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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Saturday 20 November 2021


My cast of one of the set of Isle of Wight mega-sized animal footprints from April 1994 (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Here's a cautionary little tale for cryptozoology that I included during a lecture presented by me on modern-day mystery beast reports at the very first Fortean Times UnConvention, held in London during 18-19 June 1994. However, I've never previously documented it anywhere online – so it's high time that I did.

In April 1994, naturalist Martin Trippett from the Isle of Wight (a large island situated off southern England) informed me that a garden in the IOW town of Ride had recently received an unusual visitor. The garden had been freshly dug on the day in question by its owners, who then placed their garden rubbish in some bin-liners. The garden was completely enclosed by a 3-ft-high wall and its only entrance was via a gate, which they locked that night.

Showing what a bona fide big cat footprint looks like, here is a real lion spoor cast in brass as a (very!) heavy paperweight, placed alongside a ruler for scale purposes; it was purchased  for me by my mother Mary Shuker in South Africa, November 2008 (© Dr Karl Shuker)

The next morning, they found that some unidentified animal had been in their garden, ripping the bin liners to shreds and leaving huge footprints all over the freshly dug soil. The photograph opening this present ShukerNature article is of a cast of one set of those prints (later described to me over the phone by some IOW newspaper reporters), which Martin very kindly posted to me for my examination and permanent retention.

Measuring 4.5 in long and 4 in across, the prints had no claw marks at all, which ostensibly leaned towards a huge cat as an identity. However, when the casts were sent to me, I could see from the shape of the heel pad and the diverging placement of the toe pads that they were in fact dog prints, albeit from a very large and extremely well-manicured dog – so this is what I told the reporters.

Diagrams comparing dog and cat spoor – typical examples (click to enlarge for reading purposes) (© Trevor Beer reproduced with his kind permission in my 1989 book Mystery Cats of the World and in its updated 2020 edition Mystery Cats of the World Revisited)

Inevitably, they were rather disappointed, as this dashed any hopes for them of dramatic headlines concerning giant cats on the loose. Nevertheless, they then confessed to me that they had actually been informed by the police that a Great Dane dog had been loose in this particular area for the past week, a huge breed that could very easily scale a 3-ft-high wall if it so chose (more details here).

All of which proves that however tempted you may be to give the media the story that it wants, regardless of your own personal opinion, it is not a good idea to do so. Cryptozoology has a nasty knack of coming back to haunt those who flirt with its favours.

Vintage photograph from 1910 of a Harlequin Great Dane (public domain)



  1. I guess that is a case of what people call "too good to be true".

  2. Reminds me of the many times we had tales of some totally unknown carcass being found, it having a totally rational explanation (such as badly decomposed known species), but the real explanation never gets any play in the press.

  3. This also reminds me of a video footage from a head-mounted bicycle camera that was uploaded by a friend of a friend that featured a quick glimpse of what they thought was a mystery animal by the side of the bicycle trail. Lots of speculation was put forth about what it's identity could be as the video only had a second or two of the animal as it slunk into the underbrush. I volunteered to review the footage and played the scene where the animal was seen in the video. What they thought was a mystery creature turned out to be a Feral Dog with a brindled coat pattern. It's brindle coat apparently made it blend in with the soil and the mud by the side of the trail that they only noticed it when it began to move.

  4. "If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man."