|Kongamato - Flying Demons of the Forbidden Swamps|
|By Cisco Serret|
In the Age of Dinosaurs there existed flying reptiles called Pterosaurs. The fossil record suggests that they appeared in the Jurassic and lived into the Cretaceous, about 65 million years ago. Nearly all the fossils found have been in marine deposits, which means they probably were fish eaters and spent most of their time over coastal waters. These flying reptiles apparently managed to fly with no feathers, their main aerodynamic feature being wings of membrane supported by an enormously elongated fourth finger. They had hollow limb bones and a large keeled breastbone for attachment of strong wing muscles, needed for true flight and not just gliding. The large expenditure of energy required to remain in flight for long periods of time, and the resultant loss of heat caused by the surface of their wings exposed to moving air, means that they must have had some method of regulating body heat, although it is doubtful they were truly warm-blooded as mammals are. Although popular media has usually described pterosaurs as huge menacing creatures, most of the pterosaurs were much smaller, from the size of a sparrow to the size of an eagle. There have been some very large species discovered, however: the pteranodon with a wingspan of 27 ft. and the colossal quetzalcoatlus, with a wingspan of 50 ft. (and possibly up to 60 ft.). Some pterosaurs actually had fur, although they were not related to mammals.
It would seem impossible that these creatures could have survived to the present day. After all, if they existed surely people would see them flying about as they hunted for food. How could a flying population of reptiles remain hidden? There are reports that people have been seeing flying creatures that match the description of pterosaurs for a long time. People have even been, reportedly, killed by them.
In 1923 a traveler by the name of Frank H. Melland worked for a time in Zambia. He gathered native reports of ferocious flying reptiles. The natives called this creature kongamato ("overwhelmer of boats"), which was said to have lived in the Jiundu swamps in the Mwinilunga District in western Zambia, near the border of Congo and Angola. It was described as having no feathers at all, smooth skin, a wingspan between 4 ft. and 7 ft., and possessing a beak full of teeth. They were usually described as black or red. It had a reputation for capsizing canoes and causing death to anyone who merely looked at it. When showed drawings of pterosaurs
"... every native present immediately and unhesitatingly picked it out and identified it as a kongamato. Among the natives who did so was a headman from the Jiundu country, where the kongamato is supposed to be active, and who is a rather wild and quite unsophisticated native."
In 1925, a distinguished English newspaper correspondent, G. Ward Price, was with the future Duke of Windsor on an official visit to Rhodesia. He reported a story that a civil servant told them of the wounding of a man who entered a feared swamp in Rhodesia known to be an abode of demons. The brave native entered the swamp, determined to explore it in spite of the dangers. When he returned he was on the verge of death. He had a great wound in his chest. He recounted how a strange huge bird with a long beak attacked him. When the civil servant showed the man a picture of a pterosaur from a book of prehistoric animals, the man screamed in terror and fled from the servant's home.
In 1942 Colonel C. R. S. Pitman reported stories the natives had told him of a large bat/bird type creature that lived in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) in a dense swampy region--supposedly to look upon it was death. Tracks of the creatures were seen, with evidence of a large tail dragging the ground. These reports were not limited to Zambia, but also came from other locations in Africa such as Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya.
Skeptics suggest that these fantastic sounding tales derived from the fanciful imaginations of natives who were hired to work at archeological digs where fossilized pterosaurs were uncovered in Tendagaru, Tanzania, in the years prior to World War I. These digs, however, took place over 900 miles from Zambia. Why did no reports of living pterosaurs come from Tanzania, where these imaginative natives lived?
Perhaps the most striking report of living pterosaurs comes not from natives, but from white explorers in the employment of the British Museum. In 1932-3 the Percy Sladen Expedition went to West Africa. In charge of the team was Ivan T. Sanderson, a well-known zoologist and writer. While in the Assumbo Mountains in the Cameroons, they made camp in a wooded valley near a steep banked river. They were out hunting near the river when Sanderson shot a large fruit-eating bat. It fell in the water, and as Sanderson was carefully making his way in the fast moving current, he lost his balance and fell. He regained his balance when his companion suddenly shouted "Look out!"
"And I looked. Then I let out a shout also and instantly bobbed down under the water, because, coming straight at me only a few feet above the water was a black thing the size of an eagle. I had only a glimpse of its face, yet that was quite sufficient, for its lower jaw hung open and bore a semicircle of pointed white teeth set about their own width apart from each other. When I emerged, it was gone. George was facing the other way blazing off his second barrel. I arrived dripping on my rock and we looked at each other. "Will it come back?" we chorused. And just before it became too dark to see, it came again, hurtling back down the river, its teeth chattering, the air "shss-shssing" as it was cleft by the great, black, dracula-like wings. We were both off-guard, my gun was unloaded, and the brute made straight for George. He ducked. The animal soared over him and was at once swallowed up in the night."Sanderson and George returned to camp where they asked the natives about the creature. Sanderson asked them, spreading his arms, what kind of bat is this large and is all black? "Olitiau!" was the response. They asked Sanderson where they had seen this creature. Sanderson pointed back at the river. The natives fled in terror in the opposite direction, taking only their guns and leaving their valuables behind.
While it may be suggested that the creature that attacked Sanderson and George was merely the mate of the bat they had shot, it is somewhat dubious. Fruit bats are not known for attacking humans, and Sanderson, a highly knowledgeable and internationally respected zoologist, clearly indicated that he did not recognize the creature. Fruit bats are a brownish or yellowish color. Sanderson described the creature as all black. He, however, did describe it as a bat - and pterosaurs are bat-like.
In 1956 in Zambia along the Luapula river, engineer J.P.F. 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, for a break. It was about 6:00 p.m. when he saw two creatures flying slowly and silently directly overhead. He, bewildered, observed that they looked prehistoric. He estimated a wingspan of about 3-3 1/2 feet, a long thin tail, and a narrow head, which he likened to an elongated snout of a dog. One of them opened its mouth in which he saw a large number of pointed teeth. He gave the beak to tail length at about 4 1/2 feet. After this report came out, a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. D. Gregor reported that they had seen 2 1/2 ft. long flying lizards in Southern Rhodesia, and a Dr. J. Blake-Thompson reported that natives of the Awemba tribe had told of huge flying creatures resembling rats that would attack humans. They lived 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. When asked to sketch the bird, the native drew a picture of a creature that resembled a pterosaur.
Soon afterwards the Zambezi valley was flooded as a result of the Kariba Dam hydroelectric project. Daily Telegraph correspondent Ian Colvin was at the scene, when he took a controversial photograph of what might be a pterosaur. [It has recently been discovered that the photo was a hoax].
Reports of prehistoric looking flying creatures are not just limited to dense swampy regions. There are also reports of giant flying lizards from the deserts of Namibia. In 1988 Professor Roy Mackal led an expedition to Namibia where reports of a creature with a wingspan of up to 30 ft were collected. The avian cryptid usually glided through the air, but also was capable of true flight. It was usually seen at dusk, gliding between crevices between two hills about a mile apart. Although the expedition was not successful in getting solid evidence, one team member, James Kosi, reportedly saw the creature from about 1000 ft. away. He described it as a giant glider shape, black with white markings.
There are two species of birds that live in the swampy areas of Zambia that could possibly be mistaken for some kind of prehistoric apparition, especially under low light conditions or at nighttime. The shoebill stork is a dark colored bird with a 8 ft. wingspan and a decidedly prehistoric appearance. They have become rare, and can only be found in the deep recesses of swamps in Zambia and neighboring countries. However, there is no evidence of the shoebill behaving aggressively towards humans, and in fact they try to avoid humans as much as possible. They have large bills, but they are not pointed, and they do not have teeth (no known birds living today have real teeth). Another odd-looking bird that lives in the area is the saddle-billed stork. These rather beautiful birds have a wingspan of up to 8½ feet, a long bright red bill with a horizontal black stripe ¾ up from the tip and with a yellow blaze from the eyes down and into the stripe, with additional orange stripes on the sides of the head. Their overall coloration is black and white with a black head, and featherless red feet. The beak is long and pointed. Although it would be difficult to confuse this bird with a featherless, monotone-colored pterosaur, its beak is similar. And it is not beyond the realm of possibility that perhaps a deranged, sick, threatened, or confused saddle-billed stork could attack a human and plunge its beak into a man's chest. Both of these candidates are rather poor substitutes for pterosaurs, although they probably do account for some of the reports. Many of the natives are very superstitious, and fervently believe in the stories of monsters in the swamps waiting to attack intruders. It is not difficult to imagine that a quick flyby of one of these large birds in the dark could send one running back to camp with a story of a near miss by a flying demon.
Whether the reports are of actual sightings of pterosaur-related creatures, or if it they represent some unknown (to science) huge sort of bat or bird with a bad attitude, perhaps time will tell. Of all the remote, inaccessible locations in the world where unknown creatures could still exist, probably the best candidates would have to be the deep enormous swamps in Africa. These swamps are so overgrown with vines and undergrowth that human travel is next to impossible. In addition, the ground is often so soft that humans could not even stand without sinking, and the many rivers and waterlogged areas block many avenues of penetration. Vicious insects and other critters that can cause sickness from disease or death from venom accompany the hostile terrain. The area is racked with political instability, patrolled by guerillas and armed bandits with little respect for non-native intruders, which provides a powerful disincentive to would-be explorers. Over flights by aircraft are ineffective since the treetops are so thick in the deep swamps that little or nothing can been seen underneath. Africa is hiding its secrets well. If there are living dinosaurs alive today, Africa is a prime candidate for harboring them.