Some of the top, most versatile predators on the planet are certainly the canids. The biological family Canidae encompasses a wide range of species and subspecies, including domestic dogs, wolves, foxes, jackals, dingoes, and everything in between, coming in a vast variety of sizes, colors, and shapes. They are a group of predators that have proven to be wildly successful, spreading out to every corner of the globe, to every continent except Antarctica, hunting and prowling about to hunt within just about every niche and habitat there is. These are the creatures which formed an unbreakable bond and partnership with us many millennia ago to give us our domestic dog and its many variations. These majestic animals tend to rule their domains wherever they are found, and are among the most successful predators on the planet.
Yet as much as we have learned of these animals, there still appears much left that we do not fully comprehend. Across the planet, in the most remote locales there perhaps remain mysterious canid species which we have yet to catalogue. Here we will explore some of the more enigmatic of these potential undiscovered species of canid that allegedly lurk out in the wilds of our world. For convenience and easy referencing, I have broken these down into their main geological areas where they are said to be found.
Our first cryptid canid is known from tales from the remote, cold regions of the north, where Native tribes in the Nahanni Valley of the Northwest Territories of Canada have long spoken of an enormous wolf-like beast that stalks the frozen wastelands and is called the Waheela. The Waheela is usually said to look very similar to a wolf, but much larger, more muscular and heavily built, and with shorter, stockier legs that are longer in the front than in the back. Indeed the Waheela’s body is said to be almost bear-like in its shape and massive quality, and it is also often described as having disproportionately large feet that are almost like snowshoes with widely spaced toes, a broader, more formidable head than a normal wolf with smaller ears, and sometimes is mentioned as having long white fur. At least one eyewitness sighting has described the beast as being like “a wolf on steroids,” and standing around 3 and a half feet at the shoulder, which is far larger than a typical wolf.
The legends surrounding this creature say that it is a solitary hunter rather than a pack animal like wolves and most other canids, and that it has various supernatural powers. Interestingly, the Waheela’s main territory of the Nahanni Valley is also known for its large amount of disappearances and deaths, with corpses found here having a habit of being minus a head, leading to the rather ominous nickname “The Headless Valley,” which I have written of here on Mysterious Universe before. Some have even blamed these mysterious deaths on the presence of the Waheela, and indeed the valley is wreathed in dark legends of the numerous evil spirits said to inhabit it. The Waheela has also been reported from Alaska and northern Michigan, and Ontario, Canada, also has its own version of the Waheela called the Ontario White Wolf.
Theories on what the Waheela could be vary, with one of the most popular ideas in cryptozoology being that it is not any sort of wolf at all, but rather a relic population of a prehistoric beast known as the bear-dog. These imposing creatures were from the family Amphicyonidae, a group of animals that resembled a hybrid between a wolf and a bear, hence their common name, and are thought to have died out in the New World around 2 million years ago and in the Old World around 10,000 years ago. A top proponent of the idea that the Waheela could be a surviving population of bear-dogs was the renowned cryptoloologist Ivan Sanderson, who believed that they could still remain in the extremely isolated, remote regions from which the Waheela reports come. Other theories point to a relic population of dire wolves (Canis dirus), which were large, heavily built wolves that became extinct near the end of the Pleistocene epoch, around 125,000 years ago. Yet other theories speculate that the Waheela could be some sort of North American relative of the hyena or a new species of large canid all together. More skeptical evaluations of the Waheela point to it being merely exaggerated reports of exceptionally large specimens of the known grey wolf (Canis lupus), or mere superstitious tales from Native folklore and legends.
Another cryptid canid that seems very similar to the Waheela is the mysterious beast known to the Native peoples of the Great Plains of the American West as the Shunka Warakin, or Shunka Warak’in, which translates to “carries off dogs,” as well as many other regional names depending on the tribe. The Shunka Warakin was apparently often sighted by both Native tribes and early white settlers of the area, who typically described it as being very large and heavy-set, with a build somewhat reminiscent of a cross between a wolf and a hyena, and with black to dark red fur. Some settlers claimed to have shot and mounted specimens of these beasts, and there is at least one mysterious mounted specimen that was shot in Montana in 1886 by an Israel Ammon Hutchins. The specimen was acquired by a taxidermist named Joseph Sherwood and stuffed and displayed at a general store in Idaho, where it was labelled as “Ringdocus.”
Although this mount has never been formally examined in any great depth, and even went missing for awhile, some cryptozoologists, notably the renowned Loren Coleman, have suggested that it is indeed physical evidence of the legendary Shunka Warakin. As recently as 2006 there was a strange looking, reddish-yellow wolf that was shot in Garfield County, Montana after apparently going on a killing spree slaughtering around 120 sheep. While there was some speculation in cryptozoological circles that it could be an actual specimen of Shunka Warakin, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department eventually came to the conclusion that it was merely an aberrant individual of wolf.
Again, there are many theorie as to what the Shunka Warakin could be, with the favorites being that it was surviving dire wolves, that they are relic populations of the Borophaginae, which were large, hyena-like canids often called the “bone-crushing dogs,” or that they represent some form of American hyena. It is also quite possible that reports of the Shunka Warakin were based on sightings of physically aberrant or unusually colored known grey wolves. Regardless of what the Shunka Warakin is, there are occasional sightings of these enigmatic beasts to this day, and even inconclusive video and photographs of them.
Another mysterious wolf-like animal reported from North America is a creature known to the Seminole people of Oklahoma as the Hvcko Capko, or Hatcko-tcapko, which was said to be a massive, horse-sized wolf with long ears, the tail of a horse, and extremely large eyes. The Native folklore maintained that this fierce creature smelled truly horrific, and had the supernatural power to infect with disease anything it comes to contact with. There have been very sparse sightings reports of this creature, for instance the 1951 sighting in Calmut, Oklahoma by a Mrs. Laurence Laub, who claimed that it looked like some sort of bizarre hybrid of a wolf and a deer. In another report, a group of campers claimed that they saw a bizarre wolf like creature the size of on ox lumbering through the wilderness in the Rocky Mountains.
Sprawled out over large portions of South America and extending through Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina, is the majestic Andes mountain range; the longest continental range in the world and the highest one outside of Asia. From this vast range of little explored craggy peaks and remote wilderness comes stories of a wild canid that is currently cloaked in mystery. In 1926, a German animal dealer by the name of Lorenz Hagenbeck acquired three unusual pelts from a vendor in Buenos Aires, who claimed they were those of a reclusive wild canid species native to the wilds of the Andes.
The mysterious skins were of no species the experienced trader had ever seen, and so he sent them off to his homeland to be analyzed. The pelts moved through several museums until 1940, when one of the pelts was examined by a Dr. Ingo Krumbiegel, who had come across a strange canid skull from the Andes 10 years earlier, and proclaimed them to be from the same new, unknown species of wild dog. Krumbiegel was so convinced that the skull and pelts represented a new species of canid that he wrote a paper on the finding and even went so far as to designate the animal with the scientific name Dasycycon hagenbecki. With the coming of World War II, this paper was all but forgotten among various other pressing concerns, and was lost to time, never to be widely peer reviewed or acknowledged.
It was not until the 1960s that the pelts would be looked at again and tested with modern scientific methods such as DNA analysis, which proved to have mixed results. The first results of such testing showed them to be merely from a mundane domestic dog, and further testing by the Munich Zoological Museum in Germany found the samples to be degraded by chemical treatment and highly contaminated with pig, wolf, and human DNA, rendering the samples inconclusive and keeping the pelts shrouded in mystery. The enigmatic wild dog, which has come to be known by various names such as the Andean Wolf, the Andean Mountain Wolf, and the Hagenback Wolf, still lacks any conclusive evidence proving or disproving its existence, and will likely remain a shadowy specter until more information, evidence, or specimens are uncovered.
Africa, with its vast regions of uncharted wilderness, perhaps seems a perfect place for some sort of unknown canid to lurk. Here, in the desolate desert wastelands of the Sahara Desert in Mauritania, in the northern region of Africa, there is said to prowl a species of mysterious dog or wolf-like creatures known to the the nomadic Tuareg people as the Adjule, the Kelb-el-khela, or the Tarhsit, where they are known as legendary creatures of lore sometimes attributed with supernatural powers such as the ability to sow confusion or discord in humans. The Adjule is usually described as standing around two and a half feet tall at the shoulder, being around 30 to 45 pounds in weight, with rough reddish skin that has somewhat of a bluish hue, and large webbed feet with only four toes. They are said to hunt in packs numbering from 3 to 13 members but are mostly thought of as harmless to humans.
In 1928, the French naturalist and explorer Théodore Monod collected numerous accounts at the time of this strange animal from locals in the desert regions of Northern Africa, and there have been sporadic sightings of the creatures since. In as recently as 1992 there was a sighting of a pack of the alleged creatures hunting near a village in Western Mauritania. One of the most common theories for what the Adjule could be it that it is just misidentifications of the known African wild dog (Lycaon pictus), which demonstrates fewer toes than normal canid species, but while common in other areas, is mostly largely considered extinct in the Saharan areas where the Adjule is reported. It has also been suggested that the Adjule could be simply other canine species with a skin condition such as mange, or a misidentification of some other species of animal. However, there is certainly still the possibility that this mysterious creature represents some new canid species.
In 1810, the fells of Cumberland, England were stalked and terrorized by a mysterious, bloodthirsty beast which over six-months ravaged a large number of sheep across the countryside. This was already scary enough for locals, who had no experience with such a terrifying predator, but making the whole incident stranger and more ominous was the state in which the dead sheep were found. Sheep that were killed by the creature did not display characteristics typical of an attack by a dog or wolf, as they were only missing a few select organs and more sinisterly were allegedly found to be totally drained of blood. Other than this, the sheep were mostly uneaten. In some cases, the sheep were not even killed at all, but rather mauled and left alive and crippled, with large chunks of meat torn from them.
Concerned farmers of the besieged region took it upon themselves to try and hunt down whatever the mystery beast was, but despite frequent hunting parties fanning out into the night they were unable to even catch a glimpse of the animal, all while the body count of slain sheep grew around them. Traps were set out in an effort to catch it, and even poisoned dead sheep set out to kill it, but again the beast eluded capture, leaving the traps and their bait, as well as the poisoned sheep carcasses, completely untouched. A reward was posted for the vicious beast’s death, and professional hunters went out to bring it down on horseback and with specially trained hunting dogs, but the dogs were reportedly terrified of going anywhere near it, and it was said that these normally fearless hunting dogs would sometimes fly into a panic and run away with their tails between their legs if they caught scent of the thing. In one case, a hunting dog was seriously wounded when it ran off into some trees in pursuit only to come hobbling back to its master with its front legs crushed by something’s powerful jaws.
Despite all of these efforts, the creature or creatures continued to kill sheep indiscriminately, avoiding traps and hunting parties and scaring off hunting dogs. Whatever the elusive monster was, it was going about its grim business right under their noses, almost as if mocking them. Rumors began to take hold amongst the superstitious populace that the mystery animal, which was becoming known as the Great Dog of Ennerdale, or the even more sinister name of the Vampire Dog of Ennerdale, was not even an animal at all, but rather some sort of supernatural apparition, demon, or phantom. One farmer who claimed to have seen the thing described it as being an enormous creature that was somewhat like a dog, but with cat-like features as well, and with sandy brown fur marked by stripes down its back.
As news of the Great Dog spread throughout the country, more and more hunters descended on the area to try their hand at killing it. A few of these hunting parties had close calls with the beast, such as one led by a professional hunter named Will Rothery, whose dogs seemed to have the creature surrounded in a clump of trees. Just as Rothery thought that he would be the one to finally bring its reign of terror to an end, the creature reportedly made a mad dash through the brush straight at him. Before Rothery had had a chance to fire, the beast was already past him and darting away, leaving the hunter to reportedly exclaim “Skerse, what a dog!”
The Great Dog was finally brought down by a hunter named Jonathan Patrickson, who encountered it on the banks of the River Ehen and managed to shoot and wound it. The hunter allegedly pursued it for several miles, all the while his dogs refusing to go anywhere near it, until whatever it was dove into the water to swim to the other side, where it was finally shot and killed by one of the hunting party named John Steel. In the end, the mystery beast had reportedly killed between 300 and 400 sheep, although there are no accounts of attacks on humans. The dead creature was reportedly around 51 kg in weight, and it was apparently subsequently mounted for display at the Keswick Museum and Art Gallery. However, as is often the case with these alleged cryptid bodies, the mounted specimen was discarded in the 1950s after the curator complained that the mount had become dusty, old and ragged.
With the lack of this mounted carcass as evidence, it is unlikely we will ever know what kind of mystery canid the Great Dog of Ennerdale could have been. It has been speculated to have been anything from a rogue wolf to an escaped big cat, but the most interesting theory making the rounds is that it was in fact a specimen of the extinct Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, which had escaped a traveling circus. Proponents of this theory point to the fact that the many traveling menageries of the era often had exotic animals such as the thylacine, which were called “tiger dogs,” one of which could have escaped to roam the countryside. The striped coloration of the Great Dog seems to match that of a thylacine as well, as does the impressive size, and it is also said that thylacine had a penchant for preferring the soft organs of kills or drinking blood. Could the mysterious Great Dog have been an escaped thylacine terrorizing the English countryside far from home? It is likely we will never know for sure.
From the remote forests of Myanmar, in particular the Pidaung Game Sanctuary, near the Irrawaddy River, come stories of a mysterious wild canid that could possibly represent a new species or even a new genus. What has come to be known as the Gray Dhole, or the Myanmar gray wild dog, is described as having a dark grey coat of fur, a pitch black muzzle, and short, rounded ears. Although natives of the area have long known of the animal, the Gray Dhole was first brought to the attention of the scientific community by an E. G. Phytian-Adams, who in 1913 wrote of the existence of a new species of grey wild dog known to the Burmese locals. Adams had seen the creature in April of that year, and said it was an unrecognized canid species that was grey in color and somewhat wolf-like in appearance. The species was also described in 1933, in a book entitled A Game Book for Burma and Adjoining Territories.
In 1936, a Burmese explorer called Mr. Tsaing also came across the creature in the heavily forested Lower Chindwin district, and it was described as being larger than a jackal or wild dog, and having a dark grey coat, a black muzzle, and unique, “half-shut eyes.” The seasoned explorer claimed that he had never before come across such a species in the area. In the 1950s, such reports prompted the Bombay Natural History Society to make a concerted effort to try and get a skin, skull, or some other physical evidence of the unknown species, but none were ever acquired. One game keeper reportedly did shoot one of the animals, and its skin was allegedly saved, but at some point it was lost to time and its whereabouts remain unknown.
While the region is already home to the dhole (Cuon alpinus), also known as the Asiatic wild dog, Indian wild dog, and the red wolf, the Gray Dhole is said to be smaller, and displays a coloration not consistent with the usual reddish coat of known dholes. The Gray Dhole could be a new species of dhole, or something else altogether. Some have suggested that it could be a relic population of wolves, which were once known in the region but have officially gone extinct, a hybrid between a dog and golden jackal (Canis aureus), or even a hybrid between a dhole and wolf, although nothing of the sort has ever been recorded before, and it is uncertain whether dholes can even interbreed with other types of canid, as it has never been demonstrated and the classification for dholes has put them in everything from a separate genus to Canis to an entire unique subfamily. Others say that the Gray Dhole could be a new genus or subfamily of Canis completely unrelated to the dhole. It is unlikely that we will ever know for sure, as the Gray Dhole has not been sighted since the 1930s, and if it ever existed at all it is likely that it has gone extinct.
With as successful and widespread a group of animals as the canids have become, it seems there is certainly room for undiscovered species to remain out in the wilderness beyond our grasp. Are we finished with discovering all of the various cousins of the dog that may be lying at your feet at this moment? Are are done with uncovering the diversity of this regal and powerful family of animals? Or are there still more species out there to find past the fringes of our current understanding of the natural world? It certainly seems that there may be more to what prowls our wilds than we know. Maybe someday we will have catalogued all of the canids there are, but for now now wonders just how close we are to that point in time. For it seems that there are howls in the night that echo through the woods from beasts still unknown to mankind.