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
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
, 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
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 Lake
.. It is true I
never saw one there myself. Young thinks the Chipekwe is still surviving there.
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 Lavusi
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.
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
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
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 French Equatorial
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 Belgian Congo
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 Congo
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
. 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
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
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.