A ferocious mystery animal of East Africa, variously described as a PRIMATE, a HYENA, or a Bear.
Etymology: Named after the Nandi people, a Kalenjin-speaking group who live in the area around Kapsabet in Kenya's Rift Valley, where the animal has been widely reported. One of the first sightings by a European was made by Geoffrey Williams, who compared the creature he saw to a bear. The animals reported in subsequent descriptions were much less bearlike.
Variant names: Booaa, Chemisit, Duba (Swahili/Bantu, along the Kenya coast, derived from the Arabic dubb, "bear"), Engargiyar (Ganda/Bantu), Geteit, Giant forest hyena, Kabiniro (Tooro/Bantu), Khodumodumo, Kichwa mutwe (Masaba/Bantu), Koddoelo, Mubende beast, Ngargiya (Ganda or Nyankore/ Bantu), Ntebagarnyar (Nyore/ Bantu), Rwuji-gar (in Bugoma Forest), Sabrookoo (Gisu/ Bantu or Kupsabiny/Nilo-Saharan), Shivuverre (Luyia/Bantu), Too.
P^hysical description: The two major cryptids involved here seem to be a large, baboonlike beast and a hyena-like creature. Baboonlike animal—Thickset. Height, 4—5 feet when standing upright. Shoulder height, 3 feet 6 inches-4 feet 6 inches. Dark brown or tawny color. Shaggy, long hair. Long head. Small ears.
Stumpy nose. Pointed snout. Short neck. Front and legs thickly furred but hindquarters relatively bare. High withers. Sloping back. Plantigrade feet. Tail is small or nonexistent. Hyenalike animal—Twice the size of a Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta). Shaggy, brown hair. Short head. Red eyes. Small ears. Large teeth. Long mane. Back slopes to the rear. Long forelegs, shorter hind legs. Digitigrade feet. Short tail.
Behavior: Nocturnal. Sits on its haunches. Can stand on its hind legs. Can climb or leap over tall fences. Runs on all fours with a sideways canter or a loping, shambling gait. Call is a terrifying howl or moaning cry. Said to tear open the heads of livestock to feed on the brains and to attack solitary humans in a similar way. Also said to force its way into native huts at night, kill the occupants, and eat their brains.
Tracks: Baboonlike animal—Oblong. Length, 5.5 inches. Width, 3.5 inches. Five-toed, with claws. Plantigrade. Hyena-like animal—Larger than a man's. Spade-shaped. Three-toed, with huge, inward-turning claws and pads. Digitigrade.
Distribution: Uganda; the highlands of western Kenya; southern Kenya to the coast. Said by the Nandi to have been more common before the rinderpest epidemic at the end of the nineteenth century.
Significant sightings: Around 1905, Geoffrey Williams briefly encountered a strange creature while he was on safari near Sergoit Rock on the Uasin Gishu tableland of western Kenya. It was less than 30 yards away, sitting on its haunches like a zoo bear. Nearly 5 feet high, the animal had a long head and small, pointed ears. It shambled away in a sideways canter.
In 1912, a Major Toulson observed a longhaired, black beast on the Uasin Gishu that had just attempted to raid his camp's kitchen. It ran with a shuffling walk and stood about 18—20 inches tall at the shoulder. Others said it was thickset, chased off dogs, and had a peculiar, moaning cry.
Railroad engineer G. W. Hickes observed a shaggy-haired, hyena-like animal on the Magadi Railway in southern Kenya on March 8, 1913. He got a good look at it from 50 yards away and realized it was no ordinary hyena.
About 1914, one of these animals was killed near Kapsowar, Kenya, by villagers who tricked it into attacking a dummy man in the doorway of a hut. They then shot it with arrows.
In 1925, government agent William Hichens went to investigate the animal's depredations in a Kenya village. His tent was attacked at night by something that gave out a horrifying roar and carried off his pet dog.
Charles T. Stoneham woke up one night at his trading station in Sotik, Kenya, and saw a lion-sized animal with a square head, a pig's snout, large circular ears, and a thick tail. He ran indoors to get his rifle, but the creature was running away when he returned. Stoneham's friends thought he had seen a Nandi bear, but he thought it might have been a hybrid anteater.
One night in the early 1930s, Capt. F. D. Hislop, district commissioner of Kapsabet, Kenya, saw a bearlike animal 3 feet high at the shoulder and with a small pointed head. It ran off on all four legs.
In the early 1930s, Gunnar Anderssen reported to the Kenya Game Department that an unknown animal had killed a forest pig at Kaimosi, Kenya. He hadn't seen it, but the Nandi villagers said it had long, black hair and a long tail. Anderssen found a few ambiguous, leopardlike tracks nearby.
Douglas Hutton shot two animals at the Chemomi Tea Estate, Kenya, in 1957 or 1958. They stood 3 feet high at the shoulder, had rearward-sloping backs, and heavy manes. The Nairobi Museum identified them as "giant forest hyenas." A similar animal was seen in the same area in July 1981.
Present status: Though commonly reported in East Africa from 1905 to 1935, only a few sightings have occurred since.
Possible explanations: Most likely, the Nandi bear is a composite of various cryptids and misidentified animals.
(1) Except for the Atlas Bear, no bears are currently known to exist anywhere in Africa. There is some fossil evidence, however, for agriotheriine bears in Africa during the Miocene, 10 million years ago, and more advanced ursids in South Africa as early as the Pliocene, 4 million years ago.
(2) An oversized, all-black Ratel (Mellivora capensis). This lumbering, black-and-white badger grows to about 2 feet 6 inches long (with a 1-foot tail) and will occasionally raid small livestock. All-black animals have occasionally been reported, while others have only a narrow band of white. Bernard Heuvelmans attributes several sightings (Toulson's, Hislop's, and Anderssen's) to a melanistic ratel. Its plantigrade feet make composite, oblong tracks.
(3) A Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) of unusual color or size. Though primarily a timid scavenger, it will kill slower mammals for food and is occasionally a bold attacker. This hyena grows to 5 feet 10 inches in length, with a 2-foot tail. Reginald Pocock suggests a red variation as the source of Nandi bear reports. In 1929, the skin of a young female Sabrookoo killed at an altitude of 8,000 feet in Uganda near Mount Elgon was examined by Charles Pitman. Its fur was blackish-brown dabbled with white, and it had a coarse, pale mane. He identified it as an aberrant spotted hyena with dark coloration. A stray or escaped Brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea), normally found only in South Africa, might also have played a part in the Nandi bear legend.
(4) An Aardvark (Orycteropus afer), suggested by Bernard Heuvelmans for Charles Stoneham's sighting. This animal has a pig's snout, huge ears, coarse brown hair, and a powerful tail. Its footprints may also have caused confusion; when it stands on its hind legs, it puts its sole flat on the ground and leaves a five-toed print with deep claw marks. However, it only eats ants and termites.
(5) An unknown anthropoid ape, though apes are largely herbivorous and timid and thus do not fit the alleged ferocity of the Nandi bear. However, there have been reports of unknown Primates and Giant HOMINIDS, such as the GERIT in Kenya, that might contribute to the legend.
(6) Baboons have the temperament for violent attacks, but the male Savanna baboon (Papio cynocephalus) of East Africa is not much more than 3 feet 3 inches long and less than 2 feet at the shoulder. The Olive baboon (P. anubis) is larger, with a maximum length of 3 feet 8 inches and a shoulder height of 2 feet 4 inches. The Chacma baboon (P. ursinus) of South Africa and the Gelada (Theropithecus gelada) of Ethiopia are a bit smaller. The Mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx) of Gabon grows to 3 feet 4 inches long and a shoulder height of 2 feet, but its distinctive coloration would betray it. The Nandi bear is at least a third larger than any of these.
(7) A surviving Giant baboon (Theropithecus oswaldi), an ancestor of the gelada that lived in Kenya 4 million-650,000 years ago. The male was roughly the size of a female gorilla and weighed 250 pounds. It was too big to live in trees and could not use its long forearms for swinging. Early Paleolithic peoples may have hunted it to extinction. Another candidate might be the large fossil baboon, Dinopithecus ingens, discovered by Robert Broom in South Africa in the 1930s. It lived 3—1.5 million years ago and is possibly related to the ancestors of the mandrill.
(8) A surviving Short-faced hyena (Pachycrocuta brevirostris), a lion-sized carnivore that lived in Southern Europe and West Asia during the Middle Pleistocene. It had a short muzzle, strongly built jaws, and massive teeth, making its profile more bearlike than that of modern hyenas. Karl Shuker thinks this active predator would make an excellent Nandi bear.
(9) A surviving chalicothere, a member of a family of fossil ungulates that lived 45 million years ago, in the Eocene, and survived in East Africa until 12,000 years ago. These animals were horselike mammals with large retractile claws instead of hooves, long necks, rearward-sloping backs, and elongated front limbs that were much longer than the hind legs. They browsed on tree leaves and probably knuckle-walked like a gorilla, with claws curled inward. Evidence that a chalicothere may have survived into
historical times comes from a Saka (Scythian) tomb in Siberia (500-400 B.C.), where two gold belt plaques were found that show a horselike animal with clawed feet.
(10) The African civet (Civettictis civetta) is found in Kenya. A shaggy, blotched and banded, doglike nocturnal animal, the civet grows to about 3 feet long and has a shortish, ringed tail. Normally silent, it growls when cornered or surprised, and its hair stands erect.
(11) The heavily built Giant forest hog (Hylochoerus meinertzhageni) might acccount for the Rwujigar of the Bugoma Forest. Charles Pitman said this animal was more plentiful in Kenya during the nineteenth century.
(12) The African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) ranges through parts of Kenya. It has a black muzzle and a blotchy coat. Some of the names given in Uganda for this dog also refer to a Nandi bear-like animal (Ipen and Mushegga).
(13) Murders committed by secret societies or terrorists could have been doctored to make it look as if a huge, mysterious animal was responsible.
(14) The mystery cat Mngwa, known from the same area, might account for livestock depredations, while actual sightings of the Nandi bear could be attributed to hyenas, ratels, and baboons.
Sources: Geoffrey Williams, "An Unknown Animal on the Uasingishu," Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society, no. 4 (1912): 123-125; C. W. Hobley, "On Some Unidentified Beasts," Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society, no. 6 (1913): 48-52; G. W. Hickes, "Notes on the Unknown Beast Seen on the Magadi Railway," Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society, no. 6 (1913): 53-54; C. W. Hobley, "Unidentified Beasts in East Africa," Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society, no. 7 (1913): 85-86; A. Blayney Percival, "The Chemosit," Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society, no. 8 (1914): 127-128; Fulahn [William Hichens], "On the Trail of the
Brontosaurus: Encounters with Africa's Mystery Animals," Chambers's Journal, ser. 7, 17 (1927): 692-695; Reginald I. Pocock, "The Story of the Nandi Bear," Natural History Magazine 2 (1930): 162-169; Charles R. S. Pitman, A Game Warden among His Charges (London: Nisbet, 1931), pp. 287-322; Charles T. Stoneham, Hunting Wild Beasts with Rifle and Camera (London: Thomas Nelson, 1933), pp. 151-158; Louis S. Leakey, "Does the Chalicothere—Contemporary of the Okapi— Still Survive?" Illustrated London News 187 (November 2, 1935): 730-733, 750; Roger Courtney, Africa Calling (London: George Harrap, 1936), pp. 200-204; Bernard Heuvelmans, On the Track of Unknown Animals (New York: Hill and Wang, 1958), pp. 373-414; Martin Pickford, "Another African Chalicothere," Nature 253 (1975): 85; G. R. Cunningham van Someren, "The Nandi Bear," East Africa Natural History Society Bulletin, September-October 1981, pp. 91-93; Christine Janis, "Fossil Ungulate Mammals Depicted on Archaeological Artifacts," Cryptozoology 6 (1987): 8-23.
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