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Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo Paperback – October 5, 2010
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Top Customer Reviews
Hundreds of entries in this fascinating book cover everything from surviving thylacines to new lizards to alleged pterodactyl-type creatures. But the animals themselves are not the whole of the book. Shuker's interests in folklore, culture, and art lead him down many interesting pathways. He looks at everything from an unknown bird shown in a Gauguin painting to the mix of exotic feathers, fakes, and the occasional palm frond that have been passed off as feathers from the wings of angels.
Some items that could be updated have not been: the weird horizontal-tailed fish from California was a mystery I solved a long time ago by talking to a state fishery biologist who identified it as a bizarrely mutated channel catfish. As Karl notes in a comment to my review, he was aware of this, but decided to present most of his blog entries as written.
I would be more skeptical than Karl at times. I would have great trouble being open-minded about the man who saw a sauropod dinosaur step across a fence - in New Mexico! Shuker, ever even-handed, posts it without editorializing and asks readers for further information.
Shuker shows the complexity involved in tracking down, or even defining, animals mentioned in local reports: Indonesia's orang bati is variously reported to be a bat, a flying human(!) and a small, primitive semihuman tribe.
Karl's collection, like all good cryptobooks, leaves us with some solutions and some more mysteries. We now know a famous sketch of a lake monster in Russia was just support for a tall tale. We wonder what became of animals once presumed to exist, such as Washington's eagle, a giant bird shot and described by Audubon himself but hardly reported since.
Shuker provides references with each entry and an index (a bit sparse) at the end. The book sometimes leaves you wanting more, but it will not disappoint you. It's very well worth your money.
- Matt Bille
author, Shadows of Existence: Discoveries and Speculations in Zoology (Hancock, 2006)
Shuker's menagerie of marvels include sqrats (supposed hybrids between rats and squirrels), the water tiger of Ecuador, transparent catfish, a centipede with an odd number of legs (all others have an even number of legs), Unidentified Glowing Objects, snake-headed dogs, 7 foot tall flightless birds in the Mount Adams area of Washington State (?!), snakes that crows like cockerels, the Navajo Flying Snake, the Dinosaur Kangaroo and a tasty bird known as the Müshmurgh. There is also the gigantic Mongolian Death Worm, a fallen creature if there ever was one.
A staggering amount of sea-monsters have been reported, with names like Hessie, Messie, Gryttie and Oggy. Any relation to Nessie? Many other cryptids also have unforgettable names: Altamaha-ha, Makalala, Hantu Jarang Gigi, Ensut-Ensut, Tsere-Yawá, Öfuguggi, Skeljaskrimsli and Urdaköttur. Don't even ask me what those are - I don't have the book handy as I speak. OK, I think I remember the Öfuguggi. It's a dangerous, large cod with forward-pointing fins, stalking the seas around Iceland. In modern Icelandic, the word apparently means "pervert". If you are a fish noodler, don't touch!
In Ecuador, the Natives have reported a black panther with black, red, white and yellow stripes on its chest. Naturally, it's locally known as the rainbow tiger. In South Africa, the locals have spotted a bizarre beast "yellow in colour, serpentine in overall form, horse-like head, mane and a body the shape of a 20-quart barrel". The local cattle are said to have become restless at the sight of the creature. The gods must be crazy, yes?
Of course, we're not *really* supposed to take any of this at face value - it's a Fortean book, after all. Even Shuker admits that some of his case files might be hoaxes. Sometimes the bluff is easy to call. Surely a Loof Lirpa cannot be a real animal? Read that backwards, slowly! In other cases, the hoax is less obvious. A reader in Sweden, a certain Malcolm Sewell, claimed that there are two mysterious thunderbirds in the Swedish woods, known as "kungsörn" and "slaguggla". In reality, those are the Swedish names for Golden Eagle and Ural Owl, respectively. No mystery there - if you're first language is Swedish. Luckily, Fortean Times have readers in Scandinavia who pointed out the joke (or error) to Shuker. As for the mysterious Mr. Sewell, I'm afraid we have to dispatch an Alien Abduction Team to his little red cottage AND TAKE CARE OF THE PROBLEM. Kidding...
In fact, many of the "cryptids" mentioned in "Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo" seem to be creatures of folklore. It seems every area of the world has its very own big, hairy beast. There are even a few reports from Britain, including the Shropshire Union Canal Man-Monkey and Old Ned's Devil. I would like to see the team from "Finding Bigfoot" descend on a small pub in the British countryside, trying to sniff out Old Ned. Small, hairy, pygmy-like humans are also common. Trolls? Mermen and mermaids are another folkloristic classic, spotted both in the oceans and in large inland lakes such as the Caspian Sea.
Shuker even mentions a couple of cryptids known only from religious legend. The Book of Mormon, famously or otherwise, talks about "cureloms and cumoms". No, ma'm, that's not history. In Spain, there used to be a holy relic of a feather from the wings of the angel Gabriel. Another curious medieval relic was a piece of skin from the snake in Eden. Apparently, Adam killed and skinned the snake after the fall?! On a more serious note, Shuker also discusses a number of early modern paintings which show unknown birds. (Errol Fuller has produced an entire book about such birds, "Lost Birds of Paradise".) Even a modern painting by Gaugin might show a bird unknown to science.
I'm not sure how to rate this nerdbook to end all nerdbooks (something tells me the average reader is a 15 year old boy), but since it does have a certain entertainment value, I'll give it four stars. But please don't say I didn't warn you...
This book is a collection of material that has appeared in those columns over the years, and even has the stamp of approval from Editor David Sutton, who is generous in his praise for Karl's work.
Alien Zoo is a 'trip to the zoo' like no others, crammed full of biological mysteries and oddities, with something fresh and intriguing on every page.
The book is richly illustrated with photographs including a hitherto unpublished photo of the tasmanian Tiger, this alone making the book worth the price for any cryptozoology enthusiast, collector or student of natural history.