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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Saturday, 16 April 2016


Dromedary in the desert (public domain)

Australia is renowned as a land of strange animals, both in the living world and in aboriginal Dreamtime lore. Marsupials, monotremes, monsters, and more, drawn forth from both reverie and reality, have deftly interacted, intermingled, and integrated with one another here for countless millennia to yield an extraordinary menagerie of creatures that is truly unique, and emphatically unlike anything that can be encountered elsewhere in the world.

During the early 1800s, however, reports surfaced Down Under of a creature that was decidedly bizarre even by this island continent's zoological standards, and unquestionably esoteric even in comparison with its native traditions.

Dromedary, illustration from Drawings of Animals of Greece and the Levant by eminent wildlife artist Ferdinand Bauer (1760-1826) (public domain)

The somewhat tragic history of this enigmatic, still-unresolved, yet nowadays long-forgotten entity was recalled in E. Lloyd's A Visit to the Antipodes: With Some Reminiscences of a Sojourn in Australia (1846) as follows:

I have to record a tradition that exists among the white people in the north country, with reference to an animal that sometimes appears, much to their alarm. This is no other than a camel. It is said, amongst the other wise things done by the sanguine people that first settled the land, that one gentleman, arguing from the natural dryness of the climate, that it was a country similar to the Zahara [sic], or Great Desert, and required animals of the same powers of endurance to travel over it, resolved upon doing nothing less than importing a camel, from which he anticipated reaping a fortune. However, calamitously, the camel, after its arrival in the colony, got lost, or ran away into the bush, and for a long time afterwards was never heard of. It is however stated, that he appeared to some shepherds, while tending their flocks, and who were not a little surprised, not to say amazed, at the unlooked-for visitation.

The blacks, in terror, fled at his approach, exclaiming, "big one bullocky! big one bullocky!" It is likewise stated, that the forlorn camel, for a long time roamed through the country, like the wandering Jew, seeking society but finding none; sometimes appearing unintentionally and unexpectedly to shepherds and black fellows, and being innocently the cause of great alarm, until at last another outcast left the realms of social intercourse, and cast himself upon his own energies. This was a harmless donkey, one of three which had found their way into this province. Having strayed from his sphere, like a comet, he took an orbit of his own, exceedingly eccentric, until the two forlorn and wandering planets came within the reach of each other's attraction, and were brought into contact, the result of which is, that they now roam the forest together, alike forsaken, and irrevocably lost.

Dromedary - plate by Simon Charles Miger after Nicolas Maréchal (1753-1803), from La Ménagerie du Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle by Bernard-Germain-Étienne de Lacépède, Georges Cuvier, and Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1804) (public domain)

This sad little episode was no doubt repeated many times thereafter too, with dromedaries Camelus dromedarius imported Down Under for desert exploration ultimately escaping (or being deliberately released), because today there are naturalised herds of these one-humped camels in many parts of Australia, including the Northern Territory, western Queensland, northern South Australia, and (especially) Western Australia. Indeed, by 2005 there were an estimated 500,000 individuals living in the wild amid this vast island continent, and increasing at an annual growth rate of 10 per cent (so if this rate had stayed constant from then until now, by the end of 2015 there would have been around 1 million).

What makes Lloyd's account so noteworthy however, is that according to official records, the first camels imported into Australia (all dromedaries) did not arrive until 1840, and their whereabouts were fully documented until beyond 1846 (the publication date of Lloyd's book). Moreover, the first major importations did not occur until 1860. Yet his account makes clear that the camel reported by Lloyd had been roaming the deserts Down Under long before the 1840s - so who was its original owner, and when exactly had it been imported into Australia?

A herd of domesticated dromedaries (public domain)

Unless this entire event is a hoax, or unless there are even earlier records still awaiting disclosure, it would appear that this bewildering 'big one bullocky' was the very first dromedary ever to set hoof in the Antipodes. Hardly surprising, therefore, that it elicited such consternation among its astonished aboriginal observers.

After all, even taking into account the dramatic zoological diversity to be found amid ancient native lore here, a dromedary would still seem a very daunting entity to anyone not previously cognisant of camelids. And so, even though it was not a bona fide dromedary of the Dreamtime, this unexpected itinerant was nonetheless a veritable one-humped wonder Down Under!

If you'd never seen a dromedary before, this very sizeable and strange-looking beast would certainly be a most daunting creature to encounter in the wild! (public domain)

NB - Although the imported camel's species was not specified in Lloyd's account, his above-quoted comparison of northern Australia's dry climate with that of North Africa's Sahara plus his argument that animals required to traverse the former territory's arid terrain would need to be ones that are capable of surviving in the latter desert readily confirm that it must have been a dromedary. For this species was indeed originally native to the Sahara, and also to the Arabian Desert in the Middle East, before becoming domesticated and transported widely across the globe (with its wild ancestors eventually dying out around 2,000 years ago).

In contrast, the only other modern-day species, the Bactrian or two-humped camel C. bactrianus, is much rarer, and is native only to the steppes of central Asia in the wild state. Moreover, in its domestic form this latter species has only been introduced into Australia much more recently and in much smaller numbers than the dromedary, with only a very few individuals known to be existing in a naturalised state anywhere in Australia

A young white domestic Bactrian camel (© Dr Karl Shuker)

This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted and expanded from my book Mysteries of Planet Earth: An Encyclopedia of the Inexplicable.

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