Lungfishes are undoubtedly some of the most peculiar fishes known to man. There are several species in Africa, South America and Australia. In addition to gills they have a paired or unpaired lung and they breathe through the mouth. Because of their size (The Australian species grows to over 70 inches) they are seldom kept in home aquaria although they are regularly exhibited in zoos. They do have drawbacks, however. When Richard Freeman was working at Twycross Zoo in the West Midlands and he received a nasty bite from an African lungfish, which, he said was second only in painfulness to being bitten by an anaconda!
From a biological point of view, one of the most interesting things about these singular creatures is that they can and do survive for long periods of time out of water and can travel overland from one pond to another. The African lungfish aestivates, burrowing itself into the earth where it secretes a mucous bag around itself to preserve moisture during the long dry season.
In 1948 Ralph Izzard, correspondent for the Daily Mail and Charles Stonor travelled to Rilo a eastern Himalayan valley in the Dafla hills of Assam. To search for a swamp dwelling monster called the buru. It was well known to the local Apa Tani people. They described it as bluish in colour, 3.5 to 4 meters long, with four stumpy legs, and a lizard like appearance. It seemed almost totally aquatic, emerging only to bask in the sun. They fed by nosing about in the mud and gave birth to live young. They could use their tail as a powerful weapon. Their vocalisations were loud bellows.
British Zoologist Dr Karl P.N.Shuker has hypothesised that the Buru is actually an immense, and hitherto undiscovered species of lungfish. He writes:
“Although lungfishes have external nostrils, they breathe through their mouth, positioned at the very tip of the snout. This intake of air, readily percieved by the movements of its mouth and throat (proving that the lungfish is genuinely swallowing air) can be very audible. The size of the buru was such that if it were truly a lungfish, the bellowing moise reported when its head was visible above the water might well have been the very audible result of its ventilation period”.
Sadly it seemed from Izzard`s expedition that the buru were extinct. The local people drained the lake in which they lived for rice irrigation forcing the animals into the deeper sections. They were finally destroyed by being buried under deep piles of rocks hurled into what was left of the lake by the tribes people. Though extinct in Rilo the buru may survive elsewhere. Other unexplored lakes in the eastern Himalayas may hold such creatures. Identical creatures have been reported from India`s Gir region were they are called jhoor.
Unfortunately so much of the region in which these fabulous creatures may still thrive is beset with political unrest. Many zoologists, however, harbour the hope that investigative teams in the early years of the 21st Century will solve the mystery once and for all qand discover what we strongly believe is the world`s largest lungfish!