Kongamato

Flying REPTLE of Central and South Africa. Etymology: Kaonde (Bantu), "broken boats." Physical description: Length, 2 feet 6 inches-4 feet 6 inches. Smooth skin. Black or red in color. Long beak with teeth. Batlike wings. Wingspan, 3-7 feet. Long, narrow tail.

Behavior: Said to capsize canoes by diving in the water. Said to attack and eat people occasionally. It is particularly fond of their little fingers, toes, earlobes, and noses.

Habitat: Caves near rivers and swamps. Distribution: The Mwinilunga District, the Mutanda River, and the Bangweulu and Jiundu Swamps of northern Zambia; parts of Zimbabwe.

Significant sightings: In 1923, Frank Melland described the belief of the Kaonde people of Zambia that a huge flying reptile with bat wings lived in the Jiundu Swamp. When crossing rivers, some of them carried amulets that would protect them from a Kongamato. When he showed them pictures of pterodactyls in books, they identified them as looking like the Kongamato.

In 1925, G. Ward Price heard stories of a monstrous bird with a long beak that attacked people in the swamps of Zimbabwe. When a man who had been wounded by the animal was shown a picture of a pterodactyl, he screamed in terror.

Engineer J. P. F. Brown saw two flying reptiles in January 1956 near Mansa, Zambia. They had long, narrow tails and a wingspan of 3 feet-3 feet 6 inches. From beak to tail, they were about 4 feet 6 inches.

A man was brought into a hospital in Mansa in 1957, suffering from a chest wound. He claimed a huge bird in the Bangweulu Swamp had attacked him. Possible explanations:

(1) The Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex) looks like a large, silver-gray stork, 4 feet long, with an 8-foot wingspan and a distinctive, 8-inch-long, hooked bill. In flight, it retracts its head and neck like a heron. It is a closer relative of the pelicans than true storks. Like all other living birds, the shoebill has no teeth.

(2) The Saddle-billed stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis) is second only to an ostrich in standing height. It has a 9-foot wingspan and is 5 feet in length. It has black-and-white plumage and a black head and neck. The long, upturned bill is red with a black band in the middle and a brilliant yellow frontal shield. Its white breast has a bare, red "medal."

(3) The Southern ground hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) is about 3 feet 6 inches long and dull black with white primary feathers. It has a heavy, downcurved, black bill and bright red skin around its eye and down its foreneck.

(4) Lord Derby's anomalure (Anomalurus derbianus), a small, gliding squirrel-like rodent, was proposed by museum director Reay Smithers. It is only 15 inches long.

(5) A surviving pterosaur, the flying reptiles of the Mesozoic era. Fossils of Pterodactylus (wingspan 1-8 feet, short tail), Dsungaripterus (wingspan 9-12 feet, short tail), and Rhamphorynchus (wingspan 1-6 feet, long tail) from the Jurassic have been kongamato 279

The KONGAMATO, a huge flying reptile of Central Africa. (William M. Rebsamen)

found at Tendaguru Hill, Tanzania. Only two pterosaur fossils from the Cretaceous have been discovered in Africa: a wing bone of an Ornithocheirus (wingspan 14-16 feet) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a neck vertebra from a species similar to the giant Quetzalcoatlus (wingspan 36-39 feet but no teeth). However, the fossil record in South America is much richer, and since the two continents were joined at the time, there is reason to suspect more specimens will turn up. (6) Carl Wiman suggested that the Kongamato tradition originated with natives who assisted in the excavation of pterosaur bones at the Tendagaru fossil beds in Tanzania prior to World War I. Sources: Frank H. Melland, In Witchbound Africa (London: Seeley, Service, 1923), pp. 236-242; Carl Wiman, "Ein Gerücht von einem lebenden Flugsaurier," Natur und Museum 58 (1928): 431-432; Vernon Brelsford, "Some

Northern Rhodesian Monsters," African Observer 4, no. 6 (1936): 58-60; Charles R S. Pitman, A Game Warden Takes Stock (London: J. Nisbet, 1942), pp. 202-203; Stany [Roger de Chateleux], Loin des sentiers battus: Douze femmes (Paris: La Table Ronde, 1953), vol. 4, pp. 217-232; "Pterodactyls Seen near Northern Rhodesian River," Rhodesia Herald, April 2, 1957; "Museum Director Says There Are No Flying Reptiles," Rhodesia Herald, April 5, 1957; G. Ward Price, Extra-Special Correspondent (London: George Harrap, 1957), p. 178; Zoé Spitz-Bombonnel, "Animaux perdus et non retrouvés," Le Chasseur Français, June 1959, p. 375; Maurice Burton and C. W. Benson, "The Whale-Headed Stork or Shoe-Bill: Legend and Fact," Northern Rhodesia Journal 4 (1961): 411-426; Tom Dobney, "Myths and Monsters," Horizon (Salisbury) 6 (September 1964): 24-26; Bernard Heuvelmans, Les derniers dragons d'Afrique (Paris: Plon, 1978), pp. 417-427, 445-456.

280 kongamato

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