American hyenas are cryptid canines reported from the United States, particularly the northeastern states and Texas, described as resembling hyenas. The most famous examples are the Ioway shunka warak'in (Iowa-Oto: "carrying-off dogs"; pronounced "SHOON-kah wah-rahk-EE") and the taxidermy ringdocus, which is thought to be a wolfdog or a poorly-mounted wolf. Although one hyena (Chasmaporthetes ossifragus) is known to have lived in North America until the Early Pleistocene, freak wolves have been considered the likeliest explanation for sightings of modern American hyenas.
According to some accounts, explorer William Clark claimed to have discovered rock art in the Rocky Mountains, depicting "a giant dog-wolf of ferocious appearance and enormous size. A curling shaggy mane was represented as extending down the back of the animal and in one instance it was pictured bearing a young deer in its jaws, illustrative of its size and strength". In 1995, Lance Foster told Loren Coleman that:
Foster had discovered folklore giving this description of the shunka warak'in, as well as the reference to its skin, in the field notes of Alanson B. Skinner, who was writing in the 1910s and 1920s, as well as Skinner's book Ethnology of the Ioway Indians (1926). According to Foster, shunka warak'in is pronounced "SHOON-kah wah-rahk-EEn," with a silent final "n" which in writing serves only to nasalise the preceeding "EE" sound. A more literal translation is "something that carries dogs in its mouth," and alternative transcriptions include shunka iwarawakiya, shonka warawakya, and canka iwarawakya. In Skinner's account, the shunka warak'in which was skinned was a one-off animal, with which the Ioway were unfamiliar, and according to him the term "shunka warak'in" was in fact coined on the spot:
William Rebsamen's art teacher, who had lived in New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, received descriptions of an unknown predator from two independent sources. It was said to resemble a hyena, being "massively built in the front of its body while having shorter legs in back and travels in an unusual gait," but had coal-black fur.
The common factor in American hyena sightings is that they are compared to hyenas, or sometimes wolves. Loren Coleman describes them as "mean-looking," and smaller than both the dire wolf (Canis dirus) and the cave hyena (Crocuta crocuta spelaea), although more modern sightings also describe much larger animals, up to the size of a large cow. The traditional shunka warak'in, which also resembled a hyena, was said to "steal" dogs during the night, and to cry like a man when killed. Different coat colours and patterns are described in different sightings.
- "Ringdocus" redirects here.
A well-known taxiderm which has often been connected with the shunka warak'in and American hyenas is the "ringdocus," which was long thought to be lost until its rediscovery in 2007. It was Mark A. Hall who first referred Loren Coleman to the ringdocus, while Lance Foster independently discovered another account of the specimen, which he connected to the shunka warak'in, a cryptid which Foster had originally brought to cryptozoological attention. As of July 2019, the specimen has never been formally examined. The ringdocus was shot in 1886 by the grandfather of zoologist Ross Hutchins, who had recently settled in the Madison River Valley of Lower Montana. One morning, Israel Hutchins...
In life, the animal was described as being "nearly black and having high shoulders and a back that sloped downward like a hyena". Unlike the shunka warak'in, it was described as being friendly around dogs. Hutchins donated the specimen to a Sherwood, who had it mounted and displayed in his grocery and museum in Henry Lake, Idaho, where it was labelled a "ringdocus," "guyasticutus," (a pre-existing term referring to a fearsome critter) and "Rocky Mountain hyena". When Ross Hutchins published the story in 1977, the whereabouts of the ringdocus were unknown, and it was thought to have been moved to somewhere in the Yellowstone area. In fact, Sherwood had donated it, alongside his other taxiderms, to the Idaho Museum of Natural History, where it was seen by Rae Ellen Moore sometime before 1987. It was later kept in storage until it was tracked down by Jack Kirby in late 2007, and consequently loaned to the Madison Valley History Museum. A fuller examination revealed that the ringdocus...
Despite its discovery, the ringdocus has not been formally examined as of July 2019, nor have any of its hair samples been submitted for DNA analysis, partially due to legal issues concerning which of the two museums has the authority to permit testing. However, in 2012, palaeontologist Richard S. White wrote that the Idaho Museum conveyed ownership of the specimen to Kirby, putting responsibility for testing firmly in the Madison Valley Museum's hands.
Karl Shuker writes that the ringdocus "clearly was not [a hyena] and it appeared far too nondescript in appearance, relatively speaking, for it to be any [prehistoric survivor]". Opinions of those who have seen the ringdocus up close are mixed: Shane Lea, a correspondent of Shuker, believes it to be a wolf or a wolfdog hybrid, while a commenter on Cryptomundo claimed that it had been examined and determined to be a poorly-mounted black wolf.
In the 1910s or 1920s, Alanson B. Skinner's field notes for a "Big Ioway War Bundle" indicated the existence of a painted "hyena skin," which was taken from the shunka warak'in and worn across the shoulder. Lance Foster writes that the collection the bundle belonged to has been split up, with some items being sent to Washington, D.C., and others to New York's Haye Museum. Foster did examine an amulet fashioned out of "a strip of badly worn [hairless] skin" at Mulwaukee Public Museum in 1994, which may be from the same animal.
In 1909, an enormous black "freak wolf" was shot in Idaho's Boise National Forest. Apart from its great size, its back and other parts of its body were "covered with a heavy growth of black hair, resembling somewhat the coat of a Newfoundland dog, except that it was heavier and coarser," and it was bob-tailed. Local hunters, trappers, and Indians were all unfamiliar with it, and biologists who examined the skin and skull in Washington, D.C. stated that the animal was not a hybrid, and that "the only specimen that resembles it at all closely" was a specimen from Idaho's Priest River Forest.
~1983 or 1984
A correspondent of Lon Strickler, writing in July 2020, claimed to have encountered what he believes was a shunka warak'in in December 1983 or January 1984, south of Laredo, Texas. He and some friends saw the animal run or lope across the base of a hill while hunting, watching for about 10 to 15 seconds:
All agreed that the animal was a hyena, and Strickler's correspondent said that it closely resembled the mounted ringdocus.
A Canadian sighting of "a peculiar hyaena-lookalike beast," which heavy forequarters and low forequarters, occurred near the Alberta Wildlife Park in 1991. The animal was reputedly observed by several eyewitnesses, pacing back and forth.
Josh "Wolf" Turner and Tony "Mushu" Luong, hosts of the podcast Paranormal Round Table, described an American hyena sighting which allegedly occurred sometime in the early 1990s, in Odessa, Texas. At around 9:00 PM, a group of oil workers driving in a pickup tuck were allegedly attacked by an animal which ran out of the forest and bit the truck's tire, making the vehicle swerve and hit the animal, which fled back into the woods. The alleged eyewitnesses described the animal as hyena-like and very large, the size of a big hog, weighing perhaps between 400 and 500 pounds, with a tail tucked between its legs.
A correspondent of Karl Shuker named Glenn Cunningham reported a 2009 urban sighting of a pack of hyena-like animals in New York, opposite the Bronx Zoo, which he initially described as resembling the blue dog variety of "chupacabra," with high but crouched shoulders and low tails. The animals were 3' to 4' long and closely resembled a photograph of a striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) which Cunningham found, but had unpatterned beige hides and shaggy hair on the shoulders.
A Strickler correspondent reported a hyena sighting in New York's heavily-wooded Adirondack Park in 2010. The eyewitness claimed to have seen the animal chasing several deer across the road—when it noticed the eyewitness and his wife, it stopped in front of the car and stared for 10 seconds, before moving off. The couple allegedly saw the animal again a few days later, again chasing deer. The animal very strongly resembled a hyena: it had a sloped back with disproportionately short and powerful hind legs, "rounded, diamond shaped, triangular head with rounded ears sitting high on the head," a mane on its neck and back, a long bushy tail, and a "brindle, wirey, spotted, brown, black and gray coat".
Another Texan hyena account collected by Turner and Luong is supposed to have occurred in 2013, near Stamford. This sighting also occurred on the road, at around 11:00 PM, when a man and his wife were allegedly chased by an animal which they initially mistook for tumbleweed. The animal ran alongside their Toyota for some time, bumping into it and denting its side, before veering off into the woods. It was described as "an enormous prehistoric looking almost horse-sized hyena," as tall as the car and about half as long, with a ridged or humped back, and "rings around its body which culminated at the top of its head".
A third Texan hyena incident involving a vehicle is alleged to have occurred in late 2015, near Austin. The eyewitness, who had just moved to Austin, was driving home one night when he saw "a big wolf-like hyena-looking creature ... [which] appeared to have hands" running, with a bizarre gait, along the road next to his car, with which it kept pace. The animal eventually veered off into the forest.
A sighting of a hyena-like animal was reported by a police officer in the Hockomock Swamp, Massachusetts, in 2016. The officer, Hadley, described the animal as dog- or hyena-like and very large, perhaps 7' tall if it had stood upright. Similar animals had previously been reported from the Hockomock Swamp.
A number of late 2016 hyena sightings in Pennsylvania were reported to Lon Strickler and Stan Gordon. In one sighting, a correspondent and their mother driving through Pike County encountered a hyena-like animal by the side of a road. The animal, which the alleged eyewitness initially took for a hyena, was described as looking...
A man claimed to have seen an animal resembling the shunka warak'in on a ranch between Madera and Chowchilla, California, in 2016. While driving to a nearby creek close to a bamboo thicket, the man...
A 2020 sighting of a cow-sized American hyena in Pennsylvania was reported to Strickler on 28 July. The sighting allegedly occurred at around 3:00 AM on 14 July 2020, near Shippensburg. The eyewitness noticed what he first assumed was a cow lying in an open field—when the man illuminated the area with his torch, the "cow"...
According to Karl Shuker, the most conservative explanation for American hyena sightings is that the animals are freak wolves (Canis lupus) or feral dogs, possibly with escaped hyenas playing a role, although Shuker notes that only the rare brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea) has very dark fur.
The only native hyena currently known to have lived in North America is the running hyena (Chasmaporthetes ossifragus), which has subsequently been considered a possible explanation for this cryptid. The running hyena was formerly considered to have disappeared just 10,000 years ago, but this date has more recently been revised to 780,000 years ago. Another explanation sometimes suggested is a surviving bear-dog (family Amphicyonidae), which are believed to have gone extinct around two-and-a-half million years ago.
Loren Coleman discounts the Pleistocene dire wolf (Canis dirus) as an explanation, and speculates that the Eurasian cave hyena (Crocuta crocuta spelaea) may have existed in North America in sufficiently small numbers to avoid appearing in the fossil record. Coleman opines that the Pliocene to Early Pleistocene bone-crushing dog Borophagus, or some related borophagine dog, may fit observations of the American hyena, while Shuker notes that these canids had shorter muzzles, and Foster notes that they also had distinctive high-domed skulls.
Notes and references
- Arment, Chad (2010) Varmints: Mystery Carnivores of North America, Coachwhip Publications, ISBN 978-1616460198
- Coleman, Loren & Clark, Jerome (1999) Cryptozoology A to Z: The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters, Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 978-0684856025
- Foster, Lance Shunka Warak'in: A Mystery in Plain Sight | Paranormal Montana paranormalmontana.blogspot.com [Accessed 8 August 2020]
- Eberhart, George M. (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology ABC-CLIO, Inc. ISBN 1-57607-283-5
- Shuker, Karl P. N. ShukerNature: SHUNKA WARAK'IN, RINGDOCUS, GUYASTICUTUS, ROCKY MOUNTAIN HYAENA – A TANGLE OF TERMS FOR A VERY TAXING TAXIDERM BEAST karlshuker.blogspot.com [Accessed 1 August 2020]
- Shuker, Karl P. N. (2007) Extraordinary Animals Revisited: From Singing Dogs To Serpent Kings, CFZ Press, ISBN 1-905723-17-1
- "Freak Wolf is a Rare Specimen," The Standard (8 April 1909)
- Skinner, Alanson B. (1926) Ethnology of the Ioway Indians
- Hutchins, Ross (1977) Trails to Nature's Mysteries: The Life of a Working Naturalist
- Moore, Rae Ellen (1987) Just West of Yellowstone: A Guide to Exploring and Camping: A Travel Sketchbook of the Area West of Yellowstone National Park
- Strickler, Lon "Was A Shunka Warak'in Seen Near Laredo, Texas?" Phantoms and Monsters - Real Eyewitness Cryptid Encounter Reports phantomsandmonsters.com [Accessed 2 August 2020]
- "The Alberta Hyena," Fortean Times 61 (February-March 1992)
- "Paranormal Round Table": Hyena Cryptids on YouTube
- Strickler, Lon "Large Cryptid Quadruped Encountered in Odessa, Texas" Phantoms and Monsters - Real Eyewitness Cryptid Encounter Reports phantomsandmonsters.com [Accessed 2 August 2020]
- Shuker, Karl P. N. ShukerNature: BLUE PIGS AND HYAENA-DOGS karlshuker.blogspot.com [Accessed 2 August 2020]
- Strickler, Lon "Hyena Sighting - Adirondack Park, NY" Phantoms and Monsters - Real Eyewitness Cryptid Encounter Reports phantomsandmonsters.com [Accessed 2 August 2020]
- Strickler, Lon "Massive 'Hyena' Chases Texas Couple" Phantoms and Monsters - Real Eyewitness Cryptid Encounter Reports phantomsandmonsters.com [Accessed 2 August 2020]
- Strickler, Lon "'Hyena-Like' Cryptid Incidents" Phantoms and Monsters - Real Eyewitness Cryptid Encounter Reports phantomsandmonsters.com [Accessed 2 August 2020]
- Blackburn, Lyle (2020) Sinister Swamps: Monsters and Mysteries from the Mire, LegendScape Publishing, ISBN 978-1734920604
- Redfern, Nick "Sinister Swamps" – A New Book Reviewed | Mysterious Universe mysteriousuniverse.com [Accessed 1 August 2020]
- Strickler, Lon "Hyena-Like Canines Reported in Pennsylvania" Phantoms and Monsters - Real Eyewitness Cryptid Encounter Reports phantomsandmonsters.com [Accessed 2 August 2020]
- Strickler, Lon "Possible 'Skunka Warakin' Encountered in Madera County, California" Phantoms and Monsters - Real Eyewitness Cryptid Encounter Reports phantomsandmonsters.com [Accessed 18 August 2020]
- Strickler, Lon "Cow-Sized 'Hyena' Cryptid Observed Near Shippensburg, Pennsylvania" Phantoms and Monsters - Real Eyewitness Cryptid Encounter Reports phantomsandmonsters.com [Accessed 2 August 2020]