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Monday, 8 July 2013

Tusked Megalopedus and Sukotyro

Thomas Finley posted this drawing this morning and said that it represented a "Tusked Megalopedus." I checked on Karl Shuker's blog and it mentioned two creatures of similar appearance, the "Tusked Megalopedus", which came from a work of fiction, and the Sukotyro, an actual Cryptid of similar appearance said to live on the island of Java, Indonesia (Similar creatures are hinted at in the artwork of Bali, which is close to Java, acording to the Wikipedia article cited below).
Thomas subsequently amended his label to indicate his artwork depicted the Sukotyro also.
Sukotyro, 1812

[Quoting Shuker's blog but beginning after the part where the Megalopedus was described and dismissed...]
Having said that, there is one final, but extremely significant twist in the tale (if not the tail!) of the tusked Megalopedus. Even though this is assuredly a make-believe mammal, its description is strangely reminiscent of a seemingly genuine yet wholly obscure, long-forgotten mystery beast that I serendipitously uncovered during my Megalopedus investigations. And the name of this overlooked oddity? The Sukotyro of Java.


While seeking possible images of the Megalopedus before discovering its true nature, I spotted a very unusual antiquarian print for sale online. It depicted two animals. One was Australia’s familiar duck-billed platypus. The other was an entirely unfamiliar hoofed mammal labelled as the Sukotyro. This print was a colour plate taken from Ebenezer Sibly’s A Universal System of Natural History (1794). I collect antiquarian natural history prints as a hobby, but I was reluctant to purchase this one as I considered its asking price to be unjustifiably high. Happily, however, further internet perusal soon yielded several other plates depicting this same creature, all dating from the early 1800s.

Despite emanating from different sources, these plates' depictions were all clearly based upon the same, earlier, original illustration (see later here). And as they were reasonably priced, I duly purchased no less than three large, excellent plates (two in colour, one b/w) that included the instantly-recognisable sukotyro image (together with various well-known beasts). At a later date I also succeeded in purchasing a reasonably-priced 1804-dated version of Sibly's plate.
As the images reproduced here from some of these plates reveal, the sukotyro does not readily resemble any known mammal. Its large, burly body (variously portrayed as elephantine grey or deep-brown in coloured depictions) is somewhat rhinoceros-like in general shape but its smooth skin lacks these creatures’ characteristic armour, and its long, bushy-tipped tail differs from their shorter versions. Equally distinct is the short upright narrow mane that runs down the entire length of its back.

Furthermore, each of its feet appears to possess four hooves (thereby allying it with the pigs, hippos, camels, ruminants, and other even-toed ungulates or artiodactyls, whereas the rhinos are odd-toed ungulates or perissodactyls, which also include the horses and tapirs). Its head is also totally unlike that of any rhinoceros, sporting a sturdy but elongate, hornless muzzle ending in a pair of decidedly porcine nostrils, a pair of long, pendant ears, and, most distinctive of all, a pair of truly extraordinary tusks.
The earliest known description of the sukotyro is that of Johan Niewhoff (aka Niuhoff and Neuhoff) in his account of his travels to the East Indies, entitled Die Gesantschaft der Ost-Indischen Gesellschaft in den Vereinigten Niederländern, and published in 1669. He also included an illustration of it (as reproduced directly above this paragraph), upon which all subsequent ones appear to have been directly based. His description, kindly translated from Dutch into English for me by longstanding Dutch cryptozoological correspondent Gerard Van Leusden, reads as follows:

"The animal Sukotyro as it is called by the Chinese has a wonderful and strange shape. It is about as big as an ox, has a snout like a pig, two long rough ears and a long hairy tail and two eyes that stand high, completely different from those in other animals, alongside the head.
"At each side of the head, along the ears, are two long horns or tusks that are darker than the teeth of the elephant. The animal lives from vegetables and is seldom captured."
My continuing searches revealed that the Sukotyro received its most authoritative scientific coverage in 1799, by British Museum zoologist Dr George Shaw in Vol 1 of his exhaustive 16-volume General Zoology: Or Systematic Natural History.

The sukotyro as depicted in a copper engraving within Shaw's treatise (Dr Karl Shuker)

Inserting it directly but somewhat hesitantly after the elephant in this volume’s main text (and neglecting to mention, incidentally, that in 1792 its species had been formally christened Sukotyro indicus by fellow zoologist Robert Kerr), Shaw paraphrased Niewhoff's description and concisely documented this enigmatic mammal as follows:

"That we may not seem to neglect so remarkable an animal, though hitherto so very imperfectly known, we shall here introduce the Sukotyro. This, according to Niewhoff, its only describer, and who has figured it in his travels to the East Indies [Die Gesantschaft der Ost-Indischen Gesellschaft in den Vereinigten Niederländern, 1669, containing the original illustration reproduced above], is a quadruped of a very singular shape. Its size is that of a large ox: the snout like that of a hog: the ears long and rough; and the tail thick and bushy. The eyes are placed upright in the head, quite differently from those of other quadrupeds. On each side the head, next to the eyes, stand the horns, or rather teeth, not quite so thick as those of an Elephant. This animal feeds upon herbage, and is but seldom taken. It is a native of Java, and is called by the Chinese Sukotyro. This is all the description given by Niewhoff. The figure is repeated in Churchill’s Collection of Voyages and Travels, vol. 2. p. 360. Niewhoff was a Dutch traveller, who visited the East Indies about the middle of the last century, viz. about the year 1563 [sic – should be 1653], and continued his peregrinations for several years. It must be confessed that some of the figures introduced into his works are not remarkable for their accuracy."

This would presumably explain, therefore, the anatomically aberrant positioning of the Sukotyro’s tusks, and also, probably, the upright positioning of its eyes. Of course, if the latter are portrayed correctly, it could be suggested that the Sukotyro spends time submerged in water, with only its eyes showing above the surface, as with hippopotamuses, whose eyes are also placed high on their skull. However, so too are the hippos’ nostrils and ears, whereas those of the Sukotyro are not, thereby reducing the likelihood that it does spend any length of time largely submerged.

The Sukotyro (top) and Asian elephant (bottom) in a colour plate from 1806 (Dr Karl Shuker)

As for the Sukotyro’s tusks: ignoring their potentially-inaccurate horizontal orientation, they remind me both in shape and in size of those bizarre versions sported by the babirusas of Indonesia (formerly a single species, but recently split into several separate ones). These grotesque-looking wild pigs are famous for the huge vertical tusks sported by the males, in which not only the lower tusks but also the much larger upper ones project vertically upwards, with the upper ones growing directly through the top of the snout!

Babirusa (Hirscheber/Wikipedia)

Babirusas are native to Celebes (Sulawesi) and various much smaller islands close by, but zoologists believe that they may have been deliberately introduced onto at least some of these latter isles by human activity rather than by natural migration. If so, might they also have been transported elsewhere in Indonesia, perhaps as far west as Java, in fact?

Following Shaw’s cautious coverage of the Sukotyro, other zoologists adopted an even more sceptical view of it. This deepened still further following the revelation that a pair of alleged sukotyro tusks acquired by British Museum founder Sir Hans Sloane during the 1700s were actually the horns of an Indian water buffalo. These had been presented as a gift to Sloane by a Mr Doyle after he had discovered them in a partially worm-eaten state inside the cellar of a shop in Wapping, London, and were formally documented in 1727 within the Memoirs of the Academy of Sciences. Eventually, with no further specimens or data regarding it coming to light, the scientific world dismissed the sukotyro as a hoax, after which it quietly vanished from the natural history books. But was it really a hoax?

Babirusa (top) and Sukotyro (bottom) - comparable, or conspecific? (Hirscheber-Wikipedia/Dr Karl Shuker)

"The more I look at the depictions of the Sukotyro, the more they seem – at least to me - to resemble a distorted but still-identifiable portrait of a babirusa. There is no indication that any of these porcine species exist on Java today, but perhaps Niewoff’s mystifying Sukotyro is evidence that one did exist there long ago. Alternatively, could this cryptid even have been an unknown relative of the babirusas, differing from them via its bulkier form and longer ears, but still recognisably akin?"

[Note; Following the usual convention, the names of Cryptids are properly capitalized-DD]
This is very likely and there is also an unidentified Babirusa on Borneo, North of Java. This is the Borneo Deer-Pig and I believe Shuker has also spoken of it. Furthermore there is something of the same nature rumored in Irian Jaya (Indonesian Western New Guinea,) Some of these other Babirusas are also said to be very large. -DD

Quoting from Eberhart, Mysterious Creatures, 2002:
Devil Pig

Large piglike  Hoofed Mammal or Marsupial of Australasia.
Variant names: Gazeka, Monckton’s gazeka. Physical description: Dark skin with patterned markings. Length, 5 feet . Shoulder height , 3 feet 6 inches or greater. Long snout . Horselike tail. Even-toed (cloven) feet.
Distribution: Owen Stanley Range, Papua New Guinea.
Significant sightings: Ancient stone carvings depicting strange animals with long, trunklike snout s were first found in 1962 in the Ambun Valley.
Huge (rhinoceros-sized) excrement was found by the crew of the HMS Basilisk on the northeast Papuan coast in the 1870s. Dung from feral pigs, which are the largest Papuan ungulates, is less substantial.
Two native Papuans, Private Ogi and the village constable Oina, saw two large, porcine animals on Mount Albert Edward, Papua New Guinea, on May 10, 1906. Ogi tried to shoot one, but his hands shook, and he misfired.
[There is always the possibility that there is more than one thing being called a Devil Pig, and also that the Devil Pigs, Gazekas and Ambun sculpture creatures are each distinctively different Cryptids. The animals described as having cloven hooves are definitely Pigs]
Possible explanations:
(1) A feral Domestic pig (Sus scrofa var. domesticus) is rarely larger than 2 feet 6 inches at the shoulder.
(2) The Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus) is odd-t oed and not found as far east as New Guinea.
(3) The Babirussa (Babyrousa babyrussa), found in Sulawesi, Indonesia, is not a close match.
[AMENDMENT: Papuan natives DO use Babirusa tusks, and make copies of them in stone and bone, but these are usually stated to be trade items by the authorities. I have notice of a firm assertion from a missionary to New Guinea who transmits the information that the natives say the Babirusa lives in their area and is the source of the valuable trade ivory]
(4) A Papuan occurrence of the Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is unlikely. (5) A Long-nosed echidna (Zaglossus bruijni ), especially a newly hatched juvenile, might account for the Ambun sculptures.
(6) A surviving diprotodont marsupial, such as the tapirlike Palorchestes or the rhinoceros-like, nasal-horned Nototherium. Most of New Guinea’s native mammals are marsupials, making these large animals viable possibili ies for the Devil pig. The snouted Palorchestes seems particularly akin to the animal depicted in the Ambun stones. The last diprotodonts are thought to have died out in Australia between 18,000 and 6,000 years ago.
Sources: Alfred O. Walker, “The Rhinoceros in New Guinea,” Nature 11 (1875): 248, 268; Adolf Bernhard Meyer, “The Rhinoceros in New Guinea,” Nature 11 (1875): 268; Charles A. W. Monckt on, Some Experiences of a New Guinea Resident Magistrate (London: John Lane, 1920); Charles A. W. Monckt on, Last Days in New Guinea (London: John Lane, 1922), pp. 52–56; Charles A. W. Monckt on, New Guinea Recollections (London: John Lane, 1934), pp. 214–215; W. G. Hept ner, “Über das Java-Nashorn auf Neu-Guinea,” Zeitschrift für Säugetierkunde 25 (1960): 128–129; “A Remarkable St one Figure from the New Guinea Highlands,” Journal of the Polynesian Society 74 (1965): 78–79; Laurent Forge, “Un marsupial géant survit -il en Nouvelle Guinée?” Amazone, no. 2 (January 1983): 9–11; James I. Menzies, “Reflect ions on the Ambun Stones,” Science in New Guinea 13 (1987): 170–173.


Unknown piglike HOOFED MAMMAL of Southeast Asia.
Etymology: Dusun (Austronesian) word. Physical description: Resembles a cross between a deer and a pig. Sharp tongue. Behavior: Runs swiftly if disturbed. Distribution: Mount Madalong, in Sabah State, Borneo, Malaysia. Possible explanation: The Babirusa (Babyrousa babyrussa), whose upturned tusks might be described as a sharp tongue. Though it is found only on Sulawesi, Buru, and neighboring islands, this wild pig’s presence in Borneo could account for the Pukau.
Sources: Owen Rutter, The Pagans of North Borneo (London: Hutchinson, 1929), p. 256; Karl Shuker, In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (London: Blandford, 1995), p. 164.

1 comment:

  1. From the above the illustrations the animal seems to have a predilection for being a sub- ground feeder. It would be my opinion, that the horns will be used to dig up roots and tubers as the pig like structure of the snout seems to indicate. It just seems so very strange that the tusks are mounted so high up almost on the hinge of the jaw. To my way of thinking this would make them somewhat delicate and prone to breaking.
    Despite these oddities this would certainly appeared to be a truly magnificent animal.


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