Is it not possible that there are unknown and hitherto undiscovered animals living in some remote unexplored part of the world? One cannot help but wonder if all the so-called extinct life of the prehistoric past has died off. Could there still be some survivors among the relics of the past?
African natives still say that a fearful creature, half elephant and half dragon, lives in the great swamps of Rhodesia. White men have as yet never penetrated into the heart of these dismal and lonely swamps which cover hundreds of square miles. Carl Hagenbeck, the "Frank Buck" of another generation, believed that such an animal existed. From the descriptions given him by natives he deduced that it was similar to the extinct brontosaurus. He figured that it was an animal of nearly sixty feet in length and weighing over thirty-five tons. The brontosaurus, incidentally, lived partly on land and partly in water, in much the same way that an animal in the Rhodesian swamps would live. Drawings of a huge beast resembling a brontosaurus have been found in caves in this section of Africa. These drawings on the cave walls were recent enough to make explorers believe that the natives had actually seen such creatures within modern times.
Eskimos still bring in reports from time to time that far up near the coast of the Arctic Ocean, a solitary herd of huge elephants-like creatures, with tusks, trunk, and long shaggy hair, still live. This would, of course, fit the description of the mammoth. We do know that mammoths did roam the icy northern regions of Alaska and Siberia in historic times.
There are many instances of members of the animal kingdom succeeding for many ages in escaping the scrutiny of man. For thousands of years a beautiful creature called the okapi has lived in Africa. Yet until the early twentieth century this animal was absolutely unknown.
Not too many years ago, the civilized world saw its first takin. This odd animal which is kin to the goats and antelopes comes from mysterious Tibet. It is about forty inches high at the shoulder and possesses large sharp horns.
The giant sloth was an animal with a body as big as an elephant, and was fifteen feet high when it sat down on its mighty hind legs. It lived in South America, back during the time when the mastodon and mammoth roamed North America. It is thought that it suddenly died out because the guanacoes, a camel-like creature numerous in that distant time, bit off the young shoots of trees, and killed off the forests on which the sloth depended for his food. Not very many years ago an expedition was sent out, believing that somewhere in the remote interior of South America the great sloth still lived. The expedition was unsuccessful.
One of the chief living authorities on African big game has asserted his belief that an unknown arboreal monster lives in the Nandi jungles. He believes it to be a new kind of gorilla or hitherto unreported species of giant chimpanzee, awaiting discovery and a scientific name.
This theory is linked to the persistent rumors of a kind of reddish-colored hairy "man" which lurks in the forests of Tanganyika. There is no known species of tailless red monkeys in that area. Native rumors call these strange creatures tiny folk or "ngogwe" (little men of the trees). They walk upright and wail a queer chant as they come and go. Negroes say that if pots of food are placed out in the fields at night for the "ngogwe" they will not harm the crop. Instead they will weed and hoe the field in the quiet watches of the night. Undoubtedly a large part of this story is a myth. But how much of it?
Rhodesia is not the only section of Africa where they talk of prehistoric monsters. According to tales in some of the Kraals a "mbilintu", or evil dragon, roams the swamps of the Congo and the region near Lake Tanganyika and Lake Mweru. Some native accounts describe this creature as similar to a dinosaur. Others describe it as a tremendous pachyderm twice the size of an elephant, with the body of a hippopotamus surmounted by a fearsome head like a rhinoceros, with a huge set of horns. This description roughly fits the prehistoric triceratops.
Lewankia, a Zulu king, once officially reported to the British resident that he had seen a "huge lizard ten times as big as a crocodile."
Many of the gargantuan creatures of the Miocene and even earlier periods are known to have lived in Africa. Thousands of bones of these predatory giants have been dug up. Could it be that some of these huge animals survived to find refuge in the dense forests and swamps? Are their progeny still living in the wilds of the remotest interior?
Many astonishing and incredible tales are heard. Yet, to be fair we must admit that these legends are not always unreliable. Take the case of the "mlularuka," or flying jackal. It was said to be a weird jackal like creature which flew by night among the fruit trees stealing pomegranates and mangoes. Hunters laughed at this tall tale. But a Harvard expedition to East Africa captured a "mlularuka"! It turned out to be a flying squirrel, nearly three feet in length, which could actually glide from tree to tree for a distance of over fifty yards!
Captain W. Hichens writes of a strong and fierce animal which wrecked havoc in the Cape Colony. It took heavy toll among the live stock. The spoor of this uncanny beast did not fit the pads of any known beast of the bushveld. The savages gave it the name "nsuifisi." They averred that it was lithe and cunning like a leopard but was striped like a hyena. Many ridiculed the native stories, though many big-game hunters trekked on the trail of the strange animal. But the "nsuifisi." proved to be no shadow-beast conjured up by some superstitious native. It was shot by a well-known hunter. It was found to be a cat-like creature, striped in black and white. It was classified as an entirely new species of striped cheetah.
Another unidentified animal caused much trouble in Kenya. Its habits failed to fit the description of any known animal. Known by many as the "nandi bear," it has never been identified. However, most descriptions fit that of a hyena - but a veritable giant, different in color, size, and habits to any known species of hyena. A careful examination of its spoor revealed the astounding fact that it had six claws on each of its monstrous paws. A Game Warden in Kenya believes it to be an unusually large brown hyena or "strand-wolf." One of these marauders, now thought to be practically extinct in South Africa, was killed about forty years ago. It was described as being "larger than a lion." Then again, the "nandi bear" may be some savage beast as yet unknown to science.
Throughout Africa one finds legends of giant water snakes. Especially persistent are the reports that huge water-serpents one-hundred feet in length haunt the swamps in the upper Nile valleys. They are said to make a rumbling noise of such booming quality that it can be heard for great distances.
The giant moa of New Zealand was the earth's largest bird. It grew as tall as sixteen feet. It was plentiful up to the middle of the eighteenth century. Rumors persisted until a few years ago that the moa still lived in the inaccessible interior of Australia. The dodo and the great auk were flightless birds, which became extinct in comparatively modern times. There were thousands of dodos on the island of Mauritius until the Dutch settled there. Their wings being too small for flight, they had no way of escape. Like other large flightless birds they became extinct.
As recent as September 1951, news reports from Auckland stated that "In the dense forests of New Zealand men were once again searching for that huge bird, the giant moa, with a fortune at stake if they are lucky. Their quarry is the largest, weirdest, most formidable bird ever known. Fourteen feet high and heavy as a race horse, the feathered monster is fabulous, but by no means certainly extinct." Up to a century ago, moas roamed New Zealand in droves. Their mighty legs, which could kill a man with a kick, made them the terror of smaller birds and animals. No man now living has ever seen one, but there are a million acres of wild, unexplored country in the south of the island where they might still exist, scientists say.
Still more recent, under the dateline April 11, 1952, an article appeared in newspapers across the country, telling of an African expedition seeking the Quagga. According to the article: "A South African expedition will penetrate, for the first time in history, the mysterious territory of gorges and mountains along the Orange River, in search of a 'lost' animal, the African Quagga, which has thought to be extinct for a hundred years."
The Quagga, a cousin to the Zebra, is striped only on the forelegs. At one time it roamed the country in the tens of thousands, but was exterminated ruthlessly by the Boers for its prized skin.
Recently a farmer in the remote country along the Orange River reported seeing forty quagga in one valley. White men never have penetrated this territory. The sluggish gray river winds between the blinding red cliffs, which are so hot and seared by the sun that no vegetation can live.
Among the vast assemblage of animal life there are surely a few species yet to be discovered. The zoologist may think that he has no more secrets to learn. But there are more living things beneath the great canopy of the heavens than we dream of. There cannot be too many more living things yet unknown, but surely there are a few surprises left.
Data entry and page scans provided by Judy Bemis
Data entry by Judy Bemis
Updated November 8, 2007. If you have a comment about these web pages please send a note to the Fanac Webmaster. Thank you.