|The Nandi Bear: Ferocious killer from the past|
|By Matthew J. Eaton|
"What the Abominable Snowman is to Asia, or the great Sea Serpent is to the oceans, the Nandi Bear is to Africa. It is one of the most notorious of those legendary beasts which have, so far, eluded capture and the collector's rifle."Called the most ferocious of African mystery beasts, the Nandi Bear evokes cries of horror in both natives and Westerners alike. Known throughout East Africa as duba, kerit, chimisit, kikambangwe, vere, sabrookoo, and many others. There are too many reports to simply write it off as widespread myth. The sightings of the Nandi Bear by Westerners backs up the reality of the beast. Officially there are no members of the bear family in Africa in modern times, but reports of bears or bear-like creatures are nothing new to Africa. Herodotus, Pliny the elder and other writers from ancient times placed bears in Africa. More recently, Dr. O. Dapper wrote in 1668 that "squirrels with tails much larger than those in Europe, bears, wild cats, and very venomous vipers..." all inhabited the Congo.
The Nandi Bear's name is most commonly thought to be a misnomer. Its name comes from two factors, its location and its appearance. It is most commonly reported by the Nandi tribe of Africa and it is said to have a bear like face and way of walking. Also one of its African names duba may give away its identity. Bernard Heuvelmans thinks that duba originates from either the Arabic word for bear (dubb) or their word for hyena (dubbah). This possibility for its identity will be discussed in a later section.
The natives of East Africa have told the story of the Nandi Bear for centuries. During that time writers and researchers alike have made reports of bear-like creatures throughout Africa, never truly describing them; just saying they were bear-like. It wasn't until the early part of the 20th century that Westerners began seeing and describing what the natives have seen for centuries before them.
Two well-known Kenya colonists, Major Braithwaite and Mr. C. Kenneth Archer gave one of the best accounts of the Nandi Bear. They saw an animal that they thought was a lioness at first, however they later noticed the impression of a snout. The beast stood very high forward, about 4 ft. 3 ins. to 4 ft. 6 ins. at the shoulder. "The back," they said, "sloped steeply to the hindquarters and the animal moved with a shambling gait which can best be compared with the shuffle of a bear. The coat was thick and dark brown in color. Finally, the beast broke into a shambling trot and made for a belt of trees near the river, where it was lost." Due to their experience, their story is not likely to be that of a misidentification. Their report is similar to others of the Nandi Bear. As a member of the Nandi Expedition in the early 1900's, Geoffrey Williams had an encounter with the Nandi Bear. He wrote the following in the Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society:
"I was travelling with a cousin on the Uasingishu just after the Nandi expedition, and, of course, long before there was any settlement up there. We had been camped ... near the Mataye and were marching towards the Sirgoit Rock when we saw the beast ... I saw a large animal sitting up on its haunches no more than 30 yards away. Its attitude was just that of a bear at the 'Zoo' asking for buns, and I should say it must have been nearly 5 feet high ... it dropped forward and shambled away towards the Sirgoit with what my cousin always describes as a sort of sideways canter… I snatched my rifle and took a snapshot at it as it was disappearing among the rocks, and, though I missed it, it stopped and turned its head round to look at us ... In size it was, I should say, larger than the bear that lives in the pit at the 'Zoo' and it was quite as heavily built. The fore quarters were very thickly furred, as were all four legs, but the hind quarters were comparatively speaking smooth or bare ... the head was long and pointed and exactly like that of a bear ... I have not a very clear recollection of the ears beyond the fact that they were small, and the tail, if any, was very small and practically unnoticeable. The color was dark ..."In 1912, Major Toulson, a military settler upon the Uasin Gishu plain, had an encounter with a Nandi Bear. He reported the following to British anthropologist C.W. Hobley:
"... one of my boys came into my room and said that a leopard was close to the kitchen. I rushed out at once and saw a strange beast making off: it appeared to have long hair behind and was rather low in front. I should say it stood about 18 in. to 20 in. at the shoulder; it appeared to be black, with a gait similar to that of a bear--a kind of shuffling walk ... "N.E.F. Corbett, the District Commissioner of Eldoret, reported another encounter with the Nandi Bear in March 1913:
I was having lunch by a wooded stream, the Sirgoi River, just below Toulson's farm ... to my surprise I walked right into the beast. It was evidently drinking and was just below me, only a yard or so away ... it shambled across the stream into the bush ... [I] could not get a very good view, but am certain that it was a beast I have never seen before. Thick, reddish-brown hair, with a slight streak of white down the hindquarters, rather long from hock to foot, rather bigger than a hyena, with largish ears. I did not see the head properly; it did not seem to be a very heavily built animal.
Many reports of the Nandi Bear surfaced from workers of the Madadi Railway when it was under construction. One railway employee Schindler discovered a series of canine-like tracks. They were 8.5 inch-long tracks with five toes instead of four (like most dogs) and a rather long heel. The sketches he made of these tracks show their unique characteristics. G.W. Hickes, an engineer in charge of building the railway throughout East Africa saw the Nandi Bear on March 8, 1913. He reported the following:
"It was almost on the line when I first saw it and at that time it had already seen me and was making off at a right angle to the line ... As I got closer to the animal I saw it was not a hyena. At first I saw it nearly broadside on: it then looked about as high as a lion. In color it was tawny--about like a black-maned lion--with very shaggy long hair. It was short and thickset in the body, with high withers, and had a short neck and stumpy nose. It did not turn to look at me, but loped off--running with its forelegs and with both hind legs rising at the same time. As I got alongside it, it was about forty or fifty yards away and I noticed it was very broad across the rump, had very short ears, and had no tail that I could see. As its hind legs came out of the grass I noticed the legs were very shaggy right down to the feet, and that the feet seemed large..."Not long after Hickes had his sighting, a native servant saw an animal much like the one Hickes saw, but reported it to be standing on its hind legs. A subcontractor had seen the same animal or one like it and mentioned it having a thick mane, long claws, large teeth, and an upright stance of about six feet. In 1919, a farmer named Cara Buxton related the following story:
"A short time ago a 'Gadett' [or geteit, another name for the Nandi Bear] visited the district. This name is given to the animal by the Lumbwa and signifies the 'brain-eater.' Its first appearance was on my farm, where the sheep were missing. We finally found all ten, seven were dead and three were still alive. In no case were the bodies touched, but the brains were torn out. During the next ten days fifty-seven goats and sheep were destroyed in the same way; of these thirteen were found alive ..."The animal that committed these crimes was eventually tracked down and killed by the natives with spears. This animal turned out to be nothing more then a common, but large, spotted hyena that had turned to eating brains for unknown reasons. Besides misidentifications of normal hyenas as the Nandi Bear, it is thought that sightings of black honey badgers and baboons are also mistaken for the elusive beast. While it is more likely for Westerners to misidentify these local animals, it isn't as likely that native Africans would make the same mistake. Sightings by Westerners after the 1920's are rare, but still do occur. In recent times hunters who go looking for the beast report finding tracks and hearing blood curdling howls unlike those made by known animals. Unlike Westerners, natives continue to report the Nandi Bear committing its violent crimes against them. Also unlike the reports made by Westerners, the members of the Nandi tribe tend to think of the Nandi Bear as a primate. Kitapmetit Kipet, the head of a Nandi village reports the Nandi Bear as:
"… a devil which prowls the nganasa (hut settlement) on the darkest nights, seeking people, especially children, to devour; it is half like a man and half like a huge, ape-faced bird, and you may know it at once from its fearful howling roar, and because in the dark of night its mouth glows red like the embers of a log."What is it?
Besides the obvious question of whether or not the Nandi Bear exists, there is still another question, which plagues cryptozoologists - what it could be. Below is an overview of the most mentioned or likely candidates to the Nandi Bear's identity.
An Unknown Bear
The features of the Nandi Bear are indeed bear-like, from its general appearance to its movement. There is also the fact that it has been said to stand upright, which bears can indeed do. As stated earlier bears are now absent from Africa, there is however one African bear that fits the general description of the Nandi Bear. The Atlas bear was a small brown bear known to have lived up until the Paleolithic. Its description is like that of the Nandi Bear, it was rather small for a bear and is thought to have had a fur of a dark color. Some reports of the Nandi Bear have it waiting in a tree for a possible victim to pass by. Being a small bear the Atlas bear could easily perform these deeds. One thing holding back the likelihood of the Atlas bear being the Nandi Bear is the fact that its range was in Northern Africa. It is also the only bear to have a fossil record in Africa, so an Atlas bear surviving in East Africa seems highly unlikely. It could of course be an unknown species of bear, however there is no fossil record to back up this fact. There still is the chance that an ancient species of bear could yet to be discovered as both a fossil and a living animal, science will have to keep looking before we know for sure.
The Hyena is one of the most likely candidates for the Nandi Bear's true identity. Hyenas are best known as scavengers, but when they do hunt they are vicious animals and a force to be reckoned with. It is thought that the Nandi Bear could be a form of undiscovered giant hyena or even a prehistoric survivor. During the Pleistocene there lived in Africa a hyena that was roughly the size of a modern lion called the Short-faced Hyena. Unlike the hyenas of today, the Short-faced Hyena was a much more active hunter and thus would make it capable of the Nandi Bear's attacks. Another fact that makes it the most likely candidate is it too possessed a bear-like face. If the Short-faced Hyena survived into modern times it would fit the descriptions given by both Westerners and Africans of the Nandi Bear. However some researchers don't believe in the undiscovered hyena theory. Instead they suggest that people are just seeing normal hyenas committing savage acts. It is possible that this explains some reports by Westerners, but the natives know hyenas well and would recognize it no matter what it was doing. With that fact it would seem that the Nandi Bear being a misidentified hyena seen by natives would be an unlikely one; still the above case of the "brain eater" shows that such cases are indeed possible. Nevertheless, an unknown hyena remains the most likely candidate for the Nandi Bear.
Some zoologists feel that the Nandi Bear may be a surviving Chalicothere. The Chalicothere, like the Short-faced Hyena, is thought to have gone extinct in the Paleolithic. The Chalicothere was a sloped back animal related to horses, which had large claws instead of hooves. It is believed that these claws were used for digging up roots and possibly for defense. If they were indeed used for defensive purposes then an enraged individual could indeed be capable of the Nandi Bear's attacks. The general appearance of the Chalicothere does fit that of the Nandi Bear, it is even thought that the Chalicothere could stand upright. However, these are the only two similarities between the two animals. Unlike the Nandi Bear, the Chalicothere was a strict herbivore. That fact alone rules it out as the identity of the Nandi Bear.
A Giant Baboon
The Nandi tribe describes the Nandi Bear as a primate, like a large baboon. Researchers Mark A. Hall and Loren Coleman agree that the Nandi Bear may be a form of unknown baboon, possibly another prehistoric survivor. A large baboon would be capable of the Nandi Bear's attacks, for they are known to raid sheep herds and rip sheep apart with their lion like fangs. Like other primates Baboons too can stand upright and climb trees to ambush prey if necessary, just like the Nandi Bear is said to do in some reports. The fact that the Nandi Tribe likens it to a primate strengthens the giant baboon theory. Since baboons are known to be omnivorous, it is possible that these giant baboons raid villages only when their food supply is low. Unlike the Nandi Bear, baboons are known to hunt in troops and aren't nocturnal, whereas the Nandi Bear attacks as a solitary animal and is indeed nocturnal. Fossil finds of giant baboons twice the size of modern species show that such a species did exist in the past. Deciding whether or not the Nandi Bear is a relict population of these giant baboons is a job for scientists and cryptozoologists.
Bernard Heuvelmans feels that the Nandi Bear could be a possible third species of aardvark. It's true that aardvarks can grow to large sizes, up to 7 feet, but other then that are no similarities whatsoever. The aardvarks have short stumpy legs, a long tail, and are mainly insectivores; none of these are even remotely characteristics of the Nandi Bear. As one researcher ever so delicately put it, aardvarks do not eat women and small children and even if they wanted to it would physically impossible.
The evidence for the Nandi Bear's existence is there, all it needs is dedicated researchers who are willing to go in search of Africa's most feared mystery beast. Until a researcher is brave enough to step up to plate and go on another Nandi Expedition, the Nandi Bear will continue to lurk the forests of East Africa, watching and waiting for a new victim to cross its path.