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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Thursday 30 December 2010


Image from Andy Paciorek’s Strange Lands project's website at: http://www.batcow.co.uk/strangelands

I regret to say that punctuality has never been one of my virtues (numerous though these may be!) - which is why now, at the very end of December, I am presenting here a Halloween-related zoomythological folktale, noting, as my only (feeble) excuse, that the telling of spooky stories is a tradition associated with Christmas too.

As a child, I was lucky enough to receive as gifts from my family a series of large-format hardback books of world myths, legends, and folktales vividly retold by eminent folklorist Roger Lancelyn Green, beautifully illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone, and published by Purnell. One of these volumes, Myths From Many Lands (1965), included Green’s retelling of a traditional French folktale, which he entitled ‘The Goblin Pony’. Years later, I discovered that in both appearance and behaviour this story’s eponymous supernatural entity was identical to the Irish pooka, and so fascinated me that a few years ago I penned my own, greatly-expanded version of it, which I reset in Ireland. Since writing it, I have variously thought of including it in some future book of mine retelling legends of mythical beasts or in my planned book collaboration with graphic artist Andy Paciorek re supernatural night creatures. If it is used in the latter, however, it may well need to be trimmed in length, so here, perhaps for the one and only time, and hence another ShukerNature exclusive, is the full-length, unedited version of my pooka tale of terror! Happy New Year!

Commonly associated with lonely pools and other stretches of water, the pooka is one of the most feared of Ireland's solitary Faerie folk, because although it has occasionally been known to assist humans, more often than not the pooka delights in bringing ill-fortune, and sometimes far worse, to those unfortunate mortals who encounter it. In its real but rarely-seen form, this sinister entity resembles a withered old man dressed in rags, but is much more frequently met with in the guise of any one of a number of different animal forms - often a large black-plumaged bird, or a goat, or a huge black dog, or, most innocuous yet deadliest of all, a dark shaggy-coated colt or pony of deceptively playful, harmless demeanour. On first sight, it is easy to mistake a pooka for a genuine animal - until you see its eyes, which betray its true identity by blazing with a scorching, unholy fire. Consequently, it is always best to avoid anything that might be a pooka; otherwise, as I reveal in the following age-old Irish folktale, you may not live to regret your mistake:

It was Halloween, so although she was a weaver of cloth by trade, tonight Molly was spinning tales of wonder and magic instead, regaling her three grandchildren with stories of the pooka, the master otter, the horse-eel, and many other mythical Irish entities - but their attention was beginning to waver. Sean, aged 15, was the eldest of the trio, and had thoughts only for Maire - the fair-haired daughter of their village's new school teacher. Sean's sister, Eileen, just a year younger, was mentally designing the new dress that she planned to wear at the forthcoming autumn fete. Only Patrick, their six-year-old brother, was still listening to Molly's words, although the log fire was gently lulling him to sleep.

Molly smiled, pausing in her story-telling; and, as she did so, Sean stood up. The night outside was warm, and he had decided to take a walk, secretly hoping that Maire might be doing so too, and that they may then happen to meet. His plans were swiftly dashed, however, because Eileen and Patrick wanted to accompany him - so instead of walking into the village, they wandered through the outlying meadows and forests.

Encouraged by the evening's pleasant ambience, the three youngsters strolled further than originally intended, eventually approaching an extremely large, deep pool, which they had never visited before - and with good reason. Traditionally, the villagers kept away from this area, because they believed it to be an accursed place - haunted by sinister shadowy forms.

The pool lay still and dark, a mirror of liquid obsidian beneath a cloudy sky - but when the three youngsters stared into its sable depths a flurry of ripples raced across its surface, and a cold wind began to harry the clouds above. Eileen shuddered, and they were about to turn back for home when, to their great surprise, a frisky pony-like colt suddenly appeared, as if from nowhere, and began frolicking in front of them, at the pool's edge.

It was an uncommonly hairy colt, and as black as the waters of the pool. For a few moments, it refused to let the children draw near, playfully gambolling out of reach as soon as they stretched out their hands to pat it, but it soon quietened, allowing them to stand beside it and stroke its rough, unkempt coat.

Where had this colt come from? It had neither bridle nor saddle, and even its hooves were unshod. Whatever its origin, however, it must certainly have been splashing in the pool, because its coat was very wet - but the evening was warm, so who could be surprised?

Nevertheless, for some indefinable reason Sean felt strangely ill at ease concerning their new-found friend. It was obviously just a trick of the light, but sometimes the colt's long mane appeared to him to be almost alive, dancing even when the breeze had stilled. And occasionally, when its eyes met his own unexpectedly, just for an instant it seemed to Sean as if they were infused with fire - as if bolts of lightning flickered in their fathomless depths.

I've been listening to too many of Granny Molly's fairy stories, he thought to himself, smiling wryly as the colt rubbed itself against his legs, whinnying with pleasure as his fingers rubbed its ears. Suddenly, hardly knowing what he was doing, Sean leapt onto its back, his strong legs gripping its damp flanks, and his hands securing a firm hold around its powerful neck.

Without further ado, Eileen mounted behind him, and there was just enough room for Patrick to sit behind her. When all three were seated, Sean gently tapped the colt's flanks with his heels, and it began to walk slowly across the meadow.

Laughing, they urged it to go faster, and, obligingly, the colt quickened its pace, from a canter into a trot - and then from a trot into a gallop. Alarmed, Sean tried to slow the animal down, pulling at its mane, and calling out, but to no avail. On and on it ran, too fast for them to risk jumping from its back. All they could do was hold on and hope that it would eventually tire. Instead of tiring, however, it seemed to grow ever stronger.

Suddenly, the colt changed direction - to their horror, it was now heading directly for the pool! Frantically, they tried to stop it, but it was too late. Even as they opened their mouths to scream, the creature had reached the water's edge - and as it plunged into its depths, the great pool seemed to rise up on all sides, welcoming the return of its demonic denizen, and engulfing the hapless victims that it had abducted.

The hours had seemed like a lifetime to Molly, as she searched the village and surrounding countryside for her missing grandchildren. No-one had seen them, and no-one knew where they may be. Now, much to her apprehension, she was nearing the dismal pool that everybody had shunned for as long as anyone could remember. Old legends die hard, thought Molly, and some are more than just legends - especially on the night of Halloween.

At that same moment, a shadow moved just ahead, but as she turned to look at it Molly realised that it was not a shadow. It was an old, shrivelled-up man, whose clothes were no more than rags hanging from his wizened body. He gazed briefly at Molly, an evil toothless grin stretching almost from ear to ear, but far worse were his eyes, for as they stared into hers they seemed to glow red, like cauldrons of scarlet flame. Molly shied away in terror, but when she looked back again the apparition was gone, as if it had never been.

Only the cold silver moonlight remained, lighting up the desolate landscape ahead, where now, at the pool's edge, Molly could see three long boulders - or so she thought, until she walked closer. Her heart seemed to explode as she looked down at them - the 'boulders' were her grandchildren, lying cold and grey and still. They had drowned - all three of her grandchildren were dead.

Numb with shock, for a time she was unable to tear her gaze away from this terrible scene, but when she finally looked up she realised that something was moving close by. Out of the night's shadowy darkness, something even darker was emerging. It looked like a pony, a black shaggy-coated colt, throwing its head upwards and neighing as it ran towards her.

Such a merry creature was an incongruous contrast to the tragedy that she had just witnessed, but then, with flaring nostrils and dancing mane, the colt stared up at her - and Molly gasped in horror. Its exultant eyes were suffused with evil, and blazed like glowing coals, aflame with the very fires of Hell! This was no harmless colt - it was a pooka!

Molly staggered back, almost stumbling to the ground, and the pooka reared up triumphantly, its forelegs lashing out at her with razor-sharp hooves. As she fell, however, she dropped her bag, whose contents tumbled out onto the grass. Among them was her Bible, which she instantly grasped, thrusting it up towards the malign beast's face. As she did so, the moon's rays illuminated the bright golden Cross emblazoned upon its cover - and the pooka disappeared.

Please note: Andy Paciorek's spectacular, long-awaited book Strange Lands will be available via mail-order in early 2011, and includes a foreword by yours truly!

STOP PRESS: 1 February 2011 - Strange Lands is now in print! It is available for purchase at:


Wednesday 29 December 2010


One of my roc feathers (Dr Karl Shuker)

The main shopping centre of Birmingham, the United Kingdom’s second largest city, is replete with unique shops and market stalls selling all manner of interesting and often quite esoteric items. Even so, the last thing that I expected to find there when casually browsing in a certain large fancy goods shop a couple of years ago was a sheaf of roc feathers! But that is precisely what I did find, much to my astonishment and delight. Allow me to explain.

Two rocs attacking Sinbad's ship

According to Eastern legend and lore, the mighty roc or rukh - featuring as one of Sinbad the Sailor’s most formidable protagonists in the ‘Arabian Nights’ - was said to be a monstrous bird of such prodigious size and strength that it could haul elephants aloft, and carry them away to its gargantuan nest where its brood of hungry super-sized offspring would feed upon these hapless pachyderms. For decades, zoologists and cryptozoologists alike attempted to explain the mythical roc as having been based upon sightings of a gigantic ostrich-like ratite known scientifically as Aepyornis maximus, the great elephant bird, standing 10 ft tall and weighing up to half a ton.

The roc carrying off an elephant

Formerly native to Madagascar, this avian goliath inhabited the extensive marshes and swamps once present on this large island mini-continent, and was known locally as the vouronpatra or vorompatra. It is believed to have survived until at least as recently as the late 1700s, before a lethal combination of over-hunting, introduced avian diseases, and deforestation leading to the drying out of its swampland habitat brought about its demise, but fragments from its enormous eggs can still be commonly found on beaches here.

With an Aepyornis egg and a life-size Aepyornis silhouette (Dr Karl Shuker)

Unfortunately, reconciling the roc with the great elephant bird faced one major problem. Aepyornis was flightless, and therefore wholly incapable of abducting unwary elephants and swooping off into the air with them, gripped tightly in merciless talons of steel as those dusty Arabian legends would have us believe. Nevertheless, on account of its huge size, the great elephant bird remained the closest match – indeed, the only remotely plausible match – for the fabled roc...until 1994, that is.

This was when palaeontologist Dr Stephen M. Goodman published a paper documenting the subfossil remains of a hitherto-unknown species of huge eagle, which he formally christened Stephanoaetus mahery, the Madagascan crowned eagle, and which is believed to have survived on the island until around 1500 AD (both it and its prey were probably hunted into extinction by humans). This spectacular raptor is thought to have preyed not only upon various now-extinct species of giant lemur (subfossil remains show that some weighed up to 26.5 lb) but also quite possibly upon the great elephant bird itself. Clearly, sightings of this mega-eagle made by early European explorers visiting Madagascar and subsequent exaggeration of these sightings during retellings when back home provide a much more likely explanation for the origin of the roc legends than does the flightless elephant bird.

Yet not even Madagascar’s colossal crowned eagle can explain the truly immense plumes that crusaders sometimes purchased in the Middle East to delight and bewilder their families and friends back home in Europe. Claimed by their Arabian vendors to be genuine roc feathers, they sometimes measured 3 ft or more in length, and their vanes’ blades were razor-sharp to the touch.

In reality, of course, these spectacular objects were not feathers at all. They were actually the extremely long leaves of the raffia palm tree Raphia regalis (and related species), but they were certainly convincing enough in their superficial resemblance to gigantic feather to fool the unsuspecting crusaders into spending their hard-earned money on them as exotic souvenirs.

Moreover, when I first came upon the tall vase containing sheafs of these wonderful objects in that Birmingham shop, for just a few moments I too shared the shock and wonder that those crusaders must have experienced when first they saw them. A few of these pseudo-plumes stood nearly half as tall as I am (5’10”), and whereas some were brown, others were an exotic jungle green. Once I’d recovered from my shock, I knew at once what they were, but I still marvelled at finding such cryptozoological curios in such a relatively mundane locality as a high street shop in Birmingham, rather than some mysterious, shadowy souk in the depths of an Arabian kasbah.

Picking a few up – and soon discovering how painful it was when their sharp vanes stabbed into my hands! – I could definitely understand how their wily vendors in those far-distant Middle Eastern lands and times had talked the naïve crusaders into believing that these fantastic objects were roc feathers. Indeed, part of me even wanted to believe it myself!

Instead, however, I satisfied myself with the knowledge that here were some wonderful additions to my collection of zoological esoterica, but I received a final shock when I took half a dozen of the green versions (which looked much more feather-like than the plainer brown ones) to the till to pay for them. Incredibly, all six together totalled less than £2, making them without a doubt the best cryptozoological bargains that I had ever purchased!

A month or so ago, I found myself back inside that very same Birmingham shop, but its remaining roc feathers were long gone - which, I suppose, is no more than one should ever expect when dealing with imaginary monsters!

Tuesday 28 December 2010


Adopting my best Blofeld pose with Disney’s wonderful animated version of Lewis Carroll’s enigmatic Cheshire Cat (Dr Karl Shuker)

This is a section from my forthcoming, second book on mysterious and mythical cats, which is entitled Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery, and covers not just cryptozoological cats (as did my Mystery Cats of the World book back in 1989) but also legendary, literary, and supernatural cats, as well as anomalous feline behaviour, feline symbolism and worship, and lots more! It will be published in autumn 2012.

As she said this, she looked up, and there was the Cat again, sitting on a branch of a tree...
"...I wish you wouldn't keep appearing and vanishing so suddenly: you make one quite giddy."
"All right," said the Cat; and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone.
"Well! I've often seen a cat without a grin," thought Alice; "but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!"

Lewis Carroll - Alice's Adventures In Wonderland

Ever since Lewis Carroll's classic children's book was first published in 1865, literary scholars, Carrollian biographers, and cat-lovers alike have debated the source of one of its most enigmatic characters - the famously evanescent Cheshire Cat, with its maniacal, detachable grin! What was Carroll's inspiration for such a surreal creation?

To begin with: as there is no such breed as a Cheshire cat, where did its name originate? Unlike most of its history, however, this seems to be quite straightforward.

Born in 1832 at Daresbury in rural Cheshire, Lewis Carroll (whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) spent much of his childhood there and later at Croft, a little further north. Consequently, he would have frequently encountered various of the local farm, pet, and stray cats - in other words, cats of Cheshire.

Moreover, as pointed out by Martin Gardner in The Annotated Alice (1960), there was a popular saying, current during Carroll's time - "Grin like a Cheshire cat" - which must also, surely, have influenced his choice of a name for his fictitious feline.

Hardly surprisingly, that phrase has been mooted by several scholars as the origin of the Cheshire Cat's synonymous smile too - but there are a number of other, equally compelling claimants for that particular honour. For example, it is well known that during the period when Carroll and his family lived in Cheshire, there were several inns whose signboards portrayed broadly-grinning lions; their incongruous visages would undoubtedly have attracted the attention of anyone so captivated by the allure of the ludicrous as Carroll.

Notwithstanding this, he needed to look no further than his home county's celebrated cheeses for immediate inspiration. In her book Lewis Carroll: A Biography (1979), Anne Clark noted that a renowned medieval inhabitant of Chester, John Catheral, whose coat-of-arms from 1304 included a cat, always bared his teeth in a grin when angry - and died with a smile on his face, quite literally, while defending his beloved town. In honour of his valour, a longstanding tradition arose whereby Cheshire cheese-makers would mould their cheeses into the shape of a cat, and carve a wide grin upon its face. Once again, Carroll would certainly have seen such cheeses, and would have known the origin of their unusual form.

Another potential influence can still be found in the Wirral village of Brimstage, just north of the current Merseyside-Cheshire border. Dating back again to medieval times, there is a stone effigy of a cat, whose red-hued lips were shaped by its long-demised sculptor into a very definite grin. As pointed out by Roger Lancelyn Green in his monograph Lewis Carroll (1960), Carroll may never have visited Brimstage, but as an avid reader throughout his youth he is very likely to have encountered some details concerning it.

In a fascinating account entitled 'The Most Curious Thing I Ever Saw in All My Life', published in Cheshire Life in June 1960, the Reverend Kenneth Lee, Rector of Heswall, documented his own personal search for the answer to the longstanding literary mystery of the Cheshire Cat's origin, and revealed several important additional clues.

During his peregrinations around Cheshire, he visited the village of Grappenhall, not far from Carroll's home village of Daresbury. Here, in its church, high on the wall immediately above the large west window, he spotted a carving in black stone of a cat with a grinning expression on its face. A previous writer had already commented that this might have been the original of the proverbial Cheshire Cat, and Lee speculated that Carroll may well have visited Grappenhall when he was a boy.

In Pott Shrigley, another Cheshire village, Lee noted that the crest of the Pott family was a wild cat, as carved under the chancel arch here. He also recalled that certain other characters from Alice in Wonderland, including the King and Queen of Hearts, could have been inspired by figures carved in the old stone work outside this village's church - as suggested by members of the Archaeological Society following a visit here in 1922.

In addition, Lee visited Brimstage to observe the stone cat noted above, which is a corbel carved in red sand-stone, supporting a pier in one of the ancient chapel's side walls. It also gave its name to the village inn that was eventually taken down in 1931. According to Lee, this feline statue is believed to be linked with the Domville family who lived in Brimstage Hall during the early 1300s, and whose coat-of-arms was a red lion rampant. Some say that the statue is the work of a stone mason who had never seen a lion but was asked by the Domville family to carve one; the result was a large cat wearing what proved to be more of a grin than the fierce snarl that he had intended.

A second, equally interesting article dealing with the possible origin of the Cheshire Cat and entitled 'All This Grinning Cat Stuff', was published in Cheshire Life in November 1973. Its author was Jennifer R. Simpson, who delved much further back in time for solutions than previous writers - proposing that the Cheshire Cat tradition "...may represent the dim glimmer of ancient folk memories connected with the remote origins of our race".

According to Simpson's hypothesis, the Cheshire Cat-related themes already itemised here could comprise the last remnants, or memories, of the former existence in this English region of an ancient cat-venerating tribe called the Khatti, who migrated to Britain from Spain, having previously entered Spain from Mesopotamia.

However, it is a locality from Carroll's own time, one visited by him when he was still young, which has more recently disclosed an extraordinary secret that some Carrollian scholars believe to be the cryptic, much-disputed source not only of the Cheshire Cat's lingering leer but also of its own vanishing ability.

As revealed in London's Daily Telegraph and many other newspapers worldwide during July 1992, Joel Birenbaum from Chicago was one of a party of 35 members from the international Lewis Carroll Society who had lately visited St Peter's Church at Croft - the village to which the Dodgson family moved when Carroll was 11 years old. In the 10th Century church, where his father (the Rev. Charles Dodgson) became rector, Carroll would have knelt in prayer; and it was there, at the altar, while also kneeling, that Birenbaum noticed a small grinning cat.

Carved on a wall panel, in stone relief, it seemed very mundane, until Birenbaum knelt down further and then looked up - whereupon the cat began to vanish right before his eyes! Due to an optical illusion, whenever Birenbaum raised his eyes up towards it from a kneeling position, the image of the cat was rendered invisible - except, that is, for its carved smile, stretching virtually from ear to ear, which lingered in precisely the manner described by Carroll for the Cheshire Cat!

As soon as Birenbaum informed them of his remarkable discovery, each of the other 34 society members eagerly knelt down in turn in order to witness this extraordinary sight - and sure enough, the cat dutifully disappeared time after time, leaving behind only its grin to gratify its incredulous congregation of observers.

It seems evident that this fascinating carving did indeed play its part in Carroll's creation of the Cheshire Cat as a virtuoso of the vanishing act and the disembodied smile - but so too, surely, did most if not all of the other feline factors given here.

Rather than this complex story-book character and its idiosyncratic traits being spawned instantly, directly, and exclusively from the inspirational spark ignited by just a single factor, a more reasonable scenario is one in which they developed within Carroll's fertile imagination in a much more gradual manner - with each of the factors discussed here, every one in close proximity to Carroll during his youth, making its own contribution to their evolution.

But enough of the past, for the present is no less exciting. Today, thanks to its defiantly enigmatic grin (second in fame only to the rather more demure version gracing the lips of Leonardo da Vinci's 'Mona Lisa'!), the Cheshire Cat can bask in the secure knowledge that it remains one of the most popular literary felines of all time. Not bad for a character that didn't even appear in Carroll's original manuscript, entitled Alice's Adventures Under Ground - and reason enough, surely, to make any cat smile!

To read my ShukerNature blog article concerning another of my favourite Alice's Adventures In Wonderland animal characters, the lugubrious calf-headed Mock Turtle, please click here.

Sir John Tenniel's classic illustration of Alice meeting the Cheshire Cat from Alice's Adventures In Wonderland (1865)

Monday 27 December 2010


Exact replica of the Narmer Palette (Dr Karl Shuker)

Surrounded by spectacular sarcophagi, mummies, and other necrological relics of every conceivable size, age, and nature, the last thing that I expected to encounter during my January 2006 visit to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo was an artefact of cryptozoological controversy. However, while walking around Gallery 43 on the museum's ground floor, this is precisely what happened. Suddenly, I found myself in front of a large glass case containing a greyish-green, shield-shaped exhibit, and as I looked in surprise at the pair of bizarre beasts carved upon one side of it I realised that I was looking at the extraordinary Narmer Palette - one of Egypt's oldest, and most enigmatic, historical objects. (Sadly, visitors were not permitted to photograph the palette, but I was subsequently able to purchase an exact replica model of it, a photo of which is included at the beginning of this blog.)

Composed of dark schist, measuring 25 in high and 16.5 in wide, and richly adorned on both sides with elaborate, finely-wrought carvings, this remarkable artefact was discovered during 1898 by archaeologist James E. Quibell in the Upper Egyptian city of Nekhen (nowadays Hierakonpolis) while excavating the royal residences of various ancient Egyptian rulers. Despite dating back to c.3200 BC (the Old Kingdom), the palette has survived intact, and was a votive (gift) offered up by King Narmer to the sun god Amun-Ra. What makes this artefact so significant historically is that it not only bears some of the earliest-known examples of Egyptian hieroglyphics but also commemorates a major event in ancient Egyptian history - the unification of Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt into a single land, with King Narmer as the first ruler of both lands.

On one side of the palette, King Narmer is vividly portrayed as ruler of Upper Egypt smiting his Lower Egypt enemy, and facing his own incarnation as the falcon deity Horus, god of the sky. On the other side, there are various depictions celebrating Narmer's triumph after capturing the crown of Lower Egypt, thereby unifying Upper and Lower Egypt. The largest, most striking image on this side, however, does not feature Narmer at all. Instead, it portrays a pair of inordinately long-necked creatures whose flexible necks entwine around one another, forming a border round a central circular reservoir that some researchers believe may have been used to hold perfume, or to serve as a receptacle within which such cosmetics were manufactured in situ.

These extraordinary beasts are generally referred to as serpopards (though in at least one reference source they are termed mafedets), for good reason. For whereas their necks are decidedly serpentine in appearance, their heads are very leopard-like. As for their bodies: I have seen them likened variously to panthers, lions, and even baboons. After having finally witnessed the palette at first-hand (prior to then, I knew of its images only from various internet pictures of varying quality), I agree that their bodies, long limbs, and lengthy tails certainly possess a degree of simian similarity, more than I had previously realised when simply viewing pictures of them. But what were these serpopards meant to be - wholly symbolic, a purely legendary beast, perhaps a very distorted portrayal of some known animal, or something more than any of these options?

The reason why I was already familiar with the Narmer Palette is that in the past it has attracted a degree of cryptozoological speculation that the serpopards may conceivably represent a stylised or alternatively a distorted depiction of some mokele-mbembe-type species of surviving long-necked dinosaur that was alive at least at the time of King Narmer. Of course, this would not be the first time that ancient Middle Eastern records have inspired theories of historical dinosaur survival - the mushush or sirrush carved on King Nebuchadnezzar II’s resplendent Ishtar Gate of Babylon (which I was privileged to view at firsthand when visiting the Vorderasiatisches Museum in 1983 in what was then East Berlin), the huge monster Behemoth referred to in the Holy Bible, and a reptilian mystery beast in a short book of the Apocrypha entitled 'Bel and the Dragon' all readily come to mind. Could the serpopard be another putative neo-dinosaur?

Much as I would like to admit it to this select crypto-company, after viewing the palette's serpopards up close and personal I was left in no doubt whatsoever that these necking entities were unquestionably mammalian, not even remotely reptilian. The serpopard head, complete with ears, is indeed leopard-like, not leonine as some have suggested, but the toes of the feet, posture of the body and limbs, as well as the limbs' relative lengths, and the shape and carriage of the tail all struck me as rather more monkey-like than feline. As for the palette pair's disproportionately long, impossibly flexible necks, it seems likely that they were intertwined not only to symbolise the union of Upper and Lower Egypt (as well as the eastern and western heavens?), but also for practical purposes - to fit neatly around the palette's central reservoir. Interestingly, each of the two depicted serpopards is held on a leash by a handler, who may be a slave, or a tribute, indicating perhaps that the serpopards were a gift to King Narmer, or possibly even domesticated?

Significantly, depicted serpopards are not restricted to the Narmer Palette. Another early Hierakonpolis palette, known as the Oxford or Two Dogs Palette and retained at Oxford University's Ashmolean Museum, also bears a pair of these striking creatures on one side, plus a single one on the other side. The paired serpopards on this artefact have even longer necks than those on the Narmer Palette, but this time they are not entwined - instead, they are held in a painful-looking zig-zag pose above their bodies, one on each side of a central reservoir. On the Two Dogs Palette (named, incidentally, after the two superficially canine - but quite possibly hyaenid - beasts comprising the upper section and outer sides of the palette, though the head of one is missing), the necks of the serpopards are striped, and there are stripes on their foreparts too.

Another serpopard-depicting palette is the Four Dogs Palette held at the Louvre, Paris, and there is also a preserved cylinder seal from Susiana, the high country of the ancient Persian civilisation of Elam, that depicts a series of very long-tailed neck-entwined serpopards. Clearly, therefore, the serpopards of the Narmer Palette were clearly not just an invention of its sculptor, devised merely as a decorative motif for bordering and highlighting the palette's central reservoir and/or as a symbol of King Narmer's unified Egypt.

A more conservative identity than a mokele-mbembe but no less intriguing is that perhaps the serpopards were poor representations of a giraffe (a species that once existed in Egypt), possibly based upon indirect descriptions of what this exceptional creature looked like rather than personal observations. If this were so, however, surely the giraffe's long legs would have been mentioned and described to the sculptor, not just its long neck. Yet although the serpopards' legs are fairly long, they are far shorter than one would expect for a giraffe, whereas their necks are much too long. In any case, it just so happens that there is absolute iconographical proof readily to hand to confirm that the serpopard and giraffe are totally discrete animals.

On the reverse side of the Two Dogs Palette, a wide range of creatures is depicted, including readily-identifiable lions, antelopes, goats, a hartebeest- or gnu-like ungulate - and not only a serpopard but also a clearly-recognisable giraffe, the latter beast complete with long inflexible erect neck, small horns as well as ears on its head, long giraffe-like legs, hoofed feet, and downward-pointing tail. Just above it, offering a perfect opportunity for direct comparison, is a flexible-necked, hornless, leopard-headed, shorter-legged, toe-footed, upward-tailed serpopard - indisputably a wholly different animal.

Equally worthy of note is that alongside portrayals of real animals on the Two Dogs Palette is not just a serpopard but a winged griffin too, depicted in traditional composite form with leonine body, eagle's head, and feathered wings. This provides immediate proof that ancient Egyptian sculptors carved real and fabled animals together, so the presence elsewhere of serpopards depicted alongside people and real animals cannot be taken as firm evidence that the serpopards themselves must also be real.

Accordingly, the most reasonable solution to the mystery of its identity is that the serpopard is nothing more than another composite (albeit exotic-looking) mythical beast, just like the griffin, as well as certain other Egyptian monsters such as the hippo-bodied crocodile-headed ammut, and the venomous winged snakes that reputedly swarmed across ancient Egypt each year like locusts (indeed, perhaps they were directly inspired by actual locust swarms). After all, not all beasts of legend are creatures of cryptozoology in disguise - from centaurs and minotaurs to cactus cats and gooseberry wives, the inventive human imagination is more than sufficiently capable of summoning forth from its uncharted depths a veritable menagerie of wholly original monsters surpassing even the wildest excesses of Mother Nature.

Sunday 26 December 2010


My mystifying mushrooms batique picture from Indonesia (Dr Karl Shuker)

In July of this year (2010), I posted on my Facebook wall this photo of a very eyecatching but also very extraordinary framed Indonesian (Balinese?) batique (aka batik) picture that I purchased from a friend a few years ago for the princely sum of £1, and I asked for opinions as to what its bizarre image of mushrooms emerging from a human head represents. The most commonly-voiced notion was that it is meant to personify some form of psychedelic, magic mushroom-induced hallucination – as opposed to my own suggestion that it portrays a colony of were-mushrooms assuming human form!

Seriously, though, its mystifying image is so intriguing and captivating, albeit in a somewhat macabre way – the framed picture currently hangs in the breakfast room at home and always attracts interest and comments from visitors – that I would definitely like to learn as much as I can concerning it.

So if you are reading this and can offer any thoughts or information, please post whatever you can here. Looking forward to reading them!

Thursday 23 December 2010


Wishing all of my fellow ShukerNaturalists a very happy Christmas and a successful New Year, thanking you all for reading and commenting upon my varied posts here during the past two years, and hoping that you continue to do so in 2011!

This beautiful painting, btw, which appears in the archangel feathers chapter of my latest book, Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2010), and depicts the archangel Gabriel announcing to the Virgin Mary that she would be giving birth to Jesus, the Son of God, is entitled 'Annunciation'. The identity of the artist is unknown, but experts believe that he was either French or Dutch, and that it was painted in or around the 1370s.

I found a print of this particular painting, of whose very existence I was previously totally unaware, entirely by chance one day at a market when wondering what image I could use for a major Fortean Times article that I was planning to write on the subject of archangel feathers (and which, months after it had been published, was duly converted into the corresponding chapter on this selfsame subject in my Alien Zoo book).

Clearly, therefore, and also very aptly, my search for an illustration of the archangel Gabriel had been assisted by the Library Angel!

Wednesday 22 December 2010


Black Dog
(Andy Paciorek - from his Strange Lands project's website at: http://www.batcow.co.uk/strangelands)

I have been asked many times whether I specifically planned a career in cryptozoology or whether it was just something that happened. Perhaps the truth is neither of these – perhaps it was destiny, pre-ordained, the hand of fate. Read the following and judge for yourself.

Right from a child, my surname had always mystified me. I did know that it was German, even though my father’s family is entirely English in origin as far back as we can trace (which is several generations). So too is my mother’s family. What I didn’t know was what it meant. What was the English translation of ‘Shuker’? Despite perusing numerous books of surname origins as a child and early teenager, I never managed to find any mention of mine – until one day during the mid-1980s, when, while idly thumbing through yet another such volume in a Birmingham bookshop, to my great surprise I found it! But that surprise was nothing compared to what I experienced when I discovered what my name actually meant!

According to that book, ‘Shuker’ derived from ‘Schuck’ (I had previously read that ‘Shuker’ was once spelt ‘Schucker’), which was apparently a Germanic term for ‘monster’! More specifically, it referred to a goblin-like creature of the night, especially one that could acquire the form of a huge black dog – which may help to explain, therefore, the origin of the name ‘Black Shuck’ for a famous example from eastern England of the Black Dog zooform phenomenon. In other words, I had a cryptozoological surname - or, at the very least, one that pertained directly to unexplained creatures!

Having said that, I later discovered an alternative derivation for my surname – this time from ‘Schuker’, an early Germanic name of pre-10th Century origin, which was an occupational term for someone who earned their living by sieving corn by shaking. Nevertheless, the very fact that one translation for ‘Shuker’ involves a direct link to monsters and mystery beasts is nothing if not intriguing, and would remain so even if that were all – i.e. even if there were no other links between such entities and names appertaining to me.

But that is not all. Guess what my two nicknames were at school? One, due to the presence of several stone ornaments of that nature in my front garden, was Gnome – a mythical mini-humanoid entity. The other, due to my surname not rhyming readily with any familiar word, was a seemingly inconsequential nonsense word, at least as far as the young junior-school children who coined it were concerned. However, it would be instantly recognised as something very consequential by any self-respecting cryptozoologist or zoomythologist. For the nickname in question was none other than ‘pooker’, which, with only the slightest change in spelling, becomes ‘pooka’ - a legendary Irish monster, taking the form of a huge black dog or goblin pony that carries off unwary children and drowns them (click here for a separate ShukerNature post retelling this famous Irish legend).

And as if all of this cryptozoological and zoomythological lexilinking were still not intriguing enough, my maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Griffin! In other words, a direct name-link with that famous beast of legend that sports the head and wings of an eagle but the torso, limbs, and tail of a lion.

Even my home town, Wednesbury, is named after a Nordic god - Woden or Odin, thus explaining why you can find here a beautiful gleaming metal statue of Sleipnir, Odin’s unique eight-legged steed.

A cryptozoologist by choice, or by destiny? Somehow, I don’t think that choice ever came into it, do you?

(Andy Paciorek - from his Strange Lands project's website at: http://www.batcow.co.uk/strangelands)

Please note: Andy Paciorek's spectacular, long-awaited book Strange Lands will be available via mail-order in early 2011, and includes a foreword by yours truly!

STOP PRESS: 1 February 2011 - Strange Lands is now in print! It is available to purchase at:


Tuesday 21 December 2010


One of my favourite werewolf films (Dr Karl Shuker)

Yesterday I uploaded the vampire entry from my planned future book project on supernatural beings of the night. Today, meet my werewolf!


Only a few more minutes and he would be home, safe behind closed curtains, shielded from the terrible, enthralling power of that evil, merciless light. He ran down the unlit country road, cheered by the evening's all-encompassing, protective shadows of darkness. Only a few more minutes - but it was already too late. Suddenly, a layer of clouds high above in the sky drifted apart - exposing, in all its pallid majesty, the silent silver-hued moon.

"No! No-ooooooooooh!"

Even as he yelled aloud in abject terror, his voice began to alter, transforming with seamless gradation from the recognisable scream of a man into the spine-chilling howl of something far more primitive, far more bestial. But that was not all. His howling mouth was itself transforming, effortlessly metamorphosing into a long slender muzzle, filled with sharp white teeth of carnivorous intent, and surmounted by a broad canine nose fringed with bristling whiskers.

Even his ears were changing, lengthening and sharpening into erect triangles of short fur whose shading perfectly complemented the rapidly-sprouting hair that swiftly concealed his face beneath a dark furry mask - except, that is, for his eyes, whose cornflower blue irises had become scarlet candles glowing in the night.

He was still running, but he was now on all fours, and as he ran his body grew burlier and more powerful, bursting forth through his shirt and his jeans until they dropped away, falling to the ground with his other clothing like discarded rags. Garments were no longer needed, for he was now entirely clothed in dense greyish-brown fur, from his flattened predatory head down to the tip of the long hairy tail stretching out behind him, and down to the four claw-brandishing paws on which he raced exultantly through the countryside.

Home was forgotten, for now that he was no longer a man, his human habitation held no interest for him. Here, amid the moonlit splendour of the night, he was already home, as are all wolves...and werewolves.


With poster block of Kiefer Sutherland in the cult vampire-biker movie 'The Lost Boys'

As you may know, highly-acclaimed graphic artist Andy Paciorek and I are planning various collaborations. One of these may result in a future book on supernatural entities of the night. Consequently, I'm currently preparing some samples of text for it, and here, in an exclusive preview, is one of them. I hope you enjoy it!


Alone with the ghosts of days long departed, stretching back in silent homage, I dream that I am gazing into a looking glass and fancy that I see there, staring back out at me, a tall grim shadow, a wraith in human form that haunts my very being, chills my innermost essence with its dread pallid countenance, mesmerising and yet also captivating me with its icy doom. I have so many questions to ask this creature of darkness and night, I scarcely know where to begin.

Why do you and your kind exist?

“We exist to remind humanity that sometimes not even death can bring release from the evil that is nurtured in life. We exist to feed upon the fear that such realisation generates, to feed and grow stronger and wait.”

But why feed upon blood too?

“Blood is life, blood symbolises all that has dried up and long since disappeared from our shrivelled, exsanguinated existence. When we imbibe it, we are temporarily regenerated, rejuvenated, and reborn. For a short span of time, we are fully alive, even if only during the veiled hours of night. We may never feel the warmth of the sun, but we are sustained by the coolness of the moon and by the fire of the stars, nourishing and restoring us, empowering our living death with deathless life.”

I stand before this mirrored being of nightmare, and imagine with trembling electric horror its long slender fangs pressing so softly, imperceptibly, against my exposed neck, seeking the throbbing jugular beneath before sliding within, to freeze forever my existence with a single scarlet-trickling kiss of eternity.


“Life is fleeting, death is immortal. Those who become one of us shall persist forever.”

But what kind of existence will it be? Nothing but an undead, half-living, surely, surrounded by death but unable to find release.

“True enough, but that is the punishment for having lived an evil life. Only a stake or the burning caress of sunlight can end our torment, and then shall we decay and crumble, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, our long-postponed mortality finally upon us. Until then, we must linger, and hunger, and wonder...”

Only a dream, and a foolish, impossible dream at that. True, now that I am awake again I could indeed stand before the looking glass. Yet I know only too well that to do so would be futile, it would serve no purpose. How could I hope to elicit answers from my own reflection? After all, being a vampire I would have no reflection...

'Kiss' - Sue Woodlace(?), 1994

I'd very much like to include this wonderful artwork in a future publication of mine, so I've been trying to trace its artist for a very long time, ever since I purchased my numbered print of it, in fact, one Sunday afternoon in 1994 at the Sunday market formerly held regularly at the Holiday Wharf in Birmingham, England. I can't quite read her signature on the picture - her surname may be Woodlace, Woodlane, Woodlore, or even something else entirely! - but if anyone reading this blog has any information regarding her identity and/or current contact details, I'd love to hear from you!

Sunday 19 December 2010


A two-headed rat snake

I am greatly indebted to Markus Bühler for drawing my attention to a recent paper documenting the first recorded example of a dicephalic (two-headed) anaconda, specifically a young female yellow anaconda Eunectes notaeus encountered in 1985 on the right margin of the Paraguay River in Southern Pantanal, Brazil. The paper can be accessed at:


As Markus pointed out to me:

"It looks especially weird, because not only the head is double, but also a big part of the postcranial body, that makes it look somehow like one of those mythical entities which are shown as multiple headed snakes with long necks."

What a shame, though, that as soon as this extraordinary snake was found it was killed - or 'sacrificed', to quote the paper's authors! It was only a juvenile specimen, so surely it could have been captured alive? After all, some dicephalic snakes maintained in captivity have lived for a number of years. Ah well, even in today's conservation-emphatic times, it seems that the 'collection' of rare and sometimes unique specimens is still very much alive, unlike this two-headed anaconda, unfortunately. Instead, its preserved, now-faded corpse resides in the Coleção Zoológica de Referência of the Campus do Pantanal/UFMS (CEUCH 6024).

Consequently, the single most interesting and informative aspect of the paper for me can be found in its introduction, where the authors note that fellow researcher Van Wallach has published an extensive review of dicephalic snakes, containing a checklist of no less than 950 cases, featuring 169 species in 93 genera! He also summarises their internal anatomy and discusses the available information on these double-headed serpents' natural history and behaviour - fascinating! The full reference to this groundbreaking publication is:

WALLACH, V. (2007). 2007. Axial bifurcation and duplication in snakes. Part I. A synopsis of authentic and anecdotal cases. Bull. Md. Herpetol. Soc., 43(2): 57–95.

Back in 2000, this is what I wrote about dicephalic snakes for a 'Lost Ark' article of mine published in Fortean Times:

Cryptozoologists are (or should be) used to receiving healthy doses of scepticism from mainstream zoological colleagues concerning reports of mysterious, exotic-sounding creatures. I was very startled to discover recently, however, that much the same response can be elicited by teratologists (researchers studying biological freaks and monstrosities) when speaking to mainstream colleagues regarding zoological caprices and curiosities of the teratological kind. A short while ago, I happened to mention casually to some zoologist friends a quite recent newspaper report about the finding of a two-headed (dicephalic) snake. To my great surprise, no amount of persuading would convince any of them that freaks of this kind do genuinely occur from time to time (usually due to duplication of the embryonic snake's cephalic region during development). Instead, they were adamant that such sports were total fabrications invented by the media to fool gullible readers! Needless to say, this spurred me to research the subject of ophidian dicephaly; and in order to dispel any additional scepticism that may exist concerning it, there now follows a brief selection of some of the most celebrated, fully-confirmed serpentine dicephali on record.

In his Log-Book of a Fisherman and Zoologist, the noted Victorian naturalist and eccentric Frank Buckland recorded receiving an odder-than-normal two-headed grass snake Natrix natrix, aged at least 3-4 months old. Whereas many dicephalic snakes have similar heads, those of Buckland's grass snake differed both in size and in location. The larger of the two heads was positioned at the end of the snake's neck (i.e. the normal position). However, the smaller head emerged directly (i.e. not borne upon any neck of its own) from a lateral location some distance further down - thereby emerging from the neck of the principal head, and comprising a parasitic twin. A dicephalic snake (or other animal) exhibiting this condition - in which one head (that of the parasitic twin) is attached either to the neck or lower jaw of the other head - is said to be desmiognathous.

During the 1920s, a wild dicephalic specimen of the milk snake Lampropeltis triangulum was discovered living in New York's Bronx Zoo. Unlike Buckland's grass snake, however, its two heads were of equal size, and each was borne upon its own 1-inch-long neck (dicephalic animals with two necks as well as two heads are described as diauchenic). Not surprisingly, this highly distinctive serpent was swiftly captured, thereafter acquiring permanent residence at the zoo as a special exhibit, and was the focus of considerable attention - not least from its own keeper, particularly at feeding time. This was because both of its heads ingested food, which meant that great care had to be taken to ensure that its single gullet did not become blocked by the double stream of food passing into it from the snake's two mouths.

Similarly, from 19 March to July 1955 the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum was the proud owner of a juvenile dicephalic pine snake Pituophis melanoleucus, which lived upon lizards devoured only by the left head. More recently, a dicephalic water snake Natrix sipedon became a major attraction at Miami's Serpentarium, and was featured in numerous newspaper accounts. The Serpentarium's director, Bill Haast, named the two heads Hatfield and McCoy, after the notorious feuding families from West Virginia. As it happened, however, these names would have been far more apt if they had been applied to the heads of what is probably the most remarkable two-headed snake recorded from captivity.

Instead, the heads of this latter serpentine dicephalus were respectively named Dudley and Duplex, by staff at San Diego Zoo where it lived for some time during the 1970s. A diauchenic example, it was a king snake Lampropeltis getulus - a zoological identity destined to cause major problems for any two-headed representative, due to this particular species' dietary preference. For the king snake is ophiophagous - it eats other snakes! Imagine, then, the psychological turmoil that must have been taking place within the twin minds of Dudley-Duplex. For here was a situation in which two mentally-independent snakes, both instinctive serpent-eaters, were, by a developmental quirk of fate, doomed to be perpetually in one another's closest of close company. Tormented by continuous temptation, it could surely be only a matter of time before the inevitable happened.

And one day it nearly did - keepers arrived only just in time to prevent Dudley from bring swallowed by Duplex! On this occasion, peace was restored, and the crisis was averted, but quite evidently the memory lingered. For not long afterwards, Dudley took his revenge and actually succeeded in swallowing Duplex - only to discover too late of course that in killing Duplex he had fatally wounded himself. A short time later, this extraordinary but ultimately tragic double-act died - a victim of a truly unique case of fatal attraction.

Finally, a notably unusual dicephalic snake was captured on 13 May 1975 at Salta, Argentina. This specimen's single body not only sported two heads but also possessed two tails. An individual that displays duplication of its anterior and posterior ends while its body region remains a single entity is referred to as a dicephalus dipygus (or, less commonly nowadays, an anakatadidymus). Measuring 18 in long, Salta's two-headed snake was also unusual in that only one head ingested food (albeit voraciously), the other not functioning at all - though in view of the Dudley-Duplex saga, this may have been no bad thing. Clearly, two heads are not always better than one after all!

Thursday 9 December 2010


Front cover of 'The Ogo-Pogo' foxtrot sheet music (Dr Karl Shuker)

It's not every day that, totally by chance, you encounter a veritable legend, but that's exactly what happened to me one Sunday afternoon during the early 1990s while wandering around a book fair held in the community centre of Kinver, a small Staffordshire village. Looking up at one particular stall, I spotted something that was almost as fabled a cryptozoological artifact as the elusive thunderbird photo itself!

Attached to the side of one of this stall's bookshelves, sealed in cellophane, and on sale for the minuscule sum of just £2, was none other than the original sheet music, complete with fully-illustrated front cover, for 'The Ogo-Pogo - The Funny Fox-Trot' - which as every self-respecting cryptozoological enthusiast will confirm, is the very same English music-hall song from 1924 that gave its name to the now-famous water monster of Canada's Lake Okanagan.

Yet until I saw - and very swiftly purchased! - this cryptozoologically priceless item, it had never been depicted or even accurately quoted from in any crypto-book or article. For upon reading through it, I soon discovered that the lyrics describing Ogopogo's alleged parents ("his mother was an earwig, his father was a whale") were quite different from those various versions purporting to be from it that had been cited in previous works (some of which had replaced 'whale' with 'snail' or had replaced the entire line concerning putting salt on his tail with 'A little bit of head, and hardly any tail'). Here, therefore, are the full, original lyrics (by Cumberland Clark, written to music composed by Mark Strong), as given in this sheet music:

One fine day in Hindustan,
I met a funny little man.
With googly eyes and lantern jaws,
A new silk hat and some old plus fours.
When I said to that quaint old chap:-
"Why do you carry that big steel trap,
That butterfly net and that rusty gun?"
He replied "Listen here my son:-

I'm looking for the Ogo-pogo,
The funny little Ogo-pogo.
His mother was an earwig, his father was a whale,
I'm going to put a little bit of salt on his tail.
I want to find the Ogo-pogo
While he's playing on his old banjo.
The Lord Mayor of London,
The Lord Mayor of London,
The Lord Mayor of London wants to put him in the Lord Mayor's show".

On his Banjo night and day
The Ogo-pogo loves to play,
He charms the snakes and chimpanzees,
The big baboons and the bumble bees.
Lions and tigers begin to roar:-
"Play us that melody just once more".
Did I hear the sound of an old banjo?
Pardon me I shall have to go!

I'm looking for the Ogo-pogo,
The funny little Ogo-pogo.
His mother was an earwig, his father was a whale,
I'm going to put a little bit of salt on his tail.
I want to find the Ogo-pogo
While he's playing on his old banjo.
The Lord Mayor of London,
The Lord Mayor of London,
The Lord Mayor of London wants to put him in the Lord Mayor's show".

Moreover, the cover portrayed a boot-wearing, antenna-sporting, banjo-playing, pixie-like monster from Hindustan - all far removed indeed from Canada's serpentiform cryptid. Nevertheless, it was this very sheet music that had originated one of the most familiar of all modern-day cryptid nicknames (until then, the Lake Okanagan monster had been known only as the naitaka - a traditional native American name given to it by the local Okanakane tribe).

The timing of my purchase was such that I was able to include a b/w photograph of the Ogo-Pogo sheet music's cover in my 1995 book In Search of Prehistoric Survivors, which thus became the very first cryptozoological publication ever to include it, and a year later my next book, The Unexplained, became the first publication to include a colour photograph of it.

Thanks to veteran Ogopogo researcher Arlene Gaal, I subsequently obtained a copy of an early American recording of the song itself, performed by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra on an old shellac 78 rpm record. (Please note, however, that in this American version the second verse is missing, and various words and lines in the first verse have been changed from the original English lyrics given above, to yield a much more Stateside-sounding song, in which even 'the Lord Mayor's Show' has been replaced by 'a Broadway show'!)

And so now, after finally mastering the art of uploading music tracks to YouTube, I have pleasure in presenting for your delight on YouTube, the Paul Whiteman Orchestra's version of 'The Ogo-Pogo' foxtrot - check it out at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQE8T6Ip6Ic

Tuesday 30 November 2010


Lake Iliamna monsters, based upon eyewitness descriptions (William Rebsamen)

Earlier tonight, I watched with great interest on ITV the episode of Jeremy Wade's 'River Monsters' series in which he investigates - and even tries (albeit unsuccessfully) to catch - one of the monster fishes said to inhabit the deep, freezing waters of Lakes Iliamna and Clark in Alaska. He concludes that the likeliest identity for such creatures, should they exist, would be extra-large (up to 20 ft or so long) specimens of land-locked white sturgeon. Giant sturgeon have been confirmed in the past as the identity of certain formerly-mysterious lake monsters in various North American bodies of freshwater (including Lake Washington in Seattle), so this is certainly a plausible solution to the Iliamna and Clark monsters too. Here is what I wrote a few years ago concerning them within an article of mine devoted to aquatic monsters of North America:

Compared to such famous North American ‘monster’ lakes as Okanagan and Champlain, Lake Iliamna remains little-known and little-investigated. This is due in no small way to its location – ensconced in southwestern Alaska. In terms of size, however, it can scarcely be overlooked – as large as the state of Rhode Island, this lake measures a very impressive 120 km long, up to 35 km wide, and has a surface area of around 2600 square km. Moreover, the unidentified water beasts, popularly dubbed Illies by the media and cryptozoologists, reported from its waters are equally memorable. Not only are they decidedly large – often claimed to be as much as 10 m long – they are also very different from the many-humps and long-necks more commonly reported from North America’s inland waters.

Long known to the area’s Inuit/Aleut people, who refer to this cryptid as jig-ik-nak, the Illie is usually described as very long and quite slender, greyish in colour, and with a noticeable dorsal fin marked by a white stripe. It swims just beneath the water surface, sometimes in groups, but unlike a number of other lake monsters it does not come up for air, remaining submerged, and therefore seemingly able to breathe underwater, like a fish rather than a mammal or reptile. This was confirmed in 1963 by a biologist from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, who watched an 8-10-m-long creature swimming beneath the water surface for over 10 minutes, during which time it never once surfaced.

In 1977, air-taxi pilot Tim LaPorte and his two passengers saw from the air a dark 4-5-m-long animal whose back was just breaking the water surface. When it dived downwards, it revealed a large vertical tail – characteristic of fishes, as whales have horizontal tails.

There seems little doubt that the Illies are indeed fishes, albeit exceptionally big ones, and the most popular identity is a sturgeon, in particular the mighty white sturgeon Acipenser transmontanus, which is known to attain lengths of up to 7 m. Although sturgeons have never been confirmed from Lake Iliamna, they are known from other, smaller Alaskan lakes (Iliamna is the largest lake in Alaska). Consequently, it would not be implausible for this immense body of water to house such fishes too, and for them, on account of the lake’s huge size and the plentiful food supply that it is known to contain, to attain record sizes here.


I shall garb myself in gossamer,
And dance amid the darkness,
Silver in the shadows of my song.

Even though I have spent more than a quarter of a century uncovering, investigating, and documenting bizarre reports from the sequestered but ever-fascinating realms of unnatural history, there are countless others still out there waiting to delight and bemuse me. One such example was very kindly brought to my attention a couple of days ago by Mark North of Dark Dorset, and is unlike any that I had previously encountered.

It was published in volume 1 (January-June 1892) of the journal Notes and Queries, Eighth Series, and was penned by John Symonds Udal, who at that time was Attorney-General and Admiralty Advocate of Fiji. This remarkable account reads as follows:

"DRESS MADE OF SPIDERS' WEBS (7 th S. xi. 445; xii. 34). MRS. WHITE mentions as a great curiosity the dress made from spiders' webs presented to the Queen by the Empress of Brazil in 1877. Most certainly it is, and to most British minds such a thing might seem incredible ; but if your correspondent were to visit Fiji which is famous for its magnificent spiders he might perhaps have less cause for wonder. The web made by the big yellow spider here is very large and strong ; but in addition to the web proper, in which flies, mosquitoes, &:., are caught, it spins a cocoonof orange-coloured, silky, gossamer-like stuff, which, if taken up in the fingers, requires quite an effort to break. This stuff I can conceive might be woven into material for a dress. Might not the dress in question have been composed of similar material made by the Brazilian spiders?

"I can hardly, even now, believe that it could have been composed of what we understand to be the ordinary spider's web. I can quite imagine, however, that such a material might be of some commercial value, as one frequently hears complaints at the present day of a want of fineness in fibres or materials used for scientific purposes.

"I may add that our cockroaches are huge too; but, by a merciful dispensation of Providence, our spiders are in proportion. The particular enemy of the cockroach here is not the big yellow spider above mentioned, but a long-legged, formidable looking brown spider, called the "hunting spider." I cannot find out that this species spins any web, but apparently depends upon its great activity for securing its prey. I know, however, that it can bite pretty sharply, as I once saw one draw blood from the finger of a doctor friend of mine who was capturing it for me. It is often to be seen hugging a large, flattened, circular, cream-coloured bag, which, I take it, contains its eggs. We never kill spiders in Fiji. The natives venerate them as much as the Dutchman does his stork, and perhaps with more reason.

"J. S. UDAL.


"P.S. Since writing the above I have been told by a friend of mine here that on one occasion he had carefully examined the long line stretched between two points from which the web of the big yellow spider mentioned above was suspended, and found it had a beautiful golden silky appearance, and was so strong that he was able to wind it round a piece of cardboard. If this can be considered part of the web proper, then in all probability a light, silky material could be woven from it, and the Brazilian dress be not quite so extraordinary as at first sight it might appear."

Sadly, as my knowledge of Fijian and Brazilian arachnids is not extensive, I am unable to identify the species involved here - so if anyone reading this could offer any suggestions, Mark and I would be very happy to receive them.

Incidentally, the lines opening this blog are a fragment of verse from an as-yet-unfinished poem of mine entitled 'Spider of the Night' - inspired in turn by the evocative title of a very popular tango (as opposed to a tarantella!), a version of which I have now uploaded onto YouTube, which can be accessed here.

Friday 26 November 2010


Ripley's two-trunked elephant ((c) Christopher Elliott)

As an ardent collector of data appertaining to zoological freaks, caprices, and monsters of the teratological kind, two of my fondest longstanding daydreams have focused upon the discovery of an elephant with two trunks and a camel with three humps. Naturally, however,, I never seriously expected to fulfil either of them, as I'd always assumed such fanciful beasts to exist only in the most fevered of imaginations. But not any more!

When chatting recently on Facebook to fellow teratophile Markus Bühler, I was astonished to learn that he had encountered a photograph of a supposed two-trunked elephant in one of the many Ripley's Believe It Or Not! books, and that he had read of reports of extra-humped camels too. Needless to say, with an alacrity that would surely have impressed even Sherlock Holmes (had he actually existed, of course!), I was soon hot on the trail of Ripley's proboscis-advantaged pachyderm, and, lo and behold, Markus was absolutely correct!

On 5 November 2005, Christopher Elliott had posted a short blog at: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4989709 entitled 'Inside the Ripley's Warehouse of Oddities', and he had included a photo that he had snapped of the stuffed head of an adult African elephant...with two trunks! According to Christopher Elliott: "Apparently both of this elephant's two distinct trunks were fully functioning".

Although, teratologically speaking, the development of a double trunk is not impossible - such an appendage could theoretically arise if, during the elephant's embryogeny, the region of developing tissue giving rise to the trunk had split - it must also be borne in mind that there are some exceedingly gifted taxidermists out there, who, down through the ages, have created all manner of very convincing fake beasts. Whether the Ripley's specimen (which I hereby dub 'Two-Trunks') is genuine (as they believe it to be) or not, however, it is undeniably a truly remarkable exhibit - if only because, following all the countless jokes in the past about the elephant being the only creature capable of making a trunk call, this particular specimen may well have been the only elephant able to reverse the charges!!

Two-Trunks being transported by trailer ((c) G.J. Williams)

As for extra-humped camels: there is at least one serious claimant on record. Normally, the Bactrian camel has two humps and the Arabian camel or dromedary has one. Moreover, hybrids of these two species also only have one - not three, as may perhaps have been expected. However, as camel humps are merely reservoirs of fatty tissue, I see no reason why additional reservoirs might not occasionally develop, thereby yielding extra humps, especially if the typical humps were smaller than normal, thus providing room for extra ones to form alongside them. And indeed, Markus mentioned that he recalled reading something about bona fide extra-humped individuals in the highly authoritative, 13-volume series of multi-contributor zoological encyclopedias from the 1970s entitled Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, whose editor-in-chief was the eminent German zoologist Dr Bernhard Grzimek. As the proud possessor of a complete set of these very hefty but beautiful, fact-filled tomes, I lost no time in perusing the camelid section in Volume 13, Mammals IV. And sure enough, there was the following short but fascinating passage:

Dromedaries with unusually shaped humps often bring fantastic prices. For example, in the Arabian town of Hodeida, a four-humped camel brought approximately ten thousand dollars.

I have yet to trace any additional data regarding this or any other extra-humped camel, but the wording of the above passage clearly indicates that others have existed. What I did discover while searching online, however, was a report from Qatar that initially seemed to be a genuine vindication of the following popular children's joke - 'What do you call a camel with three humps? Humphrey!'.

On 27 January 2010, a contributor with the screen name edifis posted here on the website QuatarLiving.com the following report:

A 3 Humped Camel suspected to be the result of inter breeding between the 2 humped Bactrian camel and the Arabian Camel has been recently spotted near Dukhan.
The strange creature, a huge bull is reported to have been roaming in the vicinity of Dukhan and Umm Bab and is desperately looking for a mate.
But local female camels are avoiding him as he is an extra long stretch camel with 3 distinct humps, having different colors.
Anybody up to the task may contact the Camel breeding center at Al Shahanyia for more details:
Here is the picture of the Bull in heat.

The Qatari three-humped camel photo ((c) QatarLiving.com)

Sadly, as you can see from the photograph, the creature in question evidently owes its origin not to any humorous whim of Mother Nature but rather to the skills of someone versed in computer-generated imagery, most probably using either Adobe Photoshop or Corel Draw - as the first of many comments posted beneath the photo by readers was swift to point out. Never mind - it was good while it lasted.

Incidentally, during my futile search for a real Humphrey, I found a much more convincing but equally fallacious photo of a triple-humped camel on Mrs. God's Blog here. Click here for the image.

I also discovered that there is a rock band hailing from South Australia called Three Humped Camel. Whoever said that the Internet is not educational

UPDATE: 24 November 2014

Interested viewers recently had the chance to observe the bi-nasal wonder that is Two-Trunks when on 19 November 2014 it was placed on public display at the IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) 2014 Convention in Florida. And earlier in the year, it had been exhibited by the Ripley's Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. My grateful thanks to Mr G.J. Williams and Ms Patty Harbort for this information, and also to mr Williams for kindly permitting me to include some of his pre-convention photographs of Two-Trunks here.

Two-Trunks photographed just prior to being exhibited at the IAAPA ((c) G.J. Williams)

Wednesday 24 November 2010


Orang pendek, based upon eyewitness descriptions (Tim Morris)

A few days ago, Danish zoologist Lars Thomas announced on the CFZ bloggo the long-awaited outcome of his analyses of the putative orang pendek hairs collected by the CFZ team during its 2009 expedition to Sumatra. In summary, Lars revealed that whereas the hairs' DNA was most similar to that of humans (as demonstrated via DNA studies by his Copenhagen University colleague Tom Gilbert), their structure compared more closely with that of apes (specifically, the orang utans). These intriguing, unexpected findings have since elicited a degree of controversy, with some readers speculating that the CFZ team's findings are inconclusive, as the two sets of results appear to contradict one another and surely must be mutually exclusive, i.e. only one set can be correct, not both.

However, this may not be the case at all. On the contrary, I agree entirely with team member Richard Freeman, who has suggested that BOTH sets of results could be correct - IF the orang pendek is in fact a hominid with ape-structured hair (Tom Gilbert has categorically denied, incidentally, that there might have been contamination of ape DNA with human DNA or vice-versa). On first sight, such a suggestion might seem unlikely, but in reality I documented a very notable, fully-confirmed, yet equally surprising precedent to this situation many years ago.

Before I come to that, however, I'd like to quote here the concise consideration of possible orang pendek identities on offer that I wrote in an orang pendek article of mine that was published in Paranormal Magazine just a few months before the 2009 CFZ Sumatra Expedition set off, and which, in the light of that expedition's subsequent findings, remains relevant:

"If the orang pendek truly exists, what could it be? Always assuming that it is indeed something more than a misidentified familiar species already known to exist within the areas of Sumatra from which it is reported, such as a gibbon or the sun bear Helarctos malayanus (which can rear up onto its hind legs and can leave deceptively humanoid footprints), three principal contenders are on offer.

"The first of these is an unrecorded population of the Sumatran orang utan Pongo abelii. Although this species of great ape once existed throughout Sumatra, it has long since become extinct in all but this island’s northern extent, so any orang utans discovered in the orang pendek’s Kerinci Seblat heartland would be a major zoological find. Having said that, however, the orang pendek’s morphology, habitually bipedal mode of locomotion, and semi-carnivorous behaviour provide scant similarity with those of the orang utan, and Kerinci locals shown pictures of the latter ape by cryptozoologists readily differentiate between it and the mysterious orang pendek.

"Identity #2 for the orang pendek is a completely separate species of ape presently unrecorded by science, at least in the living state. This identity is favoured by Adam Davies among others. Suggestions include a giant gibbon or an unknown specialised species of orang utan, adapted for bipedal, terrestrial activity. Richard Freeman has opined that it may be a descendant of the Miocene ape Sivapithecus (also ancestral to the orang utan).

"The third, and, if correct, most exciting, revolutionary identity on offer for the orang pendek is a primitive species of hominid, separate from Homo sapiens. Traditionally, the most popular option within this category of identity is our own ancestral species Homo erectus, inspired at least in part by the famous ‘Java Man’ discoveries on Sumatra’s neighbouring island. However, a fundamental morphological flaw with any theory involving a surviving hominid has always been the much smaller size of the orang pendek – until, that is, the discovery of Flores Man was revealed in 2004. Coupled with reports of orang pendek-like entities called the ebu gogu said to have existed on Flores until very recently, some cryptozoologists (myself included) now look towards a living representative of Flores Man as a convincing explanation of the hitherto-bemusing riddle of the orang pendek’s identity."

And now, the precedent that I mentioned earlier (and first documented over 20 years ago!) for a creature whose DNA corresponds most closely to one taxon whereas its hair structure is more similar to a quite different taxon. I refer, of course, to the king cheetah. Genetically, it has been fully confirmed to be nothing more than a genetic freak variety of the normal spotted cheetah Acinonyx jubatus, and hence is referred to scientifically as Acinonyx jubatus var. rex. Its ornate coat patterning of stripes, swirls, and blotches is merely a phenotypic expression of a mutant allele of a gene homologous to the gene responsible for blotched tabby coat patterning in domestic cats.

Consequently, it came as a huge surprise when, as I documented in my very first book, Mystery Cats of the World (1989), the structure of its hair was examined:

"Hair samples which they [king cheetah researchers Paul and Lena Bottriell] had submitted to the Institute of Medical Research in Johannesburg revealed that the cuticular scale pattern of king cheetah guard hair compared much more closely with that of leopards than with that of spotted cheetahs."

Cheetahs and leopards not only belong to separate feline genera but also are only very distantly related. Suddenly, an unknown hominid whose hair structure is more similar to that of apes is not so unlikely after all, is it?