Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the 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), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), 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), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

Dr Karl Shuker's Official Website - http://www.karlshuker.com/index.htm

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 published books (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!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my Shuker In MovieLand blog's articles (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

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Tuesday, 2 August 2022

THE TRUNKO CENTENARY PHOTOGRAPH - A FIFTH TRUNKO IMAGE EMERGES 100 YEARS AFTER TRUNKO ITSELF DID!

 
Higher-resolution close-up version of the fifth Trunko photograph to be made known to cryptozoologists (© owner unknown, but image dates from 1922, so now likely to be in public domain – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

As ShukerNature readers will no doubt already know, Trunko is the name that within my 1996 book The Unexplained I light-heartedly coined (but which to my great surprise duly became globally accepted) for the hitherto nameless yet very enigmatic 'sea monster' carcase washed ashore on a beach at the coastal town of Margate, in what is now Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa, during November 1922, and characterised by its coating of snow-white 'fur' plus a long elephantine trunk-like projection.

Sadly, no tissue samples were taken from this strange specimen for formal scientific analysis before it was washed back out to sea and lost forever; nor, seemingly, were any photographs snapped of it. Consequently, Trunko appeared destined to remain perpetually unidentified, eternally unexplained, but nonetheless inspiring all manner of highly imaginative but often extremely eyecatching artistic representations of what it may have looked like in life – bizarre hairy marine pachyderms bearing no resemblance to anything ever known to have existed on Earth.

 
William Asmussen's vibrant representation of a living Trunko battling two killer whales, inspired by various eyewitness claims back in 1922 (© William Asmussen)

Almost 90 years later, however, in September 2010, German cryptozoological co-researcher Markus Hemmler and I were very startled but delighted to discover no fewer than three Trunko photos, which had been snapped by a Mr A.K. Jones while this curious carcase had lain ashore.

One was featured on the Margate Business Association (MBA) website, the other two had been published in a Wide World Magazine article way back in August 1925 (click here and here to read my two world-exclusive ShukerNature articles that documented these extraordinary discoveries immediately after they had been made).

 
A.K. Jones's Trunko photograph that had appeared on the MBA website (originally © A.K. Jones, but image dates from 1922, so now likely to be in public domain – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Yet until now, all three had remained entirely unknown to the cryptozoological community.

Moreover, these photos were of sufficiently good quality for me to be able to recognise that this entity was a globster, i.e. a decomposed whale carcase from which the skeletal contents have fallen away, leaving behind a thick gelatinous matrix of collagen protein, still encased inside the whale's skin sac of rotting blubber, with the carcase's famous 'trunk' most likely an enclosed rib covered in fibrous tissue, and the carcase's white 'fur' being exposed connective tissue fibres.

 
A.K. Jones's two Trunko photograph that had appeared on the Wide World Magazine article of August 1925 (originally © A.K. Jones, but image dates from 1922, so now likely to be in public domain – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

After more than 80 years, the mystery of Trunko had finally been solved (for full details, see my extensive May 2011 Fortean Times article – the most comprehensive coverage of Trunko's convoluted history ever published, and subsequently republished in ShukerNature Book 1). But that was not all.

In March 2011, I learnt from Markus that a fourth Trunko photograph had been discovered, by Margate-based South African artist and Trunko researcher Bianca Baldi, in the archives of Margate Museum, which showed an amorphous blob that again confirmed Trunko's identity as a globster (click here to read my ShukerNature account of this dramatic find).

 
The fourth Trunko photograph (© owner unknown, but image dates from 1922, so now likely to be in public domain – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

And now, most recently of all, on 19 April 2022 and courtesy yet again of the indefatigable Markus, I was made aware of a fifth Trunko photo. As with the previous quartet, it had been hiding in plain public sight for quite a while.

Markus had discovered that on 4 March 2015, Margate businessman Lencel Celliers had posted in a Facebook group entitled 'MARGATE, Natal, South Africa – NOSTALGIA', a clickable link to a then-online album of vintage Margate-based photographs on the website of a South African news/Information channel called eHowzit that included two Trunko photographs. One of these is the Jones image that had appeared on the MBA website, but the other is entirely new to cryptozoologists.

 
Lower-resolution full version of the fifth Trunko photograph to be made known to cryptozoologists (© owner unknown, but image dates from 1922, so now likely to be in public domain – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

The album provided no details concerning who had snapped this latter photo (it is reproduced here, at the opening to this present ShukerNature article, on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only). As can be seen, it depicts the by-now familiar Trunko form of a huge white globster, but, interestingly, it shows a large fan-shaped projection from the carcase that was not visible in previous Trunko photos but which may explain various previously-mystifying claims by some original Trunko eyewitnesses that the carcase had possessed a lobster-like 'tail' (lobster tails are indeed fan-shaped). In addition, the specific location depicted in this photo, where Trunko was stranded, is revealed to have been the principal Margate beach at Tragedy Bay.

Markus subsequently contacted Mr Celliers on FB for more information regarding this highly significant photo, and Celliers replied that he had obtained both of them from the Margate Museum "when it was still in existence in 2000". (He also provided a link to a Margate-themed YouTube video produced by him and uploaded on 21 July 2012 that includes these same two Trunko pictures – click here to view it.) Presently unable to identify with certainty which establishment Celliers was alluding to, however, Markus speculates that it may in fact be the Margate Art Museum, but if so, it is still in existence today.

 
Modern-day view of Margate's principal beach; click picture to enlarge for viewing purposes (© T866/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

Consequently, Markus has now contacted this museum in the hope that it is indeed the correct one and can therefore provide some information concerning this fifth Trunko image - which, by turning up 100 years after Trunko itself did, surely deserves to be designated as the official Trunko Centenary Photograph!

My sincere thanks as always to Markus Hemmler for so kindly bringing this latest unearthed Trunko photo to my attention and for sharing with me his information concerning it.

 
My ShukerNature Book 1, whose front cover illustration includes a delightful rendition by artist Anthony Wallis of what Trunko might have looked like had it indeed been an exotic species unknown to science – ah, if only… (© Dr Karl Shuker/Anthony Wallis/Coachwhip Publications)

 

Thursday, 28 July 2022

PARKER'S PAPUAN MYSTERY SNAKE, AND A LEGLESS LIZARD OF OZ?

 
Reconstructing (using a vintage drawing of a black-headed python) the possible appearance of two very distinctive Australian mystery snakes(?) with magenta-coloured heads and yellow bodies that were allegedly encountered in c.1999 (© Dr Karl Shuker)

In his book A Guide to the Snakes of Papua New Guinea (1996), renowned British snake expert Mark O'Shea devoted an entire page to an enigmatic, still-unidentified, but seemingly highly venomous PNG snake of aquatic lifestyle that he has dubbed Parker's snake, in honour of Australian herpetologist Fred Parker, who had first brought this mysterious serpent to scientific attention in his own book The Snakes of Western Province (1982). Both researchers have sought it in the field, but without success, despite specifically visiting the Western Province village of Wipim where it reputedly killed three children (see below). Between them, however, they have collected some valuable information from the local people, who, unsurprisingly, greatly fear this reptile.

In his book, Parker had reported the rapid deaths of three young girls allegedly bitten by this snake while bathing in the Ouwe Creek near Wipim during 1972-73. Other reports of it from further afield have also occurred, but without any attributed deaths. Based upon eyewitness descriptions and other native testimony, Parker's snake is an extremely venomous but also very rare aquatic snake measuring no more than 6.5 ft long, yellowish-brown to brown dorsally and pale yellow to white ventrally, with smooth scales, enlarged ventrals, and a short cylindrical tail. It is said to favour small freshwater swamps and inland streams rather than larger rivers or open swampy grassland. Although it has been seen basking on dry land, it apparently prefers hiding on the muddy bottom. Death resulting from a bite by this snake is very rapid, within just a few minutes, which is much faster than from a taipan or even a sea-snake bite.

 
Mark O'Shea, 2014 (© Papblak/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

As Mark O'Shea noted in his book, he and Parker have considered a number of possible identities for this mystery serpent. These include New Guinea's mildly venomous dog-faced water snake Cerberus rynchops (with its toxicity presumably exaggerated by locals), the extremely venomous mulga or king brown snake Pseudechis australis (although this Australian elapid has yet to be formally recorded from New Guinea), the small-eyed snake Micropechis ikaheka (another highly venomous elapid but this time known from New Guinea), and even some form of sea-snake or taipan. Yet as Mark freely conceded, none of these wholly corresponds with the local accounts given for it.

Consequently, Parker's snake currently remains an elusive but tantalizing enigma within the ophidian literature; nothing more concerning it has emerged since the publication of Mark's book in 1996, as he confirmed to me during a Facebook communication between us on 22 January 2022.

 
King brown snake aka mulga snake (© AllenMcC/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

Not all mysterious snakes are huge, as exemplified by the following tantalisingly vague report of a diminutive form of unidentified serpent from Australia:

I once came across 2 little snakes in a waterhole, somewhere in the outback (can't remember where, it was about nine years ago [i.e. c.1999] and I was travelling all around Oz) but they were about 20 cm [8 in] long with a magenta head and a yellow body. I have never been able to find a picture or find out anything about them, too bad I didn't have a camera!!

 
Red-naped snake (© Alexandre Roux/Wikipedia – CC BY 3.0 au licence)

This report was posted onto the Aussie Pythons & Snakes online forum by someone with the username Charlie on 24 January 2008, but it received no response. So as far as I'm aware, no conclusive taxonomic identification of his small yet strikingly-coloured waterhole snakes was ever forthcoming. Nor have I had greater success than Charlie in identifying them.

On 13 November 2021, I posted Charlie's intriguing report on various Facebook groups devoted to cryptozoology to see what response (if any) it elicited. Several identities for the snakes were duly suggested, including the Australian tree snake Dendrelaphis punctulatus, red-naped snake Furina diadema, woma python Aspidites ramsayi, young specimens of the black-headed python A. melanocephalus, and young western brown snakes Pseudonaja nuchalis, but none of these corresponds closely with Charlie's description of the small, very distinctively-hued snakes that he spied.

 
Black-headed pythons (© Dawson/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.5 licence)

In view of their miniature size, moreover, it is conceivable that they were not snakes at all, but instead a species of legless lizard, of which there are quite a few endemic to Australia. Some of these, moreover, are deceptively serpentine in outward appearance, especially to those who may not be too familiar with snakes – but yet again I have been unable to obtain pictures of any such reptile that matches those two mystery specimens encountered by Charlie.

An anomalous Aussie mystery snake, or a legendary lizard of Oz? Could it even be that these creatures weren't reptiles at all, but perhaps some form of invertebrate – a species of annelid worm, for instance, or planarian flatworm, the latter of which includes some brightly-coloured Australian species? Any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly welcomed!

This ShukerNature article is excerpted exclusively from my recent book Secret Snakes and Serpent Surprises.



Sunday, 5 June 2022

THE MOUNTAIN OF THE MOON AND AN AFRICAN BUNYIP

 
Photo-still of the dingonek-inspired African bunyip featured in the Bengali blockbuster movie Chander Pahar (© Kamaleshwar Mukherjee/Shree Venkatesh Films – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Yes, you read this ShukerNature article's title correctly – an African bunyip, not an Australian one. Allow me to explain.

One of the most famous Bengali adventure novels is Chander Pahar (retitled as Mountain of the Moon in subsequent English-language translations), which was written by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, an Indian writer in the Bengali language, and was originally published in 1937. Just under a decade ago, it was turned into a blockbuster Bengali movie that I have long wanted to watch, and finally succeeded in doing so a fortnight ago, thanks to local friend and Amazon Prime subscriber Jane Cooper, who very kindly enabled me to watch it at long last by purchasing it on AP – thanks Jane!

Directed by Kamaleshwar Mukherjee, released in 2013 by Shree Venkatesh Films, and set in the years 1909-1910, Chander Pahar follows the exciting (albeit sometimes positively Munchausenesque!) adventures of a 20-year-old Bengali man named Shankar Ray Choudhuri (played by Indian movie/singing megastar Dev). He has long dreamed of being a derring-do explorer in Africa, but seems destined to spend his life much more mundanely, working as an administrator at the local jute mill in his small Bengali town instead. Happily, however, fate steps in, in the shape of a relative who secures for Shankar a job in Kenya, as the station-master of a tiny railway terminus miles from anywhere.

 
Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay (public domain)

This posting becomes the vital stepping stone that Shankar has long sought, to set him on the path to becoming a daring African explorer. Many thrilling exploits duly follow, so be sure to click here in order to read my comprehensive plot description and review of Chander Pahar on my companion Shuker In MovieLand blog. Some of these, moreover, are so implausible that Baron Munchausen himself may well have thrown up his hands in despair!

However, the movie's principal focus is Shankar's eventful journey with an older, veteran Portuguese explorer named Diego Alvarez (played by celebrated South African actor Gérard Rudolf) to an inhospitable and virtually inaccessible arid land of high hills and even higher mountains known as the Richtersveld, situated in the northwestern corner of what is today South Africa's Northern Cape province. They are seeking a legendary diamond mine supposedly hidden inside a cave deep within a mysterious Richtersveld mountain known as Chander Pahar – the Mountain of the Moon.

According to local legend, however, this diamond mine is fiercely guarded by the cave's monstrous inhabitant – a gigantic beast still-undescribed by science, but which for reasons never explained either in this movie or in Bandyopadhyay's original novel is known here as the bunyip (despite the latter name being in reality an aboriginal name specifically applied to Australia's most famous indigenous mystery beast!). It turns out that the bunyip has already killed one explorer who accompanied Alvarez during an earlier attempt by him to locate the mine and relieve it of some of its hidden treasures. Will history repeat itself during this latest expedition, in which Shankar is now Alvarez's companion? I'll leave you to read up the full storyline here on my Shuker In MovieLand blog, and concentrate now in this ShukerNature article upon this movie's cryptozoology content – the bunyip.

 
Three more photo-stills of the ferocious bunyip (© Kamaleshwar Mukherjee/Shree Venkatesh Films – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Chander Pahar has proved hugely popular – having grossed US$ 3.41 million worldwide so far, it is the second highest grossing Bengali movie of all time (indeed, the only Bengali movie to exceed its takings is Amazon Obhijaan, released in 2017, which is itself a sequel to Chander Pahar, once again centering upon the character of Sankhar, but this time the action takes place in South America). Nevertheless, it has not been without its critics, especially among literary purists who believe that it has taken too many liberties in adapting Bandyopadhyay's novel for the big screen – but none more so than with its presentation of the bunyip.

In the novel, the bunyip is never directly seen – a shadow of it moving outside the tent of Shankar and Alvarez one evening is as much as is offered to the readers, leaving the rest to their imagination. In contrast, this movie presents the viewers with a truly memorable CGI bunyip in all its hideous glory, and gory activity, but which some reviewers have denigrated for destroying the monster's mystique, and others for what they considered to be its inferior quality (similar criticisms regarding their quality, or lack of it, have also been aimed at a CGI-engendered volcanic eruption).

As revealed here via the above series of photo-stills, the bunyip is undeniably a startling creation – unlike any beast known to science, that's for sure. A waddling, feline-faced abomination with a swollen, toad-like body and an exceedingly long, whip-like tail, plus a huge and revoltingly-vascular, pendant throat-sac, livid crimson in colour and hanging down so far that the creature seems in permanent danger of tripping over it when galumphing after one of its potential human victims. Most noticeable of all, however, is its pair of truly enormous vertical fangs that any prehistoric sabre-toothed cat would have given its high teeth for (so to speak!). (In fact, a Kindle e-book edition of Bandyopadhyay's novel actually depicts the bunyip on the front cover as a bona fide living sabre-tooth.)

 
A Kindle edition of Bandyopadhyay's novel Chander Pahar in which the bunyip is depicted as a living sabre-tooth (© Kindle – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Interestingly, however, this terrifying apparition does recall a traditional African mystery beast known as the dingonek (click here to read my extensive ShukerNature article surveying this and various other comparable African cryptids, the so-called jungle walruses). Moreover, the dingonek is actually mentioned in Bandyopadhyay's novel in addition to the bunyip. In contrast, as noted earlier, I have yet to discover why Bandyopadhyay applied the name of an exclusively Australian water monster to his terrestrial African mystery beast.

According to traditional African lore, conversely, the dingonek is amphibious in nature, i.e. both an adept swimmer in rivers and a formidable adversary on land – so why didn't Bandyopadhyay simply call his monster the dingonek instead of distinguishing it from the latter? Notwithstanding this etymological enigma, there is no denying that the climactic scene featuring a veritable duel to the death between Shankar's inventive brain and the bunyip's immense brawn is a highlight of the entire movie.

So, if you'd like to experience for yourself a glimpse of the thrills and spills that Shankar experiences during his search for the Mountain of the Moon and its hidden diamonds, be sure to click here to watch an official Chander Pahar trailer on YouTube showcasing its very stirring title song. (You can also watch the entire movie free here on YT, but only in the form of an Odia-language version with no English subtitles, sadly.) And don't forget to click here if you'd like to view an excerpt from Shankar's chilling confrontation with the belligerent bunyip! And for further details regarding the dingonek and other African sabre-toothed cryptids, check out my recent book Mystery Cats of the World Revisited.

 
Publicity posters for the original Bengali (top) and American (bottom) cinema releases of Chander Pahar (© Kamaleshwar Mukherjee/Shree Venkatesh Films – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)