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...

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

THE MONSTERS OF LAKES ILIAMNA AND CLARK - FISHING FOR THE TRUTH

Lake Iliamna monsters, based upon eyewitness descriptions (William Rebsamen)


Earlier tonight, I watched with great interest on ITV the episode of Jeremy Wade's 'River Monsters' series in which he investigates - and even tries (albeit unsuccessfully) to catch - one of the monster fishes said to inhabit the deep, freezing waters of Lakes Iliamna and Clark in Alaska. He concludes that the likeliest identity for such creatures, should they exist, would be extra-large (up to 20 ft or so long) specimens of land-locked white sturgeon. Giant sturgeon have been confirmed in the past as the identity of certain formerly-mysterious lake monsters in various North American bodies of freshwater (including Lake Washington in Seattle), so this is certainly a plausible solution to the Iliamna and Clark monsters too. Here is what I wrote a few years ago concerning them within an article of mine devoted to aquatic monsters of North America:


THE ILLIES OF ILIAMNA
Compared to such famous North American ‘monster’ lakes as Okanagan and Champlain, Lake Iliamna remains little-known and little-investigated. This is due in no small way to its location – ensconced in southwestern Alaska. In terms of size, however, it can scarcely be overlooked – as large as the state of Rhode Island, this lake measures a very impressive 120 km long, up to 35 km wide, and has a surface area of around 2600 square km. Moreover, the unidentified water beasts, popularly dubbed Illies by the media and cryptozoologists, reported from its waters are equally memorable. Not only are they decidedly large – often claimed to be as much as 10 m long – they are also very different from the many-humps and long-necks more commonly reported from North America’s inland waters.

Long known to the area’s Inuit/Aleut people, who refer to this cryptid as jig-ik-nak, the Illie is usually described as very long and quite slender, greyish in colour, and with a noticeable dorsal fin marked by a white stripe. It swims just beneath the water surface, sometimes in groups, but unlike a number of other lake monsters it does not come up for air, remaining submerged, and therefore seemingly able to breathe underwater, like a fish rather than a mammal or reptile. This was confirmed in 1963 by a biologist from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, who watched an 8-10-m-long creature swimming beneath the water surface for over 10 minutes, during which time it never once surfaced.

In 1977, air-taxi pilot Tim LaPorte and his two passengers saw from the air a dark 4-5-m-long animal whose back was just breaking the water surface. When it dived downwards, it revealed a large vertical tail – characteristic of fishes, as whales have horizontal tails.

There seems little doubt that the Illies are indeed fishes, albeit exceptionally big ones, and the most popular identity is a sturgeon, in particular the mighty white sturgeon Acipenser transmontanus, which is known to attain lengths of up to 7 m. Although sturgeons have never been confirmed from Lake Iliamna, they are known from other, smaller Alaskan lakes (Iliamna is the largest lake in Alaska). Consequently, it would not be implausible for this immense body of water to house such fishes too, and for them, on account of the lake’s huge size and the plentiful food supply that it is known to contain, to attain record sizes here.

I SHALL GARB MYSELF IN GOSSAMER...



I shall garb myself in gossamer,
And dance amid the darkness,
Silver in the shadows of my song.


Even though I have spent more than a quarter of a century uncovering, investigating, and documenting bizarre reports from the sequestered but ever-fascinating realms of unnatural history, there are countless others still out there waiting to delight and bemuse me. One such example was very kindly brought to my attention a couple of days ago by Mark North of Dark Dorset, and is unlike any that I had previously encountered.

It was published in volume 1 (January-June 1892) of the journal Notes and Queries, Eighth Series, and was penned by John Symonds Udal, who at that time was Attorney-General and Admiralty Advocate of Fiji. This remarkable account reads as follows:

"DRESS MADE OF SPIDERS' WEBS (7 th S. xi. 445; xii. 34). MRS. WHITE mentions as a great curiosity the dress made from spiders' webs presented to the Queen by the Empress of Brazil in 1877. Most certainly it is, and to most British minds such a thing might seem incredible ; but if your correspondent were to visit Fiji which is famous for its magnificent spiders he might perhaps have less cause for wonder. The web made by the big yellow spider here is very large and strong ; but in addition to the web proper, in which flies, mosquitoes, &:., are caught, it spins a cocoonof orange-coloured, silky, gossamer-like stuff, which, if taken up in the fingers, requires quite an effort to break. This stuff I can conceive might be woven into material for a dress. Might not the dress in question have been composed of similar material made by the Brazilian spiders?

"I can hardly, even now, believe that it could have been composed of what we understand to be the ordinary spider's web. I can quite imagine, however, that such a material might be of some commercial value, as one frequently hears complaints at the present day of a want of fineness in fibres or materials used for scientific purposes.

"I may add that our cockroaches are huge too; but, by a merciful dispensation of Providence, our spiders are in proportion. The particular enemy of the cockroach here is not the big yellow spider above mentioned, but a long-legged, formidable looking brown spider, called the "hunting spider." I cannot find out that this species spins any web, but apparently depends upon its great activity for securing its prey. I know, however, that it can bite pretty sharply, as I once saw one draw blood from the finger of a doctor friend of mine who was capturing it for me. It is often to be seen hugging a large, flattened, circular, cream-coloured bag, which, I take it, contains its eggs. We never kill spiders in Fiji. The natives venerate them as much as the Dutchman does his stork, and perhaps with more reason.


"J. S. UDAL.

"Fiji.


"P.S. Since writing the above I have been told by a friend of mine here that on one occasion he had carefully examined the long line stretched between two points from which the web of the big yellow spider mentioned above was suspended, and found it had a beautiful golden silky appearance, and was so strong that he was able to wind it round a piece of cardboard. If this can be considered part of the web proper, then in all probability a light, silky material could be woven from it, and the Brazilian dress be not quite so extraordinary as at first sight it might appear."

Sadly, as my knowledge of Fijian and Brazilian arachnids is not extensive, I am unable to identify the species involved here - so if anyone reading this could offer any suggestions, Mark and I would be very happy to receive them.

Incidentally, the lines opening this blog are a fragment of verse from an as-yet-unfinished poem of mine entitled 'Spider of the Night' - inspired in turn by the evocative title of a very popular tango (as opposed to a tarantella!), a version of which I have now uploaded onto YouTube, which can be accessed here.

Friday, 26 November 2010

TWO-TRUNKS, MEET HUMPHREY!


Ripley's two-trunked elephant (Christopher Elliott)


As an ardent collector of data appertaining to zoological freaks, caprices, and monsters of the teratological kind, two of my fondest longstanding daydreams have focused upon the discovery of an elephant with two trunks and a camel with three humps. Naturally, however,, I never seriously expected to fulfil either of them, as I'd always assumed such fanciful beasts to exist only in the most fevered of imaginations. But not any more!

When chatting recently on Facebook to fellow teratophile Markus Bühler, I was astonished to learn that he had encountered a photograph of a supposed two-trunked elephant in one of the many Ripley's Believe It Or Not! books, and that he had read of reports of extra-humped camels too. Needless to say, with an alacrity that would surely have impressed even Sherlock Holmes (had he actually existed, of course!), I was soon hot on the trail of Ripley's proboscis-advantaged pachyderm, and, lo and behold, Markus was absolutely correct!

On 5 November 2005, Christopher Elliott had posted a short blog at: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4989709
entitled 'Inside the Ripley's Warehouse of Oddities', and he had included a photo that he had snapped of the stuffed head of an adult African elephant...with two trunks! According to Christopher Elliott: "Apparently both of this elephant's two distinct trunks were fully functioning".

Although, teratologically speaking, the development of a double trunk is not impossible - such an appendage could theoretically arise if, during the elephant's embryogeny, the region of developing tissue giving rise to the trunk had split - it must also be borne in mind that there are some exceedingly gifted taxidermists out there, who, down through the ages, have created all manner of very convincing fake beasts. Whether the Ripley's specimen is genuine (as they believe it to be) or not, however, it is undeniably a truly remarkable exhibit - if only because, following all the countless jokes in the past about the elephant being the only creature capable of making a trunk call, this particular specimen may well have been the only elephant able to reverse the charges!!

As for extra-humped camels: there is at least one serious claimant on record. Normally, the Bactrian camel has two humps and the Arabian camel or dromedary has one. Moreover, hybrids of these two species also only have one - not three, as may perhaps have been expected. However, as camel humps are merely reservoirs of fatty tissue, I see no reason why additional reservoirs might not occasionally develop, thereby yielding extra humps, especially if the typical humps were smaller than normal, thus providing room for extra ones to form alongside them. And indeed, Markus mentioned that he recalled reading something about bona fide extra-humped individuals in the highly authoritative, 13-volume series of multi-contributor zoological encyclopedias from the 1970s entitled Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, whose editor-in-chief was the eminent German zoologist Dr Bernhard Grzimek. As the proud possessor of a complete set of these very hefty but beautiful, fact-filled tomes, I lost no time in perusing the camelid section in Volume 13, Mammals IV. And sure enough, there was the following short but fascinating passage:

"Dromedaries with unusually shaped humps often bring fantastic prices. For example, in the Arabian town of Hodeida, a four-humped camel brought approximately ten thousand dollars."

I have yet to trace any additional data regarding this or any other extra-humped camel, but the wording of the above passage clearly indicates that others have existed. What I did discover while searching online, however, was a report from Qatar that initially seemed to be a genuine vindication of the following popular children's joke - 'What do you call a camel with three humps? Humphrey!'.

On 27 January 2010, a contributor with the screen name edifis posted on the website QuatarLiving.com (at: http://www.qatarliving.com/node/895511) the following report:

"A 3 Humped Camel suspected to be the result of inter breeding between the 2 humped Bactrian camel and the Arabian Camel has been recently spotted near Dukhan.
The strange creature, a huge bull is reported to have been roaming in the vicinity of Dukhan and Umm Bab and is desperately looking for a mate.
But local female camels are avoiding him as he is an extra long stretch camel with 3 distinct humps, having different colors.
Anybody up to the task may contact the Camel breeding center at Al Shahanyia for more details:
Here is the picture of the Bull in heat."



The Qatari three-humped camel photo (QatarLiving.com)


Sadly, as you can see from the photograph, the creature in question evidently owes its origin not to any humorous whim of Mother Nature but rather to the skills of someone versed in computer-generated imagery, most probably using either Adobe Photoshop or Corel Draw - as the first of many comments posted beneath the photo by readers was swift to point out. Never mind - it was good while it lasted.

Incidentally, during my futile search for a real Humphrey, I found a much more convincing but equally fallacious photo of a triple-humped camel on Mrs. God's Blog (at http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Mrs._God's_blog). Click below for the image:
http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/File:3_hump_camel.jpg
I also discovered that there is a rock band hailing from South Australia called Three Humped Camel. Whoever said that the Internet is not educational?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

ORANG PENDEK - AN APE-HAIRED HOMINID?


Orang pendek, based upon eyewitness descriptions (Tim Morris)


A few days ago, Danish zoologist Lars Thomas announced on the CFZ bloggo the long-awaited outcome of his analyses of the putative orang pendek hairs collected by the CFZ team during its 2009 expedition to Sumatra. In summary, Lars revealed that whereas the hairs' DNA was most similar to that of humans (as demonstrated via DNA studies by his Copenhagen University colleague Tom Gilbert), their structure compared more closely with that of apes (specifically, the orang utans). These intriguing, unexpected findings have since elicited a degree of controversy, with some readers speculating that the CFZ team's findings are inconclusive, as the two sets of results appear to contradict one another and surely must be mutually exclusive, i.e. only one set can be correct, not both.

However, this may not be the case at all. On the contrary, I agree entirely with team member Richard Freeman, who has suggested that BOTH sets of results could be correct - IF the orang pendek is in fact a hominid with ape-structured hair (Tom Gilbert has categorically denied, incidentally, that there might have been contamination of ape DNA with human DNA or vice-versa). On first sight, such a suggestion might seem unlikely, but in reality I documented a very notable, fully-confirmed, yet equally surprising precedent to this situation many years ago.

Before I come to that, however, I'd like to quote here the concise consideration of possible orang pendek identities on offer that I wrote in an orang pendek article of mine that was published in Paranormal Magazine just a few months before the 2009 CFZ Sumatra Expedition set off, and which, in the light of that expedition's subsequent findings, remains relevant:

"If the orang pendek truly exists, what could it be? Always assuming that it is indeed something more than a misidentified familiar species already known to exist within the areas of Sumatra from which it is reported, such as a gibbon or the sun bear Helarctos malayanus (which can rear up onto its hind legs and can leave deceptively humanoid footprints), three principal contenders are on offer.

"The first of these is an unrecorded population of the Sumatran orang utan Pongo abelii. Although this species of great ape once existed throughout Sumatra, it has long since become extinct in all but this island’s northern extent, so any orang utans discovered in the orang pendek’s Kerinci Seblat heartland would be a major zoological find. Having said that, however, the orang pendek’s morphology, habitually bipedal mode of locomotion, and semi-carnivorous behaviour provide scant similarity with those of the orang utan, and Kerinci locals shown pictures of the latter ape by cryptozoologists readily differentiate between it and the mysterious orang pendek.

"Identity #2 for the orang pendek is a completely separate species of ape presently unrecorded by science, at least in the living state. This identity is favoured by Adam Davies among others. Suggestions include a giant gibbon or an unknown specialised species of orang utan, adapted for bipedal, terrestrial activity. Richard Freeman has opined that it may be a descendant of the Miocene ape Sivapithecus (also ancestral to the orang utan).

"The third, and, if correct, most exciting, revolutionary identity on offer for the orang pendek is a primitive species of hominid, separate from Homo sapiens. Traditionally, the most popular option within this category of identity is our own ancestral species Homo erectus, inspired at least in part by the famous ‘Java Man’ discoveries on Sumatra’s neighbouring island. However, a fundamental morphological flaw with any theory involving a surviving hominid has always been the much smaller size of the orang pendek – until, that is, the discovery of Flores Man was revealed in 2004. Coupled with reports of orang pendek-like entities called the ebu gogu said to have existed on Flores until very recently, some cryptozoologists (myself included) now look towards a living representative of Flores Man as a convincing explanation of the hitherto-bemusing riddle of the orang pendek’s identity."

And now, the precedent that I mentioned earlier (and first documented over 20 years ago!) for a creature whose DNA corresponds most closely to one taxon whereas its hair structure is more similar to a quite different taxon. I refer, of course, to the king cheetah. Genetically, it has been fully confirmed to be nothing more than a genetic freak variety of the normal spotted cheetah Acinonyx jubatus, and hence is referred to scientifically as Acinonyx jubatus var. rex. Its ornate coat patterning of stripes, swirls, and blotches is merely a phenotypic expression of a mutant allele of a gene homologous to the gene responsible for blotched tabby coat patterning in domestic cats.

Consequently, it came as a huge surprise when, as I documented in my very first book, Mystery Cats of the World (1989), the structure of its hair was examined:

"Hair samples which they [king cheetah researchers Paul and Lena Bottriell] had submitted to the Institute of Medical Research in Johannesburg revealed that the cuticular scale pattern of king cheetah guard hair compared much more closely with that of leopards than with that of spotted cheetahs."

Cheetahs and leopards not only belong to separate feline genera but also are only very distantly related. Suddenly, an unknown hominid whose hair structure is more similar to that of apes is not so unlikely after all, is it?

Thursday, 11 November 2010

NIGHT-RAVENS - OR WHAT'S IN A NAME?


The terrifying nattravnen or night-raven of southern Swedish folklore (Richard Svensson)


What, if anything, is a mysterious winged creature known as the night-raven?

The answer to this question depends upon whether you are investigating it from an ornithological, cryptozoological, or zoomythological standpoint - because three entirely different creatures all share this same intriguing name.

In Norway, the nattravn ('night-raven') is simply a name given to the European nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus or goatsucker. End of story.

Conversely, the night-raven that appears in English literature is a much more diffuse subject. It was a certain William Shakespeare who penned the following tantalising lines: “The night-crow cried, aboding luckless time;” (3 King Henry VI, V.vi.47), and “I had as lief have heard the night-raven, come what plague could have come after it.” (Much Ado About Nothing, II.iii.81). Equally, in his The Faerie Queene (II.vii.23), Edmund Spenser wrote: “And after him the owles and night ravens flew, the hateful messengers of heavy tidings,”. And according to John Lyly in his play Sappho and Phaon (1584), the owl’s shriek and the night-raven’s croak were fatal. But what is the night-raven, this ill-omened bird that appears in such esteemed works of literature yet is singularly absent from any comparably notable ornithological tome?

Several identities have been offered, including the nightingale (even though its famously musical, uplifting song hardly corresponds to the night-raven’s hoarse croak of doom), the afore-mentioned European nightjar, the bittern, various species of owl, and even the night heron (curiously, the latter’s scientific name is indeed Nycticorax – ‘night crow’ – although it shares no resemblance with any corvine bird). However, as elucidated by Edward Armstrong in The Folklore of Birds (1958), it is most likely that the night-raven is of mythological rather than ornithological status, deriving from Norse legends in which the raven is identified with Odin who in turn became identified with the Wild Hunt tradition, featuring spectral hunters riding through the sky at night with a pack of howling dogs – which in literature are extensively associated with the night-raven.

Undoubtedly the most fascinating member of the night-raven trio, however, is the mythological nattravnen ('night-raven') of southern Sweden. I first learnt of this extraordinary entity from Swedish cryptozoological artist Richard Svensson, whose wonderful illustration of it heads my present blog. On 2 October 2008, in response to a request of mine for information concerning it, I received the following detailed account from Richard, who kindly permitted me to publish it if I so wished, and which I am therefore delighted to do here, for the very first time anywhere:

"Nattravnen is found in the folklore of Sweden’s two southernmost regions, Skåne and Blekinge. It’s not very well known in general Swedish folklore, and it’s not considered a mystery beast per se, like the Lake Storsjö monster, for example. It’s called Nattravnen in Skåne and Leharven in Blekinge. The name “Nattravnen” is said to mean “the night raven”. Leharven is a more dubious name. “Le” is an old word for bodily joint (and I’ll get back to why that’s a part of its name). Nattravnen is seldom described in detail, but it is a bird-like monster, sometimes said to be dark in colour, but without any feathers. It belongs to a special group of monsters called “grimmar”. Grimmar are supernatural animals that cannot be killed by any normal weapons. They are either ghosts of animals or beasts created by sorcery.

"Nattravnen flies around during the night and is said to devour any lonely wanderer on the roads. But the monster was also dangerous in another way. If you looked up just as it passed the moon or when its body was illuminated by the moon rays, you would be able to see the skeleton (and its joints) through the creature’s thin hide. This was a very bad thing and the sight would render you horrible pains. Mostly you would fall terribly ill and vomit blood or get blood in your urine for at least a week.

"There is an old story from Blekinge concerning Lake Halen, where in old times a flying monster lived. This creature is not actually identified as Leharven, but it appears to have many similar traits. According to legend it resembled a vulture, but without any feathers. When returning to the lake it would not perch in a tree, but dive down under the water and disappear. In the 1970’s a local school adopted the creature as their mascot and dubbed it “Halengamen”, “the Halen Vulture”.

"If I’m not totally mistaken this aquatic connection rings a bell concerning the African “Kongamato”. And the feature about getting ill from watching the flying beast also seems familiar, from something in the West Indies, perhaps.

"There’s also a folktale about a giant vulture sweeping down and grabbing an oxen in an area of Blekinge called Jämshög. The name is said to be derived from “Gamshög” =”Vulture’s Peak”, a hill where the creature is said to have been observed seen sitting. This tale is generally considered as a tall-tale, with no real etymological verification to the name of Jämshög. It’s still interesting as a Swedish counterpart of the American “Thunderbird” tales.

"I’ve done two illustrations of Nattravnen, where I’ve chosen to depict it as very pterodactyl-like."

From a Norwegian goatsucker and a corvid of Odin to a monstrous Swedish neo-pterodactyl - who would ever have guessed that a name as innocuous as 'night-raven' could have conjured forth such a dramatic diversity of creatures real and imaginary?

Monday, 8 November 2010

HOW IT ALL BEGAN - MY VERY FIRST CRYPTOZOOLOGICAL ARTICLE!



This is a real rarity from the archives - unseen for over 24 years, here is my very first published article on cryptozoology, which launched my entire career.

Back in spring 1986, I had written to the Western Morning News (WMN) newspaper, based in Devon, requesting whether it would be possible to buy a selection of past WMN articles dealing with the Beast of Exmoor. In reply, the WMN said that it could indeed supply me with those articles but would be happy to accept, in lieu of monetary payment, an article written by me on mystery animals for publication within the newspaper. Needless to say, I was delighted to receive this unexpected opportunity to showcase my cryptozoological views and knowledge in print, so I penned the article accordingly, which was duly published as the WMN's Leader Page in its 17 May 1986 issue - and the rest, as they say, is history!

Twenty-four years, sixteen books, several major publishing/media consultant and contributor roles, and countless articles later, I owe my writing career in no small way to this modest little contribution to the cryptozoological literature, which I hope that you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing.

(NB - Suffice it to say, I did NOT write the captions accompanying the article's illustrations!)