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

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

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

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

Search This Blog

Loading...

Sunday, 17 May 2009

TIGER, TIGER, BURNING BLUE...

Blue tiger, full-face image (William Rebsamen)


Encountering a tiger at close range in the wild is an exciting experience at the best of times. For Methodist missionary Harry R. Caldwell, however, it was more than just exciting – it was truly exceptional, because that is precisely what the tiger in question was. Eschewing the fiery-furred appearance of normal tigers, this extraordinary specimen, sighted in what is now Fujian, China, must have been a truly astonishing creature to behold, because its black-striped coat was deep blue!

It was during the early years of the 20th Century when Harry R. Caldwell first heard of a mystifying, almost preternatural man-eating tiger stalking the forests of southeastern China’s Fukien (now renamed Fujian) province. What made this particular killer so distinctive, however, was the local people’s vehement assertion that it was blue in colour, not the typical blazing, orange-tawny shade of typical tigers. Not surprisingly, Caldwell initially dismissed such claims as native folklore – until, while searching for this creature with his son, John, he discovered on several occasions a number of unquestionably blue-tinged tiger hairs along the mountain trails that the great cat was said to traverse. Nicknaming it Bluebeard, Caldwell decided to hunt down and kill this astounding animal, not only to rid the villages of its bloodthirsty menace but also to prove to science that at least one blue tiger really did exist.


Computer-generated blue tiger (Dr Karl Shuker)

For a time, the legendary Bluebeard eluded Caldwell’s best efforts to track it down, even though, as well as being a missionary, he was also an experienced big-game hunter. In April 1910, however, he finally obtained all the proof that he needed to convince him that a blue tiger was far more than a legend – by successfully luring Bluebeard out of the forest and into view, using a tethered goat. Nevertheless, the blue tiger did not approach closely enough for Caldwell to be certain that he would kill it outright, and so he had to watch impotently as Bluebeard retreated into the forest. However, Caldwell was sufficiently heartened to repeat the ploy at a later date, when, in September 1910, after learning that it had attacked a local child, he and a companion, his native cook Da Da, found themselves sitting in hiding, waiting for Bluebeard to emerge again.

For some time they waited in vain, then, abruptly, Da Da motioned towards what he claimed was a creature, but when Caldwell looked, all he could see was what seemed to be one of Da Da’s fellow natives, dressed in the familiar light blue garment that most of the men in this area wore. As best as Caldwell could see, peeking through the undergrowth, the man appeared to be crouching near the ground, as if picking herbs, so Caldwell shook his head to Da Da. “Man”, he said, and looked back towards the tethered goat. Da Da, however, was not so easily dissuaded. As Caldwell later recalled in his book Blue Tiger (1925):

"Again the cook tugged at my elbow, saying, “Tiger, surely a tiger,” and I once more looked at the object, this time to see what I thought was a man still upon his knees in the trail. I was about to turn again toward the goat when my cook excitedly said, “Look, look, it is a tiger,” and, turning, saw the great beast lengthen out and move cautiously along the trail a couple of rods and then come to a sitting position near a clump of grass. Now focusing upon what I had altogether overlooked in my previous hurried glances, I saw the huge head of the tiger above the blue which had appeared to me to be the clothes of a man. What I had been looking at was the chest and belly of the beast…The markings of the animal were marvellously beautiful. The ground colour seemed to be a deep shade of maltese, changing into almost deep blue on the under parts. The stripes were well defined, and so far as I was able to make out similar to those on a tiger of the regular type."

After finally encountering at close range the mystical blue tiger that had seemed for so long to be little more than a dream, Caldwell was not about to let it fade away as dreams so often do, but as he prepared to shoot, he realised that the tiger was gazing very intently at something below in the nearby ravine. Looking down to find out what it was, Caldwell was shocked to see that the objects of Bluebeard’s attention were two boys gathering bundles of grass and ferns there, oblivious to the tiger watching them. Caldwell realised straight away that the angle at which he would be shooting Bluebeard was such that the wounded tiger would fall directly into the ravine, and its presence there, maddened with pain from the bullet, would severely endanger the children. Consequently, he knew that he had no option but to move his position, in order to shoot the tiger from a different angle and thereby ensure that it did not fall into the ravine, but first he had to draw its attention away from the children.

Very slowly and cautiously, Caldwell stood up, in full view of Bluebeard – and for the next half hour, hunter and tiger stared at one another, neither of them moving a muscle. Clearly, the cat had now forgotten the children, but Caldwell knew that he still had to move position if he were to approach it from a different angle for shooting purposes. And so, reluctantly, he took his eyes off his sky-blue quarry, albeit only for a short time, as he moved away through some undergrowth – but that short time was enough. When Caldwell reached his new position, the blue tiger was no more. Like a Chinese leprechaun, Bluebeard had vanished – disappearing back into the depths of the forest, leaving behind as proof of its reality only its tracks, and also, for Caldwell, the memory of his encounter with what must truly be the most marvellous of all mystery cats. Despite continuing his searches, Caldwell was never lucky enough to catch sight of Bluebeard again.

Needless to say, despite Caldwell’s well-respected status as an eyewitness, not to mention the assorted blue hairs found by him and his son, the existence of a blue tiger may seem, at least from a strictly scientific standpoint, a highly unlikely proposition. Yet, as I discovered when researching this subject while preparing my book Mystery Cats of the World (1989), there is actually a firm genetic foundation for the occurrence of such a creature.

Photograph of a blue tiger as created by me using some photo-magic on my laptop! (Dr Karl Shuker)

Genetically, its unusual coat colouration could be caused merely by the presence of the same two recessive mutant alleles (gene forms) - namely, the non-agouti allele of the Agouti gene and the dilute allele of the Dense Pigmentation gene - that are collectively responsible for the smoky blue-grey coat exhibited by certain ‘blue’ breeds of domestic cat – a coat colouration known as blue dilution. Moreover, there are certain preserved blue-furred pelts on record from at least two species of wild cat – the lynx and the bobcat – confirming that a mutant blue pelage can indeed occur in feline species other than the domestic cat. If there can be blue lynxes and blue bobcats, why can’t the same combination of mutant genes yield a blue tiger…or two?

The only problem with this 'blue dilution' identity for the blue tiger is its black stripes, which wouldn't be so dark if the latter identity were correct - unless of course the stripes were not actually black but only appeared so to Caldwell due to lighting conditions at the time of his sighting; or, if they were genuinely black, are of polygenic creation, i.e. they are due to the action of modifying genes functioning independently of the combined effect of the non-agouti and dilute alleles.

Whatever the answer, the blue tiger must surely be the most aesthetically appealing cryptozoological cat ever reported.

Blue tiger in profile (William Rebsamen)


Indeed, Bluebeard may not even have been unique. I have learnt of “a blue-grey tiger with black stripes” having been reported in a Chinese town given as Lung-tao. This locality may either be Lungyao, a town in southwest Hopeh province, or (taking into account Chinese pronunciation and the new phonetic convention for spelling Chinese names) Longdu, in China’s Jiangsu Sheng province.

Furthermore, an American correspondent, Bill McKee, informed me in 2001 that while serving with the US army in Korea during the Korean War, his father, Lt Col. James McKee, claimed to have seen a blue tiger in the mountains one morning in December 1952, and that the locals were also aware of it. His father was stationed in central Korea, near what is now the Demilitarised Zone, and his sighting occurred about a mile to the east of the Mong Don Ni Valley.

The two spectacular blue tiger paintings included here were specially prepared for me by highly acclaimed wildlife artist William Rebsamen, and I am both proud and honoured that the original, signed version of the blue tiger profile painting was kindly given to me as a gift by Bill a few years ago - thanks Bill!

With Bill Rebsamen's original blue tiger profile painting (Dr Karl Shuker)

For more information on blue tigers and other controversial colour morphs of big cats, be sure to check out my forthcoming full-colour book, Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery, due to be published by CFZ Press in late 2012.



4 comments:

  1. Wonderful story, Karl.
    There is more to this world than what the textbooks tell us.
    First White Tigers, now Blue...
    Thanks for telling this.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm glad that you enjoyed it. Incidentally, this is not the only example of a blue wild cat on file. Various pelts of blue lynxes and blue bobcats have been obtained and preserved - see my Mystery Cats of the World - and some are distinctly blue, not merely the slaty-grey or smoky shade passing for blue that so-called blue domestic cats generally exhibit. The Maltese (blue) tiger entry in Wikipedia has an artist rendering of a blue tiger, portraying it as slaty-grey, but as can be read in his own account above, Caldwell stated categorically that the tiger he saw was deep blue. Indeed, he initially confused it with the blue garment commonly worn by the local people, which he is not likely to have done if the tiger had merely been grey. And as also noted earlier, Caldwell's blue tiger was not unique - others have been reported elsewhere - so it couldn't even be explained by something as unlikely as the tiger having somehow come into contact with a blue dye (e.g. in a polluted pool where the cat had bathed). All the best, Karl

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is a fascinating story... however, one question... is there any chance of this being an ordinary tiger with a stained coat?

    - Ray Bell

    p.s. That story about Barbara "Walkies!" Woodhouse in the FT was a real find! Took me back to my childhood too!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Ray, Thanks for your comments, and I'm glad that you enjoyed my pouched skunk/Barbara Woodhouse article in FT. I'd been planning to write that up for years and never got around to it, so I thought that it was about time that I did. Re the blue tiger: if this had been an isolated, unique case, I'd look more favourably upon the stained coat idea, but blue tigers have been reported elsewhere too, even in the Korean peninsula. Also, had there been something out there that stained that particular tiger's coat (e.g. a polluted pond or river), then surely it would have done the same to other animals in the area as well, such as leopards, deer, etc. Yet there was no report of any other blue-coated creature there at the time of Bluebeard, so for both of these reasons I do not think that its blue coat colouration was of external origin. All the best, Karl

    ReplyDelete