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).

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Saturday 28 July 2012


Wolf-men appear in the mythology of many cultures worldwide (Richard Svensson)

One of the most unusual examples of the werewolf movie genre was the film 'Wolfen' (1981), based upon the novel The Wolfen (1978) by Whitley Strieber. Albert Finney starred as a Manhattan detective searching for a mysterious, elusive, and exceedingly intelligent species of highly-evolved humanoid wolf, which has been preying upon humans from the earliest times and is responsible for the werewolf legends but has never been revealed by science. Of course, wolfen are wholly fictional...aren't they?

Front cover of my copy of Whitley Strieber's novel The Wolfen; this is the 1992 reissue of Coronet Books' 1979 paperback edition (Dr Karl Shuker)

Similarly, world mythology is amply supplied with wolf-headed humans or wolf-men. These include ancient Egypt's jackal-headed god of the dead, Anubis; the evil Thessaly-originating king of Arcadia, Lycaon, transformed into a wolf by Zeus but often portrayed as a wolf-headed man; the cynocephali of India; and even St Christopher, frequently depicted as a dog-headed human. Moreover, the British Isles is famously rich in fabulous monsters, one of which is the wulver - a reclusive wolf-headed humanoid from Shetland mythology, which is covered in short brown hair, lives in caves dug out of steep hills, and enjoys fishing. Once again, however, wulvers are entirely legendary...or are they?

Medieval colour illustration of some cynocephali supposedly sighted by Marco Polo in the Andaman Islands

There is an unsettling number of reports on file describing reputedly authentic encounters with wolf-men. These include the following pair of spine-chilling incidents, each featuring an extraordinary skull and the even more extraordinary events that followed its discovery.

Southwest of the Shetlands is another group of Scottish islands - the Hebrides or Western Isles. According to ghost-hunter Elliot O'Donnell's book Werewolves (1912), these were once the setting for a frightening encounter with a decidedly malign wulver-like beast. Several years earlier, O'Donnell had taken down the testimony of the wolf-man eyewitness, a Mr Warren (named as Andrew Warren in an account of this episode included by Graham McEwan in his book Mystery Animals of Britain and Ireland, 1986), who claimed that his creepy experience had occurred while he was a teenager, staying in the Hebrides:

"I was about fifteen years of age at the time, and had for several years been residing with my grandfather, who was an elder in the Kirk [Church] of Scotland. He was much interested in geology, and literally filled the house with fossils from the pits and caves round where we dwelt. One morning he came home in a great state of excitement, and made me go with him to look at some ancient remains he had found at the bottom of a dried-up tarn [lake]. 'Look!' he cried, bending down and pointing at them, 'here is a human skeleton with a wolf's head. What do you make of it?' I told him I did not know, but supposed it must be some kind of monstrosity. 'It's a werwolf[sic]! he rejoined, 'that's what it is. A werwolf! This island was once overrun with satyrs and werwolves! Help me carry it to the house.' I did as he bid me, and we placed it on the table in the back kitchen. That evening I was left alone in the house, my grandfather and the other members of the household having gone to the kirk. For some time I amused myself reading, and then, fancying I heard a noise in the back premises, I went into the kitchen. There was no one about, and becoming convinced that it could only have been a rat that had disturbed me, I sat on the table alongside the alleged remains of the werwolf, and waited to see if the noises would recommence. I was thus waiting in a listless sort of way, my back bent, my elbows on my knees, looking at the floor and thinking of nothing in particular, when there came a loud rat, tat, tat of knuckles on the window-pane. I immediately turned in the direction of the noise and encountered, to my alarm, a dark face looking in at me. At first dim and indistinct, it became more and more complete, until it developed into a very perfectly defined head of a wolf terminating in the neck of a human being. Though greatly shocked, my first act was to look in every direction for a possible reflection - but in vain. There was no light either without or within, other than that from the setting sun - nothing that could in any way have produced an illusion. I looked at the face and marked each feature intently. It was unmistakably a wolf's face, the jaws slightly distended; the lips wreathed in a savage snarl; the teeth sharp and white; the eyes light green; the ears pointed. The expression of the face was diabolically malignant, and as it gazed straight at me my horror was as intense as my wonder. This it seemed to notice, for a look of savage exultation crept into its eyes, and it raised one hand - a slender hand, like that of a woman, though with prodigiously long and curved finger-nails - menacingly, as if about to dash in the window-pane. Remembering what my grandfather had told me about evil spirits, I crossed myself; but as this had no effect, and I really feared the thing would get at me, I ran out of the kitchen and shut and locked the door, remaining in the hall till the family returned. My grandfather was much upset when I told him what had happened, and attributed my failure to make the spirit depart to my want of faith. Had he been there, he assured me, he would soon have got rid of it; but he nevertheless made me help him remove the bones from the kitchen, and we reinterred them in the very spot where we had found them, and where, for aught I know to the contrary, they still lie."

Quite aside from its highly sensational storyline, it is rather difficult to take seriously any account featuring someone (Warren's grandfather) who seriously believed that the Hebrides were "...once overrun with satyrs and werwolves"! By comparison, and despite his youthful age, Warren's own assumption that the skeleton was that of a deformed human would seem eminently more sensible - at least until the remainder of his account is read. Notwithstanding Warren's claim that his account was factual, however, the arrival of what was presumably another of the deceased wolf-headed entity's kind, seeking the return of the skeleton to its original resting place, draws upon a common theme in traditional folklore and legend.

King Lycaon, portrayed in this 16th-Century copperplate engraving by Italian artist Agostino de' Musi as a ferocious wolf-headed man comparable to the entity reported by Andrew Warren

As documented in Werewolves (1933) by the Reverend Montague Summers, an authority on such entities, the second of the two bloodcurdling episodes to be considered here occurred in summer 1888, and featured a professor from Oxford who had rented a holiday cottage in a mountainous area of Merionethshire, Wales. During his stay there, the professor decided to go fishing one day in a local lake, and while doing so he hooked an unusual object that proved to be the skull of an extremely large dog-like beast. Curious to discover more about his unusual catch, he took the skull back to the cottage, but left it in the kitchen when he went out for the evening with a friend, leaving his wife alone in the cottage.

While they were away, the professor's wife suddenly heard a strange snuffling sound outside the kitchen door, but when she went into the kitchen she saw to her horror the face of a terrifying red-eyed beast, seemingly part-human and part-wolf, outside the window, grasping the window ledge with paws that resembled hands. Greatly frightened, she ran back to the front door of the cottage and bolted it - just in time. Moments later, the monster was panting outside, and rattling the door's latch. Unable to open the door, it paced round and round the cottage, snarling and growling with rage as it vainly sought some way to enter, until eventually it departed, leaving the petrified woman shaking with fear inside.

When her husband returned with their friend, they made absolutely sure that the house was totally secure, and then sat waiting with stout sticks and a gun at the ready, in case the wolf-man, werewolf, wulver, or whatever it was, returned - which it did.

Holding a figure which may resemble the wolf-man that besieged the professor's holiday cottage in Wales (Dr Karl Shuker)

Later that same night, as the cottage lay enshrouded in a still darkness, its three alert occupants heard the soft crunching of paws upon the gravel outside, then the scratching of nails or claws against the kitchen window. And, to quote Summers, as they peered towards the sound: "...in a stale phosphorescent light they saw the hideous mask of a wolf with the eyes of a man glaring through the glass, eyes that were red with hellish rage". They raced to the door, but their quarry had heard them, and as they opened it they could just discern a huge form racing into the lake, and disappearing from view beneath the surface.

There seemed only one way of bringing this living nightmare to a close. So as soon as it was light, the professor left the cottage, rowed out into the lake, and hurled the mysterious skull as far as possible into the lake's depths. Returning the skull from whence it had come evidently restored an equilibrium of sorts, because its semi-lupine seeker never returned.

Coupled with its melodramatic storyline, this case's absence of names via which its details could be independently checked or pursued by other researchers does not bode well for its verisimilitude. Of course, it could be that the professor and the others did indeed exist but did not wish their identities to be made public - which, though perfectly understandable, is hardly beneficial in furthering the case's claims to authenticity.

What big teeth you have! (Richard Svensson)

Even more worrying, however, is this case's profound similarity to the earlier one, documented by O'Donnell. In both histories, a large canine skull (one in isolation, the other attached to a human skeleton) is found in a lake (one still containing water, the other dried up), brought back to the finder's residence, and left there in the kitchen during the evening with only a single person in the house. This person is duly confronted at the kitchen window by a terrifying face and hand(s) - presumably a living representative of the skull's species (described in near-identical manner within the two histories) searching for it. Although the entity is ultimately frustrated, it has elicited sufficient fear for the skull's finder to return the skull to its place of discovery, after which the entity is not seen again.

All the better to bite you with!! (Richard Svensson)

Yet even if we dismiss Summers's case as a piece of fiction inspired by O'Donnell's report, there are others still to account for, some of which are again included in O'Donnell's book and McEwan's. Hence it is a great pity that the remains reputedly found by Warren's grandfather were never examined by a qualified zoologist. After all, how often in modern times has science been presented with the skeleton of a mythical entity for formal scrutiny?

Wolf magic!


  1. I hate to correct you, but the Wolfen (in both book and film) are not remotely humanoid - they're sentient wolves with no anthropomorphic characteristics at all.

  2. Well, having read the original novel a number of times, I certainly disagree with you here, because much is made in it of the fact that the wolfen possess humanoid traits, including their paws and especially their mentality, raising them to a level of advancement far above that of normal wolves to yield a canine parallel of humans.

  3. Have to agree with the good doctor. One of my main memories of the book is the scene where the detectives are shown the model of what the hands/paws would look like.

  4. Excellent article! I can add nothing to the debate about The Wolfen, as I've never read it, although I enjoyed the movie I seem to remember. However, I'm fairly certain Lycaon was a king of Arcadia, rather than Thessaly as stated. I was especially excited by the wulvers, of which I knew nothing.

  5. Hi Paul, Glad you enjoyed it. Re Lycaon - I've reworded it slightly, as it's all a little complex: The descendants of Pelasgos are claimed by Hellicanus of Lesbos as the kings of Pelasgiotis in Thessaly. Pelasgos also has a son named Lycaon, who becomes the ruler of Arcadia. Hope that makes sense! All the best, Karl

  6. I've always been intrigued by dog men. Some of earliest memories are of my dog man dreams. First time I saw it though (and I would have been younger than 5) I don't recall it being a dream. Sounds silly, but there it is. In my twenties I had a conversation with my brother about weird stuff and he told me about seeing the same (or very similar) thing in the same place.

  7. Indeed, the two accounts do sound quite similar. I am afraid they may not be truthful. Indeed, I have difficulty believing that humanoid wolves could exist. Of course, this is a weird world, and I thank you for letting us know that!

    All the best, the Thinker

    1. Late to the party, I know, but just thought I'd mention that the Egyptian jackal has now been correctly identified (via DNA studies and all that) as a subspecies of the wolf, not the golden jackal, making Anubis a wolf god...

  8. Hi there, Yes, I documented this momentous discovery way back in my very first ShukerNature post - check it out here: http://karlshuker.blogspot.co.uk/2009/01/welcome-to-shukernature-after-long.html
    But in my present post, I retained the "jackal-headed" tag for Anubis as I was only referring to this deity in passing here, hence to call him wolf-headed would, I knew, elicit plenty of comments seeking to contradict me, because the discovery that Egypt's jackal is really a wolf has still not filtered out widely from the scientific world into the general public consciousness as yet.

  9. Took me a while but Id like to add some stuff about the Cynocephali. The most interesting thing to me is, that unlike werewolves, they are described as no threat to man. Also interesting is the number of locations they were supposed to live and some differences between those populations. As you mentioned they were said to live on the Andaman Islands and somewhere in and around India. However, they are mentioned to live in Moumoran, according to Friar Odoric, and worship an ox as god and carry the image of an ox on their forehead in gold or silver depending on status. Ibn Battuta mentions them as living in Barahnakar with only the men having dog snouts not so the women.Plinius sets them either south or east of India. Hui-Sheng describes an island of dog-headed people east of Fusang (Japan?) that he visited. And in "the History of Northern Dynasties" Li Yanshou mentions "the Dog-Kingdom". Some old Indian myths also mention a dog-headed tribe. And even in Russia you have something more or less like cynocephali the Pi-Nereske:
    "These are fierce hunters of humans found in the myths of the Cheremis and Mari people of the former Soviet Republic. Their name means ‘Dog Nose’ since they have the body of a human with the nose of a dog. They only have one foot and one hand but this does not impede them in being excellent hunters. They work in pairs and use their keen sense of smell to track down their prey. Because they hunt in pairs they leave tracks of two human feet. When a person finds these tracks, they are deceived into thinking they are tracks of another person and not the Pi Nereske."(source:http://www.mythicalcreatureslist.com/mythical-creature/Pi+Nereske).

  10. And given the following long description from Antiquity, I doubt all those people only saw baboons:

    Ctesias, Indica Fragment (summary from Photius, Myriobiblon 72) (trans. Freese) (Greek historian C4th B.C.) :

    "On these [the Indian] mountains there live men with the head of a dog, whose clothing is the skin of wild beasts. They speak no language, but bark like dogs, and in this manner make themselves understood by each other. Their teeth are larger than those of dogs, their nails like those of these animals, but longer and rounder. They inhabit the mountains as far as the river Indos. Their complexion is swarthy. They are extremely just, like the rest of the Indians with whom they associate. They understand the Indian language but are unable to converse, only barking or making signs with their hands and fingers by way of reply, like the deaf and dumb. They are called by the Indians Kalystrii, in Greek Kynocephaloi (Cynocephali) (Dog-Headed). They live on raw meat and number about 120,000 . . .
    The Kynokephaloi living on the mountains do not practise any trade but live by hunting. When they have killed an animal they roast it in the sun. They also rear numbers of sheep, goats, and asses, drinking the milk of the sheep and whey made from it. They eat the fruit of the Siptakhora, whence amber is procured, since it is sweet. They also dry it and keep it in baskets, as the Greeks keep their dried grapes. They make rafts which they load with this fruit together with well-cleaned purple flowers and 260 talents of amber, with the same quantity of the purple dye, and 1000 additional talents of amber, which they send annually to the king of India. They exchange the rest for bread, flour, and cotton stuffs with the Indians, from whom they also buy swords for hunting wild beasts, bows, and arrows, being very skilful in drawing the bow and hurling the spear. They cannot be defeated in war, since they inhabit lofty and inaccessible mountains. Every five years the king sends them a present of 300,000 bows, as many spears, 120,000 shields, and 50,000 swords.
    They do not live in houses, but in caves. They set out for the chase with bows and spears, and as they are very swift of foot, they pursue and soon overtake their quarry. The women have a bath once a month, the men do not have a bath at all, but only wash their hands. They anoint themselves three times a month with oil made from milk and wipe themselves with skins. The clothes of men and women alike are not skins with the hair on, but skins tanned and very fine. The richest wear linen clothes, but they are few in number. They have no beds, but sleep on leaves or grass. He who possesses the greatest number of sheep is considered the richest, and so in regard to their other possessions. All, both men and women, have tails above their hips, like dogs, but longer and more hairy. They are just, and live longer than any other men, 170, sometimes 200 years."(source: http://www.theoi.com/Phylos/Kunokephaloi.html). Most other antique descriptions reflect more shortly what has been said by Ctesias.

  11. Depiction of Saint Christopher as dog-headed is probably a consequence of a distorted comprehension of Anubis, that was equated to Greek Hermes as Hermanubis, whose traits are inherited by St. Christopher.

  12. Little late here,lol..but just had to say fascinating post Dr Shuker!! Thanks for such an informative,and enjoyable article Sir!!
    I've been looking into the whole "dogman" deal here in my hometown,and current location of Point Pleasant,.WV(an older home base for another well known flying unknown,.and,more weirdness and high strangeness than any simple man from the country with a massive interest,and curiosity regarding the unknown,should ever have to deal with on some days,LOL!). There seems to be a few around here,at least a couple of the more traditional dogmen,or unknown canine types.
    Although the subject has been around for many,many numbers of years,I never took it seriously until a couple of years ago,when a Bigfoot researcher accidentally captured several different videos of these situations,from a video camera mounted on his backpack,aimed behind him,to film(he terms it a back facing trail cam,.and IMO it is a very interesting,and worthy setup!!).
    To see the very unknown,,and none so much more than an upright,bipedal wolf/dog of some sort,.is something else all together. When the facts are added,,he stated a few times,he had no clue there was anything nearby. Zero indication. So,stealth is perhaps another aspect these creatures may have down to a science as well!
    A few dedicated researchers of the dogmen/wolfen/Manwolf have stated many times,they have only ran across a couple,at the very most incidents where someone was injured,or attacked. However,IMO,it may be wise,until all the facts are known about these creatures,.to heed the words of the late, renown student of the unknown,and "Unbelievables" John A. Keel,.when he stated "Perhaps were only hearing from the ones that got away!!"

  13. Are they real is the only re question in .y opinion