Friday, July 13, 2007

Creature Feature #7: Kongamato (1923 - present)

Kongamato is Zambian for "overwhelmer of boats," and describes ferocious flying creatures that lived along the rivers terrorizing fishermen. The engima of the kongamato began in 1923, in which British writer Frank Melland describes the creatures in his book, Witchbound Africa:

"...the wingspread was from four to seven feet across, that the general color was red. It was believed to have no feathers but only skin on its body...teeth in its beak....I sent for two books...containing pictures of pterodactyls, and every native...picked it out and identified it as

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.

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."

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.

Skeptics tend to disagree with the existence of the kongamato, and claim that the Saddle-bill stork and the Shoebill stork are the actual sightings. 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.

Sightings still occur today, but the most abundant of them ended in 1957.

Serrett, Cisco. "Kongamato." Cryptozoology Cryptids.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Creature Feature #6: Onza (1757 - 1986, 1992)

The onza is Mexico's most famous anomalous feline, earning its marks among Britain's alien cats and other anomalous felines in North America. Though zoologists have not formally recognized its existence, it is now beyond dispute to consider it a real animal.

To the Aztecs, the onza was a seperate and distinct animal from two other felines native to their land. When Spanish conquerors arrived, they met Emperor Montezuma, who showed them his great zoo. In it, the Bernal Diaz del Castillo stated that there "were jaguars and pumas of two kinds, one of which resembled the wolf."

The onza is now characterized as a large predatory cat with wolflike features. The name onza derives from the Latin term, uncia, which refers to the cheetah of Asia and Africa. Beginning in the 1930s, onza sightings became more frequent. Two brothers, Dale and Clell Lee, killed a strange catlike animal in the La Silla Mountain. They photographed it, had it skinned, and kept the remains.

In 1982, the International Society of Cryptozoology was established, and formally recognized the onza as a cryptid. Two skulls were given to the ISC for study, one of which was owned by secretary J. Richard Greenwell. Both skulls were sent to museums, one which currently resides in the Smithsonian Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

On January 1, 1986 at 10:30 in the evening, two deer hunters of San Ignacio District, Sinaloa shot and killed a mysterious cat. The body was frozen at a commerical fishing company, and then sent to the United States. Mexican authorities recognized it as an onza. The body was photographed at the Regional Diagnostic Laboratory of Animal Pathology in Mexico's Ministry of Agriculture.

Of the initial tests, there appeared great similarities between the onza and the puma. However, due to the onza's physical differences, not similarity of DNA could be determined. As of 1992, not further tests have resumed.

A 1996 paper laid the Onza's cryptozoological identity - or lack thereof - by stating that genetic examination of the carcass revealed that it had "molecular characteristics indistinguishable from those of western North American pumas."

Most cryptozoologists felt that the Onza represented a new subspecies of puma (Puma concolor), or possibly an entirely new species of cat. German mammalogist Helmut Hemmer even suggested that the onza represented an extant specimen of the prehistoric American cheetah Miracinonyx trumani.

Clark, Jerome. Unexplained!... "Onza." Visible Ink Press, Inc. 1993. 296 - 299.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Creature Feature #5: Kasai Rex (1932)

The Kasai Rex is truly a mystery. It is an animal claimed to be a surviving carnivorous dinosaur in Africa. There are conflicting descriptions of it, and the only original reports are suspected by most cryptozoologists to be dubious.

There have been several sightings throughout the years, but the most popular one took place in 1932. A Swedish plantation owner, named John Johnson, and his African servant were once walking through the Kasai valley in Africa (the location of this particular sighting was where the creature got its name), when they came across a grazing rhinoceros. They were careful not to disturb the animal. All of a sudden, a 40-foot-long, two-legged lizard-like beast ambushed the rhino. During this attack, Mr. Johnson actually fainted while his servant ran away in terror. When Johnson woke up, the creature was still feeding on the rhino carcass. He described the animal as having have long, sharp teeth, big jaws, a long, thick tail, and thick legs, which he said reminded him of the legs on a lion. He also described the color of the creature: a dark red, with dark-colored, vertical stripes running down its neck, back and tail. He then saw the huge beast walk back into the jungle after it had eaten its fill.

A similar story appeared in the 1932 edition of the Rhodesia Herald, with slight differences; the names changed (Johanson to Johnson), the creature eats a rhino, and the servant flees. Criticism surrounds this story, claiming it is from one single source.

Two photographs are said to exist, each showing radical differences from the other. One shows a creature resembling a large monitor lizard. In this photograph, a white line surrounds the creature; it appears to be a cutout from a nature magazine. The other photograph depicts a tyrannosaurus-like creature eating a rhinoceros. There are very few students of cryptozoology who accept either as genuine.

It is perhaps notable that, of all cryptids reported from Africa, this is the only one without a name in a local language - and yet a carnivorous animal of this size would not have escaped attention by the local population.


Creature Feature #4: Sucuriju Gigante (1925 - 1948)

Webster's Dictionary states that an anaconda is a tropical snake that reaches about 30 feet in length and crushes it's victims. This is the accepted scientist view, except for the crushing part; anacondas suffocate their prey. However, natives tell tales of a creature called the Sucuriju, a giant monster resembling a snake but much larger. These are the tales that form the enigma of Sucuriju Gigante, the giant anaconda of South America.

When the Pope gave part of South America to Spain and the other to Portugal in the Treaty of Tordesilla, the Spaniards explored this great continent of tropical forests. They came back with stories of enormous snakes which they called matora, or "bull eater". Some reports detailed them reaching over 80 feet in length. Colonel Percy Fawcett, who was sent to map out parts of the Amazon, claimed to have bagged a 62 foot long anaconda. As an officer of the Royal Engineers he was to write down his information meticulously. As he stated in his diary:
"I sprang for my rifle as the creature began to make it's way up the bank and smashed a .44 bullet into its spine. At once there was a flurry of foam and several heavy thumps against the boats keel, shaking us as though we had run on a snag. We stepped ashore and approached the creature with caution. As far as it was possible to measure, a length of 45 feet lay out of the water and 17 feet lay in the water, making it a total length of 62 feet. It's body was not thick, not more than 12 inches in diameter, but it had probably been long without food."
In 1925, Father Victor Heinz saw one of these snakes, most likely the anaconda, while on the Rio Negro of the Amazon River. He said that the visible portion was at least 80 feet long and the body was as thick as an oil drum. It was throwing up a wake as large as a river.

Bernard Huevelmans, the father of Cryptozoology, records an encounter of an anaconda with a group of Frenchmen and Brazilians.
"We saw the snake asleep in a large patch of grass. We immediately opened fire upon it. It tried to make off all in convulsions but we caught up with it and finished it off. Only then did we realize how enormous it was, when we walked around the whole length of its body it seemed like it would never end. What struck me was its enormous head, a triangle about 24 inches by 20. We had no instruments to measure the beast, but we took an arms length of string and measured it about one meter by placing it on a man's shoulder and extending it to his fingertips. We measured the snake several times and each time we got a length of 25 strings. The creature was well over 23 meters (75 feet) long."
Scientists never regard eyewitness accounts as evidence, it would take a good documentary or a body to investigate, but a body may be impossible to get out of the jungle. First it is hard to travel through the Amazon rain forest, not to mention with an 80 foot long, several ton body. Photographic evidence may be the only one possible. Up until the late 40's there was no photographic evidence for the Sucuriju, but that came to a halt in 1948.

The Diario, the newspaper of Pernambuco in Brazil, of January 24, 1948 published a picture with a headline 'Anaconda Weighing 5 Tons.' The picture shows a part of a giant anaconda that was caught by band of Indian half breeds. It was engaged in a siesta near a river with a bull half swallowed. The Indians tied a rope to its neck and tied the other end to a tree. The anaconda measured 131 feet long. Four months later the newspaper of Rio called A Noite Illustrada held a photograph of an anaconda slaughtered by Militia. It's length totaled 115 feet. Herpetologists accept neither photographs as good evidence for the larger than normal anaconda, which they accept a length of 35 feet. Unfortunately the first photograph offers almost nothing for scale except a hut in the background so it is easily dismissed as 'a normal sized anaconda ingesting nothing more than a capybara which is native to the area'. Then much more limpid evidence was produced in 1959.

Colonel Rene van Lierde was piloting his helicopter over the Katanga province of the Belgian Congo. Suddenly a gigantic snake reared up as if to attack his helicopter. He lifted up and took several photos of the snake and continued his journey. His estimate of the size of the snake was about 40-50 feet, and that is the same estimation made by zoologists who later examined the photo. Even still, the largest scientifically measured snake was a 32 foot long reticulated python killed in Indonesia as the world's longest snake. Until one of these magnificent creatures is brought in, dead or alive, the Sucuriju will always be known as a cryptid.


Justice, Aaron. "Sucuriju Gigante." Cryptozoology Cryptids.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Creature Feature #3: De Loys Ape (1557, 1917 - 1920)

Between 1917 and 1920, Swiss oil geologist Francois de Loys led an expedition into the mountains west of Lake Maracaibo, near the Colombia-Venezuela border. Most of de Loys's men were killed by disease and hunger. In the expedition's last year, the crew ended at the Tarra River, where two creatures stepped from out of the jungle. De Loys never gave exact details of his sighting. He thought they were bears, but as they approached the party, he noticed that they were apes of sort, around five feet in height.

The "apes" through feces at the party, then De Loys and his men shot at the female, and the male ran into the jungle. The party placed the specimen on an oil crate, propped its head with a stick, and shot a photograph from ten feet away. It is said that the skull and lower jaw were preserved, but the rest of the animal was eaten by the hungry crew.

According to the cryptozoological researcher, Ivan T. Sanderson, the particular area of South America in which de Loys allegedly found the ape has no reports of oversized hominids. Sanderson believes it to be nothing more than a spider monkey. He says of the mystery surrounding the ape, "it is an outright hoax, and an obnoxious one at that, being a deliberate deception."

Another cryptozoologist, Loren Coleman, also supports the hoax theory, and even goes as far as to say that Montandon perpetrated it in order to support his views on human origin. Montandon had suggested the name Ameranthropoides loysi to propose that the specimen was a missing link ancestor of the Western Hemisphere's "red" people. He had previously stated that Africans evolved from gorillas and Asians from orangutans.[1] However, as researcher Richard Ravalli has pointed out, Coleman failed to point to any direct evidence of a hoax by either Montandon or de Loys.

Most scientists of de Loys's day estimated that the creature was a spider monkey - but unusually large. Observors have calculated that the specimen was 5.2 to 5.3 feet tall, whereas spider monkeys are 20 inches tall. Others have argued that de Loys could have encountered an unknown creature. The crate the creature was posed on was similar to ones commonly used for transporting gasoline, which measured just under 18 inches tall. Assuming this crate was the common type, its size would appear to support de Loys’ measurement of the creature, although, others say the crate is only 15 inches tall and the ape would measure under 4 feet - smaller than de Loys' claims. Researcher Michael Shoemaker, while noting some similarities to spider monkeys, argues that the creature has a few pronounced differences: its chest and hands are different; its face is much more oval than the spider monkey's distinctively triangular visage; it lacks the spider monkey’s pronounced underbite; and has a much higher forehead than spider monkeys.

Clark, Jerome. Unexplained! 347 Strange Sightings, Incredible Occurrences, and Puzzling Physical Phenomena. Visible Ink Press. 1993. 270 - 273.

Creature Feature #2: Tatzelwurm (1779 - 1969)

Though not recognized by zoologists, the tatzelwurm (German for "worm with claws") has been reported for at least two decades and possibly longer, in the Swiss and Austrian Alps (also in the Germanic countries, which include Denmark and Hungary).

Vague folk traditions describe der tatzelwurm as a mountain-dwelling dragon with a cat-like head and spiked ridges along its back. The first "sighting" began in 1779 with Hans Fuchs, who claimed to have seen two tatzelwurms in front of him. He died from a heart attack, but told family members of his encounter before he did so.

Reports indicate that the creature has a snake-like body between 2 and 6 feet in length, with two clawed front legs, but no hind legs. It is sometimes reported to have the face of a cat. Local folklore holds that the Tatzelwurm is able to defend itself by expelling poisonous fumes that are capable of killing a human.

It is known by several names in different regions.
Stollenworm (Tunnel Worm)
Bergstutzen (Mountain Stump)
Springwurm (Jumping Worm)
Arassas (French Alps).

One claimed photograph of the Tatzelwurm exists. It was taken in 1934 by Swiss photographer named Balkin who took a photo of what he thought was a very peculiar log. When the camera flashed, the "log" darted away.

Skin texture (or structure of body) and hair etc. could be indications whether the animal observed could have been a vertebrate or an invertebrate, a mammal or a reptile. The reported aggressiveness of the animal in a substantial number of cases must be considered strange. The snakes and lizards of the Alps are usually rather fugitive beings. Snakes are deaf and their visual faculty is not good. It is hardly possible that such an animal attacks humans by itself or pursues (!) them as it has been alleged in some cases. The only possible animal in the Alps fitting this behavorial description could (perhaps) be the weasel. The alleged extraordinary width of the animal’s jumps is considered impossible; While jumps of two or three meters are still conceivable, especially if some allowance is made for errors in the estimates, widths of eight or fifteen meters are hard to digest. In the cases (1834.x.), (1865.s.) and (1899.s.) the animal was allegedly seen flying, a description that could perhaps be just another (exaggerated) expression for the animal’s ability to make wide jumps. Some tree snakes are able to flatten their body so that they can perform a sort of glide.Vertical Undulations. There are two cases of alleged Tatzelwurms shot (1894.b.ÊEnnstal)Ê or slain (1912.x. Mareit) where a green fluid (blood?) is said to have come out from the animal’s body. If the reports are authentic and the fluid was indeed blood this could point towards a metabolism and biochemistry completely different from any other mammal or reptile.

Perhaps the tatzelwurm is a relative of the American Gila Monster, or the axolotl.


Creature Feature #1: Spring Heeled Jack (1837 - 1877)

The urban legend of Spring-Heeled Jack begins in Victorian England in September of 1837. He is described, according to eye-witness accounts, as a tall, very thin "man," powerful, wore a dark cloak, had pointed ears, glowing eyes, a helmet, and spat blue flames at his victims. His most striking feature was that he could escape his captors by leaping at unspeakable bounds.

The first accounts of Spring Heeled Jack were made in London in 1837 and the last reported sighting was in Liverpool in 1904. The first reports of Jack was from a businessman returning home late one night from work, who told of being suddenly shocked as a mysterious figure jumped with ease over the high railings of a cemetery, landing right in his path. No attack was reported, but the submitted description was disturbing: a muscular man with devilish features including large and pointed ears and nose, and protruding, glowing eyes.

Perhaps the best known alleged incidents involving Spring Heeled Jack were the alleged attacks on two teenage girls, Lucy Scales and Jane Alsop. The Alsop report was widely covered by the newspapers, while a single paper covered the Scales report, presumably because Alsop came from a comfortably well-off family and Scales from a family of tradesmen. This coverage by newspapers fuelled the collective hysteria surrounding the case.

In the beginning of the 1870s, Spring Heeled Jack was reported again in several places distant from each other. In November 1872, the News of the World reported that Peckham was "in a state of commotion owing to what is known as the "Peckham Ghost", a mysterious figure, quite alarming in appearance". The editorial pointed out that it was none other than "Spring Heeled Jack, who terrified a past generation". Similar stories were published in the Illustrated Police News. In April and May of 1873, there were numerous sightings of the "Park Ghost" in Sheffield, which locals came to identify as Spring Heeled Jack.

Sceptical investigators have dismissed the stories of Spring Heeled Jack as mass hysteria which developed around various stories of a bogeyman or devil which have been around for centuries, or from exaggerated urban myths about a man who clambered over rooftops claiming that the Devil was chasing him. Other researchers believe that some individual(s) may have been behind its origins, being followed by imitators later on. Spring Heeled Jack was widely considered not to be a supernatural creature but rather one or more persons with a macabre sense of humor. This idea matches the contents of the letter to the Lord Mayor, which accused a group of young aristocrats as the culprits, after an irresponsible wager. A popular rumour circulating as early as 1840 pointed to an Irish nobleman, the Marquess of Waterford, as the main suspect. Haining suggested this may have been due him having previously had bad experiences with women and police officers.

A variety of paranormal explanations have been proposed to explain the origin of Spring Heeled Jack. Such explanations include:

An extraterrestrial entity with a non-human appearance and features, (e.g., retro-reflective red eyes, or phosphorous breath) and a super-human agility deriving from life on a high gravity world, jumping ability. strange behaviour.

A visitor from another dimension, who could have entered into this plane through a wormhole or dimensional gate.

A demon, accidentally or purposefully summoned into this world by practitioners of the occult or who made himself manifest simply to create spiritual turmoil.

Sometimes "Spring Heeled Jack" pops up in literature–sometimes as a villain, sometimes as a hero–perhaps even an early ancestor of modern superheroes.
Bellows, Jason. "Spring Heeled Jack." Damn Interesting. 29 May, 2006. 10 July, 2007.
Clark, Jerome. Unexplained! 347 Strange Sightings, Incredible Occurences, and Puzzling Physical Phenomena. "Springheel Jack." Visible Ink: Detroit, MI; Washington, D. C.; London. 1993. 357 - 359.
Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. "Spring Heeled Jack."