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 30 April 2022


Detail from 'War' panel of Standard of Ur mosaic, c2600 BCE, depicting kungas pulling 4-wheeled battle-wagon (© Zunkir/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0)

It's always good to learn of a 'new' animal, even if it turns out to be one that actually existed four and a half millennia ago! And so, with no further ado, please welcome to ShukerNature the kunga.

Depicted in Mesopotamian art and referred to in cuneiform writings dating back 4500 years from the Fertile Crescent region of the Middle East, the long-vanished kunga was a powerful horse-like creature that was used as a draft animal to pull war wagons into battle and royal chariots during ceremonial parades. However, it has long been a puzzle to archaeologists and zoologists alike.

Close-up of a kunga, as depicted in a detail from 'War' panel of Standard of Ur mosaic, dating from c2600 BCE (© Agricolae/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0)

This is because the domestic horse Equus caballus was not introduced into this region until 4000 years ago, and the only known equine beasts that did exist there at the time of the kunga were the domestic donkey E. africanus asinus and the Syrian wild ass (aka the hemippe) E. hemionus hemippus, both of which were smaller and far less sturdy than the kunga. So what was it?

A beautiful vintage colour painting by French artist Georges Severeyns of a Syrian wild ass (the smallest type of modern-day wild equid known to science), in Nouvelles Archives du Muséum d'histoire Naturelle, 1869 (public domain)

Unlike many mystery beasts, there are actually physical, tangible remains of the kunga in existence, because as it was such a valuable, useful work beast, specimens were sometimes buried alongside persons of high social status, with several kunga skeletons having been discovered at the northern Syrian burial complex of Umm el-Marra. Unfortunately, however, the bones of kungas, donkeys, wild asses, and horses as well as mules and other equine hybrids, all look very similar, so although kunga bones have been examined, no conclusive identification of what the kunga actually was has ever resulted – until earlier this year.

In January 2022, published research in the journal Science Advances revealed that DNA samples had been extracted from the bones of one buried kunga specimen from Umm el-Marra and subjected to comparative sequencing analyses with other equine forms. These analyses confirmed that it was a hybrid – most probably the offspring of an interspecific mating between a male Syrian wild ass and a female domestic donkey.

Vintage engraving from 1841 depicting some Syrian wild asses in the wild state (public domain)

Moreover, because such matings would not occur naturally, and as the kunga, being a hybrid, was almost certainly sterile (just like the mule), male wild asses would need to have been deliberately captured and mated with female domestic donkeys on a regular basis in order to perpetuate the kunga strain 4500 years ago in the Fertile Crescent – thereby making the kunga the earliest recorded human-engineered hybrid. But when the horse was introduced here 500 years later, the kunga was no longer needed, so the breeding of it ceased, and this remarkable creature duly vanished from existence.

Syrian wild ass being captured by Assyrians, 7th Century BCE art found at Nineveh (Wikipedia/no restrictions)

Of course, one could ask why, now that the kunga's precise hybrid nature is finally known, scientists are not excitedly proclaiming "Let's all do the kunga – let's resurrect it!", by once again mating male Syrian wild asses with female domestic donkeys. The answer is as tragic as it is simple – no such restoration can take place because the kunga's paternal progenitor, the Syrian wild ass, is itself now extinct, as a result of over-hunting, with the last two known specimens both dying in 1927.

So unless the kunga and/or the Syrian wild ass can be recreated via genetic means in the laboratory one day, the kunga is doomed forever to remain nothing more vital than a collection of long-buried bones, a few brief mentions in cuneiform script, and some preserved images in ancient art. RIP.

A trio of poignant photographs depicting one of the world's last known Syrian wild asses, a specimen living at Vienna's Tiergarten Schönbrunn in 1915, plus one photograph (at bottom of photo-column) of a Syrian wild ass at London Zoo in 1872 (public domain)


Wednesday 27 April 2022


Close-up of the Nandi bear depiction on John McKenzie's 1961 map East Africa (© John McKenzie – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Last year on ShukerNature, in my extensive documentation of what may well be the single most significant episode ever recorded concerning Kenya's most infamous cryptid (click here to read my blog article), the ferocious Nandi bear, I made particular reference to an article on this elusive creature by Gordon Boy that had been published in the October-November 1998 issue of the periodical SAFARI Magazine.

However, in his SAFARI article, Boy included one additional but fascinating Nandi bear nugget that I specifically didn't allude to in my own. This was because I felt that it deserved its very own, separate coverage on ShukerNature (and also because I wanted to research it further first, which I have since done). So here it is now.

East Africa, John McKenzie's map that contains the tantalizing Nandi bear depiction (© John McKenzie – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Boy stated that an illustrated full-colour map of East Africa by John McKenzie and simply entitled East Africa (see above scan of it) included a depiction of a strange-looking creature that was actually labeled on it as a Nandi bear. He also stated that the map had been produced in 1952. In reality, however, when I researched this item, I discovered that it had actually been produced in 1961, not 1952, in Nairobi, Kenya; its printer/engraver was East African Standard Ltd.

Boy included a reduced-size reproduction of the entire map in his article (the map's full size is 70 cm by 57 cm), but this reproduction is not big enough for the individual animal depictions in it to be anything other than minuscule. When enlarged, however, they are all rendered clear enough to be readily identifiable with known species – all, that is, except for the Nandi bear depiction, which does not resemble any species currently known to science. Nor, for that matter, does it correspond with any eyewitness description of the Nandi bear.

Nandi bear depiction shown in situ geographically on McKenzie's map East Africa (© John McKenzie – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

To quote Boy's brief account of it:

On McKenzie's map, the Nandi bear illustration appears north of Eldoret, on the Uasin Gishu Plateau [in western Kenya]. The illustration shows a massive, dog-like quadruped, with short hair, of a banded brown-and-yellow colour, and with very stocky limbs, a humped back, and a sharply pointed snout. But what is the Nandi bear doing here? It is, after all, the only creature depicted on this map whose existence, even now, has not been verified by science. Or was its inclusion just a mischievous prank on the map-maker's part? The legend of the Nandi bear is not without its pranksters...

This is very true. However, tempering Boy's above statement is another one made by him when introducing his account of McKenzie's map:

The Nandi bear is pictured on some of the old illustrated wildlife maps of East Africa, published during the Colonial era.

In short, there are other old maps out there somewhere that also contain Nandi bear depictions, which in turn reduces the possibility that its included portrayal on the McKenzie example was merely a prank. Needless to say, I have sought to uncover such maps, but as yet I have not succeeded in doing so. Consequently, if anyone reading this ShukerNature blog article of mine knows of any or can offer relevant information concerning them, I'd greatly welcome details.

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.


Monday 4 April 2022


Front cover of Secret Snakes and Serpent Surprises, depicting the crowing crested cobra as based upon eyewitness descriptions (© Dr Karl Shuker/Coachwhip Publications)

My latest thematic cryptozoology book is finally here, my 33rd book in total, and devoted to a subject that has never previously received book-length treatment.

Few creatures divide human opinion so diametrically regarding their perceived benevolence, or malevolence, as do snakes – the eternally-cursed serpent kind according to Christianity, the most divine and blessèd of reptiles according to Hinduism, vilified and venerated, sanctified and demonised, passively protected, actively annihilated, often overlooked, but never deemed not worthy of notice if or when encountered.

The above is especially true, moreover, when investigating whether our world may contain extraordinary snake forms still undescribed by science and also whether snakes can exhibit bizarre behaviour presently deemed scientifically improbable.

Published by Coachwhip Publications, this uniquely engrossing book provides the most extensive survey of secret snakes and serpent surprises ever published, in which I examine such varied envenomed and constricting controversies as Africa's crowing crested cobra, mystery snakes of the Mediterranean lands, the Mongolian death worm, North America's boss snakes, and Parker's serpentine slayer from Papua, plus St John's viper, the Virgin Mary snakes, and the pre-cursed Eden serpent, Kipling's Karait and Sherlock Holmes's Speckled Band, gargantuan anacondas with horns and the tiny but terrifying pichu-cuate, hairy snakes and feathered serpents, Glycon the talking horse-headed ophidian deity of ancient Rome and venerated king cobras, not to mention vast serpent kings and venom-quelling snake-stones, serpents that shriek, jump, fly, and hypnotise their prey via fatal fascination, plus so much more.

So prepare yourself to be duly fascinated – but only in the most harmless, non-lethal manner! – by the ophidian offerings revealed here. Nevertheless, it may perhaps be best not to stare for too long into the eyes of any of the limbless ones portrayed within this book's comprehensive collection of illustrations, just in case...

Secret Snakes and Serpent Surprises is officially published in 12 April 2022, but can be pre-ordered here on Amazon UK and here on Amazon USA. It is also available on Barnes & Noble's website and can be ordered directly through all good bookstores too. And be sure to check out its dedicated page here on my official website for more information concerning it.

The complete wraparound cover of Secret Snakes and Serpent Surprises, depicting the crowing crested cobra as based upon eyewitness descriptions; click picture to enlarge for reading purposes (© Dr Karl Shuker/Coachwhip Publications)