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), 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), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), 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

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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Sunday, 3 May 2015

HORNING IN ON INDONESIA'S SCALY RHINOCEROSES


Chromolithograph of a female Javan rhinoceros imported by London-based animal dealer Charles Jamrach from the Sunderbans in India to London Zoo, where, sadly, it only lived for just under 6 months in 1877 (public domain)

In 1941, Willy Ley noted in his book The Lungfish and the Unicorn that at some stage during the middle portion of the 1920s, a Dr P. Vageler - regularly contacted by zoos wishing to replenish their animal collections - was seeking some specimens of the Asian rhinos when he met up with J.C. Hazewinkel, a noted big game hunter. After learning that Vageler required new rhinoceroses, Hazewinkel showed him some photos of eight that he had shot in Sumatra, and which appeared to be new in every sense of the word. For the type that they represented — although familiar to the natives, who called it 'badak tanggiling' (translated as 'scaly rhinoceros') - seemed to differ greatly from the form familiar to Vageler on Sumatra.

Unlike the known, two-horned Sumatran rhinoceros Dicerorhinus sumatrensis, the badak tanggiling bore just a single horn. If this had been the only difference, it could have been explained as a mere freak of nature. However, Hazewinkel stated that the female badak tanggiling was often totally hornless, and that the form as a whole had scaly armour and attained a length of 10 ft. In contrast, the female Sumatran rhinoceros is rarely if ever hornless, and the species as a whole is hairy rather than scaly and only attains a length of 8—9 ft.

J.C. Hazewinkel posing on the carcase of the first in the series of Javan rhinoceroses shot by him in Sumatra (public domain)

As Dr Vageler readily recognized, the Sumatran rhino thus became an unlikely candidate for the badak tanggiling’s identity. In his coverage of this episode, Willy Ley stated that Hazewinkel’s photos convinced Vageler that a second species of rhinoceros existed on Sumatra, and that in reply to his requests Vageler was promised living specimens of it to send on to various zoos worldwide, but they never arrived. Ley concluded his account by stating that the badak tanggiling therefore remains a shadow in our zoological encyclopedias, but: “...it may, however, be rediscovered almost any day”.

From all of this it would seem that Ley considered the badak tanggiling to be a wholly unknown, undescribed species. In fact, its identity is surely no mystery, for this enigmatic creature is clearly Rhinoceros sondaicus, the Javan rhinoceros. Not only is it of comparable size to the badak tanggiling, has characteristically scaly armour, and is a one-horned species whose females are indeed sometimes hornless, but at the time of Vageler and Hazewinkel it did exist on Sumatra (but this was not widely known outside scientific circles). Indeed, the last known Sumatran specimens of the Javan rhino did not die until World War II.

The first one-horned rhinoceros shot in Sumatra by J.C. Hazewinkel (public domain)

There is a further, more specific, piece of evidence confirming this identification. On 23 December 1933, the Illustrated London News published an article by Hazewinkel, in which he described his pursuit and shooting of the first of eight specimens of large, scaly, one-horned rhinoceros on Sumatra during the mid-1920s. The photos of the animal dispel any doubt as to its identity - one that Hazewinkel, moreover, freely announced. It was a Javan rhinoceros. Indeed, echoing the general unawareness concerning the existence of this species on Sumatra at that time, Hazewinkel had entitled his article ‘A One-Horned Javanese Rhinoceros Shot in Sumatra, Where It Was Not Thought to Exist’.

Close-up of the first Javan rhinoceros shot in Sumatra by J.C. Hazewinkel, revealing its distinctive scaly armour (public domain)

Clearly, there can be no question that those eight Javan rhinos shot by Hazewinkel on Sumatra in the mid-1920s are one and the same as the eight Sumatran badak tanggiling shot by him and mentioned to Vageler by him during that same period. Moreover, as I discovered when researching this subject further, in 1926 Vageler actually published a short paper in Berliner Illustrirter Zeitung (plus two others a year later in Science News-Letter and Umschau) in which he formally described Sumatra's Javan rhinoceros merely as a new variety (not even a new subspecies) of the Javan rhinoceros, naming it Rhinoceros sundaicus [sic] var. sumatrensis.

Javan rhinoceros engraving from 1872, by Hermann Schlegel (public domain)

Evidently, therefore, in spite of Ley's apparent assumption to the contrary, Vageler did indeed recognise that Sumatra's one-horned rhinoceros belonged to the Javan rhinoceros's species, and was not a separate, hitherto-unknown species at all.

Captive Javan rhinoceros, probably in India, photographed in c.1900 (public domain)

According to Joseph Belmont, another animal collector for zoos, a mysterious beast known as the scaled rhinoceros allegedly existed amidst the inhospitable, fever-ridden swamps of Java. Writing in Catching Wild Beasts Alive (1931), Delmont reported that this cryptic creature, supposedly distinct from the known species of Javan rhinoceros, had only been shot twice, with no living specimen ever having been obtained.

However, as already revealed in this present ShukerNature blog article, the ‘armour’ of known species of Javan rhino is noticeably scale-like, quite different from that of its closest relative the great Indian rhinoceros Rhinoceros unicornis. Consequently, it would once again seem that the creature in question is Rhinoceros sondaicus after all.

Photograph of the Javan rhinoceros exhibited at London Zoo in 1877, in which its scale-like armour can be readily perceived (public domain)

This ShukerNature blog post is excerpted and expanded from my books Extraordinary Animals Worldwide and Extraordinary Animals Revisited. Check them out for more accounts of mysterious and controversial forms of rhinoceros.

An adult Javan rhinoceros and calf, as depicted in a colour engraving from 1839 (public domain)





Saturday, 2 May 2015

OUTING THE FALSE BIRDS OF PARADISE, INNING A COUPLE OF NOT-SO-FALSE ONES, AND REVIEWING SOME ONCE-AND-FUTURE(?) ONES


Late 19th-Century painting of an adult male King of Saxony bird of paradise (public domain)

There is no question whatsoever that the birds of paradise, a taxonomic family (Paradisaeidae) whose members are predominantly endemic to New Guinea but also name-check a few representative species inhabiting Australia and certain Indonesian islands, include among their number some of the world's most breathtakingly beautiful avian forms ever beheld by the eyes of humankind. In these species, the breeding plumage of the males erupt in a veritable explosion of feathered flamboyance – cascades of fiery streamers, ostentatious racquet-plumed head and pompom-plumed tail quills, an extravagant riot of ruffs, crests, tippets, lyrate extremities, and a glossy, scintillating, polychromatic surfacing of shimmering iridescence.

Moreover, so varied in form are the 40-odd species currently recognised by science that there has been much controversy down through the years regarding their comparative taxonomic affinities to one another, the possibility that certain rare preserved specimens are not mere hybrids as traditionally deemed but may represent species that are now extinct (click here for my ShukerNature blog post documenting these so-called 'lost birds of paradise'), and whether some species are not birds of paradise at all. It is with this last-mentioned, little-publicised category, the false birds of paradise, that this present ShukerNature blog post is concerned.

The most recent Paradisaeidae species to be accepted by science was the ribbon-tailed bird of paradise Astrapia mayeri, discovered to the west of Mount Hagen in New Guinea during 1938 and formally described a year later.

Errol Fuller's beautiful painting of a male ribbon-tailed bird of paradise (the female lacks this species' eponymous plumes) as featured on the front cover of my book The New Zoo: New and Rediscovered Animals of the Twentieth Century (© Errol Fuller/Dr Karl Shuker)

Between then and the 21st Century, a total of either 43 or 45 Paradisaeidae species had generally been recognised by ornithologists (not everyone classified the growling riflebird Ptilornis intercedens and the bronze six-wired bird of paradise Parotia berlepschi as full species). In February 2000, however, the publication of an extensive taxonomic study conducted upon this family's members by ornithological researchers Drs Joel Cracraft and Julie Feinstein, featuring mitochondrial gene analyses and morphological comparisons, provided some very startling surprises – exposing no less than four longstanding members as false birds of paradise. They have been since been duly evicted from Paradisaeidae and rehoused elsewhere.

19th-Century painting of a pair of Loria's satinbirds (male on left) by John Gould (public domain)

Three of these paradise-plumed pretenders constituted the former subfamily Cnemophilinae, whose trio of species had long been a source of ornithological contention as to whether their affinities did indeed lie with – or, more precisely, within – Paradisaeidae. Stripped of their 'bird of paradise' monikers, they are now referred to as satinbirds on account of their very soft plumage, and are known in full as: Loria's satinbird Cnemophilus loriae, the crested satinbird C. macgregorii, and the yellow-breasted or lobe-billed satinbird Loboparadisea lobata.

19th-Century painting of a pair of crested satinbirds (public domain)

The Cracraft/Feinstein study provided clear molecular and morphological evidence that these species were sufficiently discrete from all other birds of paradise for their entire subfamily to require recategorisation as a distinct taxonomic family in its own right – Cnemophilidae. It constitutes a basal family within the superfamily Corvoidea, alongside Paradisaeidae, Corvidae (the crows), and many other passerine families.

Painting of a yellow-breasted satinbird by John G. Keulemans, 1897 (public domain)

As for the fourth false bird of paradise, Macgregoria pulchra, the only member of its genus and hitherto known as MacGregor's bird of paradise, which was formally described and named as far back as 1897, Cracraft and Feinstein had an even bigger shock in store. This was because their findings showed that it was not even a member of the superfamily Corvoidea, let alone the bird of paradise family Paradisaeidae. Instead, it was identified unequivocally as a honeyeater, i.e. belonging to the family Meliphagidae (whose numerous members occur widely across Australasia, the Pacific, and even into Bali), which in turn is housed within the superfamily Meliphagoidea.

Painting of MacGregor's honeyeater by John G. Keulemans, 1897 (public domain)

Having said that, I must confess that this latter taxonomic turnabout did not come as a major surprise to me because Macgregoria pulchra, now known as MacGregor's honeyeater, bears a very close external resemblance to two particular species of honeyeater – the common smoky honeyeater Melipotes fumigatus and the recently-discovered wattled smoky honeyeater Melipotes carolae, both of which, like Macgregoria, are native to New Guinea. Sometimes, of course, outward similarities are merely the result of convergent evolution rather than being indicative of close genetic affinity, but in this particular case their morphological resemblances were indeed mirrored by their genetic comparabilities.

Wattled smoky honeyeater (bottom left) depicted on an Indonesian postage stamp in my collection

And now for a couple of not-so-false birds of paradise.

Of all the many spectacular, valid Paradisaeidae members in existence, my personal favourite is the truly extraordinary King of Saxony bird of paradise Pteridophora alberti, or, more specifically, the adult male of this species. Only the size of a starling, with predominantly black and yellow plumage, what sets it entirely apart from all other birds of paradise – and, indeed, all other birds of any kind – is the pair of enormously long, ribbon-like plumes born upon its head. Each one is more than twice the total length of the bird itself and resembles a streamer composed of tiny enamelled scallops or mini-flags (earning its species the alternative name of enamelled bird), blue on one side and pink on the other. These two plumes are independently erectile, and during courtship the male variously directs them forwards over his head, downwards and forwards beneath his perch, backwards, and even directly away from one another horizontally in his enthusiastic semaphore-like attempts to attract and retain the attention of the much more sombre-looking female, who lacks these incredible plumes.

Taxiderm specimen of a male King of Saxony bird of paradise (with a taxiderm MacGregor's honeyeater behind it) at Tring Natural History Museum (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Native to New Guinea, this marvellous species was formally described in December 1894 by Dresden Museum ornithologist Adolf B. Meyer, commemorating in both its common and binomial name King Albert of Saxony. However, when the first skins had been brought to Europe, they had been denounced as fakes due to the ostensible implausibility of the male's head plumes, and even after Meyer had recognised that they were genuine and accordingly described this species, not everyone was convinced about its authenticity.

Indeed, after reading Meyer's description, esteemed English ornithologist Richard Bowdler Sharpe, famed for his lavishly-illustrated two-volume tome Monograph of the Paradiseidae or Birds of Paradise and Ptilonorhynchidae or Bowerbirds (first edition published in 1891), remarked in apparent disgust that even a fool would know that this bird was nothing more than an artefact. By 1898, however, when the enlarged, second edition of his work appeared, Bowdler Sharpe had clearly changed his mind, not only including in Vol. 1 an account and painting of a male King of Saxony, but even referring to it as "a wonderful form".

Tom Iredale's book Birds of Paradise and Bower Birds (© Tom Iredale)

Nevertheless, doubts were still expressed by a few voices here and there for some time to come. Perhaps the last, but most memorable, were aired as recently as 1950 by Australian ornithologist Tom Iredale in his book Birds of Paradise and Bower Birds, and not only about this species. Indeed, he devoted an entire (albeit short) chapter to what he referred to as false birds of paradise. Three in number, the suspects in question were introduced by him as follows:

"…some false Birds of Paradise, such as Wallace's which is obviously only a glorified Friar Bird [a genus of honeyeaters, Philemon, in Meliphagidae], and the Enamelled [i.e. King of Saxony], which may be anything save a relative of any of the foregoing [i.e. the genuine birds of paradise]. A bird like Macgregoria may be a honeyeater."

Named after British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who in 1858 discovered this gorgeous species in its Moluccan homeland (it is the westernmost of the true birds of paradise), Wallace's standardwing Semioptera wallacii does bear a passing resemblance to the friar birds, particularly with regard to its head's appearance. However, the study of Cracraft and Feinstein fully vindicated its traditional classification as a bird of paradise – as well as that of the King of Saxony (which they revealed to be most closely allied to the six-wired birds of paradise, genus Parotia).

19th-Century painting depicting two male and one female Wallace's standardwings (public domain)

Iredale's book attracted much criticism from other ornithologists due to the above and many other novel, controversial, and unsubstantiated opinions put forward by him. Perhaps the most scathing response, however, came from renowned taxonomist/tropical explorer/ornithologist Prof. Ernst Mayr. Having spent considerable amounts of time seeking and observing birds of paradise in their jungle homelands, Mayr verbally tore Iredale and his book into shreds via a searing 3-page review published in January 1951 by the Australian journal Emu. In it, Mayr totally dismissed Iredale's above-quoted speculations concerning false birds of paradise by way of a single but highly vitriolic sentence:

"Merely a study of the displays would show that the suggested relationships are absurd."

Iredale died in 1972, which meant, sadly, that he was never able to have the last laugh on Mayr and his caustic vituperation, which he would certainly have done. For although their study confirmed that Wallace's standardwing and the King of Saxony bird of paradise are bona fide Paradisaeidae members, as we have already seen here Cracraft and Feinstein also revealed that Macgregoria is indeed a honeyeater! Mayr, conversely, did not die until 2005, at the grand age of 100, so he may well have been aware of this reclassification of Macgregoria, but even if so, his thoughts on the matter do not appear to have been recorded.

One thing is certain, however – had Iredale also lived to learn of it, and had subsequently encountered Mayr, the atmosphere between them would have been anything but paradisiacal, that's for sure!

Painting of the silktail by John G. Keulemans, 1873 (public domain)

Leading on from false birds of paradise and not-so-false birds of paradise, let me now conclude this ShukerNature blog post with a brief review of some once-and-future(?) birds of paradise. Ever since their respective scientific discoveries and descriptions during the 19th Century, three species of very enigmatic bird have been variously categorised within and summarily ejected out of Paradisaeidae on numerous occasions by numerous ornithologists, and even today, with sophisticated genetics-based analyses readily to hand, their precise taxonomic positions remain much-debated but ultimately unresolved.

Native to Fiji, the silktail Lamprolia victoriae was formally described and named in 1874 by German naturalist Otto Finsch, who freely confessed to being very perplexed as to where it should be categorised within the passerines' taxonomic classification. Since then, this small, velvet-black bird has continued to elicit bewilderment within successive generations of ornithological researchers, having been variously assigned to the birds of paradise, the Australian robins (Petroicidae), the fairy wrens (Maluridae), the monarch flycatchers (Monarchidae), and, following a molecular study published in 2009, within a sister clade to the fantails (Rhipiduridae). If the silktail ever did prove to be a bird of paradise, this would be very notable from a zoogeographical standpoint, because it would constitute the only known species native to a South Pacific locality.

A 19th-Century painting by John Gould depicting a pair of lesser melampittas (public domain)

No less mystifying are the two members of the genus Melampitta, from which they derive one of their two common names (the other one being ground-thrush). The more familiar of these two species is the lesser melampitta M. lugubris, whereas its larger relative, the greater melampitta M. gigantea, is less well-known; both species are endemic to remote rainforests in New Guinea. As their name indicates, in outward appearance they resemble black pittas, and were once classed within the pitta family (Pittidae), but in later years they have been transferred widely from one family to another, including the babblers (Timaliidae), the logrunners (Orthonychidae), the quail-thrushes and allies (Cinclosomatidae), the white-winged chough and apostlebird (Corcoracidae), and, inevitably, the birds of paradise.

This latter link was seemingly reinforced in 1987 by molecular studies involving the analysis of DNA-DNA hybridisation data obtained with the lesser melampitta, but more recently a closer affinity with those false birds of paradise the satinbirds has been proposed. Not surprisingly, confronted by such a daunting diversity of classifications, many ornithologists nowadays allocate to the melampittas a taxonomic family of their own, although some also acknowledge this to be more a categorisation of convenience than a realistic attempt to resolve the longstanding riddle of their true identity.

And finally: could there be any bird of paradise species still awaiting scientific discovery? Click here and here to find out!











Thursday, 23 April 2015

KEEPING CLEAR OF KELPIES AND OTHER WATER-HORSES


Be wary of water-horses! (Public domain/photo-manipulation effects © Dr Karl Shuker)

Long before modern-day cryptozoologists speculated that Ness and various other Scottish lochs may harbour elusive plesiosaurs, long-necked seals, giant eels, and/or sundry other exotic fauna of the corporeal kind, traditional Highland folklore claimed that these brooding bodies of freshwater were home to fearsome supernatural entities known as water-horses.

Various types of water-horse have been delineated and named, based primarily upon their geographical location and the type of freshwater abode that they reputedly frequent. Of these types, the most formidable and feared is undoubtedly the each uisge (pronounced 'eck ooshkya'), which haunts the Highlands' lochs and the sea. In contrast, the Scottish kelpie is linked to rivers, streams, fords, waterfalls, and other sources of running water. The Isle of Man has its very own, unique type of water-horse, called the cabyll-ushtey.

Nor are these malevolent beings limited to Scotland and the Isle of Man within the British Isles. Ireland also has an equivalent entity, known as the pooka.

As their name indicates, the most common guise assumed by water-horses and also the pooka is that of a horse or pony, usually black in colour (but pale grey in the case of the Manx cabyll-ushtey), with rough, shaggy, unkempt hair and mane usually wet or damp to the touch, plus a faintly stagnant odour, and glowing, demonic eyes. In addition, if observed closely its hooves will be seen to be reversed. Such a steed will attempt to entice unwary humans, especially children, to mount it and be taken for a ride. But if they are reckless enough to do so, they find themselves unable to dismount, having instantly become stuck fast to its back (which magically lengthens to accommodate any number of persons riding it). They can then do nothing other than watch in abject, impotent horror as the predatory water-horse immediately races directly into its watery domain and plunges down into the depths, promptly drowning and then greedily devouring its hapless, helpless riders.


Sometimes, a water-horse will be ensnared by a farmer using a halter stamped with the Sign of the Cross, and is then harnessed to a plough alongside a team of mortal horses. However, its supernatural strength is such that it will readily haul plough and horses alike along with it as it races into its welcoming loch or river, where it soon shakes off the plough and tears apart the doomed horses.

Having said that, there are folk stories of water-horses mating with normal horses. Their resulting hybrid progeny can never drown, and can be physically distinguished from pure-bred normal horses by their extremely short ears.

Very occasionally, a water-horse is actually killed, by being shot with a silver bullet or stabbed with fire-heated spears forged out of iron, but no corpse or carcase is ever left behind. Nothing remains at all, in fact, other than a pool of water, or a jelly-like substance very reminiscent of so-called star rot or pwdre ser.

If chased by a kelpie, one certain means of eluding it is to jump over a stretch of river or stream. Even if it is only very narrow, this will still be sufficient to hold back the kelpie, because it is unable to cross any stretch of running water.


Although it occurs more commonly in its equine guise, the shape-shifting water-horse will sometimes assume human form. It usually appears as a tall, thin youth or young man, whose clothes seem damp, as does his long black hair – which if observed very closely can be seen to contain strands of water weed and grains of sand. He usually wears boots, to conceal the fact that even when he is adopting a human guise, his feet remain hoofed. By contrast, the human form of the pooka is usually a wizened, toothless old man, with evil leer and flashing eyes.

As a child, I was lucky enough to receive as gifts from my family a series of large-format hardback books of world myths, legends, and folktales vividly retold by eminent folklorist Roger Lancelyn Green, beautifully illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone, and published by Purnell. One of these volumes, Myths From Many Lands (1965), included Green’s retelling of a traditional Breton folktale, which he entitled ‘The Goblin Pony’. Years later, I discovered that in both appearance and behaviour this folktale’s eponymous supernatural entity was identical to the Irish pooka, and so fascinated me that a few years ago I penned my own, greatly-expanded version of it, which I reset in Ireland (click here to read it on ShukerNature). In my forthcoming book Here's Nessie! – A Monstrous Compendium From Loch Ness, however, I have relocated it to Scotland, and have replaced the pooka with one of its equally dangerous Caledonian counterparts, the kelpie

As noted above, the kelpie's most innocuous yet deadliest guise is a dark shaggy-coated colt or pony of deceptively playful, harmless demeanour. On first sight, it is easy to mistake a kelpie for a genuine animal - until you see its eyes, which betray its true identity by blazing with a scorching, unholy fire. Consequently, it is always best to avoid anything that might be a kelpie – otherwise you may not live to regret your mistake!

This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted exclusively from my forthcoming book Here's Nessie! – A Monstrous Compendium From Loch Ness.

The eyes have it - how to recognise a fiendish water-horse (photograph's copyright owner unknown to me/photo-manipulation effects © Dr Karl Shuker)







Monday, 13 April 2015

THE JOURNAL OF CRYPTOZOOLOGY, VOLUME 3 – A SNEAK PREVIEW



Volume 3 of the Journal of Cryptozoology, front and back cover (© Journal of Cryptozoology)

The long-awaited third volume of the Journal of Cryptozoology is currently at the printers, so it will be published and available for purchasing very shortly now, directly from the Journal's own website (click here) as well as from Amazon and other online booksellers. It can also be ordered through traditional bookstores.

Meanwhile, here is a sneak preview - its List of Contents:

List of Contents from the Journal of Cryptozoology, Vol. 3 (© Journal of Cryptozoology)

Hope you enjoy it!

As the Journal's editor, I am now actively calling for submissions for Vol. 4, which will be published this coming December. A full Instructions to Contributors guide regarding the presentation style required by the Journal for all submissions, as well as email addresses for editor and publisher, can be found on the Journal's website.

UPDATE - 18 April 2015

Vol.3 of the Journal can now be purchased on Amazon's USA site - just click here.

 A pair of pink-headed ducks painted by Henrik Grönvold (public domain)






Saturday, 11 April 2015

EXPOSING THE 'DEAD BIGFOOT PHOTO' - THE BEAR FACTS AT LAST! - A SHUKERNATURE WORLD-EXCLUSIVE!


The infamous 'dead bigfoot photo' (origin unknown)

On 21 November 2006, after having received it from a reader with the user name 'captiannemo' [sic], Craig Woolheater posted on Cryptomundo the very intriguing photograph opening this present ShukerNature blog article, and which has since become popularly referred to as the 'dead bigfoot photo', together with a request for any information available concerning it.

In view of its very striking, tantalising image, the photo attracted much interest, and was subsequently reposted twice by Loren Coleman on Cryptomundo (16 and 22 April 2009) with further requests for information. It has also been featured on many other websites. Yet although numerous opinions have been aired as to what it depicts (a shot bigfoot, bear, gorilla?) and whether or not it is authentic or photo-manipulated, no conclusive evidence as to its true nature has ever been obtained and presented - until now!

Earlier today, Facebook cryptozoological colleague Tony Nichol brought the following vintage picture postcard to my attention:

Vintage picture postcard depicting a hunter and shot Alaskan grizzly bear (purchased on ebay and now owned by Dr Karl Shuker – all rights reserved)

With an example of it available for purchase on ebay's USA site, it depicted a shot grizzly bear, photographed in Seward, Alaska, alongside the hunting guide who shot it. The guide's name, as given in white writing running diagonally across the photograph's top-left section, was C Emswiler, a famous licensed Alaskan hunting guide whose full name was Charles Emswiler (thanks to Facebook friend Bob Deis for informing me of this). The AZO date stamp symbol code on the reverse of the postcard confirmed that the card dated from the time period 1904-1918 (noted by its ebay seller in their auction listing's description of it) - and as I could instantly see, its bear photograph was unquestionably the original image from which the bigfoot version had been created by photo-manipulation. After almost a decade, and as revealed here in this ShukerNature world-exclusive, the mystery of the 'dead bigfoot photo' is finally solved - except of course for discovering the identity of whoever created it from the vintage bear image.

To ensure that the latter does not become another 'missing thunderbird photo', however, I have actually now purchased the example of it available on ebay, and should be receiving it in the post shortly.

Perhaps I should also begin scanning ebay for the missing thunderbird photo ?!

Meanwhile, my sincere thanks go to Tony Nichol for kindly bringing the bear postcard to my attention, and, in so doing, enabling me to bring the lengthy reign of yet another cryptozoological pretender to its richly-deserved end.

The original bear photograph alongside the derived, photo-manipulated 'dead bigfoot photo' (bear photo owned by Dr Karl Shuker – all rights reserved)


UPDATE: 15 April 2015

Yesterday (14 April 2015) on Cryptomundo, Craig Woolheater announced that following my above revelation of the bear photograph that had served as the source from which the infamous 'dead bigfoot photo' had been created by photo-manipulation (a revelation that I had simultaneously posted on Cryptomundo), he had contacted 'captiannemo', the Cryptomundo user who had sent him the 'dead bigfoot photo' back in 2006, and had asked him whether he had created the latter image. In reply, 'captiannemo' confessed that he had indeed created it, and that the copy of the above bear photograph that he had used for this purpose had appeared in an article on grizzly bear hunting published in an issue of Field and Stream from the early 20th Century.

So now, not only the source photograph from which the 'dead bigfoot photo' had been created but also a confession regarding its creation by its creator have been obtained and made public at last. Congratulations to Craig for extracting the confession - click here to read this historic account on Cryptomundo.


SECOND UPDATE – 16 April 2015

Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would have said if this had happened in Wonderland! Just when it seemed that the tangled tale of the 'dead bigfoot photo' was finally disentangled, another knot of controversy has duly presented itself.

Yesterday evening (UK time), I received an email from Bill Munns, a much-celebrated cinematographic special-effects expert, whose notable contribution to bigfoot investigation was his book When Roger Met Patty (2014), in which his extensive analysis of the famous Patterson-Gimlin film purporting to show a female bigfoot swiftly striding into and back out of view at Bluff Creek, California, on 20 October 1967 concluded that the alleged bigfoot (popularly nicknamed Patty, after Patterson) was not a man in a fur suit as many critics believe, but was a bona fide creature.

Bill had now analysed both the 'dead bigfoot photo' and its bear precursor, and to my great surprise he announced in his email to me that in his view not only the 'dead bigfoot photo' but also the bear photograph were hoaxes! He alerted my attention to an illustrated report that he had written, documenting his analysis and containing his reasons for believing both images to be hoaxes, which he had uploaded onto the Bigfootforums discussion website a short time before emailing me (click here to read his report).

Bill's report confirmed that the 'dead bigfoot photo' had resulted from not particularly good-quality photo-manipulation of the bear photograph. He then highlighted a number of lighting issues present in the bear photograph that made him believe that it was not a natural outdoors photograph, in spite of its apparent outdoors setting. He also brought to attention what he considered to be suggestions of retouching.

As I am certainly no expert in photographic analysis, and, even if I were, I seriously doubt whether I could match Bill's many years of accumulated experience working in his capacity in the Hollywood film industry, I cannot comment upon the lighting issues that he discusses – other than to wonder whether a photograph known (via the existence of my picture postcard depicting it) to date back almost a century could have been modified so expertly back then. Consequently, I expressed my concern about this in my reply to Bill's email, and in a second email to me, dated today, 16 April 2015, he agreed with me, noting that it would indeed have been a challenge to achieve at that time.

Also, I need to emphasise here that even if Bill's assessment of the bear photograph is accurate and that it is itself a hoax, it does not change anything in relation to its status as the original long-existing image from which the 'dead bigfoot photo' was created by 'captiannemo'. This is because, as already noted, my recently-purchased picture postcard containing the bear image confirms the image to be of vintage age, as the postcard's own production dates from the period 1904-1918, i.e. almost a century before the 'dead bigfoot photo' appeared on the scene. Don't forget too that 'captiannemo' stated in his confession of fakery re the 'dead bigfoot photo' that the copy of the bear photograph that he had used to create the bigfoot version from was one that had appeared in an article on grizzly bear hunting published by the periodical Field and Stream during the same time period as the postcard's publication. Speaking of which: it would be good if this particular article could be traced, thereby placing its own existence beyond any shadow of doubt and adding to the postcard's existence a second, independent publication source verifying that the bear photograph dates back at least as far as that early period of the 20th Century.

So to anyone reading this ShukerNature blog article who has access to an early run of Field and Stream: if you could check through it and locate the grizzly bear hunting article, I'd greatly welcome its precise publication details (and a scan of the article too if possible).

As far as the 'dead bigfoot photo' is concerned, however, all considerations regarding the bear photograph's authenticity are in any case wholly irrelevant (including the obvious fact that because the bear is positioned much closer to the camera than the hunter, the bear looks bigger than it actually is - a familiar optical illusion known as forced perspective). All that matters is that we know definitely that the 'dead bigfoot photo' was created from it via photo-manipulation, and is therefore a hoax (with the bear photograph known to have been in existence for almost a century at least).

Finally: just in case anyone was wondering whether the bear photograph had actually been created from the 'dead bigfoot photo' (thereby conveniently ignoring the bear photograph's confirmed very early production date) rather than the other way round, this ridiculous notion was swiftly scuppered as follows by Bill in his report:

First, the “dead bigfoot” photo can be verified as derived from the Bear photo because two sections of the Bear body were incorporated into the faked Bigfoot shape. And the lower resolution of the bigfoot body photo creates a source/derivitive connection that goes one way. Images can be made less sharp, but not more sharp, in the manner shown. Detail could not have been added to the bigfoot photo to achieve the bear photo. But the bear photo detail can easily be reduced to the level of the bigfoot photo.

My thanks to Bill Munns for alerting me to his analysis of the two photos and for discussing this fascinating matter with me.


THIRD UPDATE – 19 April 2015

On 16 April, I received the following trio of emails from Bill Munns, describing a discovery that he had just made online that had taken him very much by surprise, and leading him to draw a very different conclusion from his initial one as to the reasons for the lighting anomalies present in the bear photograph, and which he had drawn attention to via his Bigfootforums report. Here is his first email:

I was just doing a bit of research on trick photography, and came on this:


Apparently putting several image elements into one combination photo dates back to the mid 1800's, and frankly, I find the work quite astonishing, given I know darkroom procedures and can appreciate how painstaking the photo examples shown would be to create.

Needless to say, even if the bear photograph had indeed been manipulated, this discovery now provides a completely different motivation (i.e. from one of simply producing a hoax) for carrying out such an action, as Bill duly acknowledged in his second email:

Now that I've looked into vintage combination photography printing (the other email), I must wonder how widespread this process actually was for creating impressive photo scenes not conveniently photographed in one setting.

And again, in more detail, in his third email:

The more I reflect on this "combination printing", the more it seems to have been a respectable form of photographic art, with no intent to deceive, no hoaxing, just a way of creating imagery that could not be easily accomplished in one original photograph. If so, the bear could simply be one such example of recreating a real event that wasn't able to be preserved photographically when it actually occurred.

This seems an eminently sensible conclusion, and in my view is the most plausible explanation for the various anomalies perceived by Bill in the bear photograph.


FOURTH UPDATE - 24 April 2015

Today, my long-awaited, ebay-purchased, bear-depicting picture postcard finally arrived. Checking the reverse side revealed that its AZO date stamp symbol code consisted of four upward-pointing triangles, one in each corner of the square upon which a stamp would have been affixed had the postcard been written upon and posted (see picture below).

The reverse side of my ebay-purchased bear picture postcard, revealing its AZO date stamp symbol code ((c) Dr Karl Shuker)

This particular code proves that the postcard had been manufactured some time during the time period 1904-1918, thereby confirming its ebay seller's original claim, and that the bear photograph is indeed of vintage date.