There are all manner of creatures skirting out past the fringes of what we know, inhabiting a realm that we cannot at this time fully understand. One of these types of mystery animals are strange beasts akin to hyenas that stalk the landscape of North America, very unusual since these creatures are in no way native to these lands. Although quite rare as these things go, there have been occasional sightings of something in the wilds of North America that seems to be keeping along the lines of something very hyena-like in nature. Indeed, such a creature plays a role in the lore and legends of the Ioway Indians of the Great Plains of the American West, a creature they call the Shunka Warakin, which means in their language “carries off dogs,” and which is known by various other local names. It is a brutish, dark-furred beast with a sloping back, massive jaws, long front legs compared to the rear, and looking very much like what we today would know as a hyena. The creatures were said to be extremely vicious and to be avoided at all costs, and the tribes of the region gave them a large berth.
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 even shot and mounted specimens of these beasts, and there is at least one mysterious mounted specimen that was allegedly shot in Montana in 1886 by an Israel Ammon Hutchins. The specimen was acquired by a local 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. Sightings of such large, hyena-like beasts in North America have been made far and wide. An early report dug up by cryptozoologist Jerome Clark comes from an August 3, 1910 article in the Fort Wayne Weekly Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Indiana. The sighting apparently happened at Delphos, Kansas, and the report says:
Considerable excitement was created here yesterday when Isaac Good, who lives on the Noah Miller farm in Marion township, about a mile east of Delphos, came into town and reported that he had seen in the Pohlman woods, near the W. C. Baxter farm, between 8 and 9 a.m., a strange looking wild animal that had all the appearance of being a hyena. Mr. Good first saw the animal in the woods. It was sitting back on its haunches and licking its front paws much in the same manner as a cat or dog would. Mr. Good was quite near the animal before he saw it, or before it saw him. After starting at him for a few moments, Mr. Good says[,] the animal ran rapidly toward a cornfield and disappeared. His description of the strange beast left no doubt that it was a wild animal, that it was a hyena. Mr. Good remained about the vicinity for some time, hoping to get another glimpse of the animal, but was unable to do so. He was on his way to Delphos to work, but after seeing the strange intruder in the woods, he gave up the idea of work for the day, and came to Delphos and endeavored to organize a number of armed men and procure dogs to chase the animal down. No reports had previously been heard concerning such an animal being seen in this part of the country, but Mr. Good’s word is not doubted. The animal may have escaped from a circus.
Another sighting of a possible Shunka Warakin was reported to CO Parks and Wildlife in 2019, in which a witness claims to have seen a large hyena pass in front of him at Garden of the Gods trading post in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In this case it was found that there were no missing hyenas at the nearby Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and authorities just sort of shrugged it off as a misidentification of a coyote, bobcat, or other locally known animal. Other notable sightings of the beast abound. In 1991 several witnesses claimed to have seen a hyena roving about the Alberta Wildlife Park near Legal, Alberta, Canada, and in 1995 others were spotted in Idaho and Montana. More sightings have occurred in these areas in later years as well, such as a hyena spotted roaming about killing livestock in Montana in 2005, and at least four sightings of a hyena-like creature in 2015 and 2017.
Such sightings seem to range quite wildly. There was a fairly recent spate of sightings in 2004, in which a large, hyena-like animal was reported as prowling about killing dogs in rural Maine. The creature was sighted by dozens of witnesses including policemen, all of whom said it looked just like a hyena. Also quite recent is a sighting reported to Phantoms and Monsters, of a witness who claims to have seen a hyena-like creature in 2010 in the vicinity of the Adirondack Park, in the southern Adirondacks of NY. The witness says:
My wife and I saw what can only be described as a hyena chasing several deer across the road. The animal literally stopped dead in front of the car staring back at us for 10 seconds before it moved off. I have been in the woods my whole life, raised with a gun since childhood, and spent my summers on Lake Champlain. I have hunted, fished, instructed archery and rifle range, hiked, coon hunted at night, owned horses and ridden horseback through the wilderness, and presently live with all kinds of wildlife on my lakefront-creekside property… well, I thought I’d seen it all. BUT… I have no idea what this was, other than to say it was a hyena.
It was very large; 150-175lbs, long bushy tail, brindle, wirey, spotted, brown, black and gray coat, with a powerful predator build, thick lower jaw, rounded, diamond shaped, triangular head with rounded ears sitting high on the head, and what appeared to be a mane running down the back originating on the neck. Its hind legs were noticeably shorter than the front and much thicker and more powerfully muscled than the front – so that the animal sloped down in the powerful rear. I have seen countless Hyenas on Discovery, in National Geographic and Wild Kingdom as a kid, and there is no other option then this strongly resembled a Spotted Hyena.
Then a few days later, we saw it again doing the same thing. There is no doubt, this was not a Coyote, a Wolf hybrid or a Coydog… this WAS a Hyena. My property has a creek, creekmouth and lakefront, with 4 fish spawns, plenty of deer, coyote, Red and Gray Fox, Fisher, Eagles, Turkeys, ducks, Blue Heron, owls, Osprey, geese, ducks, Turkey Vultures, and even the occasional Black Bear and this fall a yearling Moose, I’ve seen it all; especially riding horseback. You name it, I’ve seen it and can identify it… but have never seen anything like this. As close as I can come is the Spotted Hyena.
Similar to this mysterious cryptid is another that seems to share some traits and could even be the same thing, or something at least related to it. This enigmatic beast hails 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 in 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 it 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.” 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.
A sighting of what sounds very much like the Waheela or Shunka Warakin was reported on The National Cryptid Society, and concerns what seems to be some sort of massive, hyena-like creature spotted in a rural area of Illinois along Route 37 between Johnston City Illinois and West Frankfort in 2008. The witness says that he was driving along at about 11;30 at night when he had his encounter, of which he says:
Ahead of me in the distance I saw a deer cross the road in front of me. Just a short bit after a very large creature crossed the road as if it was stalking it. Illinois Route 37 is a two lane highway and this creature took up a lane and a half starting at the edge of the road. It was hunkered down like a cat would stalk something, but this wasn’t a cat. The front haunches were like a hyena’s. I couldn’t tell if it had a tail. It looked more dog-like… If I had to say something it looked like I would have to say it reminded me of a werewolf like on American Werewolf of London, but that’s what it reminded me of. After passing the point where they crossed the road I turned around to see if I could see it again. No luck. I did see the deer trying to hide in a yard behind a few trees, laying there shaking as if it was terrified of something.
What are we dealing with here? Theories on what such creatures 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. It could also be 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. 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 these cryptids could be indicative of some sort of North American relative of the hyena or a new species of large canid all together. More skeptical evaluations point to this all being merely exaggerated reports of known animals, sightings of aberrant or unusually colored specimens of coyote or wolf, or simply escaped exotic pets or zoo specimens. Whatever they are, they just add to the menagerie of mystery monsters that prowl the wilderness beyond our understanding.