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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Monday, 17 July 2017

IS NOSFERATU AN ILLUMINATED VAMPIRE?


Is the devil – or vampire – in the detail? Close-up of the mysterious, sinister-looking entity lurking in the upper margin of folio 28v from the Sankt Florian Psalter (public domain)

Just in case you're wondering, the illuminated vampire under consideration here is definitely not one of the sparkling, shimmering, but invariably angst-ridden teenage variety that frequent a certain series of romance-driven novels (and accompanying films) for young adults. No indeed, this one is none other than Nosferatu himself, the dreaded Count Orlok of the long incisors and even longer ears, and this present ShukerNature blog article of mine records my unexpected discovery of him, or someone very much like him, in an exceedingly unlikely locality – a medieval illuminated manuscript!

ShukerNature readers may well recall that some time ago I documented an astonishingly Yoda-like entity existing far far away from his usual galactic Star Wars abode as a Jedi Knight – residing instead inside an early illuminated manuscript known as the Smithfield Decretals (click here to read my article), dating from c.1300-1340. Apparently, however, he wasn't the only fictitious figure to lurk undetected until recent times within the rarified illustrative realm of medieval marginalia, as now revealed.

Comparison of my official Yoda model with the Yoda-like entity hidden away in the Smithfield Decretals (© Dr Karl Shuker/public domain)

As I noted when blogging previously about the presence of snail-cat illustrations in illuminated manuscripts (click here), psalters were volumes of predominantly medieval age that normally contained the 150 psalms of the Old Testament and a liturgical calendar. They were also beautifully illustrated in illuminated form by monks.

One of the most ornate examples is the Sankt Florian Psalter, also known as the Saint Florian Psalter or the Psalterium Trilingue. It was written between the late 14th and early 15th Centuries, and its text is presented in three different languages – Latin, Polish, and German (the Polish version contains the earliest presentation of the psalms in Polish). It was first discovered in 1827, by local librarian Father Josef Chmel, at the St Florian monastery of Sankt Florian – the Austrian town after which this psalter is named – and is currently held as a priceless religious and iconographical treasure at the National Library of Poland, in Warsaw.

The beginning of Psalm 1, gorgeously illuminated in the margins with assorted plants, animals, human figures, and other adornments, from the Sankt Florian Psalter - click to enlarge (public domain)

Yet despite its beauty and historical significance, the Sankt Florian Psalter is a notably mysterious work, inasmuch as its creator(s), original owners, and provenance are all currently unknown (although certain localities in Poland are variously favoured as the identity of the latter). But these are not the only mysteries or anomalies associated with this famous literary – and artistic – masterpiece.

The Sankt Florian Psalter consists of 297 + IV folios, and can be viewed online in its entirety here. Reiterating from my snail-cats article, manuscripts from the Middle Ages were bound without page numbers. In relation to such manuscripts, the term 'folio' (commonly abbreviated to 'fol' or simply 'f') is used in place of 'page', and the front or top side of each folio is referred to as the recto ('r'), with the back or under side of each folio being the verso ('v'). Consequently, as examples of how folios are designated in such manuscripts, the front side of a manuscript's fifth folio would be referred to as f 5r, and the back of the manuscript's 17th folio as f 17v. Bearing in mind that some consist of as many as 300 folios or even more, illuminated manuscripts housed in libraries sometimes have the respective number of each constituent folio lightly pencilled upon its recto side's top-right corner, for ease of access to specific folios.

A snail-cat, as delightfully depicted in the Maastricht Hours, an illuminated religious manuscript dating from the early 1300s and originating in the Netherlands (public domain)

During my earlier researches into snail-cats and other exotic zoological marginalia portrayed in illuminated manuscripts (click here), I viewed a varied assortment of these latter works online, including the Sankt Florian Psalter. I didn't locate any snail-cats in it, but what I did find was far more startling, and is as follows. In the margin directly above the upper edge of text on the Sankt Florian Psalter's f 28v (click here to view this folio online within the psalter itself) is a very elaborate, colourful decoration consisting of swirling feathers and leaves, clusters of bright golden berries, a bird, a lion, a large human face portrayed in profile…and, partially encircled by a feather and a leaf, a very unusual humanoid figure. He may be cloaked and shown only from the waist up, but just one look at his face is more than enough to reveal just how strange and sinister he is.

To begin with, this eerie, scowling entity's skin is a very pale, unhealthy-looking grey shade, his highly domed head is entirely hairless, his arched jet-black eyebrows have a decidedly satanic appearance, and his eyes below them are large and staring. But what sets him well apart from what may otherwise be conceivably identified as some form of stern religious figure wearing a pinkish-red cloak are his extraordinarily long, donkey-like ears, and his noticeably conspicuous teeth, which not only are very large, ghostly-white, and fully exposed, bared in a highly disturbing, snarling grimace, but also are unmistakeably pointed.

The mysterious neo-Nosferatuan figure depicted on f 28v of the Sankt Florian Psalter (public domain)

Not so long ago, as mentioned in a recent ShukerNature post (click here), I watched the 1979 art-house remake (starring Klaus Kinski) of the classic silent German Expressionist horror movie from 1922, Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, directed by F.W. Murnau – in which Max Schreck played Count Orlock the vampire, or Nosferatu. And to my amazement, when looking at the weird, grotesque figure standing aloof among the illuminated margin adornments of f 28v from the Sankt Florian Psalter, I realised that he bore an uncanny resemblance to Klaus Kinski's Nosferatu, and even more so to Max Schreck's original version!

The cloak itself (albeit pink rather than black), the extra-long asinine ears, the pale and grim countenance, the domed hairless head, the large staring eyes, and, above all, the white pointed teeth – a veritable vampire of Nosferatuan nature but portrayed in illuminated splendour was gazing back at me from one of the world's most celebrated medieval psalters, a psalter that had been created at least 600 years ago!

Comparing the cloaked figure from the Sankt Florian Psalter with Max Schreck's portrayal of Nosferatu, the vampirish Count Orlok (public domain)

Never having encountered any mention of this truly bizarre coincidence before, I searched online to discover if anyone else had drawn the same comparison, but could only find a few very scant mentions of the psalter-depicted entity in question on some Polish websites. Like all the best vampires, therefore, the sharp-toothed stranger from the Sankt Florian Psalter had for the most part entirely eluded detection. Only one notable exception came to light, a lengthier, more detailed Polish article that had been written and posted online to advertise the one-day-only public display of this invaluable psalter, on 23 April 2016, at the Palace of the Republic of Poland, in Warsaw.

The article had been uploaded onto the Polona/Blog website on 14 April 2016 (click here to access it), and by an extraordinary coincidence it had been written by none other than Łukasz Kozak, the expert in relation to medieval times and editor at the National Digital Library of Poland whose earlier, equally informative online article regarding the anomalous 'Locust of Kalisz' had been instrumental in guiding my own researches concerning this latter hitherto-obscure cryptid (click here to read my recent ShukerNature blog article documenting it).

The bizarre 'Locust of Kalisz' drawing, depicting one of many such insects allegedly encountered near this Polish city in 1749 (public domain)

What was particularly interesting about Łukasz's article, however, was not only his own comparison of the psalter's mystery figure with Nosferatu, but a second, alternative comparison of it made by him as well. Providing a stark contrast to the darkness epitomised by the fictional Nosferatu, Łukasz noted how the figure also resembled a notable fictitious entity embodying the light side – none other than the Star Wars movie franchise's big-eared, cloak-garbed Yoda!

And indeed, as shown below, there is certainly a resemblance, but less marked, at least in my opinion, than either the similarity between the figure and Nosferatu or the similarity between the earlier-mentioned Smithfield Decretals figure and Yoda. Nevertheless, how can we explain any such resemblances between modern-day fictitious beings and enigmatic, decidedly odd-looking entities depicted in illuminated manuscripts many centuries earlier, and by cloistered monks with little if any first-hand knowledge of the outside world anyway?

Three-way comparison featuring the cloaked figure from the Sankt Florian Psalter, Max Schreck's portrayal of Nosferatu, and my official model of Yoda (public domain/public domain/© Dr Karl Shuker)

As noted in my ShukerNature article dealing with it (here), one popular explanation of this Yoda-like entity as depicted in the Smithfield Decretals is that in reality it may represent the devil attired as a demonic doctor of canon law, signifying that some clerics charged to uphold the law were actually corrupt and exploitative of their flock. Alternatively, it might simply represent a devil or demon in human form that is hoping to lure and tempt the unwary away from the paths of righteousness, and I consider it most likely that this or something similar is what the Sankt Florian Psalter's Nosferatu-like figure is intended to represent too. In religious imagery and classical western mythology, the donkey or ass is sometimes seen as an evil beast, so the addition of ass-like ears to a figure is a deft, easily-executed way of conveying visually the inherently malign nature of the figure, irrespective of his religious garb and other outward suggestions of piety and propriety.

Nevertheless, it is nothing if not intriguing to discover just how very like such purposefully ambiguous representations are to analogous versions created entirely independently and several centuries later in time. Then again, when dealing with entities as wily and astute as vampires and Jedi Knights, I suppose that we shouldn't really be surprised at anything!

View of the entire f 28v folio from the Sankt Florian Psalter, showing the Nosferatu-like mystery figure in situ (public domain)






Saturday, 15 July 2017

THE LOCUST OF KALISZ? MORE LIKE A DALI-ESQUE DEATHSHEAD!


Close-up of the so-called 'Locust of Kalisz' drawing, contained in the scrapbook album compiled and given by friends to General Joachim Daniel von Jauch as a birthday present sometime during the early 1750s (public domain)

Its many shortcomings and dark aspects notwithstanding, I have long considered the internet to be the greatest cabinet of curiosities ever assembled, a limitless repository replete with wonders and marvels of every conceivable – and inconceivable – kind, all awaiting uncovering and investigation by those with a mind to do so. Over the years, I have documented here on ShukerNature an extremely diverse array of my own cryptozoology-related discoveries made in this manner, of which the present one is just the latest in a very extensive and – at least for me, but I hope for you too – a thoroughly entrancing series with no end in sight, thankfully.

And so it was that while idly browsing last night through the vast virtual art gallery of online images that is freely available via Wikimedia Commons, I typed 'Cryptozoology' in its search engine bar, and instantly called up an entertaining selection of pictures appertaining to mystery beasts. As I browsed through them, I recognised every one with varying degrees of familiarity – until, that is, I came to the extraordinary drawing that opens this current ShukerNature article, and was immediately aware that I had never encountered it before.

As can be seen here, on Wikimedia Commons this drawing has been entitled 'Szarańcza z Kalisza', which translates from Polish as 'Locust of Kalisz', dates from no earlier than 1749, and is accompanied by the following description: 'Zmierzchnica trupia główka ze sztambucha generała Joachima Daniela Jaucha' (very loosely translated via Google Translate as 'the dreaded head of General Joachim Daniel Jauch on paper'). What can this weird insect be, who was Joachim Daniel Jauch, and what is their common history? Needless to say, my sense of cryptozoological curiosity was irresistibly stimulated, and so, in best Sherlockian response, the game was afoot!

The 'Locust of Kalisz' drawing with its bilingual caption inscribed below it - click to enlarge (public domain)

My first line of investigation was to translate the handwritten caption inscribed directly below the drawing itself. It was present in two separate languages, Old Polish and German, but the script was very faint in both, the ink having long since faded considerably. Happily, however, with great thanks to the much-welcomed translation skills of Facebook friend Miroslav Fismeister and one of his friends, Polish novelist Daniel Koziarski, for the Old Polish version and the much-appreciated assistance of German cryptozoological friend and colleague Markus Bühler for the German version, I am able to provide the following English translation:

The year 1749: A plague of locusts fell a mile from Kalisz, of which two were caught, one was held in Gniezno capital and the other in the OO. Reformation church in Kalisz. When taken in the hand, it was screaming like a bat, yellow foam was coming from its mouth, all of it was hairy, Death on the chest, two hairy legs, squirrel's teeth, etc.

Kalisz is a city in central Poland (and the oldest still existing anywhere in thus country), and Gniezno is a city in central-western Poland that was this country's first capital city. Morever, the OO. Reformation church in Kalisz was conceivably a Reformed Franciscan church and is apparently now the Church of the Holy Family there. Sadly, I currently have no information concerning the fate of the two captured specimens – were they preserved and retained somewhere, I wonder, or simply discarded? Hence I am treating this case as an investigation still in progress. However, combining the verbal description's details with the visual details present in the drawing did swiftly enable me to identify the insect. Albeit exhibiting considerable artistic licence and not a little inaccuracy, whereas the drawing clearly does not portray a locust it was evidently inspired by Acherontia atropos – the deathshead hawk moth, one of Europe's largest lepidopterans (click here for a ShukerNature blog article devoted to this morphologically and behaviourally distinctive species).

True, the characteristic thoracic marking resembling a skull and earning this particular moth its familiar English name was depicted ventrally rather than dorsally in this strange drawing, and in it the insect had been given a grinning human face sporting a decidedly Salvador Dali-esque upward-curving moustache, but this latter feature may have been intended as a whimsical adaptation of the moth's long thick antennae. Indeed, in overall appearance the depicted insect definitely seems to constitute a deliberately comical, humanoid caricature of A. atropos, which would explain why it was only given two legs (but ending in claws, like a moth's, rather than human feet), yet incorporating certain unequivocally Acherontian attributes too, such as the banding upon its rear wings, and its hairy body. Of particular relevance here is that the creature's alleged bat-like screaming – ostensibly nonsensical in relation to a moth – is actually a famous, characteristic feature of this particular moth species For it can emit a shrill, high-pitched squeaking sound, which is created by the moth's powerful inhalation of air into its pharynx, causing a stiffened flap called the epipharynx to vibrate very rapidly (click here for more details).

Exquisite 19th-Century illustration of a deathshead hawk moth (public domain)

But what about the description of the drawing assigned to it on Wikimedia Commons? Clearly "the dreaded head" means "the deathshead", referring to the eponymous moth species, but who was General Joachim Daniel Jauch? I soon discovered that he was General Joachim Daniel von Jauch (1688-1754), a German-born architect, civilian engineer, and military man, who had supervised the Baroque development of Warsaw, being responsible for the urban planning and designing or rebuilding of many of its new buildings, and he had also served in the Polish army as an artilleryman, steadily rising up through the ranks. But how was Jauch linked to the humanoid deathshead hawk moth drawing?

In spite of its very striking, memorable appearance, this enigmatic illustration conjured forth a surprisingly scant amount of information when utilising it as the focus of a Google Image-based internet search. However, I am nothing if not persistent (i.e. stubborn!), so eventually I unearthed sufficient details to flesh out its hitherto-opaque history. The drawing originated in a scrapbook-like album filled with all manner of artwork, which was seemingly compiled by some of Jauch's friends as a birthday present for him and presented to him during the early 1750s (precise year not known), i.e. not long before his death.

Containing over 150 exquisite drawings and other art, variously executed in pen-ink, sepia-ink, crayon, pencil, watercolour, and gouache, this unique and very beautiful leather-covered album can be viewed directly online at the website of the National Digital Library of Poland (Biblioteki Cyfrowej Polona), and the humanoid moth (aka Locust of Kalisz) with its accompanying handwritten bilingual caption can be found on p. 95 (click here to view this page and to access the entire album). The diverse artwork includes various architectural designs, sketches and graphics, scenes from mythology, antique sculpture studies, natural history illustrations, and portraits.

Page 95 from Jauch's album, showing the 'humanoid moth' (aka Locust of Kalisz) drawing in situ (public domain)

I also discovered a concise, excellent online article in Polish concerning this drawing (click here), in relation to which Google Translate once again came to my rescue by yielding a workable English version. Dated 11 March 2014, the article was written by Łukasz Kozak, an expert in relation to medieval times and editor at the National Digital Library of Poland, and had been posted on the latter's website. In it, he confirmed that the insect was indeed intended to be a deathshead hawk moth, and documented what I too have written about elsewhere regarding this species' unusual squeaking ability. However, he also provided some very welcome additional information concerning the background history of this intriguing case, including the following details.

As noted earlier, the album is filled with many images, which include numerous full-colour illustrations of plants and animals (such as rodents, birds, reptiles, and insects) that are generally portrayed in a very accurate, naturalistic manner. The artist responsible for these latter illustrations is believed to have been Fraulein de Naumann, as Łukasz had revealed during his own investigation of the moth drawing. She was probably the daughter of architect Johann Christoph von Naumann, who in turn was not only Jauch's predecessor at the architect office where he had worked but also his brother-in-law. Łukasz then went on to reveal the deathshead hawk moth as the species upon which the drawing had been based, and gave some interesting examples from fact and fiction previously unknown to me regarding how the eerie nature of its squeaking had terrified persons in the past who were unfamiliar with this osensibly unnatural ability, thus filling them with superstitious dread.

Łukasz also appears in a short online video in which he looks through Jauch's album, displays the moth drawing, and then discusses it. This video is embedded in an article written by him and first posted on the Newsweek Polska website on 11 February 2015, but unfortunately as he speaks only in Polish I was initially unable to obtain any information from it (click here to access the article and view the video). Happily, however, Katarzyna Bylok, the Polish girlfriend of fellow Fortean/mystery beast investigator Matt Cook, kindly viewed it for me earlier this evening, and the details concerning it that she passed onto me afterwards via Matt confirm that Łukasz was merely reiterating the details that he had previously presented in his March 2014 article. Many thanks indeed to Katarzyna and Matt for kindly assisting me regarding this.

Still of Łukasz Kozak from Newsweek Polska video (© Łukasz Kozak/Newsweek Polska – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational purposes only)

However, there are certain key issues related to this memorable drawing that remain unresolved - or do they?

Notable among these is why Fraulein de Naumann prepared such a surreal, unrealistic image anyway, bearing in mind that all of her other illustrations in the album were so life-like. Might it have been a humorous caricature of Jauch himself?

The following painting of Jauch was prepared in c.1720, and he is not portrayed in it with a moustache of any kind, but perhaps he grew and maintained one in later years?

General Joachim Daniel von Jauch, painted in c.1720, artist unknown (public domain)

Alternatively, could it have even been a comical representation of her own father, as she would have known that he and Jauch had worked in the same office? Or perhaps it was not based upon a real person at all, but was just a light-hearted doodle created in jest to add some merriment to the album, bearing in mind that it had been created specifically as a birthday present for him?

Yet another theory that has been suggested by some writers online, including biologist Prof. Stanislaw Czachorowski in an article of 9 February 2014 dealing with the deathshead hawk moth (click here), and which would certainly explain why it differed so dramatically from the other wildlife illustrations, is also worth considering. Namely, that this drawing was in fact produced by Jauch himself, and was based not upon any sightings of his own but only upon secondhand descriptions or lurid folkloric accounts of the deathshead hawk moth (another reason for its stark inaccuracy), which he interpolated in a blank space on p. 95 of his album alongside the realistic illustrations of Fraulein de Naumann.

As for this drawing's comparably mystifying caption, what are the 'squirrel teeth' referred to in it when describing the moth, and what is the yellow foam seemingly regurgitated by the moth? The caterpillar of the deathshead hawk moth has sizeable mandibles that it will click together and even use to bite aggressors, so these could conceivably be likened to squirrel teeth; but the adult moth only has a slender nectar-imbibing proboscis. Might the phrase instead be a somewhat peculiar allusion to the moth's antennae? In fact, having viewed the following excellent close-up photograph of a deathshead hawk moth's face, the answer now seems clear to me. The 'squirrel teeth' are simply the two ridged, outer edges of the moth's proboscis, which do superficially resemble curved rodent teeth.

Face of a deathshead hawk moth, showing its ridge-edged proboscis (© owner presently unknown to me - reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use educational basis only)

It is well known that the caterpillars of hawk moths will regurgitate the sticky (and sometimes toxic) content of their foregut if attacked; but because the mouthparts of caterpillars are very different from those of adult moths, could the latter accomplish such behaviour? Nevertheless, I do recall reading somewhere that certain adult moths will indeed perform this activity as a defence mechanism if need be, so perhaps the deathshead hawk moth is one such species.

Then again, if the drawing itself was intended only as a joke, a spoof, not as a realistic depiction of anything that may truly have appeared near Kalisz in 1749 (and in view of the moth's grinning moustachioed face, this seems ever more likely the more I reflect upon it), maybe the caption was composed in an equally tongue-in-cheek manner and should therefore be taken no more seriously than the drawing.

Equally mystifying is why the insect in the drawing was referred to as a locust, given that it looked nothing like one and was indisputably inspired by a deathshead hawk moth. However, the implication from the drawing's caption is that in 1749 a sizeable number of such insects appeared near Kalisz, and other Polish accounts concerning this incident that I have read online support that implication, so it seems plausible that the term 'locust' was being applied not literally but figuratively, an allusion to the large numbers of this insect that had appeared near the city that year.

A 19th-Century illustration of locusts (public domain)

Even so, this is still odd, because although I have read occasional accounts of veritable swarms of certain hawk moth species occurring in various localities down through the ages, I haven't read anything comparable relating specifically to the deathshead hawk moth. Having said that: in my ShukerNature article on this species (click here), I do refer to a singular incident in which approximately 300 specimens were attracted to a single beehive within a short period of time. The reason for this was that the deathshead has a great liking for honey, so much so in fact that some researchers have even suggested that its uncanny squeaking ability may actually be an attempt to impersonate the specific sound that a queen bee produces to keep her workers passive, and thence allow the moth to enter the hive and consume its honey without being attacked by the hive's worker bees. Consequently, in exceptional circumstances large numbers of deathsheads may indeed occur. So although I haven't been able as yet to trace any corroboration that is independent of the moth drawing, perhaps one such occurrence took place near Kalisz, Poland, during 1749.

Clearly there is still much to uncover regarding this fascinating case, but what I have provided here so far would already appear to be the most detailed account of it ever presented in English. So, now that its curious story is readily accessible to a much greater audience than before, perhaps additional details will be forthcoming from readers, to plug the gaps remaining in its history. Consequently, as I noted earlier here, I consider this article and investigation of mine to be a work in progress, so I would be extremely grateful to receive any supplementary information relating to it. And as is always true with my researches, all such submissions will be fully credited by me if utilised in updates to this article.

Incidentally, there is actually a Facebook page, in Polish, devoted to the humanoid moth drawing from Jauch's album – entitled 'Szarańcza z Kalisza', it contains various relevant posts and comments, plus a delightful animated GIF of this drawing, created by Mieszko Saktura. Click here to visit and Like its page (I have).

Polish postage stamp depicting the deathshead hawk moth (public domain)

And finally: for another ShukerNature blog article concerning an equally bizarre illustration of an alleged locust that clearly was nothing of the kind, be sure to click here and read all about the extraordinary locust dragon of Nicolaes de Bruyn from 1594.

The original, truly bizarre 1594 illustration by Nicolaes de Bruyn of an apparent locust dragon (public domain)




Saturday, 8 July 2017

IS THE OZENKADNOOK TIGER A CARDBOARD CRYPTID?


The (in)famous Ozenkadnook tiger photograph (copyright owner's identity presently ambiguous, it would seem - see below - although traditionally attributed to Rilla Martin)

One of cryptozoology's most iconic images is the so-called Ozenkadnook Tiger Photograph, reproduced above. It depicts a large, seemingly dark-bodied, white-striped Australian mystery beast supposedly snapped in b/w during 1964 by Melbourne-based Rilla Martin while holidaying in Victoria. She had apparently been driving along a dirt track near Ozenkadnook when she saw the creature at the edge of some woods, and after stopping the car she managed to snap a single photo of it before it ran off.

In typical cryptozoological tradition, the photo's depiction of the beast is far from clear; but as its burly head looks vaguely dog-like, it has inspired various Aussie cryptid enthusiasts to speculate that the striped creature may be a living mainland thylacine Thylacinus cynocephalus. Yet this externally wolf-like marsupial officially died out here over 3,000 years ago, i.e. long before its official extinction on Tasmania in 1936.

A pre-1936 public domain photograph of a living Tasmanian thylacine in captivity, colourised by person(s) unknown to me; found online (public domain/colourising © unknown to me)

Moreover, the bizarre reverse-striping pattern exhibited by the photographed creature bears no resemblance to the thylacine's striping, and has led others to suggest that these markings are not genuine features of it at all, but merely constitute reflected sunlight.

Having said that, such a situation would not in itself automatically exclude the thylacine from consideration as an identity for this mystery beast, as succinctly demonstrated by the following very pertinent photograph:

Pre-1936 photograph of a captive thylacine dappled by sunlight and somewhat resembling the photographed Ozenkadnook tiger (public domain)

Less likely than a thylacine explanation, but suggested by some mystery beast fans, is that the Ozenkadnook tiger was a living marsupial lion Thylacoleo carnifex, which according to the currently-documented fossil record became extinct around 50,000 years ago (although there are a couple of intriguing aboriginal petroglyphs in existence that depict a mysterious beast very reminiscent of Thylacoleo but which are only around 6,500 years old, thereby indicating if identified correctly that this singular species did persist into relatively recent times).

Yet even if has survived right up to the present day undiscovered by science (and popularly proposed by cryptozoologists as the identity of an elusive feline cryptid known as the yarri or Queensland marsupial tiger), its morphology as deduced from fossil finds differs markedly from that of the creature in the photograph.

Specially prepared colour drawing of the yarri or Queensland tiger to which the reverse striping coat pattern ostensibly exhibited by the Ozenkadnook tiger has been deliberately applied, in order to show how the former cryptid might look if it were one and the same species as the latter cryptid, depicted below it (© Markus Bühler / copyright owner's identity presently ambiguous, it would seem - see below - although traditionally attributed to Rilla Martin)

Less contentious options on offer include a dingo or a domestic dog, whereas more sceptical views have leaned toward an unspecified hoax of some kind. With no consensus of opinion surfacing, the controversy as to what Martin's photo really depicts has rumbled on for over 50 years, but in a recent newspaper article (click here) a remarkable new allegation was made.

Namely, that the beast was nothing more than a large cardboard cut-out, created, painted with stripes, and then photographed in the bush by the father of one Bill Leak - a recently-deceased newspaper cartoonist – with a friend. Bill's father was apparently well known for his love of practical jokes, and the allegation was made in The Australian on 24 March 2017 by 'Jack the Insider', aka columnist Peter Hoysted, who had known Bill and had included this claim as part of a memorial article regarding him.

A taxiderm Tasmanian thylacine and a thylacine skeleton at Tring Natural History Museum, two views  (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Supposedly, the hoax was only staged and the photo snapped as a joke to show some friends, but allegedly the photo somehow reached the media and soon attracted appreciable global attention, at which point Leak Snr became nervous that the truth would be exposed, so he destroyed the cut-out and told his son never to speak to anyone about it. Yet clearly he did, at least after his father's death, hence Hoysted's report following Bill's own death.

Various subsequent coverages have seized upon this 'confession by proxy' as proof that the Ozenkadnook Tiger photo is truly a hoax and should therefore be dismissed as being of any potential cryptozoological significance. However, in my opinion such an attitude overlooks two glaring and decidedly worrying shortcomings concerning Hoysted's recent revelation.

Alongside a thylacine picture in my study (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Firstly, the revelation is entirely anecdotal (and not even first-hand), as there seems to be no physical, tangible evidence substantiating it. True, in an update of 20 August 2010 to an article of his own concerning this perplexing picture that he had originally posted on his Tetrapod Zoology blog two days earlier (click here to read it),  British palaeontologist and cryptozoology chronicler Dr Darren Naish did point out an unidentified object in it that he interpreted as possibly being an artificial supporting structure, which if so would be consistent with the creature being merely a cardboard cut-out. But obviously this interpretation is merely a personal opinion, not a verified fact.

Sadly, however, opinions are all that can be offered regarding what may or may not be present in this photo because, very regrettably, the original negative was lost back in the mid-1960s when it was loaned to a newspaper. Consequently, there is no opportunity to subject it to the high-tech type of photographic analysis available nowadays.

Outstanding thylacine model sculpted and painted by Facebook friend Jeff Johnson (© Jeff Johnson)

Secondly, Hoysted's revelation signally yet inexplicably fails to include any mention of Rilla Martin, the person who for the past five decades has been the name directly associated with the snapping of this photo, and who has even been interviewed by the media concerning it. Indeed, as noted by Darren in his 2010 article, although the photo is popularly known as the Ozenkadnook tiger photo it is even better known, at least by some, as the Rilla Martin photo, thus emphasising just how closely associated she is with it.

In a new Tetrapod Zoology article concerning the Ozenkadnook tiger photo, documenting Hoysted's newspaper article and posted online on 29 March 2017 (click here), Darren mentioned that he had personally asked Hoysted how Martin had become involved if it was actually Bill Leak's father who had snapped the photo, not her. In response, Hoysted had "surmised that Martin somehow agreed to take credit for the photo, but other details are as yet unclear". In short, this is just Hoysted's personal opinion, uncorroborated by any tangible evidence.

Thylacine (aka Tasmanian tiger) illustration in eminent 19th-Century Australian zoologist Gerard Krefft's opus The Mammals of Australia, 1871 (public domain)

Consequently, until – if ever – these two fundamental flaws can be resolved, in my opinion this latest allegation regarding the enigmatic Ozenkadnook Tiger Photograph is unproven, and I for one shall continue to consider it as such. In situations of this kind, I always ask myself one simple question: if unsubstantiated claims like these were being put forward in support of a cryptid's status as a reality, rather than in support of a cryptid's status as a hoax, would they be so readily accepted by sceptics? And I think that we all know the answer to that question.


For more information regarding this Australian cryptid as well as related musings concerning putative surviving mainland thylacines and marsupial lions, be sure to check out my books Mystery Cats of the World, Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery, and Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors.