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!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my Starsteeds blog's poetry and other lyrical writings (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

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Thursday, 25 April 2013

SEEKING SECRETARY BIRDS IN SOUTHEAST ASIA?

The secretary bird (Yoky-Wikipedia)

My late mother, Mary Doreen Shuker, was a short-hand typist and secretary throughout her working life, and I fondly recall how I used to joke affectionately with her that this made her a secretary bird - the name given to that elegant and endemic African bird of prey known scientifically as Sagittarius serpentarius. Although this is a very familiar species, much less familiar is that it has a cryptozoological counterpart, reported far from African shores - in the Philippines, no less. So here, dedicated with all my love to my dear little Mom, is my investigation of this very intriguing Asian mystery bird.

Imagine, if you will, a grey-plumaged hawk that for some unexplained reason has been invested with the long slender legs and neck of a stork, bestowing upon it a total height of 3.5-4 ft when standing upright. Combined with these is a pair of extremely lengthy, black-pinioned wings attaining a span of 7 ft when fully extended, plus an elegant, elongated tail. Lastly, added almost as an absurd afterthought (judging from its somewhat disorderly appearance), is a crest of drooping, black-tipped feathers that conjure up the incongruous image of a office scribe with an untidy sheaf of quill pens protruding from behind his ear!

The head of a secretary bird, showing its diagnostic crest (Kevin Law-Wikipedia)

The product of this exercise in creature composition will probably be a surprisingly accurate reconstruction of a truly singular species of African bird, known scientifically as Sagittarius serpentarius - the secretary bird.

Named after its manner of stalking on foot in long, measured strides like an archer preparing to shoot his arrows, and also after its passion for attacking and devouring serpents great and small, only one modern-day species of secretary bird is currently recognised. Back in 1835, however, English zoologist William Ogilby attempted to distinguish three - and, in so doing, created a very curious if little-known cryptozoological enigma.
Philippine secretary bird as depicted in Sonnerat's book

One of his three species comprised the secretary bird populations of eastern, central, and southern Africa; and another constituted those from western Africa's Senegambia region. The third, and by far the most unexpected, conversely, was based upon an illustrated description by French naturalist Pierre Sonnerat within his Voyage a la Nouvelle-Guinée (1776) of an alleged variety of secretary bird existing very much further afield - in the Philippines!

As there are certainly no secretary birds indigenous to these (or any other) southeast Asian islands, the least contentious answer to this zoogeographical riddle is that Sonnerat's description must have been founded upon specimens brought there by man, probably as exotic exhibits (though no evidence for any such introductions is currently known to me). To my mind, however, there is another possible explanation - rather more remote, but much more interesting from the standpoint of ornithological discovery.

Early colour engraving of a secretary bird from Dictionnaire Histoire Naturelle by Charles Orbigny

The largest bird of prey known to be native to the Philippines is a magnificent crested species called Pithecophaga jefferyi, the monkey-eating or Philippine eagle (traditionally thought to be closely related to the Amazonian harpy eagle, but now, following DNA comparisons, revealed to be akin to the snake eagles). Sonnerat's description (and inaccurate depiction) of his supposed Philippine secretary bird contained certain morphological characters that set it well apart from the bona fide African version, yet which recalled this very impressive Asian eagle.

For example, Sonnerat recorded that the feathers constituting the lower portion of the Philippine secretary bird's crest were longer than those of its upper portion. This is the exact converse of the crest structure in Africa's Sagittarius, but is suggestive of Pithecophaga. Similarly, whereas the central feathers are the longest ones in the tail of Sagittarius, Sonnerat claimed that the outermost feathers were the longest ones in the tail of its Philippine counterpart - a condition agreeing once again with that of Pithecophaga.

From these and other correspondences, it is possible that Sonnerat's description of what we now know to be a non-existent Philippine secretary bird was inspired at least in part by vague, second-hand accounts of Pithecophaga, the Philippine eagle.

Colour engraving of a Philippine eagle

If this is so, it is an especially interesting and cryptozoologically significant case (albeit until my investigations of it a long-forgotten one), because at the time of Sonnerat's report Pithecophaga was still undiscovered by science. Not until it was formally described and named just over a century later by W.R. Ogilvie-Grant in 1896 did the existence of this spectacular species finally become known to the ornithological world. And certainly, if the so-called Philippine secretary bird is indeed one and the same as the Philippine eagle, it would not be the first time that accounts of a creature have actually appeared in the literature long before that creature's reality has been recognised, and its true identity unveiled, by science.

Speaking of out-of-place secretary birds: it is fully confirmed that in 1832 this snake-eating species was introduced onto the West Indian island of Martinique, in order to eliminate the highly-venomous yellow fer-de-lance Bothrops (=Trigonocephalus) lanceolatus. However, it failed to establish itself here - but this failure is probably no bad thing. After all, as the secretary bird is partial not only to snakes but also to small birds, especially ground-dwelling types, its permanent presence on Martinique may well have endangered this island’s native avifauna - in turn affording another example of the disastrous events that can be set in motion when humankind attempts to meddle with an ecosystem's natural balance.

Beautiful antiquarian colour engraving of various avifauna, including a secretary bird battling a snake

This ShukerNature blog post is excerpted and updated from my book Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007).





Tuesday, 16 April 2013

IN MEMORIAM – MY EULOGY TO MY DEAR MOTHER, MARY DOREEN SHUKER (1921-2013)

Mom and I at the Royal Palaces, Bangkok, Thailand, 2005 – our Far East holiday was her all-time favourite, visiting all of the wonderfully exotic lands of the Orient that she had wanted so much to see all her life but had never thought that she would (Dr Karl Shuker)

"Say not in grief 'she is no more' but live in thankfulness that she was."

"You can shed tears that she is gone, or you can smile that she has lived."

(Variations upon a traditional Hebrew proverb)

Today was the funeral of my beloved mother, Mary Doreen Shuker, who passed away on Easter Monday 2013, following a mercifully brief period of debilitation caused by the combined effects of various old-age-related conditions. She was 92 years old, and until then had been in exceptionally good health throughout her life – a life that I was truly privileged to share throughout my own. Whatever good may be in me came from my little Mom (as I always affectionately called her); she was a profound influence in all of my own interests, including cryptozoology (click here to discover why I owe my abiding passion for cryptozoology to her); and when she passed away, I truly felt (and still feel) that part of me, the best part, died with her.

Due to the existence and public awareness of my writings and researches, googling my name will call up many entries on the internet relating to me, but when I googled my Mom's name recently I was extremely sad, and angry, to discover that there were only two entries – and both of those were references to her in ShukerNature blog posts of mine. In other words, as far as the world as measured by internet presence was concerned, her entire life had barely registered. On more than one occasion, Mom had stated that whereas my contributions to this world were my writings, and for which I would always be remembered, her sole contribution, the only thing that she felt she would ever be remembered for, would be having given birth to me, but that this was more than enough, and made her feel very proud. However, as far as I am concerned, it is certainly not enough – because my mother was a truly remarkable, wonderful person, who made me the person I am today, and to whom I owe everything.

Two hand-tinted photographs of my mother when she was in her mid-20s – beautiful on the outside as well as on the inside (© Mary D. Shuker/Dr Karl Shuker)

Consequently, in order to document all of this in the fullest, most appropriate way that I possibly can, for the entire world to know just how very special my mother was – and always will be - I now present the eulogy that I wrote and read aloud to her at her funeral today (and I am interspersing it with some of my favourite photographs of her and of the two of us together). I only pray that it did justice to the best person I shall ever know.

Hello little Mom - you'll always be my dear sweet innocent little Mom.

Well, here we are, just the two of us together today, just like you wanted – you always said that the only person you wanted here today was me, and I'm here for you, Mom, as always. We're side by side, united as one, just like we've always been. As long as we're together, that's all that matters, that's all that's ever mattered.

Mom and I visiting the Great Sphinx at Giza, Egypt, January 2006 (Dr Karl Shuker)


It would take me many lifetimes to tell you just how much I love you, little Mom, and how thankful I am to you in countless different ways, but in the time that I have here with you now, I need so much to tell you the important things that mean the very most.

Please, though, don't think badly of me, Mom, for having written all of this down rather than just saying what comes into my mind. I just couldn't take the risk of being so distressed that my mind froze, or I stuttered and stumbled, or forgot to say something essential. This is for you, so I want it to be perfect in every way, because that's what you are.

Mom and a very little moai on Easter Island, 2008 (Dr Karl Shuker)


First of all, I love you Mom with all of my heart, and I know that you love me the same too, because love never dies. You've always been the perfect Mom, no-one could have ever been blessed with a kinder, better mother – you were born to be a mother, and I am truly truly blessed that you are mine and that I have been embraced throughout my life by your unfaltering, eternal love.

It's thanks to your precious love, your ever-present loyalty and support, your constant encouragement, your lifelong inspiration, and your practical wisdom that I have always sought and have always received whenever I've needed advice, help, or even just a sympathetic ear to listen to all of my problems, that I am who I am today, Mom. We were always much more than son and mother - we were also best friends, kindred spirits, who shared the same interests, liked the same things, and understood each other like no one else ever could or ever will. And that is how we will always remain. You will no longer be present beside me in the physical sense, Mom, though I shall always wish that you were and I shall miss seeing you, talking to you, and just being with you more than I can ever say; but you will be forever in my thoughts, in my memories (all of which are good ones), and in my heart, all the days of my life.

Mom and my little Jack Russell terrier Patch, mid-/late 1970s (Dr Karl Shuker)


Whatever good may be in me, whatever creativity I have displayed, whatever positivity I possess, they all come directly from you, Mom. Your own love of nature and animals and also of books and literature nurtured mine too, ultimately leading me to become a zoologist and a full-time, professional, published author on cryptozoology and other wildlife subjects. And your own skills as a secretary and perfect command of the English language were willingly made available to me by you when we were checking the proofs of my books together back in the pre-computerised days of publishing. Remember how we used to sit together for hours, meticulously going through them?

Mom and I at sunset on top of Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2007 (Dr Karl Shuker)


And your fond wish to be able to travel the world one day and for me to see many of its wonders and marvels led you some years after retiring to go back to work, taking on a part-time secretarial post, in order to earn enough money to fund us on our travels while I was still just a teenager to many fantastic destinations in Europe, as well as North Africa and even a holiday in the USA. And these sights inspired me when I became a man to continue journeying to even more exotic, fascinating locations, and I always took you with me, Mom, to show you all the places that you'd dreamed of seeing but never expected to – remember Easter Island and Rio de Janeiro, Singapore and Hong Kong, Thailand, Las Vegas, Egypt, Niagara Falls, New Zealand, and Cape Town in South Africa? We visited all of these and many more, didn't we, Mom? And our adventures in those fabulous faraway places will remain some of my most treasured memories of all time.

Mom and I at the Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA, 2004 (Dr Karl Shuker)


However, we've both had tough things happen in our lives too, but together we've always seen them through – you and me against the world - somehow we've always managed to come through relatively unscathed together, until this last, final confrontation came along. And although we battled it together as we've always done, it was simply one too many for you, Mom, at 92, to take on and win, even with me at your side and fighting it with you and for you every step of the way as ever. On the holy day of Easter Monday, God looked down upon us and in His infinite kindness He granted you the gifts of peace and release from this mortal world of pain and grief. In so doing, He brought me more grief and sorrow than I have ever thought it possible for the world to hold, but I completely understand and accept that His decision was as ever the correct one. Neither He nor I would have wanted you to suffer, and He also blessed us with the ultimate gift that He could bestow upon us – He allowed me to be with you at the very end, little Mom, so that you were not alone, and to hold your hand, to stroke your brow, to tell you everything that I wanted and needed to tell you, and to kiss you goodbye, for now. And for all of this, I shall be eternally grateful to God, for His kindness and for the greatest blessing that He could ever have given to us. Thank you, dear Lord.

Mom and I on our Emirates flight out from England to Dubai and the Far East, 2005 (Dr Karl Shuker)


I'm wearing your wedding ring from now on, Mom, on my little finger, where it fits perfectly. So now, you'll be with me again; whenever I look at it or touch it, you'll be there, to give me strength, courage, and your support, just like you've always done. And do you remember that lovely belt buckle and belt you bought me years and years ago from Great Bridge? I always loved it so much, but I wore it so much, year in year out, that the buckle eventually fell apart, and I was really upset when that happened. I thought it was beyond repair, but a friend mended it for me a few days ago, so I'm wearing it today and will be wearing it all the time from now on too.

Mom and I and a marsupial scene-stealer in Melbourne, Australia, 2006; I'm wearing that lovely belt and buckle that Mom bought me all those years earlier (Dr Karl Shuker)


And that beautiful silver-and-turquoise Nubian scarab bracelet that I bought for you on your birthday in Luxor, Egypt, and which you've always worn on your arm ever since, it's now on display on top of your beautiful lacquered television cabinet in the lounge, where I can always see it. And don't worry about the rings that you were wearing on Easter Monday, Mom, I have them all at home, safe and sound, and your big blue sheepskin jacket I bought you that you were wearing too, together with your alpaca jumper from Chile and your other clothes from that day. Everything's back home and fine, Mom, I made sure of all of that for you.

The Nubian scarab bracelet that I bought for Mom on her 85th birthday in Luxor, Egypt; the scarab symbolises resurrection and eternal life (Dr Karl Shuker)


Back in 1989, I dedicated my first book, Mystery Cats of the World, to my family, past and present, for love and unwavering support. Two years later, I dedicated my second book, Extraordinary Animals Worldwide, specifically to you, Mom, with the following words: "To my mother, Mary D. Shuker, whose lifelong interest in wildlife has guided and encouraged my own since my earliest days", followed by a short quote from Life Thoughts by Henry Ward Beecher: "The mother's heart is the child's schoolroom". No words were ever a better description of how you inspired me than those.

Mom, me, Nan, and Dad at Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire, late 1960s (Dr Karl Shuker)


I am also dedicating to you, Mom, my latest book, Mirabilis, the American one that I've told you about. Here is my dedication, straight from the manuscript, and which I feel sums up everything that I could ever hope to express to you:

In memory of my dear mother, Mary Doreen Shuker (1921-2013)

Whatever good there may be in me came from you.
Thank you for blessing my life by being in it as my mother.
You were, are, and always will be quite simply the best person I shall ever know,
and I love you with all of my heart.
God bless you, little Mom,
please wait for me,
watch over me in this lonely existence of mine now,
and come for me when my time here is over.
Au revoir, Mom, until we meet again.


And I do mean au revoir, not goodbye, so I am not saying goodbye here, Mom, only, until we meet again, as we will surely do with God's grace.

I love you, little Mom, always.

The lid of the memory box that I have bought for Mom – its quotation describes her so well that it could have been written specifically for her (Dr Karl Shuker)

God bless you, Mom – thank you for everything that has ever been good in my life. How I wish that you were still here with me, fit and well, ready to set off with me on our next adventure together.

I love you, little Mom, always.

Mom and I at Niagara Falls, Canada, 2000 (Dr Karl Shuker)

And now, as a pictorial tribute to my mother, here are some more of my favourite photos of her and of us together (click on them to enlarge them), sharing that great adventure called life, with love.

Mom and the Burj al-Arab Hotel, Dubai, UAE, 2005 (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom in our back garden alongside our weeping cherry blossom tree and the water dragon, 2009 (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom and I at Pompeii, Italy, 2001 (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom and I at our front door at our previous home, early 1980s (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom at Raffles Hotel, where we stayed when visiting Singapore in 2006, thereby transforming into reality for her another of her lifelong dreams (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom in the garden of my Nan (Mom's mother), early 1980s (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom and I at the Sydney Opera House, Australia, 2006 (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom at the Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy, 2001 – she never did tell me what she wished for when she tossed her coin into the fountain, but I hope that whatever it was, the fountain granted it for her (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where we stayed when visiting New York in 2004 – one wish of hers that I was able to fulfil for her (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom and I with the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, Denmark, 1979 (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom and a moa statue on a rainy day in Auckland, New Zealand, 2006 (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom at Victoria Peak, Hong Kong, 2005 (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom and I with Jonathan Downes, Adam Davies, Keith, and Dave Archer at Weird Weekend 2008 (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom at Long Lee Manor, Shamwari Private Game Reserve, South Africa, 2008 (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom on the Copacabana pavewalk, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2007 (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom and I at the Cat Street Gallery, Hong Kong, 2005 (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom and a dire wolf at Wookey Hole's Dinosaur Valley, Somerset, 2010 (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom and a Megalosaurus statue at Crystal Palace, London, 2010 (Dr Karl Shuker)


In step with each other, as always – Mom and I at Pompeii, Italy, 2001 (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom in her Miami hotel room, Florida, USA, 1981 (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom and Rudolf, whom we duly rescued after finding him looking very forlorn hidden away on a shelf at a warehouse sale about 10 years ago (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom and I in front of a fallen moai on Easter Island, 2008 (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA, 1981 (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom wearing her much-loved Egyptian-themed jacket from Las Vegas (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom and I at Raffles Hotel, Singapore, 2005 (Dr Karl Shuker)


Mom wearing her exquisite protea-decorated jacket from Cape Town, South Africa (Dr Karl Shuker)


My kind, beautiful, inspirational, and totally amazing mother, Mary Doreen Shuker, aged mid-20s – thank you, Little Mom, for 53 wonderful years of shared happiness, adventures, loyalty, and love (© Mary D. Shuker/Dr Karl Shuker)

God bless you, Mom.
 
With all my love, always.