#25 – Mystery Bears

MUSEUMS! Museums are fucking great, particularly if they’re full of dead stuff in boxes. That’s just a fact, and if you don’t agree, you’re probably a big stupid thickie who fills his big stupid life with open-mouthed gawping at page 3 while beating his chest with his big stupid gammon-hands. You ought to be ashamed of yourself but you’re probably too stupid to read this blog anyway. Go away, you big thick idiot.

NERD BONER ALERT.

NERD BONER ALERT.

Lots of museums have dead stuff in boxes, because behind closed doors they do all sorts of museumy things like research and… science. I’m pretty sure they do lots of science, and if they have a natural history angle, they go looking in to the details of all the weird shit that’s lived and is living on this shiny blue marble of ours. Quite often such collections are amassed over decades, and the amount of stuff on display often pales into insignificance when compared to the mountain of crap that’s packed away in crates behind closed doors, accumulating dust and waiting to be catalogued. When museums have lots of dead things on display, this mountain often includes countless pelts and bones and samples from all over the world. It’s a certain bet that there are dead specimens of anything from dozens to hundreds of unrecognised species just sitting in storage around the globe, and all it takes is the right person looking in the right place to find one:

Satan weasel is watching you.

Satan weasel is watching you.

Meet the olinguito, a charming little bastard that’s just become the first new carnivore from the Western hemisphere to be recognised by science for 35 years. It’s taken ten years to properly identify it as a new species and we wouldn’t have known to look for it at all, had the bits of one not first been found in a box in the storage area of a Chicago museum.

Naturally though, tiny little tree raccoons aren’t quite on the scale of some of the thundering fuck-titans that cryptozoologists cross their fingers and hope to exist every night when they’re knelt by their beds and praying to Bigfoot. We hope for something a bit grander tucked away in our museum broom cupboards and may well have received it years ago in the shape of Macfarlane’s Bear:

Not that Macfarlane's bear, you fucking idiot.

Not that Macfarlane’s Bear, you fucking idiot.

The story dates all the way back to 1864 in Canada’s Northwest Territories, when two Inuit hunters shot and killed an abnormally huge yellow-furred bear. Its skull and skin were obtained by the naturalist Robert Macfarlane, who promptly shipped them off to the Smithsonian Institution. Who then forgot all about it, leaving it in storage for decades. Nice one, science.

Dr C. Hart Merriam stumbled upon the remains in the early part of the following century and was surprised to note that to him at least, the skull and teeth more closely resembled a prehistoric species than any living species of bear. He named it Ursus Inopinatus, the “unexpected bear”, which makes it sound more like an awkward extra dinner guest than a ten-foot death machine that could cleave your face clean off.

Theories about Macfarlane’s Bear suggest several cool ideas, including a mutant grizzly, a grizzly/polar bear hybrid and some sort of surviving satan-teddy that should’ve gone extinct in the Pleistocene era. Grizzlies and polar bears have produced hybrids in captivity (these are often called pizzly bears – I assume behind their backs) and one wild specimen was shot and killed by a hunter on Banks Island in 2006.

As yet, nobody has properly compared the Macfarlane skull with one of a known hybrid, and the exact origin of the giant yellow bear is still far from certain. Tales of enormous piss-coloured bears are still occasionally reported by Inuits in the region, but the one specimen is so far all we’ve got, and it remains an unproven cryptid.

On the other side of the Pacific but equally far north, another mystery bear is said to dwell on the Kamchatka Peninsula, best described as that tagnutty bit stubbornly hanging on to the anal hair of mainland Russia:

"Sergei! We must install bidet!"

“Sergei! We must install bidet!”

The ‘God Bear’ has featured in Russian folk stories for centuries, but it wasn’t until 1920 that some possible evidence of its actual existence came to light. In that year, Swedish zoologist Sten Bergman examined the skin of a giant black-furred variety of the indigenous Kamchatkan brown bear. As a clever little herdie-gerder who’d been studying the peninsula’s wildlife for the best part of two years he knew what the local bears were supposed to look like, and he described the pelt as “far surpassing” in size any bearskin he’d ever seen before. On top of that, the black pelt was shorthaired, while typical Kamchatkan bears have long coats. Writing in a paper in 1936 he also described an enormous pawprint nearly fifteen inches by ten feet across and a report of an equally shit-the-bed massive skull. No specimens or evidence have been collected since that 1936 paper, leading to speculation that the unknown giant may now be extinct.

Of course, this being secretive Russia, large parts of the peninsula have long been off limits for military reasons, and anecdotal accounts of enormous black bear sightings are still said to be reported. Quite why the military need to cordon off a secret titan-bear playground I’ve no idea – being Russia, they’re probably training them to dance on the embers of burning homosexuals or something equally terrifying.

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