We’re all excited by, and interested in, ‘new’ species; that is, those that have been discovered and named within recent years, with “recent years” variously being considered synonymous with “since 2000”, “since the 1970s”, or “since 1899/1900”.

In the modern age, species discovered within the 20th century are generally considered ‘surprising’ and ‘recent’, and we often refer to them when making the point that new species are surely still out there to find. It’s frequently noted that many surprisingly large animals are among those species discovered anew during the 20th (and early 21st) century. There’s the Okapi Okapia johnstoni, Mountain gorilla Gorilla beringei beringei, Komodo dragon Varanus komodoensis, Giant forest hog Hylochoerus meinertzhageni, the two coelacanths Latimeria chalumnae and L. menadoensis, Hawaiian monk seal Monachus schauinslandi, Megamouth shark Megachasma pelagios, and many others.

Several books include reviews of these often spectacular ‘20th century animals’, but none can be termed comprehensive. Examples include Bernard Heuvelmans’s On the Track of Unknown Animals and Matt Bille’s Shadows of Existence. Given how frequently biologists of all stripes refer to these kinds of animals, it was always surprising that the world lacked an authoritative and comprehensive volume that discussed them all together.

This gap in the market was finally occupied in 1993 when Karl Shuker published The Lost Ark: New & Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (Shuker 1993). 287 pages long and richly illustrated (including with a colour plate section), it was well received and remains much sought after. Enough had changed by 2002 that Shuker produced an expanded second edition, termed The New Zoo: New & Rediscovered Animals of the Twentieth Century (Shuker 2002).

The short version of this review

And much has changed since, for there’s now a third version, the 2012 The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals, subtitled From the Lost Ark to the New 300 – and Beyond (no, I don’t quite understand the subtitle either*). It’s a huge, spectacular volume, c. 280 x 215 mm in size and c. 27 mm thick.

* It's not "New 300"; it's "New Zoo"! I was fooled by the quirky font.

The main section of the book is taxonomically arranged, dealing in turn with the mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, fish, and invertebrates named during the 20th century (Shuker 2012). An additional, 40-page section reviews new and rediscovered animals of the 21st century. The book deals with one species (or subspecies) at a time, devoting anywhere from a few paragraphs to a few pages on each one. Many are illustrated, and numbered references link to an extensive bibliography. The book is also fully indexed. [Adjacent Okapi image by Raul654; Mountain gorilla by Dave Proffer.]

In short, as a go-to source for the facts and figures behind the discovery events of major 20th and 21st century zoological discoveries, this book is it. Anyone who really needs all this data to hand will find it invaluable, and anyone interested in animals will be sure to enjoy it a great deal. If you know somebody who’s seriously interested in animals and are looking for gift ideas, people young and old will love you for purchasing this book for them, trust me.

Since the text you’re reading now is a review – and when I write a review I see it as crucial to point to deficiencies, shortcomings and such – some of what you read below will seem critical and perhaps even a bit mean. So before I launch into that, let me reiterate what I’ve just said. This book is awesome. It’s a definitive and highly impressive encyclopaedia without competitors, a comprehensive, fun and invaluable compendium that combines accessible and well-written text with appropriate technical citation. If you don’t have time to read the remainder of this long article, you can stop now, since I’ve just told you everything you need to know.

For those of you who want that extra detail, here we go. Remember that it will be nerdy, and also pedantic and critical in places (that's why you're here, right?).

What gets excluded, and why?

Shuker states clearly in the introduction that, since he can’t hope to cover all new animals named since the start of the 20th century, he focuses specifically on “spectacular” discoveries and rediscoveries. As he says, it would require a truly encyclopaedic volume to cover all post-1899 new animal species, the vast majority of which would be obscure animals of little interest to the general reader. I can understand all of this, even if I don’t like it: I wish the book better conveyed the fact that huge numbers of new lizard, snake, frog and salamander species – vastly outnumbering new hoofed mammals, primates and birds – have been named in the relevant time period. Oh yeah, there are fish and invertebrates too but (sorry) I don’t care much about those.

True, one simply couldn’t write about these animals at length (we really are talking about thousands of species) and end up with a manuscript that could be packaged into a physically manageable, affordable book. Maybe it would be possible to include a few pages that simply list those species that have been named since 1899, yet aren’t covered at length in the book. Compiling such a list is certainly doable for tetrapods (thanks to various comprehensive published works as well as internet databases)… for fish, I don’t know.

And I realised while writing this that I’d forgotten that Shuker (2012) covers invertebrates too, in which case the idea I’m suggesting is completely unworkable. Ok, forget it, it can’t be done if you’re aiming to cover all animals. A book of this sort simply has to focus on spectacular and notable species; so long as, that is, it includes those damned fish and invertebrates.

I do still think, however, that new reptiles and amphibians have often been overlooked in Shuker’s coverage because they’re obscure, not because they’re unimportant. It’s subjective, but they’re certainly no less significant or important than the many new passerines, marmosets and shrew-like marsupials discussed at length elsewhere in the book. On that note, consider that about 15 different members of the same one monkey family (Callitrichidae: marmosets and tamarins) are written about in the book. Note that the remarkable giant lungless caecilian Atretochoana was missing from The New Zoo but – following a playful complaint I made in a published review (Naish 2003) – gets rightful inclusion in The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals (Shuker 2012, p. 174).

If Atretochoana warrants inclusion, other new amphibians and reptiles definitely do too: they really are – sorry, monkey fans – ‘more significant’ than the majority of those 15 new marmosets and tamarins. Among salamanders, I nominate the surface-dwelling Black olm Proteus anguinus parkelj (named in 1994: adjacent image by Arne Hodalič), the Korean crevice salamander Karsenia koreana (named in 2005: Asia’s first plethodontid), and the Patch-nosed salamander Urspelerpes brucei, named in 2009 and representing North America's first new amphibian genus discovered in 50 years.

Among frogs, I would have expected mentions of Eleutherodactylus iberia (named in 2006, and hailed at the time as the world’s smallest frog), the remarkable hip-pouched Assa darlingtoni (named in 1933), any one of the Taudactylus torrent frogs (all of which have been named since 1913, some of which are now extinct), either of the weird head-burrowing Arenophryne sandhill frogs (one named in 1976, the other in 2008), any of the weird Hemisus shovelnose frogs (all but three of which have been named since 1963), and so on.

What about reptiles? Among lizards, we should see entries on the spectacular Madagascan gerrhosaurid Zonosaurus maramaintso (named in 2006), the giant leaf-tailed gecko Uroplatus giganteus (named in 2006), the Australian Superb two-lined dragon Diporiphora superba (named 1974), and the Papua snake lizard Lialis jicari (named 1903). Several lizards are famous and remarkable for being tiny (as in, less than 20 mm long in SVL*), including the chameleon Brookesia tuberculata (named in 1900), the Virgin Islands dwarf gecko Sphaerodactylus parthenopion (named 1965), and the Marche Leon least gecko S. elasmorhynchus (named 1966). None get a mention here.

* snout-to-vent length.

And an enormous number of snakes should arguably have been included. Sticking again only to ‘significant’ species, two of the bizarre Madagascan leaf-nosed snakes have been named since 1901, the Arafura file snake Acrochordus arafurae (it can reach 2.5 m in length) was named in 1979, the Milos viper Macrovipera schweizeri (up to 1 m long and from Europe) was first recognised in 1935, and the weird, beach-dwelling Pink snake Cryptophis incredibilis saw description in 1985. Several big, spectacular lanceheads (Bothrops), including the Andean lancehead B. andianus, Barnett’s lancehead B. barnetti and Ecuadorian toadheaded pitviper B. campbelli, have been named since 1923. And so on.

I won’t talk about fish or invertebrates since this is TETRAPOD Zoology.

Anyway, I really hope I don’t seem unfair here. As I say above, I know that Shuker couldn’t include anything like a thorough list of relevant species, and it’s inevitable that annoying cries of “but we need more [insert favourite group] insects/myriapods/fish/frogs/echinoderms” will come from some corners. But the inclusion of reptile and amphibian species often seems random and perhaps controlled by whether or not they were announced in popular media. Furthermore, despite Shuker’s argument that he was only able to include spectacular or truly significant species, the book does appear mammal- and bird-biased. I say again: 15 goddam marmosets and tamarins.

Lots of pictures

The 368 pages are extremely well illustrated, even more so than previous editions, with new photos and new artwork throughout. Getting hold of the sorts of illustrations needed for a book like this is not easy and many will be unfamiliar, even to experienced readers.

Among my favourites are John MacKinnon’s photo of a climbing Sulawesi or Giant palm civet Macrogalidia musschenbroekii, the colour images of the Peacock monitor Varanus auffenbergi and Moluccan yellow monitor V. melinus, Errol Fuller’s Ribbon-tailed astrapia Astrapia mayeri (this image featured on the cover of The New Zoo), and Tim Flannery’s photos of a Dingiso Dendrolagus mbaiso.

Some of the new artwork really is new (Markus Bühler’s illustration of the giant gecko Hoplodactylus delcourti Kha-nyou Laonastes aenigmamus, for example, and Tim Morris's Galapagos pink land iguana Conolophus marthae and other drawings), while some of it is old (like the various beautiful colour illustrations of John Geraads Keulemans). I find it a bit odd that some of the old bird illustrations are credited to Errol Fuller. Fuller might have supplied them, but a reader might get the impression that he created them. Those who read the cryptozoological literature will also recognise the distinctive art of William M. Rebsamen. Rebsamen’s painting of an Okapi and Saola features on the cover.

Cryptozoology and other problematica

Shuker is well known as the world’s leading cryptozoological author and investigator, and has a huge number of books and articles to his name. He is also editor of the recently launched, peer-reviewed The Journal of Cryptozoology (he blogs at ShukerNature, by the way). Though qualified in mainstream biology and highly knowledgeable about biology and zoological diversity in general, Shuker is, first and foremost, a cryptozoologist. One interpretation of these three books – even of The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals – could therefore be that their raison d’être is to demonstrate to a sceptical audience the likely probability that new animals (even big, spectacular animals) await discovery.

This is pretty much what Shuker states in the Introduction; furthermore, the book (and its two predecessors) ends with a brief section on ‘The future’ where Shuker ponders the possibility that such cryptids as the mokele-mbembe, yeti, tatzelwurm and crowing crested cobra might one day “[take] their places alongside the okapi, Komodo dragon, Congo peacock … and all of the many other zoological success stories of the 20th and early 21st centuries” (Shuker 2012, p. 311).

I absolutely agree that new large animals surely do await discovery, I also think that at least some cryptids are worthy of serious consideration as potential new species. But I wonder if this book (and its predecessors) would be better off – that is, it would have more credibility – if the references to cryptozoology were dropped altogether.

Indeed, one criticism of 1993’s The Lost Ark was that it included ostensible discoveries that were definitely too controversial to properly merit inclusion. Believe it or not, The Lost Ark included sections on De Loy’s ape Ameranthropoides loysi (an alleged new Brazilian primate almost certainly based on photos of a dead spider monkey) (Shuker 1993, pp. 36-38), Homo pongoides (Shuker 1993, pp. 72-74), the alleged ‘ape-like man’ named by Bernard Heuvelmans for the Minnesota iceman (Heuvelmans 1969, Sanderson 1975), pygmy African elephants (Shuker 1993, pp. 94-96), and the claimed rediscovery of the Thylacine Thylacinus cynocephalus (Shuker 1993, pp. 99-102).

These are all fascinating cases very much worthy of discussion and evaluation, but they’re almost wholly cryptozoological in scope and really shouldn’t be included alongside the Okapi, Komodo dragon and other confirmed, uncontroversial discoveries. Again, their inclusion could be seen as damaging to the credibility of the book. Picture the sceptical zoologist who is curious, pulls The Lost Ark off the shelf and is confronted with several pages on the Minnesota iceman.

I emphasise that there’s nothing like this in The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals (Shuker 2012). So, we are seeing a far more credible volume better suited for a sceptical mainstream audience; theoretically, it should be more popular and more widely read among those who work on, or are interested in, technical zoology. There are, however, still quite a few entries that seem out of place.

Take the section on Ufiti. Ufiti was a female chimpanzee from Malawi, encountered and photographed during 1959 and 1960. Despite living wild in Malawi she looked far more like a west African chimp. Accordingly, primatologist* William C. Osman Hill suggested in a 1963 article that Ufiti might actually represent a hitherto undocumented, new form of chimpanzee (Osman Hill 1963). Others, however, argued that Ufiti was most likely an escapee from captivity (a possibility consistent with her willingness to be close to humans); furthermore, the anatomical features listed by Shuker (2012) and others as unexpected anomalies in an east African chimp (e.g., mostly black skin and a grey ‘saddle’ over the back) are known to be so variable within chimps that it’s difficult to accept them as important. Whether you regard Ufiti as controversial or not, the fact remains that this animal was not described as representing a new taxon. Ergo, interesting as it is, it doesn’t really warrant inclusion in the book.

* Not anthropologist, as stated by Shuker.

Similarly, the inclusion of a long section on the onza (pp. 80-83) would create the impression to a naïve reader that the onza is a confirmed and valid species or subspecies of large mammal. It isn’t. As Shuker states, genetic data indicates that those onza specimens subjected to analysis are actually members of Puma concolor (Dratch et al. 1996). The Kellas cat shouldn’t be here either, since everyone – Shuker included (Shuker 1990) – regards it a domestic cat x Scottish wildcat hybrid. Should the King cheetah be included? True, it was initially described as a new species (Acinonyx rex Pocock, 1927) but nobody believes this nowadays. In fact, we know now that it’s just a local variant of A. jubatus.

Shuker also includes a lengthy section on Marc van Roosmalen’s many claimed new mammals from the Brazilian Amazon. Like Shuker, I’m guilty of being massively enthusiastic about the existence of van Roosmalen’s new mammals (I wrote about them at length at Tet Zoo ver 2: see links below). There are two problems, however. The first is that many other experts on South American mammals are far from convinced by van Roosmalen’s arguments that these animals really do represent new taxa. The second is that, even in those cases where van Roosmalen is right, the taxa have (with one or two exceptions) yet to be formally published, and hence can’t be considered valid and established (though, admittedly, we all know that the discovery date and formal publication date of a new taxon can be very different things, and people can announce the recognition of a new species or subspecies long before they name said taxon in print).

The incredible semi-terrestrial catfish discovered in Manaus by Peter Henderson still has yet to be formally described, so (unfortunately) probably shouldn’t be here either, nor should the unconfirmed and unidentified giant fish of Lake Hanas. Among other controversial cases, I would say that the fascinating Kting voar Pseudonovibos spiralis – an alleged SE Asian artiodactyl, known only from its distinctive horns and attached frontal bones [adjacent image from Krytozoologické záhady] – definitely does warrant inclusion, even though the status of this ‘species’ is now in substantial doubt. I’m not so confident about the inclusion of the Andean wolf; likewise for the Bili ape, Deniliquin wombat, the alleged rediscovery of the Barbary lion Panthera leo leo and Ivory-billed woodpecker Campephilis principalis, and various other entries in the book.

The sections on some animals seem incomplete in view of ongoing controversies and discoveries. In all cases, the issues involved are technical and hard-core, but they should still have been alluded to. So, the long-snouted Heude’s pig Sus bucculentus from Vietnam now seems not to be a valid species but, rather, a synonym of S. scrofa. Shuker (2012, p. 95) quotes personal correspondence with Colin Groves on this issue, but he doesn’t refer to Robins et al. (2006), a Nature paper that demonstrated the same thing. The discovery of the Cahow Pterodroma cahow in the eastern Atlantic doesn’t get a mention (Shuker 2012, pp. 127-128).

When writing about the obscure passerines Zavattariornis [adjacent image by Sandy Watt] and Nephelornis, Shuker notes that they’ve (partially) defied classification into any of the recognised passerine ‘families’. That’s true, but it ignores the fact that existing passerine ‘families’ are (as conventionally conceived) artificial, non-monophyletic units created for convenience; virtually none have turned out to be monophyletic in modern molecular studies, meaning that a huge number of passerines are currently floating in taxonomic limbo and unattached to their ‘traditional’ homes. In other words, Zavattariornis and Nephelornis aren’t that special, and the inclusion of so many other weird passerines in traditionally recognised ‘families’ was never based on good evidence.

The recently mooted hypothesis that Hoplodactylus delcourti, the giant New Zealand gecko, might not have come from New Zealand at all (Worthy & Holdaway 2002) should probably have been mentioned (see Naish 2004), and I think the ongoing feud about the validity (or otherwise) of the Hololissa needs to be better reflected.

That darned Linnaean system

A brief appendix (pp. 315-318) discusses the scientific classification of animals, focusing on the ranked Linnaean system. In the age of phylogenetic systematics it seems odd to emphasise the significance of taxa by pointing to the creation of new ‘Phyla’, ‘Orders’ and such to house them. My recommendation is that all authors who include hierarchical tables listing Linnaean ranks do away with them and replace them with trees of some sort. Life really is arranged in a tree… or a web, whatever your preference. Evolution is integral to everything we understand about the diversity of life, people gain great benefit by seeing the portrayal of hypothesised evolutionary relationships, and educators, researchers and writers should see it as their duty to convey evolutionary hypotheses to the masses. You can’t do that with the Linnaean system.

Personally, I find promotion of the Linnaean system irksome. It’s liked by many people because it provides a convenient (and easy to remember) book-keeping system for the classification of living things, but it often obfuscates (or allows you to ignore) evolutionary relationships. Furthermore, it creates the impression of ‘taxonomic equivalence’. That is, people honestly go around thinking that ‘Orders’, ‘Families’, ‘Genera’ and so on are ‘equal’ across diverse groups. I’m not specifically criticising Shuker here, but users of the Linnaean system in general.

I offer this as something to think about for the next edition, and indeed for authors of popular zoological books in general.

Final thoughts, and why this is a great book

A few other miscellaneous parts of the book require comment.

Loren Coleman’s biographical foreword is odd: it places the timing of Karl Shuker’s birth within the context of the cryptozoological writing that had gone beforehand, and hence is mostly about Sanderson and Heuvelmans. Telling people what you think they should have written is something of a no-no, but (given my comments above) I really think the book would be better served by a foreword that talks more about the history of cataloguing zoological discoveries, and better places Shuker and his work and interests within the context of his zoological qualifications. Both Gerald Durrell’s 1992 foreword written for The Lost Ark, and Lee Durrell’s 2001 foreword written for The New Zoo, are republished here as well.

The two-page acknowledgement section shows that Shuker worked hard to correspond with, and gain new data and images from, zoologists, independent researchers, publishers and organisations all around the world. Shuker’s interest in documenting arcane and obscure animal groups is appreciated by many. Exhibit A: the loriciferan Pliciloricus shukeri, “dedicated to Dr. Shuker for his outstanding book The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century. In this book, the discovery of Loricifera received much credit as one of the major events of the 20th Century” (Iben Heiner, quoted in Shuker 2012, p. 259).

On a similar note (the one about being appreciated), the pouring of one’s time, heart and soul into a book – a big, magnificent, fact-heavy book in particular – is often a somewhat thankless task. You don’t get back any of the sort of financial recompense you rightly should, you’ll likely never hear anything from the people whose lives were really changed by the brilliance of your work and insight, and all you ever get is criticism, criticism, criticism from people who are never happy, no matter what you do.

As I said earlier on in this review, part of my job as a reviewer of a book like this is to point to problems and shortcomings. In this case, I honestly hope that my critical comments are balanced by the positive ones. I do wish that some things about this book were different, but my overriding recommendation is that this is a great book, fascinating and thrilling to anyone seriously interested in animals and the history of zoological exploration and discovery. Nobody else has ever done anything like this, despite both the need for such a work, and the obvious popularity and success that it has achieved (the existence of three separate editions alone is proof of this). Many of Shuker’s works are notable and worthy, but I feel that this volume (and its successors, should it have them) will be considered his tour de force, his magnum opus.

I strongly recommend The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals for anyone seriously interested in animal diversity. Copies should be held by all libraries, both specialist and general-interest, and those with either a technical or amateur interest in zoological discovery are guaranteed to enjoy it. And having only just checked its price online, I also see that it's highly affordable and nowhere near as expensive as I'd imagined!

Shuker, Karl P. N. 2012. The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals. Coachwhip Publications, Landisville, Penn. ISBN 978-1-61646-108-9, 368 pp., softback. Here at Amazon; here at Amazon.co.uk

Several Tet Zoo articles discuss some of the subjects covered here, including...

Refs - -

Dratch, P. A., Roslund, W., Martenson, J. S., Culver, M. & O’Brien, S. J. 1996. Molecular genetic identification of a Mexican onza specimen as a Puma (Puma concolor). Cryptozoology 12, 42-49.

Heuvelmans, B. 1969. Note preliminaire sur un specimen conserve dans la glace, d’une forme encore inconnue d’hominide vivant Homo pongoides (sp. seu subsp. nov.). Bulletin de I’Institut Royal des Science Naturelles de Belgique 45, 1-24.

Naish, D. 2003. Our new century’s zoology (review of Shuker 2002). Fortean Times 166, 57.

- . 2004. New Zealand’s giant gecko: a review of current knowledge of Hoplodactylus delcourti and the kawekaweau of legend. The Cryptozoology Review 4 (2), 17-21.

Osman Hill, W. C. 1963. The ufiti: the present position. Symposia of the Zoological Society of London 10, 57-59.

Robins, J. H., Ross, H. A., Allen, M. S. & Matisoo-Smith, E. 2006. Sus bucculentus revisited. Nature 440, E7.

Sanderson, I. T. 1975. Preliminary description of the external morphology of what appeared to be the fresh corpse of a hitherto unknown form of living hominid. In Byrne, P. The Search for Big Foot: Monster, Myth or Man? Acropolis Books (Washington, DC), pp. 193-226.

Shuker, K. P. N. 1990. The Kellas cat: reviewing an enigma. Cryptozoology 9, 26-40.

- . 1993. The Lost Ark. HarperCollins, London.

- . 2002. The New Zoo. House of Stratus, Thirsk, North Yorkshire.

- . 2012. The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals. Coachwhip Publications, Landisville, Penn.

Worthy, T. H., Holdaway, R. N. 2002. The Lost World of the Moa. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana.