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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Tuesday, 2 June 2020


The mounted trophy head of a quang khem in Vietnam's Central Highlands Animal Museum (© Copyright holder unclear – the photograph appears uncredited in the 2010 Vietnamese article cited below, and also uncredited here on the It's Something Wiki site; reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/research/review purposes only)

During the 1990s, an astonishing array of new artiodactyl (even-toed) ungulate species was revealed in Vietnam and its neighbouring Asian countries of Laos and Cambodia. These included (most famously) the saola or Vu Quang ox Pseudoryx nghetinhensis, an extraordinary buffalo-like beast but sporting long slender antelope-like horns and legs; the aptly-named giant muntjac Muntiacus (originally Megamuntiacus) vuquangensis, by far the largest species of muntjac known to exist today; several smaller muntjac species, and, most controversial of all, the holy goat (aka kting voar) Pseudonovibos spiralis, a creature so elusive that it is still known only from native descriptions and a series of preserved tightly-spiraled horns, some (but NOT all) of which have been shown to be fakes, merely the deftly modified horns of domestic cattle, leading certain skeptics to speculate whether it is a real animal at all (click here for more details on ShukerNature regarding this much-disputed mammal).

An extensive account of all of these new species and their respective discoveries can be found in my book The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals (2012).

Also reported during that momentous decade of Indochinese ungulate unveilings was a mysterious deer known to the local Vu Quang hunters as the quang khem, and said by them to be very different indeed from all other deer native to this remote Vietnamese location. Yet unlike all of the other ungulates name-checked here, more than 20 years later this particular one remains scientifically undescribed and unnamed.

First page of an unidentified, undated Vietnamese magazine article featuring drawings illustrating the heads of the giant muntjac (left), the saola (centre), and the quang khem (right) (© Copyright holder(s) currently unknown to me – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/research/review purposes only)

Here's what I wrote about the quang khem (aka Chinh's deer, honouring its discoverer) in my above-cited encyclopaedia:

In 1994, Vietnamese biologist Nguyen Ngoc Chinh visited Pu Mat, just north of Vu Quang, in search of Vu Quang oxen [saola]. He didn't find any, but returned instead with local reports of a strange deer known to hunters as the quang khem - 'slow-running deer'. One hunter had also given him the skull of a quang khem, which was very unusual, on account of its bizarre antlers - for these were nothing more than primitive unbranched spikes that bore a startling resemblance to the horns on a Viking's helmet!

Technically, this odd-looking deer had actually been discovered three decades earlier - but no-one had realised! Shortly after Chinh's findings, MacKinnon [saola discoverer Dr John MacKinnon] spotted some quang khem skulls in a box of bones at Hanoi's Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources - bones that had been collected as long ago as the late 1960s, but which had not previously been examined or sorted. DNA samples were sent to [zoologist Dr Peter] Arctander at Copenhagen University, who was unable to match them with the DNA of any known species. Nevertheless, the elusive Vietnamese slow-running deer has still to be scientifically described and named.

In an e-mail of 15 December 1999, Prof. Colin Groves mentioned to me that he hadn't heard anything more concerning this deer from Arctander or anyone else. He remained unsure of its likely zoological identity, being "unable to decide whether it was just sambar with undeveloped antlers (i.e. very young or very old, "going back"), or a sort of paedomorphic sambar. Certainly the evidence indicated Cervus (Rusa)". Clearly, therefore, whatever it does prove to be, the quang khem is one mystery deer that is not a muntjac.

And that was where matters concerning this most cryptic of cryptozoological deer have remained ever since (ignoring a few inaccurate mentions of it online in which it has regrettably been confused with the saola) – or so I thought, until yesterday. That was when I was contacted by British writer/journalist Fergus Blair, who shares my interest in the above-listed new ungulates – so much so that he had succeeded in uncovering (and very kindly sharing with me – thanks Fergus!) an online article documenting the quang khem that was completely new to me. Please click here to access it (although spasmodically, and for reasons entirely unknown to me, it won't always open, but fortunately I downloaded and retained on file a copy at a time when it was accessible - hence a screenshot of its quang khem section is included further down in this present ShukerNature blog article of mine). Having said that, my lack of knowledge concerning this article was due in no small part to the fact that it was written entirely in Vietnamese and had only appeared in a Vietnamese publication.

Vietnam map showing location of Central Highlands region (© Dr Blofeld/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

Much as I wish it were otherwise, I freely confess that whatever linguistic talents I may possess do not encompass Vietnamese, so I resorted to Google Translate in the hope of obtaining at least some degree of enlightenment concerning its contents. Happily, the result was by no means as garbled as I'd feared it may be. So here, for what may be the first time in any English publication, is the basic information concerning the quang khem as contained in that Vietnamese article.

Published on 8 May 2010 by a local Vietnamese government website entitled Lâm Đng (but no specific author details given), the article is entitled 'Phát hin loài mang ln và loài quang khem có Lâm Đng '.

This title loosely translates as 'Detecting large deer [giant muntjac] and khem deer [quang khem] in Lâm Đng'. Lâm Đng is a province in Vietnam's Central Highlands region, the only Central Highland province that does not share a border with Vietnam's lower left-hand neighbour Cambodia.

Map showing location of Lâm Đng province within Vietnam (© TUBS/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

The quang khem was the second of the two species to be documented in the article (following an account of the giant muntjac's presence in Lâm Đng), and here is the information concerning it as contained in the article.

The quang khem account opens with the heading ' LOÀI NAI ĐAU ĐINH', seemingly the local name in Lâm Đng for this creature, and which loosely translates as 'painful-nail deer species'. Reiterated a little later here, 'nail' is a descriptive term originating from local hunters that refers to this deer's unbranched antlers, which the hunters liken to large nails (as in tacks used for hanging pictures on walls, etc, rather than fingernails or toenails), so presumably the 'painful' adjective suggests that these antlers' distal points are very sharp and therefore painful to touch?

Anyway, the article then states that in a survey on Pu Mat forest (Nghe An) in December 2002, a joint survey team between the Forest Inventory and Planning Institute (FIPI) [Vin điu tra quy hoch rng, in Vietnamese] and Nghe An Forest Protection Department collected a pair of antlers and some skull fragments from a specimen of a strange ungulate species that local hunters called the quang khem.  Realizing that this specimen had many new features, the survey team gathered its components together to study them and the specimen has been sent to a number of leading animal experts of Vietnam and abroad (none of which was named in the article) for inspection. Experts have confirmed that this is a specimen of a species that has differences from all species of the genera Cervus (such species being known in Vietnamese as Nai) and Muntiacus (such species being known in Vietnamese as Hoanh) of the deer family (Cervidae) that are known in Vietnam and around the world. This may be a new species of the deer family, but the sample collected, consisting only of a pair of antlers and a few skull fragments, is probably insufficient to confirm this.

Just in case the 2010 Vietnamese article proves inaccessible when the above link to it is clicked, here is a screenshot of its quang khem section – please click image to enlarge it for reading purposes, assuming that you can read Vietnamese (© www.lamdong.gov.vn – included here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/research/review purposes only)

Based on documents regarding the quang khem published by Nguyen Ngoc Chinh in Forestry Journal [the full reference to this paper is: Nguyen Ngoc Chinh, 'Opinions About Quang Khem, a Newly Discovered Deer', Forestry Journal, no. 6, 1993 – which I wish to track down and read if at all possible], and upon comparisons made with samples of the quang khem currently stored in the Animal Division of FIPI, we also identified this species in Lâm Đng.

Evidence of this province's quang khem specimens is currently stored in the Central Highlands Animal Museum, including two complete heads (mounted as trophies [a colour photograph of one of these trophy heads is included in this article]), one skull and antlers, and three pairs of antlers . The first two samples were provided by Mr Nguyen Minh Tu (Bao Loc), and skull samples and pairs of antlers provided by Mr Tran Van Thuan (Da Lat).

Through investigation, it was known that strange deer were found in Di Linh, Bao Loc, Cat Tien (Lâm Đng) and that hunters called this strange deer 'nail head'. This is because its antlers did not branch, thus resembling two big nails.

Adult male sambar Cervus (=Rusa) unicolor, exhibiting branched antlers typical of adult specimens (© Sks2610/Wikipedia – CC  BY-SA 4.0 licence)

The body weight of this deer is about 90-100 kg for adult males. Its fawn colour is similar to that of the sambar Cervus unicolor, so it is difficult to distinguish between these two deer types when they eat grass on the edge of the forest during the period when the males are without antlers. Specimens of this deer being stored at the Central Highlands Animal Museum allow a closer study of it to confirm whether it is a new species of deer and give a scientific name to it. All work is waiting for the conclusion of the animal experts.

That account was published in 2010, but a decade later the quang khem seemingly remains an enigma, in taxonomic limbo, because it has yet to receive any formal recognition either as a valid new species or as merely a freak form of the sambar.

Perhaps as Prof. Groves had suggested in his email of December 1999 to me, it may constitute a paedomorphic anomaly. That is to say, it consists of developmentally-abnormal individuals in which the simple unbranched spike-like antlers normally seen only in young deer specimens have been retained by sexually-mature adult deer, rather than having been replaced by the developed branched antlers typical of adult deer.

Juvenile male sambar sporting unbranched spike-shaped antlers (© Michael Mayer/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

Of course, there is always the possibility – as evidenced by the existence of the above-translated Vietnamese article from 2010 but ostensibly unpublicised outside Vietnam until now – that new research and findings have indeed been published, perhaps including full details of who the unnamed experts were to whom the quang khem antlers and skull fragments collected by the survey team in December 2002, and what their considered conclusions concerning the quang khem's identity were, but not in Western publications, only in Vietnamese ones that have been overlooked in the West. Even so, had any such publications contained a formal scientific description and taxonomic name for the quang khem as a recognised new species, it seems highly unlikely that this very notable news would not have become known internationally in mammalogical circles. Groves in particular would definitely have learnt of it, as he maintained countless contacts with leading researchers globally.

Certainly, it would appear very likely that DNA samples could be extracted from the two mounted trophy heads and compared with samples from the sambar and other deer native to Vietnam and beyond to determine whether or not they did indeed differ and, if so, by a sufficient degree to warrant the quang khem being officially recognised as a valid new species. So why has this not been attempted – assuming that it hasn't?

Similarly, comparative morphometric analyses conducted upon the retained skulls could surely provide morphological clues as to just how similar or otherwise they are to those of other deer species. Yet once again, nothing appears to have been done (unless it has been, but the findings are currently concealed within Vietnamese articles not readily accessible to Western researchers?). All very mysterious – every bit as mysterious, in fact, as the quang khem itself!

Bill Rebsamen's painting of the giant muntjac, the other deer species documented in the 2010 Vietnamese article (© William M. Rebsamen)

Needless to say, an obvious way of investigating this mystery within a mystery is to contact Vietnam's FIPI and its Central Highlands Animal Museum, collectively holding these quang khem specimens – but finding current contact details has not proven easy so far. I did unearth an email contact from 2007 for FIPI, so I emailed to it an enquiry concerning FIPI's quang khem specimens and any current news concerning the latter cryptid's scientific status, only to obtain by speedy return one of the dreaded MAILER-DAEMON Failure Notices informing me that the recipient email address in question was no longer valid. Consequently, I am presently seeking a more recent FIPI contact, as well as one for the Central Highlands Animal Museum.

The situation concerning the latter museum is particularly curious, inasmuch as I have been unable to locate any confirmation of its existence! The most notable museum in the Central Highlands region would seem to be Dak Lak Museum, situated in the heart of Buon Ma Thuot City, but this establishment is not located in Lâm Đng, and is by no means devoted entirely or even predominantly to animals. On the contrary, it displays a wide range of exhibits, from ethnic culture, archaeology, and history, as well as biodiversity, and includes films and documentaries, not just physical objects. Another possible identity for this 'missing museum' is, as suggested to me by Fergus Blair, the Tay Nguyen Biological Institute (originally Vietnam's Redemptorist monastery), situated on Tung Lam hill in Lâm Đng. The second of its five floors serves as a biology museum. If anyone reading this article of mine has any information or suggestions concerning or for contacting FIPI and/or whichever museum the so-called Central Highlands Animal Museum is (or was – perhaps it did exist at the time of the 2010 Vietnamese article's appearance online but has since closed down?), I would greatly appreciate details.

So, to quote Sherlock Holmes, the game is afoot! If I do succeed in obtaining additional details concerning Vietnam's veritable Viking deer, I shall of course reveal all here on ShukerNature, thereby adding, I hope, a new chapter to the long-running saga of the slow-running deer. Watch this space!

My sincere thanks to Fergus Blair for most kindly bringing the 2010 online Vietnamese article to my attention and sharing his associated thoughts with me.

EPILOGUE: Today, the Lâm Đng local government website's 8 May 2010 article re the quang khem and giant muntjac appears to have vanished. Whenever I've attempted to access the article online this morning, I've simply received an automatic 404 NOT FOUND message. How fortunate, therefore, that I downloaded a copy of it yesterday when it was still accessible online! The ephemeral nature of the internet strikes again!

The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals, featuring on its front cover Bill Rebsamen's beautiful close-up painting of Vietnam's saola (foreground) in the company of the Congo's okapi (background) – two of the 20th Century's most significant and iconic cryptozoological success stories (© Dr Karl Shuker/William M. Rebsamen/Coachwhip Publications)

Monday, 4 May 2020


Vintage colourised illustration recreating the Green Children of Woolpit (public domain)

This morning, I received a communication from a longstanding ShukerNature reader asking me why I had never blogged about the Green Children of Woolpit, one of the most perplexing unresolved mysteries of medieval times. In fact, as I mentioned in my reply, I have blogged about them – but not on ShukerNature.

Instead, a detailed article by me investigating this fascinating, highly controversial subject from many different angles appears in a lesser-known blog of mine, The Eclectarium of Doctor Shuker, which I set up several years ago in order to document a very diverse – indeed, decidedly eclectic – range of unusual subjects that interest me but which generally (although not always) fall outside the scope (cryptozoology, animal anomalies, zoomythology, and mainstream natural history) covered on ShukerNature.

Subjects covered so far in my Eclectarium include the biblical Nephilim, living dolls, the giant animate bronze man Talos from Greek mythology, the history of circus clowns, haunted machines, the head of Ozymandias, dragons in Heavy Metal music, James Dean, cloud-busters, devil's hair and steam devils, eccentric British folk festivals, divination, the porcelain tower of Nanking, and much more besides.

I confess that work commitments and other matters, not to mention the sad fact that it has attracted far less attention from readers than ShukerNature has done, have seen my contributions to my Eclectarium blog fall off almost entirely in recent times (something that I plan to remedy). But perhaps various of you who may never have visited it (or even known about it) will now seek it out, especially as in order to fill a Green Children-sized gap in ShukerNature's content I am now linking directly to my Eclectarium article concerning them – so please click here to read it.

And who knows, once you've done so you may find other Eclectarium articles of mine there that will interest you too, especially during these grim times of international lockdown tedium. You can thank me later!

Standing by the famous sign in the village of Woolpit, Suffolk, depicting the Green Children, during a visit that I paid there on 14 July 2008 (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Saturday, 2 May 2020


On wings of inspiration and life (© José Moutinho/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)

The book of the film, as they say, took Bach eight years to complete.

He maintains that the story came to him in a vision.

"I was walking home one night in 1959. I heard a voice say 'Jonathan Livingston Seagull.' I was scared to death and ran home, locking the door behind me," said Bach.

"As I sat on the bed a bright vision of a seagull flying alone suddenly appeared. The bird started talking about his life.

"I wrote down every word he told me. Then he disappeared.

"I thought I had a great story to write. But I realised I only had half of it. I could not finish it.

"It was eight years before the seagull returned and talked to me again. I got the rest of the story, dug out the old manuscript and finished the book."

          Interview with Richard Bach, in Daily Mail (London), 17 January 1973

It was during the late 1970s as a university undergraduate zoology student when I first read Richard Bach's bestselling short novella Jonathan Livingston Seagull, originally published in 1970, followed three years later by a movie version. The novella was truly magical and inspirational, greatly influencing my outlook on life ever afterwards, and I have re-read it many times since then.

My original copy of Richard Bach's bestselling novel Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Pan paperback edition, 12th printing, 1976) (© Richard Bach/Pan Books - reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Yet until last night I had never seen the movie version, due not only to it being released several years before I'd read the book but also to it being neither a box-office nor a critical success and consequently sinking without trace afterwards. Many years later, I happened upon this long-forgotten film in VHS videocassette format, which I duly purchased, but although I fully intended to watch it, somehow I never did - probably put off by the negative reviews that it had received when released - until last night, and what a revelation it proved to be.

My VHS videocassette of the 1973 movie version of Jonathan Livingston Seagull (© Hall Bartlett/Paramount Pictures - reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Live-action throughout, the movie stays close both in content and in style to the book, telling the story of a gull named Jonathan Livingston Seagull who is not content simply to be one of the flock, to be satisfied with mediocrity, suppressed by conformity, and never to exhibit any trace of individuality. Instead, fascinated with flight, he pushes himself both physically and spiritually to fly ever faster and soar ever higher, to see the whole world, not just the very limited portion of it occupied by his flock. Unfortunately, however, this does not endear him to the flock's Elders, who initially issue him with stern warnings to conform, not to stand out from his fellow gulls, but, when Jonathan chooses to ignore them in his Olympianesque quest to be faster, higher, without equal, formally banish him from the flock forever, an outcast alone and unprotected thereafter - but also free at last to pursue his goals, his dreams, his ambitions, unhindered and unsuppressed.

After travelling to parts of the globe never visited by other seagulls, such as deserts and snowy forests, and surpassing all of his previous speed and altitude records, in the movie's second half Jonathan is visited by some radiant, shimmering-white gulls from a higher plane of existence, semi-divine and capable of flying feats far exceeding even his own awesome abilities, but who are nonetheless very impressed by what he has achieved and by his refusal to allow his individuality to be denied by the flock. So they become his teachers, his mentors, enabling Jonathan to achieve ever greater successes in his quest for perfection, until eventually he in turn becomes a teacher, and with a small flock of acolytes, including one particular protégé named Fletcher, he returns to his old flock and tries to teach them what he has learnt. However, the repressive Elders are outraged and command the flock to kill him and his followers. So they fly away, but not before their words have incited in a few members of the flock a passion to discover their own unique selves and uncover their own unique abilities.

Semi-divine and shimmering (© Новинская Г.А/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

The cinematography of this very unusual yet truly evangelical movie, entirely bereft of humans but featuring breathtaking footage of gulls both in flight individually and gathering together in cacophonous bickering flocks to seize fishes drawn up in trawlers' nets, is absolutely stunning even today, almost 50 years after this movie was first released, so just how incredibly spectacular it must have looked on the big screen in its cinema release back in 1973 can scarcely be imagined. And on top of all of this is an extremely evocative, melodic soundtrack whose music and songs were written and performed by none other than Neil Diamond, and which achieved commercial success worldwide following its release in 1974.

The soundtrack album from the movie version of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, with all music and songs composed and performed by Neil Diamond (© Neil Diamond/Columbia – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

With so much going for it, what went wrong - why did this marvellous movie flop? To my mind, the only tenable answer is that not a great deal happens in it - as can be seen from my above précis of its plot, a plot that is as much metaphorical as it is literal, just as it is in the book. But whereas the book is very short (just 93 pages in total, and which include many full-page illustrations), the movie was originally 120 minutes long (cut to 90 minutes in the video version that I watched), and whereas I absolutely loved its beautiful panoramic shots, exquisite scenery, and extremely tranquil ambience throughout, not to mention its plot's inspirational theme and stirring music, to audiences more accustomed to action and adventure it may conceivably have come across as uneventful to the point of being dull. (Indeed, presumably fearing such an outcome, the movie's makers insisted upon inserting a scene in which Jonathan is attacked by a hawk for invading what the hawk considers to be its very own section of sky - a scene that does not appear in the book and which Bach reputedly hated.)

Yet if this opinion of mine is indeed correct, it means that such audiences entirely misunderstood what this magical film (and book) is all about. It is NOT in any way, shape, or form a conventional animal movie, simply portraying the adventures or life story of some cute creature. Instead, it is a glorious pictorial paean to individuality – to be yourself, not subdued or repressed by the strictures of society to conform, but instead to pursue your own dreams, to create and follow your own pathway through life, ever striving to achieve your own goals, neither hindered nor lured by mediocrity or mundanity. Dare to be different, dare to be daring and uncaring of criticism or jealousy from those who cannot or will not accept anything that challenges their rigid, inflexible status quo, their blinkered worldview, their comfortable conservatism.

A lesser black-backed gull Larus fuscus, the species that Jonathan is portrayed as in the movie (Having said that, there is one scene in which he briefly, inexplicably, changes between consecutive shots from a lesser black-backed gull into a herring gull L. argentatus and then back into a lesser black-backed again – but hey, what's a little interspecific interchange among friends!) (© Marek Szczepanek-Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

Watching this wonderful, life-affirming movie, I recalled so vividly how my mother Mary Shuker had always encouraged me to embrace these very same ideals - to be myself, to pursue what interested me, to dismiss those who sought to discredit or denigrate my passions, possessions, and passage through life on my own terms in my own way, and above all else, just as this movie and book also exhort, to dare to be different. This probably explains why instead of spending a life of tedium ticking boxes of conventionality and filling in the forms of conformity, I can look back upon what for me has been an unconventional, non-conformist, but thoroughly fascinating career in cryptozoology, with side-helpings of poetry, world travel, and quizzing.

I urge you to watch this movie if you can find it (sadly, it's not readily accessible either in DVD or videocassette format nowadays, but maybe it can be streamed?), and above all else to read the original book. It might just change your life - it certainly changed mine.

An article concerning this movie, published on 17 January 1973 by London's Daily Mail newspaper in one of the scrapbooks that I used to compile as a youngster and which were the predecessors of what became my ever-expanding archive of cryptozoology and (un)natural history (© Daily Mail – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only) – please click on image to enlarge for reading purposes.

The original novel consisted of three parts, each one concerned with a different stage in Jonathan's personal voyage of discovery, but in 2014 it was republished with a new, fourth part added, set 600 years after the previous events and portraying a further dimension in the never-ending odyssey of his sublime, immortal life. So I definitely need to read this now-complete edition, and once again enable my soul to soar heavenward on the bright wings of a seabird who dared.

Quotes from Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach (© Richard Bach / image found online, © unknown to me – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)