16 February 2021

SEARCHING FOR FELINE PHANTOMS

Karl P. N. Shuker. Mystery Cats of the World Revisited. Anomalist Books, 2020.


This book is described as a revision and update of the author’s earlier book, Mystery Cats of the World, published in 1989, but in many respects this volume is an entirely new work. In his introduction the author explains that in revising the content, he has concentrated primarily on the wealth of new reports and information that has come from Africa, Asian and South America, where there have been many reports of entirely new feline cryptids. 
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He has spent less time updating accounts from the UK, Europe and North America, where the numerous recent reports have largely been of a repetitious nature and added little to the available information on the creatures.

In assessing reports, particularly from the UK and Europe, he is comfortable with the idea that many reports of creatures such as the ‘Surrey Puma’ and the ‘Beast of Bodmin’ are indeed sightings of actual large, out-of-place felids, maybe escapees, or in some cases perhaps specimens of a settled breeding population. He points out the ‘Kellas Cat’ as a possible example of one such.

The Kellas Cat, finally identified in from specimens obtained in northern Scotland in 1983, has proven to be a hybrid of Scottish wildcat and domestic cat rather than a separate species or subspecies. Interestingly, Shuker points out that there have been stories in Highland folklore of a mysterious creature, the cait sith, whose description is almost identical to the Kellas cat, concluding, “it is truly a most remarkable coincidence that the only area of Great Britain from which specimens or sightings of Kellas Cats have emerged is also the very same and only region of Great Britain that contains in its traditional folklore a creature bearing an uncanny similarity to the Kellas cat.”



The possibility of previously unknown new species, and possible survivals of species thought to be extinct is greater in areas of continental scale, rather than an island, even in a comparatively densely populated area such as Europe. Of course there are a number of well-recognised species of Big Cat in Europe, and some of of the mystery cats in Europe are likely to be such animals turning up in locations where they were believed to be extinct for centuries.

When considering the reports of mystery cats in the wider and wilder areas of Asia, Africa and the Americas, the scope for discovering genuinely unknown species is much greater. The book’s chapter titles dealing with these places give a taste of the exotic variety of creatures Shuker discusses: ‘Cheetahs with Stripes and Lions with Spots’, ‘Multicoloured Tigers and Mint Leaf Leopards’, and ‘Panthers Aplenty and Bobcats of Blue’.

Shuker analyses reports of these and other anomalous creatures in great detail, examining the likelihood of hybrids, mutations, survivals of believed-extinct populations, and also completely new species previously unknown to science. In his summing up he writes that “Having eliminated the impossible relative to mystery cats”, - that they are all the result of misidentification, mendacity, delusion or hallucination - then they are either species or subspecies unknown to contemporary science; unrecorded ‘morphs’ of known species, or known species occurring in unexpected locations.

It is worth pointing out at this time, that this is a very serious and rather specialist book. It is not a compendium of tales about ‘weird animals’, although it contains many fascinating stories from the indigenous peoples of many countries, as well as accounts from zoologists, explorers, anthropologists, hunters and colonial officials. It is a serious zoological monograph. But Shuker, as evidenced from his numerous other books on this and related topics, as well as his Fortean Times columns, is a writer who can explain this complex topic clearly. The book is not burdened with obscure jargon, and can be appreciated by anyone with a reasonable knowledge of zoology and an understanding of its terminology.

In his final thoughts the author makes an important point. Although the discovery of a new species through cryptozoological research would be a triumph, he suggests that cryptozoology is capable of an even greater achievement, preventing a species from becoming extinct before its existence is even formally recognised by science.

He points out that due to ignorance and a stubborn refusal to accept the reports of unknown creatures recorded by travellers, and the accounts of indigenous peoples, many species which could have been saved have already been wiped out. He cites the elephant-birds and giant lemurs of Madagascar and the Sea Mink of New England and Canada. “These species were largely ignored by scientists until, through habitat annihilation and excessive hunting by humans, they died out.” Perhaps through a greater acceptance of the researches of cryptozoology other species, yet unacknowledged by science, may be saved. – John Rimmer

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