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Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Things With Wings In Africa #2: Kongamato

Most Cryptozoologists got off on the wrong foot with Kongamato: Kongamato was originally a water-monster that arose from the water and overturned canoes. It would never be a Pterosaur or even a bat: neither of those possibilities would have sufficient mass to affect a canoe. But a large stingray might be able to upset a small canoe and would be a "Thing with Wings" of the adequate size ("Wingspan of four to seven feet" in the original notices)

It is probably significant that not a single representation of the Kongamato shows its reported long and whiplike tail, as a stingray does have.

Roy Mackal notes in Searching For Hidden Animals (1980), p.59: "It is very curious that the natives should ascribe to Kongamato the ability to overturn canoes[which is in fact the central feature of the original information-DD] The natives definitely ascribed amphibiousness [and even primarily aquatic habitat-DD] to the Kongamato according to Melland, which struck him as mythical."

So what has that got to do with Surviving Pterosaurs?
Nothing at all. Why on earth SHOULD it have anything to do with surviving Pterosaurs?

Here is the general dossier on the Kongamato, the bulk of the information coming from Heuvalmans' On the Track of Unknown Animals:
Deep in the bush of east central Africa, lives a beaked, flying creature called the Kongamato. This fascinating animal first received widespread attention when explorer Frank Welland described it in his 1932 book In Witchbound Africa. The Kongamato ("overwhelmer of boats"), is described as a large, reddish creature with leathery wings, devoid of feathers. Eyewitnesses who are shown an illustration of the pterodactyl unanimously agreed to this identification of the Kongamato. "The evidence for the pterodactyl is that the natives can describe it so accurately, unprompted, and that they all agree about it. There is negative support also in the fact that they said they could not identify any other of the prehistoric monsters which I showed them...The natives do not consider it to be an unnatural thing like a mulombe [demon] only a very awful thing, like a man-eating lion or a rogue elephant, but infinitely worse... I have mentioned the Jiundu swamp [northwestern Zambia] as one of the reputed haunts of the kongamato, and I must say that the place itself is the very kind of place in which such a reptile might exist, if it is possible anywhere." (Welland, 1932, pp. 238, 240.)

"The Kaonde people of the North-Western Province [of Zambia] used to carry charms called "muchi wa Kongamato" to protect them at certain river crossings from the Kongamato"...The creature was described by the Kaonde of old as a huge red lizard with membranous wings like a bat spreading five or more feet, and with teeth in its huge beak. In the 1920’s, Headman Kanyinga from the Jiwundu Swamp area near the Zairean border instantly identified as Kongamato a picture of a pterodactyl...Nevertheless, as recently as 1958, the science journalist Maurice Burton wrote in the Illustrated London News in 1958 that there had been several reports form Africa of a pterodactyl-like creature, with speculation that the Bangweulu Swamps might be one of its habitats. He pointed out that off the coast of Africa, the coelacanth, a deep sea contemporary of the pterodactyl, had been caught by fisherman..." (Hobson, Dick, Tales of Zambia, 1996, p. 149.) Burton was also of the opinion that many sightings of the Kongamato might apply to large birds that live in swampy areas such as the peculiar-looking shoebill stork. To which it might be argued that the stork is a much bigger creature than is actually described in the better sightings (a yard wide wingspan, more or less)

Dr. J.L.B. Smith (famous for his investigation into the living fossil, the coelacanth) wrote in his 1956 book Old Fourlegs about flying dragons that lived near Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. " man had actually seen such a creature in flight close by at night. I did not and do not dispute at least the possibility that some such creature may still exist." (Smith, J.L.B., Old Fourlegs, 1956, pp. 108-109.) Indeed a game warden named A. Blaney Percival stationed in Kenya noted that a huge creature whose tracks only revealed two feet and a heavy tail was believed by the Kitui Wakamba natives to fly down to the ground from Mount Kenya every night (Shuker, Karl, In Search of Prehistoric Survivors, 1995, p. 49.). In Kenya the creature is called "Batamzinga."

A very credible account was described in 1956 by engineer J.P.F. Brown near Lake Bangweulu, Zambia and reported in the April 2, 1957 Rhodesia Herald. Brown was driving back to Salisbury from a visit to Kasenga in Zaire. He stopped at a location called Fort Rosebery, just to the west of Lake Bangweulu to get his canteen from the trunk. It was about 6:00 p.m. when he saw two creatures flying slowly and silently directly overhead. He observed that they looked prehistoric, with a long tail and narrow head. He estimated a wingspan of about 3-3 1/2 feet. One of them opened its mouth in which he saw a large number of pointed teeth. Further reports of such odd flying creatures come from the Awemba tribe that claims they live in caves in cliffs near the source of the great Zambezi River. In 1957, at a hospital at Fort Rosebery (the same location J. P. F. Brown had reported seeing strange flying creatures the year before) a patient came in with a severe wound in his chest. The doctor asked him what had happened and the native claimed that a great bird had attacked him in the Bangweulu swamps. This is another instance where a large stork-like bird would make a plausible culprit. In 2010, Genesis Park staff mounted an exploratory trip deep into the Bangweulu Swamp. Zambian fisherman were interviewed and all-night vigils were conducted. But no definitive evidence for the existence of the Kongamato was obtained
Modern reports of the Kongomato continue to surface. In 1998 Steve Romandi-Menya, a Kenyan exchange student living in Louisiana, declared that the Kongomato is still known to the bush-dwelling people in his country. The creatures are said to feed on decomposing human flesh, digging up bodies if they are not buried to sufficient depth. It is likely that this reported trait comes about entirely from a confusion with ordinary vultures.

In 1942 Captain Charles R.S. Pitman wrote a nearly 300 page volume describe the fauna of Uganda and the surrounding regions in great detail. He records the natives superstitious fear of looking upon the wailing tree hyrax at night lest they die (even though they were not afraid to capture the animal in daylight). He then discusses another animal that the natives described. "When in Northern Rhodesia I heard of a mythical beast, alleged to have a similar death-dealing attribute, which intrigued me considerably. It was said to haunt formerly, and perhaps still to haunt, a dense, swampy forest region in the neighbourhood of the Angola and Congo borders. To look upon it too is death. But the most amazing feature of this mystery beast is its suggested identity with a creature bat- and bird-like in form on a gigantic scale strangely reminiscent of the prehistoric pterodactyl. From where does the primitive African derive such a fanciful idea?" (Pitman, C.R.S, A Game Warden Takes Stock, 1942, pp. 202-203.)

Above, a reconstruction of the Triassic Icarosaurus, Below it is R. Muirhead's drawing

At the beginning of the current month, Richard Muirhead posted this entry on the CFZ blog and I think it is worth repeating here:


In early 1995 I had a pen-friend from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe who knew I was interested in the Kongamato. On February 13th 1995 Sithembile Ncube (my pen-pal`s name) sent me some notes written by her brother which at the time I thought referred to the Kongamato, (see accompanying illustration by myself ) but most probably doesn`t. According to Coleman and Clark in Cryptozoology A-Z:

“When Melland [in his book Witchbound Africa, 1923-R] asked local informants about the Kongamato, he was told it was a huge flying animal with membranes on its wings instead of feathers, teeth in its mouth, generally red, and from four to seven feet across. “ (1)

My informant from Zimbabwe wrote the following, (which according to Richard Freeman sounds more like a Draco volans type animal:)

“ I haven`t seen the creature but I have came (sic) across an article which states that:-

1. The lizard is brownish grey in colur, very `simimlar to the Southern African Gekko. It has got a rough skin with gloss black eyes. Its tail is not all that long, when sensing danger the tail rises to a `C` shape.

2. The reptile has some wings which are attached to the back of its spine. These wings are not made of feathers but they are made of light bones and thin flesh like material similar to that of the bate (sic). These wings are not so big. When are not so big. When flying the tail is rolled upwards and the legs folded inwards.

3. The reptile likes the rocky mountainous areas, it is rearly (sic) seen because it is very scared (shy).Its normal travelling times are early in the morning and late sun-set. It feeds on insects, ants and some small lizards. During the winter I understand it stays indoors, so this means it collects some food and store (sic) in the mountains or rocks where it is housed for consumption during Winter.” (2)

1. L.Coleman and J.Clark Cryptozoology A-Z (1999) p.126 2. Anon. Notes on the “Kongamato”/unknown flying lizard 13/2/1995

Posted by Jon Downes at 4:37 AM

Dale Drinnon said...
Hello Richard, we have spoken of this before. IMHO, the creature is one that has been *CALLED* a Kongamato in certain sightings, notably when seen from below as it is flying overhead and measuring in the realm of three feet long with a two-foot wingspan. That is certainly much too small to be a shoebill stork, one of the "Usual suspects" in Kongamato sightings. A pity your correspondant did not include the dimensions. I had heard similar descriptions from some of my own correspondants in South Africa.

The [more reasonable] two foot wingspan and three foot length (including a long tail) is often stated to be twice that size, four feet across and six feet long. I do not think that is as likely, but it is more nearly the norm of such reports. There are corresponding reports from Southeast Asia as I mentioned to you before,at those dimensions as well, but the descriptions are not usually so detailed as the one you just reported. There is one fairly good drawing made by a witness of one such a creature supposedly seen in Japan.

Ivan T. Sanderson called these "Third Class Dragons" and said that they seemed to have a base in The Near East; he suggested that captive ones might have been taken to Europe in Roman times. This is from Investigating the Unexplained, 1972, Chapter 4 "Icarus and Draco." Sanderson says they are the same as Basilisks. He does not specify a certain size for them, but Basilisks might be expected to be a yard or two long. Compounding the problem is the fact that Jenny Hanivers have been sculpted to look like small dragons and are ordinarily just about the right size. Charles Gould even says one place where such Jenny Hanivers used to be made was in Western and Central Africa, when the business was booming in about the 1500s.

My own opinion is also that the original Kongamato or "Overturner-of-Canoes" is a WATER monster with wings and a long thin tail, hence more likely a kind of stingray, which gets big enough to bump into canoes and upset them. The disc at about six to eight feet across would then be about right. ALL of the sightings of flying creatures would therefore be called "Kongamatos" by mistake

7:50 AM

It seems to me that the actual SIGHTINGS of flying lizards and so-called "Kongamatos" are more of the Draco lizard design that Richard and Richard were speaking of, but it is a very much larger animal than the present-day Draco lizards. It would seem that they are in the size range of the Triassic Kuhneosaurs like Icarosaurus, and Sanderson wrote about those "Third-Class Dragons" in conjunction with a discussion of Icarosaurus in the book I had cited.

Following are some body-design drawings for other larger lizards in the Kuhneosaur family from a project to create life models of the creatures in order to test their gliding or parachuting skills in a wind tunnel and in simulated flight. The young man at the end is one of the ones that made the models and tested their performance, together with one of the life-sized models.

The plan drawing before his photo illustrates two of the genera studied, with the smaller scale comparison of a modern Draco lizard.

The broader-winged animal is Kuhneosuchus and had sufficient lift to be a fair glider: the other one with the shorter rib-wings is Kuhneosaurus and was equipped mainly for parachuting. The modern animal seems to have even broader wings that Kuhneosuchus and more along the design of Icarosaurus. The figures I cited as the most likely size for the living animal, two to three foot wingspan and a length of three to four feet, is just on the upper range of probability for the size of a large Kuhneosaur. Furthermore, reports which exactly conform to this come from the Orient up to modern times (Sanderson's ones in the Near East and India seem to have gone extinct in Ancient times.They may have been known as Seraphim in Ancient Israel.)

Best Wishes, Dale D.

1 comment:

  1. I have checked the Wiktionary and the name of the two-legged animal in Kenya, Batamzinga, is the KiSwahili word for Guinea fowl, translated as "Turkey" in English. "Turkeys" were originally African Guinea fowl traded by the Turks and settlers in America named the native birds there "Turkeys" because of the resemblance. In this case, the name can be easily construed as a more polite reference to a vulture of some sort, also supposed to resemble our turkeys (as a parallel to the American "Turkey vulture" or "Turkey buzzard")

    So it would probably be better to stop quoting that story as evidence of a surviving Pterosaur also. Furthermore, there are some African "Flying Snake" reports that are definite references to anhingas and Oudemans mentions one in passing in his appendix of newer sightings, in his book on The Great Sea-serpent.

    Best Wishes, Dale D,


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