Tsy AombyAomby

Mystery HOOFED MAMMAL of Madagascar.

Etymology: Malagasy (Austronesian), "not cow cow"; perhaps from the Swahili (Bantu) si n'gombe, "not cow."

Variant names: Kilopilopitsofy ("floppy ears"), Lalomena, MANGARSAHOC, Omby-rano ("water cow," in Mainarivo District), Railalom-ena ("ancestor of the hippopotamus"), Son-gomby, Tsomgomby.

Physical description: Looks like a water buffalo without a hump; like a hippopotamus; or like a cow, horse, or mule without horns or cloven hooves. Size of a cow. Dark skin. Some accounts give it a horn in the middle of its forehead. Pink areas around the eyes and mouth. Huge, hanging ears.

Behavior: Amphibious. Moves swiftly. Terrifying cry or a series of deep, drawn-out grunts. Eats everything from insects to humans. Stuns people by spraying its urine on them.

Habitat: Rocky caves, swamps.

Distribution: South and southwestern Madagascar.

Significant sightings: In 1876, Josef-Peter Au-debert was shown an antelope-like animal hide said to have come from the Tsy-aomby-aomby in the south of the island.

A man named Constant and his wife and son


were awakened by a grunting Kilopilopitsofy near Belo-sur-Mer, Madagascar, in 1976.

Possible explanation: Surviving Malagasy pygmy hippopotami (Hippopotamus lemerlei and H. madagascariensis) that supposedly died off within the past 1,000 years or so. Both species were similar in shape to their closest relation, the common Hippopotamus (H. am-phibius), but smaller, with a length of 6 feet 6 inches and a shoulder height of 2 feet 6 inches. H. lemerlei's eyes were placed higher on its head. African hippos are often aggressive and intimidate opponents by spraying urine and feces. They don't eat people but will attack and kill them when threatened. H. lemerlei was more amphibious and lived in west Madagascan rivers; H. madagascariensis favored the highland prairies of the interior.

Sources: Jules Sébastien César Dumont d'Urville, Voyage pittoresque autour du monde (Paris: L. Tenré et H. Dupuy, 1834-1835); Josef-Peter Audebert, "Im Lande der Voilakertra aus Madagaskar," Globus 19 (1882): 295- 298; Raymond Decary, La faune malgache, son rôle dans les croyances et les usages indigènes (Paris: Payot, 1950), p. 205; Bernard Heuvelmans, On the Track ofUnknown Animals (New York: Hill and Wang, 1958), pp. 505-506; J. Mahé and M. Sourdat, "Sur l'extinction des vertébrés subfossiles et l'aridification du climat dans le sud-ouest de Madagascar," Bulletin de la Société Geologique de France 14 (1972): 295-309; Laurie R. Godfrey, "The Tale of the Tsy-Aomby-Aomby: In Which a Legendary Creature Is Revealed to Be Real," The Sciences 26 (January-February 1986): 48-51; Solweig Stuenes, "Taxonomy, Habits, and Relationships of the Subfossil Madagascan Hippopotami Hippopotamus lemerlei and H. madagascariensis," Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 9 (1989): 241-268; David A. Burney and Ramilisonina, "The Kilopilopitsofy, Kidoky, and Bokyboky: Accounts of Strange Animals from Belo-sur-Mer, Madagascar, and the Megafaunal 'Extinction Window,'" American Anthropologist 100 (1998): 957-966; Peter Tyson, The Eighth Continent: Life, Death, and Discovery in the Lost World ofMadagascar (New York: William Morrow, 2000), pp. 140-142, 180-184.

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