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.

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Friday, 25 March 2011

TARZAN AND THE NANDI BEAR

Front cover of Tarzan comic, March 1963, depicting Nandi bear (Gold Key)


A few days ago, Swedish correspondent Håkan Lindh briefly mentioned to me that he had once owned an issue of a Tarzan comic published by Gold Key during the 1960s that had featured a battle between Tarzan and a chemosit – one of the many names given to an East African cryptid most commonly known as the Nandi bear. In response to my request for further details, on 21 March 2011 Håkan posted the following fascinating account on my Facebook page:

"The issue where Tarzan fights the Nandi bear was published by Gold Key in March 1963. The story was simply called The Hunting of the Beast, but the beast was located to live in Nandi, and Tarzan also meets a proto-cryptozoologist that refer to it as "Nandi bear". It also looks a lot similar to a sloth bear.

"Tarzan was one of the comics that made me interested in cryptozoology, he seemed to stumble on lost valleys filled with dinosaurs and cavemen all the time, and even the hope for me to find something similar gave me hours of fun. :-)

"I also remembered that Tarzan at least once fought a spotted lion like the marozi, but I can´t remember if it was meant to show that particular cryptid. Hogarth draw that issue, but I lost it already in my teens so I can´t even remember the title of that adventure.

"Comics set in the jungle seems to have a fair share of cryptozoological connections. The Phantom found a living stegosaur in Africa, Mandrake caught a living Basilisk in South America (after proving a disputed photo was no hoax), and Tarzan had the whole of Pal-Ul-Don with its dinosaurs and tailed humans and apemen.

"And further away from the jungle, other comics, from Johnny Hazard, Donald Duck, Tintin, Mandrake etc found more living dinosaurs and plenty of yetis.

"So comics were indeed a lovely way to get introduced to cryptozoology if you were a kid in the sixties-seventies. :-) "

The Nandi bear featured extensively in Dr Bernard Heuvelmans’s classic tome On the Track of Unknown Animals (1958), and when I documented it almost 40 years later in one of my own books, In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995) I was able to include some accounts additional to and in some cases most-dating those discussed by Heuvelmans. By and large, however, this notoriously complicated and confusing cryptid seems lately to have gone out of fashion, as it were, with few (if indeed any) contemporary reports and little coverage in recent cryptozoological works.

Nandi bear, image #1 (Markus Bühler)


Having said that, here is what I wrote about it in my capacity as the cryptozoological contributor to the authoritative single-volume encyclopedia Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained (2007):

NANDI BEAR

Ferocious man-eating African cryptid that in reality may be a composite beast, ‘created’ by the erroneous lumping together of reports describing several totally separate animals, known and unknown

“It is little wonder that pioneering cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans called it “an East African Proteus”, because few (if any) other terrestrial cryptids have been likened to so many different animals as the infamous man-devouring Nandi bear of Kenya’s Nandi district. Some eyewitnesses have likened this bloodthirsty creature to a bear, even though there are no known species of bear to be found anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa. Others have favoured a hyaena, albeit an extra-large, exceptionally hairy and ferocious version. Then there is the giant baboon counterpart, and even a grotesque variant likened by its one and only observer to a weird anteater (assuredly based upon an unexpected night-time encounter with an aardvark?). Not surprisingly, therefore, when attempting to disentangle these diverse strands in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals (1958), Heuvelmans sensibly proposed that the most likely explanation for such dramatic variation in descriptions of the Nandi bear is that the latter is actually a non-existent composite – i.e. ‘created’ by the erroneous lumping together of descriptions of several very different, totally separate animals.

“The ‘true’ Nandi bear, the cryptid whose descriptions most closely resemble a bear and which is sometimes called the chemosit (‘devil’), is, in Heuvelmans’s view, based upon sightings of very large, old, all-black specimens of the ratel or honey badger Mellivora capensis. Despite being a member of the weasel family, the ratel is remarkably ursine in overall appearance, especially when, in advanced years, its silver dorsal colouration darkens to black and thus matches the rest of its coat colour. It can also be exceedingly aggressive – so much so that not even a lion will dare attack it. Another version, conversely, known in Kenya’s Lower and Middle Tana River regions as the koddoelo, is much more baboon-like, but is considerably larger than any known species living today, as it allegedly measures 1.8 m long, and stands 1.08 m high at the shoulder. Extremely savage, it will attack humans on sight, has very large canine teeth and powerful forelegs. As recently as 650,000 years ago, a gorilla-sized baboon, Theropithecus oswaldi, did exist in Kenya, which, combining the gorilla’s stature with the ferocity of a baboon, would have indeed been a terrifying beast for any human to encounter. And if it has survived into the present-day, it would make an exceedingly convincing candidate for the koddoelo.

“As for the giant hyaena-like version of the Nandi bear, often termed the kerit or gadett (‘brain-eater’), but also sometimes chemosit: several separate candidates are on offer here. Some shot specimens have proven to be abnormally red-furred individuals of the spotted hyaena Crocuta crocuta; and unexpected encounters with the rare, heavily-maned brown hyaena Hyaena brunnea, capable of putting on a frighteningly belligerent display if threatened, have also been offered to explain Nandi bear reports. However, neither of these proposed solutions can explain the discovery of Nandi bear footprints that are hyaena-shaped yet as large as those of lions, or the shooting of two still-unidentified dark-furred beasts with rearward-sloping backs in the Nandi district during the late 1950s by Douglas Hutton that were later dismissed as ‘giant forest hyaenas’ (whatever they are!). A similar beast, with a lion-sized head, rearward-sloping back, long shaggy brown hair, and twice the size of a spotted hyaena, was shot in 1962 by the father of Nandi-born hunter Jamie McLeod. Tragically, however, its body was not preserved – especially as, very coincidentally, McLeod actually referred to it as a giant forest hyaena, even though science does not officially recognise any such species.

“The recent (geologically-speaking) prehistoric history of Kenya, conversely, does recognise a species that, if still alive today, would correspond perfectly with a hyaenid Nandi bear, as proposed by British cryptozoologist Dr Karl Shuker in his book In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995). Known as the short-faced hyaena Pachycrocuta brevirostris, it sported the typical sloping hyaenid outline but was the size of a lion, with enormous canine teeth, and was a more active hunter than its smaller, predominantly scavenging modern-day relatives. Such a creature could readily carry out the horrific attacks claimed for the Nandi bear by local people, and would certainly resemble the mystifying ‘giant forest hyaenas’.

“Alternatively (or perhaps even in addition to this), a second postulated prehistoric survivor that has been considered by various authors in relation to the Nandi bear is some form of chalicothere. These bizarre ungulates (hoofed mammals) had longer forelegs than hind legs, yielding a rearward-sloping back that gave them a surprisingly hyaenid outline, and in spite of their ungulate affinities possessed claws instead of hooves, which they used for digging up roots. A living chalicothere would certainly fit the description given by a number of Nandi bear eyewitnesses, and pictures of chalicothere reconstructions have even been identified by tribespeople here as the chemosit. Rinderpest seriously depleted the numbers of many ungulate species in Africa during the late 1800s, and according to native tribes the once-common Nandi bear also plummeted at this time, suggesting that it too may have succumbed to this disease – even though rinderpest does not normally kill carnivorous species, only ungulates. If, however, at least one type of Nandi bear is a reclusive species of chalicothere (i.e. a harmless but superficially hyaena-like ungulate, only occasionally seen by startled eyewitnesses and a victim of rinderpest), whereas the kills attributed to it are actually the work of genuine hyaenas, this would explain why its numbers have fallen in modern times and how an ungulate could be (albeit erroneously) blamed for the rapacious killing of humans. Indeed, with virtually no Nandi bear reports in recent years, it is possible that this most feared yet elusive of African cryptids may have already died out – lost to science before its controversial, confused identity was ever resolved.”

Chalicothere depicted upon a Russian postage stamp


As far as I am aware, the Tarzan comic mentioned by Håkan is the only one ever to feature the Nandi bear – or, specifically, the chemosit – in a starring role. Consequently, although Håkan has very kindly tracked down and emailed to me an electronic version of it (though, sadly, I haven’t been able to open it so far, as I do not know how to open files with the .cbz extension), I would very much to obtain a physical, hard-copy version too.

Meanwhile, as can be seen from the image opening this present Shukernature article – and which thus corroborates Håkan’s earlier comment - the comic’s front cover depicts the Nandi bear as being very ursine, and also extremely large!

I am now wondering whether anyone has a copy of this comic that, if they no longer want, they could possibly donate to me, or at least post here or send me a photocopy from it (for non-commercial, research purposes only) of one or more of Hogarth’s images of the Nandi bear. If you do, please post details here - and who knows, it may even help to incite a media-driven public revival of interest in this once-prominent but nowadays far-too-long-forgotten mystery beast!

Nandi bear, image #2 (Markus Bühler)


My sincere thanks as ever to Håkan for alerting me to this intriguing crypto-related comic and for sharing with me his own findings regarding it.

In addition, he has succeeded in tracking down an illustration of a page from the above-mentioned comic pitting Tarzan against a spotted lion. However, as can be readily seen from that illustration, reproduced below, although the lion in question is heavily spotted it is not a marozi. For whereas the latter mystery cat is relatively small, with only a very sparse mane even in the male, the lion in the comic is much bigger and has a full-sized mane.

Page from comic pitting Tarzan against a spotted lion (Gold Key?)


POSTSCRIPT

On 27 March 2011, I downloaded the free program CDisplay (at: http://download.cnet.com/CDisplay-Image-Display/3000-18488_4-10162238.html), which opens the .cbx format version of the 'Tarzan and the Nandi Bear' comic sent to me by Håkan. Intriguingly, I've now discovered that in the Nandi bear story, this cryptid is referred to as a chalicothere, yet it is depicted throughout as unquestionably ursine!

Also, click here to view the entire Tarzan-Nandi bear comic online!


UPDATE

On 23 April 2011, I visited Hay-On-Wye, the famous 'town of books' situated on the Welsh-English border, and containing more than 30 secondhand bookshops. One of these, Rose's Books, is devoted exclusively to children's books, and while browsing there I noticed a copy of the official Tarzan annual for 1967 (see photo below), published by World Distributors in conjunction with the popular television series from that same time period, starring Ron Ely as Tarzan. And, flicking through it, what should I find inside but the entire Nandi bear story (complete with its original title), reprinted exactly as it had appeared in the original March 1963 comic.


4 comments:

  1. To open the.cbz extension, you need a programm like comic rack "http://comicrack.cyolito.com/"

    ReplyDelete
  2. You know, I bet the Nandi Bear is not a living Atlas Bear. Perhaps a giant new ursid species, not in the fossils at all. Anyway, thanks for sharing this with me. You know, I could write a short story or something on old Ursa Nandia.

    ReplyDelete
  3. See the Wikipedia article on 'Comic Book Archive File'. Basically it's a standard zip file format, so you should be able to just decompress.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Late Survival Theorem, Regarding Chalicotherium
    From A Comfy Chair, We I.D. Un-cuddly “Nandi Bear”?
    Plus, a Terrace of Lions? Dude You’re not even Tryin’
    Enigma’s & Mysteries Due to Skewed View of History

    http://s8int.com/WordPress/2012/12/04/late-survival-theorem-regarding-chalicotheriumfrom-a-comfy-chair-we-i-d-un-cuddly-nandi-bearplus-a-terrace-of-lions-dude-youre-not-even-tryinenigma/

    ReplyDelete