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!

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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)




Wednesday, 6 September 2017

DREAMCHILD AND VAMPIRES AND HOBBITS, OH MY! [an Eclectarium of Doctor Shuker crosspost]


'Kong: Skull Island' publicity poster and film still (© Jordan Vogt-Roberts/Legendary Pictures/Tencent Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures)

I've viewed quite a number of fantasy-themed movies lately, some new, some vintage, some exceedingly obscure, but most of them offering various degrees of cryptozoological/zoomythological content and relevance. So be sure to click the link below to read my mini-reviews of these films, first published on my Facebook wall but now preserved together in my Eclectarium:

The Eclectarium of Doctor Shuker: DREAMCHILD AND VAMPIRES AND HOBBITS, OH MY!

An adult female graphorn with her calf - from 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' (© David Yates/Heyday Films/Warner Bros. Pictures)





Saturday, 2 September 2017

THE ONZA HERESY - UNMASKING A MYSTERY CAT FROM MEXICO?


The Rodriguez onza (© International Society of Cryptozoology – permission to reproduce in my writings granted to me in perpetuity by J. Richard Greenwell, ISC Secretary)

For zoologists, the year 1986 opened in a decidedly dramatic manner - with the apparent procurement on 1 January of a legendary creature whose existence had been denied by science for centuries. That evening, Mexican ranger Andres Rodriguez Murillo surprised a very large cat close to his home in the valley behind Parrot Mountain, in Mexico's Sinaloa State. Fearing that it was a jaguar about to attack him, he shot it, but when he examined its body he found that it was neither a jaguar Panthera onca nor a puma Puma concolor - the only other large felid 'officially' existing in Mexico.

It did resemble a puma superficially, but its limbs were longer and its body was more slender, giving it a cheetah-like outline; in addition, its ears were unusually big, and the inner surfaces of its forelimbs bore dark markings not possessed by pumas. As Rodriguez had little knowledge of wildlife, he contacted an expert hunter by the name of Manuel Vega to come over and identify it for him. When Vega arrived, he felt sure that he recognised the cat - identifying it as an onza, the fabled third large cat of Mexico.

The puma (top) and the jaguar (bottom) – Mexico's two official large cats (public domain)

The onza's existence within the rugged mountainlands of the Sierra Madre Occidental is supported by more than 300 years' worth of local eyewitness accounts (even including the testimony of visiting missionaries and Jesuit priests) from Sinaloa and also Sonora. Yet these had always been dismissed by zoologists as reports of poorly-seen or misidentified pumas.

Conversely, back in the 18th Century accounts of this controversial creature appeared in the works of several of Mexico's learned Jesuit scholar-priests. They recorded that the onza is greatly feared by ranchers and peasants, and is said to be an unusually aggressive animal, far more dangerous than either the burly jaguar or the diffident puma, but far more elusive too.

My very first book, Mystery Cats of the World (1989) (© Dr Karl Shuker)

However, it may be that the onza's history can be traced back even further than this. According to Spanish conquistador Bernal Diaz del Castillo, in 1519 the famous zoo owned by the Aztec king Montezuma contained two types of 'lion' (puma). One was the normal puma, but the other was a much more mystifying cat that supposedly resembled a wolf. As wolves have noticeably longer legs than pumas, was this unidentified animal the onza? Further details concerning the onza's early history are given in my book Mystery Cats of the World.

Some 20th-century accounts of alleged onzas had actually been supported for a short time by complete specimens, though in every case these were somehow lost or destroyed. In spring 1926, for example, hunter-cowboy C.B. Ruggles trapped and killed a supposed onza southeast of Yaqui River in Mexico's Sonora State. After taking some photos of its carcase, and noting that it had very skinny hindquarters, with dark spots on the inner side of its limbs, Ruggles discarded it. A few years later, American naturalist J. Frank Dobie reported shooting an onza caught in traps set on Mexico's Barrancas de la Viboras; regrettably, its skin was subsequently devoured by bugs.

Clell and Dale Lee posing with their hunting dogs alongside the carcase of the Shirk onza (© International Society of Cryptozoology – permission to reproduce in my writings granted to me in perpetuity by J. Richard Greenwell, ISC Secretary)

In 1938, while in the company of renowned hunters Dale and Clell Lee from Arizona, Indiana banker Joseph Shirk shot an onza on Sinaloa's La Silla Mountain; photos show that, as with all of the others, it resembled an extremely gracile, long-limbed puma with big ears and unusual limb markings. Although much of its carcase was discarded, its skull was retained - only to vanish without trace when sent to a museum whose name, frustratingly, does not appear to have been placed on record. The dead body of a large unidentified felid that may well have been an onza was taken to Texas University in the late 1950s, but this cannot be traced either.

J. Richard Greenwell, at that time the secretary of the International Society of Cryptozoology (ISC), who had a particular interest in the onza, succeeded in locating two onza skulls - one from a specimen shot in 1938 on La Silla Mountain by R.R.M. Carpenter while accompanied by Dale and Clell Lee (thus providing a remarkable parallel to the history of the Shirk specimen), the other from an onza shot by Jesus Vega (father of Manuel Vega) in much the same area sometime during the mid-1970s (this skull is now owned by rancher Ricardo Urquijo).

Robert E. Marshall and Ricardo Urquijo with the Vega onza skull (© International Society of Cryptozoology – permission to reproduce in my writings granted to me in perpetuity by J. Richard Greenwell, ISC Secretary)

Additionally, another onza investigator, Arizona hunter Robert E. Marshall, was successful in obtaining the incomplete skull (its lower jaw was missing) of an onza shot during the 1950s at Los Frailes, Sinaloa. Marshall was also the author of The Onza – published in 1961, it was the first book devoted to this cryptid; a second, Onza! The Hunt For a Legendary Cat, written by Neil B. Carmony, was published in 1995. Both make fascinating reading, and I highly recommend them to anyone interested in cryptozoology.

Around the time of the shooting of the Rodriguez specimen in January 1986, an onza was allegedly captured alive, and held for several days in captivity at a ranch in northern Sonora, where it was supposedly photographed too. Tragically, however, when no-one showed any interest in it, its owner shot it and threw its body away. As for the photographs, these have yet to make a published appearance. And in early 1987, yet another onza was reportedly shot in Sinaloa, this time by a wealthy Mazatlan businessman; but, true to form, its remains were not preserved.

Robert E. Marshall's book The Onza (© Robert E. Marshall/Exposition Press – reproduced here on a strictly educational, non-commercial Fair Use basis only)

In short, with the exception of three skulls, physical remains of onzas have displayed a disconcerting tendency to disappear beyond the reach of scientists. The Rodriguez specimen, however, changed all of that - for instead of destroying its remains, the ranchers contacted Richard Greenwell. Following a complex series of interchanges, the precious specimen was transported to the Regional Diagnostic Laboratory of Animal Pathology, belonging to Mexico's Ministry of Agriculture and sited in Mazatlan, Sinaloa.

There it was painstakingly studied and dissected by a biological team headed by American puma researcher Dr Troy Best, who had been working alongside Greenwell during his earlier onza investigations. After the dissection, extensive samples of skeletal material, tissues, and blood were taken for examination and analysis in various U.S. research institutions, in a bid to uncover the onza's taxonomic status. Several different taxonomic identities have been offered over the years, but the principal four are as follows.

Neil B. Carmony's book Onza! (© Neil B. Carmony/High-Lonesome Books – reproduced here on a strictly educational, non-commercial Fair Use basis only)

The most exciting possibility is that it could be a currently undescribed species - one that quite conceivably descended from the typical puma, but later diverged from it to fill the ecological niche left vacant by the extinction approximately 11,000 years ago of Miracinonyx trumani - an extraordinary felid now known to have been a true American cheetah (it was first classed as a cheetah-like puma). Indeed, German felid specialist Dr Helmut Hemmer initially mooted that the onza may actually be a surviving representative of Truman's cheetah, but after studying casts of two onza skulls and comparing them with fossil material from M. trumani, he changed his mind. However, regardless of whether it is even related to (let alone synonymous with) Truman's cheetah, if the onza is indeed a valid species in its own right it should be distinguishable from the puma via the biochemical and genetic analyses conducted by those researchers studying the Rodriguez specimen (see below).

Another intriguing, frequently-raised possibility is that the onza is a naturally-occurring hybrid of puma and jaguar (i.e. either a pumajag or a jaguma). No evidence for this identity was obtained, however, from examination of the Rodriguez specimen. In any case, hybrids of this type that have been bred in captivity bear no resemblance to onzas, appearing visibly intermediate between puma and jaguar instead.

Artistic representation of a Truman's cheetah attacking a pronghorn (© Hodari Nundu)

Two rather more conservative but still-interesting identities remain. The onza may simply be a mutant, non-taxonomically distinct form of the puma, the result of a genetic aberration that has yielded an uncommonly slim, leggy variety. If so, could it even be that an atavistic phenotype-influencing gene surviving from the period of shared ancestry by pumas and cheetahs but suppressed in normal pumas is somehow expressing itself in onza specimens, i.e. is responsible for 'onzaism' in pumas? If we take the Rodriguez specimen as a bona fide onza, the onza's gracility is, indisputably, a natural facet of its appearance (rather than starvation-induced emaciation), because this specimen was found to possess adequate amounts of body fat. Genetically-induced onzaism may be confined to Mexico due to genetic drift; then again, as I noted in my 1989 mystery cats book, onza-like cats have also been reported from South America, so if the onza is indeed a freak non-taxonomic variety of puma, perhaps the mutant onza-inducing gene (should it exist) is more widely distributed among the global puma population after all. If not a genetic freak, the onza could be a separate subspecies of puma, kept apart from the Mexican puma Puma concolor azteca by behavioural differences and dissimilar habitat preferences. If the last-mentioned identity were the correct one, however, then once again (as with the possibility that it is a separate species) we would expect the onza to be distinguishable biochemically and genetically from other pumas. But is it?

Early biochemical tests had failed to uncover any characteristics differentiating the Rodriguez specimen from pumas, which would seem to suggest that onza and puma are very closely related. Yet this conclusion stems from a fundamental assumption that, although widely accepted in the zoological (and especially the cryptozoological) community, has never actually been confirmed. Namely, that the onza specimen whose tissues provided these biochemical results, i.e. the Rodriguez specimen, really was an onza!

Illustration of a pair of pumas (© William M. Rebsamen)

However, is it conceivable that Manuel Vega had been mistaken, and that this animal had merely been a malformed or infirm puma that only outwardly resembled a genuine onza? After reflecting upon this disturbing possibility for some time, in January 1998 I heretically aired it within an onza article of mine published in the British monthly magazine All About Cats – and it seems that my suspicions may indeed have been justified.

Only a few months after my article had appeared in print, the much-delayed volume of the ISC's scientific journal Cryptozoology covering the years 1993-1996 was finally published, and contained a report by a research team featuring Prof. Stephen O'Brien, an expert in feline molecular genetics. The team's report revealed that after conducting comparative protein and mitochondrial DNA analyses using tissue samples taken from the Rodriguez onza and from specimens of known North American cat species, the results obtained for the Rodriguez onza were found to be indistinguishable from those of North American pumas. Of course, this does not necessarily mean that all onzas are pumas, but how savagely ironic it would be for the most celebrated supposed onza specimen not to have been an onza after all.

Cutting from the Arizona Daily Star (Tucson) newspaper dated 1 October 1938, featuring the then newly-snapped photograph of Clell and Dale Lee with the Shirk onza - the first onza photo ever published in the USA (© International Society of Cryptozoology – permission to reproduce in my writings granted to me in perpetuity by J. Richard Greenwell, ISC Secretary)

On 15 April 1995, an alleged male onza was shot behind Parrot Mountain, this time by rancher Raul Jiminez Dominguez. Later that same day, after having been frozen, the onza's corpse was examined by two biologists from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, who took tissue samples away with them for electrophoretic analysis. The remainder of its carcase was preserved and dissected at Mazatlan for future study. Frustratingly, no further information has been made public concerning this specimen, but let us continue to hope that it will eventually provide a precise, unequivocal answer to the longstanding question of the onza's taxonomic identity.

Meanwhile, Mexico's feline enigma seems destined to remain a cryptozoological controversy - a far cry indeed from its popular yet sadly premature image as an erstwhile mystery cat whose reality is no longer in doubt.

Drawing of the onza (© Hodari Nundu)

Finally: please be aware that certain early 20th-Century animal encyclopaedias contain photographs of jaguarundis Puma yagouaroundi labelled as onzas (confusingly, this species is indeed sometimes termed an onza in certain Mexican states, including Jalisco). Nevertheless, anything less like the very large, long-limbed onza of cryptozoology than the much smaller, short-limbed jaguarundi of mainstream zoology would be difficult to imagine.

Having said that: in 2016, Mexican Facebook friend and artist Hodari Nundu revealed that he once saw in Jalisco a dead specimen of what he refers to as a 'giant' jaguarundi. And he subsequently learnt of a possible second location for such specimens, but he has refrained from publicly identifying this location in order to keep these cats safe if any do indeed exist there, noting only that it is a very long distance from Jalisco. This indicates that if other extra-large jaguarundis do occur in Mexico, they may be relatively widespread. Moreover, if they are of this species' dark-grey/black colour phase, such cats may even explain reports here of mystery 'black panthers'.

Jaguarundi, grey colour phase (© Bodlina/Wikipedia – CC BY 3.0 licence)


This ShukerNature blog article is adapted from my book The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals – the most comprehensive book ever published on the subject of such creatures.