The Centre for Fortean Zoology was founded in the UK in 1992 - nearly 20 years ago. Over the past two decades it has expanded to become a truly global organisation. We opened our American office in 2001, our Australian office in 2009, and now - in our 19th year - we are proud to welcome CFZ Canada to the CFZ global family.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Waheela Watching

In the Nahanni Valley in Canada’s Northwest Territories lives a legend called the Waheela.

The Nahanni Valley is about 300 miles (500km) west of Yellowknife, and is extraordinarily beautiful. 500-200 million years ago the region was covered by an ancient inland sea. The three mile deep rock and sediment is full of fossils that tell the tale of ancient aquatic life. When the North American and Pacific plates collided, the layers were lifted, giving rocky ridges and ranges and volcanoes pushing molten lava up into igneous batholiths. Glaciers that followed eroded much of the top layer leaving granite towers, gorgeous canyons, and breathtaking waterfalls. Flora and fauna including aspen and spruce forests and alpine tundra provide a home for protected or endangered species like grizzly bears and wood buffalo. The rare plant Nahanni Aster can only be found in this area.

Human habitation began in this area about ten thousand years ago. Evidence has been found of the Naha tribe, a group that mysteriously disappeared. During the Yukon Gold Rush, prospectors who travelled the valley told stories of hauntings and treasures hidden in the area’s 250+ caves. Dehcho First Nations and the Canadian Government oversee the area and maintain it largely as a park system.

The Dene Indians oral history sustains mid 20th century reports of the strange beast called Waheela. This is described as a large, heavy wolf that is also part canine and possibly part bear. It is said to have supernatural powers and to be responsible for many unexplained deaths in the area. Standing three feet high at the shoulder, this large animal is several inches taller than any known wolf with a broad head rather than the narrow wolf head.

Cryptozoologist Ivan Sanderson designated this animal as Amphicyonidae, or beardog. Thought to be extinct, these animals roamed not only North America, but also Europe, Asia, and Africa. These animals were carnivorous and could certainly explain the sudden disappearance of humans. Are they extinct? Some say not in this area of the world. Beardogs live in burrows, so they could easily remain hidden in such a sparsely habited area. Additionally, they are said to have heavy white fur which would help camouflage them in the cold and snowy climate. The cryptozoological label might be in question though; Alaska and most extreme northern areas have white wolves (C. lupus) so it could well be that the sightings can be attributed to unusually large (or erroneously perceived as overly large) perfectly normal wolves.

A hunter friend of Ivan Sanderson once attempted to shoot one of these creatures and the bullet failed to penetrate the thick fur. Local legend states that the Waheela literally bites the heads off of its prey. To further complicate matters, the Waheela is sometimes said to be able to shapeshift into a human form. Regardless of what form it takes, it’s not something you want to encounter.

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