Shunka Warak’in

A reader, who identifies as greenguy, recently sent me the following fascinating information appended as a comment to one of my past posts:

I know this is an old post, but I’d love to see your thoughts on the Wolf-Hyena, a unique specimen on display at a museum in Montana (although it actually belongs to the Idaho Museum of Natural History). There’s a truncated video online here:
The full episode talks about how it might be a wolf-hyena hybrid; although, it is not known what it is, it does lend credence to the possibility of “real world” cryptids of the canine variety inhabiting less populated areas and being responsible for some of the stranger unexplained deaths of livestock. The theory posited in the full episode was that an escaped circus hyena may have bred with a wolf or another wild canine.

One can find further information on this beast at the other link greenguy provided:


We even have the good fortune to have an original picture of the taxidermy mount made from the creature’s body once it was killed (see picture above).  One would think that this mystery could be easily solved by modern DNA analysis but, for reasons all his own, the individual who currently has possession of the taxidermy mount refuses to have the specimen tested.

That fact, in and of itself, makes me want to cry hoax but that would be the skepdebunker way out.  As Jack Kirby, the current holder of the taxidermy mount says in the linked newspaper article, “Do we want to know?”  Frankly, Mr. Kirby, I would love to know but I somewhat understand the reluctance to end a mystery that has run in the family for generations.  Chances are good that this creature is simply a wolf terribly mutated by unknown environmental factors and forced to killing livestock since it could not keep up with a pack.

Because it is a mystery, though, we have a huge ‘what if’ to look at . . . what if the DNA testing showed that this was not a known animal?

Well known cryptozoologist, Loren Coleman, suggests that the animal is related to what the Ioway Natives called a shunka warak’in which he says is translated “carries off dogs”.  Others have suggested that the beast might be a prehistoric mammal such as a hyaenodon, dire wolf, member of the subfamily Borophaginae (hyena-like dogs) or Chasmoporthetes (the only true American hyenas) (source: Wikipedia).  I note a distinct resemblance to pictures and descriptions of the Beast of Gevaudan, a hyena-like animal that is said to have killed over a hundred people in the countryside near Gevaudan, France between 1764 and 1767.  If the critter were seen on a ranch in Texas these days, it would likely be labelled a chupacabra – especially since it seems to have an appetite for livestock.  A skepdebunker would immediately begin scouring the records for a train wreck in which animals, specifically a captive hyena, escaped.

My point in the above is that we can theorize until the cows come home (if you will pardon the ranch referent).  The creature depicted may be any of the above, including a badly mutated wolf, or none of them.  It is a mystery and one that will not be solved until DNA analysis is done on the specimen.

What I find interesting about this case though is that, in all the theorizing, just as with Sasquatch, the local indigenous tribe, which even has a name for creatures of this sort, is basically ignored.  Loren Coleman and his writing partner Jerome Clark mention the shunka warak’in in their write up of the mystery but I wonder what would happen if some intrepid field investigator actually went and asked the local indigenous people about this creature?

My bet is that one of three things might happen if the researcher made a polite request.  The researcher might get the “smile and pretend you do not understand” stone wall that Native people frequently give to outsiders.  The researcher might be referred to the local tracker who could, if he or she chose, tell them about the creature and what was known of its habits, as well as providing cautions if the researcher decided to go out in the field looking for the animal.  Finally, the researcher might be referred to the local medicine person who might give a completely different set of cautions, should the researcher still wish to pursue the investigation.

The important concept here is that, by checking in with the people who have lived on and with the land for generations, a researcher might begin to parse out whether he or she was dealing with a physical animal or a creature that makes periodic appearances from the Otherworld.  It seems to me that this sort of approach, instead of viewing all Native input as quaint legends, might actually yield clues that the investigator could use to further their query into the mystery animal (or whatever it is that they are tracking).

It is all well and good to dig through the scientific annals looking for possible explanations for a cryptid sighting/encounter and there is certainly a place for such research in cryptozoology.  If it were not for the fossil record, we would not have been able to identify the coelacanth when it was pulled from the waters in the early 1900’s (if memory serves).  I think, however, that it behooves any investigator of Fortean, paranormal or cryptozoological phenomenon to check in with the people who have had ‘boots on the ground’ in an area for a long time.


About stormeye60

A place for discussing the interface between magic and things that go bump in the night. View all posts by stormeye60

2 responses to “Shunka Warak’in

  • Dr Dan H.

    Wolves or indeed any canid will not hybridise with hyaenids. The genetic distance is about as great as that between dogs and cats as between dogs and hyaenids; a hybridisation event simply isn’t going to happen.

    Strange as it may sound, hyaenas aren’t related to either dogs or cats, but are a branch of Carnivora all of their own, a remnant of the once much richer diversity of mammals.

  • stormeye60

    Good morning, Dr. Dan – I don’t believe I made a case for hybridization? My point was that we did not know what this mount represented, that we could not really find out without the appropriate testing and that, if the creature were truly unknown, everyone had ignored the local indigenous people (other than borrowing a name) in favor of casting their own theories.

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