In a previous ShukerNature blog article (click here to access it), I documented one of the most ferocious mystery beasts ever recorded – an East African mystery big cat (morphologically but not necessarily taxonomically) that was reported from coastal Tanzania during the first half of the 20th Century, and known variously as the nunda or mngwa. It was blamed for the bloodthirsty slaughter of several locals during two separate outbreaks of killings, but was never captured. A few fur samples were obtained, but tragically they were not retained for formal scientific examination. According to eyewitness descriptions, however, this rapacious cryptid was described as being a cat the size of a donkey, and leaving behind leopard-like footprints the size of a lion's, but readily delineated from both leopards and lions by virtue of its most unusual pelage. This was said to be grey in colour and brindled in pattern, i.e. marked with streaks and possibly some spotting too, as brindled animals often exhibit spots among the streaks and stripes.
No known species of cat fits this description in toto. The nearest is the grey, sometimes spotted morph of the African golden cat Caracal (=Profelis) aurata, but at only twice the size of a typical domestic cat, this species is far smaller than the nunda, and surely therefore could not inflict the terrible wounds or attack humans with such overwhelming ferocity as described for the nunda. However, veteran cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans speculated that perhaps the nunda constituted a hitherto-undiscovered giant version of this species, which would be a truly belligerent beast to encounter.
Tellingly, moreover, as I pointed out in my mystery cat books, locals have claimed that despite its huge size, the nunda does not roar like a Panthera big cat (lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar), but actually purrs, like what are collectively known taxonomically as the small cats, and which include the African golden cat among their number. In addition, the African golden cat is so notoriously elusive that it has actually been dubbed by mammalogists as Africa's least known felid (click here for more details), so of all cats native to this continent, it may well possess the greatest potential for unveiling unexpected, unsuspected attributes.
Over the years, a number of artists have sought to depict Tanzania's monstrous mystery cat, of which the following example is probably the best known:
Very recently, moreover, what may be a hitherto-undocumented and truly spectacular painting of a nunda was discovered in the most unexpected of circumstances. Now, by kind permission of its discoverer (and purchaser), longstanding Facebook friend Maxine Pearson, here for your cryptozoological consideration via this ShukerNature world-exclusive is that truly remarkable and extremely beautiful painting, together with the sparse details currently available regarding it. Consequently, Maxine and I very much hope, kind readers, that you will be able to assist us in uncovering further information relating to it.
I first learned of this painting's existence on Sunday 21 March 2021, when I received a short message on Facebook from Maxine, enclosing the close-up of the cat in the painting that opens this present ShukerNature article, plus a close-up of the artist's signature, and the following information:
Jon Downes [of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, based in Devon, UK] said he thinks this may be a mngwa. I just got it from some charity auction. It's in oils. The painter's name [is] below although I don't know him. Any thoughts?
When I looked at the close-up photograph of the cat, I was certainly very intrigued, and could readily see why Jon thought that it might be a mngwa (aka nunda – I prefer the latter name, as it's easier to say!), and I replied to Maxine stating this. I asked if she could provide me with any additional details regarding the painting and any further photographs of it, which she very kindly did. I'm incorporating the most significant of those photos (which she snapped using her Samsung mobile phone) throughout this article, and here are the additional details:
Maxine lives in London, but the auction at which she won this painting was held next to the garrison at Eastbeach, Shoeburyness, in southeast Essex, England, by a Southend-based animal charity named Charlie Boys Angels (see details concerning it given at the end of this ShukerNature article), of which she is a member. Charlie Boys Angels helps homeless people with dogs, and as one of its means of raising funds for this very deserving cause it holds an auction every month. After winning the painting with a bid for £15, Maxine received it from Charlie Boys Angels about a week ago, and was quite surprised to discover how large it was, measuring approximately 4 ft across by just under 3 ft tall. The identity of the person who donated this painting to the auction is currently unknown, but Maxine has promised to ask the charity if they know, so I may be able to add this detail here at a later date.
Also currently unknown is the identity of the artist who painted it. As seen in the above close-up photograph of the artist's signature, his/her surname may be 'Peters', and the "'05" inscription next to it indicates that it was painted in 2005. However, Maxine is not totally certain that Peters is indeed what the signature reads as, and even if it is, Peters is a very common name, meaning that without additional information it would be exceedingly difficult to track the artist down. I have tried both a Google Image search and a Tineye Reverse Image search in the hope of discovering this painting online, but without success.
Interestingly, as seen here, when the painting is photographed in its entirety the colouration of the cat varies depending upon the painting's location. When Maxine photographed it by a window, the light from the window shining upon it rendered the cat very dark, so that it almost resembled a black panther (i.e. melanistic leopard), with its markings not particularly distinct. When the painting was placed on the floor, however, away from the direct light shining through the window, the cat was much lighter, with grey fur and very distinctive markings, and Maxine informed me that this latter appearance is the painting's normal one.
So what could Maxine's mystifying cat be? Its build and face are those of a big cat, by which I mean a species belonging to the genus Panthera, and most closely resemble a leopard's or jaguar's. Its coat colouration and pattern, conversely, are fundamentally different from those of a leopard or jaguar. Instead of sporting the leopard and jaguar pelage's typical golden background colouration, Maxine's cat is uniformly grey. And instead of displaying the leopard's familiar rosette markings (also exhibited by the jaguar, but which additionally sports a central spot within each rosette that is lacking in the leopard's coat pattern), the pelage of Maxine's cat consists of a heavy mottling of single polka dots, not arranged into rosettes, but which in places merge together to yield streaks and short stripes, especially on the limbs and dorsal region.
I noted earlier here that the only known African cat that possesses a pelage similar to that of Maxine's mystery cat is the spotted grey morph of the African golden cat – a polymorphic species that exists in a range of different coat colours and patterns, including unspotted red, gold, grey, and black, plus spotted red, gold, and grey. Although most common and widely distributed in West Africa, it is now known to exist in Central and East Africa too.
For morphological comparison purposes, here are two African golden cat skins, the left-hand one representing its spotted grey morph, the right-hand one its spotted golden morph.
And here is a close-up of the fur patterning of Maxine's mystery cat as depicted in the painting:
As you can see, there is certainly a resemblance.
To see what a spotted grey specimen of the African golden cat looks like in life, click here to view a photograph of one such animal that was snapped using a trail cam during a study of this elusive species' ecology and conservation by Laila Bahaa-el-din as part of her 2015 PhD in the School of Life Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa. And click here to download the entire paper containing this photo. You will see straight away, however, that whereas their coat colour and patterning are similar, the golden cat's head is very different in both shape and markings to that of Maxine's cat, which, as already noted here, is leopardine or jaguarine.
Equally, it is its unique combination of leopard/jaguar-like head and grey mottled pelage that distinguishes this portrayed cat from any felid on record from anywhere outside Africa too.
So how do we explain this painting? Is it an attempt by someone with cryptozoological knowledge to depict the likely appearance in life of the nunda? Or might it portray some exceedingly rare, freak version of the leopard or jaguar, both of which are well known for the great variation of their coat colour and patterning? Yet I have never seen an example of either in which the rosettes have broken up into single or merged spots (although I have seen in both species the opposite extreme, where the rosettes have merged to yield an extraordinarily beautiful, striking pelage adorned with stripes and swirls greatly resembling that of the cheetah's rare king cheetah variant). Another option is that it constitutes some exotic big cat hybrid, of which a wide range have been bred in captivity. I know of a female jaglion (jaguar x lioness hybrid) named Jahzara, born at Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary in Ontario, Canada, on 9 April 2006, whose pure-bred jaguar father Diablo was melanistic and she has inherited his dark coat, but her markings are still rosettes, not polka dots (click here for full details). Or is it simply a portrayal of a fantasy felid, not based upon any real specimen but originating entirely from the artist's own imagination? At this stage, we simply do not know, but it is certainly most intriguing that the cat that it depicts should so closely recall a documented mystery cat from the same continent.
If anyone reading this ShukerNature article has any knowledge concerning this painting's origin and/or artist, or any thoughts that they would like to offer regarding the possible identity of the cat depicted in it, please post them below this article – Maxine and I would be very interested to read them!
My sincere thanks indeed to Maxine Pearson for so very kindly sharing her wonderful discovery and photographs of it with me, and for permitting me to document it here.
CHARLIE BOYS ANGELS: Here is a description of what this very worthy charity is all about, quoted from their official Facebook page (click here to visit it):
Charlie Boys Angels support homeless and vulnerable individuals with their animals in the Southend and surrounding areas of Essex by providing essential items, access to free veterinary treatment and support to find pet friendly accommodation.
This page was set up to help us get our name out there and the fantastic work that we do and is dedicated in memory of a beautiful white staffie called Charlie Boy, let us tell you his story...
Charlie Boy and his owner were sadly made homeless back in November 2016 and it was around this time that this group was founded to help him with a skin complaint. Tragically in January 2017, they were both attacked on the street – Charlie Boy jumped up to protect his owner and was fatally stabbed, he died a short time later.
After his death, our group and the local community was filled with heartfelt memorials for this brave boy who had sacrificed his life for his human so it was then that it was decided that we would continue our work in his memory to help others just like them who are homeless and vulnerable with their animals and also those without.
- Animal items such as food, blankets, treats, collars, leads, coats, toys, flea & worm treatment etc.
- Clothing items such as Jackets, Jumpers, Hats & Scarves, Gloves etc.
- Help to find pet friendly accommodation
- Help towards the cost of vet treatment
- Foster Care in Emergency Situations
We want to prevent this tragic incident from ever happening to anyone else in the future and so far we have achieved this, making sure that everyone we work with are safe and have everything they need to look after their companions.
4 years into our work, we have now joined in partnership with the Aspirations Program whose mission is to empower individuals on their journey of recovery from the harmful effects of active addiction – working together to make a difference to people’s lives.
We do not receive any government grants and rely solely on support from the public and fundraising to help us continue the work that we do and keep our vet treatment free and accessible to those who need it the most. We have our current Facebook pages including our fundraising page.
We will add link into the comments below for ease.
We also have our wish lists on Amazon, again we will place a link below. Please share this post as it’s extremely difficult to arrange fundraising at this time due to current restrictions.
If you wish to kindly make a donation towards the work we do, you can do so by Bank Transfer directly to the below details as unfortunately we no longer have access to a PayPal account – all donations are so greatly appreciated.
Account Name: Charlie Boys Angels
Sort Code: 20-19-97
Account Number: 90007625
Thank you most sincerely for reading this – Karl.