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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Wednesday 28 July 2021


The fake deinothere photograph that inspired this ShukerNature blog article (© owner/photo manipulator unknown to me – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Thanks to the sophistication of readily-available digital photo-manipulation programs, photographic evidence for the existence of cryptids is of very little worth nowadays, at least in my opinion. This was readily demonstrated in mid-February 2021, following the widespread circulation online of a close-up, excellent-quality b/w photograph seemingly depicting the presence in some unidentified zoological gardens of a living deinothere.

Renowned for their huge body size and especially for their diagnostic downward-curving lower jaw and lower tusks but absence of upper tusks, deinotheres were prehistoric pachyderms distantly related to today's elephants. However, even the most recent fossils of these mega-mammals date back 1 million years.

Clearly, therefore, the existence of a specimen alive and well in any zoo would, if genuine, be a scientific sensation. Yet as the scientific world has made no mention whatsoever of any such prehistoric survivor thriving in captivity, the photo is evidently a fake.

Reconstruction of the likely appearance of a deinothere in life (© Concavenator/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

Over the years, I have made a point of exposing many fake photos of the cryptozoological kind, as revealed in many ShukerNature blog articles, in the hope of ensuring that, by doing so, these hoax images can no longer mislead anyone. The most effective means of accomplishing this feat is to uncover the original, genuine photo that the hoaxer has photo-manipulated to yield the fake version, which I have successfully achieved on numerous occasions by conducting detailed image searches online. So when the deinothere picture was brought to my attention, I duly began one such search, but on this particular occasion a fellow cryptozoological researcher beat me to it.

German cryptozoologist and longstanding friend Markus Hemmler had seen the deinothere photo before I had done and had begun an online image search of his own for the original genuine picture straight away. Moreover, he soon met with success, discovering that the original image was a vintage photograph that actually depicted a hippopotamus living in what was then Leningrad Zoo in the USSR.

As he informed me on 14 February, Markus had found it in a Czech article from 4 March 2017, documenting the hardships that the zoo and its animals had suffered during World War 2 (click here to access this article). A reconstruction of what a deinothere may have looked like in life had been deftly superimposed over the hippo by some unknown hoaxer, hiding it completely. Case closed.

The vintage photograph of a hippopotamus living at Leningrad Zoo during WW2 that had been digitally manipulated by person(s) unknown to create the fake deinothere photograph (public domain)



Monday 26 July 2021


Vintage illustration of a talbot hound, now extinct (public domain)

Previously on ShukerNature, I documented the little-known history of a truly remarkable creature – Mexico's hump-backed izcuintlipotzotli, a truly bizarre-looking breed of domestic dog that for still-undetermined reasons is now extinct (click here to access my article). Needless to say, extinction among species of wild animal and even among breeds of domestic farm animal is well-documented, and is also, as it should be, a cause for much concern.

Conversely, the tragic reality that a sizeable number of domestic dog breeds have also died out, and for a variety of different reasons, has attracted far less attention or interest, even though some of these breeds were once very familiar – so much so, in fact, that in a number of cases their names still live on today even though they themselves are long gone.

Engraving of Mexico's mysterious hump-backed izcuintlipotzotli (public domain)

In an attempt to rectify this sad situation, I plan to prepare an occasional (i.e. non-consecutive) but ultimately multi-part series of ShukerNature blog articles restoring to public prominence a veritable dynasty of deceased dog breeds (and which may therefore yield the most comprehensive popular-format coverage of this neglected subject ever published when complete). I'll be surveying a very diverse array of examples, grouped in the traditional classification categories utilised by official canine organisations and shows, and accompanied by many seldom-seen but fascinating illustrations of these lost breeds.

And how better to begin this major survey than with a selection of gun dogs that are now gone and hounds that no longer abound.



As will be seen throughout this article, there are a range of different reasons for the extinction of domestic dog breeds, but two of the most common ones, which arise time and again in the histories of such breeds, is that they died out either through a gradual loss of interest in perpetuating them; or, by being used in crossbreeding to yield new breeds, their own original, pure-bred form eventually disappeared. Both of these reasons certainly explain the disappearance of certain breeds of gun dog.

Morphologically and behaviourally speaking, the principal groups of gun dog are spaniels, retrievers, setters, pointers, and a somewhat looser assemblage commonly referred to as griffons. They include some extremely famous, distinctive breeds, but there were once a number of others that back in their time were no less famous or distinctive but are now extinct. Take, for example, the English water spaniel.

Painting of an English water spaniel (public domain)

As its name implies, this breed was used for aquatic purposes, as in procuring waterfowl, and was said to be able to dive and swim as efficiently as any duck. White and tan (or liver) in colour, it resembled a curly-coated springer spaniel, as opposed to the very dissimilar Irish water spaniel, which it pre-dated. It sported long ears and legs, and is thought to have genetically influenced several modern-day breeds, such as the American water spaniel, the curly-coated retriever, and quite probably the English and the Welsh springer spaniels too. Known as far back as Shakespearian times, this once-popular breed has been extinct for almost a century, the last-known specimen being reported in the 1930s.

Another now-deceased spaniel with aquatic proclivities was the Tweed water spaniel, again used for hunting ducks and other waterfowl. A much more localised breed than the English water spaniel, however, and with a very curly but uniformly liver-brown coat like the Irish water spaniel, it was only known from the Tweed area of northernmost England, close to the Scottish borders. It seemingly owed its demise to being used extensively in the development of the curly-coated and the golden retrievers as new, distinct breeds, and had vanished as a breed in its own right by the end of the 1800s.

Vintage illustration of a Tweed water spaniel (public domain)

A third curly-coated spaniel was the alpine spaniel, a notably large breed native to the Swiss Alps, where the local monasteries' Augustinian canons utilised it for mountain rescues of lost or injured travellers, especially near the Great St Bernard Pass, and it was the predecessor of the modern-day St Bernard dog, as well as the clumber spaniel. Due to the adverse environmental conditions habitually faced by its breed, however, coupled with an outbreak of disease, by 1847 the last known alpine spaniel specimen had died, and upon whose death the entire breed, therefore, was also dead.

Other extinct breeds of spaniel include the Spanish and Italian spaniels (the former large with dark brown/black and white fur, the latter smaller with chestnut/liver and white fur); the Scottish spaniel (white with red flecks, once bred at Rossmore Castle, Ireland, but not seen since 1908); and the Norfolk spaniel.

An engraving by Thomas Bewick of an alpine spaniel (public domain)

Also known as the Shropshire spaniel the Norfolk spaniel owed its more familiar name to a now-disproved theory that it had originally been developed and bred by the Dukes of Norfolk. Moreover, there is still much controversy as to whether it truly constituted a distinct breed, because it varied greatly in appearance, although 'typical' examples tended to resemble large English cocker spaniels, with black and white or liver and white coats. In 1903, the Norfolk spaniel officially ceased to exist when the English Kennel Cub formally incorporated its breed into that of the newly-defined English springer spaniel.

Another lost breed of gun dog is the pyrame, which resembled a fairly small black-and-tan cocker spaniel with short hair. Its limbs and squat muzzle were predominantly reddish-chestnut in colour, as was a pair of small spots above its eyes, but its back, haunches, head, and ears were black, the latter being very large and pendulous. Its head was small and rounded, and its tail was turned up at the back. It was used in England as a gun dog in the same way as other land-based spaniels, but it died out more than a century ago.

Dash II – rare photograph of a living Norfolk spaniel (public domain); plus a charming vintage painting of a Norfolk spaniel (public domain)

Also worthy of note here are two separate but both now-bygone breeds of water dog. Indigenous to Newfoundland, named after the latter territory's capital city, and with its origins dating back to the 1500s, the St John's water dog was technically a landrace rather than a strict breed. That is, it was bred to fulfil a specific purpose rather than exhibiting a standard, well-defined morphological form or pedigree.

Having said that, many specimens were retriever-like and shared a medium-sized, sturdy, black-furred appearance, often characterised with white, tuxedo-reminiscent chest markings. It was used in its native homeland to retrieve the nets of sailors, hauling them back onto the boats. Surviving until as recently as the 1980s, the St John's water dog helped to give rise to all of the major modern-day breeds of retriever, as well as to the Newfoundland itself, a burly working dog.

Three photographs of St John's water dogs (all public domain)

The Moscow water dog was a short-lived Soviet breed originally developed during the post-WW2 1940s in what is now Belarus from the Newfoundland and various European shepherd dogs. Never officially recognised by major kennel clubs outside what was then the USSR, it was one of several new breeds produced solely by the USSR's state-run Red Star Kennels, in order to provide its armed forces with working dogs (in the more general, non-show-specific sense of this term).

The desired purpose of the Moscow water dog was to rescue drowning sailors, but unfortunately it preferred to bite them rather than retrieve them, so its production was discontinued. By the 1980s, moreover, it had been officially homogenised with the Newfoundland as a single breed, and was thus categorised as extinct as far as its constituting a separate breed was concerned.

Two photographs of Moscow water dogs (both public domain)

France's diverse array of pointer breeds, known collectively as braques, are all descended from the original braque. This was a large, sleek-furred breed reminiscent of the English pointer in shape, and whose white coat was handsomely speckled with patches or flecks of liver/chestnut.

Its ancestry dates back many centuries, but even as long ago as the 15th Century it was already being used to create what became various of the modern-day braque breeds still existing today. Of these, some authorities claim that the braque de l'Ariège or Ariège pointer is the closest in form to the ancestral braque.

Beautiful painting of a braque du Puy (public domain)

Sadly, one of the modern-day braque breeds is itself now extinct, the braque du Puy or Dupuy pointer. Created in Poitou during the 1800s for hunting in the lowlands, it sported the ancestral braque's coat colour and markings, but was also very greyhound-like by virtue of its lithe, gracile build.

Reconstituted specimens, resembling Dupuy pointers outwardly, are occasionally produced today. However, they do not correspond to the latter breed genetically.

A living braque du Puy photographed in 1932 (public domain)



Hounds include among their number some of the earliest recorded breeds of domestic dog, dating back thousands of years, such as the saluki, sloughi, and Afghan hound. Conversely, in much more recent historical times several notable breeds of hound have become extinct.

Two of the best known of these are undoubtedly the St Hubert hound and the talbot hound. Although by no means of uniform appearance (Charles IX of France actually preferred pure-white specimens), the most familiar, popular representation of the St Hubert hound is that of an all-black or black-and-tan mastiff-like breed, extremely powerful in stature and heavy-boned, with a long body but quite short legs and a very well-developed sense of smell. According to tradition, it originated in the Ardennes, Belgium, in c.1000 AD, bred by the monks at the Saint-Hubert monastery, but some have suggested that it may have arisen in France.

Early engraving of an original St Hubert hound (public domain)

Several modern-day breeds owe their origin to the St Hubert hound, most famously the bloodhound, which is itself sometimes even dubbed the St Hubert hound. Tragically, due to having been interbred with several other breeds to yield new ones, by the early 19th Century there were scarcely any pure-bred St Hubert hounds remaining, and by the end of that same century the true, original strain had gone.

No less renowned in its time was the talbot hound, famed for its pure-white coat and dropped ears, and still frequently commemorated even today not only in many British heraldic devices but also in numerous public house or inn names and advertising signs throughout Great Britain. It was referred to in English literature at least as far back as the mid-1500s, and some authorities consider that it actually owed its origin to the afore-mentioned white specimens of St Hubert hound that were sometimes bred and maintained by French monarchs.

A talbot hound depicted on The Talbot pub sign, Worcester Road, Hartlebury, in Worcestershire, England (© PL Chadwick/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

By the end of the 18th Century, however, the talbot hound had ceased to exist as a delineated breed, as did two other related forms, the northern hound (aka the North Country beagle) and the southern hound, both of which were very beagle-like in appearance and had been utilised with the talbot hound in the creation of the modern beagle breed now existing today. The talbot hound is also believed to have participated alongside the St Hubert hound in the bloodhound's development.

Due to the extensive crossbreeding that has occurred down through the centuries between France's varied native hounds, several early original breeds have become extinct. The St Hubert hound is one, and the Vendéen hound is another - a very sizeable, rough-coated, pendant-eared, reddish-brown dog used for boar hunting. However, some intimations of it are preserved in the slightly smaller but still-surviving grand griffon vendéen, which itself originated as far back as the 16th Century, the first and largest breed of griffon vendéen to be established.

Vintage illustrations of the northern hound (top) and the southern hound (bottom) (both public domain)

Another former French breed of hound was the chien-gris de Saint-Louis or St Louis grey dog, which originated in France during medieval times, certainly being known as far back as the 13th Century when royal packs of hunting hound were composed almost exclusively of this breed. Serving like the St Hubert hound as a potent scenthound, it earned its name from its predominantly grey coat colour (although its long limbs and forequarters were tan or red), and from the canonised French king Louis IX's especial interest in it. It was rough-coated like the Vendéen hound, and gave rise to some of France's modern-day griffon breeds, particularly the griffon nivernais.

In addition to this quartet of famous breeds, several less familiar but no less noteworthy hounds have also disappeared. One very sad loss, for instance, is the long-haired whippet. Very similar to the typical smooth-coated whippet in general build and shape, it was instantly differentiated by way of its fairly long, harsh, wiry coat. However, this very distinctive-looking hound was bred out of existence in favour of its smooth-coated counterpart by about the end of the 19th Century. Today, some whippets sporting a long silky coat exist, but these are very different from their extinct wiry-haired predecessor.

Two very handsome examples of the chien-gris de Saint-Louis or St Louis grey dog (public domain)

Equally intriguing was the pocket beagle, which, as its name suggests, was a miniature version of the normal beagle, standing no taller than 13.5 inches. A pack of pocket beagles was owned by England's Queen Elizabeth I, and they were carried to the hunt on horseback. Three centuries later, Queen Victoria also owned a pack, consisting of nine couples, and only averaging 9-10 inches high; in 1844, these were depicted by artist William Barraud in a famous painting (reproduced below).

More recently, attempts have been made in North America to recreate this diminutive hound, which was traditionally used to hunt hares and rabbits, and the American Kennel Club does officially recognise beagles standing less than 13 inches high as a category separate from those that are taller (13-15 in). The English Kennel Club, conversely, does not make any such differentiation.

Queen Victoria's Master of the Beagles Mr Maynard and her pack of pocket beagles, painted by William Barraud in 1844 (public domain)

Another very distinctive breed was the Brazilian tracker or rastreador brasileiro, a highly efficient scenthound. Generally similar in shape, size, and form to the North American coonhound from which it was partly descended, it received official recognition as a distinct breed in 1967, from France's Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI), but less than a decade later it had vanished, and was formally declared extinct in 1973 by both the FCI and the Brazilian Kennel Club.

Its swift demise had resulted from an outbreak of disease coupled by the inimical effects of an insecticide overdose. Attempts are currently underway to recreate the Brazilian tracker in its South American homeland by a canine club called the Grupo de Apoio ao Resgate do Rastreador Brasileiro.

Two rare photographs of living Brazilian trackers (both public domain)

Even more imposing was the American panther dog, bred specifically by Aaron Hall in Pennsylvania, USA, during the mid-19th Century to hunt pumas (also known in North America as panthers, cougars, and mountain lions). Part bloodhound, part bulldog, part mastiff, and part Newfoundland, they were so large that, once when visiting Hall at his hunting cabin, former State Game Commissioner C.K. Sober was actually able to ride on the back of one of them!

They were trained to hunt in pairs, and when a puma was cornered the pair would hold it down on both sides until the hunter arrived to dispatch it with his rifle. Following Hall's death in 1892, however, no effort was made by anyone to perpetuate this unique if formidable breed, so the panther dog swiftly died out.

An Egyptian Old Kingdom fragment depicting a tesem (public domain)

As far as its date of origin is concerned, the final extinct dog breed to be reported here is also the earliest breed – namely, the Egyptian tesem. In its loosest sense, 'tesem' was used in ancient Egypt to denote any type of hunting dog, but in its stricter, more precise sense it was employed as the name for a particular breed of sight hound or gazehound that resembled a greyhound due to its long limbs and slender body, but sported a tail that curled over its back like that of a spitz, plus slim, pointed, pricked-up ears.

One of the first, and most famous, examples on record of a tesem sensu stricto was Akbaru, the so-called Khufu Dog, which was depicted on the tomb of King Khufu (reigned 2609-2584 BC) from ancient Egypt's Old Kingdom period (c.2686-2181 BC), and was wearing a collar. Other depictions of the tesem appeared during the Middle Kingdom (c.2050–1710 BC), but it had been replaced by depictions of a saluki-like breed with pendant ears and straight tail by the time of the New Kingdom (c.1550–1077 BC).

Early Egyptian depiction of two tesems, as confirmed by their curled tails (public domain)

In Part 2 of this occasional ShukerNature series of articles on extinct dog breeds, I plan to review a selection of examples from the Toy and Terrier categories. These were often small breeds, but were once much-loved comforter and companion dogs.

Yet for all manner of different reasons, they gradually diminished in both popularity and number until eventually they ceased to exist, except for their likenesses, captured forever like faint canine ghosts within the rare vintage photographs and other images of them that still survive, several of which I'll be showcasing in my article – so be sure to check it out when uploaded here on ShukerNature!

A rare colour photograph of a St John's water dog with an Outport fisherman in La Poile, Newfoundland, October 1971 (public domain)


Saturday 24 July 2021


Albert C. Koch's Hydrarchos (aka Hydrargos) – a classic engraving from a German journal, 1846, colourised (public domain)

As recently revealed in Part 1 of this 2-part ShukerNature blog article (click here to access it), the self-styled 'Dr' Albert C. Koch (in reality, he did not possess a doctorate) was one of many 19th-Century Phineas T. Barnum emulators at large in the USA, establishing dime museums filled with a riotous assemblage of factual and phoney specimens from the living and non-living worlds, and, if sufficiently successful, organising nationwide and sometimes even international tours displaying their most famous and fantastic exhibits. In the case of Koch, who was not merely an entrepreneur of this dubious variety but also a passionate amateur palaeontologist and fossil collector, after opening during 1836 one such museum in St Louis, Missouri, he successfully excavated a mastodon skeleton in Missouri's Benton County four years later, but that was far from all.

Once Koch had not only assembled this skeleton but also surreptitiously made it much bigger than it actually was by adding extra vertebrae and other bones to it from additional mastodon remains, he dubbed his monstrous multi-mastodon the Missourium, and audaciously claimed that it was nothing less than the fossilised remains of the biblical reptilian sea monster Leviathan. Moreover, after making this phoney mega-beast the central exhibit at his museum for a year, Koch decided in 1841 to sell his museum and go on tour with the Missourium. This he did, but after receiving a very lucrative offer for it from the world-famous palaeontologist Prof. Sir Richard Owen of London's British Museum in 1843 (who readily recognised that the Missourium was a fraudulent composite, not a single creature, but could also see that if dismantled, a complete genuine mastodon skeleton could be reassembled from its components), he promptly sold it to Owen.

Koch's monstrous Missourium, depicted in this 19th-Century engraving towering over an Asian elephant! (public domain)

However, this meant that Koch now needed a new, equally – if not even more – spectacular exhibit to tour with and earn him further money by drawing in the crowds of visitors anxious to cast their credulous eyes upon it. So, what did he do? He created not one but two gargantuan fossil sea serpents, bigger than any fossil creature ever recorded at that time!

In 1845, an immense skeleton that Koch had recently unearthed in Alabama, and which he claimed to be the near-complete fossilised remains of a prehistoric reptilian sea serpent, was exhibited by him in assembled form, mounted on stilts, in the Apollo Saloon's rooms on New York City’s Broadway.

Advertisement for the very first public exhibition of Hydrarchos (public domain)

Measuring at least 114 ft long (but see Koch's own inflated claim below), it consisted of a skull (including a pair of lengthy, tooth-brimming jaws), an exceedingly long, sinuous vertebral column that featured a lengthy curved neck held upright and an even longer horizontally-curved tail, some ribs in the creature's thoracic region, and parts of supposed paddle limbs, He charged interested spectators in America 25 cents to observe his antediluvian marvel, and 1 shilling to spectators in England once he began touring overseas with it.

Despite this specimen looking totally unlike his Missourium, Koch bizarrely stated that it too was the biblical Leviathan! And according to one broadsheet advertisement for its appearance at Niblo's Garden in New York City, he also claimed that when alive it must have measured 30 ft in circumference, and weighed at least 7,500 lb (I've seen one incredible claim that it weighed an outrageous 40,000 lb!).

A second classic engraving of Hydrarchos from a German journal, 1846, colourised (public domain)

As with the Missourium, Koch soon prepared a short booklet fully documenting his new reptilian revelation, which was published in 1845. Like before, it sported an unnecessarily lengthy, albeit informative title: Description of the Hydrarchos Harlani (Koch): A Gigantic Fossil Reptile: Lately Discovered by the Author, in the State of Alabama, March 1845 [I've omitted the remainder of its title, which stretched to a further 32 words!]. In it, he introduced his description of the Hydrarchos with the following emphatic pronouncement and dramatic dimensions:

This relic is without exception the largest of all fossil skeletons, found either in the old or new world. Its length being upwards of one hundred and fourteen feet, without estimating any space for the cartilage between the bones, and must, when alive, have measured over one hundred and forty feet, and its circumference probably exceeded thirty feet, reminding us most strikingly, of the various statements made by persons, in regard to having seen large serpents in different parts of the ocean, which were known by the name of Sea Serpents.

Reconstruction of Hydrarchos in life, based upon Koch's claims (© Tim Morris)

As with his Missourium booklet, Koch then went on to provide a lengthy, extremely detailed description containing all manner of unfounded conjectures and suppositions regarding the possible lifestyle and appearance in life of the Hydrarchos (such as sunbathing in rivers; possessing an extremely long neck that it held upwards in an arching curve like a swan to spy unwary prey walking upon the adjoining shore that it could then seize; and cannibalistically devouring younger specimens of its own kind). Ironically, conversely, he also included some accurate accounts of its genuine mammalian characteristics, such as its double-rooted teeth, even at times comparing it directly and favourably with cetaceans (of which Basilosaurus was of course one – see a little later here for Basilosaurus details), only for him then to dismiss them in favour of a reptilian identity for it!

Again as with his Missourium, Koch had given this elongate entity a formal scientific name, which was originally Hydrargos sillimanii, honouring eminent Yale College (now University) naturalist Prof. Benjamin Silliman (1779-1864), who believed in the existence of sea serpents, and had written a fulsome letter of 2 September 1845 to the editors of the New York Express newspaper authenticating Koch's Hydrargos.

Prof. Benjamin Silliman (public domain)

Here is what he wrote:

The Skeleton having been found entire, inclosed in limestone, evidently belonged to one individual, and there is the fullest ground for its genuineness. The animal was marine and carnivorous, and at his death was imbedded in that ancient sea where Alabama now is; having myself recently passed 400 miles down the Alabama river, and touched at many places, I have had full opportunity to observe, what many Geologists have affirmed, the marine and oceanic character of the country.

Most observers will probably be struck with the snake-like appearance of the skeleton. It differs, however, most essentially, from any existing or fossil serpent, although it may countenance the popular (and I believe well founded) impression of the existence, in our modern seas, of huge animals, to which the name of sea serpent has been attached.

A lesser-known Hydrarchos engraving, from 1845 (public domain)

Notwithstanding Silliman's misplaced faith in its authenticity, however, the true identity – or identities – of Koch's Hydrargos ultimately came to light when one of its numerous visitors, esteemed American anatomist Prof. Jeffries Wyman (1814-1874), exposed two major problems with it.

Firstly, its teeth and bones were mammalian, not reptilian, originating from a prehistoric form of very lengthy whale known as Basilosaurus (its reptilian-sounding moniker derives from the fact that when first named by zoologist Dr Richard Harlan (1796-1843), it was mistakenly assumed by him to have been a reptile). Secondly, just like the Missourium, its spinal column was composed of vertebrae obtained from more than one individual specimen (possibly as many as six, in fact, and procured by Koch from several different Alabama locations too), thereby explaining this creature's gigantic size. Indeed, as Basilosaurus attained a total length of 'only' 70 ft or so, Koch's 114-ft Hydrargos was larger than life in every sense!

A model of Basilosaurus (© Markus Bühler)

Once this became known, with the horrid Hydrargos, courtesy of Koch, having duly made a silly man out of Silliman, the latter highly-embarrassed scientist demanded that his name be removed forthwith from the binomial with which Koch had christened his bogus beast. Yet seemingly unfazed by its public unmasking as a fake, Koch simply gave his charlatan sea serpent a new binomial and continued exhibiting it on tour undeterred.

It was now known as Hydrarchos harlani, or simply the Hydrarchos colloquially, its new genus being only a slight modification of the old one, and its new species name, harlani, honouring another scientist. This time it was none other than the afore-mentioned Dr Richard Harlan, who had examined the very first known fossil vertebra of Basilosaurus and had given this archaic whale its misleadingly reptilian genus name in 1835. Moreover, being deceased by now, Harlan was in no position to challenge Koch's usage of his name when rechristening his spoof sea serpent.

Mounted Basilosaurus skeleton at Nantes Natural History Museum (© François de Dijon/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

In 1848, English palaeontologist Dr Gideon A. Mantell (1790-1852) wrote an excoriating letter to the Illustrated London News denouncing both Koch and his lithic Leviathan, and fully explaining the latter's true nature as a composite Basilosaurus. At much the same time, however, Koch had sold it to Prussia's King Friedrich Wilhelm IV for a lifelong annual pension, so I doubt that Mantell's criticism unduly disturbed him.

In any case, once he had sold his original Hydrarchos specimen, Koch had returned to Alabama and unearthed a second Basilosaurus skeleton in February 1848. From this and other remains, he duly constructed a second Hydrarchos specimen, this one measuring 96 ft long, and then began touring in Europe all over again.

Hydrarchos advertisement flyer, 1840s (public domain)

Meanwhile, the new, royal owner of what had previously been Koch's original Hydrarchos gave it to Johannes Müller at Berlin's Royal Anatomical Museum, who, knowing of its true nature, arranged for it to be dismantled, with its components officially relabelled as Basilosaurus remains. Some of these were subsequently sold during the 1850s t0 the Teyler Museum in Haarlem, the Netherlands, via the fossil auction house Krantz, based in Bonn, Germany (but without their origin in Koch's Hydrarchos being revealed!).

Various other remains from it were donated by Müller to Berlin's Museum für Naturkunde. However, the vast majority were long thought to have been destroyed during World War II, but according to recent ongoing investigations this may not have been the case.

Hydrarchos as portrayed in Koch's own diary (public domain)

As for Koch's second Hydrarchos: when he finally tired of touring, Koch sold it to the new owner of his erstwhile St Louis museum, who in turn later sold it to a similar establishment in Chicago, Illinois. This was a mini-emporium packed full of curiosities and real specimens intermingled with fake ones, which was owned by Colonel E.L. Wood and duly known as Colonel Wood's Museum.

Here the Hydrarchos was soberly labelled as a specimen of Zeuglodon (a junior synonym of Basilosaurus), rather than as any legendary Leviathan or suchlike. Tragically, however, the entire museum and its contents were destroyed during the great fire that devastated Chicago in 1871.

The nemeses of Hydrarchos – Prof. Jeffries Wyman (left) and Dr Gideon A. Mantell (right) (both public domain)

An inevitable result of his escapades with the Missourium and the two Hydrargos/Hydrarchos specimens was that Koch's name became synonymous with fraud, and by the time of his death in 1867 all claims and finds made by him were routinely dismissed as unreliable by the scientific community. This trend continued for many decades, but based upon some intriguing, corroborating finds in later years by reputable researchers, a number of scientists have reassessed Koch's claims and now believe that some of them, especially ones relating to various human artefacts allegedly found by him in association with fossil mastodons and ground sloths in North America, may have been valid after all.

Even so, it seems highly unlikely that Koch will ever be fully rehabilitated by mainstream science. Thanks to his faked fossil exhibits, he may have acquired fame and fortune, but at the same time he lost the opportunity for scientific recognition that he had always craved – and which he might well have achieved, if only he had presented his notable finds of mastodon and Basilosaurus skeletons in a straightforward, honest manner, rather than wilfully distorting and misrepresenting their nature for purely lucrative, non-scientific purposes. Instead, his name seems forever destined to be irrevocably associated with hoax and fraud.

 Above: The section of John J. Egan's enormous painting 'Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Plain' that contains the white-trousered figure believed by some researchers to be Albert C. Koch, shown gesticulating towards some fossilised ground sloth remains (public domain); Below: an engraving of a fossil ground sloth skeleton whose corresponding form readily confirms the taxonomic identity of the remains in Egan's painting (public domain)

Finally: It is nothing if not curious that images of Albert C. Koch himself are exceedingly elusive, as I discovered when preparing this 2-part ShukerNature blog article. However, some researchers have claimed that Koch is the figure who is depicted wearing white trousers, and gesticulating towards some newly-unearthed fossil ground sloth remains (a feat that he did indeed accomplish in 1838), within one section of the enormous 348-ft-long painting 'Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Plain', which was produced by artist John J Egan in 1850.

Incidentally, some online commentators regarding this painting, and no doubt influenced by Koch's mastodon excavations, have misidentified the beast remains being gesticulated at in it as those of a mastodon. In reality, however, they are unequivocally from a ground sloth, whose skeleton is visibly very different from that of any mastodon.

Close-up of the section of Egan's painting containing the figure believed by some to be Koch (public domain)