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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Wednesday, 12 March 2014


A pair of anomalous speckle-coated 'tigers' depicted in a 1750s plate from Albertus Seba's Thesaurus

In yesterday's ShukerNature blog post (click here), I presented a selection of speckle-coated mystery big cats reported from various parts of South America. Now, less than a day later, I'm able to present a very unexpected but fascinating update to this subject.

As so often happens during my cryptozoological researches, while seeking something entirely different while browsing online this morning I came upon a remarkable engraving that may have some bearing upon the speckled mystery cat saga.

Albertus Seba (1665-1736), a Dutch pharmacist by trade but inflamed by an unquenchable passion for collecting zoological specimens, was so successful financially in his work that he was able to assemble not one but two truly spectacular, prodigious collections of unprecedented size and scope that gained international acclaim. Indeed, the first of these collections was so astonishing that in 1716 it was purchased in its entirety by no less a celebrated figure than the Russian tsar Peter the Great; the second was auctioned in 1752 in Amsterdam, and several prize specimens were purchased by what was then the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences, founded by Peter the Great (but merging in 1841 with the Russian Academy to become the present-day Russian Academy of Sciences).

Portrait of Albertus Seba, by Jacobus Houbraken (1698-1780)

Perhaps Seba's most lasting claim to fame, however, is his magnificent four-volume Thesaurus (published 1734-1765). Its full, dual Dutch-Latin title is Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio – Naaukeurige beschryving van het schatryke kabinet der voornaamste seldzaamheden der natuur, which translates as 'Accurate description of the very rich thesaurus of the principal and rarest natural objects', and it is basically an exquisitely-illustrated catalogue of every zoological specimen that Seba had collected, containing 446 full-colour folio-sized copper plates. A copy of this wondrous work sold at auction a few years ago for the staggering sum of US $460,000.

However, a modern reproduction compendium of all of its colour plates (but not containing Seba's accompanying text descriptions of the specimens in Latin and French), entitled Cabinet of Natural Curiosities and compiled by Irmgard Müsch, Jes Rust, and Rainer Willmann, was published by Taschen in 2001, followed by further printings more recently. Purchased directly from Taschen, a hardback copy currently costs £125 (remarkably, however, it only costs £18.75 on Amazon!!).

Detailed scans of many if not all of the plates from Seba's Thesaurus can also be found online, and many of the animals depicted in them are portrayed relatively accurately, especially given the pre-scientific time period in which this publication was prepared. While browsing a collection of these sumptuous plates on the website Albion Prints website (www.albion-prints.com), I came upon a fascinating example, whose date was given as the 1750s, depicting a series of true moles and African golden moles in the top section, but with the rest of the plate devoted to a pair of very remarkable-looking big cats. Here is that plate:

A pair of anomalous speckle-coated 'tigers' (and also a series of mole colour morphs) depicted in a 1750s plate from Albertus Seba's Thesaurus

According to the description given for the plate, these cats were tigers! I am not sure whether this identification is the original one given by Seba in his Thesaurus, or is simply one hazarded by the owner of the website containing the scans, but what I am sure of is that whatever these pale-furred, liberally spotted cats may be, they are certainly not the orange-furred, unequivocally -big cat that we all know as the tiger, unless...?

What if the term 'tiger' was being used here not in relation to Panthera tigris, but rather in its Latin American meaning, i.e. 'jaguar'? Yet these illustrated cats possess no trace of the jaguar's normal rosettes and they lack its fur's deep orange background colouration too, being patterned all over instead with an array of solid black dots or speckles upon a virtually white background - thereby greatly resembling the alleged appearance of Peru's speckled tiger aka Anomalous jaguar.

As one of the greatest zoological collectors of all time, if anyone were likely to obtain specimens of this most exotic, elusive form of South American crypto-cat, Seba would have to be a primary candidate for achieving such a feat.

The modern-day Taschen compendium of the plates from Albertus Seba's Thesaurus, entitled Cabinet of Natural Curiosities (© Taschen)

Needless to say, I realise that this is all highly speculative. It may simply be that the two cats are very inaccurate representations of normal jaguars, or even leopards, such as the pale-coated Arabian leopard Panthera pardus nimr (their non-gracile body proportions and lack of teardrop facial markings argue strongly against their being cheetahs). Yet in view of how accurate other depictions of animals are in Seba's Thesaurus, this seems strange.

In any event, they are certainly tantalising enough in appearance to warrant inclusion in any coverage of speckled mystery cats, just in case they are relevant and any further investigation of them can be achieved. So if anyone reading this ShukerNature blog post should happen to own a modern-day Taschen compendium of the Seba Thesaurus's plates, I would very greatly welcome any news of what identity was given in it for these two speckle-coated big cats. Thanks very much!

STOP PRESS: 15 March 2014

A few days ago, I gave in to temptation and purchased online a copy of the 2011 reprint of Taschen's modern-day reproduction compendium of this tome's sumptuous colour plates, which arrived today. I swiftly turned to the speckled cats plate, and discovered to my great surprise that they were labelled as...cheetahs! Anything less like cheetahs than these two felids would be hard to imagine, as they have the body proportions of a leopard or jaguar and lack the cheetah's characteristic facial teardrop marks. Only their speckled pelage is cheetah-like. Consequently, I can only assume that either the Taschen compendium's German compilers are mistaken in their identification, or the 18th-Century artist responsible for the original plate versions in Seba's Thesaurus did not draw them from life, or from accurately prepared taxiderm specimens either. Thanks also to Facebook friend Robert Hodge, who checked through his own copy of Taschen's plates compendium from Seba's Thesaurus while mine was en route and duly informed me that they were indeed labelled in it as cheetahs. Another mystery solved, albeit in a very disappointing, anticlimactic manner.

For plenty of additional information concerning a wide diversity of South American mystery cats, be sure to check out my two mystery cat books – Mystery Cats of the World (1989) and Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012)


  1. Highly speculative perhaps, but still a very pragmatic method of reasoning, and I am pretty confident that's the real deal. Wondering If that African python was named after this man...

  2. We can also assume that Seba had a sceptical approach on that matter and wrongly labelled the skin as cheetah's but we may never know for sure...