Thursday, December 15, 2016

Book Review: Still in Search of Prehistoric Survivors

  • Still in Search of Prehistoric Survivors: The Creatures That Time Forgot?  by Karl P N Shuker Coachwhip Publications  - 2016
  • Karl  Shuker, one of the few Ph.D. zoologists who spends time in cryptozoology-land, has assembled in this 600-page magnum opus the most ambitious single volume on cryptozoology since Bernard Heuvelmans' original "On the Track of Unknown Animals." It's also the most sumptuously illustrated cryptozoology book ever, thanks to several artists but most prominently the superb Bill Rebsamen. 

  • Shuker, in this massive rewrite and expansion of a previous book, does not cover all reported cryptids. He is interested in those which may be unrecognized survivors from past eras (this eliminates, for example, the intriguing giant fish of Lake Iliamna, and sasquatch and yeti get only brief treatments). Shuker makes the most persuasive case for Australia's marsupial cat, the yarri, a possible survivor from the genus Thylacoleo. I agree with him completely that this animal existed into the 20th century and just maybe still does. Shuker does not accept every survivor theory: he doubts the late survival of the magnificent Irish elk, the mammoth, or the American lion Panthera leo atrox. However, he seems accepting, to my mind, of a few too many. He makes the strongest case possible for the African sauropod, known as mokele-membe among other names, but I think he falls short: widespread similarities in stories and art can exist even with completely mythical animals, such as the European and Chinese dragons, and he dismisses too quickly the argument of the dean of African dinosaur paleontology, Louis Jacobs, that the area involved is not a "Lost World" untouched since the Mesozoic. Also, I sometimes find Shuker is too quick to accept the word of sole long-ago eyewitnesses as most likely truthful, where a little more caution is called for. ( These are my opinions: I sincerely hope they are wrong in every case!)
  • All that said, this is a magnificent compendium of information, and Shuker is to be commended for his exhaustive research and clear writing. While I am myself a cryptozoological reader and writer with decades of experience, Shuker here offers a great deal that is new to me. Notable examples are reports of the North American waheela (a really nasty predator like a wolf on steroids, which hasn't been reported recently but may have been a late survivor of the "bear-dogs" or Amphicyonidae ) and several African and Chinese animals. Some of the subjects are famous, and some you've never heard of. Shuker builds interesting cases for lesser-known cryptids ranging from several large Indonesian birds to (relying a great deal on Prof. Christine Janis' work) a pig-sized hyrax from China.
    I doubt we will find more than a few of these animals alive, but I will be surprised if we don't find any. Shuker has poured many years of his life into this work, and the result is one of the foundational works of cryptozoology.


Dr Karl Shuker said...

Thanks Matt for this very positive review of my book. Re the mokele-mbembe: it may seem that I appear more in favour than not re its possible existence as a living sauropod, but please note that the original brief from the publishers for the original edition back in 1995 was to concentrate upon the prehistoric identity in all cases as opposed to surveying a wider scope of identities, and as this new book is essentially an update of that original book the same brief has applied. Were I to write an entirely new book re such cryptids, conversely, I would definitely assess a much greater range of contenders. All the best and thanks again, Karl

Laurence Clark Crossen said...

Matt Bille said...

Laurence, Very cool!

Laurence Clark Crossen said...

Shuker's book is very beautifully produced by Coachwhip Publications of the very knowledgable herpetologist Chad Arment. I just got my copy.

However, I notice that Matt and Karl differ about Cuvier's dictum that prehistoric creatures could not have survived undetected. Karl calls it a taboo, and I fully agree. Karl gives his case against the taboo in his intro. Matt has said on this blog that objecting to Cuvier's dictum is no longer sensible.

Matt Bille said...

I'm not sure where I said that. I certainly continue to believe Cuvier was wrong. Can you point me to a citation?

Kavin said...
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