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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Wednesday 30 January 2013


Photoshopped  photograph of a black lion ((PAulie-SVK/deviantART.com)

As I have revealed in my very first book, Mystery Cats of the World (1989), and also in my very latest book, Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), among mammalian cryptids there is an unrivalled diversity of mystery cats on file. Some of these, the so-called alien big cats (ABCs) of black pantheresque or brown puma-like form frequently reported in particular from Britain, Continental Europe, North America, and Australasia, are most probably nothing more than escapee/released specimens of known but non-native species (or out-of-place native species in the case of pumas in the eastern USA). Much more exotic and intriguing are those crypto-cats that may be unconfirmed mutant forms of known species, entirely new but still-undescribed species, or even bona fide prehistoric survivors. So here, in no particular order, are my own personal Top Ten mystery cats of these more exotic varieties – check them out and decide for yourself what they might, or might not, be!


Judging from the unprecedented amount of online interest in this particular mystery cat as well as various impressive but confirmed fake (i.e. photoshopped) photographs of such creatures that have been circulating on the Net for some time (one ShukerNature post of mine on this subject – click here – has so far notched up more than three quarters of a million hits in just a few months!), the black lion may well lay claim to being the most fascinating of all feline cryptids. Moreover, several sightings have been reported over the years, but none has ever been confirmed.

For instance, in his autobiography My Pride and Joy (1986), George Adamson of 'Born Free' fame briefly referred to "an almost entirely black lion" allegedly having been spied in Tanzania, but he provided no additional details. Six years earlier, wild cats author C.A.W. Guggisberg, writing to American cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, mentioned that black lion cubs had lately been reported from western Tanzania, but their existence had not been verified. In her book Okavango, June Kay included an account of a black lioness having been sighted at very close range; and at the end of the 19th Century archaeologist Sir Henry Layard apparently observed the body of a very dark brown lion killed by soldiers of the Luristan regiment. Most dramatic of all, however, was the claim made in 1940 by W.L. Speight that an experienced game warden had once stated that he had spied an entire pride of pitch-black lions in the Kruger National Park.

A second photoshopped photograph of a black lion (tumblr.com)

I cannot help but wonder whether such creatures as those were nothing more than ordinary lions that had rolled in thick black mud – photos of mud-caked lions show that they can indeed appear black in colour. Equally, however, melanism is a fully-confirmed phenomenon among several other species of wild cat, including the leopard, jaguar, serval, clouded leopard, and Temminck's golden cat, to name but a few. So perhaps a few genuine specimens of melanistic lion have indeed occurred from time to time – but until the existence of one is scientifically verified, the black lion must remain a cat of cryptozoology.


On the evening of 1 January 1986, Andres Rodriguez encountered a very large form of cat near his home in Sinaloa, Mexico. Fearing that it was about to attack him, Rodriguez was forced to shoot it dead. He expected it to be either a puma Puma concolor or a jaguar Panthera onca, Mexico’s two largest species of cat, and was very surprised, therefore, to discover that it differed from both of them.

Although it resembled a puma in colour, the creature’s legs were longer and its body was much slimmer, so that in basic outline it seemed more like a cheetah. When a local naturalist examined it, he announced at once that it was an onza – Mexico’s legendary, third type of big cat.

The Rodriguez onza (International Society of Cryptozoology)

For over three centuries, Mexicans had been reporting sightings of a very distinctive form of long-limbed, tan-furred cat that they referred to as an onza, but scientists had always assumed that such accounts were merely based upon poorly-observed pumas. Now that a complete onza specimen had finally been obtained, however, it seemed that the Mexicans had been correct after all. But what is the onza? Several identities have been offered, including a starved puma, a crossbreed of puma and jaguar, a new puma subspecies, and a completely new species in its own right. Perhaps the most intriguing suggestion was that it is a bona fide living fossil. Twelve thousand years ago, the New World still housed a native species of puma-like cheetah (sometimes considered, conversely, to be a cheetah-like puma) known as Truman's cheetah Miracinonyx trumani, so could the onza be a direct descendant of this species?

The Rodriguez onza’s body was transported to a scientific laboratory in Mexico, where it became the subject of detailed research. Early studies showed that it contained adequate amounts of body fat, proving that it was not merely an emaciated puma, and further research ruled out the crossbreed option and also the living fossil possibility. Indeed, when the full studies were eventually published in the late 1990s, they revealed that no genetic differences had been found between this specimen and specimens of the puma, suggesting that despite its distinctive appearance the Rodriguez onza was nothing more than a puma after all. This find corresponded with the predictions made by me in 1998 when I opined in an article documenting this mystery cat that the onza as a whole was most probably no more than a somewhat gracile (long-limbed) mutant version of the puma (and hence would be extremely similar genetically to normal pumas), and that the Rodriguez specimen may not even be a genuine onza, but merely an infirm, malformed puma.


Judging from an appreciable amount of intriguing, reliable anecdotal evidence currently on record, Africa may house several types of large cat still eluding scientific detection. The most formidable of these is assuredly the nunda (‘fierce animal’) or mngwa (‘strange one’ in Swahili), reported from Tanzania's coastal forests. It is described by native hunters as a huge, terrifying man-eating cat, with tabby-striped fur, and great claw-bearing paws that leave behind tracks resembling a leopard's in shape, but comparable in size to those of the very largest lions.

Reconstruction of a nunda attack (William Rebsamen)

Victims of alleged attacks by nundas, as well as nunda fur and tracks, have been examined by animal experts, who are convinced that such a creature does exist. It has been suggested by some cryptozoologists that the ferocious nunda, which has occasionally been heard to purr but never roar, may be a gigantic version of the African golden cat Profelis aurata. This is a medium-sized species with an extraordinarily variable coat, which inhabits many parts of tropical Africa, and is greatly feared by its human neighbours, but is very elusive and rarely seen.


In September 1910, while hunting in southeastern China’s Fukien (now Fujian) Province, American missionary Harry R. Caldwell was watching a goat when one of his native helpers directed his attention towards something else, moving nearby. Caldwell thought at first that it was another native, dressed in the familiar blue garment worn by many in that region, but when he peered more closely he realised to his great surprise that he was actually looking at the chest and belly of a very large tiger. However, this was no ordinary tiger, because its black-striped fur was not orange-brown in colour as in normal specimens, but was instead a very distinctive shade of blue.

Caldwell decided to shoot this extraordinary creature, in order to prove that it really did exist, but the tiger was watching two children gathering vegetation in a ravine nearby, and he knew that if he tried to shoot it from where he was sitting he might injure the children too. Consequently, he moved a little to one side, to alter the direction of his planned shot, but while he was doing this the tiger disappeared into the forest and was not seen by him again that day. Nevertheless, he knew that blue tigers had been spied several times here (Caldwell himself had sighted such a creature once before, in spring 1910), and others have been seen since, but none has ever been shot or captured, though a few tantalising blue hairs have been observed on their trails.

Painting of a Fujian blue tiger based upon Caldwell's description (William Rebsamen)

Although a blue tiger may seem impossible, in reality it is quite easily explained. Such tigers almost certainly possess two mutant gene forms that in combination are responsible for the smoky blue-mauve fur colouration (termed ‘blue dilution’) characterising the Maltese breed of domestic cat (as well as a few freak specimens of blue lynx and blue bobcat obtained over the years). As for its black stripes, these may well be a polygenic creation, i.e. they are due to the action of modifying genes functioning independently of the combined effect of the non-agouti and dilute alleles.

Indian white tigers are well known nowadays, and a black tiger was born at an Oklahoma zoo during the 1970s. So perhaps one day a Fujian blue tiger will be captured, finally confirming the reality of these beautiful if highly unusual, ethereal animals too.


One of tropical Africa’s most extraordinary cryptids is an unexpectedly walrus-like water beast known to the Wa-Ndorobo tribe as the dingonek. Its most famous western eyewitness was an explorer called John Alfred Jordan, who in 1907 spied and unsuccessfully shot at one in the River Maggori (Migori), which runs into Lake Victoria. He described it as being 4.6-5.5 m long, covered in scales, with a spotted back as wide as a male hippo’s, hippo-sized footprints too but also possessing long claws, a broad tail, and a massive head whose jaws sported a huge pair of projecting walrus-like upper tusks. If the scales were merely clumps of wet fur, as some cryptozoologists have suggested, then the dingonek is probably mammalian and bears a close resemblance to similar mystery beasts reported elsewhere in Africa, such as the mourou n’gou (‘water leopard’) in the Central African Republic, the coje ya menia (‘water lion’) in Angola, and the simba ya mail (‘water lion’) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire).

Brackfontein Ridge cave painting of a walrus-like mystery beast

Veteran cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans boldly speculated that such creatures may represent living sabre-tooths that have become secondarily aquatic. Intriguingly, there is an ancient cave painting at Brackfontein Ridge in South Africa’s Orange Free State that depicts a still-unidentified creature bearing a remarkable resemblance to a walrus, including its long downward-curving tusks, lengthy elongated body, and paddle-like limbs. Moreover, unlike a true walrus but like the mystery beasts noted here, it also possesses a long tail. Could this be an early portrait of a dingonek-type cryptid?


Since the mid-1800s, reports have regularly emerged from the forested areas of northern Queensland, Australia, that tell of confrontations by aboriginals and Western settlers with a large, tiger-like creature. Reportedly the size and shape of a leopard, but bearing black/dark grey and white bands around its body, with a distinctly cat-like head, and with very prominent, peculiarly tusk-like teeth at the front of its mouth, this unidentified feline animal has become known as the Queensland tiger or yarri (an aboriginal name for it, meaning ‘attack’ or ‘threaten’).

Due to its extremely aggressive nature, this cryptid has generally been avoided by eyewitnesses who have encountered it, but occasionally a specimen has been shot and killed. Ironically, however, not realising its scientific significance, on each occasion that this has happened its carcase has been discarded, rather than made available for scientific study. In one instance, the carcase was simply left outside, where its head and body were soon devoured by wild pigs, and its pelt rotted away.

The Queensland tiger, based upon eyewitness accounts (Dami Editore s.r.l.)

As almost all of Australia's native mammals are marsupials (pouched mammals), this mysterious beast is probably a marsupial too, but it does not resemble any living species discovered by science so far. A mere 10,000 years ago, however, many more Australian marsupials existed, including a sizeable cat-like species known as the marsupial lion Thylacoleo carnifex, whose fossil remains have been found in Queensland.

Very significantly, reconstructions of its likely appearance when alive, based upon studies of its remains, portray a creature bearing a remarkable resemblance to eyewitness descriptions of the Queensland tiger - sharing its size, shape, and even its strange tusk-like teeth (in Thylacoleo, its tusks were incisors, not canines, and were thus located at the front of its mouth, just like the Queensland tiger's tusks). As the marsupial lion is believed to have been a tree-climbing, forest-dwelling species, it was probably striped too, for effective camouflage.

Accordingly, some cryptozoologists have postulated that the Queensland tiger may turn out be a modern-day species of marsupial lion. Whether it proves to be a living species, conversely, is another matter; there have been very few reports of Queensland tigers in recent years, leading to speculation that this remarkable beast may have lately died out, before science was even able to confirm its reality, let alone its identity.


According to the Shuar Indians in the Macas region of Ecuador, this locality is home to a rare but very remarkable mystery cat known as the tshenkutshen or rainbow tiger – for good reason. Reputed to be the size of a jaguar, it is predominantly black in colour, but is ornately decorated with several stripes of different colours – black, white, red, and yellow – on its chest, “just like a rainbow”, in the words of one native hunter interviewed by Spanish cryptozoologist Angel Morant Forés during a visit to southern Ecuador in July 1999. Said to inhabit the Trans-Cutucú region, Sierra de Cutucú, and the Sangay volcano area near Chiguaza, Ecuador’s mystifying rainbow tiger is described by the Shuar as having monkey-like forepaws and being an exceptionally good tree-climber, leaping from tree-trunk to tree-trunk at great speed, and greatly feared as an extremely dangerous animal.

Representation of the tshenkutshen (Tim Morris)

One such cat may well have been killed in 1959 by Policarpio Rivadeneira, a Macas settler, while walking through the rainforest of Cerro Kilamo, a low mountain near the Abanico River. He had seen the creature leaping from tree to tree and, scared that it would attack him, shot it. When he examined it, he discovered that it was a jaguar-sized cat, but instantly distinguishable from all cats that he had ever seen by virtue of the series of multicoloured stripes running across its chest, as well as by a hump on its back, and also by its clawed but otherwise remarkably simian forepaws. Sadly, Rivadeneira does not appear to have retained the creature’s carcase, or even its pelt, so as yet there is no physical evidence available to verify this extraordinary felid’s existence.

I find it difficult to believe that any felid would exhibit such a dramatic pelt. Conversely, its arboreal adeptness calls to mind the southeast Asian clouded leopards, so I have less problem accepting this aspect of the rainbow tiger.


The Zagaoua tribe of Ennedi in northern Chad, West Africa, believe in the existence of a remarkable mystery cat known as the mountain tiger or tigre de montagne. According to their testimony, this unidentified animal is as large as a lion, with red fur and white stripes, no tail, and a huge pair of fangs that project conspicuously from its mouth. When an old native game tracker was shown pictures of various animals, living and extinct, by Christian Le Noel, a French hunting guide, in the 1960s, he positively identified the mysterious mountain tiger as Machairodus – the African sabre-toothed tiger, officially believed to have died out over a million years ago.

The mountain tiger, based upon eyewitness accounts (Tim Morris)

A very similar creature to Chad’s mountain tiger has also been reported from the Central African Republic, where it is referred to variously as the gassingram and vassoko. The mountain ranges of these countries are extremely remote and little-explored, making it difficult to rule out the possibility that a large unknown species of cat does indeed exist here.

Moreover, comparable beasts have been documented from certain South American countries too, including Colombia and Peru, where they are said to be striped and extremely elusive, as well as from Mexico.


Kenya’s Aberdares Mountains are believed by local hunters as well as some western naturalists to harbour small maneless lions that retain their juvenile spots throughout their lives, instead of losing them when mature. Skins of this strange form of lion, referred to by native people here as the marozi (‘solitary lion’ – it does not live in prides like savannah lions do), have occasionally been obtained. One pair of skins – a male and female - received favourable attention and interest from carnivofre expert Reginald Pocock at London’s Natural History Museum, where they are still preserved.

A pair of marozis (William Rebsamen)

Sceptics dismiss marozis as merely freak specimens of the normal lion, but it is interesting to note that they are only reported from shady mountain forests, where their mottled coat, smaller body size, and near-absence in the male of a mane would all be favourable traits for a feline predator here, aiding camouflage and movement in this particular terrain. Perhaps the lion has evolved a distinct montane version, specifically adapted for success in this very different habitat from the lion’s more typical savannah home.

Supporting this possibility is the apparent existence of comparable mystery cats in other mountain ranges in East and Central Africa. Here they are referred to variously as the ntarargo (in Uganda), ikimizi (in Rwanda), bung bung (Cameroon), and abasambo (Ethiopia).


The concept of domestic cats with wings would normally be confined to fantasy books and ‘silly season’ tabloid stories, were it not for the remarkable fact that such creatures are unquestionably real. As the world’s leading investigator of winged cats, I have revealed and documented dozens of verified cases from around the world. One of the earliest, and still among the most famous, cases was that of a kitten from Wiveliscombe in Somerset, which was photographed in the Strand Magazine in November 1899, clearly revealing a pair of large fluffy wing-like extensions arising from its back.

Other noteworthy examples include: a black-and-white cat with a very sizeable pair of ‘flappable’ furry dorsal ‘wings’ that was captured in some stables at Summerstown, Oxford, in 1933 and later photographed for news reports and exhibited at the local zoo; a record-breaking Swedish example from 1949 with a wingspan of almost 30 cm; a beautiful winged Angora cat called Angolina, owned by a porter living near Spain’s Houses of Parliament, which entranced Madrid’s media in 1959; also in 1959, a specimen of confused sex from Pineville, West Virginia, known in press reports as Thomas-Mitzi that was the subject of an ownership case but shed its wings while being exhibited in court; another densely-furred winged cat photographed sometime prior to the 1970s that made a home for itself in a Manchester builder’s yard; a fluffy-winged tabby spied in April 1995 in Backbarrow, Cumbria, and owned by the village’s retired postman; a Japanese specimen stroked by Rebecca Hough while staying in Kumamoto, Kyushu, on 23 May 1998; and even a historical report of a winged cat encountered in some woods at Walden, in Concord, Massachusetts, by writer Henry David Thoreau and later documented by him in his book Walden; Or Life in the Woods (1854).

The Anglesey winged cat (Wyn Williams)

Yet despite the relative abundance of winged cat reports and photos, any explanation for these extraordinary animals remained conspicuous only by its absence, until in the early 1990s I uncovered the long-awaited answer while researching for clues in various obscure tracts of veterinary literature. I discovered that true winged cats (as opposed to ones whose wings are merely clumps of matted fur) exhibit a rare, little-known genetic disorder known as feline cutaneous asthenia (FCA), in which the skin is extremely stretchable, especially on the back, haunches, and shoulders – so much so that even if a cat with FCA merely rubs itself against something, or grooms itself with its paws, this can be enough to stretch its skin outwards in long, furry, wing-like extensions. And because these extensions often contain muscle fibres, they can sometimes even be gently raised or lowered, exactly as reported by certain winged cat eyewitnesses. Moreover, because the skin of FCA cats is so fragile, occasionally the wings are stretched out too far, and they will then simply peel away from the rest of the cat’s skin, falling off as if moulted and without any bleeding occurring, which would therefore explain Thomas-Mitzi’s dramatic loss of wings in the courtroom. After countless years of baffling their startled observers, the mystery of the winged cats was finally solved.

Some of the above accounts are excerpted or adapted from those that I wrote for Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained (2009). For additional information concerning all of the mystery cats documented here, and many others too, don't miss my latest book, Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2012).

Saturday 26 January 2013


Frequently-reproduced media photo of Oliver from the mid-1970s (Associated Press)

Welcome to the latest in my occasional series of ShukerNature articles regarding controversial forms of chimpanzee from the past and the present (click here for my article on the bonobo, here for the koolookamba, and here for Ufiti):

Among the great and the good who died in 2012 was one very notable celebrity of the non-human, cryptozoological persuasion. His name was Oliver, or, to give him an oft-used media appelation, Ape-man Oliver, and he was, quite simply, the chimp that made a chump out of science for several decades. Having said that, however, nothing was ever quite simple about Oliver, as we shall see...

Oliver first came to widespread public attention in 1976, when newspapers and magazines worldwide became interested in the strange chimpanzee that New York attorney Michael Miller had bought off a travelling animal-act owner called Frank Burger, allegedly for $10,000. Oliver was about seven years old at that time, and had reputedly been obtained in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). The first clue suggesting that Oliver may not be as other chimps was the reason why Burger had sold him.

Early newspaper report re Oliver, showing him standing bipedally (click it to enlarge it for reading) – Reveille, 2 July 1976 (Reveille)

According to media accounts, Oliver had never been accepted by Burger's other chimps and could not be trained to perform with them in their stage act. Instead, he preferred to walk on his hind legs, sit cross-legged on a chair, and help Burger's wife, Janet, with the chores around the house.

Oliver also made it clear that he fancied her. Not surprisingly, Janet issued her husband with an adamant proclamation concerning her pesky paramour: "I'm not putting up with this. He's going or I'm going." So Oliver went - sold by Burger to Miller.

It was not only his behaviour, however, that distinguished Oliver from other chimps. Much was made in media reports of his strange morphology. Although his black fur and pinkish-brown skin were run-of-the-mill characteristics of the common chimpanzee Pan troglodytes, great emphasis was placed upon his bald, seemingly small, egg-shaped cranium (in normal chimps, this is more commonly hairier, larger, and flatter), the unexpectedly reduced prominence of his jaws (thereby yielding a somewhat humanoid appearance), his pointed (rather than rounded) ears, and even his freckles.

A further Reveille article re Oliver, dated 14 July 1976 - click it to enlarge it for reading (Reveille)

Conflicting accounts were given regarding Oliver's body odour. Some media reports described it as very strong; yet after explorer Lieutenant Colonel John Blashford-Snell had examined him at the 1976 Explorers Club Annual Dinner in New York, he announced in his book Mysteries (1983) that Oliver had little or no body odour.

Odour or no odour, the media bloodhounds pursued the scent that something was not quite right with Oliver. It was claimed (but never substantiated) that, when Miller took Oliver to Japan in the mid-1970s, blood tests conducted by scientists had shown that Oliver had 47 chromosomes - one more than humans, one less than chimps.

Inevitably, these contentious claims (eventually fully disproved) prompted all manner of bizarre identities for Miller's egg-headed enigma. If Oliver were a Down's Syndrome chimp, as some asserted, he would have possessed an extra chromosome (i.e. 49), not one chromosome less than normal for chimps. Others suggested that he might be a mutant form of chimp, or a new subspecies or even species of chimp. Scaling ever further up the ladder of improbable identities, some wondered if Oliver might be a hybrid of common chimp Pan troglodytes and bonobo (pygmy chimp) P. paniscus; a specimen of the elusive hairy man-beast of West Africa termed the séhité, or even a crossbreed of chimp and séhité; and there were even queries as to whether he was some form of mini-bigfoot or yeti! Most radical of all was media speculation as to whether Oliver could be the offspring of a chimpanzee-human mating, i.e. a veritable humanzee. In an item on African mystery primates in the Reader's Digest compendium volume Man and Beast (1993), I opined that Oliver was merely a western African chimp - but with much more dramatic options on offer, the media never paid much attention to this in their reportage.

A bonobo (Dr Karl Shuker)

During the late 1970s and through the 1980s, Oliver vanished from the headlines, but was often exhibited as a freak or 'missing link' at various sideshows. In 1977, Michael Miller sold him to Ralph Helfer, partner in a Californian theme park called Enchanted Village. When the park closed down later that year, Helfer continued exhibiting Oliver in a new venture, Gentle Jungle, which changed locations a few times until it closed down in 1982. Oliver was transferred to the Wild Animal Training Center at Riverside, California, owned by Ken Decroo, but he was allegedly sold by Decroo in 1985. The last trainer to own Oliver was Bill Rivers.

In 1989, Oliver was purchased by the Buckshire Corporation, a Pennsylvanian laboratory leasing out animals for scientific and cosmetic testing. Mercifully, he was never used in experiments, but for the next seven years his home was a 7 x 5ft cage, whose restricted size resulted in his muscles becoming atrophied so much that his limbs trembled.

Still bipedal, Oliver during late 1990s (Associated Press)

Happily, in 1996, Oliver's confinement came to an end, when he was retired to an animal sanctuary at Boerne in Texas's Hill County. Called Primarily Primates, it offered spacious accommodation and allowed Oliver to return to good health. He even gained a female chimpanzee companion there, named Raisin. And as to the news headlines, the sanctuary's director, Wally Swett, was determined to solve the mystery of his celebrity guest's taxonomic identity once and for all.

Swett asked Chicago University geneticist Dr David Ledbetter to examine Oliver's chromosomes, which he did in autumn 1996. His studies revealed that Oliver had 48 (not 47) chromosomes, thus disproving the earlier claim and confirming that he had a normal chromosome count for a common chimpanzee. Swett, however, desired further analyses to pin-point Oliver's precise status. Accordingly, he persuaded DNA analysis expert Dr John J. Ely from Texas's Trinity University and cytogeneticist Dr Charleen Moore from Texas University's Health Science Center to conduct the most extensive genetic studies ever undertaken with Oliver. Their results were published in 1998 by the American Journal of Physical Anthropology and disclosed the following details.
Footage of Oliver from the 1990s UK TV show Fortean TV showing him walking fully upright bipedally (Luke Campbell (director)/Rapido TV/Channel 4 - reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Standard chromosomal studies fully supported Ledbetter's findings that Oliver had the diploid chromosome count expected for chimpanzees (i.e. 48, in 24 pairs). They also revealed that his chromosomes possessed banding patterns typical for the common chimpanzee but different from those of humans and bonobos, thereby excluding any possibility of Oliver being a hybrid.

Moreover, when they sequenced a specific portion (312 bp region) of the D-loop region of Oliver's mitochondrial DNA, they discovered that its sequence corresponded very closely indeed with that of the Central African subspecies of common chimpanzee; and the closest correspondence of all was with a chimp specimen from Gabon in Central-West Africa. This all strongly suggests that Oliver also originated from this region and is simply a common chimp - an identity entirely consistent, therefore, with my own little-publicised opinion from 1993.

Oliver in later years (Traci Goudie)

After decades of mystery, Oliver's identity had finally been uncovered, exposed by his genes. But what of his external idiosyncrasies? Fly and Moore's paper contained some eye-opening information dating back to the 1970s, but which was presumably not sensational enough to attract the interest of the media and thus had not previously received publicity.

For instance, although media accounts had noted that Oliver was toothless (his teeth had been pulled), they had not revealed that primatologist Dr Clifford Jolly had examined Oliver as long ago as 1976. Jolly found that the reason why Oliver did not share the strikingly prognathous (projecting) jaw line of other chimps was due to resorption of the alveolar bone, plus a shortened maxilla and premaxilla (upper jaw bones), and underdeveloped temporal musculature. Jolly had concluded that these features were in turn caused by Oliver's toothless condition. He also concluded that Oliver's habitual bipedal gait was due to conditioning.

As for Oliver's cranial morphology, ear shape, freckles and baldness, these were nothing more than individual variations, well within the range of variability exhibited by the common chimpanzee - a species that presents, in the words of primatologist Prof. W.C. Osman Hill: "a bewildering variety of individual variations".

Another early media photo of Oliver (photo source unknown to me)

Although no longer special in taxonomic terms, Oliver was destined forever to remain a classic example of how media hype and sensationalist publicity can create with Frankensteinian fervour a veritable monster from the most mundane of animals. Happily, however, Oliver was able live the remainder of his days in peaceful retirement and security at Primarily Primates inside a spacious open-air enclosure with his chimp girlfriend Raisin, far away from the unwelcome media glare that had blighted this mild-mannered, highly-intelligent being's often traumatic and tumultuous life.

On 2 June 2012, Oliver died of old age. He was approximately 55 years old. His body was cremated and his ashes spread over the grounds of Primarily Primates. The decision to cremate him caused some dismay among certain scientists who had hoped to conduct further tests upon his physical remains. I for one, conversely, feel that Oliver had endured more than enough speculation and scrutiny during his turbulent life, and that with the conclusive findings of Ely, Moore, and Jolly concerning his taxonomic identity on record, it was both timely and fitting that in death he should finally be granted the tranquillity, privacy, and dignity that he was never permitted in life. RIP Oliver.

A sketch I prepared depicting Oliver's distinctive facial features (Dr Karl Shuker)

Friday 25 January 2013


I LIKE books - part of my collection of cryptozoology books; click photo to enlarge it, and see how many titles you recognise and/or are in your own collection (Dr Karl Shuker)

It has recently occurred to me that not everyone may know that my official website - http://www.karlshuker.com - contains the most comprehensive bibliography of cryptozoology books ever prepared, the culmination of years of adding new and hitherto-overlooked titles that began more than a decade ago when I and Twilight Books bookseller Steven Shipp from Somerset jointly compiled the original, much smaller version that was published in issues #6, #7, and #8 of the CFZ's quarterly cryptozoological magazine, Animals and Men.

So, please click here for instant access to this definitive cryptozoology bibliography, containing hundreds of titles listed in categories, and which I continue to update periodically. If you know of any cryptozoology book titles not included in it, please provide details here in this ShukerNature post's comments section below, and I'll be happy to add them forthwith. Many thanks indeed, and enjoy browsing the bibliography!

Some of the cryptozoology and cryptozoology-related books that I've written down through the years, including a selection of their foreign editions and foreign-language translations (Dr Karl Shuker)

Thursday 24 January 2013


Ufiti - the mystery chimpanzee of Nkata Bay (Loren Coleman)

Welcome to my 300th ShukerNature blog post!

One of the most controversial (and also, at least online, one of the most erroneously reported) of the 20th Century's mammalian discoveries involved a female chimpanzee named Ufiti. Consequently, in this latest in an occasional series of ShukerNature articles regarding previously and presently contentious forms of chimp (click here for my article on the bonobo, and click here for my article on the koolookamba), I aim to rectify this situation by presenting the first accurate online documentation of Ufiti.

Nkata Bay is on the western shore of Lake Nyasa in what was then Nyasaland (later renamed Malawi), and in August 1959 inhabitants of this bay began to report sightings of a strange ape-like entity in the fringes of the adjacent forest. Such reports were readily confirmed, because the animal in question became very interested in the construction work that was taking place on a new bridge and road at the nearby Limpasa River, and stayed in the vicinity to observe the proceedings, so it was often seen. And as its amiable curiosity largely eclipsed its fear of humans, it could be closely approached.

When questioned, the local westerners asserted that it was new to them, not previously known in the area, and the natives referred to it as ufiti - meaning 'ghost'. It was not a ghost, however, but a mature female chimpanzee - which came as a great surprise to zoologists, because chimpanzees had never before been recorded in Malawi. Indeed, the nearest colony on record was at least 480 miles northwest of Nkata Bay - in Tanzania's Nkungwe Mountains, on Lake Tanganyika's eastern shore.

A photograph of Ufiti snapped in the wild (Gilbert L. Goodwin)

In March 1960, a field expedition from the Rhodes-Livingstone Museum, headed by Drs B.L. Mitchell and C.S. Holliday, travelled to Nkata Bay to observe and photograph Ufiti (as she had been nicknamed by then), as well as to obtain tape recordings of her vocalisations, and to study the prevailing ecology of the area. The information gathered during that expedition was then sent to anthropologist Dr W.C. Osman Hill, for his remarks and opinions, which in 1963 he documented within an article published by London's Zoological Society in a symposium of primate research papers.

The photos and observations obtained during the expedition revealed that Ufiti, although definitely a common chimpanzee (and therefore belonging to the species Pan troglodytes), exhibited certain unexpected features. In view of her provenance, she should have been most similar in appearance to East African chimps - but instead, her completely black face, ears, hands, and feet, and also her short, dense coat, allied her more closely with western forms. Equally strange was the presence of a saddle-like area of pale grey fur across her back - a feature characteristic of mature male gorillas!

A second photograph of Ufiti snapped in the wild (Gilbert L. Goodwin)

Prior to Hill's article, the predominant opinion among zoologists concerning Ufiti was that she must surely be just an escapee from captivity. However, the morphological features documented by Hill argued strongly against such an identity - inciting speculation that Ufiti represented a hitherto unknown taxon (subspecies?) of common chimpanzee, native to Malawi and normally concealed in this country's dense forests, with Ufiti herself presumably being a wanderer, or an individual cast out of the population by its other members. Worth noting, as commented upon by Hill, is that the Nkata Bay area is well known for harbouring a number of animal and plant species more closely related to West African forms than to East African ones. Moreover, Hill later received accounts of chimpanzee-like creatures from Malawi that considerably preceded Ufiti's debut.

Not everyone, however, was convinced by Hill's theory. In their Mammals of Malawi (1988), W.F.H. Ansell and R.J. Dowsett claimed that the mystery of Ufiti had been solved, and that she was nothing more than an escaped pet originating in Zaire (now the Democratic Congo). They stated that some years prior to their book's publication: "...the late Fr Tréguier, a White Father at a mission in the Misuku Hills, showed Dowsett a photograph which he had obtained from a colleague, Fr Rainville, of the animal [Ufiti] which was...a household pet brought from Zaire at a time when many expatriates were leaving the country due to the troubled political situation".

However, this apparently satisfactory solution is not quite as water-tight as it may seem. For as Ansell and Dowsett went on to say: "It is not known who brought it into Malawi or by what route". So how can anyone be absolutely sure that it did originate from Zaire? Moreover, it is unlikely that an individual chimpanzee can be conclusively identified from just a single picture anyway. Hence it is impossible to say with certainty that the chimp in the photograph truly was Ufiti.

Photograph of Ufiti from a Popular Science Monthly report, July 1961 (Popular Science Monthly)

Sadly, the truth as to whether Ufiti was a major discovery or just an escaped pet may never be known. In March 1964 she was captured, and sent to Britain's Chester Zoo, arriving there on 19 March. Unhappily, however, her health was found to be deteriorating rapidly; and so, to prevent her from suffering any further, on 23 April the zoo had no option but to put her down. With Ufiti's passing, the issue of Malawi's putative chimpanzee population was soon forgotten, so that over 50 years after her first appearance the friendly 'ghost' from Nkata Bay may still hold some surprises in store.

Incidentally, the numerous, frequently-repeated online claims that Ufiti was of giant size are a total if tenacious fallacy. Mr R.G.M. Willan, who was Nyasaland's Chief Conservator of Forests (and also Chairman of the Nyasaland Fauna Preservation Society) at the time of Ufiti's presence in the wild state at Nkata Bay, personally observed her there, and in a detailed report concerning her that was published in the September/December 1961 issue of Wild Life Nairobi, he made the following statement regarding her size:

"Unfortunately its height was much exaggerated by some of the first observers, and their guesses varied from 5 ft 6 ins to 6 ft. In actual fact it is probably a little more than 4 ft in height [i.e. within the normal range for adult female common chimpanzees]."

Consequently, Ufiti should not be synonymised with the much bigger variety of chimpanzee lately revealed in the Democratic Congo and referred to as the Bili ape (but unfortunately this error has indeed occurred in a number of accounts, e.g. the Wikipedia entry for Dr W.C. Osman Hill, at least when consulted by me today on 24 January 2013).

Close-up photograph of Ufiti in the wild (R.G.M. Willan/Wild Life Nairobi)

This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted (and expanded) from my recent book The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals (Coachwhip Publications: Landisville, 2012).

Wednesday 23 January 2013


A baby chupacabra? Read on…!!

The chupacabra is unquestionably one of the most famous and iconic mystery beasts of modern-day cryptozoology. So when a photograph purportedly depicting a mummified baby chupacabra appears online, it is evidently going to attract plenty of attention – and the above example opening this present ShukerNature blog post is certainly no exception.

Perusing a number of websites containing and discussing it, the most commonly repeated claim made by them is that this supposed chupacabra infant was discovered under an abandoned barn in a small village in Chiapas, Mexico, during the barn's demolition in or around July 2007, and cannot be identified with any known species of animal because a series of DNA, fur, and tissue tests all proved inconclusive. As can be seen here, the photograph is copyrighted to the somewhat oddly-named Dr Zeehc H. Ted.

The reality, of course, is very different. Even a brief examination of the well-preserved specimen is enough to confirm that it is a gaff, i.e. a fake taxiderm specimen composed of body parts from various different species deftly combined together. The principal component appeared to be a baby mammalian carnivore, almost certainly a raccoon Procyon lotor, judging from its dentition, shape of its paws, and general body and facial conformation. The spines inserted upon its head resembled claws.

Popular image of an adult chupacabra, complete with head and dorsal spines (LeCire/public domain)

In search of clues concerning its real origin, I scoured the Web and soon uncovered the truth behind the travesty (albeit an extremely skilfully-executed travesty!). Just as I suspected, the 'baby chupacabra' was a fake – one of many spectacular examples produced by a male United States (and wonderfully ingenious) gaff creator on the deviantart.com website, who memorably refers to himself as 'Creator Of Things That Should Not Be', and whose user name is dethcheez, This in itself is (or should have been) a major clue to anyone attempting to track down the photo's origin – the name of the latter's copyright owner, Zeehc H Ted, is of course dethcheez spelt backwards!

As for the specimen itself: the deviantart.com page containing the original photograph of it, and which can be directly accessed here (the hand holding the specimen was added later to this photo), was uploaded on 26 April 2007 by its creator, dethcheez, who unambiguously labelled it as a "Mummified Baby El Chupacabra Sideshow Gaff Created from 100% Real Parts". But what are these parts? Reading down the comments below the photograph, all is swiftly revealed, because they were correctly identified on 10 December 2009 by a viewer with the user name inkaholic1089, as verified in a comment posted underneath that of inkaholic1089 by dethcheez himself two days later. Namely, a baby raccoon with the claws of a snapping turtle Chelydra serpentina used for its spines.

The original version of Dethcheez's baby chupacabra photograph, sans hand

Another controversial carcase is controversial no longer – and can thus be filed away alongside the likes of the Montauk corpse, Trunko, the Feejee mermaid, and many other monsters of misidentification and fabulous frauds. Moreover, it demonstrates how specimens clearly identified as fakes by their creators (as I noted earlier, dethcheez unequivocally referred to it on his deviantart site as a manufactured gaff) are nonetheless all-too-often deemed genuine and erroneously circulated as such online by many other, less discerning people. It also emphasises, however, as I have previously shown with the fake black lion photos circulating online (click here and here), just how easy it can often be to expose such specimens' true nature simply by taking time to trace their origins via the internet. This is why it is so surprising to me that such searches are not conducted more often and more vigorously, because this approach would soon eliminate them from the database of genuine cryptozoological mysteries.

The common American snapping turtle, whose claws clearly correspond with the baby chupacabra's spines (Dakota /Wikipedia)

Of course, removed entirely from a cryptozoological perspective, there is no question whatsoever that as artistic creations, the gaffs of dethcheez are exceptionally well-produced, compelling, and diverse – other expertly-manufactured examples from this artist's bedazzling menagerie of fantasy fauna include a Jersey devil corpse, a newly-discovered unicorn shark, a vampire mummy's head, a Burmese centi-spider, a mummified devil turkey head, a two-tailed twelve-limbed sand scorpion, a mummified alien mothman (a novel variation on the Jenny Haniver/devilfish theme!), a snake-headed terrapin, a mummified baby dragon and a baby dragon skeleton, a giant clawed centipede, a mummified baby unicorn, the mounted heads of Peruvian vampire fishes, a mummified winged piglet, plus a vast assortment of shrunken heads, and much much more!

But don't be content with my meagre verbal descriptions of these marvels! Click here and pay a visit yourself to dethcheez's deliciously dark realm of undeniably unnatural history!

A deviantart-uploaded dethcheez photograph of his baby chupacabra housed inside a glass case (click here to access this photo's deviantart page)

Almost forgot: if you're wondering where this baby chupacabra gaff is right now, some lucky ebay bidder out there may well have the answer - and the specimen - because dethcheez auctioned it on ebay, and the auction ended on 29 April 2007. So if the winning bidder (assuming that it did sell) is reading this ShukerNature post, I'd be delighted to hear from you, as it would be good to know something about this fascinating exhibit's current location.

NB - Credits for all gaff photographs included here:- © dethcheez/deviantart.com


Artistic representation of sky beasts (Tim Morris)

In previous ShukerNature blog posts (click here and here), I have examined the remarkable theory put forward independently by several ufologists down through the decades that at least some UFOs may actually be undiscovered flying organisms – sky beasts. That is, highly specialised life forms adapted for an exclusively aerial existence amid the atmosphere encircling our planet, and thereby occupying a fundamental ecological niche that would otherwise be inexplicably ignored by the normally highly-productive nature of evolutionary radiation. And in those posts of mine, I have presented various reports that may relate to such organisms.

On 14 January 2013, I received another such report, which was sent to me by veteran American UFO investigator and eyewitness Ben Garfield after he had read my previous above-noted posts. Moreover, Ben has very kindly granted me permission to document it in ShukerNature, so here it is:

"I've been researching ufos for nearly 40 years now since my first sighting back in 74...What I saw on May 3rd 2010 [at McHenry, Illinois] has me convinced there are living things that fly in our skies that we are not being told about....I've read thousands of reports and found many that were very similar to what I saw...Some of these date back to the wave of 1947...While I was sitting in the shade waiting to do my afternoon chores...I live on a hobby farm...I was looking at clouds forming towards the west....A small reflection caught my eye...This was in the upper section of the cloud which was at 8500 feet + or -....I focused on that point of light and saw several objects that were diving in and out of a cloud...They would dive out in a slight arc then a reflection of the sun was made...As soon as the reflection occurred they would zig zag or stairstep climb back in...I don't know how many for sure there were but at least three or four...At first I thought they were giant birds but later ruled that out because birds don't fly vertical that high and that fast ......I would like a response because you seem like someone that will listen to what I have to say.....From all of the reports that I have read I am starting to see a pattern to their behavior....These objects were forming a semi circle going counter clockwise.....They reacted to the sun's reflection....These were not birds nor airplanes."

Ben has also supplied an account of his above sighting to http://worldufophotosandnews.org, which can be accessed here.

After I emailed Ben concerning it, I received a further response from him on 21 January 2013, which included the following additional information relevant to his sighting:

"What I have found in many similar reports is they do this circling manoeuver to signal others from afar to join in...shortly after, all depart at high speed... Paul Hill, Scientist and author of Unconventional Flying Objects....Read section II Performance...A must read, Takes five minutes....But he thinks they're scout ships.....I think different."

Paul Hill was a well-respected NASA scientist when he experienced a UFO sighting during the early 1950s. This prompted him to undertake three decades of research into their physical properties, propulsion, dynamics, etc, by the end of which he confirmed that despite many claims to the contrary, they did not defy the laws of physics as we currently know them, but acted entirely within their known boundaries. As Ben, notes, however, Hill believed UFOs to be the product of technology rather than nature (for a useful online synopsis of Hill's UFO-related work and beliefs, click here). So where does that leave Ben's sighting?

I am not a ufologist, and naturally I am aware that there are a number of unusual and/rare meteorological and astronomical phenomena that can create aerial light flashes, examples of which are documented in the relevant volumes within William Corliss's excellent and highly prolific 'Sourcebook Project' series. However, as a zoologist I am certainly intrigued by the ostensibly animate, active nature of movement exhibited by the objects observed by Ben.

Has anyone else sighted objects similar to these? If so, I'd be interested to receive details here, or any pertinent thoughts as to their possible nature or identity.

For an extensive coverage of the sky beast theory of UFOs, check out my book Dr Shuker's Casebook (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2008).

Tuesday 22 January 2013


Spectacular painting of the mokele-mbembe (William Rebsamen)

Time for another ShukerNature Top Ten!

Today, the only known living dinosaurs are of the avian variety – birds. However, the chronicles of cryptozoology are bulging with reports of mystery beasts that have been likened or potentially identified with other, supposedly long-vanished dinosaur forms. Here, then, in no particular order is my personal Top Ten of putative living dinosaurs of the non-avian, cryptozoological kind.


According to the resident pygmies here, the vast, remote, and virtually inaccessible Likouala swamplands of the People's Republic of the Congo (formerly the French Congo) are home to a 27-ft-long amphibious 'water dragon' known as the mokele-mbembe ('one that capsizes boats'). They describe it as reddish-brown in colour, with a small head but very long neck and tail, an elephantine body, four sturdy limbs that leave behind large three-clawed footprints, and an appetite for the Landolphia gourds, which it browses upon like a reptilian giraffe, sometimes while still partly submerged in water. It is most frequently sighted by the native people in or near a very large body of freshwater known as Lake Tele.

The mokele-mbembe has been sought unsuccessfully by a number of Western expeditions since the 1980s, its most famous and tenacious seekers being now-retired Chicago University biochemist and spare-time cryptozoologist Dr Roy Mackal, and Scottish field cryptozoologist Bill Gibbons (via two Operation Congo expeditons and who has also sought similar beasts in Cameroon). Of particular interest is that when a range of animal images have been shown to the natives in an attempt to gain more information concerning the mokele-mbembe's appearance in the hope of identifying it, the images consistently claimed by alleged eyewitnesses to be closest to it have been ones depicting sauropod dinosaurs from prehistory, such as Diplodocus and Apatosaurus (formerly called Brontosaurus).

Roy Mackal's book documenting the mokele-mbembe and other Congolese 'neo-dinosaurs' (Dr Roy Mackal/E.J. Brill)

Indeed, Mackal and Gibbons both consider a species of living, modern-day sauropod, surviving undisturbed in the Likouala's secluded and relatively inaccessible, inhospitable terrain, to be a plausible identity for this elusive creature. Another popular suggestion is that it may be a very large monitor lizard with an exceptionally long, elongated neck, but no such form of monitor is known from either the present day or the fossil record. And whereas monitors are almost exclusively carnivorous, the mokele-mbembe is entirely herbivorous.

Adding veracity to its eyewitnesses' testimony, similar creatures (known by such names as badigui, amali, and n'yamala) have been recorded elsewhere in tropical Africa too - including the Central African Republic, Cameroon, and Gabon.

The mushussu or sirrush portrayed upon the Ishtar Gate of Babylon (Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin)

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect concerning the mokele-mbembe is how closely it resembles the Babylonian mushussu dragon as depicted on the Ishtar Gate. And it is known that early glazed bricks identical to those used in this gate's creation have been recorded from Central Africa - leading some naturalists to suggest that perhaps the early Babylonians visited this African region to obtain bricks for the gate, saw mokele-mbembes there, and upon their return to Mesopotamia their descriptions of this creature inspired the depictions of the mushussu on the gate. Boldest but most fascinating of all is the suggestion that at least one young mokele-mbembe may even have been transported back to Mesopotamia alive, explaining the so-called dragon that was worshipped in a temple by the Babylonians until killed by Daniel.


This is how Rex Gilroy, a veteran investigator of Australian mysteries, has referred in his book Mysterious Australia to two of this island continent's least-publicised but most fascinating mystery beasts - the kulta and the burrunjor.

According to ancient Central Australian aboriginal lore, the kulta inhabited the great swamps that existed long ago in the far north, browsing inoffensively upon the region's lush vegetation. It possessed a small head, an exceedingly long neck and tail, an enormously bulky body, and four sturdy legs. This description is irresistibly similar to that of the sauropod dinosaurs, such as Diplodocus and Apatosaurus. Yet the aboriginals have no palaeontological knowledge, so how are they able to describe so accurately a type of reptile that officially died out millions of years ago - unless at least one lineage did not die out, but persisted undisturbed in this remote locality right into historic times? Yet whatever it was, it is no longer - centuries ago the swamps dried up, and the kulta died out.

Is this what the kulta may look like? (Charles Knight)

Even more extraordinary, however, is the burrunjor, a terrifying tyrannosaur-lookalike named after Burrunjor - a remote expanse of Arnhem Land in northern Australia where, according to longstanding Aboriginal testimony, this huge reptilian monster is said to live. Here it is even depicted in local Aboriginal cave art, portrayed as a gigantic bipedal creature, and enormous unidentified tracks have been reported from this region.

Varanids (monitor lizards) will sometimes rear up and run for a time on their hind legs, and there are some notably large varanid species native to Australia. So could this be the true explanation for the burrunjor - or should we be seeking an animate anachronism thriving amid the primeval wildernesses of Arnhem Land?


The mokele-mbembe may well be the most famous Congolese 'neo-dinosaur', but it is not the only one. Sharing the latter’s inaccessible swamp-dwelling habitat in the People’s Republic of the Congo are several other mystifying creatures still awaiting formal identification by science, of which the most extraordinary must surely be the emela-ntouka (‘killer of elephants’). According to the local pygmies, this is a truly ferocious beast, reddish-brown in colour, hairless, and almost as large as an elephant itself, with massive legs, but able to submerge itself completely underwater. If an elephant attempts to cross a swamp or lake containing this formidable beast, the emela-ntouka will attack it savagely, disembowelling the hapless elephant with the long sharp ivory-like horn mounted on the emela-ntouka’s snout. It does not devour the elephant afterwards, however, as it is strictly herbivorous.

In the past, some cryptozoologists have attempted to identify the emela-ntouka as an unknown type of aquatic, swamp-dwelling rhinoceros. However, whereas the horn of all other modern-day rhinos is formed of compressed hair, the emela-ntouka’s is said to be solid ivory, just like the tusks of elephants. Also, it is described as having a very long, heavy tail, which is very different from the short, inconspicuous tail of all known living rhinos.

The emela-ntouka as depicted in Roy Mackal's book (David Miller/Dr Roy Mackal)

During his two separate 1980s expeditions to the Congo’s Likouala swamplands in search of the mokele-mbembe, Roy Mackal collected several reports and descriptions of the emela-ntouka too. These led him to speculate whether this remarkable beast could conceivably be an undiscovered, modern-day descendant of the ceratopsian dinosaurs, exemplified by such famous prehistoric stalwarts as Triceratops and Styracosaurus. Moreover, the one-horned Monoclonius would have borne a very close resemblance to the emela-ntouka, right down to the latter’s long heavy tail and its horn of bone, not compressed hair. Its only major difference is that whereas ceratopsians were known for the long bony frill protecting their neck, no such structure has been reported for the emela-ntouka.


Cryptozoological riddles can turn up in the most unlikely places, but few can be as unexpected as Cambodia's perplexing dinosaur carving. One of this country's most beautiful monuments is the jungle temple of Ta Prohm, created around 800 years ago, and part of the Angkor Wat temple complex. Like others from this time, it is intricately adorned with images from Buddhist and Hindu mythology, but it also has one truly exceptional glyph unique to itself. Near one of the temple's entrances is a circular glyph containing the carving of a burly, small-headed, quadruped beast bearing a row of diamond-shaped plates along its back - an image irresistibly reminiscent of a stegosaurian dinosaur!

The 'stegosaur' petroglyph at Angkor Wat (John and Lesley Burke)

This anachronistic animal carving is reputedly popular with local guides, who delight in baffling western tourists by asking them if they believe dinosaurs still existed as recently as 800 years ago and then showing this glyph to them. Could it therefore be a modern fake, skilfully carved amid the genuine glyphs by a trickster hoping to fool unsuspecting tourists? Or is it a bona fide 800-year-old artefact?

Angkor's Way - Michael J. Smith's spectacular artistic impression of cryptic, modern-day stegosaurs cared for by Cambodian monks (Michael J. Smith)

If so, perhaps it was inspired by the temple's architects having seen some fossilised dinosaur remains? After all, it surely couldn't have been based upon a sighting of a real-life stegosaur...could it?


Tasek Bera or Bera Lake is a very large, deep lake in the Malaysian state of Pahang, and according to the traditions of the local Semelai people it was (and still may be?) home to a number of huge water dragons whose scales were slate-grey when young but became golden as they matured. They had very long necks, serpentine heads bearing a pair of snail-like horns, sturdy bodies, and long tails. As they never emerged onto land, however, no-one had ever seen their limbs. These beasts' presence was confirmed by their loud, trumpeting cry.

Stewart Wavell's book, documenting Tasek Bera's dinosaurian 'water dragons'

As documented in his book, The Lost World of the East (1958), explorer Stewart Wavell paid two visits here during the 1950s to search for them, but he never saw one.

However, on one occasion he did hear a strident, twice-uttered staccato sound emanating from the centre of the lake that matched the native description of these creatures' cry. Was it just the trumpeting of an elephant – or the voice of a golden dragon?


Worthy of note is that reports of creatures very like the Congolese emela-ntouka have emerged from elsewhere in tropical Africa too. Zambia’s Lake Bangweulu is reportedly home to the single-horned chipekwe (‘monster’), with similar creatures also reported from Lake Mweru, Lake Tanganyika, and the Kafue swamps. The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) also has its own counterpart, dubbed the irizima, and there are even reports from as far west as Liberia.

Do emela-ntouka counterparts exist far beyond the Likouala swamplands? (Dr Karl Shuker)

In 2004, a French mokele-mbembe seeker called Michel Ballot photographed a stunning wooden sculpture of what can only be an emela-ntouka-type beast while visiting a village in northern Cameroon. It clearly depicts the animal’s elephantine body, single snout-horn, and long hefty tail, as well as a pair of small frilly ears not previously alluded to in accounts of this cryptid.

Moreover, I have recently made a remarkable discovery of an entirely independent piece of native artwork that substantially corroborates the veracity of this sculpture, including the unusual ears. So look out for my revelation in a future ShukerNature article!


Although reports of sauropodian cryptids are less numerous from South America than they are from tropical Africa, they are by no means unknown.

When traveller Leonard Clark journeyed up Amazonia's Perene River in 1946, for example, he encountered several tribes of Indians east of the Ucayali who described to him gigantic long-necked beasts of plant-eating persuasion that recalled the giant sauropod Diplodocus.

In 1975, while holidaying in the Amazon, a Geneva businessman (name unknown) met Sebastian Bastos - a 75-year-old guide who, by a lucky coincidence, had been educated in Switzerland and was therefore able to converse fluently with him. During one conversation, Bastos stated that some of his Indian acquaintances had claimed that beasts of this type frequent certain deep water holes in the jungle's heartlands, and occasionally come out onto land at night. Their heads, necks, and backs are about 18 ft long, and the Indians take great pains to avoid them.

Frustratingly brief is a reference in Exploration Fawcett (1953) by lost explorer Lt-Colonel Percy Fawcett - alluding to still-unfamiliar beasts in the forests of Bolivia's Madidi, he noted:

"...some mysterious and enormous beast has frequently been disturbed in the swamps - possibly a primeval monster like those reported in other parts of the continent. Certainly tracks have been found belonging to no known animal - huge tracks, far greater than could have been made by any species we know."

The mention of tracks suggests footprints - which favour dinosaurs over flippered plesiosaurs - but little else can be deduced from such a brief description.

Exploration Fawcett, documenting the lost explorer Lt-Colonel Percy Fawcett's South American expeditions (Arrow Books)

An earlier, slightly more detailed Fawcett-authored account on this same subject also exists – a letter by him that was published in London's Daily Mail on 17 December 1919. The relevant portion is as follows:

"A friend of mine, a trader in the rivers and for whose honesty I can vouch, saw in somewhere about Lat. 12 S. and Long. 65 W. [Bolivia-Brazil borderland] the head and neck of a huge reptile of the character of the brontosaurus. It was a question of who was scared most, for it precipitately withdrew, with a plunging which suggested an enormous bulk. The savages appear to be familiar with the existence and tracks of the beast, although I have never come across any of the latter myself...These swamps over immense areas are virtually impenetrable."

According to media reports from early 1995, a party of geology students investigating quartz deposits in the Sincora Mountain range of eastern Brazil had lately spied two strange dinosaur-like creatures bathing in the shallows of the Paraguaçu River passing through the Plain of Orobo. According to these eyewitnesses, the animals were each around 30 ft in total length, with a huge body, fearsome head, a long neck measuring approximately 6 ft, and an 8-ft tail.


In addition to the mokele-mbembe and the emela-ntouka, a third dinosaur-lookalike of the Likouala swamps is the mbielu-mbielu-mbielu. According to one of its alleged eyewitnesses - a young woman called Odette Gesonget, from the village of Bounila - this triple-named anomaly is a semi-aquatic creature "with planks growing out of its back". In a bid to identify it, Roy Mackal showed Gesonget several illustrated books depicting animals from the present day and also from the distant past - the picture that she unhesitatingly selected was that of the prehistoric plate-bearing dinosaur Stegosaurus. Comparable descriptions were offered, independently of one another, by natives encountered elsewhere during Mackal's Congolese travels too. Yet there is no suggestion from fossil evidence that stegosaurs exhibited any aquatic inclination.

Reconstruction of the mbielu-mbielu-mbielu (David Miller/Dr Roy Mackal)

It is possible that this beast, whatever its taxonomic identity may be, is one and the same as another mystery animal from the Likouala swamplands - the nguma-monene, reported from the Mataba tributary of the Ubangi River. According to native descriptions, it resembles a colossal snake (at least 130 ft long!), but bears a serrated ridge along most of its body's length consisting of numerous triangular protrusions, and can walk upon land, with a low-slung body and forked tongue. Could this be a snake-like dinosaur, or, alternatively, a primitive reptile descended from the ancestral forms that gave rise to lizards and snakes?

Reconstruction of the nguma-monene (David Miller/Dr Roy Mackal)

Mackal favours a single, very large, and radically new species of monitor lizard as the most satisfactory explanation for both the nguma-monene and the mbielu-mbielu-mbielu. Nonetheless, the latter's stegosaurian suggestions are evidently difficult to dismiss absolutely - as he confessed in his book A Living Dinosaur? (1987): "For me, mbielu-mbielu-mbielu remains an enigma."


It’s always good to learn of a novel cryptid, and Chile’s Arica Beast is novel in every sense! As recounted in a number of media articles from 2004, several different motorists driving along the main road linking Iquique and Arica, through the Atacama Desert, have reported witnessing an extraordinary bipedal creature over 6 ft tall, with sharp teeth and three-toed footprints, which has been variously likened to a velociraptoresque dinosaur or even a ‘dinosaur kangaroo’!

Bring me the head of the Arica Beast! (Dr Karl Shuker)

In the words of one eyewitness, Hernan Cuevas: “A weird animal looking like a dinosaur with two legs and huge thighs crossed the road in front of my car”. Not surprisingly, the local authorities were, and remain, very puzzled.


When Bill Gibbons conducted his initial expedition to Cameroon in November 2000, he discovered not only that this country apparently possessed its own version of the mokele-mbembe but also that it allegedly harboured an extraordinary horned mystery beast akin to but even more spectacular than the emela-ntouka.

Looking through pictures of living and fossil animals, the local Batu people and pygmies pointed to pictures of prehistory’s famous three-horned ceratopsian dinosaur Triceratops, and stated that a beast somewhat similar to that animal lived here. They called it the ngoubou, and claimed that it inhabited savannah areas to the west of the Boumba River. It is also known in the Sanga region near the Central African Republic. They stated that it was the size of an ox, sported a large frill around its neck (which differs slightly in the female), a beaked mouth, and bore several horns, but in a different manner from those of Triceratops.

Life-size reconstruction of Styracosaurus (Dr Karl Shuker)

This baffled the team, until one of the locals drew an image of what the ngoubou looked like, revealing that it bore a series of six horns around the edge of its frill, which, as team member John Kirk later realised, made it look irresistibly similar to a ceratopsian called Styracosaurus. As this particular fossil dinosaur was not depicted in any of the pictures shown to the native people by the team, they clearly had not been influenced in that way, thus making the correspondence all the more remarkable.

Of course, based upon current palaeontological beliefs, many of the creatures reported here display lifestyles very different from that of their purported prehistoric antecedents, especially with regard to the frequent claims by eyewitnesses that these neo-sauropodian, neo-ceratopsian, and neo-stegosaurian cryptids are amphibious. If, however, such mystery beasts are truly modern-day dinosaurs, this means that they have undergone 65 million years (or more) of continuous evolution from their fossilised antecedents, which may conceivably have engineered all manner of behavioural and ecological as well as morphological changes, so such lifestyle discrepancies or deviations would by no means be implausible or, indeed, unexpected.

Proudly wearing my Operation Congo 1985 t-shirt (Dr Karl Shuker)

Nevertheless, as with all cryptids it is unwise, pointless even, to speculate too specifically in relation to these mystery beasts' zoological identities without any physical, tangible evidence to examine. And, unfortunately, they all appear to exist amid some of the world's most inaccessible and inhospitable localities. Let us hope, therefore, that one day soon, a future expedition by Bill Gibbons or some other tenacious, enterprising explorer will return with this long-awaited proof of their reality, and then at last we shall know the true identity of at least one of this ShukerNature article's tantalising selection of anachronistic anomalies. The last of the dinosaurs, or merely the first of an entirely new flourish? Who can say?

For an extensive survey of putative living dinosaurs worldwide, check out my book In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995).