March 26, 2012
Hidden animals and new species: over 100 years of discovery. An interview with Karl Shuker.
The last thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, is believed to have died in 1936. However many contend that the species could still survive including unconfirmed sightings in Tasmania, Australia, and New Guinea. The thylacine was the world's largest carnivorous marsupial. Painting by Henry Constatine Richter, 1845.
In an interview with mongabay.com, Shuker says the top three zoological discoveries since 1900 would have to be the okapi, the coelacanth, and the saola, also known as the Vu Quang ox. His book highlights these three discoveries along with hundreds of others, including species discovered as recently as last year.
Shuker, a zoologist by training, has made a name for himself in cryptozoology by pursuing "hidden animals" with scientific rigor. While cryptozoologists sometimes struggle for serious acceptance of their evidence, Shuker says that may just be the nature of pursuing animals rumored to exist.
To boost the discovery of new species, Shuker is starting a new scientific journal devoted to evidence of the hidden animals.
"I hope that cryptozoological researchers will submit papers to the journal that are totally worthy of publication in mainstream zoological journals but which may not be accepted by them simply because their subject is cryptozoological, which seems a great tragedy and injustice," he notes.
There are many places in the world where discoveries, even of big and charismatic animals, is still quite possible. Shuker says researchers should focus on "remote, little-explored regions, such as the rainforests of South America, Asia, Africa, Australia, and New Guinea; the vast, inhospitable Arctic zones; and obviously the even more vast oceans and large freshwater lakes in tropical regions that have attracted little scientific attention so far."
But even as scientists are documenting new species left-and-right, Shuker warns in his book that extinction may be just as likely a fate for many of the world's hidden species as discovery.
Shuker with the skull of the extinct smilodon. Photo courtesy of Karl Shuker.
In a March 2012 interview Karl Shuker shares favorite stories from his book, The Encycloapedia of New and Rediscovered Animals; explains how genetic research has up-ended our knowledge of species; and tells mongabay.com which famous cryptids might have the best chance of discovery.
INTERVIEW WITH KARL SHUKER: NEW SPECIES OVER THE LAST 110 YEARS
Delcourt's giant gecko, or the kawekaweau, may be extinct or it might still exist in New Zealand. Illustration by Markus Buhler.
Mongabay: What do you think have been the top three biological discoveries of the last 110 years?
Karl Shuker: In terms of both zoological significance and spectacular external appearance, I would have to say the okapi, discovered in 1901; the coelacanth, discovered in 1938; and the Vu Quang ox or saola, discovered in 1992. Each of these was visually unique, unlike anything previously known to science. The okapi was, almost a contradiction in terms, a short-necked giraffe, and one that shunned the wide open plains in favor of dense, shadowy jungles, and was boldly marked with stripes instead of spots. The coelacanth possessed remarkable leg-like fins, and unique three-lobed tail fin, and resurrected an entire lineage of archaic coelacanths from over 65 million years of presumed extinction. The Vu Quang ox constituted an extraordinary combination of buffalo-like body and long antelope-like horns, and even today there is no firm agreement as to how it should be classified within the bovid family of hoofed mammals.
Mongabay: Your new book covers stories behind hundreds of new discovered species. Do you have any favorite story that you'd like to share?
The okapi and the saola bookend the remarkable zoological discoveries of the 20th Century. Illustration by William Rebsamen.
Mongabay: Why was the discovery of the saola in Vietnam in 1992 so important
Karl Shuker: The area of Vietnam where it had been discovered, Vu Quang, had never been scientifically explored before, and was in a region that had experienced intense fighting during the Vietnam War, so scientists did not expect to find anything very significant there when it finally became open to detailed exploration during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Instead, a veritable herd of new species of hoofed mammals were discovered there, of which the saola was only the first. Another major find, just two years later in Vu Quang, was the giant muntjac, the world's largest species if barking deer.
Mongabay: The deep sea remains largely unexplored. What are some of the most notable discoveries from this region?
Karl Shuker: Many extraordinary new species of whale and dolphin have been discovered during the past century, so too has the colossal squid and the megamouth shark, but greatest of all must surely be the vent worlds on the ocean floor, surrounding hot-water vents. Here, huge tube-dwelling worms with bright red tentacles, hairy snails, long acorn worms resembling strings of spaghetti, jellyfish that look like dandelion clocks, and all manner of other truly bizarre and all hitherto unknown species have been discovered since the first vent world system was revealed in the mid-1970s when the exploratory submarine Alvin carried scientists down to the ocean floor near the Galapagos Islands.
Mongabay: How is genetics research changing the way researchers discover and document new species?
The coelacanth proved to be one of the most shocking discoveries of the 20th Century. Illustration by William Rebsamen.
Mongabay: Your book also looks at rediscovered species, those that have been missing for years, which of these were the most surprising?
Karl Shuker: The rediscovery of the cahow or Bermuda petrel was truly astonishing—this small seabird supposedly became extinct during the 1620s, after which nothing more was heard of it whatsoever until, wholly out of the blue, a living specimen was discovered in 1906, followed by others from the 1930s onwards. Then there are various entire lineages of animals believed extinct for millions of years until some hitherto-unknown modern-day species are found alive and well—most famously the coelacanths but also others such as the neoglypheid crustaceans, the monoplacophoran molluscs, and, most recently, the Laotian rock rat or kha-nyou. This remarkable mammal was discovered alive and well in Laos in 1996 and was later found to be a living diatomyid—a family of rodents previously thought to have been extinct for at least 11 million years.
Keyan spotted lions are a 'cryptid' species with unconfirmed sightings in Africa. Illustration by William Rebsamen.
Mongabay: How do you define cryptozoology?
Karl Shuker: The scientific investigation of animals whose existence or identity has yet to be confirmed by science.
Mongabay: Some cryptozoologists are dismissed by scientists. Do you think there's common ground between the two sets?
Karl Shuker: Cryptozoologists who investigate cases of cryptids in a scientific manner are pursuing the same paths as 'mainstream' scientists. Ironically, however, as soon as one of the cryptids that they investigate is formally discovered, it is, by definition, no longer a cryptid, and immediately becomes a subject for study by zoologists instead. So in a sense, cryptozoology can never win, because as soon as one of its subjects is confirmed to be real, it is no longer cryptozoological but zoological instead.
Mongabay: You're involved in a new scientific periodical, the Journal of Cryptozoology. What do you and your collaborators hope to accomplish with this new journal?
The orang pendak is an unconfirmed primate in Sumatra. Illustration by Tim Morris.
Mongabay: When should we expect the first edition?
Karl Shuker: I have already received a number of very interesting, promising papers, which are currently being evaluated, so I am hoping that Volume 1 will be published later this year.
Mongabay: Where can people find out more information, such as how to submit?
Karl Shuker: The Journal of Cryptozoology has its own Facebook Likes Page and also a Facebook Groups Page, its own website is currently in preparation, and all details concerning submissions can be found on a special announcements page on my ShukerNature blog.
Mongabay: Are there any species that you think the cryptozoological community should be spending more time on?
Karl Shuker: Lots of cryptozoologists have different ideas concerning this, and different favorite cryptids. Personally, I would like to see more time spent on investigating cryptids that once attracted widespread attention but which, for all manner of different reasons, have faded from public attention in modern times – creatures such as the Kenyan spotted lion and Nandi bear, the New Guinea devil pig, the Alpine tatzelworm, and the New Zealand waitoreke, to name but a few.
Mongabay: Any species that you think its time to give up on?
Karl Shuker: No—never say never!
THE FUTURE OF NEW SPECIES
The discovery of the Kha-nyou shocked researchers as this family of rodents was supposed to be extinct for millions of years. Illustration by Markus Buhler.
Mongabay: Certainly, new species will continue to be found for centuries. Where do you think are the best places to find undiscovered species?
Karl Shuker: Those areas of the world that still contain remote, little-explored regions, such as the rainforests of South America, Asia, Africa, Australia, and New Guinea; the vast, inhospitable Arctic zones; and obviously the even more vast oceans and large freshwater lakes in tropical regions that have attracted little scientific attention so far.
Mongabay: Given the discovery of the saola, do you think it's possible other large terrestrial mammals remain undiscovered in parts of the world?
Recent research, including genetic analysis, has shown that there are two distinct species of clouded leopard. Illustration courtesy of Karl Shuker.
Mongabay: Which famous cryptic species do you think have the best chance of being proven over the next century?
Karl Shuker: Both the orang pendek or 'short man' of Sumatra and the ever-elusive thylacine or Tasmanian wolf must stand a decent chance of discovery, due to the intensive efforts being made to discover the former and the intriguing hair and spoor samples already obtained; and the wide geographical range of sightings for the latter, limited not just to Tasmania but also to mainland Australia and New Guinea, both of which are confirmed to have been home to this species in the past.
Mongabay: What measure could society take to protect that have not even been found yet?
Karl Shuker: By far the single most important measure is to protect the habitats where such creatures are being reported. After all, if their habitat is destroyed, they will unquestionably become extinct, meaning that we stand the very real risk of losing some remarkable animals before they were ever made known to science.
Long baffling to primatologists, and a heated subject of cryptozoologists, the Billi ape has recently been confirmed as chimpanzee, but displays unique gorilla-like behaviors and it generally larger than other chimps. Photo courtesy of Karl Shuker.
One of the most surprising discoveries in the ocean in recent years was the megamouth shark, discovered in 1976. Photo courtesy of Karl Shuker.
The kipunji mangabey was only discovered in 2003 in Tanzania; it represents the first new monkey genus since 1923, but is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. Photo courtesy of Karl Shuker.
Glypheid lobsters were only known from the fossil record until researchers discovered a specimen of one in a museum in 1975. Two species are now known, including the one in the photo above, called the Neoglyphea inopinatum. They are not lobsters, but a unique type of crustacean. Photo courtesy of Karl Shuker.
The giant muntjac, or large-antlered muntjac, was discovered in 1994 in Vietnam. It shares the forest with the saola. Illustration by: William Rebsamen.
To order a copy of Shuker's new book: The Encycloapedia of New and Rediscovered Animals.
Follow Shuker's adventure on his blog: ShukerNature.
Javan officials employ camera traps to find extinct tiger
(03/13/2012) Although officially declared extinct in 2003, some people believe the Javan tiger (panthera tigris sondaica) is still alive in the island's Meru Betiri National Park. To prove the big cat has not vanished for good, wildlife officials have installed five camera traps in the park, reports Antara News.
Scientists discover deadly new sea snake
(02/24/2012) Scientists in Australia have discovered a species of sea snake in estuaries of the Gulf of Carpenteria in northern Australia. The snake is described in the current issue of Zootaxa.
Scientists discover world's deepest terrestrial animal
(02/22/2012) It's not the prehistoric monsters from the Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth or the human-bat hybrids of The Decsent, but it's an astonishing discovery nonetheless: intrepid scientists have discovered the world's deepest surviving terrestrial animal to date, a small wingless insect known as a springtail. Explorers discovered the new species, Plutomurus ortobalaganensis at a shocking 1.23 miles (1.98 kilometers) below the surface. The species was discovered by the Ibero-Russian CaveX Team Expedition in Krubera-Voronja Cave, the world's only known cave to go deeper than 2 kilometers.
Photo: new cookies-and-cream insect surprises researchers in Belize
(02/21/2012) Scientists have discovered the first ever insect in the Ripipterygidae family in Belize. Measuring only 5 millimeters (0.19 inches), the tiny insect uses its powerful legs to leap away from predators much like a grasshopper.
Photo: World's smallest chameleon discovered in Madagascar
(02/15/2012) Scientists have discovered four new species of super-tiny chameleons in Madagascar, according to a new paper in PLoS ONE. The smallest of the new species, Brookesia micra, is found only on the small island of Nosy Hara and has been dubbed the smallest chameleon in the world, measuring from nose to tail 29 millimeters (1.14 inches) at its largest. Scientists believe it represents a notable example of island dwarfism.
If camera traps don't prove existence of Bigfoot or Yeti nothing will
(10/13/2011) Let me state for the record that I am skeptical of the existence of Bigfoot or the Yeti, however I do have a fascination for following the latest news on the seemingly never-ending search for these hidden hominids. This week a Yeti conference in Russia announced 'indisputable proof' of the legendary hairy ape in the wilds of Southern Siberia. What did this proof consist of? Not DNA, photographs, video, or the Yeti itself (dead or alive) as one would expect from the word 'indisputable', but a few alleged Yeti hairs, an alleged bed, and alleged footprints. Cryptozoologists, those who are fascinated by hidden species such as the proposed Yeti and Bigfoot, don't serve their cause by stating the reality of a species without the evidence long-deemed necessary by scientific community to prove it—either a body or DNA samples combined with clear photographic evidence—instead they make themselves easy targets of scorn and ridicule.
Photo: new blue, red, yellow lizard discovered in the Andes
(02/13/2012) Researchers have discovered a new species of lizard in the Peruvian Andes, whose males sport beautiful colors, according to a paper in ZooKeys. The highest-dwelling known species of the genus Potamites, the new lizard, dubbed Potamites montanicola, was found in forest streams at 1,500 to 2,000 meters (4,900 to 6,500 feet). The species was discovered as apart of a biodiversity monitoring program by COGA, a Peruvian fossil fuel company.
Vampire and bird frogs: discovering new amphibians in Southeast Asia's threatened forests
(02/06/2012) In 2009 researchers discovered 19,232 species new to science, most of these were plants and insects, but 148 were amphibians. Even as amphibians face unprecedented challenges—habitat loss, pollution, overharvesting, climate change, and a lethal disease called chytridiomycosis that has pushed a number of species to extinction—new amphibians are still being uncovered at surprising rates. One of the major hotspots for finding new amphibians is the dwindling tropical forests of Southeast Asia.
'Indisputable proof' of Yeti discovered
(10/10/2011) A conference has announced that given recent evidence they are 95 percent convinced the yeti, a mythical or perhaps actual primate, exists in the cold wilds of Siberia. Scientists and cryptozoologists (those who have a fascination for the 'study of hidden species' such as Bigfoot) met in the Kemerovo region of Russia to exchange information on the yeti, also known as the Abominable Snowman, and to conduct fieldwork. According to a statement from the conference, members found new evidence of the yeti's cryptic existence.
Scientists discover over 19,000 new species in 2009
(01/19/2012) In 2009 researchers described and named 19,232 species new to science, pushing the number of known species on Earth to just under two million (1,941,939 species), according to the State of Observed Species (SOS). Discoveries included seven new birds, 41 mammals, 120 reptiles, 148 amphibians, 314 fish, 626 crustaceans, and 9,738 insects.
The saola: rushing to save the most 'spectacular zoological discovery' of the 20th Century
(04/04/2011) The saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) may be the most enigmatic, beautiful, and endangered big mammal in the world—that no one has ever heard of. The shy ungulate looks like an African antelope—perhaps inhabiting the wide deserts of the Sahara—but instead it lives in the dense jungles of Vietnam and Laos, and is more related to wild cattle than Africa's antelopes. The saola is so unusual that is has been given its own genus: Pseudoryx, due to its superficial similarities to Africa's oryx. In the company of humans this quiet forest dweller acts calm and tame, but has yet to survive captivity long. Yet strangest of all, the 200 pound (90 kilogram) animal remained wholly unknown to science until 1992.
Photos: program devoted to world's strangest, most neglected animals celebrates five years
(01/16/2012) What do Attenborough's echidna, the bumblebee bat, and the purple frog have in common? They have all received conservation attention from a unique program by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) called EDGE. Five years old this week, the program focuses on the world's most unique and imperiled animal species or, as they put it, the most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species. In the past five years the program has achieved notable successes from confirming the existence of long unseen species (Attenborough's echidna) to taking the first photos and video of a number of targeted animals (the purple frog).
Mystery of the chupacabra monster likely solved
(10/22/2010) The mystery of the legendary chupacabra, a beast that is said to drain the blood of domestic animals at night, has been solved according to a scientist at the University of Michigan.
Beyond bizarre: strange hairy antelope photographed in Kenya
(08/19/2010) Is it a hairy goat roaming the plains? An antelope with some genetic mix-up? At this point no one knows. This strange creature was photographed in Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve. Apart of the Serengeti plains, the Masai Mara covers 1,500 square kilometers and is home to a wide-range of iconic African savannah species, from elephants to lions and giraffes to hippos.The photos were first published on conservation organization WildlifeDirect's website.
Photo: Mystery 'alien-beast' in Panama is likely a sloth
(09/19/2009) The 'mystery alien-beast' discovered by four teens in a community in Panama and widely reported in the media over the past few days is likely a deformed sloth.
Time to give up on Tasmanian tiger, says DNA expert
(03/02/2009) Money and energy spent on finding the Tasmanian tiger should be used for other conservation purposes, according to Dr. Jeremy Austin from the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Ancient DNA. The Tasmanian tiger, or Thylacine, has captured the imagination of cryptozoologists ever since the last known individual died in the 1936 in the Hobart Zoo, which closed the next year. There have been several unreported sightings throughout the island since the 1930s, including inconclusive photos taken by German tourists.
Camera traps snap first ever photo of Myanmar snub-nosed monkey
(01/10/2012) In 2010 researchers described a new species of primate that reportedly sneezes when it rains. Unfortunately, the new species was only known from a carcass killed by a local hunter. Now, however, remote camera traps have taken the first ever photo of the elusive, and likely very rare, Myanmar snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus strykeri), known to locals as mey nwoah, or 'monkey with an upturned face'. Locals say the monkeys are easy to locate when it rains, because the rain catches on their upturned noses causing them to sneeze.
Photos: scientists find new species at world's deepest undersea vent
(01/10/2012) It sounds like a medieval vision of hell: in pitch darkness, amid blazing heat, rise spewing volcanic vents. But there are no demons and devils down here, instead the deep sea vent, located in the very non-hellish Caribbean sea, is home to a new species of pale shrimp. At 3.1 miles below (5 kilometers) the sea's surface, the Beebe Vent Field south of the Cayman islands, is the deepest yet discovered.
Photo: Tiny lemur discovered in Madagascar forest
(01/08/2012) A new species of mouse lemur has been discovered in eastern Madagascar, report researchers from Germany. The species is described in a recent issue of the journal Primates.
'Lost world' dominated by Yeti crabs discovered in the Antarctic deep
(01/03/2012) Scientists have discovered a deep sea ecosystem dominated by hairy pale crabs off of Antarctica. The new species of "Yeti crabs" survive alongside many other likely new species, including a seven-armed meat-eating starfish, off of hydrothermal vents, which spew heat and chemicals into the lightless, frigid waters. According to the paper published in PLoS ONE, this is the first discovery of a hydrothermal vent ecosystem in the Southern Ocean though many others have been recorded in warmer waters worldwide.
The biggest new species discoveries in 2011
(12/26/2011) Every year scientists describe thousands of species for the first time. 2011 was no different, so here's a look at some of the significant new species discoveries for the year. New species discoveries are bound to continue as genetic analysis becomes more widespread and scientists conduct surveys of ever more habitats. But species loss also continues, and that is something considerably more difficult to quantify. Cataloging the disappearance of a species is extremely costly -- final proof can take years. Nonetheless in 2011 the book was closed on two particularly conspicuous creatures: neither the Vietnamese rhino nor the western black rhino roam the wilds any more.
Yeti 'proof' actually belongs to cliff-dwelling goral
(10/14/2008) In 2003 an Indian forester claimed to have seen a Yeti three days in a row. Dipu Marak, general secretary of the Achik Tourism Society and Yeti enthusiast, followed the man’s trail and discovered strands of hair that he believed belonged to the mysterious creature. According to popular tradition, the Yeti is an ape-like animal that lives in the Himalayan forests.
Bigfoot "discovery" looks to be a hoax
(08/18/2008) A much-hyped press conference claiming to present evidence of the existence of Bigfoot offered little in the way of proof but a lot of shameless self-promotion by the "discoverers".