Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. 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), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), and more recently 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), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is already considered to be his magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

Dr Karl Shuker's Official Website - http://www.karlshuker.com/index.htm

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my ShukerNature blog's articles (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my published books (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my Eclectarium blog's articles (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my Starsteeds blog's poetry and other lyrical writings (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

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Monday, 23 January 2017

AFTER EIGHT YEARS OF SHUKERNATURE THE BLOG, A FIRST GLIMPSE OF SHUKERNATURE: THE BOOK!


Early version of Anthony Wallis's awesome front-cover artwork for ShukerNature: The Book – thanks, Ant!! (© Anthony Wallis/Dr Karl Shuker)

Due to some recurrent internet-connection problems during the past few days, I omitted to mark a memorable day in the history of my ShukerNature blog – its eighth anniversary, which occurred on 20 January 2017. So, better late than never, I am doing so now – by presenting herewith the very first sneak preview of my next book, which is none other than the long-awaited, long-promised compendium of some of my blog's most unusual and popular articles. Or, to put it another way – welcome to ShukerNature: The Book.

My blog was scarcely two years old when, after asking among my many Facebook friends and colleagues whether a compilation volume of some of my blog articles would be of interest to them, I received a resoundingly positive response. And so I began planning it accordingly, alongside various other writing projects. However, as sometimes happens, life – and death – had other plans for the direction in which my future would take. Or, as my wise little Mom used to remind me gently if I railed against my dreams and ambitions faltering or falling into disarray: "Man proposes, but God disposes" (which is a translation of the Latin phrase 'Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit', from Book I, chapter 19, of The Imitation of Christ by the German cleric Thomas à Kempis).


And so it was that my ShukerNature book was set to one side, and other projects that for one reason or another needed to take precedence were duly completed and published in its stead. Notable among these were my second, long-planned, and extremely comprehensive dragons book – Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture; a wide-ranging compilation of my most notable Loch Ness monster writings – Here's Nessie!; and of course my massively-enlarged, fully-updated prehistoric survivors book – Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors.

These are all now published, and in the meantime the very many additional blog articles that I have continued to research, write, and post each year have provided me with an immensely expanded list of possible examples to include in my eventual ShukerNature compendium. And now, at last, much of this book is indeed written – all of the main text, in fact, barring any last-minute changes or additions – and it will be published later this year.


Moreover, I am both thrilled and delighted that its front cover artwork is being produced by none other than a longstanding Facebook friend who is also a brilliant artist – Anthony Wallis. I am very lucky that no fewer than three of my previous books' front covers are graced by spectacular artwork that has been either produced (two) or co-produced (one) by Ant. Namely, Mirabilis (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), and Here's Nessie! (2016) (this last-mentioned book's front cover featuring both a very vibrant long-necked seal reconstruction of Nessie by Ant and a beautifully evocative plesiosaurian monsters by moonlight scene by Wm Michael Mott).

So here, opening this present ShukerNature blog article as a first glimpse of ShukerNature: The Book, is an early version of Ant's wonderful front-cover artwork for it – thank you so much, Ant, for bringing to life so vividly and with such incredible skill a unparalleled diversity of obscure, hitherto-overlooked, but effortlessly spellbinding mystery beasts that will not be found together in any other book. And so, the countdown to its publication has begun – the wait will soon be over…

An affectionate illustrative pastiche (left) by another longstanding artist friend, Mark North, inspired by and in tribute to the classic front-cover artwork of the international non-fiction bestseller Supernature (right), written by Dr Lyall Watson and first published in 1973, whose title partly inspired the naming of my blog – click here for more details (© Lyall Watson/Coronet Books / © Mark North)






Sunday, 8 January 2017

AN INTERVIEW WITH THE CURIOUS FORTEAN


Wearing my Fortean Times-sponsored 'Operation Congo 1985' mokele-mbembe expedition t-shirt, whose wonderful m-m logo was created by FT's very own Hunt Emerson (© Dr Karl Shuker)

I was recently interviewed by Matt Cook from The Curious Fortean on a wide range of interesting subjects – from classic cryptids such as Nessie and the Congolese mokele-mbembe to the little loriciferan that was named after me, the prestigious Golden Yeti awards bestowed upon me a month ago for my contributions to cryptozoology, and much else besides. You can read the interview in full here, on The Curious Fortean's blog, and also be sure to check out the official Facebook group for The Curious Fortean here.

My sincere thanks to Matt for interviewing me and for posing such a fascinating series of thoughtful, insightful questions.

Also, be sure to check out my two most recent books – Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors and Here's Nessie! A Monstrous Compendium From Loch Ness – both of which are referred to in this interview.








Sunday, 1 January 2017

ARE GIANT FLIGHTLESS RAVENS SOMETHING TO CROW ABOUT IN CANADA?


Representation of the possible appearance of British Columbia's alleged red-tailed giant ravens (© Dr Karl Shuker)

What better way for ShukerNature to begin 2017 than with a hitherto little-known mystery beast – so here is one right now!

On 28 March 2012, French cryptozoological correspondent Raphaël Marlière kindly brought to my attention the following intriguing report that he'd recently seen on the Cryptodominion website (click here). It may well be mere folklore - then again, it just might be something more.

Normal ravens (public domain)

According to Cryptodominion, loggers who have worked in the interior of British Columbia, Canada, assert that an isolated, timber-rich valley exists here that is inhabited by huge ravens, bigger even than golden eagles, but virtually flightless, and further distinguished from normal ravens Corvus corax by their tail plumage, which exhibits a noticeable amount of red pigmentation. Apparently, these mystery red-tailed mega-corvids are very dangerous and opportunistic, not hesitating to wreck a campsite.

Lumberjack folklore is renowned in North America for its tall tales of exotic fauna (variously dubbed fierce or fearsome critters) – everything from fur-bearing trout to spiky-furred cactus cats – so this may simply be a less familiar variant. Nevertheless, if anyone out there has any additional information concerning such birds, I'd be very interested to receive details.

Elegant raven sculpture at the Raveleijn theatre in Efteling, a fantasy-based theme park at Kaatsheuvel, in the Netherlands (public domain)








Wednesday, 28 December 2016

DUPLICATING THE DIRE WOLF AS A DOMESTIC DOG?


Life-sized dire wolf statue at Dinosaur Valley, Wookey Hole, in Somerset, England (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Larger than today’s grey wolf Canis lupus, the formidable North American dire wolf C. dirus is famous for the numerous specimens discovered in California’s La Brea Tar Pits, but it had become extinct around 10,000 years ago. However, there is a remarkable ongoing project dedicated to achieving a dramatic dire wolf resurrection...of sorts.

Woodward's eagle Amplibuteo woodwardi (a giant North American raptor from the late Pleistocene) vs the dire wolf (© Hodari Nundu aka Justin Case)

A fascinating breeding program that has been attracting plenty of media attention lately is the Dire Wolf Project (click here to visit its official website), launched by the National American Alsatian Breeder’s Association, because it aims to recreate within a domestic breed of companion dog the basic dire wolf body, size, and bone structure. In short, not a true, genetically-restored dire wolf, but rather a domestic dog that mirrors the dire wolf’s phenotype (external morphology) as closely as possible.

Alongside dire wolf statue at Dinosaur Valley, Wookey Hole, in Somerset, England, on 29 August 2010 (© Dr Karl Shuker)

The American Alsatian, first created in 1987 from matings between original Alsatians (German Shepherd Dogs) and Alaskan Malamutes and initially referred to as the North American Shepalute, is itself the first product of this selective breeding project. However, the project’s continuing long-term plan is to refine its morphology still further, ever increasing its outward similarity to the genuine dire wolf, having subsequently introduced Anatolian Shepherd Dogs, English Mastiffs, and the Great Pyrenees into the breeding mix, because each of these possesses certain morphological attributes recalling those of the dire wolf.

Artistic representation of a dire wolf (© Hodari Nundu aka Justin Case)

Conversely, no dogs with any recent bona fide lupine ancestry have been used, because the goal is to restore or reconstitute the dire wolf in phenotype only – breeding back the large, round bones, the massive feet, and the broad head found in the skeletal structure of dire wolves studied by American palaeontologists – and not this wild prehistoric species’ behaviour or exact genetic composition. Nevertheless, a domestic dog duplicating the outward morphology of a bona fide dire wolf will still be a very impressive creature, to say the least. Of course, there can be no certainty that certain phenotypic aspects, such as fur colouration, density, and texture, will be comparable to those of the dire wolf, because as far as I am aware there are no preserved dire wolf specimens in toto (as there are with woolly mammoths, conversely), only their skeletal components. Even so, it will be most interesting to monitor the progress of such a novel project - watch this space!

My mother Mary Shuker alongside a very realistic replica of a dire wolf, at Dinosaur Valley, Wookey Hole, in Somerset, England, on 29 August 2010 (© Dr Karl Shuker)




Tuesday, 27 December 2016

ROSE HILL DAWGIE BLUES - THE PHANTOM BLUE MASTIFF OF MARYLAND

Does a huge phantom mastiff emitting an eerie blue phosphorescent glow haunt Rose Hill in the vicinity of Port Tobacco, Maryland, USA? (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Telling ghost stories during the Christmas season is a longstanding Yuletide festive tradition, so here is ShukerNature's contribution for Christmas 2016. But what makes this particular story very special is that its phantom protagonist may actually be real! The apparition in question is the blue ghost dog of Rose Hill, just outside Port Tobacco, a once-thriving seaport in Charles County, Maryland, USA.

According to local tradition, during the political unrest leading up to the American Civil War (or leading up to the American War of Independence, a century earlier, in some versions), a Yankee soldier-peddler called Charles Thomas Sims, accompanied by a huge mastiff-like tick hound with unusual blue-grey fur, sought warmth and shelter one very wintry 8 February at the St Charles Inn, one of many waterfront taverns in Port Tobacco at that time.

Rose Hill Manor (public domain)

Once inside, however, he soon became so intoxicated that he clumsily spilled a number of gold coins out of his purse. This attracted the keen attention of a gang of rough youths, led by a ne'er-do-well named Henry Hanos, who lost no time in luring him out of the inn and the town, leading him instead along Rose Hill Road and up to the vast grounds of Rose Hill Manor atop a lonely hill just outside Port Tobacco.

Here, securely out of sight of the town's populace, Hanos and his mob clubbed the hapless Sims and his dog to death on a big rock in the manor's grounds, near the roadside, and then stole his gold, burying it under a holly tree alongside the road on the hill for safekeeping, but planning to return later and retrieve it. When they did return, however, they were horrified to see a monstrous dog surrounded by an eerie blue phosphorescence howling on the rock, the site of its master's murder and its own  too - and as soon as they tried to draw nearer, the dog raced towards them in hellish fury!

Artistic representation of the phantom blue mastiff of Rose Hill (© Unknown artist/All About Dogs, January-February 1998, reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial, educational/review Fair Use basis only)

Screaming with terror, the youths fled, never coming back, and Hanos swiftly fell ill, dying abruptly soon afterwards. Since then, several others have boldly ventured to Rose Hill to seek Sims's gold, including some troops of General Joseph Hooker fighting near here in the Civil War - but when confronted by the unearthly luminous blue dog, they have swiftly departed this accursed spot, leaving the gold untouched. Moreover, the former owner of Rose Hill Manor in whose grounds the killings allegedly took place, Olivia Floyd, an erstwhile Confederacy spy during the Civil War, claimed in an interview with the Port Tobacco Times newspaper in 1897 to have once seen the great glowing hound there herself – the earliest written documentation of it.

Today, the blue ghost dog is very much a local celebrity in Port Tobacco, which is home to an ornate sign depicting it and even boasts a Blue Dog Saloon containing a huge and very beautiful oil painting by local artist Don Zimmer portraying the tragic scene of the slain Sims lying dead amid a desolate snowy landscape and the teary-eyed ghost of his faithful dog lying close by. Moreover, prints of this magnificent painting can actually be purchased, with all proceeds going towards the Nanjemoy Neighbors Water Project (click here to visit the official website at which to buy a print of the painting).

Magnificent oil painting portraying the tragic death scene from the legend of the Rose Hill blue ghost dog (© Don Zimmer/TheBayNet.Com 2016 – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial, educational/review Fair Use basis only)

The legend of the blue ghost dog of Rose Hill is often stated to be the oldest ghost story in the entire USA, but is it more than just a local folktale? And, if so, are sightings of this terrifying canine apparition still occurring today? (I've read claims that sightings have reputedly occurred as recently as the 1970s, and most frequently during the month of February, but with no details supplied.)

I have no idea of the answers to these questions, so what I'm going to do now is what I always do in situations like this. Namely, request that if anyone reading my present ShukerNature article has further information concerning its subject, and especially any details regarding possible modern-day encounters with the phantom dog itself, please do post them here, as I'd be very interested indeed to receive and read them. Thanks very much!

Could the phantom blue mastiff of Rose Hill look something like this? (© Dr Karl Shuker)




Monday, 26 December 2016

ENTER THE ELEPHANT RAT - A SHUKERNATURE PICTURE OF THE DAY


The elephant rat portrayed in the Hours of Joanna the Mad (public domain)

It's been quite a while since I last presented a ShukerNature Picture of the Day, but what better way to reintroduce this intermittent feature than with a creature so exotic in form that even though it doesn't exist, it should do!

I am referring to an extraordinary mini-beast of the medieval marginalia, i.e. one of the innumerable creatures of curiosity and composite nature (variously dubbed grotesques if strange or drolleries if humorous) that populate and decorate the edges of illuminated manuscripts prepared many centuries ago by monks and other theological scholars or chroniclers. In a previous ShukerNature blog article (click here), I documented one particularly intriguing example that has appeared in several such works – the snail-cat. Now, here is another, which for obvious reasons I am herewith officially dubbing the elephant rat.

A snail-cat, depicted in the Maastricht Hours – an illuminated devotional manuscript produced in the Netherlands during the early 1300s (public domain)

As can be seen from the illustration opening this present ShukerNature article and which, to my knowledge, is the only example of such a bizarre composite, the elephant rat deftly combines the head and body of a typical rat with the long trunk and tusks of an elephant, plus a series of odd, knobbly protuberances all over its back that seem entirely peculiar to itself. And as if all of that were not distinctive enough, this remarkable rodent also sports an exceptionally fine set of white bushy side-whiskers.

The illustration in question is from folio 203r ('r' referring to the folio's recto side) of an illuminated manuscript known variously as the Hours of Joanna the Mad or, more formally, as the Hours of Joanna I of Castile. This particular folio is part of a section of the Hours that deals with the Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Joanna the Mad, Queen of Castile (from 1504) and Aragon (from 1516); portrait by Juan de Flandes, c.1500 (public domain)

Quoting from my earlier snail-cat article:

The Hours of Joanna the Mad is an illuminated book of hours manuscript that had originally been owned by Joanna of Castile (1479-1555), the (controversially) mentally-ill consort of Philip the Handsome, king of Castile. It had been produced for her in the city of Bruges (in what is now Belgium) some time between 1486 and 1506, but is now held as Add. MS 18852 in the British Library. As with so many others of its kind, this illuminated manuscript's margins are plentifully supplied with grotesques and drolleries.

The elephant rat is unquestionably among the most memorable of these, and serves as a good example of both categories by being both strange and humorous.

The complete folio 203r from the Hours of Joanna the Mad containing the elephant rat depiction (public domain)

And while on the subject of humour, it is widely believed by researchers of medieval manuscripts that a considerable number of these marginalia monsters arose as nothing more significant or symbolic than attempts by the manuscripts' illuminators and copiers to stave off the boredom induced by very long, tedious hours working upon them by slyly inserting these fantasy creatures as subversive jokes and mockery of the deadly serious nature of the manuscripts' official, devotional content. Or, to put it another way, they are merely medieval doodles, but delightful ones nonetheless, well worth documenting and celebrating in their own right.

Speaking of which: as noted earlier, I am presently aware of only a single elephant rat representation in illuminated manuscripts – the one documented by me here. But as with snail-cats, there may be additional examples tucked away in the margins of others. So if anyone reading this ShukerNature article is aware of such examples, I'd greatly welcome details!

The Hispaniolan solenodon Solenodon paradoxus. Solenodons are quite large but exceedingly-endangered West Indian insectivores that are probably the only modern-day, real-life creatures offering even the remotest outward resemblance to the medieval, imaginary elephant rat (© Sandstein/Wikipedia – CC BY 3.0 licence)





Saturday, 24 December 2016

THE HORNED JACKAL AND THE NARRI-COMBOO - A HORN OF CANINE CONTENTION


Sri Lankan golden jackal in Yala National Park (© Thimindu/Wikipedia CC BY 2.0 licence)

It is nothing if not fitting that one of the world's most exotic islands should also lay claim to one of the world's most exotic mystery beasts. The island in question is Sri Lanka (formerly called Ceylon), which is home to an exceedingly curious enigma of the canine kind, known as the horned jackal.

THAT’S WHY THEY CALL HIM THE LEADER OF THE PACK!
It was in 1980, when Arthur C. Clarke very briefly alluded to it (together with Sri Lanka's equally contentious devil bird - click here) in a cryptozoological episode from his television series Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World, that I first learned of the horned jackal. I began at once to seek out and amass more information – which included data kindly supplied to me by Arthur C. Clarke himself after I wrote to him explaining my desire to uncover material regarding it – and I was surprised to find that quite a lot of relevant details had indeed been documented, but had hitherto received scant publicity, concerning this remarkable mystery beast.

Sir James Emerson Tennent (public domain)

One of the most detailed accounts, complete with illustrations, featured in Sir James Emerson Tennent's excellent book Sketches of the Natural History of Ceylon (1861). Tennent revealed that there is a widespread belief among the Singhalese and Tamil people of Sri Lanka that the leader of each pack of common or golden jackals Canis aureus naria on this island bears a small horn on its skull. Widely referred to as the narri-comboo or narric-comboo, and generally hidden from view by a tuft of fur, this unexpected horn measures about half an inch long.

According to Tennent, it protrudes from the back of the jackal leader's skull - as depicted by a diagram in his book of a horned jackal's skull formerly preserved at London's Museum of the College of Surgeons. Nevertheless, in certain other books that I have consulted, there have been claims that a horned jackal's narri-comboo protrudes from its brow. Perhaps, therefore, its precise position on the skull varies between individuals. Tennent's book also described and illustrated a specimen of the horny sheath from a narri-comboo that had been presented to him by the then district judge of Kandy, a man called Lavalliere.

Diagram of a horned jackal's skull (including a drawing of the horny sheath from a jackal horn), appearing in Tennent's book (public domain)

HORNING IN ON THE LETTER OF THE LAW
One aspect of the narri-comboo that does not vary, however, is the fervent belief shared by Sri Lankan inhabitants throughout the island that this insignificant cranial curiosity is somehow bestowed with extraordinary magical powers - powers that render invincible in all lawsuits anyone fortunate enough to own one of these strange objects.

Moreover, if placed alongside a person's jewellery, a narri-comboo is said to prevent the jewellery from being stolen. And if this horn should somehow be lost it has the very obliging ability to return magically, of its own accord, to its owner. Clearly, no home should be without one!

Head and shoulders portrait of Sir James Emerson Tennent (public domain)

One of the most entertaining accounts of a narri-comboo's magical (and highly devious) legal machinations appeared in Tennent's book (and should perhaps be borne in mind by anyone with plans to practise law in Sri Lanka!):

A gentlemen connected with the Supreme Court of Colombo has repeated to me a circumstance, within his own knowledge, of a plaintiff who, after numerous defeats, eventually succeeded against his opponent by the timely acquisition of this invaluable charm. Before the final hearing of the cause, the mysterious horn was duly exhibited to his friends; and the consequence was, that the adverse witnesses, appalled by the belief that no one could possibly give judgement against a person so endowed, suddenly modified their previous evidence, and secured an unforeseen victory for the happy owner of the narric-comboo!

Even today, a narri-comboo is greatly prized as a lucky talisman by Sri Lankans, though whether the jackals killed for their horns would share this view is another matter entirely.

Pair of Sri Lankan golden jackals Canis aureus naria and egrets in Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka (© Christina Xu/Flickr/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)

THE HORN OF A DILEMMA
Specimens such as the erstwhile skull at the College of Surgeons' Museum and the horny sheath given by Lavalliere to Tennent readily confirm the reality of horned jackals, and jackal horns. What has yet to be confirmed, conversely, is the reason why these peculiar structures develop, and whether they are indeed unique to pack leaders.

Logic dictates that the latter aspect of narri-comboo lore must surely owe more to legend than fact, because as pack leadership is not inherited in a predetermined manner from father to one specific male offspring, it is not possible to offer any genetically-based explanation for the supposed restriction of horn development to pack leaders. Similarly, if horn growth occurs in response to some external influence, i.e. stimulated perhaps by a physical blow or injury, one would expect other jackal individuals, not just the leader, to develop horns.

An albino golden jackal (public domain)

However, externally-induced horn growth may resolve current uncertainty regarding the precise point of origin of the horn on a jackal skull. This is because such a structure might develop from any cranial region that suffered a severe blow. Adventitious horn development via this mechanism has been reliably recorded from other mammal species on occasion.

Possibly the biggest mystery of all, however, is why horned jackals do not seem to have attracted the same degree of attention elsewhere. Canis aureus is distributed widely in Asia and Africa, and has even been reported in eastern Europe, so why do there appear to be far fewer details of horned specimens recorded from outside Sri Lanka? (I am aware only of some sparse information from Bengal and Nepal.) Perhaps there are such records on file somewhere, but they simply haven't been publicised. So if any readers do happen to come across any horned jackal accounts emanating from beyond the shores of former Ceylon, I'd love to hear from you! Meanwhile, further details concerning Sri Lanka's perplexing horned jackal and devil bird can be found in my book From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings.

Exquisite engraving constituting the frontispiece to Tennent's above-cited book (public domain)