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

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Thursday, 8 March 2012

THE BLUE RHINOCEROS - IN QUEST OF THE KEITLOA

My very own blue rhinoceros(!), purchased in South Africa (Dr Karl Shuker)


During the 1800s, the standard natural history tomes documented a number of intriguing animals that seem to have slipped quietly into obscurity today. One such ex-creature is a mysterious African rhino - the exotic-sounding blue rhinoceros. It was apparently named after its greyish-blue colouration, although some illustrations of it (such as the famous, much-reproduced example below) depicted it with a brown hue, but was also referred to, rather more mundanely, as Sloan’s rhinoceros or the keitloa.

An unexpectedly brown-hued blue rhinoceros in a colour engraving from 1846


Known scientifically as Rhinoceros keitloa, this was a relatively rare form, distributed sparingly south of the Zambezi, and not usually gregarious. In his Illustrated Natural History (1859-63), Rev J.G. Wood noted:

The keitloa can readily be recognised by the horns, which are of considerable length, and nearly equal to each other in measurement. This is always a morose and ill-tempered animal, and is even more to be dreaded than the borele [black rhino], on account of its greater size, strength, and length of horn. The upper lip of the Keitloa overlaps the lower even more than that of the borele; the neck is longer in proportion, and the head is not so thickly covered with wrinkles.

The blue rhinoceros as depicted in Wood's Illustrated Natural History

Formidably belligerent it may be, but some naturalists considered its credentials as a distinct species to be rather less impressive. W.B. Dawkins and H.W. Oakley, for example, within Prof. P. Martin Duncan’s Cassell’s Natural History, Vol. 2 (1883-9), commented that the blue rhinoceros or keitloa differed little from the black rhino, except for the shape of the head:

...which is somewhat shorter and broader, and it has a less prehensile lip. Its chief characteristic is the posterior horn, which is flattened at the sides, being of almost equal length to the anterior, and even occasionally longer, twenty inches and twenty-two inches being about the average.

The blue rhinoceros as depicted in Cassell's Natural History

A short-lived controversy ensued during the second half of the 1800s, which was finally ended by the famous explorer Captain Frederick Selous. In a comprehensive paper published in the Zoological Society of London’s Proceedings for 1881, and referring to an extensive collection of horns, Selous demonstrated conclusively that blue and black rhinos belong to the same species.

Head of a blue rhinoceros in the British Museum, 1876

Moreover, as noted in Rhinos: Endangered Species (1987) by Malcolm Penny, the difference in horn lengths was most probably due to environmental conditions: black rhinos inhabiting relatively dry localities are smaller and tend to possess shorter horns than those frequenting wetter terrain. Exit the blue rhinoceros!

A blue rhinoceros, painted by artist Christina A. Kapono (Christina A. Kapono)

4 comments:

  1. Have these blue rhinoceros reports ever been confirmed? Any way of knowing that they were definitely a real "species" (well, sort of) and not just rumors?

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  2. Hi Mattias, Yes, they definitely existed. Indeed, if you recheck my article, you'll see the illustration of the head of one such specimen that is preserved in what is now the Natural History Museum, London.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oh yeah, I forgot about that. Well, I just assumed that this article was related to cryptozoology.

    Incidentally, I noticed that in some cartoons and animated films, the rhinos are blue sometimes. So the keitloa lives on, in a funny sort of way.

    All the best, Matt

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  4. Wondering if the blue rhino mutation persists to this day? Maybe poachers got them all?

    Incidentally, check out my blog: Chasing the Past and Beyond. Horrible title, I know, but I am hoping you might want to see it.

    ReplyDelete