October 4, 2009
The second half of Episode 4 takes us once again to Egypt, this time in search of a wild, canine-like creature that is said to target humans as food. Along the Nile and south of Luxor lies a village called Armant, where the Sal’awa (scary wolf) is said to be viciously attacking humans. This unusual canine-like creature looks strange indeed, if eyewitness accounts are to be believed. Any chance that this is just a type of feral dog is belied by its strength and speed, as witnessed by people who work in the sugar cane fields just outside the village.
Using 3-D rendering software, a composite of this supposed cryptid is produced, and it is weird indeed. Nocturnal, with a bushy tail, canine-like body and pointed ears, it does appear to be a dog-like creature, or as Josh puts it, “a German Shepherd on steroids”. Razor like claws, striped coarse fur and powerful hindquarters complete the rendition. It has to be one of the most ugliest of any cryptid that has so far come to the attention of the DT team. No Lassie here, folks!
Wisely, Rex takes along a supply of rabies vaccines. Although the team is shown departing for Cairo, there is no doubt this portion of the episode had been filled either before or after the King Tut Curse segment. In Egypt’s capital city, they again meet up with Ramy (insert “sigh“ here), who will act as translator. But they first must navigate Cairo’s extremely busy and often narrow streets, where Josh’s driving skills are highlighted (or not). Congested and filled with obstacles of all kinds, any driver would have his or hands full, and Josh is no exception. A large vehicle and narrow, cluttered streets would present a challenge to the most skilled motorist, but Cairo has to be at the top of the list when it comes to navigating a large city filled with vehicular, human and animal traffic.
Having survived this ordeal, Josh is introduced to Mamdouh Tolbar, a government game warden and one of those unforgettable characters that we so often meet on this show. Mamdouh warns that this savage beast will surely attack him and “rip him to pieces”, but as we know these words are music to Josh’s ears.
We also discover that Mr. Tolbar’s job is anything but ordinary. What happens next has to be one of the weirdest scenes in DT’s history as a recently captured cobra is taken out of a bag and apparently mesmerized by the game warden’s exotic hand movements. This particular species can spray venom up to 8 feet, but Mamdouh is not in the least fearful or intimidated. In fact, he proceeds to “hypnotize” the reptile and put it to sleep, or so it seems.
I did some research on the skills of snake charmers, and what transpires here is far from mystical but nevertheless still fascinating. As handlers of these reptiles are aware, the snake is actually following the hand movements as it would any movement of a potential prey animal. As soon as the movement stops, the snake will drop its head. Some handlers will kiss the animal, as Josh is instructed to do. As long as this is done just above the animal’s body, it cannot attack anything in that position. Likewise, Mr. Tolbar was highly unlikely to have been in danger when he put the snake’s head into its mouth, but nevertheless this is one thing that I don’t think I would ever attempt to do! Though his actions look foolhardy, Mr. Tolbar actually knows how to correctly handle this particular species. Still, it was a very interesting and scary scene.
After what Josh termed a cobra make out session, and after a wild ride through sand dunes with no paved road in sight, the outskirts of Armant is finally reached. Our gang unwinds with the local children, playing soccer and managing through Gabe’s great game skills to kick their ball into a ravine. The standard rule of holding a little fellow upside down to retrieve the errant ball is followed. Next the local bazaar is visited, where Evan manages to rip his pants while juggling melons (I am not kidding). To rectify this clothing emergency, he is dutifully decked out in local threads, and proceeds to trod the streets, smartly wearing the latest-or oldest-garb around town.
But they did not come here to play. The locals relate what they know about the Sal’awa attacks, and point Josh in the direction of a woman whose 7 year old son had just been mauled by the beast. This mother sounds very sincere as she describes how she fought off the animal, which she claims was not a dog or wolf, and saved her son’s life. The ferocious looking dog she has obtained to keep the Sal’awa at bay lends further credence to her story. She is definitely frightened and concerned about protecting her family from this monstrous threat.
Indicating where sugar cane workers had chased the creature until loosing it in the darkened fields, Josh and team lose no time heading out in search of more information. A farmer, Shahba Hamzeh Shaker, claims he saw a Sal’awa “bigger than a donkey, smaller than a camel” with a long tail and neck, pointing in the direction where the encounter took place. Another farmer, Amir Sadari, is certain that the Sal’awa attacks children and warns his family to stay away from the sugar cane fields at night.
As darkness approaches, base camp is set up in the usual fashion at the edge of the sugar cane fields, with IR cameras along with baited trap cameras each equipped with GPS locaters set up around the camp’s perimeter. This is no wild goose chase; there is no doubt that some wild animal is attacking people. As the red sun descends below the horizon, the team prepares to go off in search of a dangerous animal capable of inflicting serious harm-or worse.
Rex goes to place the last camera as Josh and Jael proceed to enter into the densely packed field. Josh finds some “scat” and bags it for evidence. In addition he comes across some fresh, apparently canine prints and prepares to make a cast to take back to the US for further analysis. At first glance, the print does not look big enough to belong to the large animal the villagers have described, but it is an important find nonetheless.
As Josh sets to work, Jael takes off on her own and is frightened by the sound of growling. At the same time, Sharra reports movement around their camp. It doesn’t take long for Josh and Jael to hear sounds of something big walking around them as well. Bisha excitedly reports that an animal of some kind has just grabbed the bait at a camera near their position, and we see a fuzzy tail to the left of the screen. Is it a Sal’awa?
As Sharra places a trap camera, she hears a howling like sound that is “definitely not a dog”. Rex describes a big shape running across the field, and we hear yet more eerie howling around Sharra, which prompts her to move away from the area. Knowing the approximate location of the animal, Josh creates a plan designed to drive the animal away from the sugar cane plants and out into an open area. Fanning out where the sounds are being heard, it appears that they are getting closer to the source of the rustling. Suddenly, a deep, low growl is heard–it is apparent that they are near to something that is disturbed by their actions. These are tense moments as no one knows what they are really up against and the threat of an attack by some wild animal is a distinct possibility
The growling continues and is loud enough to be picked up by their audio, and we viewers can hear it as well. We can only imagine how their hearts must have been racing as they continue to get nearer to whatever is in their midst. However, they are unable to make any visual contact with the animal, and they finally find themselves on the other side of the sugar cane field, safe and sound but not knowing what it was that they had encountered. In cases of such dense vegetation, it is difficult if not impossible for the FLIR to pick up any heat signatures other than that given off by the immediate environment.
Back at camp, Josh feels that there is enough evidence, including clear audio of the growls, and he is confident that the cameras must have picked up something. Coupled with the cast of the paw print, there is sufficient evidence to hopefully discover just what has been frightening the villagers. It is time to head back home to find out if a monstrous canine does indeed exist in southern Egypt.
First up is the paw print (the scat is never mentioned again; perhaps it didn‘t make it past customs), which is shown to Dr. Jim Dines of the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History. He confirms what the others have been thinking–it is indeed of canine origin. Mike Dee, a familiar face to DT viewers, is shown the video evidence and listens to the audio that was so clearly picked up by the equipment. He is convinced that at least some of the sounds are canine in origin, while stating that others could be donkeys or horses, given the proximity of the village. The deep growls seemed to surprise him, and he concluded that a wolf or dog might have been responsible for these frightening sounds.
But it was finally the IR footage that gave them the answer they were looking for. Mike Dee was in no doubt as to what the cameras had captured – a fox. With the long nose, bushy tail and hide legs higher than the front, it almost exactly matched the sketch that had previously been rendered using the descriptions from various eyewitnesses of the creature.
This is one of the few episodes where a legendary creature has been identified and found to be something quite mundane. But what of the belief that the Sal’awa was a large, fearsome and extremely aggressive monster that stalked and attacked humans unfortunate enough to encounter it? Imagination and fear play a large part in shaping what we think we perceive, especially in the dark of night. Given the fact that there are probably some wild dogs in the area as well as the foxes that so match the description of this creature, everything falls into place. Equally as important, myth is a powerful force in itself; something which grows in the telling through the centuries, and there is no doubt that the Sal‘awa has become an important part of the legends passed down through generations. As such, we and the DT team can close the case on this ferocious, interesting but in the end fictional cryptid.
It seemed almost from the start that no one actually expected to find a new species roaming the sugar cane fields of southern Egypt. Still, one never knows and, as with so many episodes of Destination Truth, most of the fun lies in going along for the ride to exotic such places, experiencing the local culture, having fun and meeting some very interesting people along the way. Despite the outcome, this was an entertaining show in pure DT style.
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