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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Friday 12 July 2024


Is this what Lerius's big white Brazilian lizard looked like? (modified from an iguana photograph © Carlos Andrés Reyes/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)

One of the earliest mystery beast reports emanating from the Americas came from the pen of French pastor and explorer Jean Lerius (aka Jean de Lery), writing about the notable encounter in his very informative, highly influential book History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil, Also Called America (1578), which formally documented a wide range of South American animals for the first time by a European. He was in the company of Admiral Nicolas Durand de Villegagnon, who in 1555 had unsuccessfully attempted to establish a French Protestant colony on an island in the bay of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Approximately two years later, in or round 1557, Lerius and two other members of the company were trekking through a forest in the interior of Brazil with some local Tupinamba Indian guides but armed only with swords or bows and arrows when, while passing through a deep valley there, they abruptly encountered at a distance of only thirty paces or so a very large reptilian creature of extremely distinctive appearance, squatting on top of a hill in the heat of noon, with one of its forefeet raised. Lerius described it as a lizard bigger than the body of a man, measuring 5-6 ft long, yet its most eyecatching feature was not its size but rather its extraordinary tegument. For according to Lerius, this unfamiliar animal was entirely covered in rough white scales that resembled oyster shells (and presumably, therefore, were opalescent, or nacreous, i.e. resembling mother of pearl?).

Illustration of Jean Lerius (aka Jean de Lery) (public domain)

The astonished, petrified group of men and this albino-like reptilian apparition stared at one another for around 15 minutes, all remaining totally immobile despite being directly exposed to the extreme heat of the mid-day sun, until the creature suddenly let forth a very loud groaning sound before turning away and swiftly vanishing from sight through the foliage covering the hill. Needless to say, the men made no attempt to follow the monster, making their way instead along their original course, leading them far away from that hill and its dreadful denizen.

The fact that this sizeable lizard was resting on top of a hill during the extreme mid-day heat clearly suggests that like lizards so often do, it was sunbathing, absorbing the sun's radiant heat for thermoregulatory purposes. This is because lizards are ectothermic, i.e. poikilotherms, which are unable to regulate their body temperature via internal homoiothermic mechanisms in the manner that endothermic mammals and birds do.

Albino American alligator, (© Sherrif2966/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

What is far less clear, conversely, is this reptile's precise taxonomic identity, as no lizard of that size and pallid appearance is known from Brazil or, indeed, from anywhere else, today. Might it have been albinistic, as I tentatively labelled it a little earlier here, or possibly leucistic? Leucistic American alligators Alligator mississipiensis with shiny white scales but black eyes are well known, for example, as are other reptile specimens of similar form, as well as true albino specimens with pink eyes. Perhaps it was a leucistic or an albinistic iguana, whose size had been over-estimated by an evidently shocked Lerius. Or might Lerius have been incorrect in labeling it a lizard – could it have actually been a white alligator?

I know of no other reports alluding to this singularly distinctive reptile, so the riddle of what it was seems destined to remain forever unsolved – like so many others in the fascinating if frustrating chronicles of cryptozoology.

Title page of the Latin translation of Lerius's book, History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil, Also Called America (public domain)



Sunday 9 June 2024


Front cover of the current issue (#446, dated July 2024) of the British monthly magazine Fortean Times, featuring yours truly as its cover star! (© David Sutton/Etienne Gilfillan/Fortean Times/Diamond Publishing Limited – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

One of ShukerNature's several sister blogs and now in its fifth year of existence, my film review blog Shuker In MovieLand hits the big time! A selection of its Fortean (and especially monster)-themed creature feature reviews has been compiled by me in the form of a monstrously-entertaining front-cover-linked lead article that has been published in the current issue (#446, dated July 2024) of the iconic British monthly magazine Fortean Times, or simply FT to its worldwide array of fans.

FT via its countless contributors and readers down through the decades has been steadfastly reporting and investigating across the vast and thoroughly fascinating spectrum of mysterious phenomena ever since the early 1970s (when it started out as The News), and I am very privileged to have been contributing articles and news reports (the latter via my regular, longstanding Alien Zoo column) ever since the 1990s, concentrating upon cryptozoology and animal anomalies of every conceivable (and inconceivable!) kind.

Moreover, as readers of Shuker In MovieLand already know (as do more than a fair few ShukerNature readers too), I am also passionately interested in movies, particularly fantasy and sci fi-themed ones, but never more so than those that incorporate monsters and other mystery or fantastical beasts. So in my latest FT article as now highlighted here, I have collated a diverse selection of my Shuker In MovieLand reviews of creature features that I have very much enjoyed watching over the years. And I hope that it will encourage ShukerNature's numerous fellow beast-movie buffs to watch and enjoy them now too.

I'm not going to say anything more regarding my article's contents, so as not to spoil the surprises awaiting FT readers, but I do wish to express my sincere thanks to FT's editor David Sutton and its art director Etienne Gilfillan for making my article an FT reality, with Etienne not only doing us all proud in not only assembling the dazzling collection of illustrations accompanying its text but also creating the front cover's truly amazing associated artwork!

Another magazine front-cover appearance, from issue #14 (November 1997) of the now long-defunct British monthly magazine Uri Geller's Encounters, to which I contributed a number of cryptozoological articles (© Nina Pendred/Paragon Publishing Ltd – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

No doubt you'll recognize the very handsome chap (cough cough!) attired in best Indiana Jones accoutrements taking centre stage on the FT cover as he prepares to cinematically confront a veritable host of horrors...and that's just the audience!  or most of it. For I also wish to highlight the delightful fact that the happy little lady with the extra-large box of popcorn is none other than my dear little Mom, Mary Shuker, who always enjoyed watching monster movies with me back in the good old days. How I wish that she were still here, to know that she was now a front-cover star! She would have been so proud. Thank you so much, Etienne, for such a wonderful and very touching tribute to her.

So, be sure to seek out and purchase a copy of FT #446 if you can (it's out now!), and have a monstrously good time reading about some very varied creature features of the cryptozoological and zoomythological kind. Go on, you know you want to!

For mor information concerning FT, please click here to visit its official website.

Finally: to view a complete chronological listing of all of my Shuker In MovieLand blog's film reviews and articles (each one instantly accessible via a direct clickable link), please click HERE, and please click HERE to view a complete fully-clickable alphabetical listing of them.

Close-up of the front cover of FT #446, showing Mom happily selling popcorn to a truly beastly audience! (© David Sutton/Etienne Gilfillan/Fortean Times/Diamond Publishing Limited – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)



Monday 29 April 2024


Did Valero's kintanari look something like this? (© William M. Rebsamen)

American correspondent Ted Leonard kindly brought to my attention some years ago a fascinating book that mentions two Brazilian mystery cats that were previously unknown to me.

Written by Ettore Biocca, first published in English in 1970 (it was originally published in Italian), and based upon firsthand testimony related to him by its subject, the book is Yanoáma: The Narrative of a White Girl Kidnapped by Amazonian Indians. It recounts the remarkable true-life story of Helena Valero, who was abducted as an 11-year-old Italian girl by Yanoáma natives back in the 1930s and reared by them in the Amazonian jungle.

One of these crypto-felids was known locally as the rock jaguar, and was briefly witnessed one day by Valero while in the company of some Yanoáma women and hunters. She described it as follows:

It was morning that day and we had seen among the rocks, as if in a window, a jaguar's head. It was a kind of jaguar which I did not know: it wasn't one of those spotted ones or those red ones that they call kintanari. It was a brown jaguar and it had long hair on its head: it was the rock jaguar.

If this description is accurate and authentic, I suspect that it was not a jaguar of any kind, but rather some other, unidentified large-sized cat, brown in colour, with what seems to have been a mane. Intriguingly, that is not the only description on record of such a felid from South America, as a maned mystery cat has also been reported from Ecuador (see my mystery cat books for further details).

A taxiderm specimen of an apparent reddish leopard (seemingly not sun-faded) spied and photographed by Bill Rebsamen, plus Bill's red jaguar painting (inset) (both images © William M. Rebsamen)

But what of the equally anomalous kintanari or red jaguar that Valero alluded to? Unfortunately, that single brief mention quoted above is the only time that this strange creature is referred to anywhere in the book.

Just as there are freak all-black (melanistic) and all-white (albinistic) jaguar individuals on record, might there also be occasional all-red (erythristic) specimens? Certainly, erythristic individuals have been documented with certain other felid species, including the leopard, tiger, and jaguarundi. Alternatively, perhaps it was not a jaguar at all, but instead some other large felid, with reddish fur - a burly rufous puma, possibly?

And just in case you were wondering about the taxiderm specimen of a reddish leopard depicted above, here’s what I wrote about it in my book Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012):



On 12 September 1998, American wildlife artist Bill Rebsamen was in Springfield, Missouri, and paid a visit to the Bass Pro Shop's famous Fish and Wildlife Museum. It possessed many spectacular exhibits - but none more so, at least in Bill's eyes, than a certain taxiderm-mounted big cat of amazing appearance (as seen in Bill's photo of it above). It resembled a black panther (i.e. a melanistic leopard), patterned with dark rosettes - but instead of its fur's background colouration being black or dark brown, it was instead a rich mahogany-red!

I have several cases on file of erythristic leopards, i.e. mutant individuals whose fur was reddish (including the rosettes) instead of yellow (with black rosettes), the most recent being the so-called 'strawberry leopard' lately spied within South Africa's Madikwe Game Reserve and photographed there by safari guide Deon de Villiers (National Geographic News, 12 April 2012 [several additional strawberry leopards have ben observed and photographed in Africa since then]), but no previous data concerning red-furred black panthers. Sometimes, a dark taxiderm specimen fades during the course of time, the mounted skin becoming brown in those areas exposed to sunlight - as from a nearby window, for instance. However, Bill viewed this panther from every angle, front and back, and could see no sign of fading on any portion of its skin; it was uniformly red all over.


This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted and enlarged from my book Mystery Cats of the World Revisited (2020), the greatly-expanded, fully-updated second edition of Mystery Cats of the World (1989), long recognized as the definitive book on crypto-felids.

Mystery Cats of the World Revisited (© Dr Karl Shuker/Anomalist Books, front cover artwork © William M. Rebsamen)

Saturday 30 March 2024



Publicity poster for Carnifex, showing the characters gazing up in awe at some formidable claw marks left upon a  tree trunk by a large unknown animal of seemingly arboreal ability (© Sean Lahiff/Dancing Road Productions/Arclight Films/Universal Pictures Content Group – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Thanks to longstanding Australian FB friend and crypto-enthusiast Tim Morris kindly making it available to me - thanks Tim! – my movie watch on 26 October 2023 was the fairly recent Australian cryptozoology-themed creature feature Carnifex.

Directed by Sean Lahiff, and released just a year ago in December 2022 by Universal Pictures, Carnifex takes its name in a general sense from the Latin word for 'butcher' or even (during the Roman era) 'executioner'. However, wildlife enthusiasts, especially cryptozoologists, will also be aware of its more specific, zoological meaning.

Consequently, if you're of the latter persuasion, you will have no doubt guessed straight away from this movie's title that while conservationists Ben (Harry Greenwood) and Grace (Sisi Stringer) accompanied by documentary camerawoman Bailey (Alexandra Park) are uncovering and recording deep within the Australian outback the vast wildlife devastation caused there by some recent, unprecedented bushfires, they also make the startling, totally unexpected, and truly terrifying discovery of a living marsupial lion Thylacoleo carnifex. For once they do, they also discover – very swiftly – just how hyper-aggressive and rapacious the creature is, forcing them into a desperate bid for survival against this mega-belligerent blast from the past, their thoughts echoing only too emphatically the film's tagline: "Some species should remain extinct".

This ferocious species was – or is? –  a predatory pouched mammal of feline form, leopard or lioness stature (opinions vary), and possibly arboreal capabilities, but officially deemed extinct for many millennia. However, some cryptozoologists feel that its putative reclusive survival into the present day may explain occasional reports of an Aussie mystery beast known as the yarri or Queensland tiger. It may even have inspired the spoof killer koala called the drop bear (koalas and marsupial lions were actually quite closely related). Most of this pertinent background information, however, is never alluded to in the movie, sadly.

Yarri or Queensland tiger, based upon eyewitness descriptions (© Dami Editore srl – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Speaking of which: its build-up to this very dramatic discovery, although very lengthy (see later), is engrossing, and features a trio of lead likeable characters that interact well together, interspersed with plenty of breathtaking shots of genuine Aussie Outback Nevertheless, Carnifex suffers from two very significant, crucial problems.

Firstly, once the story truly gets going, it consists almost entirely of night-time scenes, resulting in actual sightings of the creature (with totally black pelage, thereby rendering it even more difficult to see against the darkness)  being as shadowy and brief as they are seldom and inconclusive, i.e. plenty of growling and flesh-tearing sounds, but visually all but non-existent.

Secondly, when in this 90-odd-minute movie's last 10 minutes we finally - finally! - get to see two blink-and-you'll-miss-them close-up full-face shots of the (very) anatagonistic animal in question (so fleeting in fact that after seeing them I then had to rewind and laboriously seek them out via freeze-frame in order to be sure of what they actually revealed – something, incidentally, that cinema audiences for this movie would not have had the luxury of being able to do), guess what?

The film makers had only gone and got their Thylacoleo carnifex fundamentally wrong – and after having kept their increasingly impatient viewers waiting so long to see it properly too!

A selection of photo-stills from Carnifex depicting the latter beast's brief appearances and, especially, its dentition – click picture montage to enlarge for viewing purposes (© Sean Lahiff/Dancing Road Productions/Arclight Films/Universal Pictures Content Group – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

All placental carnivores have fangs consisting of enlarged upper canine teeth (and so too, for that matter, does, or did, the thylacine or Tasmanian marsupial wolf Thylacinus cynocephalus, officially deemed extinct in 1936 but which may still linger on in this island's more remote regions). In stark contrast, conversely, the tusk-like fang counterparts of Thylacoleo were actually greatly-enlarged upper incisors (it also sported a pair of extremely enlarged lower incisors, but its upper canines were only very small and stubby). Yet in this movie, its Thylacoleo has been given enlarged upper canines, not incisors, thereby rendering their Carnifex dentally deranged!

Moreover, the two close-up shots of its front paws also revealed a telling absence of the huge thumb claw constituting another morphologcal characteristic of this unique predator.

Judging from these major morphological discrepancies, I can only assume that someone apparently hadn't done their zoological homework when researching T. carnifex for this Carnifex-entitled movie. Needless to say, this is a great shame, especially as otherwise it is a most enjoyable film, with engaging characters amid the savage beauty of the Australian bush, and it would have been a wonderful showcase for a truly original animal antagonist never previously represented in a cinematic role.

Then again, it is fair to say that many viewers are unlikely to have in-depth knowledge of thylacoleonid dentition anyway. So they will simply not notice or recognize the inaccuracy of the latter's depiction in this movie (particularly as it has no effect upon the plot itself), thereby enabling them to enjoy the movie as an otherwise very watchable, well-presented conservation-minded creature feature, especially one produced by a small independent film company as opposed to a mega-bucks Hollywood studio. Also on the positive side, it does mean that a morphologically-accurate 'living Thylacoleo'-themed monster movie is still waiting to be made.

Thylacoleo carnifex model produced by Jeff Johnson and owned by Rebecca Lang, two longstanding Facebook friends of mine (© Jeff Johnson/Rebecca Lang – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Incidentally, a novel written by Australian horror author Matthew J. Hellscream (I'm guessing that this may be a pseudonym…) that was published in 2016, i.e. 6 years before the present movie under review here was released, was also entitled Carnifex, and also featured some visitors to a remote area of the Australian bush encountering living but scientifically-undiscovered marsupial lions. According to various Adelaide Advertiser articles, Hellstream took legal advice when the movie came out because of perceived title and plot similarities, but that is not what I am concerned with here. What I am concerned with is that the very striking illustration of one such beast present on the front cover of Hellstream's novel depicts it with totally accurate dentition – click here to view it, and take note of the greatly enlarged incisors, and all but absent canines, plus the shearing blade-like carnassials further back.

I don't own a copy of this novel (yet), but I've heard tell that the cover artwork was prepared by acclaimed horror artist Frank Walls, who created the front cover for Hellscream's previous novel, Metro 7, but I can't confirm this. Whoever did design it, however, clearly made the effort to portray accurately the unique dentition of this truly unique mammalian predator.

Anyway, if you'd like to peer through the darkness of the Outback at night in search of the toothy terror lurking in this movie, be sure to click here to watch an official Carnifex trailer on YouTube.

Finally: this review originally appeared in ShukerNature's fellow blog, Shuker In MovieLand. To view a complete chronological listing of all of my Shuker In MovieLand blog's other film reviews and articles (each one instantly accessible via a direct clickable link), please click HERE, and please click HERE to view a complete fully-clickable alphabetical listing of them.

My book Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016), which contains a very comprehensive coverage of the yarri or Queensland tiger, and featuring prominently in the bottom-left portion of its front cover an artistic representation by cryptozoology artist William M. Rebsamen of what this elusive, mysterious creature may look like if it is indeed a surviving representative of the marsupial lion Thylacoleo carnifex, complete with accurate dental depiction for the latter species (© Dr Karl Shuker/William M. Rebsamen/Coachwhip Publications)


Saturday 2 March 2024


Representation of the gbahali based upon eyewitness descriptions (© Tim Morris)

Since 1900, the West African country of Liberia, still plentifully supplied with coastal mangrove swamps and interior rainforests, and long deemed a biodiversity hotspot by zoologists, has been the scene of at least four major zoological discoveries of species new to science or rediscoveries of species believed extinct. Namely, the giant forest hog Hylochoerus meinertzhageni, the pygmy hippopotamus Choeropsis liberiensis, Jentink's duiker Cephalophus jentinki, and the Liberian mongoose Liberiictis kuhni.

All of these are mammals, of course, but there is also some thought-provoking evidence to suggest that a fifth major zoological find is still waiting to be made here – and this time of the reptilian variety.

West Africa's dwarf crocodile, note its short snout (public domain)

Four species of crocodilian are known to exist in Liberia. These are the Nile crocodile Crocodylus niloticus, the West African dwarf crocodile Osteolaemus tetraspis, the West African slender-snouted crocodile Mecistops cataphractus, and the West African or sacred crocodile C. suchus (only quite recently delineated from the Nile crocodile as a valid distinct species in its own right). The first two are restricted to this country's coastal swamps, and are considered rare, as is the third (a little-studied, human-avoiding species), whereas the fourth one, which occurs further inland, is quite common.

West African slender-snouted crocodile (© Thesupermat/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

However, native Liberians also speak of a fifth crocodile-like creature, currently unknown to science, which they refer to as the gbahali (pronounced 'bar-hye'), and consider to be larger and more dangerous than even the Nile crocodile – itself a highly aggressive, notorious man-eater that can grow up to 21 ft long.

The gbahali first attracted widespread Western attention on 20 December 2007, when veteran American cryptozoologist Loren Coleman published on the mystery beast website Cryptomundo a communication that he had received the previous day. It was from a correspondent named John-Mark Sheppard (some accounts spell his surname as Shephard) – an American missionary working at that time with an international relief and development organisation in northernmost Liberia's Lofa County, near this country's border with Guinea.

In his communication, Sheppard revealed that he had learnt from the indigenous people there about several strange, unidentified creatures that may be of potential cryptozoological interest, including the gbahali. He had spoken to a number of alleged eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen the latter mystery beast in recent years, and according to their testimony, as documented by Sheppard:

It is described as being like a crocodile or monitor lizard, but much larger (up to 25 or 30 ft long). It has an armored back with three rows of serrations running down it, a powerful tail, and a short snout with many large teeth. It is known to be an ambush predator, carrying its prey underwater to drown before coming on shore to eat it.

Sheppard even travelled to a village deep in the Liberian rainforest where the fishermen claimed to have actually caught gbahali specimens, using nets to capture them and shotguns to kill them, before butchering their carcases for meat, which they then sold at local markets. They had even preserved the skull of one such specimen, which had been retained in the village until rebels invaded it during this country's civil war (which ended in 2003) and set it ablaze, destroying everything there, including that scientifically-precious gbahali skull.

When interviewing the villagers, Sheppard showed them various illustrations of modern-day and prehistoric crocodilians and crocodilian-like animals that he had downloaded from the internet. Of these, the creature that they considered most similar in appearance to the gbahali was an artistic reconstruction of the likely appearance in life of a prehistoric reptile from North America's Late Triassic Period, known as Postosuchus. This very sizeable beast, up to 6 m long, belonged to a long-extinct taxonomic family whose members, known as rauisuchians, were related to crocodilians.

Representation of the possible appearance in life of Postosuchus in quadrupedal mode (© Nobu Tamura/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

The locals stated that the head and body of Postosuchus as depicted in the artistic reconstruction resembled that of the gbahali, but that its legs were more erect (i.e. supporting its body from below) than the gbahali's, which are allegedly semi-erect in stance (i.e. more sprawling), like those of crocodilians.

Continuing his narrative, Sheppard stated:

The river in which these creatures are said to live is very remote, passing through large areas of uninhabited forest. They are said to mainly be seen during the rainy season, when they travel upstream to look for food. They are greatly feared by the local population, because they have been known to kill people.

Indeed, according to Sheppard one such incident may have occurred as recently as November 2007, just a month before he had sent his communication to Coleman. A man had been attacked and killed by a possible gbahali near a village named Gelema, on that selfsame river. When the United Nations police were sent there to investigate this incident, all that they could find was the victim's head and a few body parts that the creature had left behind on the river bank. This ties in with local claims mentioned above by Sheppard whereby the gbahali drowns its victim, then comes ashore with their dead body to consume it there.

Worthy of note, incidentally, is that back when Gelema's official town meeting house was built, its length was deliberately constructed so as to correspond with that of a gbahali that had been killed there some years previously. Consequently, this grim mystery beast would indeed appear to be native to the area encompassing Gelema.

Also of interest, as specifically pointed out by Sheppard when concluding his account of the gbahali, the local people do not consider this beast to be in any way magical or supernatural. Instead, they simply look upon it as just another normal, ordinary animal native to their locality (albeit a very large, dangerous one), nothing more – which in turn tends to lend plausibility to their testimony concerning it.

Sheppard ended with a tantalizingly brief mention of a photograph that had supposedly been taken of a gbahali sometime in the previous 10 years during an attempt to capture this creature, but he made no mention of what had happened to it, always assuming of course that such a picture had indeed been obtained.

After spending many years behind the camera as a first-rate, highly-acclaimed film/TV cameraman and cinematographer, in 2017 Paul 'Mungo' Mungeam stepped in front of it to present a new cryptozoology-themed TV documentary show entitled Expedition Mungo. Each of its episodes (filmed in 2016 and early 2017) saw him and his own film crew visit a different location around the world allegedly inhabited by a mysterious creature seemingly unknown to science. One of these episodes saw them in Liberia's Lofa County, seeking the gbahali, and where they actually interviewed Sheppard on screen.

Rainforest in Liberia's Lofa County (©) M Rödel et al./Wikipedia – CC BY 4.0 licence)

Mungo's gbahali expedition focused its attention upon the Kahai River and its tributaries, where this greatly-feared creature is known by the locals to exist and where, therefore, they avoid as much as possible unless it is absolutely essential to cross from one riverbank to another or to hunt for food there. One villager named Momo informed Mungo that he and his brother had encountered a ghahali on land once while they were hunting on the Kahai River, but once seen it disappeared into the water.

Discounting the possibility that it was merely a crocodile, Momo stated that its head was lizard-like but with its eyes placed far back on it, a trait often exhibited by aquatic animals, and its teeth were interlocking. Moreover, although it walked on all fours like a crocodile, its body was raised up, held off the ground to a greater degree than a crocodile's is. He also mentioned to Mungo that one such creature had killed and devoured three men who had been attempting to cross the Kahai on a raft at dusk.

Similarly, another alleged gbahali eyewitness interviewed by Mungo, a man named Isaac from Monena, a remote Liberian frontier village, recalled an oft-told claimed killing of a man in a shallow river by a gbahali. The man had been attempting to cross the river on foot to reach a party of fisherman friends on the far bank. His friends told him not to cross, because a gbahali had been seen there earlier that same day, but he ignored their advice and proceeded to wade across. Before he could reach the other side, however, a gbahali surfaced, seized the man, and dragged him beneath the water, never to be seen again.

As for Isaac's own sighting, which had occurred not long before Mungo had arrived at Monena in early 2017: just like Momo, Isaac had been fishing with his own brother on the river nearby when he saw something swimming towards his brother:

He turned around and said: "It looks like a crocodile". I said: "Hey, that is not a crocodile, that is an animal bigger than a crocodile". We're talking about the Gbahali...The mouth was in the form of a lizard.

Isaac estimated the gbahali to have measured around 20 ft long, and insisted that it was very different in appearance from a crocodile.

Also interviewed by Mungo at Monena was fisherman Seiku, who divides his time between this village and a camp on an even more remote stretch of the Kahai. Seiku claimed to have seen a gbahali twice during his travails along this route in September 2016, again not long before Mungo's arrival here.

Several other villagers interviewed by Mungo at Monena also claimed to have seen a gbahali, but as Sheppard had discovered earlier during his own investigations, they did not consider it to be in any way magical or paranormal, just a normal, ordinary creature like all of the other animal species inhabiting this locality.

Sadly, Mungo and his team did not have any sightings of their own, but if, as fervently averred by Liberia's Lofa County hunters and fishermen, the gbahali is indeed a real, flesh-and-blood beast, what might it be?

Nile crocodile (© Timothy A Gonsalves/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

The most conservative identity is the Nile crocodile (Liberia's other three crocodile species are much too small and/or wary of human proximity). Although officially confined to this country's coastal swamps, perhaps some stragglers have penetrated further inland, reaching rivers, tributaries, and surrounding terrain containing plenty of suitable prey, enabling them to thrive and establish viable populations there, and possibly eventually attaining greater sizes than their coastal ancestors, their increased weight readily buoyed by their watery habitat.

Yet the locals are adamant that the gbahali is no ordinary crocodile, or even a crocodile at all, emphasizing its short-snouted, lizard-like head and its more erect limbs as notable differentiating features. Also, its claimed behaviour of killing its prey in the water by drowning it but then bringing it onto land to consume it differs from typical crocodile feeding behaviour, in which the prey is normally eaten in the water, the latter being utilized as a means of softening the prey's carcase for easier consumption.

An alternative crocodilian option to consider is an unknown giant-sized species or morphological variety of West Africa's Osteolaemus dwarf crocodile. This is certainly appealing, inasmuch as it would combine the latter's shorter muzzle and more terrestrial lifestyle as reported also for the gbahali with the gbahali's extra-large size. 

Looking beyond crocodiles, Liberia is home to some sizeable monitor lizards (varanids), including the West African Nile monitor Varanus stellatus, up to 7.2 ft long, whose heads, more erect stance than crocodiles, and terrestrial consumption of prey recall the gbahali. However, the latter's great size (even allowing for exaggeration upon the part of its frightened eyewitnesses) and its very distinctive armoured, tri-serrated dorsal surface do not.

Nile monitor with body raised on semi-erect legs (© Charles J Sharp/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

Now for the Postosuchus possibility. On the one hand, as noted earlier here, in terms of both shape and size a reconstruction illustration of this creature was compared quite favourably with the gbahali's alleged appearance by the villagers to whom Sheppard showed it. Also, its fossils have been found in locations believed to have hosted back in the time of Postosuchus an environment similar to the present-day habitat in Liberia where the gbahali reputedly exists, i.e. tropical, moist, and plant-plentiful, well-supplied with rivers and other expanses of freshwater.

Conversely, Postosuchus belongs to a long-extinct, wholly prehistoric family of reptiles known only from what is now North America, and existing during the late Triassic Period, i.e. approximately 201-237 million years ago – none of which bodes well for it being a plausible identity for the gbahali.

True, we cannot entirely rule out the prospect that the latter constitutes a modern-day Old World descendant of Postosuchus that has somehow entirely evaded scientific detection (like its presumed fossil antecedents here), especially in such a heavily-forested remote region as northern Liberia. Nevertheless, the further back in time that the original creature existed, and the further away geographically-speaking that it existed from where its postulated descendant does today, the less likely such an example of prehistoric survival is, by definition.

In addition, based upon its shorter forelegs, Postosuchus is nowadays commonly deemed to have been at least partly, if not exclusively, bipedal, whereas the gbahali is wholly quadrupedal. Also, Postosuchus is believed to have been terrestrial, rather than aquatic or at least amphibious in lifestyle as the gbahali is stated to be.

Postosuchus depicted in bipedal stance and compared in size with a human (Dr Jeff Martz-NPS/Wikipedia, released into the public domain)

Another putative prehistoric survivor that has been considered as a possible gbahali candidate is some form of modern-day descendant of Kaprosuchus saharicus. This was a 20-ft-long semi-aquatic species of mahajangasuchid crocodyliform that sported an armoured snout for slamming its prey down, plus three pairs of sizeable tusks for tearing the latter's flesh. These teeth have earned for it the nickname 'BoarCroc', due to their superficial resemblance to the tusks of wild boars.

Unlike Postosuchus, K. saharicus, as its name indicates, did live in Africa (its fossilized remains have been excavated in what is today Niger), but approximately 95 million years ago, during the Late Cretaceous. Consequently, it is beset by much the same chronological issues as Postosuchus when under consideration as a plausible example of prehistoric survival.

Reconstruction of possible appearance in life of Kaprosuchus Nobu Tamura/Wikipedia – CC BY 3.0 licence)

If only there could be a known, historically-recent creature resembling and behaving rather like the gbahali. In fact, there is – or was. The mekosuchines constitute a taxonomic clade of crocodilians that included certain representatives which persisted into the present-day geological epoch, the Holocene (beginning less than 12,000 years ago), on various Pacific island groups, including Fiji, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia.

Indeed, one genus, Mekosuchus, survived on those islands until at least as recently as 3,000 years ago, possibly even longer (as late as 1720 BP, i.e. 300 AD, in the case of the youngest species, M. inexpectatus), before apparently being exterminated when humans arrived there (although, tellingly, there is no direct evidence for this, only speculation based upon the fates of other island endemics once our own species reached their insular domains). Various other, older mekosuchine genera, such as Quinkana, as well as earlier Mekosuchus representatives, formerly existed on mainland Australia.

Mekosuchus inexpectatus, showing neck and short snout (© Armin Reindl/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

M. inexpectatus in particular was notable for its short snout, and like its other historically-recent Mekosuchus kin is thought to have adopted a much more upright stance and mode of walking than any of today's known crocodilians, all of which draws comparisons with the gbahali. So too does the consensus that M. inexpectatus probably inhabited tropical rivers and streams, just like West Africa's present-day dwarf crocodiles, possibly coming onto land at night to feed.

In stark contrast to the gbahali, however, mekosuchines were of only very modest dimensions, generally no more than 6 ft in total length, sometimes even shorter than that. Also, just as Postosuchus is known only from the New World, mekosuchines are known only from Oceania; there is none on record from Africa, or anywhere else in the world.

Reconstruction of Mekosuchus inexpectatus in life Apokryltaros/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

Even so, the mekosuchines are relevant to the gbahali saga inasmuch as their existence, albeit far-removed geographically from the latter cryptid, confirms that at least some crocodilians of comparable appearance to it (excluding total length) are indeed known from modern times, thus providing a notable precedent – and that may not be all.

Convergent evolution is a familiar phenomenon whereby animals in widely disparate geographical localities and often of only distant taxonomic affinity nevertheless transform through time into outwardly similar creatures due to sharing the same ecological habitat and niche. So could it be that ecologically-speaking, the taxonomically-distant gbahali has nonetheless evolved a mekosuchine morphology by existing in a habitat comparable to that of the latter crocodilians, but has attained a much greater size due to its habitat's remote location coupled with the fear that it generates among human hunters, who generally prefer to avoid it rather than confront it? As suggested earlier here, a giant-sized Osteolaemus comes to mind.

In short (unlike the gbahali itself, which is allegedly anything but short!), could Liberia's mystery reptile be a totally novel, as well as a currently undescribed, species of African crocodilian?

Alternatively, turning full circle through the succession of identities considered here, might this cryptid simply be an unusually large form of Nile crocodiles after all? The reason that I've returned to this option is that I am well aware that there is a common tendency among local non-scientific people who intimately share their lives alongside large, potentially dangerous creatures to give a completely separate name to exceptionally large specimens of such a species from the name that they give to normal-sized specimens of that same species, treating the outliers as a fundamentally different animal type from their typically-sized brethren.

So might it simply be that reports of gbahalis are nothing more than reports of exceptionally large Nile crocodiles that have been given this separate local name?

The problem with such a proposed resolution to the gbahali mystery, however, is that we can only accept this by conveniently ignoring the other morphological, and behavioural, differences from normal Nile crocodiles that the locals ascribe to the gbahali – which in my opinion would be very unwise.

The Nile crocodile's very long snout, differing markedly from the gbahali's supposed short snout according to eyewitness testimony (© Reinhold Möller/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

History has shown time and again how, by taking heed of local, native testimony, extraordinary animals hitherto dismissed by Western zoologists as mere folklore have been formally discovered and revealed to be remarkable species entirely new to science.

So, might the gbahali one day prove to be another one? In view of the giant forest hog, pygmy hippo, Jentink's duiker, and the Liberian mongoose, I'd have to think more than twice before betting against such a prospect.

For full details concerning the discoveries of the four Liberian mammals noted above, be sure to check out my three books on new and rediscovered animals: