Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

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Tuesday, 21 February 2012


Artistic representation of the kondlo (William Rebsamen)

One of many little-reported cryptozoological birds in need of an identity is Zululand's mysterious kondlo - a large, black, fowl-like bird that incited a considerable conflict of opinion within the pages of the periodical African Wild Life during the early 1960s, yet which nowadays is all but forgotten.

Its principal champion was Captain G.T. Court of Durban, South Africa, whose letter of December 1962 described the kondlo as a voiceless bird comparable in size and shape to a young female domestic turkey poult, with a feathered head and beak also resembling a hen turkey's. Its irises, beak, legs, and feet were red, but its plumage was glossy black, overlain with a greenish-blue sheen - all of which gave it a colouration reminiscent of the chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax, a species of European crow. It did not seem to exhibit sexual dimorphism (morphological differences between the sexes).

Southern ground hornbill (Wikipedia)

During the series of interchanges published in African Wild Life, the southern ground hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri and the bald ibis Geronticus calvus were offered as putative identities, but both were vehemently rejected by Captain Court. His views were based upon personal experience of the kondlo - from many years of hunting, not only was he fully acquainted with every species of game bird in this region of South Africa, but in addition he had actually shot and eaten several specimens of kondlo. Consequently, he was readily able to differentiate between the ground hornbill, bald ibis, and kondlo.

Bald ibis (Althepal/Wikipedia)

Furthermore, quoting from a scholarly Zulu-English dictionary compiled by priest Father Alfred Bryant during many years of work here, Court pointed out that these three birds even had their own wholly separate local names. The ground hornbill was known as the tsingizi, the bald ibis was the xwagele, and the kondlo was only ever termed the kondlo.

According to Court, this mystifying bird occurred in groups of 4-8 on the grass-covered ridges of Mtonjaneni and Mahlabatini, and when it took to the air it flew low, in a manner resembling the flight of a guineafowl. Ominously, Court also noted that although once abundant, the kondlo seemed lately to be disappearing from its former haunts; his most recent sighting was in about 1956. Surely this species could be systematically sought and conclusively identified by ornithologists - always assuming that it hasn't already died out?

This ShukerNature blog post is excerpted from my book Mysteries of Planet Earth: An Encyclopedia of the Inexplicable (Carlton Books: London, 1999).


  1. Could it be a sort of a rail? It vaguely reminds me of Gaugan's Marquesan one, only in duller/darker colours; and coots are black except their faces are red when they are young.

    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  2. I've lots more data re mystery birds, so I'll see what I can do!

  3. To think that just when identification for this species could be forthcoming, it may already be extinct! The irony of it.