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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Tuesday 11 March 2014


Jardine's enigmatic 19th-Century illustration of a putative speckle-coated jaguar

I was pleased to learn yesterday that the long-awaited paper that I obliquely alluded to in my book Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), providing an extensive morphometric analysis of two skulls from two different types of Peruvian mystery big cat, has finally been published (click here to access it). It is co-authored by British palaeontologist Dr Darren Naish, who also has a longstanding interest in cryptozoology. The two mystery cats whose skulls are featured in the analysis are what another of this paper's four co-authors, Peru-based zoologist Dr Peter J. Hocking (who also obtained the skulls), originally called the speckled tiger ('tiger' being a prevalent term throughout Latin America for the jaguar Panthera onca) but which is renamed the Anomalous jaguar in the paper, and what Hocking originally called the striped tiger but which is renamed the Peruvian tiger in the paper. Based upon the results of the analysis, in which both skulls were shown to fall within the documented range for the jaguar, the paper's authors conclude that these specimens were indeed jaguars, but ones that exhibited aberrant pelage markings.

A jaguar exhibiting normal pelage markings and colouration

I'll comment further re the Peruvian tiger in a future ShukerNature blog post, as I wish to concentrate in this present blog post upon the Anomalous jaguar, because my Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery book contains some additional information – and one fascinating 19th-Century illustration – that may be of relevance to this speckled South American crypto-felid that has long fascinated me. Here are the relevant excerpts from my book:

In 1992, within the International Society of Cryptozoology's journal, Cryptozoology, Peruvian zoologist Dr Peter J. Hocking presented some previously unpublished evidence for the existence amid Peru's remote tropical forests of four different types of mystery cat, all possibly new to science…

Three Peruvian mystery cats – speckled tiger, striped tiger, and giant black panther/yana puma (© Peter Visccher/BBC Wildlife Magazine)

Even more intriguing [than the Peruvian giant black panther or yana puma, which was the first of the four to be documented by me in my book] is the 'speckled tiger' - claimed by locals to be as big as a jaguar (jaguars, incidentally, are popularly termed 'tigers' in South America), but with a larger head, and a unique pelage consisting of a grey background covered with solid black speckles. There is no known species of South American cat alive today that fits this description - so what could this mottled mystery cat from the montane tropical forests of Peru's Pasco province be?

A jaguar with a freak coat pattern and colouration is the most reasonable explanation, but this poses problems. The pelage of a complete albino jaguar (i.e. homozygous for the complete albino mutant allele of the Full Colour gene) would have white background colouration and normal but white rosettes visible only in certain lights, like watered silk; and even a chinchilla-reminiscent specimen (analogous or homologous to the white lions of Timbavati and/or the white tigers of Rewa) would have normal rosettes, probably grey or pale brown. So too would a leucistic specimen (see Chapter 3). Interestingly, on 19 January 2012, two white jaguar cubs with pale grey rosettes and normal green eyes were born to a typical rosetted father and a melanistic  mother at Aschersleben Zoo, in Germany; the first white jaguars born in captivity as far as is known, they are most probably leucistic, as indicated by their normal eye colour and the pale, washed-out appearance of their coat.

The white jaguar cubs of Aschersleben Zoo, Germany (© Aschersleben Zoo)

Genetically, the presence of solid black speckles reported for Peru's 'speckled tiger' rather than well-formed rosettes is anomalous. The only comparable case is that of the speckled servaline morph of the serval Leptailurus serval (see Chapter 27), and a couple of servaline-like cheetahs that I have dubbed cheetalines (see Chapter 19).

Skin of normal blotched serval on left and speckled servaline on right (© Owen Burnham)

One other controversial cat reported from South America that is somewhat reminiscent of Peru’s speckled tiger is the cunarid din, mentioned by the Wapishana Indians of Guyana and Brazil to Stanley E. Brock. In Hunting in the Wilderness (1963), Brock describes this strange cat as follows:

The cunarid din is quite like the ticar din [normal jaguar], except that the ground colour is nearer white than orange or yellow. The Indians say that the white kind always attain a much larger size than the former, but this is doubtful as a fact. The spots are often finer on the fore quarters and spaced further apart, and there are noticeably fewer spots within the rosettes along the sides of the body, giving the skin a rather leopard-like appearance.

Stanley E. Brock's book, featuring a regular jaguar on the cover (© Stanley E. Brock/Robert Hale Limited)

Moreover, while browsing through a copy of Scottish naturalist Sir William Jardine’s classic Natural History of the Felinae (1834) recently, I was startled to discover a colour plate of a very odd-looking jaguar - whose paler-than-normal coat lacked this species’ familiar, clearly-defined rosettes and instead was patterned entirely with a heterogeneous array of solid black speckles and blotches. According to the plate’s caption, this jaguar was a native of Paraguay. Consequently, always assuming of course that it had been depicted accurately, this suggests that speckled jaguars or jaguar-like cats have also occurred here in the past. Perhaps they may still do so today.

Jardine's enigmatic illustration opens this present ShukerNature blog post and is also presented again here:

Jardine's enigmatic 19th-Century illustration of a putative speckle-coated jaguar

Yet another speckled mystery cat from South America is the shiashia-yawá, one of several crypto-felids said to inhabit Ecuador:

While visiting southern Ecuador's Morona-Santiago province in July 1999, Spanish cryptozoologist Angel Morant Forés learnt of several mystery cats said to inhabit this country’s Amazonian jungles. Upon his return home, he documented them in an online field report, entitled ‘An investigation into some unidentified Ecuadorian mammals’, which he uploaded in autumn 1999 onto French cryptozoologist Michel Raynal’s website, the Virtual Institute of Cryptozoology, where it is still accessible today (at http://cryptozoo.pagesperso-orange.fr/welcome.htm). These very intriguing crypto-felids include:

A white-coated cat with solid black spots known as the shiashia-yawá, recalling the cunarid din of Guyana and Brazil, and Peru’s speckled tiger, but smaller (said to be intermediate in size between a jaguar and an ocelot). Angel considers it possible that this felid is merely an albinistic jaguar, but as already discussed in relation to the speckled tiger, such an identity would not explain its solid black spots, which sound very different from the familiar rosettes of normal jaguars. [My book then continues with descriptions of six other Ecuadorian mystery cats.]

The Anomalous jaguar's speckled pelage may be due to the expression of a homologous, or at least an analogous, mutant gene allele to that which creates the speckled serval and/or speckled cheetah morphs.

For plenty of additional information concerning a wide diversity of South American mystery cats, be sure to check out my two mystery cat books – Mystery Cats of the World (1989) and Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012).

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