Today is World Rhino Day and to join in the celebrations, Richard Freeman has written about a putative cryptozoological rhino, which - if it exists - will make the World Rhino Day motto obsolete forever..
An English ex-pat that gathered information on a supposed horned giant animal said to lurk in
Lake Bangweulu. J.E. Hughes was born in Derbyshire in
1876 and attended Cambridge.
The British South Africa Company offered him a job as assistant native
commissioner in the newly formed civil service of north-east Rhodesia. After
7 years of service Hughes resigned and became a hunter/trader. He lived for the
next 18 years on the Mbawala islands on Lake Bangweulu.
He recorded his life in a book, Eighteen years on Lake
Bangweulu, in which he writes of the monster...
"For many years now there has been a persistent rumour that a huge prehistoric animal was to be found in the waters of our
Lake Bangweulu. Certainly the natives talk about such a
beast and "Chipekwe" or "Chimpekwe", is the name by which
they call it.
I find it is a fact that Herr Hagenbeck sent up an expedition in search of this animal, but none of them ever reached the Luapula of the`, owing to fever, etc ; they had come at the wrong time of year for newcomers.
Mr. H. Croad, the retired magistrate, is inclined to think there is something to the legend. He told me one night, camped at the edge of a very deep small lake, he heard a tremendous splashing during the night, and in the morning found a spoor on the bank- not that of any animal he knew, and he knows them all.
Another bit of evidence about it is the story Kanyeshia, son of Mieri-Mieri, the Waushi Paramount Chief, told me. His grandfather had said that he could remember one of these animals being killed in the Luapula in deep water below the Lubwe.
A good description of the hunt has been handed down by tradition. It took many of their best hunters the whole day spearing it with their "Viwingo" harpoons- the same as they use for the hippo. It is described as having a smooth dark body, without bristles, and armed with a single smooth white horn fixed like the horn of a rhinoceros, but composed of smooth white ivory, very highly polished. It is a pity they did not keep it, as I would have given them anything they liked for it.
I noticed in Carl Hagenbeck`s book "Beasts and Men", abridged edition, 1909, p.96, that the Chipekwe has been illustrated in bushman paintings. This is a very interesting point, which seems to confirm the native legend of the existence of such a beast.
Lake young is named on the map after its discoverer, Mr Robert Young, formerly N.C in charge of Chinsali. The native name of the lake is "Shiwangandu". When exploring this part in the earliest days of the Administration, he took a shot at an object in some floating sudd that looked like a duck ; it dived and went away, leaving a wake like a screw steamer. This lake is drained by the Manshya river, which runs into the Chambezi. The lake itself is just half-way between Mipka and Chinsale Station.
Mr Young told me that the natives once pulled their canoes up the Manshya into this lake. There were a party of men, women, and children out on a hippo-harpooning expedition. The natives claimed that the Guardian Spirit of the lake objected to this and showed his anger by upsetting and destroying all the men and canoes. The women and children who had remained on the shore all saw this take place. Not a single man returned and the women and children returned alone to the Chambezie. He further said that never since has a canoe been seen on
.. It is true I
never saw one there myself. Young thinks the Chipekwe is still surviving there. Lake
Another bit of hearsay evidence was given me by Mr Croad. This was told to him by Mr. R. M. Green, who many years ago built his lonely hermitage on our Lulimala in the Ilala country about 1906. Green said that the natives reported a hippo killed by a Chipekwe in the Lukula- the next river. The throat was torn out.
I have been to the Lukulu many times and explored it from its source via the
to were it loses
its self in the reeds of the big swamp, without finding the slightest sign of
any such survival of prehistoric ages. Lavusi
When I first heard about this animal, I circulated the news that I would give a reward of either £5 or a bale of cloth in return for any evidence, such as a bone, a horn, a scrap of hide, of a spoor, that such an animal might possibly exist. For about fifteen years I had native buyers traversing every waterway and picking up other skins for me. No trace of the Chipekwe was ever produced; the reward is still unclaimed.
My own theory is that such an animal did really exist, but is now extinct. Probably disappearing when the Luapula cut its way to a lower level- thus reducing the level of the previously existing big lake, which is shown by the pebbled foothills of the far distant mountains."
Perhaps, if we are to believe Mr Young`s tale the creature`s ferocity kept it from being hunted very often. A picture is emerging of a huge, dangerous, semi-aquatic animal with a single horn and an antipathy towards hippos. Many have come to the conclusion that these are Ceratopsian dinosaurs. These were a sub-order of Ornithischia (bird hipped dinosaurs) and contained such well known horned dinosaurs as Triceratops and Styracosaurus. They were all herbivores and were typified by bearing horns and a bony frill like an Elizabethan ruff that grew from the rear of the skull to protect the animal’s neck. The number of horns varied between the species, some such as Monoclonius bore only one horn on the snout.
There are two main stumbling blocks with the dinosaur theory. First and foremost there is no fossil evidence for any species of non-avian dinosaur surviving beyond the Cretaceous period (which ended 65 million years ago). Secondly there is no indication of any species of being aquatic, let alone Ceratopsians. So we need to look elsewhere for this beast's identity. Let us examine some more evidence.
C.G. James, a gentleman who had resided in
Africa for 18 years wrote to the
Daily Mail. His letter was published on December 26, 1919.
"Sir, I should like to record a common native belief in the existence of a creature supposed to inhabit huge swamps on the borders of the Katanga district of the Belgian Congo - the Bangweulu, Mweru, the
Kafue swamps. The detailed descriptions of this creature
vary, possibly through exaggerations, but they all agree on the following
It is named the Chipekwe; it is of enormous size; it kills hippopotami (there is no evidence to show it eats them, rather the contrary); it inhabits the deep swamps; its spoor (trail) is similar to a hippo's in shape; it is armed with one huge tusk of ivory"
It is useful at this point to realise that Lakes Bangweulu and Mweru are connected via the Luapula river-system (were supposedly specimen was killed).
Identical reports have come in from elsewhere in the dark continent. Lucien Blancou, chief game inspector in
Africa collected stories of unknown animals between 1949 and 1953.
Some of these seem to refer to an animal like the Chipekwe.
"The Africans in the north of the Kelle district, especially the pygmies, know of a forest animal larger than a buffalo, almost as large as an elephant, but which is not a hippopotamus. Its tracks are only seen at long intervals, but they fear it more than any other dangerous animal. The sketch of its footprint which they drew for M.Millet is that of a rhinoceros. On the other hand they do not seem to have said that it has a horn, though they certainly not said that it has not. While M.Millet was at Kelle, in 1950 if I am not mistaken, one of the best known African chiefs in the district came several days march to inform him that "the beast had reappeared". Unfortunately, this is all I can say, for M.Millet left the district in 1951, and I have not been able to go there myself. The rewards in kind which this official offered the pygmies for tangible proof of the animal's presence yielded no result.
Around Ouesso, the natives talk of a big animal which does have a horn on its nose- though I don`t know whether it has one of several. They are just as afraid of it as the Kelle people.
Around Epena, Impfondo, and Dongou, the presence of a beast which sometimes disembowels elephants is also known, but it dose not seem to be as prevalent there now as in the preceding districts. A specimen was supposed to have been killed twenty years ago at Dongou, but on the left bank of the Ubangi and in the
This report is particuly interesting as the man in question recognised the print as that of a rhinoceros, one of the few animals capable of killing an adult hippo.(The hippopotamus is one of the most dangerous animals in
Africa. Despite the cuddly Disney image this animal has
it is in reality totally unpredictable and highly territorial. It also
possesses a huge mouth armed with immense curving tusks that can bite a man in
two or rend a boat asunder.) In the Congo this horned animal is called Emela-ntouka, this translates as
"killer of elephants". Places were both hippos and elephants are
scarce or absent are reputed haunts of this aggressive creature who gores the
former animals to death with its horn.
Iise von Nolde spent 10 years in eastern
Angola and reported in 1930 events
much like the ones related previously. Natives told her of a monster called “Coje ya menia” or "water
lion". The name seemed to relate to the roaring sound the animal produced
rather than to any resemblance to a lion. She herself heard its rumbling cry on
several occasions. It was said to inhabit
water but was also seen on the bank. In the rainy season when the Cuanza river was in flood it moved to smaller rivers and
One day she met a native in hippopotamus skin sandals. She asked him if he had killed the hippo and he replied that he had found the animal dead, killed by a Coje ya meina. On another occasion a Portuguese lorry driver of how he had herd of one of these creatures killing a hippo on the pervious night. He intrepidly set off to investigate with several native hunters and found the tracks. The hippo's tracks ran for several miles and seemed intermingled with the tracks of its persuer that none of them could identify. Finally they came upon an area were the grass and bushes had been smashed and crushed. The mangled cadaver of the hippo lay in the centre of the devastation. It looked as if it had been hacked and ripped by a huge bush knife. None of the carcass had been eaten. It would seem that the only thing capable of inflicting such wounds would be a massive horn.
For me the clinch in this animal's identity is a photograph taken in 1966 in the
by French photographer and naturalist Atelier Yvan Ridel. The photo shows a
large three toed foot print, one of a set that led out of a mass of reeds, up a
steep bank, across a small beach and into the river.
The tracks are instantainiouly recognisable to any zoologist worth his salt, they are the foot prints of a rhinoceros. The nearest rhino populations to the
Congo are 1000 miles
away in the Cameroons and the Central
African Republic. These are black rhino (Dicerocs bicornis) the smaller of the
two African species and much smaller than the reports of the Emela- ntouka .
The toes seem a little more elongate than those of other rhinos and this may be
an adaptation to a marshy environment. The rhino's close relatives in the order
perissodactyla (odd toed ungulates) the tapirs display slightly elongated toes
and are invariably found in swampy biotopes.
The Emela-ntouka /Chipekwe is most likely to be not a ceratopsian dinosaur but a giant semi-aquatic rhinoceros. The idea of a water dwelling rhino may seem strange but the great Indian rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis) spends almost as much time in water as a hippopotamus. It feeds mainly on lush water plants such as reeds and water lilies. The Indian rhino also bares only one horn much like the Emela-ntouka and unlike the two savannah dwelling African species who both bare two horns.
This unknown species must be a veritable giant. Natives say it rivals the elephant in size. The largest known rhino is the African white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) that can reach 5 tons in weight and is second only to the elephants as largest land mammal. A white rhino would have no trouble despatching a hippo but if the Emela- ntouka does indeed kill elephants it would need to be even more massive. One prehistoric rhino Indricatherium was the largest land mammal of all time reaching 20 tones in weight, bigger than the largest mammoth. One group of rhinos the Amynodontids specialised in an aquatic lifestyle. These flourished in the Oligocene epoch 38 to 25 million years ago finally dieing out around 10 million years ago. Could one species have survived into the present? This is by no means impossible but it is perhaps more likely that our unknown giant is a modern species that has avoided detection rather than a prehistoric survivor.
But what of the ivory horn? Rhino horn is made from keratin a fibrous material that also forms human finger nails and very different to ivory. This is the only sticking point with the rhino theory, could the natives be mistaken on this point? I think the answer is yes. However much we want this creature to be a dinosaur the bulk of the evidence points towards a giant aquatic rhino.