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

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Monday, 31 October 2022

THE ELEPHANT DUNG BAT - OR, A CRYPTIC CRYPTO-CHIROPTERAN FROM KENYA

 
Might Kenya's elusive elephant dung bat be an unidentified relative of Britain's familiar serotine bat Eptesicus serotinus, as exquisitely painted here by Archibald Thornburn? (public domain)

Bats are an intrinsic insignia of Halloween – so what better subject to write about today than a cryptic crypto-chiropteran, or, in plainer parlance, a hidden mystery bat?

Whereas cryptozoology's most famous mystery bats are distinguished by their huge size (viz. the Javanese ahool and African olitiau – click here to read all about them on ShukerNature), the example under consideration in this present blog article of mine is of notably diminutive dimensions. Indeed, this is the very characteristic that enables it to indulge in the bizarre day-roosting activity that has incited such scientific curiosity.

 
Two of my many ornithological field guides are authored by John G. Williams (© John G. Williams Estate/HarperCollins – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

On 23 May 1990, Welsh-born ornithologist John G. Williams (1913-1997), a renowned expert on African avifauna, wrote me a detailed 3-page letter concerning this mystery bat, as reproduced in full by me further down here for the very first time anywhere, and which provided me with valuable background information. In 1955, Williams was taking part in the MacChesney Expedition to Kenya, from Cornell University's Laboratory of Ornithology, and in June of that year he encountered Terence Adamson, brother of the late George Adamson of Born Free fame. During a conversation concerning the wildlife inhabiting the little-explored forests of Mount Kulal, an extinct volcano just east of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya, Adamson casually mentioned a peculiar little bat that had attracted his particular interest – by virtue of its unique predilection for spending its days snugly concealed inside dry piles of elephant dung!

Bats are well known for selecting unusual hideaways during the daylight hours, requisitioning everything from birds' nests to aardvark burrows, even concealing themselves in the centre of rolled banana leaves. However, there was no species known to science that habitually secreted itself within the crevices present in deposits of elephant excrement. As a consequence, Adamson had been eager to discover all that he could regarding this extraordinary creature.

 
African avifauna expert John G. Williams (public domain)

He had first encountered one of its cryptic kind during a walk through Kenya's Marsabit Forest (of which he was warden). After idly kicking a pile of elephant dung lying on the path along which he was strolling, he saw a small grey creature fly out of it and alight upon a tree nearby. Expecting it to be nothing more notable than some form of large moth, Adamson was very startled to find that it was an exceedingly small bat, with silver brownish-grey fur, paler upon its underparts. He was especially surprised by its tiny size – its wingspan was even less than that of the familiar pipistrelles, which are among the smallest of bats. Unfortunately, he was only able to observe it for a few moments before it took to the air again and disappeared, but his interest was sufficiently stirred for him to make a determined effort thereafter to seek out other specimens of this odd little animal.

Moreover, Adamson also informed Williams that during his visit to Mount Kulal he had succeeded in spotting a second one – unceremoniously ejected from its diurnal seclusion when he had kicked over a pile of pachyderm droppings at the base of the Kulal foothills. Unlike the first specimen, however, this one had flown away without making any attempt to land close by, so Adamson had been unable to make any additional observations.



 
The full 3-page letter regarding the mystifying elephant dung bat that John G. Williams kindly wrote to me on 23 May 1990 following an enquiry of mine concerning this creature (please click each page to enlarge for reading purposes) (© Dr Karl Shuker/John G. Williams)

As Williams noted in a short article published within the June 1967 issue of the British wildlife magazine Animals (which as far as I am aware is the only account published regarding this coprophilic chiropteran prior to my own writings), and which is what prompted me 23 years later to contact him, he too became very keen to espy, and possibly even capture, one of these elusive denizens of the dung piles, in the hope of identifying their species. And so, to his travelling companions' great amusement, he made a special point thereafter of zealously felling as many dry mounds of elephant excrement as he could, in the the Katamayu Forest of the Kenya Highlands, and elsewhere too, on the off-chance that he might conjure forth one of these perplexing little bats.

Despite such valiant efforts, however, Williams never did succeed in flushing one forth. Moreover, to the best of my knowledge the elephant dung bat has still not been captured, and its identity remains unresolved. However, as he opined in his letter to me above, one species already known to science may provide the answer.

 
A mystery within a mystery – I have seen various postings of this photograph online with claims that it depicts a horn-skinned bat Eptesicus floweri and was snapped by a Hugh Clark; conversely, on Wikipedia this same photo's subject is claimed to be an Austrian Tyrol specimen of a closely-related Eurasian species E. nilssonii, the northern bat, and the photo itself is attributed to someone with the Wikipedia username Mnolf who has made it available for public usage under the CC BY-SA 3.0 sharing licence (Consequently, because which bat species this picture truly depicts and who the picture belongs to are presently unknown to me, I am reproducing it here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only.)

The species in question is a rare vespertilionid micro-bat called Eptesicus (Rhinopterus) floweri, formally described in 1901 by British zoologist William E. de Winton, and currently recorded only from Mali and Sudan (but possibly also Niger and Chad, directly sandwiched as they are between those two countries). It is commonly termed the horn-skinned bat, calling to attention the tiny horny excrescences that it bears upon the upper surface of its limbs and tail. This species resembles the elephant dung bat in general size and colour, but an important additional reason why Williams favoured its candidature as the latter creature's identity is its remarkable preference for day-roosting within holes in the ground, especially among the roots of acacia trees.

As he pointed out to me, this habitat is really quite similar to the crevices and cracks present within dry heaps of elephant dung, hence it is not difficult to believe that this species would utilise these useful sources of daytime roosting sites if such were available. And as the Mount Kulal region of northern Kenya is not only little-explored but also not too far beyond its known distribution range, this provides further reason for looking favourably upon the horn-skinned bat as a realistic answer to the mystery of the latter country's curious little elephant dung bat.

This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted and expanded from my book The Beasts That Hide From Man: Seeking The World's Last Undiscovered Animals.



Friday, 30 September 2022

OFF WITH THEIR HEADS! HUNTING HANYUSUCHUS INTO EXTINCTION

 
Reconstruction of the likely appearance in life of Hanyusuchus sinensis (© Hikaru Amemiya/Wikipedia – CC BY 4.0 licence)

Some truly extraordinary creatures may well have lived alongside humanity long ago but became extinct before being recognised and catalogued by modern-day science.

According to recent findings, one such beast appears to have been a hitherto-unknown species (and genus) of gharial-related gavialid crocodilian from southern China, as now revealed.

This newly-revealed species was dubbed Hanyusuchus sinensis when formally described on 9 March 2022 in a Proceedings of the Royal Society B paper authored by a team of researchers that included Dr Masaya Iijima from Hefei University of Technology's School of Resource and Environmental Engineering. And like the modern-day gavialid known as the gharial Gavialis gangeticus, it can be readily distinguished from typical crocodiles and alligators by its noticeably long, thin skull and snout.

 
Size comparison of known skeleton elements of Hanyusuchus sinensis with human (© Masaya, I., et al., 2022/Wikipedia CC BY 4.0 licence)

Three millennia ago, during China's Bronze Age, this very imposing 19-ft reptile was undoubtedly a top predator. However, the two subfossil specimens of it recently documented, and which date from that time period, show evidence of vicious weaponised attacks by humans and possibly even ritual beheading. Clearly, this species was seen as a major threat by the area's expanding human population back then.

Moreover, based upon a lengthy history of chronicles relating to crocodile killings there, Prof. Minoru Yoneda, of the University Museum at the University of Tokyo, suspects that H. sinensis was systematically wiped out via prolonged, ruthless hunting during the past 3000 years, but with its last representatives conceivably dying as recently as just a few centuries ago.

Tragically, therefore, this remarkable animal may have been lost to science, and thence to the prospect of saving it from extinction, by only the narrowest of chronological margins.

 
Vintage engraving of the familiar but critically-endangered gharial Gavialis gangeticus, one of only two gavialid species known still to exist today; the other is the false gharial Tomistoma schlegelii.

 

Tuesday, 2 August 2022

A FIFTH TRUNKO IMAGE EMERGES, ALMOST 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 early 1920s, 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 1924 (or 1922, according to certain dubious claims), 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 early 1920s (© 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 early 1920s, 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 images date from early 1920s, 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 early 1920s, 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 early 1920s, 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.

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)