kirrirri women, undaunted by the battleship proportions of the creature that supplied it, used the point for husking coconuts.

Having seen the tip of the tail, Charles had to see the row. The Kirrirris, mightily impressed by Charles’s guns, were agreeable. They were just crazy enough to see what would happen when Charles popped at a monster with a gun, and Charles was just crazy enough to show them. I went along because I wouldn’t have been any better off if I stayed behind, and I also had an idea that if there really was such a thing as the creature described – I didn’t believe it for a minute – I wanted to be where I could yank Charles out before he did something he wouldn’t have time to regret.

We went, we saw the darn thing, and we came back. Charles got motion pictures of it, but it was his reflexes, trained in Hollywood, that started the camera. His brain was just as frozen as mine. In fact of the two of us, he was more scared than I. I was just scared blank and couldn’t get any more frightened. Charles had been in so many tight spots before, he could appreciate the various shadings of danger. This was the blackest shade he had ever encountered, so he hit a new high in fright. He says it really takes an expert to be as scared as he was, though I later encountered moments when I came awfully close to it.

Artistic representation of the row (© Tim Morris)

The row was the real thing. In a radio broadcast on a nation-wide hook-up I ventured to describe it over the air. The resulting fan-mail indicated the public was still interested in prehistoric monsters. It has long been known to science that Dutch New Guinea harbors some sort of monster on the order of, but much larger, than the Varanus Komodoensis. Other explores have found additional evidence, but Charles and I believe we are the first white people actually to see one alive and to have found its lair.

The giant reptile we saw was somewhere between thirty and forty feet long, which is not big considering that some of the crocodiles grow thirty feet long in the Merauke River. It was its bulk that made it so tremendous. But every tiny detail was impressed upon my mind, to be recalled bit by bit as the first shock wore off. Many a night after that I lay awake staring through the clouds of mosquitoes humming around my net and seeing only this monster smashing its casual way through what should have been an impenetrable quagmire of thorn brush and barbed wire marsh grass.

Charles took no shots at it. He recalled suddenly that he owed it to civilization to photograph in full the various details of the lost tribe. We hastened back to resume our travelogue where we left off. It was strangely restful to get in back of a tripod again, with nothing more alarming in front of the lens than a few dozen cannibals.

Perhaps the most paradoxical aspect of this entire episode, however, concerns the row itself. For although palaeontologists currently recognise the former existence of many hundreds of different dinosaur species, collectively yielding a myriad of shapes, sizes, and forms, not one compares even superficially with the row - and for very good reason. As Dr Bernard Heuvelmans pointed out in On the Track of Unknown Animals (1958), the row's morphology is truly surrealistic - because it combines the characteristics of several wholly unrelated dinosaur groups.

Little wonder, then, why cryptozoologists are reluctant to countenance any likelihood of this morphologically composite creature's reality. Of course, their denunciation could be premature - but as long as Miller's film remains as elusive as the beast that it allegedly depicts, how can we blame them for remaining unconvinced?

Intriguingly, however, as documented in Rex and Heather Gilroy's fascinating Australian cryptozoology tome Out of the Dreamtime (2006), reports of a neodinosaurian cryptid with the similar-sounding local name of rahruh have apparently been emerging elsewhere in New Guinea, but especially Papua New Guinea, for at least a century.

Out of the Dreamtime (© Rex and Heather Gilroy/URU Publications – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

The reports describe an extremely large bipedal reptile with a very long neck, long tail, and predominantly frugivorous diet, but one that will also readily encompass the consumption of any Highland tribespeople who attempt to confront it. There have been many reports and sightings here of gigantic monitor lizards or varanids known as the artrellia, far longer than the accepted maximum length of 15 ft accorded to this island's native Salvadori's monitor Varanus salvadorii, and monitors can walk bipedally for a short time or distance, but the rahruh is supposedly very distinct from any such lizard.

Over the years, moreover, alleged sightings of sauropod-like mystery beasts have been reported from various tiny islets off the southwestern coast of the much larger island of New Britain (and also from New Britain itself), situated in the Bismarck Archipelago to the east of New Guinea, but little information concerning their precise appearance has been recorded. Conversely, I know of at least one reputed encounter with a very different type of supposed living dinosaur on one of these specks of land for which a detailed description is indeed on file, and which has been likened to a highly distinctive if decidedly surprising fossil form.

Brian Irwin on West New Britain's Ursula River (© Brian Irwin and Todd Jurasek)

In January 2008, Australian cryptozoologist Brian Irwin visited the island of Ambungi (aka Umbungi), and while there he interviewed one of two eyewitnesses who claim to have seen an extraordinary animal in 2005/2006, and which has apparently been sighted here and on a neighbouring isle called Alage at least nine times since the early 1990s. Robert, whom Brian interviewed (the absent eyewitness was named Tony Avil), stated that the creature was approximately 30-45 ft long, possessed smooth brown shiny skin, a long tail, and also a long neck, but was bipedal, and resembled a huge wallaby in overall appearance, except for its head, which was turtle-like.

When walking slowly on its hind legs, the top of this creature's head was estimated to be "as high as a house", and the vertical distance from its underbelly to the ground was estimated to be equal to the height of an adult man. It was observed from a distance of around 150 ft in the late afternoon, and for some considerable time, while it ate vegetation before eventually walking away, entering into some water, followed cautiously at a distance by its eyewitnesses.

Another view of a life-sized statue representing the postulated appearance in life of Therizinosaurus (© Dr Karl Shuker)

When shown pictures of creatures, Robert selected a restoration of the possible appearance in life of the theropod dinosaur Therizinosaurus as most closely resembling what he and Avil had seen that day – except for the head, which was depicted as horse-like in the illustration. As Brian has commented, however, the head's morphology in that picture was entirely speculative, because no skull identified as being from a Therizinosaurus has ever been documented, so the appearance of its head is currently unknown. Indeed, the only portions of this very large theropod from the late Cretaceous that are known from fossil evidence are its limbs and some ribs, so much of its likely appearance is merely deduced from related forms.

Ironically, however, its most famous confirmed attributes, and which must have been truly spectacular in life, are conspicuous only by their absence from Roger's description of the cryptid seen by him and Avil – because Therizinosaurus possessed incredibly long claws on its hands, probably up to 3 ft long (only incomplete versions are currently on record). In short, combining this startling absence from Roger's description with the relatively undetermined appearance of Therizinosaurus as a whole anyway, his identification of the latter dinosaur's illustration as being most similar to the cryptid that he saw clearly cannot be taken literally in any sense (although it has been on some websites), and can do no more than offer a basic idea of the latter beast's general form.

Todd Jurasek and Brian Irwin (© Brian Irwin and Todd Jurasek)

During late December 2015 through early January 2016, Brian was in New Britain, accompanied by American cryptid investigator Todd Jurasek, to continue Brian's earlier researches. Todd's summary of what they learnt while there (plus a selection of their photographs) is included exclusively here as follows, with his kind permission:

1) Ambungi Island - We visited Ambungi Island examining the caves reportedly used by a sauropod in recent years. Brian and I and [a] large group [of] islanders went to the caves at night. Conflicting reports from the native divers led me to suspect it wasn't really a deep one. I went back and physically examined the cave the next day in daylight. The water surrounding the entrance was maybe 15 ft at its deepest point, the cave maybe about 10 ft wide and deep. I placed a trail camera for a week above a secondary purported cave with no success. The last reported dinosaur sighting around the island was back in July of 2015 by an adult male who wished to remain anonymous. He watched a brown long necked creature with a saw like ridge on his back moving in the open ocean in the afternoon while in a canoe. Ambungi Island appears to be visited at times by these creatures but I saw no surface caves capable of hiding an animal larger than an adult human. The island is comprised of pocketed limestone that has the appearance of Swiss cheese or iron/steel slag discard from an iron or steel mill. (I'm guessing most of the islands in New Britain if not all appear this way.) Just like Swiss cheese there are no real continual holes to be found, just many odd-shaped pot-marked ones of various sizes. The only sizable holes on the island that I saw were along the shores where water erosion has occurred on [a] consistent basis creating small bluffs or overhangs.

Main cave, next to boat, on Ambungi Island reputedly used by sauropod-like creature (© Brian Irwin and Todd Jurasek)

2) Aiu Island (nearest island to Ambungi, also owned by the Ambungi people). According to [an eyewitness called] Davis who lives on the island, he and others had been chased out of the sea on multiple occasions at night by something emanating a bright white light. They were spearfishing at night when a bright white light would come out of the horizon and chase them to shore. Davis couldn't tell if the light was an animal or not. After chasing the group to shore the light would then fly away to heights of the island. The men and boys spearfish at night off canoes. My guess is whatever the light was [it] was attracted to their flashlights maybe even more so than their presence or movement. (Flashlights are used to both guide their boats and underwater for spotting fish and predators.) The light fits the descriptions of the New Guinea pterosaur-like cryptids known as ropen. Flying brightly-lit nocturnal creatures were also reported to have been seen in Karadian in the past; one such story was told to me by [local missionary] Bryan Girard's son, Rist. Another person in Karadian told me about an encounter with lights there at night. No planes fly in PNG [Papua New Guinea] at night so they couldn't have been aircraft. As Brian and I travelled to Karadian along the Armio road I met a young ex-school teacher from the island of Bali, PNG (not Indonesia) whose name I forget (have picture of him). He told me of similar creatures on his island. He said a bright light flew over the ocean or travelled partially submerged in the water like an octopus with its head sticking out from Bali at night to another nearby island. He was familiar with the subject of living pterosaurs and brought up Umboi Island to me as well as Roy Mackal's famous New Britain lake cryptid [already known for his mokele-mbembe expeditions, Prof. Roy Mackal also investigated the migo of New Britain's Lake Dakataua during the 1990s].

3) Akinum. Brian and I visited the [New Britain] village of Akinum where Michael Hoffman filmed the "West New Britain Carcass" video that was posted on YouTube in January of 2014. We were led to believe the rotten carcass was buried by a back hoe at some point after washing ashore; however, it appears the remains may have just washed back into the sea. Michael accompanied us to Akinum as well as to Ambungi Island. A mechanic from Karadian who viewed the decaying remains said it was built like a wallaby with a saw on its back, had small front arms with four fingers on little hands and very large back legs. The legs were so large that two men had [a] hard time lifting and moving one of them. This was reported to me by missionary Bryan Girard, the poster of the YouTube video. There were conflicting reports as to what happened to the remains. Brian Irwin and I went to the village under the impression the remains were buried on the spot due to the stench. We also heard they were picked over by curiosity seekers and that the remains had just washed out slowly back to sea. It is my opinion based from talking to the locals that this is what most likely happened. The natives that we spoke with told us they had never seen the animal before and were adamant it did not live anywhere around there.

4) Crocodile Point. Brian and I looked into a story of a man (Graham Sangeo) who reportedly had fed fish to a small bipedal dinosaur for years near Crocodile Point. The animal turned out to be a male primate of some sort that walked primarily on two legs according to our guide Leo Sangeo, Graham's father. He guided us to the cave which is currently abandoned. Leo described the creature as brown colored, about a meter to a meter and a half tall, big muscular arms and shoulders. The arms were shorter than the legs and its knees and big legs could be seen. The animal's feet were like a dog's hind feet with five toes (I asked Leo repeatedly about this feature to make sure I understood him correctly), it had very small to no tail, and canines like a monkey or ape does. The creature would come down out of the cave at night [and] scrounge around, walking on two legs at least a part of the time. It could be seen at times seemingly staring out to sea as if it was watching the horizon. Leo and Graham and a few others would attach cooked fish to tall branches and lift them up to it. It would then eat the food out [of] its hands. Leo said the animal grew bigger over time. The creature eventually brought two babies. He said he never saw the female. I'm not sure if the others saw the female or not. Graham discovered the creature in 2011, feeding it until he left for school in 2014 or 2015; others continued afterward but eventually stopped and the creature disappeared. Based on the description I'm inclined to believe this was a small ape of some sort or possibly a small bigfoot like creature. I was told by at least one other person along the distant Andru River that wild hairy men could be found in the Whitman range.

The Andru River (© Brian Irwin and Todd Jurasek)

5) Aivet Island. In 1992 John Manlel of Aivet Island had a startling encounter along the mangrove strewn shores of the island with what he described as a bright green dinosaur. He had been canoeing along the shores of the island around 4 pm when he accidentally startled the creature from about 20 or so yards away in open water. The animal attempted to submerge quickly but struggled because of how it was built. John said he watched it for about 5 minutes. He said he knew it lived on land because of the way it was built. The creature had two short hand-like front legs and much bigger back ones. The body was about 12 ft long with a very thick 5 to 6 ft tail that was about 8 in wide. The animal moved its tail back and forth as it moved through the water. John said the head looked like that of a dinosaur, the skin was rough like a crocodile and over-all build was kangaroo in shape. The creature had a small saw like structure on its back that became much bigger from back legs to the end of tail. There may have been an outlying ridge of small saw like structures along its tail like a crocodile has. If I can remember correctly the central ridge originating from the back ran between these. John said he never spoken to anyone but family about this encounter until he told Brian and I. He was frozen terrified by [it] when he sighted the creature and was adamant it was a dinosaur of some sort.

For the most part, the serrated-back water creatures sound very much like large crocodiles, but one would expect the local people to be very familiar with such beasts and not deem them to be anything other than crocodiles. Also, the bright green version reputedly spied by John Manlel, which had much shorter forelegs than hind legs, does not recall any crocodilian species known to exist today. Having viewed the 'West New Britain Carcass' video on YouTube (which can be accessed here), in my opinion it is the highly-decomposed remains of a large whale rather than anything reptilian, and various other zoologists and cryptozoologists who have seen it hold the same opinion, but some others favour a reptilian identity, ranging from a large crocodile or giant lizard to a bona fide dinosaur. Sadly, no physical samples from it were made available for formal scientific analysis, so the video is the only visible testament to this intriguing entity.

Two views of my Therizinosaurus model, reconstructed with feathers fringing its forelimbs (© Dr Karl Shuker)

As for the mysterious bipedal ape-like entity fed by Graham Sangeo: no species of monkey or ape is known from anywhere in New Guinea, but there have long been reports from here of a mysterious miniature bigfoot-like creature known locally as the kayadi. So if such a creature truly exists, perhaps this is what Sangeo had been feeding. Also of note is that Sangeo claimed that the adult female was never seen, i.e. indicating that they believed the adult individual bringing the two babies to have been a male. However, it may be that the latter was actually a female but with a large clitoris that its eyewitnesses had mistaken for a penis (in some primate species, famously including the spider monkeys Ateles spp., the adult female's clitoris is indeed noticeably large and superficially penis-like). After all, it is far more likely to have been an adult female than an adult male that was caring for the babies.

Brian Irwin and Todd Jurasek have asked me to announce that if anyone reading this account here has information concerning any of the mystery beasts sought by them in New Britain and its outlying islets, please contact them via Todd's email address: hunterfox743@gmail.com

This ShukerNature blog article has been excerpted and expanded from my book Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors.




Friday, 1 March 2019

A TENACIOUS PTERODACTYL, OR A CRYPTIC CANARD? RECALLING A CLASSIC CASE OF INFAMOUS IMMOLATION!


Did a living pterodactyl emerge from a blasted-apart hollow boulder in 19th-Century France? (© Dr Karl Shuker)

It can be all too easy to forget sometimes that just because in over 40 years of researching and writing about all manner of animal anomalies I have encountered one or other tall story countless times, there are many younger enthusiasts out there who are discovering it for the very first time and are naturally very excited by it, not being aware of its full history and denouement.

I was reminded of this recently when I received an email from a youthful cryptozoology fan who had just read what he considered to be an awesome 19th-Century report announcing the discovery of an allegedly long-entombed but still-living pterodactyl in France. I first learned about this (in)famous incident of entombment or immolation more than four decades ago, at the beginning of my own career in cryptozoological research, when Fortean Times recalled it in the form of a delightful comic-strip presentation drawn by FT's inestimable artist-in-residence, the wonderful Hunt Emerson.  So yes, there was a time in my life when I had not previously encountered this case either. Bearing that in mind, therefore, I've decided that it merits a retelling after all, and so, for my youthful correspondent and other first-timers, here it is.

According to an Illustrated London News report for 9 February 1856, a pterodactyl had supposedly emerged, weak but nonetheless alive, from out of a hollow boulder blasted apart during the then-recent excavation of a new railway tunnel at Culmont, in France. As soon as it took its first breath of air, however, it promptly expired. Although it has been repeated ad infinitum ever since in books, articles, and websites, this startling ILN report is rarely if ever reproduced directly in its original typeset form, so I am duly presenting it herewith, complete with its decidedly bizarre, mystifying title. (If anyone can explain to me why in this report's title the pterodactyl was likened to a whale, I'd be extremely grateful. Is it a now-obscure 19th-Century idiom that actually had connotations very different from its primary, literal meaning? I have absolutely no idea.)

The complete entombed-pterodactyl report as it originally appeared on p. 166 of the Illustrated London News for 9 February 1856 (public domain)

Here, therefore, was surely a true (albeit brief) prehistoric survivor – not merely a modern-day descendant of an ancient line, but a bona fide Mesozoic monster that had somehow survived in suspended animation for over 64 million years! Moreover, when its body was examined by an anonymous expert, he was able to identify its species very precisely – Pterodactylus anas. Yet, amazingly, nothing more was ever heard of this zoologically-priceless specimen – but for good reason.

In reality, of course, there is no such species as Pterodactylus anas, and there was no such specimen either – but none of this should come as any surprise to the linguistically-minded, for whom all of the clues for deciphering the true nature of this tall tale are readily available. After all, 'anas' is Latin for 'duck', which in French (bearing in mind that the pterodactyl was supposedly found in France) is 'canard' – a word with a very different meaning in English. Namely, indicating an unfounded, deceiving story with no truth in it!

If nothing else, therefore, this whimsical case certainly confirms that 'fake news' is not a new phenomenon!

A word of advice: never be tempted to release a pterodactyl from a boulder – you know it makes sense! (© Richard Svensson)




Friday, 22 February 2019

HOLY GOAT! – IT'S PSEUDONOVIBOS!


Dr Maurizio Dioli holding a Pseudonovibos spiralis frontlet (© Dr Maurizio Dioli)

During the 1990s, a startling array of new and rediscovered species of ungulate were revealed in Indochina. Whereas the most famous of these is the saola or Vu Quang ox Pseudoryx nghetinhensis (the remarkable antelope-horned, long-limbed bovine beast that had remained entirely unknown to science until its discovery in Vu Quang, Vietnam, during 1992), the most infamous is the holy goat or kting voar Pseudonovibos spiralis – always assuming, of course, that this hoofed mystery beast ever existed at all...

Its convoluted scientific history began in earnest on a market stall in southern Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City - for that is where, in early 1994, German zoologist Dr Wolfgang Peter, visiting from Münster's Zoological Gardens, spotted a strange pair of horns that were unlike any that he had seen before. They were approximately 18 in long, heavily spiralled, blackish in colour, and their upper portions were greatly splayed - so that they bore more than a passing resemblance to a somewhat strange pair of motorbike handlebars!

Although he didn't purchase them, Peter did take some photographs. And when he and his colleagues back home in Germany and elsewhere around the world were unable to assign these mystifying horns to any known species, he and fellow German zoologist Dr Alfred Feiler, from Dresden's State Museum of Natural History, paid several further visits to southern Vietnam. Here they succeeded in uncovering eight pairs of these peculiar horns, one pair becoming the type specimen for the formal description (published by Peter and Feiler later in 1994) of their still-unseen owner as a new species, housed within its own, brand-new genus. Incredibly, this was the third new genus of large ungulate to be described in just over a year, following on from Pseudoryx in 1993 and Megamuntiacus in 1994 (although Megamuntiacus has since been abandoned – its sole species, the giant muntjac M. vuquangensis, having been reassigned to the typical muntjac genus Muntiacus).

Conversations with locals in the Vietnamese districts of Kon Tum, Dac Lac, and Ban Me Thuot revealed that they were familiar with this creature, which they call the linh duong - sometimes translated as 'holy goat'. Another local name given to it translates as 'spiral-horn'. Scientifically, moreover, it is Pseudonovibos spiralis ('spiral-horned false kouprey') - emphasising its spiralled horns, and their deceptive similarity in shape to those of the Cambodian wild ox or kouprey Bos (Novibos) sauveli, which itself remained concealed from scientific detection until 1936 and is also deemed controversial nowadays (but that, as they say, is another story!).

Stunning life-sized statue of a kouprey in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, showing clearly its very distinctive horns (© Prof. Colin Groves)

This, however, is only half of the Pseudonovibos saga. At much the same time that Peter and Feiler were discovering its horns in Vietnam, Norway-based zoologist Dr Maurizio Dioli was visiting northeastern Cambodia's Mondulkiri and Rattanakiri provinces when he purchased two pairs of unusual spiral horns at a market. Each pair was attached to a portion of skull, and seemed to resemble the horns of a juvenile female kouprey.

Upon closer observation, however, Dioli found that the skulls' sutures were completely fused - conclusive proof that the animals had been adults, not juveniles. Moreover, whereas those of female koupreys are smooth and markedly oval in cross section, Dioli's horns bore very pronounced rings, were almost perfectly circular in cross section, and were more widely splayed. Clearly, then, these were not from a kouprey. Nor did they match those from either of the other two species of wild cattle known in Cambodia - the gaur Bos gaurus and the banteng B. javanicus. Indeed, they did not correspond with the horns of any animal documented by science.

When Dioli made enquiries, he learnt from local Cambodian hunters that these mystifying horns belonged to a large bovine beast that they call the kting (or kthing) voar. This name translates as 'wild cow with vine-like horns', referring to their rings and curved shape.

Holding a kting voar frontlet (© Dr Maurizio Dioli)

Judging from hunters' accounts collected by Dioli and also, more recently, by the Cambodia National Tiger Survey, the kting voar weighs 440-660 lb, stands 3.5-4 ft at the withers, and is said to be somewhat bovine in basic form. However, it is taller and more slender than a banteng or a domestic cow, and has legs like those of the sambar deer Rusa unicolor, as well as a well-developed coat, which is variously claimed to be uniformly greyish-black or dark red in colour. Very shy, rare, fleet-footed, and agile, given to standing on its hind legs to browse off leaves on trees, it lives in small family groups amid the region's mountainous dipterocarp forests. Evidently, therefore, although it has successfully eluded scientific detection, this reclusive animal is no stranger to the region's people, thus making all the more interesting their second, alternative name for it - kting sipuoh, or 'snake-eating wild cow'!

It is not unique for primitive native folklore to incorporate fanciful beliefs regarding herbivorous ungulates consuming serpents - Indian tribes tell similar stories concerning Asia's ibex-like markhor Capra falconeri. Although intriguing, these curious claims have no scientific corroboration.

An adult male markhor showing its magnificent spiralled horns (© Geographer/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.5 licence)

The hunters alleged that when the kting voar devours snakes, these reptiles bite its horns, creating their rings, and imbuing them with venom. This supposedly bestows the horns with medicinal properties against snake bite. Consequently, as soon as a kting voar is killed by a hunter, its horns are removed and used for making venom antidote. This is prepared by burning the horns in a fire - hence few survive to be sold at the markets as trophies.

Not long afterwards, Dioli learnt of Peter and Feiler's investigations, and he recognised that the horns of their Vietnamese holy goat matched those of his Cambodian kting voar. These two mysterious mammals were one and the same - both belonged to the newly-named species Pseudonovibos spiralis. Moreover, Dioli revealed that two horns supposedly from a young female kouprey that were collected in southern Vietnam as long ago as 1929 and donated to the Kansas Museum of Natural History are actually those of Pseudonovibos.

Researches have suggested that Pseudonovibos had once been most common in Vietnam, but has been so heavily hunted there that today it survives predominantly across the border in Cambodia. Despite being known to the western world now for over 20 years, however, one major mystery remains unsolved. Scientists have yet to spy a living Pseudonovibos - apart from native testimony, therefore, we still do not know for sure what it looks like!

The ling, as portrayed in San Cai Tu Hui (1607) (public domain)

Having said that, however, a certain antiquated Chinese encyclopedia may offer a unique clue, as revealed by Drs Alastair A. Macdonald and Lixin N. Yang. Entitled San Cai Tu Hui, compiled by Wang Chi and Wang Si Yi, and published in 1607, it contains a drawing and short piece of accompanying text concerning a sturdy horned creature known as the ling. According to this encyclopedia, the ling: "...looks like a goat but is larger. Its horns are round and have pointed tips". There is also a fanciful account of how it uses its horns to hang from trees at night to sleep. The animal depicted in the drawing does not call to mind any known species of ungulate - except, that is, for its horns, whose shape and ribbed pattern, as acknowledged by Macdonald and Yang, do recall those of Pseudonovibos.

Moreover, in 1999 a team of German zoologists, which included Feiler and also Dr Ralph Tiedemann from Kiel University, published a short communication documenting the results of some mitochondrial DNA sequence analyses featuring DNA extracted from Pseudonovibos horn fragments and compared with corresponding DNA sequences from a range of other bovid ungulates in an attempt to ascertain its taxonomic affinities. These analyses revealed that Pseudonovibos did seem to be more closely related to goats than to antelopes or to cattle (despite its generic name), but in an e-mail Dr Tiedemann informed me that his team would be publishing more extensive genetic comparisons at a later date.

And in an e-mail to me of 15 December 1999, highly-renowned ungulate and primate expert Prof. Colin Groves, then based at Canberra's Australia National University, revealed that Australian zoologist Dr Jack Giles of Taronga Zoo in Sydney had recently visited Vietnam, where he had been shown an old black-and-white photo of a local hunter sitting upon a dead Pseudonovibos! Frustratingly, however, the photo was of such poor quality that little detail could be discerned, other than the fact that the animal was not particularly large. Making matters even worse, the hunter was perched upon the dead beast's head, thereby obscuring any distinguishing facial or cranial features that may have been visible. (After learning this, I promptly wrote to Dr Giles requesting information and sight of this photograph, but unfortunately I did not receive any reply from him.)

Prof. Colin Groves, examining a deformed male mountain gorilla skull from Rwanda (public domain)

Even more tantalising are reports from early January 1995 documenting the capture of a still-unidentified mystery mammal in central Vietnam during December 1994. An immature female specimen, it was caught alive near the village of A Luoi in the central Vietnamese province of Thua Thien-Hue, more than 180 miles southeast of Vu Quang (the geographical epicentre for Vietnam's 1990s ungulate discoveries). Referred to by its captors as a tuoa, it died shortly afterwards, and was eaten before its body could be scientifically examined. Its mother had also been captured, but escaped. The calf weighed 36 lb, and was said not to be a saola. Instead, it resembled a goat, with a roundish head, long ears, horns, stout body, and a black and white coat patterned with buff and grey patches. According to quotes attributed to Hanoi University zoologist Prof. Ha Dinh Duc, it seemed to be different from any bovid species known scientifically in Vietnam.

Nothing more has been heard about the tuoa, but in view of its morphological description, could this cryptic creature be one and the same as Pseudonovibos? If so, how ironic, and tragic, that the only complete - and living - specimen to come within reach of modern-day science found its way into a local cooking pot instead!

Spectacular painting of an adult saola (right) and okapi (left) prepared specifically by acclaimed American wildlife artist and longstanding friend Bill Rebsamen for my second and third books on new and rediscovered animals (© William M. Rebsamen)

Moreover, in his above-noted e-mail to me, Robert Timmins opined that it may already be too late for this most elusive Indochinese hoofed debutante: "It's looking like Pseudonovibos has disappeared like the rhinos for a perceived medicinal value to its horns".

However, we should not - indeed, cannot - forget that during the 1990s Indochina hosted an unparalleled spectacle of mammalogical revelations, and with research continuing here the present 21st century may well witness many more surprises in this cryptozoologically rich and still far from well-explored region. There must surely be hope, therefore, that one of these surprises will be the long-awaited discovery of living specimens of Pseudonovibos – or will it...?

A selection of individual Pseudonovibos horns (© Dr Maurizio Dioli)

In January 2001, a team of French biologists including Drs Arnoult Seveau, Herbert Thomas, and Alexandre Hassanin published a pair of startling, highly controversial papers, in which they claimed that Pseudonovibos is non-existent - a forgery. They based their claim upon the results of two separate studies of Pseudonovibos material. In one of these, they sequenced two DNA markers from the bony cores of four sets of Pseudonovibos horns, and compared them with the equivalent genetic markers in Vietnamese domestic cattle. In the second study, they conducted a histological examination of the keratin in six Pseudonovibos frontlets (the horn-bearing frontal bones of the skull that constitute the animal's brow or forehead). The results of the DNA study revealed that the markers from the Pseudonovibos material were a perfect match with those from the Vietnamese domestic cattle. And the keratin study exposed the Pseudonovibos frontlets' horns to be nothing more than domestic cattle horns whose keratin sheaths had been skilfully manipulated by heat treatment, followed by twisting and trimming, to create the distinctive spiral, heavily-ridged horns characterising Pseudonovibos.

Yet although there can be little (if any?) doubt that these particular specimens are indeed fakes, there is currently no evidence that any of the several other sets of Pseudonovibos horns on record (including this species' type material) are also fraudulent. Hence the French team's bold statement that Pseudonovibos is not a new animal and its scientific name should be abandoned is premature, to say the least. Kansas University mammalogist Prof. Robert M. Timm has published an extensive paper on Pseudonovibos, in which he and fellow mammalogist Dr John H. Brandt documented two sets of Pseudonovibos trophy horns procured by two western big game hunters in Vietnam during 1929 (but not recognised back then to be from anything special or new). Following the appearance of the French team's claims, Timm averred that he had no doubt that Pseudonovibos is a valid taxon, having uncovered various overlooked records from the 1880s and 1950s that documented a mysterious spiral-horned bovine beast ostensibly synonymous with P. spiralis.

Moreover, in a separate paper a team of Eastern European scientists announced that their phylogenetic analyses of nearly-complete 12S mitochondrial rDNA sequences for this enigmatic creature and a number of other bovids indicate that P. spiralis is a valid species belonging to the buffalo subtribe (Bovina), and should be placed between the Asiatic buffaloes Bubalus and the African buffalo Syncerus.

Asian water buffalo Bubalus (top) and African buffalo Syncerus (bottom) (© Dr Karl Shuker / public domain)

Personally, I consider it possible that the answer to the riddle of whether Pseudonovibos truly exists is that this enigmatic beast is a real but extremely rare species, so rare that procurement of its much-prized, supposedly snake-repelling horns even by locals is extremely difficult - which has in turn led to the deliberate preparation of copies for use in rituals. In other words, some of the preserved horns on record are indeed fakes, yet were created not to fool, but merely to act as substitutes for the real thing. This is also an opinion that has been aired by Prof. Colin Groves, though as he has noted to me, if the type material for Pseudonovibos is examined and is also shown to be fake, then regardless of whether this animal does exist, the name 'Pseudonovibos spiralis' must be abandoned, and every remaining specimen must be examined to see whether any genuine material does exist.

Meanwhile, however, the holy goat remains suspended in a decidedly unholy scientific limbo, and seems destined to remain there indefinitely, or at least until – if ever – further evidence for or against its reality is obtained.


The above ShukerNature blog article is excerpted and expanded from my book The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals. My sincere thanks as ever to Dr Maurizio Dioli for very kindly permitting me to include some of his photographs in my writings.



EPILOGUE

In early August 2016, cryptozoological colleague Lorenzo Rossi brought to my attention a very strange but intriguing photograph that he had recently discovered in the entry for Pseudonovibos in Spain's version of Wikipedia (but not present at that time in other countries' Wikipedia entries for Pseudonovibos, although, very oddly, it does currently appear in the English-language Wikimedia Commons entry for the saola!). According to the photo's subject and accompanying caption, it depicted in close-up a living specimen of the kting voar encountered in Cambodia. Remarkably, however, this potentially highly-significant image had (and still has) attracted virtually no cryptozoological attention – ostensibly a very surprising situation, bearing in mind the still-unresolved controversy regarding this notoriously elusive/non-existent creature.

Moreover, in the photo, the creature has either somehow lost its right-hand horn or it is twisted backwards out of sight; and, very bizarrely, a snake appears to be fastened by its jaws to and hanging down from the creature's still-present or visible left-hand horn. Here is the photo in question:

Photograph of an alleged living kting voar in Cambodia, currently still online in Spain's Wikipedia (click here to visit the entry) (© Stephenpkirrane/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only for academic/educational review purposes)

Naturally, I was exceedingly curious as to what precisely was depicted in this odd photo (and in a near-identical one that I shortly afterwards discovered on the Cryptidz Wikia site – in the latter, there was more foliage partly obscuring the creature's face), especially as to me it seemed very similar in appearance to ordinary domestic goats commonly seen in Cambodia (such as several of the somewhat frisky individuals currently viewable here in a short YouTube video). Accordingly, I decided to obtain the opinion of a certain internationally-renowned authority on ungulates, who also happened to have an abiding interest in cryptozoology, and with whom I had corresponded on many different subjects (including Pseudonovibos) for many years. I refer of course to the earlier-mentioned mammalogist Prof. Colin Groves, who had delineated and formally described several major new species of mammal in modern times, and whose subsequent passing on 30 November 2017 was a massive loss to mainstream zoology and cryptozoology alike.

I was very interested to discover in his emailed response of 11 August 2016 to my enquiry sent to him a day earlier (and also in a subsequent, more detailed phone conversation between us regarding this matter) that Prof. Groves aired precisely the same thoughts that had occurred to me when perusing the image. Here are his most significant comments from his email:

I certainly agree with you about the goat… [and] if you [look] carefully there is a very distinct join along the forehead.  I would think it just must be that rare thing, a goat standing in water (or else the water has been photoshopped into the picture)… The other one [horn] is just visible at the base, evidently skewed backward.  It may be that the only frontlet and horns available to the photographer or photoshopper was defective in some way, maybe the right horn had broken off and what remained of it was pulled out of sight… The rather scruffy hair along the bases of the horns is brownish.

Summarising his emailed and phone comments: Prof. Groves personally deemed the photo to be of a domestic Cambodian goat either directly photographed or digitally photoshopped standing in water, with a Pseudonovibos frontlet bearing brown hair at its base either physically attached to or digitally photoshopped onto its black-haired head, and with one of the frontlet's horns broken off or twisted virtually out of sight. A nice touch also commented upon by Prof. Groves was the snake hanging down from the fully-visible left horn, because this immediately recalls the horn-biting snake-related folklore linked to the kting voar.

All in all, a photograph every bit as enigmatic as the highly ambiguous animal that it purportedly portrays – a fitting conclusion, in fact, to a lengthy, tortuous tale as twisted and contorted as the spiralled horns of Pseudonovibos itself!


I wish to dedicate this ShukerNature blog article to the memory of Prof. Colin Groves, in grateful thanks to him for his kind and always much-valued assistance and responses to my many enquiries on all manner of mutually interesting wildlife subjects down through the years.

Prof. Colin Groves (1942-2017), RIP. (public domain)