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

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Wednesday, 20 September 2017

A LYING LION AND AN ANACONDA CON - EXPOSING SOME MORE FAKE ANIMAL PHOTOS ONLINE


A genuine photograph of the green anaconda Eunectes murinus – the largest and most familiar of the four species of anaconda currently recognised by science (© Wagnermeier/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

NB – Before reading any further, please note that ALL of the anaconda-encoiled animal photographs and anaconda-encoiled mechanical device photographs contained in this article are photo-manipulated FAKES (with the sole exception of the anaconda-encoiled white cow photos), so none of the apparent animal 'victims' in these photos were victims (except for the white cow, but it did survive – see later).

The internet is increasingly a limitless source not only of fake news but also of fake photographs, with animal subjects being particularly popular.

I was recently sent for my opinion as to its veracity what initially looked like an exceedingly unpleasant, tragic photograph of a lion roaring wildly as it struggled impotently to escape the crushing coils of what seemed to be a gigantic python coiled tightly around its body. Here is the photo in question:

Fake, photo-manipulated photograph of a lion supposedly being crushed by a giant constricting snake – in reality, no lion was harmed whatsoever in the making of this picture! (source/creator presently unknown to me, but this fake photo is contained in numerous websites online)

A closer look, however, soon revealed a very different scenario. To begin with, I could readily see from its markings and colouration that the 'python' in question was actually a green anaconda Eunectes murinus, the largest and most familiar of the four anaconda species currently recognised by science. Bearing in mind that lions occur naturally in the wild state only in Africa and limited regions in Asia whereas all anacondas are entirely restricted in the wild state to tropical America, it was obvious, therefore, that if this photo were genuine, the grisly scene that it portrayed could only have occurred somewhere in captivity. Moreover, examining the image itself in enlarged form soon revealed that it was an inexpertly-produced example of photo-manipulation, with the edges of the anaconda's coils in particular appearing far too sharp and crisp in comparison to the remainder of the image.

Consequently, I decided to conduct a Google-image search in an attempt to discover whatever original lion photo had been used in the creation of this fake version – and in less than 5 minutes I found it, contained in a fair few wildlife websites. Amusingly, it turned out that in the original photo the lion had been snapped in flagrante delicto with a lioness (which had been removed from the fake photo), thus explaining why it was roaring so energetically! (Incidentally, the fake lion/anaconda photo investigated here has been circulating online for a surprisingly long time – using TinEye's Reverse Image Search, I was able to discover examples of it dating back as far as 6 February 2008.)

(Top) The fake lion/anaconda photograph; (Bottom) The original, unmodified photograph of a lion and lioness from which the fake lion/anaconda photo has been created by person(s) unknown (source/creator of fake lion/anaconda photo presently unknown to me, but it is contained in numerous websites online) / © owner of lion/lioness photo currently undiscovered by me, but I'll insert the relevant details here if/when I discover them – reproduced here on a strictly educational, non-commercial Fair Use basis for review purposes only)

So in answer to my correspondent who sent me this lion/anaconda photograph for my opinion as to whether or not it was genuine: it's not – the lion was lying, inasmuch as in the original, genuine photo its roars were telling a very different story from the one depicted in this fake version, in which the anaconda was most definitely a con.

While investigating this fake lion/anaconda photograph, I also encountered a short YouTube mini-investigation video that had been uploaded on 13 November 2015 by Cary Darling with the user name Hoax Factor (click here to view it). In it, he begins by showing this same fake photo, which had been submitted to his Hoax Factor Facebook page by a reader called Chad, then after a fairly lengthy if light-hearted exposition he concludes his mini-video investigation of that photo by presenting the same original image of mating lions (albeit heavily pixellated) that I had independently discovered.

During my own researches, however, I was able to take this case further – much further, in fact – because it soon turned out that this fake lion/anaconda photograph was far from being unique. On the contrary, while pursuing it online in search of the original, genuine lion photo that has been used to create it, I swiftly discovered that a startling number and diversity of other fake anaconda-depicting photographs existed that featured a range of different 'victim' animals.

These include two other lion photos, two different tigers, two different jaguars, a black panther, cheetah, Alsatian dog, elephant, black-and-white cow, rabbit, and (inevitably) various versions featuring humans, as well as some mechanical items, such as a tractor and mechanical diggers or excavators, but all of them united by the presence of precisely the same anaconda coils and outstretched body.

These coils and/or body had been horizontally flipped in certain examples to give the false impression that it was a different specimen, and had occasionally been 'enhanced' by the crudely-achieved digital addition of fake wounds or blood. Moreover, some such photographs included more anaconda coils than others, but looking at these coils I immediately recognised from their markings and colouration that they were nothing more than identical, computer-generated replicates of the same single coil, these extra coils evidently having been digitally created and added in order to make the anaconda appear even longer than it already was. Here is a selection of some of the less lurid animal-featuring examples of these fake photos (there are undoubtedly many other variations upon this clichéd visual theme out there too):

Fake photographs featuring different animals encoiled by an anaconda, or mechanical devices bearing an anaconda, but all of them containing exactly the same original anaconda image, whose coils have sometimes been replicated digitally to make the anaconda seem longer (source/creator(s) presently unknown to me, but these fake photos are contained in numerous websites online)

And here are some of the fake photographs featuring encoiled mechanical devices:

Fake photographs featuring mechanical devices bearing an anaconda, but all of them containing exactly the same original anaconda image, whose coils have sometimes been replicated digitally to make the anaconda seem longer (source/creator(s) presently unknown to me, but these fake photos are contained in numerous websites online)

As the anaconda coils and body were identical in all of the above fake photos, it seemed pointless wasting time seeking out the original, genuine photo for each and every one of them (especially as the more I looked online, the more fakes using this same anaconda image I found), but I did devote a little time to tracing those that had been used to create some of the more dramatic fakes. So, for instance, click here to view the original, genuine cheetah photo, here to view the original, genuine (flipped) black panther photo, and here for the original, genuine rabbit photo.

But that was not all. A second uniting factor was that all of these fake photographs were not only appearing in numerous websites but also turning up as introductory or profile pictures to videos that had been uploaded onto YouTube during the past couple of years or so, and by what appear to be a very sizeable number of users, judging from the number of different user names involved (but which, for all I know, may in reality all be one and the same person, or may at least be only a small number of persons but using a plethora of different user names).

And the third, key uniting factor was that not one of these fake introductory pictures actually appeared in the video that it was being used to introduce. In other words, based upon their graphic, sensationalised appearance, they were being used deliberately but dishonestly as click-bait, luring video viewers to watch the videos in order to see the action depicted in the photos, only to discover that no such action was contained in the videos.

(Having said that, and basing the following comment upon those specific examples viewed by me: what was contained in all of those videos introduced by one of the fake photos depicting the anaconda coiled around an animal was genuine, graphic video footage of animals being attacked and killed by constricting snakes, and sometimes by other animals too, each such video often comprising a compilation of several different, shorter video segments linked together, one after another, to yield a total video often lasting 10 minutes or more. In my opinion, this is nothing but gratuitous, sickening 'video nasty' sensationalism, and I therefore shall not be providing links to any of those videos here.)

Genuine photograph showing the removal of a large anaconda from private grounds in Yopal, Colombia (© Aliciamoralesjackson/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

All that remained for me to do now in order to bring this photo-detective investigation of mine to a successful close was to uncover the original, source photograph containing the anaconda and its coils that had been used to create all of the subsequent fake ones. So I conducted yet another, much lengthier Google search, but this time focusing upon the anaconda itself rather than upon the varied array of creatures or machinery that it was wrapped around in the series of fake photos that I had uncovered so far. To my great delight, I finally found it – and this is how.

First of all, I discovered a video that had been uploaded onto YouTube by someone with the user name GuruQA on 28 August 2015 (click here to view it). This video provided what turned out to be a major clue in relation to tracing the elusive original anaconda photograph.

Filmed in the wild in the anaconda's native homeland, Brazil, it consists of a segment of amateur video footage (which I'll refer to hereafter as AVS1) that begins with a split-second shot showing a woman with her back to the camera appearing at the right-hand edge of the screen. The camera then pans to a live white cow on the left-hand side of the woman, which is shown in its entirety, but once again only for just a split-second, lying down on all fours on some muddy grass, with a large anaconda coiled around its mid-body region. The camera then pans to the rear end of the cow's body but still showing the anaconda's coils, which can now be seen to be moving slightly. The anaconda then comes off the cow completely, followed immediately by the cow's tail and hind feet kicking up dust at the extreme left-hand edge of the screen as the cow evidently makes a very swift exit; it does not appear anywhere in AVS1 again.

Meanwhile, AVS1 now reveals the presence of several people (their excited voices, speaking and shouting in Portuguese, could be heard from the very beginning of AVS1 but the people themselves had not been seen until now, with the sole exception of the one afore-mentioned woman), who make a cautious but ultimately successful attempt to pick up this very big snake, after which they walk away, carrying it aloft with them, and are shown taking it to a stretch of water into which they then release it. So we know that both the white cow and the anaconda ultimately survived.

Of especial note is that AVS1 includes a panning shot that directly links the anaconda moving off the cow (and the cow promptly fleeing) to the people beginning their attempt to pick it up, thereby establishing that AVS1 is indeed a single continuous segment, and not two separate ones spliced together.

The key element present in AVS1, however, is the brief appearance of the rear end of the cow with the anaconda still wrapped around its mid-body and moving – because during my earlier searches I had found online in a number of different websites a series of still photographs depicting a live white cow lying down on all fours on grass with an anaconda encoiled around its centre, and whose coils and body in one particular photograph within that series were identical to those featured in all of the fake photos. Moreover, these same white cow/anaconda photos appear at the very beginning of AVS1, directly before the video footage itself begins. Here is that one particular online white cow/anaconda photo (which I'll refer to hereafter as the OWCA photo):

The OWCA photograph shown at the beginning of AVS1, and also found in various websites, depicting a white cow lying down on all fours with an anaconda wrapped around its mid-body (source/creator presently unknown to me)

Using TinEye's Reverse Image Search, I was able to trace examples of the OWCA photo online dating back as far as 17 November 2013 (this latter, earliest online example of it can still be viewed, as the tenth of ten photos, here).

I then produced a screenshot of the brief footage in AVS1 showing the rear end of the cow lying down on all fours on grass with the anaconda's slightly-moving coils still wrapped around its centre – and if you compare the cow's rear end, the orientation of its visible hind leg, and the anaconda's coils as seen in this video screenshot with those equivalent anatomical structures in the OWCA photograph found earlier by me online and also present at the beginning of AVS1, you will see that they unquestionably depict the same animals.

And now that this significant fact has been fully established, if you then view a second screenshot taken by me, capturing the split-second AVS1 footage of the encoiled cow as seen in its entirety this time (and occurring immediately before the footage of the cow's rear end and the anaconda's moving coils as captured in my first screenshot), even though the anaconda's coils don't move in this split-second earlier footage its screenshot provides further corroboration that the encoiled cow seen in AVS1 corresponds precisely with the encoiled cow seen in the OWCA photograph.

(Top) The OWCA photograph found by me online, depicting a white cow lying down on all fours on grass with an anaconda wrapped around its mid-body, and also shown at the beginning of AVS1; (Middle) My first video screenshot, of AVS1 footage showing the rear end of the white cow down on all fours on grass with the anaconda still wrapped around its centre and moving; (Bottom) My second screenshot, of AVS1 footage showing the encoiled white cow in its entirety down on all fours on grass just a split-second before the footage captured in my first screenshot (source(s)/creator(s) of AVS1 and the OWCA photograph presently unknown to me, but the OWCA photograph is contained in numerous websites online)

Clearly, therefore, alongside whoever filmed AVS1 was someone else who snapped some still photographs of the anaconda and its encoiled bovine victim – indeed, AVS1 actually shows a woman with a camera snapping photos of the anaconda and it is one of these genuine photos, specifically the OWCA one reproduced by me above, that has subsequently been used by person(s) unknown to manufacture the startling array and diversity of fake photos revealed and exposed by me here in this ShukerNature blog article.

Summarising all of this: the above three images collectively confirm that the OWCA still photograph whose anaconda coils and body are identical to those in all of the fake photos presented here is itself genuine, not fake, because the animals in it correspond precisely in form and pose with those actually seen moving in video footage contained within AVS1.

Since discovering AVS1 as posted on YouTube by GuruQA in August 2015, plus the OWCA photo and others in that same online series, my path has once again crossed with that of Cary Darling, because I subsequently found out that another short Hoax Factor mini-investigation video uploaded by him on YouTube, this time on 15 December 2015 (click here to view it), has also focused upon this same subject, and has actually included a clip from AVS1 (but he did not cite GuruQA or anyone else as his source for it) as well as the key OWCA photograph.

Crucially, however, although it has provided a most welcome service in drawing attention to the whole fake anaconda photos situation (and continues to do so), in my opinion the Hoax Factor mini-video does not provide an absolute guarantee from its clips alone that the specific cow/anaconda footage is a video, rather than merely a photograph. This is because AVS1's brief but key footage showing the anaconda's coils actually moving while wrapped around the cow is not included in the Hoax Factor mini-video. Equally, I personally feel that the latter mini-video does not provide unequivocal verification that the cow/anaconda footage and the anaconda/people footage are from the same video segment, because it does not include the specific footage from AVS1 that contains the all-important panning shot directly linking the cow/anaconda footage to the anaconda/people footage.

Conversely, by:
(a) my finding AVS1 as uploaded onto YouTube by GuruQA, and then specifically drawing attention here to both of those brief but all-important above-noted clips of footage contained in it that were not referenced in the Hoax factor mini-video; as well as:
(b) my highlighting the split-second footage in AVS1 that shows the encoiled cow in its entirety down on its knees on grass, then:
(c) my producing a screenshot of AVS1's footage of the cow's rear end that shows the moving anaconda coiled around the cow, and also my producing a screenshot of the split-second AVS1 footage that shows the encoiled cow in its entirety down on all fours on grass, and finally:
(d) my comparing those two separate AVS1-derived screenshots directly with the OWCA photograph containing the anaconda image that appears in all of the fake photos, I have been able to:
(e) confirm unequivocally that the OWCA photograph does indeed depict the same cow and anaconda that feature in AVS1's cow/anaconda incident, and that:
(f) it is indeed, therefore, both genuine and the source of the anaconda image that appears in all of the fake photos.
(g) QED.

And so: although the perpetrator(s) of the fake photographs investigated by me exclusively in this ShukerNature blog article presently remain(s) unidentified, it is definitely safe to say that no lions, tigers, panthers, elephants, cows. rabbits, etc etc were harmed in the making of any of these images.

(Above) If this fake rabbit/anaconda photograph were real, the rabbit would be an inordinately large one! (Below) The original, genuine photograph used by person(s) unknown to create the fake one (source/creator presently unknown to me, but this fake photo is contained in numerous websites online / © Diliff/Wikipedia - CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

Thanks to some laborious but ultimately worthwhile and successful photo-detective work, another ostensibly complicated case, initially seemingly to be as encoiled as the anaconda featured within it, is duly unravelled and closed.

NB – Despite appreciable efforts made by me, so far I have been unable to identify the © owner/source of any of the photos included above, but all of them are reproduced here on a strictly educational, non-commercial Fair Use basis for reference purposes only.

A genuine photograph of a coiled-up green anaconda (© Dave Lonsdale-Wikipedia - CC BY 2.0 licence)


POSTSCRIPT
While conducting my researches relating to AVS1 as uploaded onto YouTube by GuruQA in August 2015 and showing the white cow/anaconda incident, I also discovered a second version of this segment (referred to hereafter by me as AVS2), which offered what may – or may not – be a very interesting additional insight into the videoed white cow/anaconda incident.

Uploaded onto YouTube by a user named Snake Channel on 9 January 2017 (viewable here), AVS2 cuts off abruptly at the end without showing the people actually releasing the anaconda into the stretch of water to which they had carried it after picking it up (as seen in AVS1). However, it includes some extra, earlier footage not seen in AVS1 and which is most intriguing.

AVS2 begins by showing some of the same photographs (including the OWCA photo) of the anaconda-encoiled white cow seen its entirety down on all fours on grass that were also shown at the very beginning of AVS1, after which it presents a short, narrated, professionally-made video section concerning anacondas in general that had seemingly been excerpted from a National Geographic documentary regarding this snake species (because the Nat. Geog's famous yellow rectangle logo is superimposed upon the opening footage of this section).

This opening section then morphs into the first of two amateur video sections (referred to by me hereafter as S1 and S2 respectively). S1 shows an anaconda emerging from some reeds at the edge of an expanse of freshwater (river or lake) and coiling swiftly around an unsuspecting white cow standing in the water nearby. In just a very short time, the anaconda's constricting actions appear to have rendered the cow at least unconscious, if not dead, because it soon lies motionless in the water. While this tragic scene plays out, the voices of S1's film-maker and some other people present in this scene and speaking Portuguese (but not actually seen in it) call out loudly, seemingly attempting to frighten off the anaconda (but apparently forgetting or not realising that snakes are deaf to most airborne sounds).

S1's footage then stops but new footage begins immediately, constituting S2, with the overlying title 'An Hour Later' appearing for a few moments. S2 turns out to be one and the same as AVS1, as uploaded by GuruQA, except that AVS1's split-second clip panning from the woman on the right-hand-side of the screen to the anaconda-encoiled white cow seen in its entirety down on all fours on grass is not included in S2. Instead, S2 begins with the shot of the rear end of the anaconda-encoiled white cow, after which its footage is identical to that in AVS1 (except that, as noted earlier, it cuts off before the anaconda is released by the people into the stretch of water).

Screenshot from the beginning of S2 in AVS2 (creator of this video presently unknown to me – screenshot reproduced here on a strictly educational, non-commercial Fair Use basis for review purposes only)

The overlying title 'An Hour Later' appearing for a few moments at the beginning of S2 is clearly meant to demonstrate that S1 and S2 are merely two scenes from the same incident, shot an hour apart but featuring the same white cow and anaconda. If this is correct, it also means, therefore, that the cow was indeed merely unconscious, not dead, in the water during S1, and that during the intervening hour between the end of the events seen in S1 and those beginning in S2, the cow had been rescued and hauled out of the water onto the grass by the people heard in S1 and both heard and seen in S2.

However, I must confess that I am by no means convinced that S1 and S2 do indeed depict two different scenes from the same incident, wondering instead whether they actually depict two entirely unrelated incidents, featuring two different cows and two different anacondas. The reason for my personal misgivings is that in S1, within moments of being captured and encoiled by the anaconda the cow is lying face down, partly submerged, and entirely motionless in the water, looking very much as if it has drowned. Yet in S2 (uploaded in slightly longer form as AVS1 by GuruQA), the cow looks very much alive, and indeed, beats a hasty retreat as soon as the anaconda comes off it.

Fortunately, the question of whether or not S1 in AVS2 does indeed depict an earlier part of the incident depicted in S2 has no bearing upon my findings concerning the direct relevance of S2 (in its longer form as AVS1) to the subsequent creation by person(s) unknown of the various fake photographs exposed by me in this present ShukerNature article.

Engraving of a green anaconda from 1878 (public domain)




Saturday, 16 September 2017

MY INTERVIEW FOR 'THE X FACTOR' - NO, NOT 'THAT' ONE!

Publicity photograph of me with cast of a fossil dinosaur footprint, as featured in my X Factor interview (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Several years before a certain music talent show of the same name first appeared on British television (in 2004, to be exact) and subsequently elsewhere around the world, a superb full-colour partwork magazine published by Marshall Cavendish Limited and devoted to mysteries of many kinds (but particularly strong on cryptozoology) was appearing each fortnight in shops throughout the UK and beyond. Eventually running to 96 issues, this excellent magazine's title was The X Factor.

During its run, The X Factor published a number of cryptozoology-themed articles written by me, and also some interviews that I conducted with various fellow cryptozoologists and forteans. One of those interviews was with veteran British mystery cat investigator Trevor Beer (click here to read a transcript of it), another one was with mokele-mbembe seeker Prof. Roy Mackal (click here for a transcript). And in an enjoyable role-reversal, I was also interviewed myself for The X Factor, by CFZ founder Jonathan Downes, this interview subsequently appearing in issue #67.

Back-cover X Factor advertisement for issue #67, which contained CFZ founder Jonathan Downes's interview with me - click picture to enlarge it for reading purposes (© Marshall Cavendish Limited – reproduced here on a strictly educational, non-commercial Fair Use basis for review purposes only)

The X Factor was a singularly authoritative, fact-filled publication, in many ways the natural successor to an equally significant, earlier partwork, The Unexplained, which was originally published during the early 1980s. Yet whereas the latter has been republished many times and in a number of different formats, The X Factor has never reappeared, tragically, in spite of its considerable popularity, so its contents are nowadays not as readily obtainable. As a result, I have been contacted on numerous occasions down through the years by correspondents and other readers lacking the X Factor issue in question (or the entire series), asking whether there was any possibility of reading Jon's interview with me that featured in issue #67, way back in 1999.

So now, finally, in answer to those many requests, I have scanned the full interview and am presenting the relevant three pages herewith – please click each one to expand it for reading purposes. NB – these pages are © Marshall Cavendish Limited/Jonathan Downes/Dr Karl Shuker, and are reproduced here on a strictly educational, non-commercial Fair Use basis for review purposes only.



My three-page interview in issue #67 of The X Factor ( © Marshall Cavendish Limited/Jonathan Downes/Dr Karl Shuker, and are reproduced here on a strictly educational, non-commercial Fair Use basis for review purposes only)

Finally: Caveat lector – this interview was conducted back in 1999, since when I have read very extensively on the subject of the bigfoot in the USA, and have corresponded with many US bigfoot investigators and alleged observers, as a result of which I am nowadays far less sceptical than I previously was concerning this cryptid's reality there.

Holding the cast of a bigfoot print discovered in Washington State, USA, during the early 1980s, and sent to me by veteran bigfoot researcher Prof. Grover Krantz (© Dr Karl Shuker)




Friday, 15 September 2017

AMAZING ANIMALS IN AN AMAZING NEW BOOK!


In addition to the 25 (soon to be 26) books that I have written myself and seen published, I have also acted as a consultant and/or contributor to a further 17 (one in CD-ROM format) – click here to access a (currently) complete listing of all of my books.

I am delighted to announce that the latest volume with which I have been involved in the dual capacity of consultant and contributor has now been published - Guinness World Records: Amazing Animals 2018. And here is a taster of what to expect:

Amazing animals - the fastest, tallest, strongest, strangest, coolest, most awesome animals in the world! Whether it's a selfie-taking monkey, a skateboarding dog, a weasel flying on a woodpecker, surfing pigs, talking gorillas, the world's largest elephant orchestra, a dog who thinks he's Picasso, or a rabbit who plays basketball, the world can't get enough of crazy animal stories, and Guinness World Records: Amazing Animals 2018 provides the perfect opportunity to celebrate the incredible creatures that steal our hearts! What's inside? Animal superheroes, social media stars, peculiar pets, cute critters, wacky wildlife, and much more! And if it's activities that you want, you're in for a treat! Create your very own record-breaking animal with our online game, or try making an origami zoo! Test your wildlife knowledge with fun quizzes and puzzles, and find out if your pet is a secret Einstein with our exclusive IQ tests. Also containing hundreds of spectacular full-colour photographs, this fantastic, action-packed book will be a hit with children and animal lovers of all ages!

So, for a superlative showcase of the world's greatest creatures, and a few LOLs along the way, get your paws on Guinness World Records: Amazing Animals 2018 now – available from Amazon and all good bookstores everywhere! If you're looking for an excellent Christmas present for someone who is fascinated by animals, look no further – here it is!

Full details can be found on this book's dedicated page here on my official website, which also contains direct clickable links to its page on the US and UK Amazon sites. It is available in both hard-copy and Kindle e-book format.

Name-check time! (© Guinness)




Wednesday, 13 September 2017

REMEMBERING TREVOR BEER - FROM EXMOOR BEASTS TO WOLVERINES

Trevor Beer MBE (1937-2017) – conservationist, naturalist, cryptozoologist, artist, author, and a longstanding friend of mine (© Trevor Beer)

In June 2017, I was greatly saddened to lose one of my oldest and dearest friends in cryptozoology, when the award-winning Exmoor naturalist and veteran British mystery cat researcher Trevor Beer MBE, aged 80, passed away, following a short illness. Within the realm of cryptozoology, Trevor was well known and well respected in equal measure for his longstanding and outstanding Exmoor Beast investigations, his classic book on the subject, and his own significant, first-hand sightings of a very large black pantheresque cat on the moors, but in the wider world of Westcountry natural history he was an absolute colossus.

RIP Trevor, thank you for all of the exceptional work that you have done for wildlife and nature conservation down through many decades, for all of your delightful books and articles, and above all for your friendship, dating back more than 30 years. God speed, my friend, you will be sorely missed by so many souls, human and animal, but your magnificent achievements will live on forever as a wonderful testimony to you. If anyone wishes to seek Trevor's monument, visit Exmoor and look around, and there you will see it, on every side, everywhere.

Trevor at a book-signing session for his book Trevor Beer's Nature Watch (1998), for which I was delighted to write a foreword (© Endymion Beer)

Commemorating Trevor's life and works, I now have great pleasure in reprinting below, as my own personal tribute, an interview that I conducted with him on 8 March 1998 and which was subsequently published during 1999 in The X Factor – a fortnightly partwork magazine published in the UK during the late 1990s, running to 96 issues in total, and devoted to mysteries of a great many kinds (but entirely unrelated, incidentally, to the somewhat later  TV music talent show of the same name).

Back-cover X Factor advertisement for issue #79, which contained my interview with Trevor – and also my article re New Guinea cryptids (© Marshall Cavendish Limited – reproduced here on a strictly educational, non-commercial Fair Use basis for review purposes only)

Trevor Beer is a naturalist with a lifelong passion for wildlife conservation in his native Westcountry, especially Exmoor. He is a member of the Ministry of Defence's Conservation Group and is the Army Ornithological Society's Representative for Devon and Somerset. He won the coveted Gavin Maxwell Award for otter conservation in 1974, he owns a wildlife reserve in North Devon, and currently writes three regular nature columns for the Western Morning News, including his daily 'Nature Notes' and weekly 'Countryside Matters'. He is also the author of several books, including Devon's Mysterious Walks, Tarka Country, Poachers Days, and his most famous work, The Beast of Exmoor: Fact or Legend?

Trevor has been conducting extensive field research in the Westcountry concerning mysterious big cats for two decades, he can claim several sightings of such creatures, and is unquestionably Britain's most informed and respected field investigator of these animals.

(Above) An exquisite pen-and-ink illustration featuring a mystery black panther alongside various British dragon-related cryptids and legendary entities, which was very kindly drawn by Trevor specifically for inclusion in my book Dragons: A Natural History (1995).

(Below) This is the colourised, publisher-edited version, focusing solely upon the dragons, that duly appeared in my book (© Trevor Beer/Dr Karl Shuker/Aurum Press)

The X Factor recently chatted with Trevor at his home in Barnstaple regarding his views and expectations relating to the 'beastly' feline phenomenon with which Exmoor and the Westcountry as a whole have been synonymous since the early 1980s.

Q1: When and why did you first take seriously eyewitness reports of mysterious big cats spied on Exmoor and elsewhere in Britain?

A1: I first took seriously eyewitness reports of mysterious big cats as long ago as 1967, when reports of pumas loose in the Westcountry appeared in the Western Morning News. The puma stories did not surprise me too much, as I knew people in North Devon had them as pets, at least three being kept by separate owners in the Barnstaple area where I live - the chances of occasional escapes not therefore being too surprising. I believe puma cubs could be obtained for around £30 each in those times, much less expensive, for example, than pedigree dogs.

The face of a puma (© Trevor Beer)

However, from the early 1980s, following the now-famous, so-called 'Beast of Exmoor' tales, which included black big cats, I began my own investigations, simply because here was a new phenomenon, if you like - black big cats, as opposed to the usual, if varying, puma colours. My own first sighting of a black big cat, at Whitechapel, near the Drewstone site - which is the site that was made famous by the so-called sheep massacres in 1983 - convinced me that I was looking at a black leopard. And from then on I was rather hooked.

Trevor's most famous book, The Beast of Exmoor: Fact or Legend? (1984) (© Trevor Beer/Countryside Productions)

Q2: Do you believe that more than one species of mystery cat is being seen - and, if so, what do you think they may be, and how many different species do your researches suggest may be living in the Westcountry?

A2: I know there are both pumas and black leopards living in the wild on Exmoor and elsewhere in the Westcountry. I know that both have bred, with cubs seen on a few occasions. It is possible that a lynx or two are present in the wild too, and of course an Asian leopard cat Felis bengalensis was shot dead at Widecombe on Dartmoor in recent years. I also interviewed a fellow who told me he had released two jet-black African golden cats Felis aurata after they grew from cubs in captivity and became difficult to keep. From personal experience, I'd say two species live in the wild in the Westcountry for certain at present - the leopard (in its all-black, i.e. melanistic, colour form, popularly termed the black panther) and the puma. But there could be two or three other species.

A lampshade bearing several of Trevor's beautiful drawings that he prepared specially for me, including the Beast of Exmoor as seen here, takes pride of place upon my black panther table lamp - (Above) My lampshade; (Bottom Left) My black panther table lamp; (Bottom Right) My glass table with a black panther depicted upon its pedestal, and upon which my black panther table lamp stands (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Q3: Where do you feel that these creatures have come from, how long have they been reported on Exmoor, and how are they able to survive here?

A3: Mysterious big cats have been reported on Exmoor for many years, long before the Drewstone incident occurred. I think they have come from very old captive situations, including menageries, perhaps even from Roman times, as well as from the various acclimatisation societies in Britain and Europe in more recent years. We then have an added modern situation, whereby many people were keeping exotic pet animals from the 1950s and 60s to the present day.

I believe the Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976 also played a part, in that when regulations governing the keeping of such animals were toughened, so releases occurred. I see no problems in terms of the animals surviving. There is at present ample food in the wild. There are also thousands of acres of cover, including huge tracts of forest, and a climate that is quite mild for most of the time, certainly here in the Westcountry.

Sketches by Trevor's of the black pantheresque mystery cat that he saw at Whitechapel in summer 1984 (© Trevor Beer)

Q4: What has been your closest encounter to date with a mystery big cat?

A4: I've had many close encounters, from 30 metres to a few hundred metres. Just recently,  two of us watched a black leopard along a green lane. This was here on the Exmoor fringes, because there is a seasonal movement of these cats in the Westcountry, off the higher moors and high ground to lower-lying farmland during the winter. This of course makes sense, the weather being far worse up on the higher moors than in the low-lying farmland. In my most recent sighting, the animal became quickly aware of our presence, and disappeared into a copse to one side of the track we were all on.

Other encounters included the sighting of a puma in broad daylight, charging down across Exmoor's Challacombe Common, whilst I was leading a natural history field trip of around eight or nine people. The cat was running towards us, with its tail up, and veered away to disappear into a combe to the east of where we stood. Needless to say, I suggested that we ignore the animal and carry on with our field trip, and that is exactly what we did.

Ready to set off for the Westcountry in search of the Exmoor Beast with Trevor during August/September 1993 (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Two newspaper reports from September 1993 documenting my visit to North Devon at that time to conduct some field investigations of Westcountry mystery cats with Trevor on Exmoor and elsewhere (© (Above) North Devon Gazette, 2 September 1993; © (Below) Sidmouth Herald, 4 September 1993 – both of them reproduced here on a strictly educational, non-commercial Fair Use basis for review purposes only)


We now have no difficulty in locating and observing a big cat if we wish to, given two or three days in which to do so. The thing is to sit up in areas where you know that they are likely to be, or where they have territory, because they come back around to former sites, as a rule, over a fortnight or three weeks to a month period of time. So you should be able to work out, roughly, where a big cat might be within a few days. And of course, once you get a sighting, you're away.

I've grown very fond of them, and hope to continue my studies of their natural history this summer, and to film them in the wild - more to prove that they are not as bad as some suggest, and are merely surviving in the rather alien world they have been placed in by irresponsible owners. I have no wish to film them in locations which, by showing a film publicly or via the media, might give away their whereabouts.

Merlin (2008), a thrilling novel written and illustrated by Trevor that tells the fictional story of a black panther in the Westcountry (© Trevor Beer/Halsgrove)

Q5: In your estimation, how many individual mystery cats might there be presently living in the Westcountry?

A5: It would be futile to try to estimate how many individuals there may be in the British countryside, but I'd estimate between 12 and 20 such cats in the Westcountry, bearing in mind that even with a breeding situation, it is unlikely that many cubs reach maturity, and thus numbers will remain stable but are not likely to increase dramatically - a situation rather like that of the otter, one might say.

Trevor's beautiful painting of an otter (© Trevor Beer)

Q6: In your opinion, what would be the ideal governmental response to the long-running controversy as to whether mystery big cats really do exist in Britain?

A6: It is difficult to suggest what the government's response to the presence of mystery big cats and other carnivores should be. I do not think they should spend public money on removing them, unless they follow through with even tighter controls, including a ban on the keeping of such animals by members of the public. It seems quite wrong to me to trap, or more likely kill, the cats, yet allow the people who lost or released them to get away with it. Prevention is better than cure. I feel it is very unfair on the animals if this situation is permitted to continue, even should the present cats in the wild be captured. Without a ban, quite obviously the situation will simply continue.

Black panther illustration by Trevor, from his novel Merlin (© Trevor Beer/Halsgrove)

WHITHER THE WOLVERINES?

Trevor Beer has also witnessed in the Westcountry some specimens of what he considers to be another non-native species of carnivore - a giant relative of weasels called the wolverine Gulo gulo, officially confined to the northernmost reaches of Europe and North America.

He and a colleague were conducting a wildlife survey near South Molton, Exmoor, in early January 1994 when they spied two unusual animals running along a disused railway line. No more than 40 yards away, each of the creatures was 3-4 ft long with a very thickset body, bear-like in general form except for its long bushy tail. Its fur was also very dense, and dark brown in colour, bearing a paler horizontal stripe along each flank. This description does not even vaguely recall any animal species native to Britain, but it perfectly matches the morphology of the wolverine.

Two of Trevor's wolverine sketches (© Trevor Beer)

Other Westcountry wolverine reports emanated from St Audries, Somerset, in February 1994; and during the spring or early summer of that same year, a dead wolverine was apparently sighted beside a road at Wembworthy by Joanne Crowther, a photographer visiting Devon from London, who did not realise the significance of her observation until she later described the carcase to some naturalists. The Westcountry reports followed similar accounts recorded from Dyfed in Wales, and dating back at least as far as February 1992.

But where could wolverines, which are seldom kept even in zoos in Britain, have come from? At least as far as the Westcountry specimens are concerned, Trevor can offer a very thought-provoking explanation: "My enquiries have led to the likelihood that these wolverines may be escapes from fur farms in England, and wolverines of course are more likely to take sheep than cats are".

Another of Trevor's delightful wildlife novels – Old Red: The Story of a Devon Fox (2002) (© Trevor Beer/Halsgrove)

[During our countless communications by phone and letter down through many years, Trevor also mentioned to me a number of other mysterious creatures that have been reported on Exmoor and elsewhere in the Westcountry at one time or another; of particular interest to me were sightings of alleged phantom Black dogs, strange extra-large foxes or fox-like canids with grey fur referred to locally as hill foxes, and even a supposed (but never captured) escapee binturong – an exotic Asian civet often termed a bear-cat on account of its bizarre combination of superficially ursine and feline morphological features.]

ARE MYSTERY BIG CATS DANGEROUS TO HUMANS?

Throughout his many years of personal researches into the Westcountry's mystery big cats, Trevor Beer has always maintained that he doubts these animals pose a serious threat to humans - unless they are harassed or persecuted. He considers that the most sensible course of action to pursue in relation to such creatures is simply to leave them well alone, and not even to follow up on sightings. Indeed, as is so often true in human interactions with other animals, it is conceivable that the biggest threat is posed not by the cats but by people: "I must say it does concern me that some idiot, somewhere, will attempt to shoot one, and perhaps wound it, in which case the wounded animal may well then turn nasty".

As Trevor points out, it is not yet widely known but the police do have wildlife liaison officers now throughout the U.K. Hence he advises anyone who encounters a mystery big cat to report sightings to the police - "...or simply let the animal be. Never attempt to corner or trap it in any way is the best policy to adopt if you see one of these cats". Sensible words - so let us hope that they are heeded by everyone.

Endymion Beer, Trevor Beer, Trevor's son Robin, and I, at Wistlandpound Reservoir, Exmoor, during my very enjoyable week-long stay with Trevor and his family in Barnstaple, North Devon, during August/September 1993 (© Dr Karl Shuker)

At the present time of writing, Trevor's website Countryside Matters can still be viewed online here.

A gorgeous, highly-detailed illustration of a dragon that Trevor kindly prepared for my book From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997) (© Trevor Beer)