Thursday, September 6, 2007

Karl Shuker: The "Extraordinary Animals Revisited" Interview

Dr. Karl Shuker's new book, Extraordinary Animals Revisited is now among us. I interviewed Karl last week about his book and work, and had hoped to get the interview transcribed and posted here a few days ago. However (and as is often the case, I have to confess!), I got delayed by other things (of a mundane rather than a monstrous nature!), but have finally now got it done.

Karl lives only about a ten-minute drive from where I used to live in the UK, and he is one of the leading lights in the British cryptozoological community.

Here's the blurb to Karl's book as prepared by CFZ Press, and following that is my interview with him.

"This delightful book is the long-awaited, greatly-expanded new edition of one of Dr Karl Shuker's much-loved early volumes, Extraordinary Animals Worldwide.

"It is a fascinating celebration of what used to be called romantic natural history, examining a dazzling diversity of animal anomalies, creatures of cryptozoology, and all manner of other thought-provoking zoological revelations and continuing controversies down through the ages of wildlife discovery.

"Handsomely supplemented by a vista of enchanting Victorian engravings to evoke the spirit of the period from which the inspiration for this book is drawn, Extraordinary Animals Revisited offers an enthralling introduction to a veritable menagerie of truly astonishing beasts.

"From singing dogs to serpent kings, pseudo-plesiosaurs to quasi-octopuses, hounds with two noses and birds with four wings, the Sandwell Valleygator and New Mexico's medicine wolf, cobras that crow and snake gods that dance, giant solifugids and rodent colossi, devil-birds and devil-pigs, furry woodpeckers and marsupial hummingbirds, archangel feathers and the scales of the Eden serpent, scorpion-stones and elephant-pearls, tales of the peacock's tail, parachuting palm civets, missing megapodes, blue rhinoceroses, glutinous globsters, anomalous aardvarks, a platypus from Colorado, man-sized spiders from the Congo, de Loys's lost Venezuelan ape, Margate's marine elephant, a flying hedgehog called Tizzie-Wizzie, a mellifluous mollusc called Molly, India's once (and future?) pink-headed duck, the squeaking deathshead, the vanquished bird-god of New Caledonia, and much much more - all waiting to amaze and amuse, a pageant of natural and unnatural history."

The interview:

(Nick Redfern: NR)

(Karl Shuker: KS)

NR: Karl, what was it that prompted you to expand Extraordinary Animals Worldwide into Extraordinary Animals Revisited?

KS: Well, it originally came out in 1991 and it had a lot of very unusual cryptozoological things in it; a lot of subjects that had never been covered before. It got good critical acclaim, it did its print-run, sold well, and then that was it: it was never reprinted. And I felt it was a shame - with it having so much crypto stuff in - that people particularly overseas had never seen it.

NR: What are some of the highlights of the new Worldwide version of the book?

KS: Well, the front cover is a good place to start! I knew that would cause controversy! It's the photograph of the famous, supposed South American ape: de Loys' ape, said to have been killed in 1920. I covered that in the first version of the book; but only as a very small chapter. But since then, a lot of new material has come up, and a lot of interesting new research has been done. I've found out intriguing things about it as well; and so I thought: this whole chapter could be completely rewritten.

KS: Although a lot has been written about de Loys' ape, I don't think so much has appeared in one book before. I've had a lot of information from other people saying they've seen a second photo of the creature, but with people on either side of the monkey. That, of course, is important because the big question is: how big was this thing? You can't tell from the picture. But with people, you would have a scale.

KS: It's a bit like the search for the famous Thunderbird photo: lots of people claim to have seen the second de Loys photo; but where? And these are reliable people who say they've seen a second de Loys photo: an American professor, who is interested in anthropology; book-sellers, who specialize in cryptozoology and who say they've seen the photo; and a zoo-keeper friend of mine, who has been into cryptozoology all his life, says he has definitely seen this second photo. So, all that information has never been in any other books.

KS: I've quoted directly from the people's letters. The most intriguing one that only came out very recently is a letter from one of the people on the expedition with de Loys, who stated that the whole thing was definitely a hoax; it was the pet of de Loys: a pet spider-monkey that had died during the expedition. And, just as a joke, they propped it up and took a photo. Then the whole thing got completely out of hand and de Loys didn't know what to do or how to retract it. It took on a life of its own and he was very embarrassed about the whole subject. And this letter was written in the 1960s, and has only very recently been found. So that seems to be the end of the story.

NR: And what other crypto-style stories does the book include?

KS: Well, ever since I was a child I've been interested in cryptozoology. I've never been a lions, tigers, elephants type of person. I've always liked the unusual stuff; so it was a general progression into cryptozoology for me. Also: I've never been overly interested in the more famous ones, such as the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot. There were so many people looking into things like those that I thought: they spend their lives doing that; so I'll look into some of the more unusual things.

KS: One item in the book came from watching Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World television program. They had one episode which was a general crypto episode and it opened with Clarke saying something like: "Even on a small island like Sri Lanka, we have mystery animals, such as the horned jackal and the devil bird." My ears pricked up and I thought: I've never heard of either of those, so I started to look into some of these lesser known mystery animals - this was back in the 1980s. Those two animals both feature in the book.

KS: The book also has a chapter on canine curiosities: real animals, in terms that we know they exist, like the New Guinea singing dog - which is a kind of dingo relative that has this peculiar howl which is almost like a yodel. There are a lot of myths and legends surrounding the singing dog, all of which are in the book. Then there are some completely mysterious dogs, like the Bolivian mitla - which has been described as being a cat-like dog or a dog-like cat. It resembles a dog but is very feline in movement and behavior.

NR: So, the book will appeal to both cryptozoologists and those with an interest in some of the more unusual stories from mainstream zoology?

KS: Yes, and that's what happened when the first version of the book came out in 1991, too. But this version is much longer than the original - this one's over 300 pages; and the original was about 200. Jon Downes loved the original book, and when he asked me if there was anything that I would like the CFZ Press to reprint, I suggested Extraordinary Animals, and Jon loved the idea, so that's what we've done, with full updates.

NR: What is perhaps the weirdest thing in the book?

KS: Well, Bill Gibbons, the famous explorer who hunts for Mokele Mbembe in the Congo: he gave me the details on a quite appalling creature with an unpronounceable name - a lesser known mystery creature in the Congo - that is described as being a spider, but about the size of a small human.

NR: Bloody hell!

KS: Yes: so, if you've got arachnophobia, don't read that section!

NR: And do you think that could possibly be a real creature rather than just a myth?

KS: Well...the problem with it is simple anatomy: a spider that got to the size of a human would have great difficulty breathing, because of its respiratory system. Yet, the local people are adamant that it exists, and they say they keep well away from it.

NR: I'll bet they do!

KS: So, what do we make of it? If it's real it might have evolved with a different form of respiration. We just don't know enough about it yet.

NR: To backtrack a bit, how did you get interested in cryptozoology?

KS: Well, as a child, I got books bought for me: legend and mysteries. And the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot and the Yeti were in one of these. And I found all this intriguing. Then, when I was about 12 or 13, the inevitable happened: my mother bought me a copy of On the Track of Unknown Animals. And that absolutely did it for me. I must have read that book dozens of times and I can virtually quote it. Then I became totally hooked and bought all the books I could find on the subject.
KS: I even found stories of crypto things right here in the Midlands [England]: such as unusual fish in the Walsall Arboretum; a giant eel in the Gas Street Basin canal system in Birmingham; and a few mystery cats, too. [Note from Nick: Karl's story about giant eels in the canals of the English city of Birmingham is notable, as I have heard pretty much identical tales - one of which is reproduced within the pages of my recently-published Man-Monkey: In Search of the British Bigfoot book.

NR: And how many books have you written now?

KS: This is the twelfth one. I've also been a consultant or contributor on about another dozen books, too, and have written several hundred articles.

NR: And what sort of plans do you have for the future?

KS: Me and Jon [Downes] have been talking about other books, including possibly one on prehistoric survivors. Jon and I have also discussed a project that I can't talk about right now; but it's crypto and a complete one-off, and nothing has ever been done like this before. But you'll have to wait for that one.

NR: Cheers, Karl.

KS: Thanks, Nick.

To purchase copies of Extraordinary Animals Revisited, click here and here.

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