Monday, 29 December 2014

No Christmas tree would be complete without... dinosaurs!

In place of a fairy I have a Utahraptor on the top of my tree, with a Dilophosaurus climbing towards it. And yes, if you look closely, that is a Dalek between them!

As you can see, the dinosaurs on my tree are mostly therapods. (Their sticking-out arms mean they grip better round the branches.) But can you spot the obscure South American prehistoric mammal on the left?

The tree with dinosaurs, with lights deployed.

Any what would a Christmas tree be without a pygmy elephant? This one's just over 2cm long.

For more on the Haringey Paleontology Museum in Exile collection, see here.

Broccosaurus Rex! Broccoli-eating sauropod dinosaur

Broccosaurus Rex! This broccoli-eating dinosaur, on packaging from a broccoli grower based in Lincolnshire, was spotted outside a village store in Reydon, Suffolk. I'm told the depiction of sauropods bouyed up by water is no longer considered accurate, and perhaps a paleobotanist could tell me whether broccoli was a contemporary Mesozoic plant? (Photo: Matt Salusbury)

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Combined Circus' "herd of pygmy elephants" arrives in Springfield, Mass (1937)

Three "pygmy elephants" of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus - named as Nuba, Bull and Loka - were reported by the Springfield Republican (Springfield, Mass.) of 18 June 1937 as arriving in town.

The first thing I noted from the photographs of these elephants (and from posters of them featuring drawings that I've seen, I'll add links later) is that the tusks look dodgy. They're way to long and straight for an African elephant (savannah or forest), reaching almost to the ground. They look like prosthetic add-ons that would fit over the very small tusks juvenile African elephants would have. (There's also a possibility that the circus had found some African savannah elephants showing "precocious tusk growth" – there's a photo of this in Pygmy Elephants.)

Two of these elephants are probably the same two specimens of "Abele" referred to in Exploration du Parc National Albert, Mission S. Frenchkop (1937-38) by Serge Frenchkop (Brussels, 1943). As I describe in Pygmy Elephants, discussing elephants in and around the Belgian Empire's National Parks system, Frenchkop's report notes that "Major Offermann distinguishes another, third type of Elephant, l'Eléphant Nain (dwarf elephant) known in the region of the Elephant Domestication Station with the vernacular name of "Abele", and which lives to the North of Api and does not measure more that 1m 30 or 1m 40 in height. The general aspect of "Abele" would be that of Loxodonta africana cyclotis, save for the size. This would seem to permit me to suppose that the "Abele" is nothing more than a young "Tembo" [forest elephant in the local language]. M. Offermann who has had the occasion to observe the growth of two "Abele" admits, elsewhere, to these having been sold to America, he could not continue his observations." No mention is made of extraordinary long tusks on "Abele", which you would have thought Offerman would have commented on.

Contemporary posters show that one of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus attractions touring the US around 1936-38 was a "Herd of the Smallest Fully Grown Pigmy Elephants on the Face of the Globe!". This, and the above newspaper article, make me wonder if it's possible that two of these could have been the young "Abele"-type elephants from the area around the Domestication Station whose growth Monsieur Offerman was no longer able to observe.

The African mahouts ride these little elephants in exactly the same way as in Armand Dennis's 1936 documentary film Wheels Across Africa, in which mahouts ride adult African forest elephants from the Domestication Station that pull Dennis's Dodge truck across a river.

Thanks again to Richard Muirhead for finding this article.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

EATS 150 BANANAS A DAY does this pygmy elephant...

"EATS 150 BANANAS A DAY does this pygmy elephant whose home is London Zoo. His midgeship is less than three feet high" and said the be the first specimen at London Zoo. "It is not a baby elephant" and comes from "French Gaboon" and eats "nothing but bananas". That's according to the Plain Dealer of Cleveland, Ohio, November 1 1922 (above). It gives as a source "Wide World", which appears to be Wide World magazine.

In the book Pygmy Elephants I relate how the The Wellington, New Zealand Evening Post of 27 January 1923 quotes "L.G.M" in the London Daily Mail as saying there was a three-foot (1.5m) baby "pygmy elephant" deposited in London Zoo by a Miss Cunningham, who obtained him from "French Gaboon" (Gabon).
The article claims, "for the first time on record, a baby pygmy elephant has just reached the UK, and that it eats bananas, of which it needed 150 a day. (Exactly the same headline as in the Plain Dealer. The little elephant broke his leg when captured and this had set "rather badly".

In the Evening Post article, there was - for a change - some indication of how big the 150-bananas-a-day "pygmy elephant" was eventually expected to be. Both his mother and father were, reportedly, shot when the little one was captured. His father was "only six feet high (1.8m) and his mother was six inches shorter still" (making her 5ft 6 inches, 1.67m). This assumes the male and female elephant observed around the unnamed "pygmy" when he was captured were his parents. As extensively described in Pygmy Elephants, forest elephant society is a bit more complicated. The other elephants shot on the occasion of his capture could just have easily been his older siblings, and the female could have been his teenage stepmother.

As for the age of 150-Bananas-A-Day Boy himself, it was given as three years old, probably based more on the time elapsed since his capture than anything else. Assuming it's correct, three feet is well within the expected range of a conventionally-sized forest elephant of that age.

It's possible that the mention of the elephant calf's broken leg could be a garbled reference to the male "pygmy elephant" known as "Congo", whose leg was broken on capture but healed, but later got infected? Or could it have been the female "pygmy elephant" Tiny, whose gender had been garbled, on her way to the Bronx via London?

Thanks to Richard Muirhead for finding this article.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Dortmund Zoo's director on a climbing Sumatran elephant and a very small elephant in Giza, Egypt

Naeema, an adult female (forest?) elephant in Giza Zoo, Egypt in the 1990s, only 1.8 metres high, and understood to be still living in that zoo. Photo: copyright Dr Frank Brandstätter

I recently got some unexpected Pygmy Elephants fan-mail from Dr Frank Brandstätter, Director of Dortmund Zoo.

Dr Brandstätter in the 1990s did some research for zoologist Wolfgang Böhme, who is mentioned in Pygmy Elephants in the context of 1980s reports of sightings of African pygmy elephants - "Zwergelefanten" in German sources co-authored by Böhme. Brandstätter notes that the 2005 standard work Mammal Species of the World lists Loxodonta pumilio (the alleged African pygmy elephant species or sub-species) "as a synonym for L. cyclotis" (the African forest elephant).

Pygmy Elephants looks into the great agility attributed to the alleged Asian pygmy elephant kallana. On the agility of one adult Asian elephant in particular, Brandstätter says, "when I was responsible for Neunkirchen Zoo, a small zoo in the Southwest of Germany, from 1995 to 2000 we had two Asian Elephants of which one, 'Chiana', was a female Sumatran Elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus), aged approximately 30 yrs old by then. She had the typical features of a Sumatran Elephant: larger ears in comparison to the head, a shoulder height of 2 metres, a very light grey colouring and a flat forehead. She was very fond of climbing and even succeeded to climb and leave behind the massive steel fence (1.8 m) that surrounded the elephant enclosure."

"This she only did, when she was trying to reach interesting trees to far away for her to reach with the trunk. To climb the fence she had first to step with her forefeet on the upper steel bar and then to step with at least one of her hindfeet on the lower steel bar. When she was up there she simply lend over and fell to the other side. It was interesting for me to see, how good a climber an elephant could be."

The other elephant in the enclosure, "Samba", a female Indian Elephant (Elephas maximus maximus) was bigger and with typical outlines like the domed head and a high shoulder, and smaller ears, but approx. 2.4 m height, never tried to climb the fence."

"Both elephants had no problem climbing the steep and sandy hill, that was in their enclosure. They even liked to dig terraces in the slope where they could lay down and get up comfortably, which was much easier than lying on a flat surface." Both elephants have since died. He described this in a German-language article The latter I described in an article (BRANDSTÄTTER F. (1998): "Elefanten in Neunkirchen", Zoo magazin Süd Herbst/Winter 1998: 40-43. ). Sumatran elephants are regarded as the smallest accepted Asian elephant sub-species.

Brandstätter also described "a surprisingly small" female African elephant named Naeema, "as far as I could find out... still alive" in Giza Zoo (now Egypt Zoo) in Cairo, Egypt. He first encountered Naeema in 1992. Brandstätter soon came to regard Naeema as a forest elephant, based on her "reaching only 1.8 m in height, had a flat head and longer face and the typical round ears." He was kind enough to give me permission to reproduce his photo of Naeema above. 1.8 metres for an adult forest elephant is very small indeed, I've not heard any accurate measurements of any adult forest elephants being that small.

There's more from Brandstätter on the German-language Wesen der Edda. Band I. Was die Edda bisher verschwieg by archaeologist Rainer Mekelburg, on the possibility that "raging wild boar" in the mythology of both the Greeks and the Vikings were based on pygmy elephants or pygmy mammoths, and a reference to a small African elephant used for ploughing that appears in an illustration in Sebastian Münster's Cosmographia from 1545. A post on this will follow shortly.

9 out of 10 for Pygmy Elephants in Fortean Times review

Dr Karl PN Shuker's review of Pygmy Elephants in the current issue of Fortean Times (FT 320, November 2014):

"If you're looking for information on stature-challenged pachyderms, this is the publication to consult"


Full review to follow on this website.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

White-skinned, super-aggressive scimitar-tusked pygmy elephants from the "zone of mystery"

While I was at this year's recent Weird Weekend, Richard Muirhead gave me a photocopied chapter of a book he'd discovered completely by chance, his hairdresser had it on display in an ornamental bookshelf in their salon in Macclesfield.

The book was Great Mother Forest by Attilio Gatti, published by Hodder and Stroughton, London (no publication date given, but it seems from the text to have been some time around 1937.)

The book describes the four-feet high (1.21 metres) white-coloured, super-aggressive pygmy elephants of the Kibali-Ituri forest, the "zone of mystery" in the Belgian Congo. (Gatti was Belgian, Richard told me, despite having a very Italian-sounding name. Italian immigrants settled in large numbers in the industrial heartlands of Belgium in the late nineteenth century, there are still identifiably Italian communities in Belgium.)

According to Gatti, an aggressive herd of these pale pygmy elephants, looking for a fight, had attacked the Belgian colonial District Commissioner Hackers in the forest, forcing him to hide up a tree for many hours. These elephants had very dense, sharp-pointed tusks, with a reddish tinge to them, some of the tusks Gatti had been shown by the "natives" had streaks of dark red or even purple in them.

Great Mother Forest also described how "some months ago" and official in Lubero (somewhere else in the same region of the Belgian Congo) argued over the price of a permit to hunt and kill "one elephant" with a local chief who presented four tusks from the same elephant. (This appears to have been a conventional-sized elephant, not a pygmy.) Gatti said the skull with the four tusks ended up in a museum, possibly the Terveuren Museum near Brussels. (This could be this specimen , and it's a similar story to the one described by Armand Denis in On Safari: The Story of My Life, (see Pygmy Elephants, page 12.)

Gatti's super-aggressive pygmy elephant has many characteristics in common with the forest elephant – a supposedly more aggressive temperament and denser, thinner, pinkish-grey tinted tusks being a characteristic of the forest elephant Loxodonta cyclotis. It would be tempting to put this down to a simple misidentification of the local forest elephants (L. cyclotis).

But there are some problems with that assessment. Firstly, forest elephants had become by the mid-1930s quite well-known among zoologists. Secondly, Gatti mentions three types of elephants known to the local Mambuti and Bandande "pygmy" tribes (ethnic groups of smaller than average forest-dwelling peoples) – savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana), M'zei, the feisty, four-footer pointy-tusked pygmy elephants, Somà, another variety bigger than M'zei but at around nine feet at the shoulder smaller than the savannah elephants, and about the correct height for a forest elephant.

In Gatti's opinion, the Somà elephant is of the sub-species Loxodonta knochenhaueri, a now discredited sub-species of elephant that's since disappeared from zoology catalogues. The now defunct elephant sub-species L.africana knochenhaueri, which described the type of savannah elephant normally encountered in Tanzania, was an invention of German zoologist Paul Matschie at the turn of the twentieth century, when he whittled down the 22 then prevailing sub-species of African elephant to just four. By the 1940s, L.africana knochenhaueri had gone from the zoological literature, replaced by just two types of known African elephant – L. africana and L. cyclotis.

The pygmy M'zei elephants were, according to Gatti, the male of the (sub-)species, while the noticeably smaller females were known as Malekwe. They were said to live in small herds, between 10 and 12 individuals. The Mambuti and Bandande peoples were very reluctant to enter the deep forest's "zone of mystery", so terrified were they at the prospect of the extraordinarily fierce M'zei pygmy elephants not only goring them with their scimitar-like tusks, but also repeatedly stomping on them in a very vindictive manner.

The reluctance of the Bandande and Mambuti guides notwithstanding, Gatti claimed he was actually able to see the M'zei for himself in Tchibinda Forest, from a distance - a group of these were "at play" by a river.

The M'zei, were, according to Gatti, not recognised by the Belgian colonial authorities. As colonial officialdom didn't accept that some of the small tusks the "natives" tried to sell them were from adult pygmy elephants, they assumed these were instead merely the tusks of juvenile elephants – illegal for sale under Belgian colonial regulations. So the natives were forced to hide these "too small" tusks, selling them clandestinely to the "ivory workers" that occasionally came round, for a knockdown price. A possibly last-minute footnote by Gatti adds that the "most recent decree" of April 1935 "mentions" pygmy elephants for the first time.

This decree by the Belgian administration "mentioning" pygmy elephants would be consistent with the conservation laws of today's Democratic Republic of the Congo. This law, possibly inherited from Belgium, decrees that the éléphant pygmée (pygmy elephant) shall enjoy the same complete protection as other types of elephant. See Pygmy Elephants pages 115-166 for pygmy elephant references in the current conservation laws of the Congo Basin states.

Locating pygmy elephants in the "Kabali-Ituri" forest is interesting. As described in Pygmy Elephants (page 184), there was a lot of traffic on bulletin boards used by conservation people a couple of years back about the forest elephants of what's now known as the Iture-Uélé being some sort of unique eco-type. These Iture-Uélé elephants were said to be particularly hard to photograph in their habitat, and if you saw them at all in their deep forest environment, it was as a "dark shadow moving."

Also described in Great Mother Forest is "Lord Rothschild" (Baron Walter Rothschild) showing Gatti a variety of elephant tusks in his museum at Tring (then the Zoology Museum, shortly thereafter to become an annex of the British Museum, Natural History) with Rothschild demonstrating to Gatti how the tusks of "pygmy elephants" differed from those of other elephants.

Rothschild was a believer in pygmy elephants it seemed, and was apparently able to tell the age and gender of an elephant from its tusks with great certainty – which much more certainty than we are able to do today, it seems. We know have the technology to tell where in Africa elephants came from, based on their isotopes, but gauging the age and gender of an elephant from its tusks remains an inexact science, so I have to say I'm a little dubious of Rothschild's confident assessments.

Gatti led ten expeditions to Africa up to 1945, and was one of the first Europeans to see an okapi. There's a very short biography of Gatti here and a photo of him here.

I also got an update from Lars Thomas, regarding the Camerooni "pygmy elephant" specimens rediscovered in the University of Copenhagen's museum. (See Pygmy Elephants pages 151-155.)

I'm afraid the news is not good. Lars thinks his team now know where the missing skin of one of the elephants is (it was stored somewhere "off-site" and was unaccounted for), and a DNA test on the skin would be much easier and less destructive than DNA testing the tusks, skull or teeth. But there have been cutbacks at the University, and the prospect of there being resources available to DNA test any of their Camerooni "pygmy elephants" is becoming more remote.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Pygmy stegodons on "Twilight Beasts"

There's a recent guest post from me on Twilight Beasts, the go-to blog for "neglected Pleistocene taxons". It's on pygmy stegodons, and features extracts and illustrations from Pygmy Elephants.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Karl Shuker on water elephants of the Congo

Karl Shuker's blog has a recent post on water elephants of the Congo, which gives a plug to "British cryptozoological investigator Matt Salusbury in his extremely comprehensive book Pygmy Elephants (2013)" Dr Shuker feels that "if this cryptid has been described accurately in those sightings... its morphological differences from Africa's typical, predominantly terrestrial elephants are, I feel, much too profound" for it to be any member "Africa's modern-day Loxodonta species" and that it would have to be something altogether different, possibly some much more ancient relatives of the modern elephants, long thought extinct.

Fortean Time's reviews editor confirms that Karl is on the case with a review of Pygmy Elephants, which will appear shortly in FT.

Karl is also on the case with his own "enigmatic but seemingly long-lost specimen, the Rothschild-Neuville mystery tusk" and will publish something on this in his blog soon. Followers of the Pygmy Elephants Twitter feed will know I am also on the case with this, and will present a talk on it at this year's Weird Weekend. There's a lot of crowdsourced assistance coming in from the zoology and paleontology communities, particularly on museum accession logs.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Book signing at Weird Weekend 2014

There will be a book signing of Pygmy Elephants at 1pm on Sunday 17 August, squeezed in straight after my Weird Weekend talk (12 noon-1pm). This is on the "tooth of enigmatic origin" found at Addis Ababa ivory market by Baron Maurice de Rothschild's East Africa expedition of 1904. (Image above - for non-commerical purposes.)

For background to the talk, see here. The enigmatic tooth - thought by some to resemble the tusk of the extinct prehistoric elephant relatives the dinotheres - is touched on briefly in Pygmy Elephants, but will be dealt with in much more detail in my WW talk. (Weird Weekend's at a different venue this year.)

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Mammoths: Ice Age Giants at the Natural History Museum

First thing this morning I was at the press preview for "Mammoths: Ice Age Giants", which opens tomorrow at the Natural History Museum (NHM) London.

I regret I've got no photos. When I got there I found my camera was somehow damaged and wouldn't focus, there was a rather pathetic buzzing noise when I switched it on. The photos I took with it came out very blurry, so you'll have to rely on my written description of the event.

And I only had the opportunity to say briefly say hello to, and shake hands with Prof. Adrian Lister, the NHM's expert on mammoths, as he had a lot of interviews lined up, including one with a Japanese TV crew. Prof. Lister, along with Dr. Victoria Herridge, who was also at the launch, helped me out with contributions to Pygmy Elephants.

Lister said we are just at the beginning with DNA studies of mammoths, although we've already used DNA it to establish their hair was not red (frozen mammoths are often unearthed with red hair) but dark brown. The red is the result of decay over the years.

Global warming played a big part in the mammoth's demise, according to Lister, and led to retreating grasslands and encroaching forests. with human agency towards the end also being a factor. Mammoths moved into the same areas as humans at about the same time, as the environment opened up the same "pathways" for them to travel - out of Africa, into Eurasia and across the Bering Straits into the New World. We don't know for certain whether the many "mammoth products" used by early humans were hunted or scavenged.

Lister also said that the current global warming we're experiencing means the permafrosts melt for longer, resulting in more mammoth discoveries in recent years than in the 200 years since the first recorded discovery in 1799. Another factor in the sharp rise in mammoth discoveries is "locals twigging that people are interested", as Lister put it, meaning that the peoples of Siberia are looking out for mammoth remains more, and reporting them when they find them. There remain an awful lot of mammoth tusks to be found in the soil of Siberia, he added.

In response to a question, Lister said of the legal trade in mammoth ivory that there's a debate about its ethics, and whether by satisfying demand it saves elephants, or by keeping ivory carving going it fuels the demand for the illegal ivory trade. Mammoth ivory is currently "not covered by CITES" as they're extinct, not endangered anymore.

There's a full-size Columbian mammoth replica in the exhibition, not much bigger than the biggest African elephants, with thin fuzzy hair only along its back and the top of its head. There's a Mammathus exilis pygmy elephant reconstruction (M. exilis lived on Santa Rosa island, off the coast of Santa Barbara, California.) The full-size M. exilis model has a long narrow skull and a domed head, and no fur, and surprisingly short tusks. It's about my height (6ft 3). Behind the M. exilis model there's a nice mural of M. exilis on the Santa Rosa beach, with elephant seals (about the same size) and pelicans.There are Mammathus creticus bits on display along with other Cretan microfauna. M. creticus was for over a century known as Elephas creticus, until Dr Herridge's research discovered it was in fact not a pygmy elephant but a pygmy mammoth - and one of the smallest, not much more than three feet high. Wisely, there no reconstructions beyond a painting at this stage.

There's a "bring me the head of a probiscidean" exhibit with the massive disembodied heads of some of the earlier elephant relatives, and you're allowed to touch them. The deinotherium has a huge thick short trunk and relatively tiny, and all the proto-elephant proboscideans have not much tusk showing beyond the gum.

And there were lots of lovely interative displays, and the extraordinarily preserved baby mammoth Lubyna was impressive, particularly the "brown fat" lump behind the back of her head, used to regulate body temperature.

The bronze miniatures of different elephants had the Columbian mammoth at around African savannah elephant size, and the woolly smaller, and the American mastodon I thought very elelphant-like, barely distinguishable from an elephant.

There was also a full-size in situ half buried mammoth skeleton sticking out of some earth, it was unclear whether it was real or a cast. There wasn't much wolliness in evidence, and the audio emphasised they weren't just woolly, they lived on four continents and across a range of climates.

The NHM shop (its Gift Shop and online shop) is currently without a 'retail buyer', they asked me to drop off a sample copy of Pygmy Elephants for their 'retail guy' to look at, and they will get back to me in the event they're interested in stocking it.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Report on a couple of Pygmy Elephants book launch events, and a vaguely related new project

The London launch for Pygmy Elephants on 13 March at the Big Green Bookshop was a big success, with thirty people dropping in during the course of the evening, and yes, I did shift some copies. Everyone who bought a copy got a little drawing of an Elephas falconeri skeleton from me on the title page, after I was desperately practising these at work earlier that day.

A proper palaeontologist turned up – Dr Darren Naish, of Scientific American's popular Tet Zo blog all the way from the University of Southampton, was in da house, with one of the London-based "@TetZoo possee", John Conway, paleoartist. I've since got wind of a Tet Zoo Con event upcoming. See here for the background to the Poundland komodo dragon model I ended up giving him on the night.

Also putting in an appearance was Oliver Simmonds, who I knew as Olly Simmonds at school back in the early 1980s, and who told me he has a new book on the way, after an absence of his name from bookshop shelves of a couple of decades – he wrote Delirium just after leaving university. And Rosanne Rabinowitz, author of Helen's Story - she's a character out of occultist Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan. Most of the NUJ London Freelance Branch committee were in evidence, and events were considerably enlivened shortly after-kick off by one of our number accidentally breaking a bottle of white wine. It turned out the Big Green's assistant behind the counter that night is in LFB too.

A former colleague from my English language teaching days back in the early Noughties attended, and Rosie from London Cryptzoology Club. There were even a couple of old enemies who seemed to be getting on well. We had apologies from Prof. Adrian Lister of the Natural History Museum's Palentology Dept, who has a regular adult education gig in Finchley on Thursdays.

Darren had heard the legend about Jumbo the elephant laying down his life to save the Tom Thumb elephant from that oncoming freight train at that marshalling yard on St John's Ontario in September 1885 – and I was able to confirm that it was just a that, a legend – possibly the sort of tall tale PT Barnum liked to make up for publicity purposes. Darren was also able to clear up the possible confusion between gaur (Indian bison) and water buffalo. I showed a slide of a herd of wild cattle thundering past in Neyyar Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary, reputed habitat of the kallana pygmy elephant of Kerala. Tracker Mallan Kani said they were gaur, but Mr
A. Marriott Hyde in a letter to Fortean Times cast doubt on Mallan's identification saying my photo showed water buffalo. Nope, said tetrapod zoologist Darren, they were most definitely gaur.

Definitely gaur, not water buffalo, apparently. Photo: copyright Matt Salusbury

The book reading at Freedom Bookshop in Whitechapel on Saturday 5 April was an altogether more surreal affair. None of my so-called friends who said they were coming turned up in the end, including some people who promised to come to the March Big Green event and didn't come to that either!

In the event, I ended up reading aloud extracts of Pygmy Elephants to a small audience mostly of Green and Black Cross legal support people (there were at Freedom there giving back-office phone support for arrestees at a Occupy anniversary demo in Trafalgar Square that day. In the event the plan to "Occupy Trafalgar Square" unsurprisingly didn't get off the ground, so they didn't have much to do.) One of their number was a trainee lawyer up from Liverpool, where she worked with one of the Hillsborough support groups.

One of the trainee lawyers said she laughed so much she was crying, but this was nothing to do with Pygmy Elephants, which wasn't written to be funny, but down to the hand signals that Freedom's manager "Legal Andy" was making behind my back while I was reading. His hand movements mostly involved miming the actions of the elephant I was describing, by sticking his forearm up against his nose and waving it in the air as if were a trunk.

We had one of the most impressive apologies I've heard for not attending, from Dr Victoria Herridge of the Natural History Museum, who had suddenly got a gig hunting for mammoth bones in Siberia, and who therefore at short notice had to be out of town. Prof Adrian Lister's apology due to an imminent journey abroad may well have been the same gig.

There will be a "Devon launch" of Pygmy Elephants sometime during the weekend of 15 and 16 August at Weird Weekend. I am one of the speakers, giving a talk on a subject I stumbled across while writing Pygmy Elephants – a bizarrely straight tusk of a mystery animal found in the ivory markets of Addis Ababa by Baron Maurice de Rothschild and his team during his East African expedition in 1907. While most cryptozoology today attracts zero funding and is the preserve of the perpetually skint, this was an example of very well-resourced cryptozoology where money was no object. (Maurice seems to have lost interest after his one East African expedition, in his twenties, and gone into horseracing and art collecting instead.)

His associate Henri Neuville wrote it up a fifty-page study of the "enigmatic tooth" (they weren't even sure if it was a tusk) a few years later.

Front cover for the purposes of a review or critique (Copyright Act 1988)

Neuville concluded that the grain of the tusk under a microscope didn't look like that of the tusk of any known animal that had tusks, it wasn't fossilized, nor did it look like any of the "anomalous" deformed tusks of elephants or hippoes that had been collected by museums over the years. You'll have to go to the talk for more.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Lo Lo, a dwarf black elephant in Philadelphia

Thanks again to Richard Muirhead who found this reference to "dwarf black elephants" from one of his many trawls of online newspaper archives. He apologises for neglecting to note the date or newspaper. (Please contact me if I've inadvertently reproduced your copyrighted material, although since the article's from 1910 at the very latest, the copyright's likely to have inspired.). The reference to the Ninth and Arch Museum (Philadelphia) would put it between 1885 and 1910. The Ninth and Arch hosted numerous freak show attractions, the most famous them being John William Coffey, the "Skeleton Dude," the most famous of many Skeleton Men carnival acts.

The article refers to yet another gigantic elephant and dwarf elephant double act - Kedah the giant white elephant (said to be from Siam - Thailand - but most unlikely, as white elephants were meant to be presented to the King of Thailand) and Lo Lo, the "dwarf black elephant". Pygmy Elephants describes two more giant and dwarf elephant act - the very famous Jumbo and Tom Thumb of PT Barnum's circus, and Campbell's Zoological and Equestrian Institute in 1863 had a large African elephant and a small, dark Indian elephant, judging by one of the Institute's posters.

All the giant and "dwarf" or "pygmy" elephant circus double acts seem to have been an adult and an infant.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Anarcho-cred with the CFZ

Anarchist cred for the CFZ. I should in fairness point out that as well as its affiliation, Freedom Bookshop that is hosting the Pygmy Elephants event is round the corner from my regular place of work.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Pygmy Elephants book event this Saturday (5 April)

It's all here, including a "pub afterwards" update - scroll to the end. See Twitter for any last-minute additional info or faintly humorous comments on it. Freedom Bookshop will be serving DRINK for donations.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Dale Drinnon's Frontiers of Zoology blog on Pygmy Elephants

"On a fascinating subject that has gathered much controversy and yet very little comprehensive coverage in the literature" - Dale Drinnon's influential Frontiers of Zoology blog on "Pygmy Elephants".

Gimpy the pygmy elephant at Cincinnati Zoo

(Front cover image for the purposes of a critique or review, Copyright Act 1988)

There appears to have been a pygmy elephant, or an elephant described as such, at Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens in the 1930s. (Cincinnati, Ohio, in the US.) Their name (gender not given in the extracts I saw) was "Gimpy" and there are three references to "Gimpy the pygmy elephant" in the book The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens by Joy W. Kraft (20101), part of the Images of America series. I am investigating further.

Meanwhile, a quick round-up of the pygmy elephants in zoos described in Pygmy Elephants. Bernard Heuvelmans mentions that pygmy elephants were said to live in Antwerp Zoo, although I haven't found any references to this in the online catalogue of Antwerp's Felix Archive, which now has the digitised catalogue of the Antwerp Zoo papers. Bronx Zoo had "Congo the elephant", the type specimen of the alleged pygmy elephant species Loxodonta pumilio, whose remains are now in the American Museum of Natural History in New York, clearly labelled as that of a forest elephant (Specimen No. M-35591 in the Museum's accession log.) There was at least one other "pygmy elephant" at Bronx Zoo, a female known as "Tiny", who may or may not have been the same animal as the pygmy elephant "Josephine".

In 1923, according to the Wellington, New Zealand, Evening Post (quoting the London Daily Mail), there was said to be a young pygmy elephant being looked after on behalf of a private owner in London Zoo. But then you should't ever believe anything you read in the Daily Mail. And you'll have to read Pygmy Elephants for more information on the two "pygmy elephants" said by a German vet to be living in Tacoma Zoo, the private zoo of the President of Liberia, in the 1970s.

Friday, 28 February 2014

On sale in an actual physical bookshop, for cash, without having to go online!

I was slightly surprised to see that Freedom Bookshop in Whitechapel, one of a shrinking number of independent bookshops, is stocking Pygmy Elephants. There were also - last time I looked - a couple of copies on sale in the natural history corner of The Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green (yes, they're both in London.) Both these bookshops at the time of writing were to have upcoming Pygmy Elephants book events. See the 'Events' page of this website, in the bar along the top.

Pygmy Elephants book event, Saturday 5 April, Freedom Bookshop, Whitechapel

I've just had confirmation that there's a Pygmy Elephants event - nibbles and possibly drinkies too if I'm not too skint by then - and a "reading" or two from the book - at Freedom Bookshop, Angel Alley, 84B Whitechapel High St, London E1 7QX.

Nearest Tube is Aldgate East ("Whitechapel Art Gallery" exit or Whitechapel Tube, which is also on the London Overground but a longer walk.) Do NOT, repeat NOT get out at Aldgate, go to Aldgate East. (Don't say I didn't warn you!)

The event is on Saturday 5 April and starts at 3pm and we need to be out of the building before 6pm. Any last minute info on arrangements will be on the Pygmy Elephants Twitter feed.

In Whitechapel High Street, look for the Kentucky Fried Chicken on the north side, Angel Alley is the nearest alley to that. There'll be a "FREEDOM" sandwich board in the street pointing to the alley if the shop's open.

Freedom's been at or around the site for so long that they threw Count Peter Kropotkin out of their collective for supporting World War One. As I work locally, I frequently while away bits of my lunch hour there.

Freedom's "Legal Andy" suggested the event, which somewhat surprised me, as Freedom is an anarchist bookshop and despite a lot of head-scratching I couldn't find anything by way of anarchist perspective in Pygmy Elephants. If you can suggest one in time for the event, I'd appreciate it!

Meanwhile, you can buy Pygmy Elephants at Freedom for actual cash from an actual human being (possibly "Legal Andy" himself), without having to go online!

There will be a brief report on the Big Green Bookshop, Wood Green, "Pygmy Elephants" book launch soon.

Here's a diagram of how to find Angel Alley:

There's more detail on how to find Angel Alley on the Freedom Bookshop website.

Pub afterwards
If you want to join me in the pub afterwards, I have a train to catch at Liverpool Street, about a quarter of an hour's walk away, so you'll have to accompany me in a brisk jog to the Hamilton Hall pub, at the Bishopsgate Entrance to Liverpool Street Station, for a drink while I watch the pub's dedicated digital train departures board. The recently restored ceiling of the pub, the former ballroom of the Great Eastern Hotel, is a wonder to behold, and recalls the most decadent glories of the Belgian Empire. As my brother said, "Last time I was here it was to sign a treaty."

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Reader feedback - why "Fortean Zoology"? Well, are there any, then? And a premonition

I've already had some questions from readers.

1) Why "Fortean Zoology"?
Fair enough, the bit at the back of Pygmy Elephants on its publishers, the Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ), doesn't explain this in much detail.

The CFZ chose "Fortean Zoology" because its founders (Jon Downes in particular) came to conclusion that some - a minority - of the mystery animals that people are reporting couldn't possibly be flesh and blood animals. Jon coined the term "Zooform Phenomena" to describe some of the phantom animals, manimals (half-man, half animal) that witnesses describe, that according to our current understanding of evolutionary biology couldn't exist. The Mothman and Owlman that allegedly caused alarm in New Jersey and Cornwall respectively could not have been real animals, at least as we understand them. Many have argued that the fossil record precludes the possibility of great apes in America such as Bigfoot, and that it would have to be some kind of phantom rather than a flesh-and-blood hominid. While "Alien" Big Cats reported in the UK appear to act like real animals - they leave scat and hairs, and react to people and their dogs, for example - the Black Dogs or "Black Shucks" reported down the ages and until modern times seem to be otherwordly - they transform, change size and shape, disappear and so on.

What are these Zooform Phenomena? Thought projections? A product of the unconscious? Something very exotic to do with quantum entanglement or particle physics hitherto unexplained? Mass hysteria or something else in the "pyscho-social realm"? Particular mental states or environments triggering hallucinations? We don't know. Impossible though these phenomena are, they are none the less being reported by witnesses. Hence "Fortean Zoology."

"Fortean", now in the Oxford English dictionary, is defined as "of, relating to, or denoting paranormal phenomena". It comes from American writer and philosopher Charles Hoy Fort (1874-1932) who spent way too much time in the New York Public Library, and then the British Library, cataloging strange phenomena, mostly from newspaper reports. Falls of frogs and fishes, spontaneous human combustion, poltergeist phenomena and the like were among his favourite topics. Fort coined the phrase "teleportation". He was particularly keen on "damned data," data suppressed or ignored for being embarrassing to the scientific orthodoxy of the day. He also mentioned some mystery animals, such as the "Florida monster" - a decayed carcass washed up on the seashore, possibly a giant octopus of some sort, but more likely a very badly decomposed whale.

Fort compiled all this into some extraordinary books The Book of the Damned, New Lands, Lo! and Wild Talents. The opening section of the first chapter of Pygmy Elephants, "Elephantine Oddities", references Fort and attempts to imitate his playful and very dense (often dizzying dense) writing style.

Just to be clear, if there are any pygmy elephants, they are (or were) all real physical flesh-and-blood animals - with the possible exception of the esemasas pygmy elephant reported in Equatorial Guinea, said to transform into a human when threatened and to be an "incarnation of the devil".

2) Well, are there any pygmy elephants or aren't there, then?
A question by someone who bought the book and had started reading it. You'll have to buy the book, and read to the end. How are authors supposed to make a living if you all expect me to give away the plot. If you absolutely can't be arsed to read to the end, go straight to page 265 (having bought the book) and start reading the final chapter, "Conclusions, so what?"

And a premonition
One colleague to whom I emailed an invite to the Wood Green book launch party then told me when we next met that they'd had a dream about my book signing (which at the time of writing hasn't yet happened), with me with a pile of books "sitting signing books in the corner." A fortean phenomenon, no less!

Monday, 10 February 2014

Recovered mammoth bones, Wrangel Island

The Natural History Museum Scotland has a photo album from Wrangel Island, off the coast of Siberia. This includes "archaeological recovered mammoth bones and teeth", presumably teeth, tusks and few bones gathered some time ago. Pgymy Elephants includes a look at the mammoths of Wrangel Island, which seem to have died out after all the mammoths on the mainland had gone, and which also seem to have shrunk in size over the generations.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Pygmy Elephants talk at TetZooCon, November 14 2015 and other events

There's a Pygmy Elephants talk at TetzooCon 2105, Saturday November 14, London Wetland Centre, more details here.


There's another Pygmy Elephants event (a "reading", etc.) at Freedom Bookshop, Whitechapel, London E1 on the afternoon of Saturday 5 April. See here for details.

Devon Launch
There's also a book signing and "Devon launch" at Weird Weekend 2014, sometime between August 15 and August 17, in Woolfardishworthy, Devon. I'll also be speaking at the event, on Baron Maurice de Rothschild's African Great Lakes enigmatic tusked animal caper - a strange corner of the history of science that I touch on in Pygmy Elephants.

Whoops! Wrong Rothschild

Eagle-eyed followers of this blog will have spotted that it's a different Rothschild than earlier (now Maurice, not Walter, as previously) and the enigmatic animal is no longer named as a "Deinotherium". All will be revealed in due course!

More follows, watch this space, and the Twitter feed

Monday, 27 January 2014

No. 62 in "Mammals"

Pygmy Elephants is back in Amazon UK's "Mammals" hit parade - as of 27 January it was at no. 62, just ahead of The Mouse Nervous System and Wheater's Functional Histology!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Special offer on the CFZ Bloggo - yours for a tenner

For reviews, see here.

Readers of the CFZ' "Bloggo", as its blog is known, can for a limited period score a copy of Pygmy Elephants for only £10. (The "Special Offer" bit's in the right hand column if you scroll down a bit, click on "Buy Now" under the image of the front page.)

Monday, 20 January 2014

Sneak peeks at some of the 153 illustrations in Pygmy Elephants

Pygmy Elephants has a total of 153 illustrations, of which are 89 photos and are 53 are drawings by myself. I stumbled across a pen and ink black and white "nature notebook" style with handwritten captions by accident, which the publisher felt was good enough to keep.

Shown above is my drawing of an articulated skeleton of three-foot Mediterranean fossil pygmy elephant Elephas falconeri. Below are links to other drawings for the book. You'll have to buy the book to see the rest!

giant sengi, Elephas mniadriensis (they're below some photos from the book.)

Draft of a fossil pygmy elephant identification chart, inspired by those World War Two "aircraft identification charts" with the silhouettes. The chart in the book has captions.

Elephas antiquus life reconstruction

Elephas falconeri life reconstruction

Elephantalus (elephant shrew) gaffs

Mainland giant and pygmy elephant teeth size comparisons, elephant nain du Gabon.

All images copyright Matt Salusbury

"Tiny" elephant in store window, and a storm-tossed "dwarf" elephant on a "snake-laden ship"

Two newspaper archive reports of "pygmy" elephants have come my way, once again thanks to Richard Muirhead.

The one below is from the Tacoma Times of March 23 1909, describes the "tiny" elephant "Little Hip" performing in the window of Ryner Malstrom's Drug Store on Pacific Avenue (presumably in Tacoma, Washington State.) This is almost certainly a trained baby or infant Asian elephant. Pygmy Elephants goes into detail about several performing infant elephants in the employ of the great circus impresario PT Barnum, and relates the sad story of what happened to one of them when he was too big to be a cute "trick elephant" anymore.

A baby or infant elephant is the likely explanation for the "Snake Laden Ship" article from an unknown New York newspaper of 18 February 1911 (see top). It tells the story of the Manchester Castle arriving in New York from "the Orient" with 20-foot "snakes by the dozen" and a "'dwarf' elephant of three-foot height" after an eventful, storm-tossed voyage. As I go into in Pygmy Elephants, baby or infant elephants were much easier to transport across Oceans than well-nigh impossible to ship adult elephants. Note the quotation marks in the article around "dwarf" - as if the author (or sub-editor) knows it's not a real dwarf we're dealing with.

Wild pigs resembling miniature elephants

The Teesdale Mercury of 30 August 1922 (above) mentions a British expedition that was about to leave for (Papua) New Guinea in August 1922, and which was expecting to find "Wild pigs resembling miniature elephants." Thanks to Richard Muirhead, whose "wild talents" for librarianship once against unearthed an odd elephant reference.

There are no placental mammals in Papua New Guinea, as it's West of the Wallace Line, all the native mammals of Papua are marsupials, bats or introduced by humans - pigs, dogs and rats. Domestic (or gone feral pigs from domestic stock) play a part in the gift-giving rituals of the tribes of New Guinea.

There is, however, a cryptid (mystery animal) said to inhabit Papua New Guinea, the gazeka or "devil pig" said to be a large, elephant-like pig with a proboscis. Cryptozoologists speculate that it was some kind of large surviving preshistoric mammal such as Diprotodon (a giant extinct wombat, that may have lasted until the arrival of the first Australian Aborigines.)

The pygmy hippo (it gets a mention in Pygmy Elephants) was for many years a cryptid, written off by Europeans as just a misidentified African hog, a species of pig.)

Now available in the USA - and Italy

An actual physical copy of Pygmy Elephants, which I held briefly in my hand before posting it out to be reviewed.

As of 20 January, only had two copies of Pygmy Elephants left ("more on the way") and after rising and dipping somewhere between the top 140,000 and 180,000 it's now somewhere around the top 500,000 bestsellers on Amazon. Pygmy Elephants briefly enjoyed fame of a sort in the Amazon top 50 for "Wild Animals - Mammals".

Pygmy Elephants in the US only made the top 1.3 million, where it's yours for $18.89 including postage ("shipping"), but it may take between two and three weeks to arrive. Better hurry up and buy it if you're hesitating, as the price rose briefly last week, possibly due to exchange rate fluctuations. I have no control over the cover price. Someone based in Ontario, Canada, also seems to be selling it on Amazon.

In answer to your next question, CFZ Press told me they've recently sorted out "all platforms" so yes, the book will eventually be on sale on platforms other than Amazon. They are a small press with limited resources, so this will take some time. (They also assure me the book will be on their website soon. Problems with the internet connection in the 200-year-old house where the CFZ Press is based in rural North Devon have led to delays.)

Meanwhile, for the hardcore Amazon objectors, I will before long have a very limited number to sell direct you to at a slight discount (after postage), but only if you're in the UK. Contact me on

I am also assured that at least one actual physical shop will be stocking Pygmy Elephants, to sell to you directly for cash - the gift shop of The Butterfly Farm near Stratford-on-Avon

For followers of this blog, the ISBN of the published book is different from the one I was given pre-publication. It's now ISBN 978-1-909488-15-1. (I've corrected the now incorrect ISBN given earlier.)

Pygmy Elephants is also available from IBS in Italy, yours for €17.94 (includes postage to Italy).

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Contents page

Due to a last minute pre-publication error, Pygmy Elephants went to press without page numbers on the contents page.

Here if you need it is a printable version of the contents page, with page numbers added. Works best if you click on the image, and when it enlarges drag it to the desktop and drop it there, then print that image. You may need to copy the image and paste it to the desktop before printing on a PC.