Dr KARL SHUKER

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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Monday, 3 May 2021

THE MONSTER OF DREAD END - REDISCOVERING A CHILLING CHILDHOOD PRECURSOR TO MY CAREER IN CRYPTOZOOLOGY

 
The dramatic, climactic panel from the legendary comic-strip horror story 'The Monster of Dread End' written by John Stanley and illustrated by Ed Robbins that first appeared in Ghost Stories, #1, September/October 1962, published by Dell Comics (© John Stanley/Ed Robbins/Ghost Stories/Dell Comics – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

As today has been yet another Bank Holiday Monday of the traditional wet'n'windy, stay-at-home type here in the UK, by way of light(?) relief I'll share with you tonight on ShukerNature a notable cryptozoology-relevant rediscovery made by me during the early hours of this morning. True, its subject certainly may not be notable to everyone, nor may it be what everyone would instantly or at least initially deem to be of cryptozoological relevance. However, my finding of it today almost by chance after having purposefully and diligently searched so many times before yet always in vain swiftly reminded me of how, in spite of its overtly bizarre nature, this very specific, never-forgotten item may well have played a subtle role in cultivating my curiosity about monsters and mystery beasts as a child, inputting only too memorably into the formative mind of a fledgling cryptozoologist the excitement as well as even sometimes the terror associated with such creatures. And the name of this unconventional yet indelibly imprinted source of proto-cryptozoological intrigue? The Monster of Dread End. But to begin at the beginning…

Sometime during the late 1960s or early 1970s, I was bought a very unusual hardback comic book. In outward appearance, it greatly resembled the familiar comic annuals that used to be produced for sale just before Christmas each year by all of the major British children's comics, a fair selection of which I would buy or have bought for me at one time or another down through my younger years. These included such fondly-remembered but long-since vanished titles as The Beezer, The Dandy, The Topper, The Beano (sole survivor today), Sparky, Buster, Cor!, Whizzer & Chips, The Eagle, Valiant, Lion, Tiger, and Jag. However, the contents of the annual-type comic book under consideration here were very different from the innocuous cartoon humour and 'boys-own' adventure serials present in those above-named titles. Indeed, to the impressionable, highly imaginative youngster that I was back then, they were for the most part quite nightmarish, even horrific, and I freely confess that unbidden thoughts about them gave me a fair few sleepless nights as time went on. This no doubt explains why I eventually discarded the book, about 2-3 years after having received it, but even today I can still vividly recall a fair amount of its contents, although I can neither remember its title nor its front-cover illustration.

About 64 pages long and A4-sized, this annual-lookalike comic book contained a series of self-contained stories (somewhere around 10-12, if I remember correctly), each one presented in the traditional panel-type illustration format of comic strips. Some were in full colour, others in monochrome, although red/white was favoured over b/w, as far as I can recall. However, their one common attribute was that the theme of their stories was the supernatural and the unknown, presenting a diversity of fictitious but terrifying tales featuring the likes of malevolent phantoms and other malign presences, fatal premonitions, and monsters – including the afore-mentioned denizen of Dread End, which irresistibly captured in its hideous clawed grasp the near-mesmerized attention and tenacious, abiding remembrance of this youngster just as surely and unrelentingly as it did physically to the numerous children who were its doomed victims in the story.

(Incidentally, I should note here that until this morning's rediscovery I'd completely forgotten that this story's title was 'The Monster of Dread End', having readily remembered its plot and pictures down through the decades but not what it was actually called, which is why I'd experienced such problems in the past when seeking it out. Consequently, I'd concentrated my efforts instead upon trying to recall the title of the book containing it, entering all manner of word combinations into Google's search engine and image search in the hope of assembling a phrase close enough to the book's title for details to appear concerning it and/or a picture of its cover that might elicit some recollections, but nothing ever did. This morning, however, I tried a different tactic, but one that worked immediately. I simply entered 'giant hand sewers comic book' into Google Image's search engine, and up popped several panels from that still very familiar story, together with its hitherto-forgotten title and plenty of other details too, which will be revealed later.) Anyway, back to the story.

 
The very atmospheric opening panel from the legendary comic-strip horror story 'The Monster of Dread End' written by John Stanley and illustrated by Ed Robbins that first appeared in Ghost Stories, #1, September/October 1962, published by Dell Comics (© John Stanley/Ed Robbins/Ghost Stories/Dell Comics – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Set in an unnamed American town or city suburb, 'The Monster of Dread End' begins with the above-reproduced panel depicting and describing the dismal, derelict tenement blocks of Dread End, long since deserted and cordoned off with an official Keep Out sign attached to the chains encircling this accursed street and its immediate environs. The next few panels provide harrowing flashbacks that reveal how the horrors now inextricably associated with it began. Back then, Dread End was a bustling, happy street called Hawthorn Place – until that fateful early morning when a dead "balled-up thing" was found there, lying on the pavement "like an empty wrapper thrown carelessly aside but somehow still recognizable as having once been human". (Mercifully, no actual image of this object was presented, only the above-quoted description of it, so exactly what it looked like was left to the reader's imagination.) At the same time that horrified observers were gathering around it to stare in shock and revulsion, a panic-stricken young boy came running out of his family's apartment, yelling to everyone that his kid sister had gone missing, her bed empty…

Within a relatively short space of time, several other children from families living in Hawthorn Place also went missing from their beds. On each occasion, their absence was soon followed that same morning by the discovery close by of another of those horrific dead objects, lying on the street in silent, abject testimony to the fully-formed, living, loving child that had formerly existed in its stead. Even when frightened parents boarded up the windows in their children's bedrooms, the anomalous abductions continued, the boards being discovered broken and torn aside, the children gone, and the "balled-up things" found on the pavement nearby. Consequently, it was not long before the street's residents had all moved out, even those with nowhere else to go, content to live on the streets elsewhere if need be rather than remain in their homes and face the unexplained horror of Hawthorn Place. For despite all of their efforts, not only the local police but also the best criminological brains in the business called in from elsewhere were completely unable to discover who – or what – was responsible for this trail of terror and death.

Years went by, and Hawthorn Place, now redubbed Dread End due to its infamy, became encircled by other empty streets, yielding a veritable domain of the damned, a no-man's land of the lost, because no-one wanted to live even close to, let alone within, this sinister street. Nor did anyone ever set foot near it – until one particular night. That was when teenager Jimmy White ventured alone into the grim, dark shadows of Dread End in search of an answer to its foul mystery, seeking the cryptic Monster of Dread End itself, whatever or whoever it may be – because seven years earlier, he had been that panic-stricken young boy who had run outside shouting that his kid sister was missing, her bed empty. She had been the Monster's first victim, her remains being the first of those horrific "balled-up things". Jimmy had vowed vengeance ever since, and now he was here to take that vengeance, although, armed with nothing more than a police whistle with which he hoped to alert any cops who may be patrolling other streets in the vicinity if he should actually encounter his quarry, he was by no means clear about how to do so. Nevertheless, he intended to try, somehow, for his sister.

Hours later, however, with nothing seen or heard, Jimmy conceded to himself that he was probably years too late, that the culprit had no doubt moved on long ago. Yawning and stretching in the first light of dawn, he was just about to do the same, when suddenly, causing him to freeze in mid-stretch, a nearby manhole cover began to rise, then slipped to one side – as a huge five-fingered long-clawed hand covered in livid-green reptilian skin slowly emerged, followed by an unimaginably lengthy, similarly-scaly arm. Were it not for it terminating in that grotesque taloned hand instead of a head, the arm would have resembled an anaconda-like snake, as more and more of its immensely flexible, serpentine form continued to emerge. While an unbelieving Jimmy watched in absolute horror, standing stock-still for fear of alerting this obscene, repellent entity to his presence, the hand and arm rose up against the wall of a building close by, stretching ever upwards, feeling, searching, blind but evidently sentient, and quite obviously seeking prey.

 
Seeking prey – a panel from the legendary comic-strip horror story 'The Monster of Dread End' written by John Stanley and illustrated by Ed Robbins that first appeared in Ghost Stories, #1, September/October 1962, published by Dell Comics (© John Stanley/Ed Robbins/Ghost Stories/Dell Comics – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Jimmy had no idea what it was or where it had originated, but in that moment he knew with absolute certainty that he had solved the mystery of all of those missing children's gruesome fates, including that of his sister. They had been seized in their beds by this vile abomination, which had been lurking in the sewers of Dread End, and was still living there today, emerging at daybreak in the hope of abducting further victims to sustain its foul existence.

In his shock at what he had just seen, Jimmy lost his grip on his whistle, which fell to the ground, clattering on the pavement. Instantly, the hand and arm shot back down inside the manhole with lightning speed. So although it couldn’t see, this eerie entity could certainly sense the vibration of Jimmy's whistle hitting the floor. That must have been how it had traced its young victims, sensing the subtle vibrations that they had made while lying asleep in their beds all those years ago.

Alone once more amid the foreboding, unnatural silence of Dread End, Jimmy started debating with himself whether he'd be able to escape if he fled, or whether the monster would re-emerge  and grab him straight away if it sensed his movements. Yet even before he had chance to come to a decision, that terrible clawed hand and snake-like arm did indeed emerge – and this time it was moving directly towards him! Again, Jimmy froze, not moving a muscle as the hand groped ever closer, ever nearer to his shadow-concealed form squatting in a dead-end alley. But then it paused, and moved instead towards an open, lidless dustbin (or garbage can to my US readers), lying on the ground right next to Jimmy. Its taloned fingers reached inside, but found nothing there, so as if in impotent rage the hand grasped the bin, and closed its fingers around it, crushing it as if it were made of tissue.

Nevertheless, the bin had apparently distracted the monster's attention from Jimmy, because instead of turning back towards him, the hand and arm, still emerging in seemingly limitless length from the manhole, moved off, groping blindly along a street leading away from the petrified teenager. What to do now? Jimmy stayed squatting in the dead-end alley, figuring that the more of this monster that emerged and moved on down the street, the further away from him its deadly hand would be – until a sixth-sense survival instinct suddenly kicked in. Jimmy looked behind him – and looming directly above him was the hand! Unbeknownst to Jimmy, it had entered a window in a tenement block further down the street, and by a series of sinuous, silent loops of its immensely lengthy, flexible arm in and out of other windows the hand had cunningly doubled back towards Jimmy and had finally emerged from a window overlooking the very alley in which he was crouching!

 
It's behind you! A panel from the legendary comic-strip horror story 'The Monster of Dread End' written by John Stanley and illustrated by Ed Robbins that first appeared in Ghost Stories, #1, September/October 1962, published by Dell Comics (© John Stanley/Ed Robbins/Ghost Stories/Dell Comics – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

The hand lunged down at Jimmy, but the youth was able to dodge its terrible clawed fingers, yet found himself trapped inside the alley, pressed against its dead-end wall. The hand lunged again, and again, Jimmy desperately striving to avoid its lethal grasp, but then, tiring and flustered, he stumbled, losing his balance. And as the terrified teenager crouched, knowing all too well that he could not escape, the hand triumphantly hovered over him, in an almost exultant stance, like a hooded venomous cobra of death about to wield its fatal strike at last (see the panel opening the present ShukerNature article that illustrates this dramatic, climactic scene).

Then, without warning, a deafening hail of bullets shattered the stillness of the street, round after round after round, from all manner of firearms, and all aimed directly at different portions of the monster's gigantic serpentine length. Its murderous fingers stiffened, and then its entire hand collapsed near to where Jimmy was slumped, prone with fear. Whatever it had been, the Monster of Dread End was no more. Its hand lay palm-upwards on the ground inside the alley, and crimson rivers of blood gushed forth from its arm, which had been blown apart, broken up into several discrete portions by the intensity of the barrage of artillery brought to bear against it.

A number of figures now stepped out of the shadows and deserted buildings where they had previously been in hiding, including uniformed policemen, bazooka-toting soldiers, and plainclothes officials. One went over to the hand and began examining its palm, noting that it contained pores through which the creature had evidently absorbed the blood and other body fluids obtained from its victims after its hand had crushed them.

The police apologized to Jimmy for not having appeared on the scene earlier, explaining that they had always been here and knew all about the monster, hoping that somehow, some day, they would destroy it, but needing to wait until enough of the arm had emerged to ensure their success in killing it when firing upon it, as opposed to merely wounding it. However, it had always retreated back inside the manhole cover at the slightest indication of danger. So when they spotted it pursuing Jimmy, they had poised themselves in readiness, and once a considerable length of its arm had emerged, they saw and took their best-ever chance of ending for all time the monster's reign of terror, and which now, at last, was indeed over.

 
The victorious concluding panel from the legendary comic-strip horror story 'The Monster of Dread End' written by John Stanley and illustrated by Ed Robbins that first appeared in Ghost Stories, #1, September/October 1962, published by Dell Comics (© John Stanley/Ed Robbins/Ghost Stories/Dell Comics – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Although I hope that you've enjoyed my verbal retelling of 'The Monster of Dread End', nothing can compare to the original illustrated, scripted comic-strip version. So please click here to view (and also, if you so choose, download) this entire 10-page, 44-panel comic-strip story.

As I noted when introducing the present ShukerNature blog article, this comic-strip story may well have helped to incite my cryptozoological curiosity, because even though its own monster was so outrageously bizarre and grotesque, it probably played its part alongside a host of other influencing factors in encouraging my mind to consider whether remarkable creatures still unknown to science might actually exist. True, they were highly unlikely to be anything even remotely as incongruous as this macabre entity, but with Nessie frequently hitting the news headlines at that time, not to mention the Patterson-Gimlin bigfoot film and yeti reports, I was becoming increasingly aware that mystery animals may indeed exist. As a result, and despite knowing full well that it was entirely fictitious, even as a youngster I enjoyed hypothesizing how such a creature as the Monster of Dread End could arise.

Needless to say, I swiftly dismissed any conjecture that the hand and arm may constitute just one limb of a truly colossal sewer-dwelling mega-monster sporting other limbs as well as a head, neck, torso, and possibly even a tail too, because such a veritable mountain of living flesh existing inside the region's sewers would readily block them for miles around in every direction, rapidly causing floods, road upheavals, and all manner of other dramatic indications of its subterranean presence. In addition, unless it had countless arms with body fluid-absorbing hands emerging from manholes the length and breadth of the region concealing this underground horror (a phenomenon that in itself couldn’t help but be noticed pretty darn quickly, let alone the huge body count of victims soon arising from such widespread predation), it assuredly could not sustain such a vast bulk if it relied entirely upon just one single hand to obtain all of its necessary nutrients.

Therefore, I reasoned, the ultra-flexible arm must itself be the monster's body, an immensely long one, but a body nevertheless – not so much a sewer alligator, therefore, as a sewer super-snake or snake-like reptilian entity. But what about the hand? Either  the creature kept its head hidden deep in the bowels of the sewers and hunted by means of a highly-modified tail whose terminal portion had evolved into a grasping, absorbing analogue of a pentadactyl hand, which seemed totally ludicrous; or, admittedly only slightly less so, the hand was actually the creature's highly-modified head instead, again having evolved into a grasping, absorbing analogue of a pentadactyl hand.

Speculative evolution is an engrossing subject in its own right. So even though it would struggle, I feel, to tender a plausible scenario for the morphological development of anything recalling Dread End's dreadful devourer, once again this latter comic-strip cereation assisted in directing my attention and cogitations towards that field of analysis too. In short, 'The Monster of Dread End' story was influential in nurturing my early interests in both cryptozoology and speculative evolution.

 
Front cover of Ghost Stories, #1, September/October 1962, published by Dell Comics (© Ghost Stories/Dell Comics – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

But what is the story of this story? That is to say, who created it, where did it originate, and what else, if anything, is known about it? This is what I was investigating early this morning, and I succeeded in uncovering some fascinating facts. It turns out that 'The Monster of Dread End' was the brainchild of a famous American comic book writer and cartoonist named John Stanley (1914-1993), whose foremost claim to fame was that he scripted (and also drew many of) the much-loved, exceedingly popular Little Lulu children's comic books from 1945 to 1959. However, in 1962 (not 1968, as sometimes incorrectly claimed), Stanley's creativity was channeled down a very different, much darker direction when he wrote all four comic-strip stories in the very first issue (September/October 1962) of a brand-new comic book published by Dell Comics and entitled Ghost Stories (which ran for 37 issues, folding in 1973). As this comic book's specific genre was horror/suspense, Stanley's quartet of stories were aimed at a much more mature readership than his previous work, their subjects all directly linked to the supernatural or unexplained mysteries, and one of these stories was none other than 'The Monster of Dread End', which was vibrantly illustrated by Ed Robbins. The other three were 'The Black Stallion' (no relation whatsoever to the same-named series of children's novels by Walter Farley; click here to view it), 'The Werewolf Wasp' (click here  to view it), and 'The Door' (click here to view it).

Prior to this morning, I had always assumed that 'The Monster of Dread End' was merely some obscure, historically unimportant comic-strip story that had been created specifically for some equally insignificant late 1960s/early 1970s annual-type comic book (i.e. the one that I had owned a copy of as a child). Hence I was very startled to discover when researching this selfsame story today not only that it had actually first appeared in the Sept/Oct 1962 debut issue of of Ghost Stories, but also that almost 60 years after its original publication, this latter issue is still popularly claimed (and has even been voted) by comic book devotees to be the scariest single comic-book issue ever published, and 'The Monster of Dread End' the scariest single comic-strip story ever published (little wonder why I found it so unnerving, albeit fascinating, as a child!).

Indeed, both this issue and this particular story within it have attained legendary status in such circles, to the extent that there is even a Spanish stop-motion mini-movie based upon the Dread End monster (which I'd love to see but haven't been able to locate anywhere online so far – suggestions?), as well as Horror Show Mickey's expanded, 15.5-minute retelling of its story currently on YouTube (click here to view this, which features much of the original comic-strip visuals, although some of its panels have been re-ordered in order to fit the story's reworking by HSM). In 2017, a Kickstarter project was launched by Emmy-award-winning visual effects artist and publisher Ernest Farino whose aim was to fund the production of a professional trailer that could then be utilised in pitching for the production of a stop-motion feature-length movie based upon this iconic story, but sadly it did not reach its targeted goal (click here for further information). Given the sensational CGI capabilities now available to film producers, however, perhaps this latter technology may offer a more viable alternative way forward in creating what could be a truly spectacular full-length Monster of Dread End movie. Additionally, in February 2004, artist Peter Von Sholly created an updated, photo-montage version of the classic original Stanley/Robbins comic-strip story. Simply entitled 'Dread End', it contains several notable changes made by Sholly for instance, Jimmy is now named Stanley (in homage to John Stanley), the "balled-up things" are depicted (not for the squeamish!), and Jimmy's/Stanley's police whistle has been replaced by a mobile phone (click here and here for more details concerning Sholly's adaptation).

I have also ascertained that the still-unidentified annual-type comic book that I owned as a child in which 'The Monster of Dread End' appeared was evidently a compilation of comic-strip stories from a number of different issues of Ghost Stories, because when I checked down lists, titles, plot details, and images from those original issues I found other stories that I can remember from that annual. These latter include 'Blood, Sweat and Fear' and 'When Would Death Come For Daniel DuPrey?' (both of which originally appeared in Ghost Stories #3), written by Carl Memling and illustrated by Gerald McCann.

All that I need to do now, therefore, is discover the identity of this elusive volume. And so until/if ever I do, I shall continue to search for it online and anywhere else that I can, as and when the mood takes me. Call it a work in progress. Obviously, however, if anyone reading this article can offer me any suggestions, information, or assistance relating to my ongoing quest, I would be truly grateful. Who knows – if I do find out what it is, I might even then seek out a copy to purchase and reacquaint myself with its spine-chilling contents. Then again, in view of how they haunted my nights, albeit so very long ago now, might it be best to let sleeping dogs, and absent annuals, lie?

 
Revealed at last! A panel from the legendary comic-strip horror story 'The Monster of Dread End' written by John Stanley and illustrated by Ed Robbins that first appeared in Ghost Stories, #1, September/October 1962, published by Dell Comics (© John Stanley/Ed Robbins/Ghost Stories/Dell Comics – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
 
 
UPDATE: 4 May 2021
It looks as though I've finally identified the mysterious annual-type comic book that I owned as a child and which included among its creepy, chilling comic-strip stories 'The Monster of Dread End'. From what I've been able to uncover, it was a one-off publication entitled Ghost Stories: Television Picture Story Book, which was published in (or around) 1970 by World Distributors, a leading publisher of annuals in the UK. Not only does its main title directly tie in with that of the original Ghost Stories comic book issues, which were still being published at that time, but in addition its front cover illustration is actually identical to that of Ghost Stories #3. Moreover, its 1970-ish date of publication matches the time when I owned the book. Obviously I need to examine a copy of this publication directly, or at least see a complete listing of its contents, in order to be absolutely certain, but I think it very likely that this is indeed the book that I've been searching for.

 
Ghost Stories: Television Picture Story BookGhost Stories/Dell Comics/World Distributors – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
 
 

UPDATES: 5 & 6 May 2021

My recent success at identifying the above annual-type comic book as the book that I'd once owned as a child around 50 years ago, containing John Stanley's seminal 'The Monster of Dread End' cryptozoology-themed comic-strip story, has in turn inspired me to make renewed attempts (the latest of many) at seeking out two other longstandingly elusive comic-strip stories that I remember so well reading as a child but have never been able to identify or trace since then. So during these past two days this is precisely what I have done, and, amazingly, both searches have again been successful, at long last. Consequently, although neither of these latter two comic-strip story's subject is of cryptozoological relevance, it feels fitting to include details of them here, as their own reappearances in my life are due directly to my having been inspired to uncover them by having rediscovered 'The Monster of Dread End'. So here they are:

 

THE 10,000 DISASTERS OF DORT

Another success duly chalked up in my ongoing "All My Yesterdays" rediscovered memories. This one concerned a comic-strip story that I'd read in some UK boys' comic back in the early 1970s. It was all about the planned invasion of Earth by an advanced alien civilisation due to the impending death of their own planet or sun. But first they had to clear Earth of humanity, so chose to do this by inflicting a massive number of calamities upon us, and which looked as if they were going to succeed until, unexpectedly, the aliens discovered that they had a fatal weakness – our planet's microbes proved lethal to them (H.G. Wells's classic novel The War of the Worlds comes readily to mind here!). I knew that this comic-strip story's title referred to the number of calamities, and that the number was high, but that's all that I could remember re that aspect. As for the comic in which this story appeared: I had in mind Thunder, which I used to have each week, but which finally merged with another boys' comic. Yet when I checked online, I could not find any indication of this story within any of Thunder's issues. Ditto when I tried various other comics that I used to have at that time, including Lion, the boys' comic that Thunder had merged with.

But tonight, 5 May 2021, I finally achieved success, when I discovered that in May 1974, what was then Lion and Thunder merged with yet another UK boys' comic, Valiant, to become Valiant and Lion - and it was in the last few issues of Lion and Thunder before merging with Valiant that the sought-after comic-strip story had appeared. And its title? 'The 10,000 Disasters of Dort' (Dort being the aliens' home planet). It was written by Mike Butterworth and illustrated by Studio Bermejo. I've now found a few sample pages featuring panels from that story, and even an issue of Lion and Thunder in which it appears in full colour on the front page. Moreover, I've learnt that this story had actually appeared previously, in Lion, this original run spanning 18 May to 23 November 1968, in which it had a different ending. However, the Wellsian one had replaced it when reprinted in Lion and Thunder, from 22 December 1973 to 4 May 1974, in order to bring the story to an end in time for the comic's merger with Valiant. It would be interesting to know what its original ending had been.

 
Select pages from instalments of 'The 10,000 Disasters of Dort' in Lion and Thunder, including (far right) the concluding panels depicting its Wellsian ending there (© Lion and Thunder/IPC/Freeway Publications – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

 

PROPHET OF DOOM

I'm on a roll with my "All My Yesterdays" project - yet another longstanding mystery comic-strip story duly rediscovered. During the late 1960s/early 1970s, I read a comic-strip story in some UK comic annual about a villainous man from the distant future who arrives in our time with a plan to take over the world as its absolute ruler by holding over each major power the threat of destruction via his superior technological knowledge unless a huge sum is paid. But when he jauntily arrives at the office of some major international governmental figure to present his demands, he is shocked to discover that this figure is also from the distant future, and is in fact one of many from there who are here specifically to trap future villains like him. The one odd thing about it that I can particularly remember is that the two future men both had antennae! I also remember another comic-strip story from the same comic annual, all about a space villain named Disastro.

This unusual name provided me me a distinctive clue that I was able to use in tracing the mystery annual, which, as I discovered today, 6 May 2021, turned out to be the 1969 annual for the UK boys' comic Fantastic, containing a comic-strip story featuring the UK super-hero Johnny Future battling the villainous Disastro. But that was not all. It also contained another comic-strip story called 'Prophet of Doom', written by the celebrated Stan Lee and illustrated by Steve Ditko, which had been reprinted from issue #40 of the Marvel comic book Tales of Suspense, which had been published in 1963. And when I checked up the plot of that story, it was a perfect match to my memory of the antenna-sporting villain from the future and his similarly-sporting and originating nemesis. The final clincher was a series of illustrations from this story, which I'm presenting here. So I must have owned Fantastic Annual 1969 at some point (I know that I owned its annual from the following year, because I still do), yet its front cover picture rings no bells in my memory. Never mind, at least I've solved yet another riddle from my comic-reading childhood.

 
Front cover of Fantastic Annual 1969 and a selection of panels depicting the villainous future man from 'Prophet of Doom' (© Fantastic/Odhams Press/Stan Lee/Steve Ditko/Tales of Suspense/Marvel Comics/ – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

 

 

Saturday, 24 April 2021

HOW THE NANDI BEAR WAS CONCLUSIVELY IDENTIFIED AND CONTENTIOUSLY LOST - OR WAS IT?

 
Artistic restoration by Anthony Wallis of the possible appearance in life of Kenya's mysterious 'giant forest hyaena' – aka the Nandi bear? (© Anthony Wallis)

The hyper-aggressive Nandi bear, named after western Kenya's Nandi County that contains the once-contiguous Nandi and Kakamega Forests around where it has been most frequently reported, is undoubtedly one of Africa's most intriguing albeit infamous cryptids. It also has a string of native names, of which the most familiar are the chemosit and kerit. Moreover, a wide range of identities has been offered for this ferocious mystery mammal down through the years.

These range from erythristic (abnormally red) spotted hyaenas, extra-large modern-day baboons, sizeable all-black ratels (honey badgers), and even the odd aardvark, to various putative Pleistocene survivors – such as a species of chalicothere, giant baboon, African bear, short-faced hyaena, and sizeable wolverine-like mustelid. In fact, as noted by veteran cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans and others, the morphological descriptions recorded for it are so varied that no single species could conceivably reconcile all of them. In other words, it is evident that there is no single Nandi bear identity, that in reality this cryptid is instead a composite created by the erroneous lumping together of reports describing several different animal species.

 
Reconstruction of likely appearance in life of the giant short-faced hyaena Pachycrocuta brevirostris (pubic domain)

Tragically, however, so few Nandi bear reports have emerged during the past 70-odd years that such discussions may nowadays be of academic interest only. For if a species currently unrecognized by science had indeed previously featured in any documented sightings, by now this marauding mystery beast could well have become extinct, having died out before its reality and taxonomic identity had even been confirmed – except, that is, its reality and identity WERE apparently confirmed, after the carcase of a shot specimen was brought to a world-famous scientist for his opinion as to what it was. After closely examining this extraordinary creature's mortal remains, he offered what he considered to be a conclusive identification – and, in so doing, provided zoology with a major shock.

So why hasn’t this dramatic revelation regarding the Nandi bear's identity become well known, resulting in its formal recognition by science – and what happened to that uniquely significant examined specimen? Read on, and except (sadly) for the specimen itself, all will be revealed – albeit not at all in the way that I'd expected when first electing to investigate and document this exceedingly convoluted cryptozoological case.

Our tantalizing tale begins with a mystery within a mystery – namely, claims that the Nandi bear is in reality a giant forest hyaena. But what exactly IS a giant forest hyaena? After all, no such animal is formally recognized by science. Some notable cases featuring this mysterious creature that have been reported from Nandi bear territory were originally documented in a 2-page article written by Nairobi-based ornithologist Dr Gurner Robert Cunningham-van Someren (1913-1997) and published in the September/October 1981 issue of the East Africa Natural History Society Bulletin. Cunningham-van Someren, or Chum as he was popularly referred to (and which for reasons of brevity I shall also do henceforth), was Curator of Birds at Kenya's National Museum from 1975 to 1985 but famously had a wide knowledge of most African animals and plants, and was frequently consulted on matters covering the full spectrum of this continent's wildlife. Here are the relevant details as given by him in his article:

 
Nandi tea plantations (© Dennis Kipkogei/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

Around 1957-1958, Douglas Hutton, the manager of Chemomi Tea Estate in the Nandi district, shot two specimens of a strange, unidentified species of mammal and sent their carcases to the tea factory, where several members of staff viewed them. During the early 1980s, Chum interviewed three of these eyewitnesses independently, and received detailed, largely consistent descriptions.

Standing almost 3 ft high at the shoulders, which bore a heavy mane of long hair, the creatures had broad, short heads with small ears, broad chests, rearward-sloping backs that emphasised their long heavy forelegs and shorter hind legs, and short tails. Only when enquiries were made as to the colour of their fur was there any noticeable disagreement between the trio of eyewitnesses – two claimed that it was grey-brown with light tips, the third stated that it bore black spots on a lighter background colour. None had ever seen such animals before.

The creatures' skeletons had been left in the bush to be cleared by ants, after which Hutton sent them for examination to what was then Nairobi's Coryndon Museum, but which in 1964 became Kenya's National Museum within this country's National Museums complex. In the report that he later received from the museum, their species' identity had been given, somewhat enigmatically, as a 'giant forest hyaena'. As for these intriguing specimens: like so many others of potentially profound cryptozoological significance, they somehow went missing and never resurfaced.

 
Nandi bear reconstructed as a giant hyaena-like creature (although this image appears in many online websites, its © holder/artist is currently unknown to me, despite my having made several detailed internet searches – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only – any information concerning its © holder would be greatly welcomed for correct attribution purposes)

At the end of July 1981, Ken Archer, General Manager of Eastern Produce Company and a friend of Hutton, was informed that farmers working on plots of land on the Nandi Escarpment road from Chemilil to Nandi had sighted a mysterious animal that they were unable to identify. On 12 August, he and Chum visited the farmers to ascertain the animal's appearance - and discovered from the vivid description given by one of the observers that it matched that of the two beasts shot by Hutton back in the late 1950s. The observer denied emphatically that it had been a baboon or a pig, and did not think that it was a spotted hyaena either.

And speaking of Ken Archer: Chum claimed that in 1981 he had received a request from Hutton via Archer to investigate at Kenya's National Museum (where Chum was of course by now its Curator of Birds) the mysterious disappearance of Hutton's two specimens. This he did, but he could find neither any trace nor even any record of them there. Also of note: Archer had once personally spied what he thought may be a Nandi bear, some time prior to December 1937 (the month in which his sighting had been documented, but not dated, by British governmental administrator Captain William Hichens within an article on African mystery beasts published by the periodical Discovery). Archer had been in the company of a Major Braithwaite when they saw in some long grass what they initially took to be a lioness, until they saw that it sported a snout. Its head was very large, and it stood about 4.5 ft at the withers, which were very high, but its back sloped steeply to the hindquarters. Its coat was thick and dark brown in colour. They lost sight of this curious creature when it disappeared into a belt of trees near the river.

In addition to the Hutton and Archer reports documented by Chum and recorded by me above, I also learned of the following one. In 1962, the father of Nandi-born white hunter Jamie McLeod shot a creature whose unresolved species McLeod himself subsequently spied, and which he too referred to as a giant forest hyaena. According to his description, it was twice the size of Africa's spotted hyaena Crocuta crocuta (the largest hyaena species known to exist today), with long shaggy brown hair that tended to be very dirty on its belly, a lion-sized head, large carnivorous teeth, and a sloping back (but not as pronounced as the spotted hyaena's). I'm not aware of any details concerning the fate of the specimen shot by McLeod's father.

From such reports as these, it does seem unlikely at least on first sight that 'giant forest hyaenas' of the type documented here are spotted hyaenas. Occurring throughout eastern Africa south of the Sahara, this latter creature is as noted above the largest of the four modern-day species of hyaena, weighing as much as 120 lb, with a total length of up to 7 ft in exceptional specimens, and a shoulder height sometimes reaching 3 ft. Yet these still fall short of the dimensions required by any hyaena seeking to assume the role of the mystery beasts reported here. Nor does the long, shaggy, drab-coloured fur usually ascribed to the latter cryptids readily recall the typically short-furred, spotted pelage of Crocuta crocuta (although it is true that in terms of individual coat colouration and patterning, this species can be extremely varied – more about which later).

 
Two specimens of the spotted hyaena revealing the varied nature of this species' coat colour and patterning (© Markus Bühler)

In 2019, a correspondent whose identity is known to me but chooses not to reveal it publicly online, preferring to use the screen name Bradypus Tamias instead (and which, therefore, I shall also do here), kindly brought to my attention a very extensive and thoroughly fascinating but hitherto obscure article on the Nandi bear that had appeared in the October/November 1998 issue of the Nairobi-based SAFARI Magazine (an in-flight magazine that some commercial airlines carry for their passengers to read).

Written by Gordon Boy, it included many of the famous published reports of early 20th-Century Nandi bear sightings (a fair number of which are also documented within my two prehistoric survivor books' very extensive Nandi bear section), as well as the late 1950s Hutton episode documented by me above regarding the two slain but subsequently vanished 'giant forest hyaenas'. Moreover, it also included details of a much more recent Nandi bear encounter, one that was entirely new to me. It took place in February 1998, i.e. just 8 months before the publication of Boy's SAFARI article, and here is his description of that incident:

An expatriate construction engineer, Dennis Burnett, then based temporarily in Kisumu while working on a project for the Nairobi road-building firm Issaco, was driving home at night along the Koru-Kisumu road skirting the base of the Nandi Escarpment with his wife Marlene. It was pouring with rain when, suddenly, a large animal stepped out onto the road in front of their car. “In that instant, I could have sworn it was a bear,” he says.

 

The Burnetts were lucky enough to get a second look. “We stopped the car and, after reversing slowly back to the spot and then directing our brights onto the side for which the beast had seemed to be heading, we saw it again, for about 15 seconds, passing right in front of us.” It was then, Burnett says, that he and his wife realised that their ‘bear’ was really “an enormous, shaggy hyena – like a Striped Hyena, only very much bigger.”

 
A painting from 1909 of a striped hyaena with its mane erected (public domain)

The striped hyaena Hyaena hyaena is smaller than the spotted hyaena, standing up to 2.5 ft at the shoulder, with a head and body length of up to 4.25 ft plus a tail length of up t0 1.25 ft, and an average weight of around 77 lb, but with confirmed records of up to 121 lb. It occurs throughout East Africa, North Africa, and northwestern Africa (plus parts of the Middle East and southern Asia), and is named after the vertical striping on its flanks. Yet even if an exceptionally large specimen could explain the Burnetts' sighting documented above, it does not correspond with those in which the cryptids were referred to as giant forest hyaenas.

Nor does the only other hyaena species known to exist in East Africa – the aardwolf Proteles cristatus. For although it bears a superficial resemblance to the striped hyaena in terms of its striped coat and body outline, this aberrant species is the smallest, weakest hyaena alive today, and is exclusively insectivorous. So it is highly unlikely to be a plausible identity for the above mystery beasts.

 
Aardwolf (© Dr Karl Shuker)

If only the shot carcase of one of these mystifying Nandi-originating 'forest hyaenas' had received an unequivocal taxonomic identification by a relevant scientist and had then been sent to one of the world's premier collections of natural history specimens for a comprehensive second opinion (followed by formal documentation and recognition thereafter in the official zoological literature). In fact, although not previously revealed within the cryptozoological community, that is precisely what did happen – or at least most of it. Moreover, this particular specimen is also potentially of immense zoological significance, because it was identified neither as a spotted hyaena nor as a striped hyaena nor even as an aardwolf.

So here, as a ShukerNature exclusive, is the full story of this very unexpected specimen – an unmasked Nandi bear, no less, but no more either...

In another email to me of 2019, Bradypus Tamias mentioned that he had been seeking sight of an article written by an Angus F. Hutton that had appeared in the October/November 2009 issue of Old Africa, a magazine devoted to recalling East Africa's past and published in Naivasha, northwest of Nairobi, in Kenya. Happily, I was able to track it down online as a pdf file, and sent Bradypus a direct link to it.

Moreover, as soon as I began reading this article myself, it became evident that Angus F. Hutton was actually one and the same as Douglas Hutton, the manager of Chemomi Tea Estate who, according to Chum, had shot the two giant forest hyaenas in around 1957-1958 – except that he hadn't…

Nor, clearly, was Hutton's first name Douglas – just one of three notable errors made by Chum concerning this incident, as we shall now see.

A Life Fellow of the renowned Zoological Society of London who was very well-acquainted with the local Nandi fauna, Hutton opened his article by stating that a few years previously (i.e. prior to 2009), he had been amazed to find online his name linked to:

…a vague report about my shooting two Nandi Bears and the skins being lost! Actually it was only ONE Nandi Bear. I shot it with my .38 KPR Revolver half way between the Nandi Bears Club [a golf club] and Chemomi in the bit of forest at the saddle (where the Nandi used to hold their circumcision ceremonies). I was accompanied by our Cattle Assistant, Harry Tunmer, who had his massive Colt 45 Special Revolver. I had seen the mysterious Nandi Bear several times in that same area…I was determined to obtain a specimen of the Nandi Bear to end the speculation of what kind of animal it was.

I was Senior Assistant Manager and Factory Manager at Chemomi Tea from 1954 to 1962. I had numerous discussions with Dr Louis Leakey about my encounters with the elusive animal.

Dr Louis Leakey (1903-1972) was of course the eminent Kenya-based palaeoanthropologist whose pioneering archaeological work at Olduvai Gorge alongside his wife Mary revealed many highly significant early human remains, contributing immensely to our knowledge of human evolution in Africa. Moreover, at the time of Hutton's communications with him, Leakey was curator of the then Coryndon Museum – his tenure there spanning 1941-1961.

 
Dr Louis Leakey and his wife Mary (Smithsonian Institution/Wikipedia, no restrictions)

In his article, Hutton then related how, one evening in June 1960 (i.e. not in either 1958 or 1959 as Chum had claimed), while at the Nandi Bears Club, he had received a telephone call from his wife Gen at their Chemomi home concerning their newish cook/houseboy who was armed with a panga (long machete-like knife) and seemed both drunk and half-demented, causing her to fear for her safety and that of their two children. So Hutton, accompanied by Tunmer, left the club at once and drove back towards Chemomi. Then:

Suddenly as we rounded a bend there were TWO Nandi Bears about five yards away on my side of the road dazzled by the headlights. To me they both looked like smallish bears standing upright – about four to five feet in height – till I realized their front feet were still on the ground and the animals, in fact, had all four feet on the ground.

As a famous, longstanding big-game hunter, Hutton was a crack shot, and dispatched the larger of these two peculiar creatures straight away with a single bullet that severed the spinal cord in its neck, so that it dropped dead with its head at right angles to its body. Knowing the scientific worth of its skull if undamaged, Hutton stopped Tunmer from shooting it in the head (which he had wanted to do in order to ensure that it really was dead). As for its smaller companion:

The other animal bolted back into the bush on my side so Harry was unable to get a shot at it, but he had a good view. We could see how the shoulders sloped back sharply to the rump as it disappeared into the forest. He helped me load the corpse into the back of the wagon. I was amazed to see what I had shot. The animal was quite unlike anything I had ever read about or seen. It had long shaggy gingery-brown coloured hair. I was amazed at the height of its shoulders in relation to its very low hindquarters. It had small rounded ears. Its jaw and teeth were massive and its tail very short with a small black tuft on the end. The feet were also black. The sexual organs were huge and absolutely astounding. The animal appeared to be both male and female at the same time.

Hutton and Tunmer drove on swiftly to Hutton's house, where the cook, lying in a drunken stupor outside, took one look at the dead Nandi bear, dropped his panga as he shrieked in terror, then ran off, not returning for three days. Hutton and Tunmer, meanwhile, brought the creature's carcase inside the house, and the following day saw Hutton taking numerous colour photo-slides of it. Then, being an expert taxidermist as well as a very proficient big-game hunter, he carefully skinned and prepared its pelt, dissected its skeleton, and afterwards buried it in an ant heap for the voracious ants to strip every vestige of flesh from its bones. He also returned to the spot where he had shot it, and took plaster casts of the pugmarks from both animals that were still present there.

Hutton then telephoned Dr Leakey at the Coryndon Museum to inform him of what he had obtained, and a very excited Leakey asked him to ensure that everything was preserved. Hutton posted all of his slides to Leakey (but had not obtained copies of any of them beforehand that he could have retained for safekeeping), and some time later the preserved, well-packaged skeleton was delivered personally to Leakey by one of Hutton's friends. Hutton also sent to him the preserved skin and the spoor casts, all of which Leakey safely received, as acknowledged by him in a typewritten letter to Hutton dated 8 August 1960. Confirming this is a photograph of that letter, included in Hutton's Old Africa article. So far, so good – and more was still to come!

 
Dr Louis Leakey (public domain)

In his letter to Hutton, Leakey made the following revelatory statement concerning the identity of Hutton's shot Nandi bear:

There is no doubt it is the Long Haired Brown Hyaena which is almost unknown and has never been properly scientifically described. It was first recorded by Colonel Meinertzhagen, who shot one in 1905 in the Nandi area during the Nandi Wars. He preserved only the skin and sent this to the British Museum Natural History [now London's Natural History Museum] in 1906 on his return to England.

There is another record in our Museum of one, which was found partly eaten by a leopard by a local settler near Tindaret in 1913. However, the skin had to be discarded as it was badly preserved. The BMNS [sic – should be BMNH] specimen also appears to have disappeared which is unfortunate, as I contacted them after receiving your earlier letter, dated October 12th 1958, when my assistant Miss Jane Goodall, made a thorough search of our records.

Two short paragraphs, but containing a wealth of telling yet also sometimes confusing information. So let's start our analysis of their contents at the beginning.

First and foremost, the Long Haired Brown Hyaena is obviously what is nowadays known simply as the brown hyaena Hyaena brunnea, the fourth species of hyaena still living today. It is only marginally larger than the striped, and therefore rather smaller than the spotted, but both the striped and the brown hyaena can readily make themselves look much larger than they actually are by erecting hairs up to 1 ft long on their neck and back, which they do during acts of aggression or agitation. Moreover, the brown hyaena is instantly distinguished from all three of the other modern-day hyaena species by virtue of its very long, shaggy, dark brown coat, its tall brown-and-white striped limbs, very large pointed ears, and short, bushy, but fairly inconspicuous tail, which collectively give it a somewhat bear-like appearance.

 
Vintage photograph and modern-day photograph of brown hyaenas (public domain/© Markus Bühler)

Needless to say, therefore, if the brown hyaena inhabited East Africa, it would make at least on morphological grounds a very plausible Nandi bear of the 'giant forest hyaena' variety, especially if an unexpected encounter with humans caused it to feel threatened and thus to erect its neck and back hairs, thereby greatly increasing its perceived stature. However, this species, the rarest hyaena alive today, is officially confined entirely to southern Africa, but note my usage here of the word 'officially'…

In 1930, the skull of a supposed baby Nandi bear, which had been trapped on a farm near Koru (now Muhoroni), was presented to Colonel Charles T. Stoneham (a major collector of natural history specimens that later formed the basis of the Museum of Western Kenya). This was because Stoneham was known for his interest in the Nandi bear, having earlier claimed an encounter with a living specimen. However, as has been documented by Heuvelmans and others, Stoneham's detailed description of what he saw gave little room for doubt that it was actually an aardvark – he even likened it to an "anteater".

 
Exquisite 19th-Century engraving of aardvarks (public domain)

Anxious, therefore, to avoid any confusion or ridicule this second time, instead of passing any opinion himself Stoneham forwarded the skull to none other than Leakey at the Coryndon Museum. After examining it closely, Leakey had startled everyone by confirming that although a hyaena skull, it was from neither a spotted nor a striped hyaena, but was instead that of an old, full-grown brown hyaena!

Speaking of Leakey: in his letter to Hutton, what did he mean when he claimed that the brown hyaena "is almost unknown and has never been properly scientifically described [and] was first recorded by Colonel Meinertzhagen, who shot one in 1905 in the Nandi area during the Nandi Wars"? In reality, the brown hyaena was formally described and named as long ago as 1820, by Swedish naturalist Carl Peter Thunberg, who dubbed it Parahyena brunnea (but it was later rehoused in the genus Hyaena, alongside the striped hyaena). It is also depicted via engravings and its occurrence in southern Africa documented within several 19th-Century natural history tomes that I own. Consequently, what Leakey was evidently referring to was its presence in East Africa, something that even today is not officially recognized.

 
A colour engraving of the brown hyaena by Felix de Azara, which in 1839 appeared in Charles Hamilton Smith's tome The Natural History of Dogs…Including Also the Genera Hyaena and Proteles (public domain)

Moving on to Meinertzhagen: although British soldier and ornithologist Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen (1878-1967) is famous in cryptozoological circles by virtue of his discovering in 1904 Africa's spectacular giant forest hog Hylochoerus meinertzhageni, which is the world's largest species of wild pig, his name is also infamously associated with a number of zoological hoaxes. Among the most notorious of these are ones featuring bird specimens that he claimed to have personally obtained in certain named localities in the wild, only for researchers to discover later that he had in fact purloined them from various collections and had entirely invented their alleged provenances. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, therefore, doubt has been expressed over whether his 1905 brown hyaena specimen really did originate from East Africa.

 
Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen in 1922 (public domain/Wikipedia)

As for Hutton's earlier letter of 12 August 1958, sent to Leakey's assistant, Miss Jane Goodall: yes indeed, this really is THE Jane Goodall, who went on to become one of the world's foremost field anthropologists due to her pioneering, seminal, and still-ongoing studies of chimpanzee behaviour in the wild. Sadly, Hutton did not include in his Old Africa article a photograph or any details regarding the content of his letter to Miss (now Dr) Goodall, but he did include a transcript of her short letter replying to it, which was dated 20 October 1958. Only one paragraph of her reply mentions the Nandi bear (but as seen below, it very succinctly reveals what he had written about it in his letter to her), which reads as follows:

Your record that the Nandi Bear has been seen by numerous people in your district during the last six months intrigues me. Your description sounds to me like the long-haired brown hyaena which is, unfortunately, little known in this country [Kenya]. Most people are only conversant with the Spotted Hyaena and the Striped Hyaena. The Brown Hyaena, however, does not walk on its hind legs!

As personally experienced by Hutton during his encounter with the two Nandi bear specimens on that fateful June 1960 evening, however, the marked difference in height between their shoulders and their much lower hindquarters can create the illusion that it is standing upright. This in turn could explain Nandi bear eyewitnesses claiming that they have seen such beasts walking upright, especially if these eyewitnesses were sufficiently startled by spying them in the first place or only had an indistinct view of them.

 
Dr Jane Goodall (public domain)

Returning to Hutton's shot Nandi bear specimen: what happened to it after Leakey had identified it as a brown hyaena? Due to its great significance as having been shot not in southern Africa but instead in East Africa, where this species was not supposed to exist, Leakey rightly deemed it to be "a very rare and valuable specimen". Consequently, and albeit reluctantly (because as he noted in his letter to Hutton he would have dearly liked to have retained it at the Coryndon Museum), Leakey decided to send it to London's British Museum Natural History for a full scientific description of it to be prepared there and officially published in the zoological literature. Due to its weight, however, he elected to send it (together with the colour photo-slides and spoor casts) not by air but instead by sea freight, from the Kenyan port of Mombasa. This he did – but apparently this zoologically-priceless package never reached the BMNH!

Instead, to quote Hutton's wry comment in his Old Africa article:

Sadly, probably the world's rarest natural history specimen and the colour slides disappeared between Mombasa and England without trace. Who knows? It might still be sailing the seven seas in a ship's bilge!

But how do we know for certain that it never reached the BMNH? Leakey never received any acknowledgement of its arrival there, so he naturally assumed that it was lost, but there is a lot more than just that to take into account here.

I noted earlier in this present ShukerNature blog article that according to Chum, Hutton's friend Ken Archer had asked him on Hutton's behalf in 1981 to check whether there were any records at Kenya's National Museum of the two Nandi bears shot by Hutton, but that he had found no trace nor even any record there of those specimens. Of course, we now know from Hutton's own article in Old Africa that although he had encountered two specimens, he had only shot one of them, the other specimen escaping unharmed. So Chum was incorrect in relation to this key aspect of that incident – and that was not his only misapprehension concerning it either. I have already mentioned his misremembering Hutton's first name, but he also made a third mistake, which in my opinion was the most profound and far-reaching one.

For of crucial importance here, so please keep this fact firmly in mind, is that whereas Chum had claimed that the two Nandi bears (in reality only one) had been shot by Douglas (in reality Angus) Hutton around 1957-1958, Hutton confirmed in his Old Africa article that he had shot the single Nandi bear in June 1960. So Chum had been wrong not only about Hutton's name and about how many Nandi bears had been shot by him but also about when the shooting had taken place. Yet, paradoxically, this last-mentioned mistake by him actually provides a sliver of hope that Hutton's ostensibly lost specimen might not actually be lost after all!

This is because in addition to searching the records of Kenya's National Museum, Chum had also contacted the BMNH's then mammal curator Daphne Hills, to double-check whether Hutton's specimen had indeed arrived there. We know that significant detail, because Hutton exclusively revealed this in his article by including in it the full typescript of Hills's letter of reply to Chum, which was dated 27 November 1981. In her letter, Hills made the following pertinent statements:

I have recently been curating our hyaena material and can say with some certainty we do not possess a specimen of the Chemoni Tea Estate sent from the Coryndon.

I have also looked at the correspondence from 1956 to 1959. There are a great many letters from Dr. Leakey, but no mention of a hyaena or "Nandi Bears." The "Long-haired Brown Forest Hyaena" sounds a most unlikely name, as the brown hyaena Hyaena brunnea is restricted to S. Africa and Namibia, but it could perhaps refer to an oddly coloured spotted hyaena Crocuta crocuta like the one mentioned in the enclosed article by R.I. Pocock. [Hills had enclosed with her reply to Chum a couple of articles, and I suspect that the Pocock article was one entitled 'The Story of the Nandi Bear', published by Natural History Magazine in 1930, which contains details concerning a number of aberrant spotted hyaenas deemed by some to have been Nandi bears.]

 
British zoologist Reginald I. Pocock (1863-1947) (Wikipedia – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Let's dissect those two paragraphs from Hills's letter and annotate them with some relevant information.

Firstly, the BMNH has a number of very sizeable warehouses containing specimens that have been received by it but not presently studied or assimilated into its main collections. Consequently, it is possible that Hutton's specimen did arrive but was passed to one of these warehouses and may still be there today, unregistered and uncatalogued. This could explain why Hills did not encounter it when curating the museum's hyaena material.

Secondly: Hills was obviously at a great disadvantage when attempting to offer an identification of Hutton's specimen, because she had neither the specimen itself nor any photos of it nor even a verbal description to examine, nothing more in fact than the "long-haired brown hyaena" appellation given to it by Leakey. And as the brown hyaena is not supposed to exist in East Africa, it is hardly surprising that she discounted this species as an identity for Hutton's missing mammal.

Thirdly: we now come to by far the most perplexing content of Hills's reply, at least on first sight. She stated that she had looked at the correspondence (on file at the BMNH) from 1956 to 1959, but had not found any letter from Leakey mentioning a hyaena or Nandi bears. When I read this statement, I immediately thought to myself: "Why was she looking through correspondence from 1956 to 1959, when Hutton hadn't even shot the creature until June 1960? Why hadn't she looked through correspondence from 1960 to 1961, instead?" After all, it's hardly surprising that she didn't find any letter dated 1956-1959 from Leakey containing a mention of a hyaena or Nandi bears when the earliest that he would have written such a letter would have been the second half of 1960.

Nor was I alone in being mystified by this chronological conundrum. At the very end of Hutton's article in Old Africa, the magazine's editor had added a single-paragraph conclusion, which included the following line:

And the letter from the British Museum [i.e. Hills] says they checked the letters received from Dr Leakey between 1956 to 1959, but the Nandi Bear specimen was not sent to them until some time after August 1960.

Precisely so. And then I had a thought. As already noted here by me, Chum had been under the misapprehension that Hutton had shot the Nandi bear (or two Nandi bears, as he was also wrong about) around 1958-1959, not 1960. Consequently, it seems very plausible to me that when Chum wrote to Hills, those were the dates that he included in his letter, not 1960 (no mention of that letter's contents were given by Hutton in his article, but this is perfectly understandable, because there is no reason why Hutton would have ever seen it prior to Chum sending it to Hills). If I am correct, this would therefore explain the otherwise incongruous action of Hills looking through correspondence for entirely the wrong years.

However, it also means that in the BMNH's 1960-1961 correspondence there just might be a letter from Leakey concerning Hutton's specimen. If so, and if, furthermore, this letter had not been sent in advance but had actually been included by Leakey inside the package containing that specimen (which after all is a reasonable assumption, as it would instantly explain the package's contents to whoever opened the package upon its arrival at the BMNH), the letter's presence in the BMNH's correspondence would mean that his specimen did reach the museum after all! Consequently, you will not be surprised to know that I have contacted the relevant researchers at the BMNH explaining all of this, and asking if it would be possible for a perusal of communications received in 1960-1961 to be scrutinized in search of such a letter from Leakey. If I receive a response, I shall of course include a relevant update here.

 
The very imposing main entrance to London's Natural History Museum, formerly the British Museum (Natural History) or BMNH for short (© Christine Matthews/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

Meanwhile: yet another major aspect of this complex case needs to be considered here. Namely, did Hutton's two sighted Nandi bears constitute representatives of some still-cryptic indigenous East African population of the brown hyaena, or might they instead have been a pair of stragglers that had somehow made their way across thousands of intervening miles from their species' confirmed homeland in southern Africa?

In 1962, Hutton left Kenya permanently (resettling in Australia), but back in his time there and earlier, the Nandi Forest was a dark, forbidding locality, covering a very considerable area and contiguous with the equally dreaded Kakamega Forest. These very dense, wooded expanses were rarely penetrated by their superstitious human neighbours for fear of what horrors they may encounter there. Consequently, it would not be beyond the realms of possibility that this rainforest jungle domain did once house a native population of that mysterious hyaena, which in view of its secretive, nocturnal lifestyle and dark coat would only rarely be spied, but which on account of its unfamiliar nature would be blamed for whatever predatory attacks by whatever forms of creature occurred in its vicinity, i.e. regardless of whether the brown hyaena was the actual culprit. So, more of a scape-hyaena or bogey bear than a Nandi bear?

Having said that: if there are (or were) indigenous brown hyaenas in East Africa, genetic isolation from their southern African compatriots may have engendered via evolution a larger body size for them, further heightening the terror that encounters with such creatures would have elicited among the Nandi locals.

 
Kakamega Forest interior (© Matthias Bohnen/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

Moreover, there is a very notable precedent for exhibiting a discontinuous geographical distribution – and from within the hyaenas' very own taxonomic family. Famously, the aardwolf is known to exist in East Africa and southern Africa but nowhere in between. So why not the brown hyaena too, especially as this latter species is extremely reclusive? (In 2008, I was extremely lucky to spy a brown hyaena while taking part in a dawn safari at the Shamwari private game reserve in South Africa.)

Sadly, however, by the 1980s great swathes of the original Nandi and Kakamega rainforests had been depleted, replaced by cultivated farm land, no doubt leading in turn to a corresponding depletion of the fauna that once inhabited this area. This in turn could explain why modern-day Nandi bear reports are virtually non-existent – any indigenous brown hyaena population that may have formerly existed there is now almost certainly gone, wiped out. To quote Chum in his afore-mentioned East Africa Natural History Society Bulletin article from 1981:

Hyaenas used to be numerous [in the Nandi/Kakamega Forest area] in the past but with the development of tea gardens much of the forest has disappeared and below the escarpment there is a vast sea of sugar cane. A good hyaena environment no longer exists while additionally today there is little food to sustain a population of this animal. The local people and many club members of the Nandi Hills Club [aka the Nandi Bears Golf Club] say they have not seen hyaena for many years though they used to be fairly common.

Alternatively, might any encounters with brown hyaenas in East Africa feature wanderers from southern Africa instead (or even additionally)? This is by no means impossible either. Referring to the Leakey-identified brown hyaena skull obtained in 1930 near Koru, Boy notably revealed in his afore-mentioned SAFARI article:

This was a significant discovery in itself, in that Brown Hyenas, while not uncommon then in some parts of southern Africa, had never before been recorded so far north of the Zambezi. …

When, in the decades that followed, occasional reports emerged, of sightings of Brown Hyenas along the shorelines of the Rift Valley lakes of Manyara, Eyasi, and Natron, in northern Tanzania, the strange case of the Nandi bear appeared, to many, to be as good as closed.

From time to time, it seemed, possibly in drought years, nomadic Brown Hyenas from southern Africa, usually solitary males, would wander northward, following the course of the Rift Valley, where they would sometimes be found scavenging at night around the lakes. Sightings, though, of such beasts were accounted so sporadic, as to persuade many that the Brown Hyena – rarely ever seen, and wholly unfamiliar to people in East Africa – must, indeed, be the basis for the legend of the Nandi bear.

 
Looking along this lonely, deserted path cutting through the Kakamega rainforest, one could readily imagine a Nandi bear suddenly stepping out onto it from the dense cover of the thick foliage and trees on either side! (© Nao Lizuka/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)

Thanks to Stoneham, Hutton, and Leakey, physical, tangible evidence had ostensibly been procured for the erstwhile existence of at least three brown hyaena specimens in East Africa, and specifically Kenya, although whether these were from an undiscovered indigenous population or were simply rare wanderers that had made their way northeastward from southern Africa remains undetermined.

In conclusion: after reading the articles of Boy and Hutton, I should now favour the brown hyaena as a leading player within Kenya's long-running Nandi bear stage show – but note my usage and emphasis of the word 'should'.

Yes indeed: just when you thought that Hutton's sighted/shot Nandi bears had been conclusively identified as brown hyaenas, albeit on zoogeographical grounds a most surprising identity for them and thence for the Nandi bear as a whole, it's time for me to totally turn this entire ShukerNature blog article upon its metaphorical head, by stating that in my humble opinion, Dr Leakey may in fact have been wrong when identifying Hutton's shot specimen (and thence by association its escaped mate too) as Hyaena brunnea – and here's why.

Throughout my researching and writing this present article, two short lines in Hutton's account of his shot Nandi bear have nagged away remorselessly at the back of my mind when attempting to reconcile Leakey's identification of it as a brown hyaena – and here are those two lines, which appeared in his description of the specimen:

The sexual organs were huge and absolutely astounding. The animal appeared to be both male and female at the same time.

These lines confirm beyond any shadow of doubt that Hutton's shot Nandi bear was a hyaena. For in zoological circles it is well known that adult female hyaenas possess an extremely sizeable penis-like clitoris that is almost as large as an adult male's bona fide penis (and is thus referred to as a pseudo-penis), as well as fused labiae that look surprisingly like testicles (i.e. a false or pseudo-scrotum) – highly unexpected attributes that have often resulted in observers wrongly claiming that hyaenas are hermaphrodites (i.e. both male and female at the same time, especially as adult females also possess teats). Or, to be precise – and which is absolutely crucial here – wrongly claiming that one species of hyaena is hermaphrodite. For there is indeed only one single species of hyaena whose adult females exhibit this extreme sexual condition, and it is NOT the brown hyaena!

On the contrary, adult females of the brown hyaena, and also of the striped hyaena and the aardwolf, all possess normal sexual organs. The only hyaena species whose females possess this bizarre peniform clitoris and labiae-created pseudo-scrotum is the spotted hyaena! (NB – in a May 2007 paper published by the scientific journal Hormones and Behavior, a team of researchers reported transient genital anomalies characterized by a convergence in genital appearance among young male and female striped hyaenas, but not among adult males and females of this species.)

 
Diagrammatic representation of the external genitalia of an adult female spotted hyena, showing the peniform clitoris and false scrotum. From: Matthews, L. Harrison, 'Reproduction in the Spotted Hyaena Crocula crocuta (Erxleben)', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Series B, vol. 230 (1939) (public domain)

Here is a pertinent quote from the chapter on hyaenas in Volume 6 of the second edition of Encyclopaedia of Reproduction (2018), providing a succinct description of the spotted hyaena's extraordinary anatomical condition:

Whereas the first three species [aardwolf, striped hyaena, and brown hyaena] show the typical mammalian pattern of sexual dimorphism [i.e. the sexes are morphologically distinct], the fourth – the spotted hyena – shows the most extreme form of sexual monomorphism [the sexes look similar] evidenced by any mammal. The female spotted hyena is behaviorally and morphologically “masculinized,” being larger than the male, socially dominant over the male, and possessing external reproductive anatomy that bears striking resemblance to that of the male. Notably, the female has no "external" vagina; instead, the urogenital canal passes through a peniform clitoris, providing the female spotted hyena with a singular opening through which she urinates, copulates, and gives birth.

Moreover, in each of the other three hyaena species the sexes are roughly the same size, but in the spotted hyaena, as noted above, the female is larger than the male.

Time, therefore, to recall that Hutton had stated in his account that it had been the larger of the two specimens encountered together by him and Tunmer that he had shot. This simple statement allows two notable deductions to be made. Firstly, they had to have been a pair of spotted hyaenas, not brown hyaenas (or any other modern-day hyaena species), because of the size difference between the two specimens (both were clearly adults because if one of them had been a juvenile and hence was smaller than the other for that specific reason, I feel sure that Hutton would have remarked upon this, as he was an experienced wildlife observer). Secondly, if they had indeed been a pair of adult spotted hyaenas, then the specimen that Hutton shot must have been the female, because it was the larger of the two. And sure enough, Hutton's statement about its astonishing sexual organs giving it the appearance of being both male and female indicate that it had indeed been an adult female spotted hyaena.

Also relevant here is that if this had been the identity of Hutton's shot Nandi bear, it would have borne teats, which of course would have only added to his confusion as to whether this bemusing beast was both male and female!

Further problems when attempting to reconcile Hutton's specimen with a brown hyaena identity also exist. Note that in his description of it, Hutton had stated that the creature's ears were small and rounded, the specific shade of its brown coat was gingery, and its tail had a tuft at its tip. Yet the brown hyaena's ears are conspicuously large and characteristically pointed, its coat is very dark brown, never gingery, and its entire tail is bushy, not just tufted at the tip. Conversely, the spotted hyaena's ears are indeed small and rounded, its coat is indeed gingery-brown in some individuals, and its tail is indeed only tufted at its tip.

 
Brown hyaena in Gemsbok National Park, South Africa, readily revealing its very large pointed ears, dark brown coat, and bushy tail (© Bernard Dupont/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

In fact, as noted earlier here and represented visually by a colour photograph depicting a grey-coated specimen and a ginger-coated specimen standing together, the spotted hyaena is extremely variable in terms of coat colour and patterning. Moreover, the same also applies regarding its coat length, especially when its neck/back mane is taken into account. Game warden Captain Charles R.S. Pitman's fascinating book A Game Warden Among His Charges (1931) contains plenty of information on African mystery beasts, some of which he had personally investigated, including the Nandi bear. In his book, Pitman documented some truly remarkable examples of aberrant spotted hyaenas, and included a photograph of an extraordinarily shaggy spotted hyaena pelt whose colour was referred to by him in the photo's caption as being "like a 'blue kerry'". This bizarre pelt had been obtained from Kenya's Mount Elgon, and had been claimed by locals to be from a Nandi bear. Here is Pitman's verbal description of it:

The feet were missing and the tail was damaged. In general appearance it was that of a long-haired sheep-dog, blackish or blackish-brown dappled with whitish…The face is whitish and there is a long, coarse, pale mane – many of the white hairs are tipped with black. The shoulders are blackish, the back being of the same colour dappled whitish and freely interspersed with long white hairs. There is a secondary coat close to the skin of thick, brownish, woolly hairs. The hindquarters on which there are distinct traces of spotting are blackish with a rufous tinge. The tail, as far as could be seen, is generally whitish, but black near the root, and at the tip there is a big, black, bushy tuft. In spite of its peculiarities, even a cursory glance suggested the pelt of a spotted hyena, a creature with whose bewildering colour variations I am familiar.

The above description certainly recalls the shaggy dark brown 'giant forest hyaenas' and thence Nandi bears that have been documented earlier in this present ShukerNature blog article. And readily recalling Hutton's shot Nandi bear is the following hairy, gingery-brown-furred, only very faintly-patterned specimen of spotted hyaena photographed in Kenya alongside her pair of spotted cubs, one of which is reddish, the other grey, but both much more typical of their species in overall appearance:

 
Adult female spotted hyaena with only faintly-patterned, shaggy, gingery-brown pelage alongside her much more typical cubs (© flightlog/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)

There can be no doubt, therefore, that spotted hyaena specimens that superficially recall brown hyaenas but are much bigger, being of typical spotted hyaena size, do exist after all, and parsimoniously would make much more likely giant forest hyaenas aka Nandi bears than actual brown hyaenas would, especially as the latter beasts would be also exceedingly out of place in East Africa.

Obviously I cannot offer the following opinion as a statement of fact in the absence of having first seen Hutton's specimen personally or at least some photo-slides of it. Nevertheless, based upon Hutton's very informative description of this specimen, plus what I have presented here regarding unexpected yet fully-confirmed brown-coated, shaggy Crocuta specimens, the likelihood is that his shot Nandi bear was not a brown hyaena at all, but was instead an adult female spotted hyaena, and that, against all expectations, Leakey's taxonomic identification of it was incorrect.

This particular case provides a perfect example of open-mindedly allowing the facts to guide you to your conclusions, rather than adopting the reverse course of action, i.e. close-mindedly twisting the facts to support a pre-conceived notion. For when I began investigating and researching this ShukerNature article, I freely confess that I naturally assumed Leakey to have been correct in his identification of Hutton's Nandi bear as a brown hyaena, and I anticipated on documenting the history of this remarkable but hitherto little-known specimen accordingly. However, during the preparation of my article, I became increasingly uncertain, with Hutton's telling lines describing the creature's sexual organs refusing to be ignored and, in turn, leading me to notice other morphological inconsistencies in this identification too. Consequently, by the end of my article's preparation these facts had guided me into concluding that, notwithstanding Leakey's pronouncement to the contrary, an adult female spotted hyaena, and not a brown hyaena, was the more likely explanation after all.

Nevertheless, after reviewing all of the cases and opinions documented here, not just the Hutton/Leakey episode, it wouldn't surprise me if at least a few brown hyaena specimens had indeed been sighted in and around the Nandi/Kakamega Forest area down through the decades, especially in earlier times when there was much more cover there in which they could remain concealed when not seeking prey. Some of the descriptions of Nandi-spied mystery animals presented above irresistibly recall this very distinctive species. So even though the Hutton individuals must surely have been a pair of adult spotted hyaenas based at least upon Hutton's description of them, perhaps a few brown hyaena specimens have occasionally wandered northward from their southern African homeland, thereby explaining the Nandi people's terror when seeing one, because as noted above they would have no traditional knowledge of this formidable-looking but zoogeographically out-of-place beast.

 
If someone with no prior knowledge of a brown hyaena suddenly came face to face with one in the depths of the Nandi Forest, it would be hardly surprising if they were shocked and terrified by their close encounter with such a formidable-looking beast (© Myska0091/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

One final mystery: in a short letter of 12 March 1982 to Ken Archer in which he enclosed a copy of Daphne Hills's letter containing her comments, Chum added a most intriguing comment of his own:

I have looked at the photographs but really cannot come to a definite conclusion though they are hyaena-like, and this is the finding of others who have studied them.

But which photos was Chum referring to in his letter to Archer? All of the photo-slides snapped by Hutton of his shot Nandi bear specimen and sent by him to Leakey in 1960 had supposedly been packaged by Leakey with the specimen itself and sent by him to the BMNH later that same year. Yet could it be that in reality Leakey had kept a few of them back, retaining them at the Coryndon Museum as a safety precaution, perhaps, just in case the package did indeed go astray in transit? If so, and these precious few images of Hutton's specimen are what Chum had looked at, they were clearly still there during the early 1980s, and may still be there today. Another avenue of enquiry that I am therefore currently pursuing.

Speaking of Chum: in view of his prominent place within this very chequered history of the cryptozoological kind, it seemed only fair and proper that the last word here should go to him. Yes indeed, after writing to him on the subject of African mystery beasts in general but African mystery cats in particular, I received a very detailed handwritten letter from Dr Gurner Robert Cunningham-van Someren, dated 24 September 1987, which I still have on file. Although he was interested in the notion of unexpected animals being discovered in the Dark Continent and elsewhere, and discussed various African examples, he seemed less than impressed in the possibility of the Nandi bear ever becoming one of them, confining his entire coverage of this particular cryptid to a single short but memorable paragraph at the very end of his letter. Here is that paragraph:

Sorry I am unable to be more helpful – the Nandi Bear business was really a PR job as the tea planter [Archer, presumably] was so insistent.

In other words, Chum evidently did not consider the matter a serious one, but had searched on Archer's behalf for Hutton's specimen at the Kenya National Museum and had written his letter concerning it to Daphne Hills at London's BMNH simply to stay on good terms with him. Moreover, Chum's apparent disinterest in the Hutton incident may well explain why he had made three separate mistakes when recalling details regarding it, which in view of his renowned reputation as an extremely knowledgeable authority on African wildlife was highly uncharacteristic of him.

All in all, this has been a cryptozoological case that initially promised so much but ultimately delivered so little.

 
Beware, beware, the Nandi bear! (© Markus Bühler)

Certainly, and regardless of the taxonomic identity of the creature at its core, it remains exceedingly tragic that a specimen unequivocally identified as a bona fide Nandi bear by the person who procured it and who was very familiar with the local fauna has managed to slip through our grasp and consign this mysterious mammal to continuing official obscurity.

Then again, it may not have done. Perhaps there is indeed a letter from Leakey on file at London's Natural History Museum still awaiting disclosure, and perhaps somewhere in one of this leading scientific establishment's vast warehouses of stored but presently-unscrutinized specimens there are indeed a preserved pelt and skeleton, plus a series of accompanying photo-slides and pugmark casts, testifying to the reality of Africa's most daunting, redoubtable creature of cryptozoology. As noted above, if I do receive word back from the NHM, I'll be sure to let you know.

To be continued…?

 

For the most comprehensive modern-day coverage of the Nandi bear in published form, be sure to check out my book Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors.