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!

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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

CATS OF MAGIC, MYTHOLOGY, AND MYSTERY - IT'S HERE! AVAILABLE TO PRE-ORDER AT LAST!


My latest book, Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery: A Feline Phantasmagoria (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2012), 322 pages long, almost 300 illustrations, and in full colour throughout, is now available to pre-order!! Click here for full details and the pre-order button.

And click here for its full-page coverage on my website.

The wait is over!



Monday, 26 November 2012

MY VERY FIRST WHITE TIGER! - CAR BOOT SALES AND CRYPTOZOOLOGY #3

The eyecatching front cover of Bristol Zoo's late-1960s guidebook (Bristol Zoo Gardens/Dr Karl Shuker)


One of the most delightful features of car boot sales, bric-a-brac fairs, and suchlike is the frequent opportunity presented by them to buy items that you once possessed, perhaps many years ago as a child, but subsequently broke, discarded, or lost, and have often wished that you still owned. Out there, somewhere, are a last few surviving representatives of those items, and such selling venues as these often provide a last chance of reconnecting with them, and rekindling precious memories that they embody. Over the years, I've bought several such items, including the example presented here.

The first time that I ever saw a white tiger was when my parents took me to Bristol Zoo in the late 1960s. Whenever we visited any zoo, moreover, they would always buy me its current guidebook, and I particularly remember the one from that first of many visits to Bristol Zoo because of the stunning full-colour photo of a white tiger on the front cover – so stunning, sadly, that it was soon snipped off and pasted into one of the many wildlife scrapbooks that I used to compile at that age.

In later years, however, I bitterly regretted mutilating that guidebook, and I yearned to obtain a complete, undamaged replacement somehow, but that particular edition had long been supplanted at the zoo by later editions with different covers and contents. A couple of years ago, however, while browsing through a box containing assorted guidebooks to stately homes as well as other printed ephemera at a bric-a-brac fair, I was stunned but delighted to find a near-pristine copy of that old late-1960s Bristol Zoo guidebook with its well-remembered white tiger cover.

Purchased for £1, it now takes pride of place among my collection of other guidebooks acquired during my numerous visits to zoos in the UK and overseas.

Another photograph of Bristol Zoo's late 1960s white tigers from this same guidebook (Bristol Zoo Gardens/Dr Karl Shuker)


For an extensive account of the history and genetics of white tigers, see my latest book Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2012).

   

Sunday, 25 November 2012

THE CURUPIRA - A SHUKERNATURE PICTURE OF THE DAY

'The Curupira' (Manoel Santiago, 1926)

Here's something new for ShukerNature, which I plan to run as a regular series. Over the years, I have encountered all manner of unusual, noteworthy illustrations relevant to cryptozoology and/or animal mythology (and have even prepared a few myself) that may also be of interest to others. Consequently, I've decided to showcase an eclectic, annotated, ongoing selection of them here as ShukerNature Pictures of the Day.

And here is the first one - a very lush, colourful painting by Manoel Santiago from 1926, entitled 'The Curupira'. It depicts a sleeping maiden attracting the inquisitive attention of this eponymous hairy forest demon from traditional Brazilian folklore, which some cryptozoologists consider may be based upon a real, undiscovered form of small red-furred man-beast.



Friday, 23 November 2012

THE BLACK LION VERSUS TARZAN!

Front cover of 'Tarzan' #218, 'The Trophy' (Joe Kubert/DC Comics)

In earlier ShukerNature posts of mine (click here and here), I have revealed that although a number of unconfirmed reports can be found in the archives of cryptozoology, as yet there is no conclusive evidence for the reality of black lions (i.e. lions exhibiting melanism), and that four much-circulated online photographs purporting to be of genuine black lions are nothing more than Photoshopped fakes.

Nevertheless, the very concept of a black lion is so captivating and compelling that it has been utilised very effectively in fiction. Perhaps the most stunning example of this was recently brought to my attention by Facebook friend Sefton Disney, and features a mighty confrontation between a magnificent black lion and a very formidable rival for the crown of African jungle king - Tarzan!

As seen in the illustration that opens this ShukerNature blog post, issue #218 of 'Tarzan', published by DC Comics, contains a story entitled 'The Trophy', and appearing on this comic's spectacular front cover is Tarzan fending off a ferocious black lion. This superb artwork was created by the late, great artist Joe Kubert.

Moreover, this is not the first time that Tarzan has done battle with a cryptid - check out a previous ShukerNature post of mine for details of his encounter with the terrifying Nandi bear and a separate adventure pitting him against a spotted lion (click here), plus his secret meeting with the reclusive mokele-mbembe (click here). Who needs cryptozoological field work in search of Africa's most elusive mystery beasts when all we have to do is send out Tarzan!!


NB - A Buy It Now button for pre-ordering my latest book, Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2012), will be available here and on my website very soon - so please check back often!



Thursday, 22 November 2012

THE PANTHER OF GIFFARD'S CROSS – AS SIMPLE AS ABC?


Standing by Giffard's Cross (Dr Karl Shuker)

Excerpted from my impending book, Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2012):


Several centuries before any of the modern-day specimens had appeared on the scene, an exotic British mystery cat was big news not all that far away from where I live today. Indeed, its case may even be one of the earliest records of a so-called alien big cat (or ABC for short) in Britain that did not involve some unidentifiable feline creature heavily enshrouded in fable and fancy but rather featured a bona fide non-native big cat on the loose. Although certain details differ from one account to another, the basic facts of this historic case in British cryptozoology are as follows.

Just outside the village of Brewood, near Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, England, is an imposing Georgian mansion called Chillington Hall, set in beautiful parkland. Built during the mid-1780s, it is the home of the Giffard (aka Gifford) family, whose direct link with this site dates back over 800 years, and it is the third residence to have stood here. The previous one was a medieval manor house built during the early 1500s by Sir John Giffard, who was Standard Bearer to Henry VIII, and accompanied him at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in June 1520.

Stained-glass window depicting the Giffard family crest, containing a full-faced panther head (photo source unknown to me)

It was several years earlier, however, in or just before 1513, when Sir John's deed of valour took place for which he was granted two family crests by the king, and which also inspired their emblems and motto. One day, a wild cat loosely described as a panther escaped from a menagerie of exotic beasts maintained at Chillington, and was pursued in earnest by the household. The great cat's attention was drawn to a woman carrying her baby through the park, and it began to stalk her. Approaching within range of its intended victim, the panther was just about to spring upon her and the child when Sir John himself appeared on the scene, having been riding with his son through the park in search of it. Armed with his crossbow, Sir John took careful aim, and just as he was about to shoot, his son exclaimed in French: "Prenez haleine, tirez fort!" ('Take breath, pull hard!'). Clearly Sir John followed his son's advice, for he skilfully dispatched the escapee big cat with a single well-aimed arrow through its head.

Later in 1513, the first of the two Giffard family crests granted to Sir John in recognition of his heroic action was prepared by the College of Arms, describing it as a "Panther’s head couped full-faced spotted various with flames issuing from his mouth". And in 1523, the second crest featured a "demi-archer bearded and couped at the knees from his middle, a short coat, paly argend and gule, at his middle a quiver of arrows, drawn to the head". As for the family motto, Sir John chose the fateful words uttered by his son as he took aim at the panther with his bow.

Giffard's Cross, marking the spot where an escapee panther was allegedly shot during the early 1500s (Dr Karl Shuker)

A wooden cross – nowadays known as Giffard's Cross - was erected at the precise site of his victory, but during the 20th Century it was moved for safe keeping into the grounds of the house, and a replacement was erected in its stead, which is readily visible from the public road running just in front of it. Not living very far away, I visited it one sunny Sunday afternoon during summer 2011, and was pleased to have seen for myself this tangible link to that dramatic cryptozoologically-linked episode of long ago.

Like so many episodes of this nature, however, it wouldn't be cryptozoological without having some degree of mystery or controversy surrounding it – and in this particular case, the mystery concerns the precise identity of the escapee cat. Just what was it? It is only ever referred to in historical accounts as a panther, but whereas modern-day usage of this term, at least in the UK, tends to be confined almost exclusively to the melanistic morph of the leopard Panthera pardus, i.e. the black panther, in medieval times 'panther' was also used in relation to the leopard's normal spotted version. So was it a black panther, or was it a spotted leopard – or even, as at least one account read by me has claimed, a jaguar? (The panther appears as a white-faced cat in the Giffard family crest, but as heraldic beasts are often very different in appearance from their real-life namesakes, this does not provide a solution.) Most extreme of all, as also suggested by some researchers, is that the entire episode is an invention, nothing more than local folklore? If that were true, however, how can the panther head on the Giffard family crest be explained - just a coincidence? Rather like the Giffard panther itself, this is one crypto-mystery that seems destined to run and run!

Just for fun, this delightful artwork portrays a very different kind of alien big cat!! (William Rebsamen)
 
This ShukerNature article is excerpted from my latest book, Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2012).
 
NB - A Buy It Now button for pre-ordering my book should be available here and on my website very soon, so please check back often!
 

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

NELSON MANDELA AND THE AFRICAN TIGER


A striped mystery cat with an incongruous tail tuft from Saqqara, Egypt

Here is a third appetiser from my soon-to-be-published book, Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2012).


The most famous striped or brindled mystery cats on record from Africa are the Tanzanian nunda or mngwa (click here for a ShukerNature post devoted to this feline cryptid) and the so-called mountain tiger of the Central African Republic, which has been likened in outward appearance to Africa's prehistoric sabre-tooth Machairodus. However, these are not the only ones by any means, as demonstrated by the following selection of lesser-known striped crypto-cats reported from the Dark Continent.

Nunda reconstruction (Randy Merrill)

The Ethiopian wobo is known chiefly from the baffling pelt formerly exhibited at the principal cathedral of Eifag. According to Ethiopia's Amhara and Tigré inhabitants, the wobo is larger than a lion and yellowish-brown or brownish-grey in colour with black stripes. Sceptics dismiss the Eifag skin as a tiger Panthera tigris pelt brought there from Asia by a traveller or merchant, but as the wobo is a familiar beast to many Ethiopians, this is not a satisfactory explanation - especially when an identical creature, dubbed the abu sotan, has been reported from the mountains near the River Rahad in neighbouring Sudan.

Speaking of tigerine beasts in Sudan: in 1951, eminent Sri Lankan zoologist Dr Paules E.P. Deraniyagala actually described a new subspecies of tiger, Panthera tigris sudanensis, the Sudan tiger, based upon a pelt that he had seen in a bazaar in Cairo, Egypt, and which the seller claimed had originated from a tiger shot in Sudan! Although he did not purchase the pelt, he did photograph it, and according to Czech mammalogist Dr Vratislav Mazák, who documented this curious affair in 1980, it clearly resembled that of a Caspian tiger P. t. virgata, and had probably been smuggled into Egypt from Turkey or Iran.

Early colour postcard depicting a captive Caspian tiger

Back to bona fide striped mystery cats, and definitely in need of an explanation is an illustrated limestone relief from the tomb of Ti, a wealthy 5th-Dynasty Egyptian landowner and courtier (c. 2490-2300 BC), at Saqqara - for among the many animals portrayed is a striped tiger-like cat, but with a distinctly leonine tuft at the tip of its tail. Is it a freak lion whose juvenile spots have coalesced into stripes (such specimens are known - see later), or an imported tiger poorly represented? Or could this enigmatic image be a portrait of a species still unknown to science? Whatever the answer, it is significant that all of the other animals present in this relief, including a lion and a leopard, are accurately depicted and readily recognisable.

Striped mystery cat on Ti's Saqqara tomb, with clearly recognisable lion and leopard depictions above-left of it

And why, as noted by Nelson Mandela no less in his 1994 autobiography Long Walk To Freedom, is there a word for ‘tiger’ in South Africa’s Xhosa language? Mandela revealed this fascinating little fact while arguing with various fellow prisoners on Robben Island who were insisting that they had seen tigers in Africa’s jungles. Here is his account of this intriguing claim:

"One subject we hearkened back to again and again was the question of whether there were tigers in Africa. Some argued that although it was popularly assumed that tigers lived in Africa, this was a myth and they were native to Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Africa had leopards in abundance, but no tigers. The other side argued that tigers were native to Africa and some still lived there. Some claimed to have seen with their own eyes this most powerful and beautiful of cats in the jungles of Africa. I maintained that while there were no tigers to be found in contemporary Africa, there was a Xhosa word for tiger, a word different from the one for leopard, and that if the word existed in our language, the creature must once have existed in Africa. Otherwise, why would there be a name for it?"

In 2005, British scientist Tim Davenport made zoological headlines with his co-discovery of the kipunji Rungwecebus kipunji - a new species, and genus, of mangabey monkey in Tanzania’s Rungwe (Rongwe) highlands that was well known to the local people (‘kibunji’ is its native name), but which had previously been dismissed by scientists as a wholly mythical spirit beast. Still dismissed today as such, conversely, is the so-called Rungwe tiger.

The aardwolf, a striped member of the hyaena family (Dominik Käuferle/Wikipedia)

According to the locals, this is a large striped animal, a description not matching that of any known species from this area of Tanzania. Davenport concedes that it could be a striped hyaena Hyaena hyaena or aardwolf Proteles cristatus - albeit way out of its known range - but does not discount that it might be a still-unknown species. After all, he has only to look at the kibunji to know that such a prospect is far from unrealistic in this remote African locality.

Although Kenya's mysterious spotted lion or marozi, and its counterparts reported elsewhere in Africa (such as Rwanda's ikimizi, Uganda's ntarargo, and and Cameroon's bung bung), have been well documented (see my earlier book Mystery Cats of the World, 1989, for the most extensive coverage published), striped lions are another matter entirely. Interestingly, in 2003 a novel entitled The Striped Lion, written by Mike Sackett, was published, which featured a marauding big cat on the loose in Africa that resembled a bona fide striped lion but was in fact a tigon - a hybrid of tiger and lioness. Here is a brief plot synopsis for this book as quoted from Amazon:

"The Striped Lion is the story of a bold experiment in wildlife conservation gone horribly wrong. A world-renowned foundation dedicated to the preservation of big cats accidentally impregnates an African lioness with the semen of a man-eating Siberian tiger and releases her into Kenya's Masai Mara Game Preserve. Only one of her cubs, the Alpha Male, survives to maturity but hybrid vigor has endowed him with monstrous size and his father's genes have given him a taste for human flesh.

"Fatalities mount across the Masai Mara as the tourist season approaches, threatening the Game Preserve's survival. Soon a desperate race is joined by the foundation and the Kenyan government to find and destroy the elusive predator before he kills again. But the searchers discover the problem is far more serious than they had ever imagined: The huge crossbreed has been mating with the local lionesses, and his offspring are man-eaters too."


Sadly, however, this book's plot contains a fundamental zoological flaw. The feline villain of The Striped Lion is a tigon - a hybrid of tiger and lioness. Yet as revealed by real-life specimens, it is only the reciprocal crossbreed, the liger - a hybrid of lion and tigress - which is bigger than its two pure-bred progenitor species; the tigon, conversely, is generally smaller and much less impressive. Moreover, male big cat hybrids are normally sterile, not fertile (in contrast, some females have proved to be fertile, giving birth to second-generation hybrid or back-crossed cubs). Hybrid misconceptions notwithstanding, The Striped Lion sounds like an enjoyable, entertaining read for anyone like me who is fascinated by the more unusual and unexpected members of the animal kingdom, so I shall certainly be seeking out a copy.

As for real-life, non-hybrid striped lions: As noted by cat expert C.A.W. Guggisberg, in some lion cubs their juvenile spots are arranged in distinct vertical lines, and occasionally these merge to yield true stripes. Normally of course, the spots of juvenile lions disappear as they mature, and so too, therefore, would any stripes that resulted from the merging of such spots. However, Ivan Heran’s book Animal Coloration (1976) includes a photo of an adult maned lion with several clearly-visible vertical stripes decorating its flanks, as seen here.

Striped lion (Ivan Heran)

This ShukerNature post is an adapted excerpt from my soon-to-be-published book Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2012).

NB - By the end of this week, a Buy It Now button for my book should be present here and on my website, so please check back again soon!




Tuesday, 20 November 2012

IN THE SHADOWS OF THE TIGER-MEN AND WERE-TIGERS

Other than the white were-tiger and Mowgli/Shere Khan illustrations, all of the truly spectacular artwork included here is by my friend Pat Burroughs, who is an awesomely talented artist - thanks Pat!!


Here is another appetiser for my forthcoming book Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2012):


The tiger is such a spectacular, awe-inspiring creature that we should not be surprised to discover that it has inspired legends of some truly extraordinary entities in which tigers and other species, notably humans, have become inextricably interwoven.

Particularly bizarre is the elephantiger - for as its name suggests, this exceedingly crossbred cat-monster combines the snarling head of a ferocious tiger with the lumbering body of a rampaging elephant. One version is depicted at Udaipur in India. Another, according to legend, frequented the forests of Thailand.

The ferocious elephantiger (Pat Burroughs)

Long ago, the Thai elephantiger was lured into a specially-prepared pit by three highly-skilled hunters and was presented to King Phan of Nakhon Pathom, who utilised this unique monster's services in the creation of an incomparably valiant race of war elephants, with which he defeated his longstanding enemy - the memorably-named King Kong of Chaisi.

Whether the king would have been so successful in defeating the kirata, conversely, is another matter - for these savage semi-humans of northeastern India possess the legs of humans but the heads and torsos of tigers. The male kirata are rapacious man-eaters, whereas the golden-skinned females are voluptuous vamps, who alluringly entice unwary human suitors to their doom amid the dark, inviting seclusion of their forest domain.

The kirata should not be confused with were-tigers, which are humans said to possess the ability to transform themselves into tigers. They occur in the traditional folklore of many native people throughout the tiger's original zoogeographical range in Asia. In India, for example, it was believed that such persons were evil sorcerers, whereas in China they were thought to be people afflicted by a hereditary curse or by malign ghosts. In Thailand, an especially murderous man-eating tiger may become a were-tiger in time, whereas in Malaysia and Indonesia a special type of relatively benevolent were-tiger known as a harimau jadian supposedly acts as a guardian of plantations and is only dangerous to humans if hungry or seeking revenge.

A male kirata (Pat Burroughs)

In Sumatra, weretigers are known as cindaku or harimau cindaku, and in a fascinating article on this subject published in the CFZ Yearbook 2007 Jon Hare reported the traditional Sumatran description of these entities as follows:

"Sumatrans say that a group of human beings exist with the ability to turn into tigers. They are seemingly normal in every other way but they can be identified by a single physical peculiarity: they all lack the channel in the upper-lip [the philtrum]. Most of the time the cindaku stay in human form and live just like any other people, but at certain times of the year they abandon their homes and head off to hunt. When a hunting cindaku arrives at a neighbouring village, he will stay in human form, entreating the villagers to allow him to stay the night. If the locals are not wary and do not notice that he lacks the channel in the upper lip, the tiger will transform in the night and devour them all; in the morning, all that will be found are bones. The cindaku will have melted back into the jungle."

The presence of a physical characteristic betraying a were-tiger's true identity is a very common feature in the folklore of human shape-shifters throughout the world. Other famous examples include the presence of a blow-hole on the top of the head in the boto or Amazonian were-dolphin's human form that he seeks to hide by wearing a large hat; and the tenacious presence of algae and other aquatic detritus in the hair of the Scottish kelpie's human form (and sometimes hoofed feet too).

A stunning portrayal of a white were-tiger (Killmatthew33/Deviantart.com)

Accounts of children reared by wild animals are not limited to fictional examples like Mowgli of Rudyard Kipling's two Jungle Book novels and the classical legend of Romulus and Remus. Over the centuries, many fully authenticated true-life cases have been documented and studied, but perhaps the most astounding of these was reported in the Morning Post, a London newspaper, on 31 December 1926, and subsequently referred to in passing by Charles Fort in his book Lo! (1931).

This remarkable case, which may well be unique even within the ever-surprising annals of feral children, came to the attention of a Indian magistrate during the first decade of 20th Century. While he was serving at that time in the Central Provinces, a ferocious man in his 40s was dragged before him in chains, roaring and raging in such a violent, scarcely controllable manner that the greatly shocked magistrate made enquiries concerning his background - and thereby uncovered the astonishing secret of the man's past.

Colour plate depicting Mowgli battling with Shere Khan (Stuart Tresilian)

Many years earlier, some villagers in this region had come upon a large tigress, accompanied by two cubs and what, to their amazement, appeared to be a human boy! As they peered closer, they could see that it was indeed a boy, 5-6 years old, and so they captured him and took him back to their village, where they confined him in one of their huts. His adoptive mother did not forsake her 'cub' so easily, however, because for several nights afterwards the tigress would enter the village and prowl agitatedly around the hut containing him, until in fear for their own safety the villagers finally killed her.

From then on, the boy was reared by the head villager, and ultimately acquired human characteristics, but possessed a ferocious temperament, and was able to walk unafraid and unmolested among wild tigers in the jungle. The boy had eventually grown up into a man - the very same man who was now standing in chains before the magistrate.

A pair of kirata (Pat Burroughs)

If other cases of true-life feral tiger-men have also occurred in the past, it is not difficult to understand how legends and folklore of half-human, half-tiger entities such as the kirata and shape-shifters such as were-tigers arose.

This ShukerNature post is an adapted excerpt from my latest book Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2012).





Monday, 19 November 2012

TALES OF A TAIL - LEGENDS OF THE SIAMESE CAT

Siamese cats – inspiring many legends (Philippa Foster)

Publication of my latest book, Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2012), is now imminent, so for the next few days until it is available to pre-order, ShukerNature will be presenting a series of short excerpts as appetisers for the main course! And here's the first one:

It has been said that all the elusive magic and mystery of ancient Siam dwells within those twin moons of sparkling sapphire through which its most famous feline ambassadors gaze inscrutably upon the modern-day world.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, to learn that a creature of such singular morphology as the Siamese cat has inspired a veritable pageant of exotic legends and lore, elucidating and celebrating each of its most characteristic physical features.

Siamese cats have mesmerising eyes of blue

Foremost among these must surely be the Siamese's famous kinked tail - nowadays selected against by breeders but epitomising earlier examples - whose origin is the basis for several charming stories. For example: one warm morning a beautiful Siamese princess decided to bathe in the palace garden's cool lake, so she threaded her valuable golden rings onto the long sleek tail of her beloved cat for safekeeping until she returned.

Unfortunately, the smooth rings persistently slid down the cat's tail and seemed destined to be lost - until he cleverly crooked the tip of his tail, thereby holding them securely in place. As the day was so warm, however, the princess did not return as swiftly as she had planned - several hours passed before she came back to her faithful cat and unhooked her rings from his tail. By this time, it had become very cramped, and the cat was overjoyed at the prospect of being able to straighten it again - but when he tried to do so, he discovered to his horror that it would not straighten. It had stiffened, permanently - and all Siamese cats from then on were born with a kink in their tail.

The Siamese cat’s kinked tail has inspired many myths

According to a different story, a sacred goblet had been stolen from one of Siam's temples, and a pair of Siamese cats set off into the surrounding woodlands to search for it. After a time, they found it, discarded near to some bushes, so the male cat trekked back to the temple to report their discovery, leaving behind the female cat to guard the precious goblet. This she did, tightly grasping its long slender stem with her tail until her mate should come back. Several days later, he duly returned - and found to his great surprise that she had given birth, to five beautiful kittens, but each with a kink in its tail.

Staring too intently at the Buddha's magnificent golden goblet, incidentally, is mythology's explanation for another of the Siamese's erstwhile characteristics - its squint. Once again, however, this trait is not favoured by modern-day breeders.

A third tale of its tail claims that a Siamese cat deliberately kinked it in order to remember something (but everyone seems since to have forgotten what it was!); whereas yet another version asserts that long ago one of these cats decided to go fishing using its tail as a fishing rod, and kinking the tip to use as a hook! Whether it caught anything is not recorded!

Indeed, like everything else concerning this enigmatic entity, the truty is likely to remain hidden forever amid the intricate intermingling of reality, reverie, and romance that has enveloped the Siamese cat since the earliest of times.

Some of my Siamese cat ornaments (Dr Karl Shuker)

NB - By the end of this week, a Buy It Now button should be available for my book, which I will be incorporating here and on my website, so keep a lookout for it!


 

Sunday, 18 November 2012

GREEN LION...OR GREEN LEOPARD? ON THE TRACK OF HEUVELMANS'S UNKNOWN MYSTERY CAT

A green lion
(Public domain image photomanipulated by Dr Karl Shuker)

If a black lion (click here for more information) or even a white lion (click here for more information) seems unlikely, how much more so a green lion? Remarkably, however, as very briefly mentioned in C.A.W. Guggisberg’s book Simba: The Life of the Lion (1961) and subsequently recalled in my own book Mystery Cats of the World (1989), what was claimed to be a bona fide green lion was allegedly spied on one occasion by a prospector in the forests of western Uganda. Could it have been an individual covered in greenish slime from a stagnant, alga-choked pool in which it had recently bathed? Possibly, although Guggisberg took a rather more pragmatic view:

"[It] no doubt emerged from a whisky bottle!"

Whatever the answer, this is not the only green-furred big cat on record from Africa.

Was a green lion once seen in Uganda?
(artwork © Felipe Solero)

In his annotated checklist of cryptozoological animals, published in 1986 within Cryptozoology, the former scientific journal of the now-defunct International Society of Cryptozoology (ISC), pioneering mystery beast chronicler Dr Bernard Heuvelmans included the following tantalising sentence:

"Anomalous felines, such as black, red, or white lions, green leopards, and striped cheetahs, reported from many African countries (Heuvelmans, 1983b)."

The reference that he cited there was his own, then-unpublished book manuscript Les Félins Encore Inconnus d’Afrique (The Still-Unknown Cats of Africa). In 2007, however, six years after his death, this important cryptozoological work was finally published, but although I have perused it carefully, I have been unable to find any mention of green leopards in it.

Consequently, earlier this year I contacted French cryptozoologist Michel Raynal, who had been in close cryptozoological contact with Heuvelmans for many years, and asked his views on this subject. In his reply to me of 22 June 2011, Michel stated that Heuvelmans had been wrong, and he confirmed that no mention of green leopards was present in his African mystery cats book. So the original source of this extraordinary claim remains unknown.


Is this what a green leopard would look like?
(Public domain image photomanipulated by Dr Karl Shuker)

However, I strongly suspect that the answer may simply be that Heuvelmans had misremembered the short note concerning green lions in Guggisberg’s Simba (with which he was familiar and had referred to in several of his own works), confusing lion with leopard, and thereby inadvertently inventing a mystery cat that had never existed even in legend, let alone in reality.

Having said that, even if a green leopard truly existed it is highly unlikely that we would ever know. After all, concealed amid leafy jungle foliage or verdant grasslands, such a creature would be an unrivalled master of camouflage!

While researching the mystifying case of Heuvelmans's missing green leopard, I was intrigued to learn that the Chiriguani people of Bolivia believe that solar and lunar eclipses are caused by Yaguarogui, a supernatural green jaguar, attempting to devour the sun and the moon.

Yaguarogui
(Public domain image photomanipulated by Dr Karl Shuker)

So now we know of reported examples, mistaken or otherwise, of green lions, green leopards, and green jaguars - what about green tigers?

Eastern mythology includes celestial tigers of several different colours – blue, red, yellow, white, and black, but nothing green. Despite prolonged searches, moreover, I was disappointed to uncover nothing whatsoever on the subject of green tigers – except, that is, for an indisputably green, striped, tigerine companion of Prince Adam, the true identity of super-hero He Man in the popular 'Masters of the Universe' television cartoon series produced by Filmation.

Cringer/Battle Cat
(© Alan Oppenheimer/Filmation/Wikipedia)

This unusual cat, made even more so by his ability to speak, is called Cringer and is normally a cowardly, easily-scared creature, but when Prince Adam transforms into his alter ego He Man and points his sword at him, emitting a bolt of energy, Cringer is also transformed – into a huge, fearless, extremely powerful version of himself known as Battle Cat.

Happily, however, there is one realm where even as sequestered a cryptid as a green tiger can be readily found - among the fabulous fauna of Photoshop. So here, to bid you adieu, is a stunning example!

Green tiger
(© Deathangle121.deviantart.com)

UPDATE: 19 November 2012

Today, Nick Redfern added a link to this present ShukerNature blog post of mine on the Cryptomundo website, and only a short time later one of Cryptomundo's regular readers, with the user name PhotoExpert, posted a fascinating response, which I found so interesting and relevant to the subject of green lions that I requested permission to document it here. PhotoExpert very kindly agreed to my doing so, and also allowed me to credit him via his real name, which is John Valentini Jr. So here is a summary of John's Cryptomundo response.

One day, while visiting a local zoo, John photographed a lioness, of totally normal colouration, but when he received his negatives and prints back from the developers (i.e. back in the days before digital photography), he was very surprised to discover that in them the lioness was green! She had been walking through an expanse of grass with her body held low when he had photographed her, and at the precise angle that John was photographing her the green light reflecting from the grass had made her look green. (Some grass, noted John, can be around 18-26% reflective.) Having to concentrate keeping his camera focused upon her through only a small viewfinder and thick glass, however, John hadn't noticed this optical effect himself - not until the negatives and prints had subsequently revealed it. Consequently, John speculates that perhaps, if viewed at precisely the correct angle, a similar effect could occur with a lion observed in the wild in decent light conditions but with plenty of green foliage around it, and that this may explain the Ugandan prospector's claimed sighting of a green lion.

Needless to say, I am delighted that John documented his extraordinary photographic experience on Cryptomundo in response to the link to this ShukerNature article of mine, as it may indeed offer a very plausible, rational explanation for the alleged green lion of Uganda - but one so remarkable that I would never even have thought of it, had John not posted it - so many thanks, John, once again!

By sheer coincidence, on this same day I have also discovered the following delightful photograph online of a green tiger of the topiary kind, at Busch Gardens, in Tampa Bay, Florida:

A green topiary tiger (Busch Gardens, Tampa Bay, Florida)

This ShukerNature post is excerpted from my latest book, Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery: A Feline Phantasmagoria (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2012).



Thursday, 8 November 2012

THE MADAGASCAN MAN-EATING TREE - MORE THAN JUST A MONSTROUS MYTH?

Artistic representation of the Madagascan man-eating tree created especially for my article 'Arboles Devoradores de Hombres' in the Spanish magazine Enigmas (March 1997)

When the Venus flytrap Dionaea muscipula was first made known to botanists in the 1760s, they would not believe that it could actually catch and consume insects - until living specimens were observed in action. Moreover, reports have also emerged from several remote regions of the world concerning horrifying carnivorous plants that can ensnare and devour creatures as large as birds, dogs, and monkeys - and sometimes even humans!

Venus flytrap (Noah Elhardt/Wikipedia)

Once again, however, these accounts have been received with great scepticism by science - relegating them to the realms of fantasy alongside such fictitious flora as Audrey II, the bloodthirsty 'Green Mean Mother' star of the cult movie musical Little Shop of Horrors (1986) and its b/w non-musical predecessor from 1960. But could such botanical nightmares really exist?

A somewhat lurid illustration of an alleged man-eating plant from Strand Magazine, September 1899

Perhaps the most incredible case on file is one that first came to Western attention via an extraordinary letter allegedly received during the early 1870s (differing accounts give different dates) by Polish biologist Dr Omelius Fredlowski (sometimes spelt 'Friedlowsky'). According to the letter's contents, at least one Western explorer claimed to have witnessed an all-too-real, fatal encounter with a rapacious botanical monster (as portrayed vividly in the illustration opening this present ShukerNature article of mine) that would put even the worst excesses of Audrey II to shame!

The letter was from Carl Liche (also variously given as 'Karl' and as 'Leche' in a variety of combinations!), a German explorer who had been visiting a primitive tribe called the Mkodos on the island of Madagascar. While there, he and a fellow Westerner called Hendrick were shown a grotesque tree, which the Mkodos referred to as the tepe,  and to which humans were sacrificed:

"If you can imagine a pineapple eight feet high and thick in proportion resting upon its base and denuded of leaves, you will have a good idea of the trunk of the tree, a dark dingy brown, and apparently as hard as iron. From the apex of this truncated cone eight leaves hung sheer to the ground. These leaves were about 11 or 12 ft long, tapering to a sharp point that looked like a cow's horn, and with a concave face thickly set with strong thorny hooks. The apex of the cone was a round white concave figure like a smaller plate set within a larger one. This was not a flower but a receptacle, and there exuded into it a clear treacly liquid, honey sweet, and possessed of violent intoxicating and soporific properties. From underneath the rim of the undermost plate a series of long hairy green tendrils stretched out in every direction. These were 7 or 8 ft long. Above these, six white almost transparent palpi [tentacles] reared themselves toward the sky, twirling and twisting with a marvellous incessant motion. Thin as reeds, apparently they were yet 5 or 6 ft tall."

Suddenly, after a shrieking session of prayers to this sinister tree, the natives encircled one of the women in their tribe, and forced her with their spears to climb its trunk, until at last she stood at its summit, surrounded by its tentacle-like palpi dancing like snakes on all sides. The natives told the doomed woman to drink, so she bent down and drank the treacle-like fluid filling the tree's uppermost plate, and became wild with hysterical frenzy:

"But she did not jump down, as she seemed to intend to do. Oh no! The atrocious cannibal tree that had been so inert and dead came to sudden savage life. The slender delicate palpi, with the fury of starved serpents, quivered a moment over her head, then fastened upon her in sudden coils round and round her neck and arms; then while her awful screams and yet more awful laughter rose wildly to be instantly strangled down again into a gurgling moan, the tendrils one after another, like green serpents, with brutal energy and infernal rapidity, rose, retracted themselves, and wrapped her about in fold after fold, ever tightening with cruel swiftness and the savage tenacity of anacondas fastening upon their prey. And now the great leaves slowly rose and stiffly erected themselves in the air, approached one another and closed about the dead and hampered victim with the silent force of a hydraulic press and the ruthless purpose of a thumb screw.

"While I could see the bases of these great levers pressing more tightly towards each other, from their interstices there trickled down the stalk of the tree great streams of the viscid honeylike fluid mingled horribly with the blood and oozing viscera of the victim. At the sight of this the savage hordes around me, yelling madly, bounded forward, crowded to the tree, clasped it, and with cups, leaves, hands and tongues each obtained enough of the liquor to send him mad and frantic. Then ensued a grotesque and indescribably hideous orgy. May I never see such a sight again.

"The retracted leaves of the great tree kept their upright position during ten days, then when I came one morning they were prone again, the tendrils stretched, the palpi floating, and nothing but a white skull at the foot of the tree to remind me of the sacrifice that had taken place there."

Liche subsequently dubbed the tepe Crinoida dajeeana (after a fancied resemblance to the starfish-related crinoids or sea-lilies, and in honour of a noted Bombay physician, Dr Bhawoo Dajee), but he was not the only visitor to Madagascar to learn of this nightmarish species. Chase Salmon Osborn, Governor of Michigan from 1911-13, journeyed to Madagascar during the early 1920s in the hope of seeing for himself the terrible tree. Sadly for science (but perhaps fortunately for him!), he did not succeed in locating one, but he discovered that it was well-known to natives all over the island, and even some of the Western missionaries working there believed in its existence. He also claimed he had learnt that from the very earliest times Madagascar had been known as 'the land of the man-eating tree', which he used as the title of a book that he later wrote about his sojourn in Madagascar (though the tepe itself scarcely featured in it).

Artistic representation of the Madagascan man-eating tree or tepe (Tim Morris)

Nevertheless, there is much to doubt in Liche's testimony regarding this herbaceous horror - not least of which is whether Liche himself ever existed! Eminent biochemist and cryptozoologist Dr Roy P. Mackal, now retired from the University of Chicago, devoted an entire chapter to the Madagascan man-eating tree in his book Searching For Hidden Animals (1980), but was unable to discover any background history concerning Liche, and even the original publication source of Liche's letter remains a mystery.

No less controversial is the morphology of the man-eating tree, for Liche's description brings together an extraordinary (and highly unlikely) collection of specialised structural features seemingly drawn from several wholly different, unrelated groups of plants. As Roy justifiably pointed out, such an amazing combination of characteristics could not reasonably be the outcome of effective evolutionary adaptation. Moreover, its ever-animate, writhing palpi are unlike any structure ever reported from any known species of plant.

Man-eating plant from the front cover of an issue of the fiction magazine Amazing Stories

Consequently, Roy dismissed the existence of Madagascar's man-eating tree, at least in the form attributed to it by Liche. However, as he noted when concluding his chapter dealing with this lethal entity, Liche's description may be a highly-embellished, exaggerated account of a real but smaller, less dramatic species of carnivorous plant native to Madagascar:

"It may well be that there existed or still exists an unknown relatively large carnivorous plant that has one or two of the adaptations described for trapping birds or other smaller arboreal creatures. There are still large forest areas, especially in the southeastern and south-central portions of Madagascar, that would be interesting to explore."

Certainly, any region of the world that has offered up for scientific scrutiny as many truly unique, endemic species as this veritable island continent has already done must surely retain the potential for concealing some major biological surprises even today.

Another artistic depiction of the man-eating tree (artist unknown to me)

Indeed, there may even be some photographic evidence for the existence of such a plant. Czech explorer Ivan Mackerle is probably best-known in cryptozoological circles as the most famous modern-day seeker of the Mongolian death worm (click here for my ShukerNature article on this cryptid). However, he also has a longstanding interest in stories of mysterious flesh-eating flora, and in 1998 he led a month-long expedition to Madagascar, in order to investigate reports of the man-eating tree. Moreover, in a letter to me concerning this, Ivan included a truly tantalising snippet of information of which I was not previously aware.

Ivan Mackerle seeking the tepe in Madagascar (Ivan Mackerle)

In 1935, a former British army officer called L. Hearst apparently spent four months in Madagascar, and while there he took photographs of some unknown species of tree under which lay the skeletons of various sizeable animals. According to Ivan, these photos were later published somewhere, but he has been unable to find out where. Some scientists who saw the photos claimed that they were fakes, so Hearst returned to Madagascar to obtain more convincing proof, but died in mysterious circumstances.

This, at least, is the story that Ivan has pieced together, but he has been unable as yet to provide conclusive corroboration for it. So if anyone reading this ShukerNature article has any relevant information, or knows where the tree photos were published, I'd be very interested to receive details. As for Ivan's own Madagascar expedition, he was unable to uncover any evidence in support of Liche's claims. In a letter to me of 21 September 1998, Ivan wrote:

"We had taken a Malagasy guide and interpreter with us, who lives in Prague and knows Czech. And so we could speak with the natives about mysteries. We had travelled all over the country, mainly in the south region. It is interesting, but no-one had known anything about the man-eating tree. Neither people in town (botanists, journalists, etc) nor natives. They had heard only about pitcher plants. Natives know killer trees but no man-eating ones. The story of Karl [sic] Liche is unknown there. We spoke with many botanists. I could not believe it, because I had supposed that it was a widespread legend there. But killer trees are also very interesting. Many of them are little-known or unknown to science. We found the killer tree 'kumanga', which is poisonous when it has flowers. We took gas-masks for protecting ourselves, but the tree did not blossom at that time. We had seen a skeleton of a dead bird and a dead turtle [tortoise] under the tree. The tree grows only in one place in Madagascar and it is rare today. It was difficult to find it."

So it would appear that even though the man-eating tree is seemingly non-existent, Madagascar can still tantalise mainstream botany, courtesy of the kumanga killer tree. As Ivan's team encountered it, this mystifying species clearly exists - but what can it be, and is it truly capable of achieving the lethal effects claimed by the local people? Mindful that a number of harmless plants on Madagascar have been accredited with all manner of sinister talents in Malagasy folklore, it would hardly be surprising or unprecedented if the kumanga's deadly tendencies owe more to imaginative fiction than biological fact. Conversely, I have so far been unable to determine the kumanga's taxonomic identity - could it therefore be unknown to science, echoing Ivan's above-quoted words? There are evidently some notable mysteries of the cryptobotanical kind still awaiting resolution on the exotic island of Madagascar.

It's behind you!! Me standing bravely in front of a truly gargantuan pitcher plant statue in a park in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Dr Karl Shuker)

Of particular interest in relation to the Madagascan man-eating tree is a claim published in 1888 within the second issue of the magazine Current Literature by its founder, Frederick Maxwell Somers. Namely, that the entire tale of the tepe was nothing more than an inventive work of fiction penned several years earlier by journalist Edmund Spencer, who wrote for the New York World, which just so happened to have been the first media publication to report Liche's man-eating tree account in an exclusive article published on 28 April 1874. And certainly, it is true that no evidence for the ertswhile existence of any of the story's protagonists - Liche, Fredlowski, the Mkodos - has ever been unearthed by investigators of the Madagascan man-eating tree. Unfortunately for the credibility of Somers's claim, however, the same is also true regarding Edmund Spencer! So do we have a genuine hoax here, or do we have a hoaxed hoax?

Moreover, in a further and highly unexpected twist to the long-running saga of Madagascar's missing man-eating tree, Canadian researcher W. Ritchie Benedict revealed in 1995 that he had uncovered a published but hitherto-unpublicised Canadian newspaper account (The Watchman, New Brunswick, 29 May) regarding this cryptobotanical wonder dating back to 1875, and which indicates an origin for it not in Madagascar but in New Guinea!

How ironic it would be if the reason why the greatest mystery plant of all time has never been scientifically exposed is that everyone has been looking for it on the wrong island!

1887 illustration of the reputed ya-te-veo from Central America  

For many more mystery plants of prey - including a reputed Central American equivalent of the Madagascan man-eating plant, called the ya-te-veo - check out my book The Beasts That Hide From Man (Paraview, 2003), which contains the most comprehensive coverage of such plants ever published.

Official poster featuring Audrey II for the 1986 film musical Little Shop of Horrors (Warner Bros)