|Cryptozoology, BioForteana, Zoological Oddities, Unusual Natural History|
Searching for Saurians in Africa
Are Scions of the Prehistoric Monsters That Once Roamed the Earth Still to Be Found Within Little-Known Parts of the Dark Continent?
Johannesburg, South Africa.
"Deep in the center of mysterious Africa, by the banks of a sluggish swamp many hundreds of miles across, quivering, slimy, next to reeds and fantastically twisted bushes that have their roots thirty feet below the matted, dying greenery, lazes the scaly, towering body of the world's last brontosaurus, the final living specimen of that monstrous beast which crashed through Pennsylvania's coal forests 50,000,000 years back."
Thus run the astounding stories which have furtively and despite scornful laughter been drifting to the Southern Continent's cities out of the jungles which surround the Equator.
When certain sun-helmeted white settlers first hacked their path between thorn and baobab trees toward the lands north of Rhodesia, two decades ago, the pitch-black, naked, grinning savages carried the pioneers' self-sufficient luggage, the special tents fortified against five-inch-in-half-an-hour rains, the elephant guns, the quinine or other medicines for tropical ailments and the creaking ammunition in a long, striding procession through the inch-wide Kaffir paths winding down the crocodile valleys. These natives started singing eerie songs in the melodious deep tongue of the kraals.
"He is coming, the Great One," chanted the grizzled head carrier, who peered in front of the explorers for gaps left in the jungle by passing elephants, where many men could walk with ease. "He is coming," repeated the young savages behind. "The beast that makes the ground rock."
The sun-reddened Europeans, who perspired as they strode on the track through the bush grass, looked at each other's bearded visages, unshaven for many weeks. "Of what are they talking?" questioned a young man who had left America to seek adventures in Kaffirland.
An old white hunter, leading the party, halted to let the last of the bearers file toward the suddenly opening veld with the seven-foot grass on which a rhinoceros was slowly trampling down a glade of orchids worth a thousand dollars each in Philadelphia.
"You have seen lots of those queer animals?" The senior of the travelers pointed his rifle toward the uncouth brute. The American nodded, commenting that a shape rather like a locomotive, a horn above one's nose, a two-inch skin, certainly was curious. "Well, my friend," the elephant hunter exclaimed, "all the rhinos, all the tapirs, all the whales and armadillos in the wide world are as ordinary as the old cow on the home farm when compared with the creature about which the Mashonas are singing."
The sudden dusk caused the tents to be erected in a palm-shaded glade. The natives cooked their maize around the huge bonfire, used to scare away lions from the improvised thorn fence that jungle travelers put around their camp during the darkness. Dropping the antiquated English and American magazines, the wanderers talked about the song. "What on earth are the Great Ones?" queried the young fellows as they oiled their guns. "Goodness knows." The hunter who claimed to have walked further north than any other European, shrugged his khaki-shirted shoulders. "You may take this from me. Even though no white man has seen the animals, all the natives speak of them and definitely believe that they exist."
What the Great Ones might be was a startling topic for discussion while the wolflike jackal bayed far out in the dark against the Southern Cross. For hundreds of miles the pioneers slogged northwardtoward the unknown regions near the Equator which Stanley and Livingstone had traversed but only sketchily described. The last white settlements lay behind the long trail that the bearers were trampling through the bush. Forsaken Phenician gold mines, their great excavations overgrown by huge century-old trees; Kaffir kraals of straw houses, mountain chains populated with baboons, prairies on whose brown grass the shape of lions could hardly be seenso the endless African Continent showed its everlasting facets.
A thunder through the quivering palm forests, a great white cloud rising a thousand feet into the blue tropic heaven, and the marchers reached the falling wall of water, one mile across and 450 feet high, the marvel known to all the world, even in those savage times, as the Victoria Falls. While hippopotamus and crocodile lounged on every muddy bank, the huge Zambosi River was hurrying past its palm islets into the chasm that led toward the distant sea.
The expedition neared the lands of the Great Ones. A tiny white jungle settlement by the falls, where lonely surveyors were preparing for the Cape-to-Cairo Railroad, now under construction, did not keep back the explorers long.
Fuzzy-haired Barotse braves, with the wool of their topknots carved into shapes like clipped garden hedges, took the parcels from faithful Meshona bearers who had sung of the Great Ones and who now walked home with the jingling of precious silver coins in their black hands (the Kaffir has no pockets in his beads) on a little hike to their home kraal 600 miles down country. One evening the American stood up by the marimba fire. "Boys," he spoke, "that creature's a good old-fashioned brontosaurus, the last prehistoric monster to survive into this century. And just fancy the sensation if we captured one. We must have a try."
"Have you heard about big beasts up there?" asked the young stranger, with a finger directed toward the low line of outlying tangled bush which the caravan was nearing. The senior Kaffir grinned with sharp-filed teeth and dangled the great copper rings in his ears as he excitedly answered: "Big beastsyes, great animals likelike no other animal. Body like elephant, little legs like crocodile, neck like giraffe, mouth" Two black arms stretched to the damp air in token of gaping immensity.
That night the Barotse bearers once again were chanting the terrors of the Great Ones. Into the uttermost clearings of the jungle traveled the pioneers till they saw the steep roofs of the kraal ruled by a Barotse chief possessing an unrememberable name.
Under a palm tree sat the fat, greasy, black King with beads and bones dangling from his thick neck and a favorite wife waving a fly swatter of monkeys' tails in his perspiring flabby face. The explorers walked past the huts on the open space of dried anthill soil.
"I greet the white men," murmured the chief. "What do they want?"
"We seek the Great Ones," spoke the old hunter.
"Up the Kafue River, far up, they are found. My induna (counselor) will take you near the land."
Into narrow, shaky canoes the travelers climbed, and as the singing, naked black oarsmen punted along the swirling, wide waters where the snout of an occasional crocodile peered unpleasantly above the waves, the Europeans could not refrain from staring into the rustling, echoing bush on either side in the hope of beholding a long scaly neck and the glassy eyes of the 50,000,000-year-old monster.
"I will go no farther," shouted the brave whom the chief had commanded to act as a guide. The river gave a bend and "rrrrrrp," boats crashed on stone-filled mud while the black bearers leaped ashore to march hastily on to the slimy but secure jungle soil, away from the crocodiles. The men had come upon the great, mysterious Kafue swamps.
Shiny and green the stagnant marshes with the reeds stretched to the north. Floating water plants matted on the surface. Snakes lolled between fetid-smelling tropic plants. Rotting grass lay packed tight as felt in long floating rafts. In alleyways between the bushes the hippos dozed comfortably as their leathery skin gleamed in the sun.
"Look out," a venturesome American nearly ended in the softly poisonous quicksands of the Kafue. For weeks the explorers toiled along the edge of the swamp, hacking the lianas that twisted onto dead stumps, dropping superfluous luggage in the mud, and lighting great flames to scare away the animals with gleaming eyes that stared uncannily out of the dark at night. One morning the head bearer went out to fetch an edible nut. He never came back. On the outer edge of the swamp lay blood upon the grass, while on the wet mud some yards from the shore was a footprintfive feet long.
"No mistake," said the old hunter, "claws, and scaly padded feet, and a great path of crushed reeds, twenty feet wide, leading to the inner mystery region of the Kafue."
"I swear I saw a brontosaurus trail," spoke the American, and far out of the forest came the chatter or agitated Barotses as they drew back from the Great Ones' territory.
The pioneers never got farther. So terrified did the natives feel, so unhealthy was the reek of the green swamps and so ill-equipped the expedition after all the long weeks, that the tramp was discontinued. Back to the far-off towns, down-country, trekked the expedition. Joyously sang the bearers as the dreadful Kafue swamps grew distant and the canoes sped down the river current. The fat chief still sat under his palm tree as if he had not moved since the expedition came. "I knew you would never meet the Great Ones. But you have seen their footprints. Now the white men will believe."
But the white men did not all believe. Scornfully many Afrikanders made a joke of the tale. "They saw a mud hole and called it a spoor," thus went their explanation of the adventurers' account. Others, however, felt less skeptical. The maps were lifted out of cupboards in the African survey offices and with rulers the unmapped boundaries of the Kafue swamps were measured. Thousands of unexamined square miles. Water, slime and plants which may have originated in the ages when coal fields were still forests. An eminent American geologist voiced his opinion while all Africa resounded with the brontosaurus dispute. "It is perfectly possible that the country contains prehistoric monsters. We know they lived in swamps. Why not in the Kafue?"
Then a queer thing occurred.
An extinct animal, known to science only from fossils, was actually found alive by the German Duke of Mecklenburg in the Central Congo.
"Okapi" is the name of the curious beast, half horse, half zebra, that has actually been taken to overseas zoos. So our friend the brontosaurus, of whom the Kaffirs speak, is not so very impossible.
"Did people go to examine the Kafue swamps?" you may inquire. Africa is rather a forgetful neighborhood. A few attempts, and then its eternal search for gold, diamonds, copper and other minerals caused men to neglect the mystery marshes.
Railroads traverse Rhodesia, the Victoria Falls are crossed by a spray-bathed bridge, great mines clatter machinery in the bush, but Barotseland is almost as before the white man's coming, and far, far upriver gleam those strange white swamps with their unhealthy climate and inaccessible approaches, hot and steamy with reeds. They look as they did before history started, perhaps before man existed, as in the days when the brontosaurus or his fellow monsters came, with fearful teeth and horny skin, to terrorize the coal-field forests of 50,000,000 years ago.
The brontosaurus is not by any means the only prehistoric creature whose presence has been surmised in little-known parts of Africa.
At this very moment the white settlers in Kenya Colony, a British possession lying across the Equator, are piecing together the timidly disclosed information scraps which their black servants, the Masai, Swahilis and other tribesmen, give about the famous "Nandi bear." This weird creature is named after the unexplored district where Negroes state it lives. A huge hairy monster with shaggy fur and long, tearing claws, with terrible teeth and very prominent earssuch is the description given by the blacks of this terror of the forest. Dim glades in an endless jungle, amid a region whose soil is never touched by direct sunlight because of the thickness of overhead foliagethis is said to be the brute's homeland.
No less a celebrity than the game warden of Kenya Colony, probably one of the world's half-dozen great experts on African wild life, has openly declared: "I believe the Nandi bear exists."
Stanley had heard rumors about the "okapi" thirty years before it was actually found. He trekked through the famous Congo forest in which it lives but never beheld a single specimen.
Another prehistoric brute, the Kaffirs and the Hottentots affirm, lives on the banks of the Orange River where that great torrent flows through the unexamined canons of the treasure-hiding Richtersveld.
Fred Cornell, well known throughout Southern Africa as an explorer and mineral seeker, tried hard to track down the "groot slang," as the hunters of the desert lands call the beast.
From: Galveston, Texas, Daily News, February 20, 1928.