Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

Dr Karl Shuker's Official Website - http://www.karlshuker.com/index.htm

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Friday 21 April 2017


A naga hag (© Andy Paciorek)

Ancient India – a land of gods, demons, and cobras, and sometimes all three combined within a single dread form: the naga, or human serpent. Some of these ophidian deities were benevolent to humanity, such as the great seven-headed naga Muchilinda, whose magnificent heptarchy of expanded hoods shielded the sleeping Lord Buddha from the blazing mid-day sun. Others, especially the female naga hags or nagini, could be far less benign...

It had started as a playful game of hide and seek between the youth and his lover, taking turns to stay concealed for a while behind a tree or a bush at the edge of the jungle, before suddenly leaping forth to startle the other, then laughing, embracing, and kissing. But now the youth was becoming concerned. He had been searching for his lover, calling out her name, for what seemed like an eternity, finally entering into the jungle itself, as the sun gradually dimmed and diminished, its noontide incandescence replaced by the shimmering haze of early evening.

And then, as if from nowhere, his lover had risen up from the tall grass just ahead, her slim, pale form no longer clothed, and almost sinuous amid the half-light of the jungle’s shade. He called to her, but in answer his lover merely extended her arms to him, as her dark hair cascaded over her shoulders in ripples of obsidian. Her limbs remained hidden amid the grass, but her waist and torso swayed slowly, almost hypnotically, willing him to draw nearer, ever closer, to her waiting arms.

The youth smiled, his earlier fear at her absence now totally dissipated as he moved forward. He had only known her for a short while, yet he had fallen passionately, uncontrollably in love with her almost from the first moment of their meeting. And now, at last, it seemed that his love would be returned.

He stood before her, trembling slightly in anticipation as the cool evening breeze ruffled her dark hair until it seemed almost alive, flickering and entwining. The grass at her waist stirred - and as he looked down, the youth was horrified to see what appeared to be a huge serpent writhing where his lover’s feet must surely be standing.

But even as he opened his mouth to cry out in fear, the cry shrivelled and died in his throat. The breeze had become much stronger, blowing aside the grass, bowing it down in all directions, and the youth’s eyes stared, transfixed, unbelieving, at the huge serpent – which, as he now could see only too plainly, was not a serpent at all, but the limbless, scaly-skinned lower torso of his lover. She was not human – or, at least, not entirely so. She was a naga hag!

Even as he forced himself to look back up at her face, dragging his eyes away from the thrashing, serpentine abomination that was an intrinsic part of her body, he knew that it was too late. He gazed into her cold, amber, reptilian eyes, noticing for the first time that they were lidless, and then, with detached, almost preternatural calmness – or perhaps resigned acquiescence – observed how her slender canine teeth had enlarged into venom-dripping fangs.

He closed his eyes once more, for the last time, and so was spared the ultimate horror of seeing his lover’s face transform into that of a human cobra, its hair flailing outward and coalescing into a dark expanded hood, as it leaned forward to sink its fangs into his throat. Once sustained, the naga hag drew back again, and the youth’s limp brittle shell, which had once known life but only an empty promise of love, dropped soundlessly to the ground, drained and dead, like the last rays of the setting sun that were sinking beneath the sable canopy of the jungle.

This ShukerNature blog article is exclusively excerpted from Creatures of Shadow and Night – a book-in-progress in which I am retelling the folklore and legends of a wide range of sinister and decidedly dark supernatural entities of the night, most of which are relatively or entirely unknown outside their respective homelands. Moreover, each of my verbal portrayals is accompanied visually by a spectacular full-colour illustration specially prepared by highly-acclaimed graphics artist Andy Paciorek.

Naga hag or nagini figurine (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Wednesday 19 April 2017


The Frasercot pelt originally owned (see Epilogue) by Mark Fraser (© Dr Karl Shuker)

In a short Tetrapod Zoology online blog post of 13 August 2007 (click here), English palaeontologist Dr Darren Naish, who also has a longstanding interest in mystery animals, discussed a very eyecatching, enigmatic pelt owned by Big Cats in Britain (BCIB) founder Mark Fraser. As revealed by a colour photograph of it in his post, this most distinctive long-furred pelt sported a beautiful pattern of dark scallop-shaped markings resembling overlapping fish-scales, but which bore no resemblance to the pelage of any known mammal.

This interesting post swiftly attracted numerous responses from readers, most of whom favoured various feline identities, including king cheetah, aberrant leopard, and woolly cheetah (a freak cheetah form reported from South Africa during the late 1800s and represented by a living specimen exhibited at London Zoo during that same period), although viverrid and hyaena identities were also mooted. Alternatively, could it be a fake – but, if so, how was it done? After all, surely it would take great skill to paint a pelt so meticulously with such a detailed pattern...wouldn't it?

A chromolithograph from 1877 of the woolly cheetah briefly exhibited at London Zoo at that time (public domain)

In his blog post, Darren dubbed this mystifying pelt a Frasercot, in honour of its owner. He also noted that another pelt of this same type had been doing the rounds of antique fairs in Britain.

Moreover, in October 2009 Darren was in Libya, conducting some palaeontological fieldwork, and while visiting a market in Tripoli he was surprised to see a Frasercot pelt for sale there, hanging down on one of the stalls. It was too expensive for him to purchase, and in any case he was naturally concerned as to whether he would be permitted to bring such an item through customs, so he had to content himself with photographing it (a photo of it duly appeared in a Tetrapod Zoology blog article by Darren uploaded on 16 November 2009 – click here to see the photo).

Greatly intrigued by these pelts, in February 2012 I conducted some internet research concerning them. While doing so, I discovered a couple of photos of a smaller but otherwise identical pelt (alongside what looked like a second, larger one, but which was partly concealed from view by other furs) among the wares on the hand-cart of a fur vendor in Xiamen (aka Amoy), which is a major city in Fujian, southeastern China (these photos are viewable online here). The photos had been snapped on 31 October 2006 by a professional writer (name unknown to me) hailing from Mendocino in California, USA, but based in Xiamen during that time. Under her Flickr username 'Room With A View', she had later uploaded them into one of her online Flickr albums.

Further investigations revealed that such pelts were actually from domestic dogs but had been skilfully imbued in some way with the distinctive Frasercot-style scalloping in order for the traders to pass them off as exotic big cat pelts and sell them for lucrative amounts to unsuspecting Western tourists. When I contacted Darren concerning my findings, he confirmed that he had made the same discovery in relation to the Libyan pelt. Indeed, on 15 December 2010, one of his blog's readers, with the username NaturePunk, had provided the following highly illuminating response to Darren's post regarding the Tripoli pelt, verifying my own independent findings:

This is a dog skin that has been dyed to look like a cat skin. Common thing for vendors to do in Asian countries where dogs are killed for fur. I used to see this a lot when I lived there, and they would sell the dyed pelts along with pelts which were left un-altered. They see this sort of thing all the time at the Wildlife Forensics Center in Ashland [Oregon] where I live now.

Here are some links to photos of vendors selling dog pelts on the streets, trying to convince people that they're either wolf or big cat skins, a few of which are dyed with the EXACT same patterns as the pelt pictured above [i.e. the Tripoli pelt].

One of the links provided was the same as the one that I'd also discovered (and which I've given earlier here), to the photo of the Xiamen fur vendor with the pelts. A second one was to a photo that had been snapped and uploaded onto Flickr by Tennessee-born teacher Bill Benson, now living in Tianjin, northern China. It depicted another Chinese fur vendor, this time in Dalian (a big city and seaport in northeastern China's Liaoning Province), whose hand-cart bore a fully laid-out Frasercot pelt. Unfortunately, that particular photo is no longer accessible online (but I have a copy of it on file). Apparently, the vendor had tried to pass it off to Benson as a leopard skin (which it certainly wasn't – no leopard possesses the Frasercot scalloping pattern), but Benson affirmed that it was a dyed dog skin.

Close-up of Mark's Frasercot pelt, showing its distinctive scalloping pattern (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Even so, I was still unclear as to the manner in which such an intricate pattern was applied to the pelts, although I wondered whether it may involve a stencil or something similar in order to produce such a precise effect.

At much the same time, I learnt from British naturalist and taxidermist Jonathan McGowan that he had included on his website (www.thenaturalstuff.co.uk) a photo of the Frasercot pelt that had been doing the rounds of the antique fairs - he saw it at one in Lincolnshire. Of particular interest, however, was that Jonathan was convinced that this particular pelt on which the scalloping had been applied was not from a dog but from a large cat, probably a unicoloured species such as a puma. Memorably, the stall-holder claimed that it was from a rare species that she called a fishscale leopard! On 5 March 2012, Jonathan kindly provided me with the following additional details:

The pelt I found was at the RAF Swinderby antique fair in Lincolnshire about three years ago. I at first thought it was a painted dog pelt and asked the lady if I could have a look. On doing so I noticed the short legs with typical cat like short bristly fur on the ankles. The feet were cut off unfortunately but the head was on and it had typical cat shape with leopard like ears and big long whiskers, although few in number but not like small dog whiskers. The woman said that it came from South Africa and mentioned that even the dark scales have the skin underneath also black which proves that it is real! I replied that this does indeed suggest that it is a fake as dark pigmented skin does not correspond with dark hairs. It had nothing to do with it, but looking closely at it, only a few of the scallops had dark pigment under them anyway! And when I held the fur up to the light, I could see that each individual hair was black tipped correctly with lighter underneath. If it were a fake, I wondered just why some very skilled person went to the trouble of painting every individual hair just to produce this! However I am well aware of the Chinese ingenuity in regards to faking all kinds of things. Just maybe a mutant leopard did have such scalloping fish scale spots! I don't know but it is unlikely and I would rather see it as a hoax as a genuine thing. She wanted £200 for it and I had already spent my quota for the day.

Messaging Mark Fraser online via Facebook also on 5 March concerning his Frasercot specimen, I learnt that its head was distinctly dog-like in appearance rather than cat-like, and that he had purchased it from Coventry-based taxidermy enthusiast Martin Cotterill, who in turn informed me that he had bought it several years ago from a dealer at Swinderby Antiques Fair! In other words, exactly the same fair where Jonathan subsequently saw the one that he photographed.

As Mark's pelt is dog-headed whereas the one seen by Jonathan was cat-headed, they are evidently not the same specimen, but it seems reasonable to assume that they were from the same dealer – otherwise it is a truly formidable coincidence that two such similar yet extremely unusual pelts should come up for sale at the very same antique fair. If so, does this mean that the dealer had a regular supply of them, or had merely bought the two together as a one-off purchase? Whatever the answer, the very fact that a dog-headed pelt and a cat-headed pelt exhibited precisely the same highly-unusual scalloping pattern provided, I felt, conclusive evidence that the pattern was indeed applied artificially rather than being natural.

Three photos of Mark's Frasercot pelt, showing its pelt, head, and a paw (© Mark Fraser)

Mark uploaded some photos of his pelt's head and feet onto Facebook, and these were certainly canine rather than feline in shape. On 10 March 2012, moreover, I was able to confirm this directly, as well as ascertaining its total length (55 in from nose-tip to tail-tip) when Mark very kindly sent the pelt to me on loan in order for me to examine it. I was also able to see for myself that the artistic workmanship of the applied scalloping pattern was of an extremely high standard – but the biggest surprise, and revelation, was still to come.

I showed it to my mother, Mary Shuker, who had always been very knowledgeable regarding clothes and fashion in general, and she told me straight away that she'd seen real and artificial (faux) fur coats with this same pattern in the past, and also with other exotic-looking patterns. She then took out of one of her wardrobes a faux fur jacket with an extraordinary pattern on it, totally unlike that of any real species but which, when I examined it, could be seen to have been applied in precisely the same way as the pattern on Mark's Frasercot pelt – i.e. with the pattern visible on the upper surface of the hairs but not on the undersurface.

Mom's faux fur jacket exhibiting artificial patterning (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Moreover, when I asked her how such a pattern could have been applied, she told me that she knew how – because the person from whom she'd bought this jacket had told her, informing her that it was applied by a machine that physically stamps the pattern onto the faux pelt using a form of heated inked plate bearing the pattern. And so, with that all-important disclosure, my mother duly solved the mystery of the Frasercot pelts!

My mother, Mary Shuker (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Meanwhile, for absolute confirmation of its taxonomic identity, Mark had kindly given me permission to snip some sample hairs from his pelt and submit them for formal trichological examination and identification. This I did, sending them to Danish zoologist Lars Thomas, based at the Zoological Museum of the University of Copenhagen, who has considerable experience in hair analysis. And to ensure absolute objectivity during their examination, I did not provide him with any information whatsoever as to the source of the hair samples.

However, when Lars provided me with his findings, and which here on ShukerNature are now revealed for the very first time online, I was extremely surprised. This was because his initial, provisional examination of them had indicated to him that they were definitely not felid, but likely not canid either, seeming instead to be most probably of mustelid origin, and, more specifically, from the genus Mustela (containing weasels, stoats, ferrets, and polecats). Yet he was far from happy about this, because the hairs had also presented him with various anomalous features that he had not anticipated finding.

In particular, their pigment granules looked very strange, and Lars wondered if they had received chemical treatment, because a lot of the colour in outlying regions of the hairs seemed unnatural, and therefore had possibly been dyed. Moreover, he mentioned to me that chemical treatment can make pigment granules split, thus making canid or felid hairs look like mustelid hairs, because pigment granules in the latter are clearly separate, whereas they are not in canid and felid hairs.

I then provided Lars with full details of the hair samples' origin, knowing that he had heard of (but never examined) the Frasercot pelts, and I also sent him some photographs of Mark's specimen. After receiving my news and pictures, Lars then conducted a more detailed examination of the hair samples, which included sectioning one of the hairs – whereupon he discovered that it was round in cross-section. Crucially, this eliminated mustelids, because their hairs are oval or elliptical in cross-section. He also discovered that some of the hairs showed signs of heat damage and of being compressed, some of them being completely flat in very specific areas, as if they had been under pressure.

Needless to say, this would be the case if the edge of a heated stamping device had been applied to them – which in turn is exactly what my mother had described concerning the artificial application of the Frasercot patterning on fur coats that she had seen. In addition, when Lars rubbed some of the darkest hairs with ethanol and various other solvents on a Q-tip, he was actually able to rub off some of the colouring. Consequently, he informed me that he now had no doubt that the hairs had indeed been somehow artificially treated and dyed.

The scalloped markings of Mark's Frasercot pelt (© Dr Karl Shuker)

An independent confirmation of his findings came unexpectedly when, while subsequently browsing online in the hope of finding further photos of Frasercot pelts, I revisited Bill Benson's Flickr albums and discovered that although his earlier-mentioned missing Frasercot pelt photo had not reappeared there, a second one was present in a different album by him. He had snapped it on 26 September 2006, and it shows an extremely large Frasercot pelt being held up by its street vendor, somewhere in eastern China (it is viewable here). However, whereas all previous Frasercot pelts seen by me have exhibited a pristine pattern, in this one the pattern is very patchy in appearance, with certain portions faded or even entirely worn off, clearly demonstrating that it had been artificially applied. Benson affirmed again that these pelts are indeed dyed dog furs, and he also noted that poor vendors from western China come to eastern China in the hope of selling their wares.

Just as the riddle of the Frasercot pelts finally seemed solved, however, a further mystery arose concerning them. Prior to receiving the results of Lars's examination of the hair samples from Mark's specimen, I had discovered online a photograph of yet another Frasercot-patterned pelt – but crucially, unlike all previous ones encountered by me, this was not a detached pelt. Instead, it was a live dog, yet whose fur bore the characteristic fish-scale scalloping of the Frasercot pattern!

The only information accompanying this remarkable, currently unique example was that the photograph had allegedly been snapped by a Mr Richard Brooks on the Indonesian island of Bali. I have spent considerable time trying to trace Mr Brooks, but all to no avail. And so, due to its great significance to the subject in hand, I'm including a small, low-resolution version of his photo here on a strictly Fair Use, educational, non-commercial basis only, acknowledging fully that Mr Brooks is its copyright holder.

Live dog allegedly on Bali exhibiting Frasercot fur pattern (© Richard Brooks – reproduced here in low-resolution format on a strictly non-commercial, educational, Fair Use basis only; despite considerable attempts, I have so far been unable to trace Mr Brooks)

Of course, in this age of readily-available photo-manipulation techniques, it needs to be stressed here that the worrying possibility of this photograph actually being the result of one such process cannot be ruled out, especially as its supposed originator has so far resisted all attempts to be traced and his name may therefore be fictitious, just a pseudonym.

What makes this living Frasercot-patterned canine specimen so fascinating if indeed genuine, however, is that clearly its pattern could not have been applied to it by a mechanical, heat-stamping device. So as the Frasercot pattern is of artificial, man-made design, it must have been applied to the dog's fur by being painstakingly painted upon it, and surely with the dog fully anaesthetised while this very delicate process was being performed (having said that, the spots on this live dog are rather bigger than those on all Frasercot pelts currently recorded, so it would have been less difficult to apply them to it).

The obvious question to be asked here is why anyone should wish to perform such an elaborate form of decoration upon a live dog anyway. But perhaps its Frasercot-adorned coat made it valuable or much sought-after as a pet, or even for sale as an exotic 'rare breed' to some unsuspecting tourist, and it is certainly not the first time that I have seen domestic animals with intricately-embellished coats.

Dog with fake spots in Kalimpong, West Bengal, India (© Sukanto Debnath/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)

For instance, there are photos of many different examples online involving dogs, including tiger-striped, leopard-spotted, and even black-and-white giant-panda-rendered versions (utilising chows - click here for photos). Also, while visiting Tijuana, Mexico, in 2004 I saw one of the famous 'Tijuana zebras' – in reality, donkeys that have been painted with stripes in order to look like zebras – being used for photo sessions with tourists.

One of Tijuana's famous 'zebras' – in reality a donkey with painted-on stripes (public domain)

So it would seem that after perplexing cryptozoologists and mainstream zoologists alike for many years, the mystifying Frasercot pelts are finally a (Chinese) puzzle no longer.

My sincere thanks to Mark Fraser, Lars Thomas, Dr Darren Naish, Jonathan McGowan, Martin Cotterill, and above all my late mother Mary Shuker for their greatly valued contributions to my Frasercot investigations; and additionally to Mark for so kindly loaning to me his Frasercot pelt for examination.

EPILOGUE – 19 April 2017

Today I discovered here that Mark's Frasercot pelt was sold on the internet auction site Ebay UK on 28 June 2014, but at present I have no further details concerning this transaction or its new owner/whereabouts.

Photographed alongside me for scale purposes (I stand 5'10" tall) while on loan to me during March 2012, the Frasercot pelt then-owned by Mark Fraser (© Dr Karl Shuker)

2ND UPDATE: 30 November 2018

Earlier tonight, German cryptozoological researcher Markus Bühler drew my attention to the following photograph featuring a Frasercot pelt, a photo (and pelt specimen) previously unfamiliar to me. The photo is currently doing the rounds online within at least two reports dating from mid-November 2018, concerning China's controversial interest in the trade and use of bones from endangered rhinoceroses and tigers, which have traditionally been used in Chinese folk medicines. These reports can be accessed here and here.

Frasercot pelt (far right) that was on sale somewhere in China during 2006 (© holder currently unknown to me despite searches made by me, reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for review/educational purposes only)

My investigations of this photograph have revealed that it was snapped somewhere in China and is an archive image dating back to 2006. My thanks to Markus for kindly alerting me to this important image.

Wednesday 12 April 2017


Bush dog (public domain)

According to native Indian testimony, as well as that of certain Western explorers and cryptozoological investigators, South America is home to several different types of mysterious, scientifically-unidentified cat that are very distinct from one another morphologically but which are reputedly united by a single characteristic that if genuine is highly unusual for jungle-dwelling felids – for they supposedly hunt in packs, like dogs. Indeed, so unusual do these ostensibly canine cats seem that, as will be revealed here, some authorities have suggested that perhaps they truly are canids, and not felids at all. (And for another South American mystery cat that may in reality be a dog, click here to read my ShukerNature article re the mitla)..

The warracaba (or waracabra) tiger, as it is known to the Guyanan natives, differs from the typical jaguar (called 'tigre' by Hispanics here) in an extremely significant way with respect to behaviour. For whereas the recognised jaguar Panthera onca (whether spotted or black) is a solitary hunter, Guyana's elusive warracaba tiger allegedly hunts in packs, which in turn may contain dozens of individuals. Needless to say, any felid that hunted in this manner would be a very special kind of cat indeed.

Normal spotted jaguar with black (melanistic) jaguar (public domain)

Not surprisingly, therefore, the warracaba tiger has attracted considerable interest from travellers to Guyana. In an Animal Kingdom periodical article from 1957, the eminent American naturalist and author William Bridges incorporated an impressive series of reports concerning this animal, dating back to the end of the 19th Century (oddly, modern-day reports are all but non-existent). These include the following selection.

In his book Twenty-Five Years in British Guiana, published in 1898, Henry Kirke, a former Sheriff of Demerara, noted:

There is a mysterious beast in the forest called by the native Indians the "waracabra tiger." All travellers in the forests of Guiana speak of this dreaded animal, but strange to say, none of them appear to have seen it. The Indians profess the greatest terror of it. It is said to hunt in packs (which tigers [jaguars] never do), and when its howls awake the echoes of the forest, the Indians at once take to their canoes and wood skins as the only safe refuge from its ravages.

Indeed, this was precisely the action taken by Indian attendants of British explorer C. Barrington Brown upon hearing (though not seeing) the approach of one such pack in an incident occurring at the edge of Guyana's Curiebrong River during the mid-1800s. On this occasion, a single boat was used as the means of escape, which Brown boarded too. Enquiring the nature of these evidently much-feared felids, Brown was informed by the Indians that they were small but exceedingly ferocious tigers; that they hunted in packs; and that they were not frightened by camp fires or anything except the barking of dogs. Upon crossing the river, however:

...a shrill scream rent the air from the opposite side of the river, not two hundred yards above our camp, and waking up echoes in the forest, died away as suddenly as it rose. This was answered by another cry, coming from the depths of the forest, the intervals being filled up by low growls and trumpeting sounds, which smote most disagreeably on the ear. Gradually the cries became fainter and fainter, as the band retired from our vicinity, till they utterly died away.

Brown remarked that these beasts' cry resembled that of the waracabra bird (better known as the grey-winged trumpeter Psophia crepitans, a predominantly glossy-black relative of the cranes, coots and bustards), hence the name 'waracabra tiger'. These latter mystery animals are called y'agamisheri by the Accawoio Indians, who state that they vary in both size and colour and that as many as a hundred individuals can constitute a single pack. Little wonder that Brown's Indian companions were so desperate to depart. The prospect of meeting up with a hundred or so jaguars (even under-sized ones) all at once would surely daunt even the most courageous of human hunters!

Vintage photos of trumpeters (public domain)

In Among the Indians of Guiana, published in 1883, author and explorer Sir Everard F. im Thurn alleged that he had actually encountered three warracaba tiger eyewitnesses but admitted that it was clear that the tale related by one of them was much exaggerated. Im Thurn also offered his own suggestion concerning these fabled felids, that reports of them had taken their roots from the fact that puma families occasionally travel together.

During the early part of the 20th Century, Lee S. Crandall, who went on to become the General Curator of New York's Bronx Zoo, spent time working in Guyana and encountered many reports of the warracaba tiger. Once again, however, he never met an Indian who affirmed unequivocally that he had not merely heard but had also actually seen any of these mysterious creatures. This latter aspect is a frequent but notably perplexing com­ponent of warracaba tiger reports - the creatures are heard but never seen.

Consequently, as a solution to the mystery of the warracaba tiger and especially to this notably strange facet of their case history, Crandall proposed the following elegant explanation. Namely, that this beast was not a special form of jaguar at all; instead, it was simply some animal species that hunted in packs at night, yet which voiced such terrifying sounds whilst doing so that no Indian had ever been brave enough to investigate the identity of these sounds' originators - as a result of which they had never realised that this aurally abhorrent creature was in fact already known to them by sight during the daytime.

Crandall even named the species that he felt was responsible - an animal that is neither jaguar nor, in fact, any form of felid, but is one of South America's most unusual species of wild dog. Namely, the bush dog Speothos (formerly Icticyon) venaticus, a very curious, little-known canid not closely related to other species.

Bush dogs (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Measuring no more than 3 ft in total length and a mere 1 ft in shoulder height, in colour it is dark reddish-brown dorsally and virtually black ventrally (rather rare amongst non-melanistic mammals). The bush dog's distribu­tion extends from Panama and Colombia to northern Venezuela, Brazil, Guyana, Surinam, French Guiana, northernmost Ecuador, eastern Peru, northern Bolivia, and Paraguay. According to certain reports, it does hunt in packs (indeed, it may spend its entire life in packs), but in general behaviour is exceedingly secretive.

Worth noting was the impression by botanist Dr Nicholas Guppy (who had spent much time in Guyana) that, whereas the older Indians still believe that packs of warracaba tigers exist in the more remote mountainous regions, the younger Indians seem more disposed to believing the Western identification of them as bush dogs.

And certainly, as far as its distribution, hunting behaviour, and general elusiveness are concerned, the bush dog does compare favourably with the legendary warracaba tiger (and, as the latter is not normally seen, morphological comparisons are superfluous). Conversely, the famous hideous scream of the warracaba tiger contrasts sharply with the relatively feeble whine voiced by bush dogs. Also, it is rather difficult to believe that the Guyanan Indians, frightened or not, could really confuse - visually and/or aurally, singly and/or in packs - a bush dog with any form of jaguar. The mystery of the warracaba tiger may not be solved after all.

The most obscure pack-hunting crypto-cats reputedly inhabiting South America, however, are those that have been variously reported from Peru and Ecuador.

During the 1990s, Peru-born zoologist Dr Peter Hocking collected native reports concerning a number of mystifying cat forms allegedly existing in Peru but which are not known to science. One of these is the so-called 'jungle wildcat', reported from montane forests in the lower Urubamba River valley. Apparently, it is no larger than an average domestic cat, is patterned in a varied assortment of blotches, and has noticeably long fangs. Far more distinctive, however, is its apparent proclivity for hunting in packs, containing ten or more individuals.

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, and from where I downloaded a copy of it (fortunately, as it turned out, because, like so often happens in the ephemeral world of cyberspace, it now seems to have vanished). These very intriguing crypto-felids included two different alleged pack-hunting forms.

Vintage photograph from 1913 of a captive small-eared dog (public domain)

One of them is the tsere-yawá, which is also said by the native tribes to be semi-aquatic. Angel was informed that this 3-ft-long felid hunted in packs of 8-10 individuals, and was brown in colour, like the brown capuchin monkey whose local name, tsere, it shares. In 1999, a young man named Christian Chumbi from Sauntza allegedly saw eight of these cats less than 50 ft away in the river Yukipa. Unfortunately, there are insufficient morphological details available to attempt any taxonomic identification of this mystery felid.

Interestingly, the small-eared dog or zorro Atelocynus microtis, a surprisingly cat-like wild dog, inhabits Ecuador, and is known to be semi-aquatic – it even has partly-webbed feet. So might this reclusive canid species. already proposed elsewhere by me as an identity for a feline mystery mammal called the mitla (click here), once again be in contention as the true identity of a supposed crypto-cat?

Alternatively, otters are social creatures, so could the tsere-yawá actually turn out to be lutrine rather than either feline or canine? Indeed, one South American species, the marine otter Lontra felina, is so feline in outward mien that it is even referred to colloquially as the sea cat (it is predominantly coastal in distribution but will sometimes enter rivers in search of freshwater crustaceans). The other three species of South American otter currently known to science are the neotropical river otter L. longicaudis, the southern river otter L. provocax, and the aptly-named giant otter or saro Pteronura brasiliensis.

An 1848 illustration of the marine otter or sea cat Lontra felina (public domain)

The second Ecuadorian feline pack-hunter is known as the jiukam-yawá. As Angel was only able to collect second-hand reports of it, not personal eyewitness accounts, however, he declined to document this cryptid in his field report.

With so little in terms of morphological details to analyse, the supposed pack-hunting felids of Peru and Ecuador currently remain enigmatic to say the least. However, should any zoologist with cryptozoological interests be visiting either or both of these South American countries on official research business at some stage in the future, they should consider devoting some of their spare time there to the questioning of local inhabitants concerning the above mystery cats(?), in the hope of obtaining additional details.

After all, when dealing with creatures as paradoxical as pack-hunting mystery cats – not to mention a semi-aquatic cat! – every snippet of information procured is a major bonus that may conceivably shed much-needed light upon these baffling beasts' identities.