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Ferocious Animals

In the mid-1760s the ravages of a large, ferocious animal sent panic through a mountainous area of south-central France known as Le Gevaudan. The creature was described in a contemporary account as: much higher than a wolf, low before, and his feet are armed with talons. His hair is reddish, his head large, and the muzzle of it is shaped like that of a greyhound; his ears are small and straight; his breast is wide and gray; his back streaked with black; his large mouth is provided with sharp teeth." Thought by many terrified peasants to be a loup-garou ("werewolf"), it left the bloody remains of many men, women, and children in its wake.

The panic began in June 1764 with the killings following in July. As the slaughter went on, the story spread that the creature could not be brought down by knife, lance, or bullet. Hunters reported shooting it at close range, only to watch it run away to reappear elsewhere soon afterward.

Eventually, King Louis XV sent a cavalry troop to the region. The soldiers observed the "beast of Gevaudan" on several occasions and managed to fire on it. Though it escaped each time, the depredations gradually stopped, and the soldiers, concluding that the animal had died of its wounds, departed. Soon, however, it was back.

Lured by a big reward posted for the killing of the beast, hunters scoured the countryside. Some saw the creature and swore they had wounded it. Others killed any wolf that crossed their paths. Nothing seemed to work. As the panic spread, entire villages were abandoned. By now the episode had become an international sensation. The English periodical St. James's Chronicle was not alone in speculating that some "new Species" neither wolf nor tiger nor hyena had been set loose in the French provinces.

By the time it was brought down, on the evening of June 19, 1767, the beast of Gevaudan had slain some sixty persons, many of them children who had been guarding their parents' sheep flocks. The man who killed it, Jean Chastel, a member of a hunting party organized by the Marquis d'Apcher, used silver bullets in the belief that the creature was a loup-garou. When the animal's stomach was opened, it was found to contain a small child's collar bone.

The creature's death caused understandable jubilation in the afflicted peasant communities. The hunters who had run it down paraded its putrefying remains through the region for the next two weeks before delivering it to the royal court in Versailles. By this time it stank so badly that the king ordered it to be disposed of immediately. Buried in an unknown location, the remains have never been recovered, sparking more than two centuries of speculation about the creature's identity.

In 1960, after studying a notary report prepared by two surgeons who had examined the carcass in the 1700s, one authority determined that the creature's teeth were purely wolflike But during the summer of 1997, discussion of the fur of the Beast of Gevaudan resurfaced. Franz Jullien, a taxidermist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, discovered that a stuffed specimen similar to the Beast of Gevaudan that had been shot by Jean Chastel had been kept in the collections of the museum from 1766 to 1819. It had been definitely identified, a fact that all researchers had overlooked. It was a striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena).

Novelist Henri Pourrat and naturalist Gerard Menatory had already proposed the hyena hypothesis, based on historical accounts, since Antoine Chastel (Jean Chastel's son) reportedly possessed such an animal in his menagerie, a hypothesis now supported by a zoologist's identification. While Jullien's rediscovery must be congratulated, questions remain about the role of the Chastels as creators of a false story involving an escaped hyena in order to cover the rumors of one of the Chastels being a serial killer.

Called the most ferocious of African mystery beasts, the Nandi Bear evokes cries of horror in both natives and Westerners alike. Known throughout East Africa as duba, kerit, chimisit, kikambangwe, vere, sabrookoo, and many others. There are too many reports to simply write it off as widespread myth. The sightings of the Nandi Bear by Westerners backs up the reality of the beast. Officially there are no members of the bear family in Africa in modern times, but reports of bears or bear-like creatures are nothing new to Africa. Herodotus, Pliny the elder and other writers from ancient times placed bears in Africa. More recently, Dr. O. Dapper wrote in 1668 that "squirrels with tails much larger than those in Europe, bears, wild cats, and very venomous vipers..." all inhabited the Congo.

The Nandi Bear is often described as being like a large hyena about the size of a lion. It is said to have a brownish red to a dark color coat. It is a nocturnal animal and is said to attack humans only on dark moonless nights. It has been said to prey upon the children and natives from the villages. There are cases when natives haved killed the beast, normally by burning a hut it had entered. Westerners have also shot at the beast, but without success. The Nandi Bear has eluded both hunters and researchers alike to remain unclassified by the scientific community.

The natives of East Africa have told the story of the Nandi Bear for centuries. During that time writers and researchers alike have made reports of bear-like creatures throughout Africa, never truly describing them; just saying they were bear-like. It wasn't until the early part of the 20th century that Westerners began seeing and describing what the natives have seen for centuries before them.

Two well-known Kenya colonists, Major Braithwaite and Mr. C. Kenneth Archer gave one of the best accounts of the Nandi Bear. They saw an animal that they thought was a lioness at first, however they later noticed the impression of a snout. The beast stood very high forward, about 4 ft. 3 ins. to 4 ft. 6 ins. at the shoulder. "The back," they said, "sloped steeply to the hindquarters and the animal moved with a shambling gait which can best be compared with the shuffle of a bear. The coat was thick and dark brown in color. Finally, the beast broke into a shambling trot and made for a belt of trees near the river, where it was lost." Due to their experience, their story is not likely to be that of a misidentification. Their report is similar to others of the Nandi Bear.

Many reports of the Nandi Bear surfaced from workers of the Madadi Railway when it was under construction. One railway employee Schindler discovered a series of canine-like tracks. They were 8.5 inch-long tracks with five toes instead of four (like most dogs) and a rather long heel. The sketches he made of these tracks show their unique characteristics. G.W. Hickes, an engineer in charge of building the railway throughout East Africa saw the Nandi Bear on March 8, 1913.

Besides the obvious question of whether or not the Nandi Bear exists, there is still another question, which plagues cryptozoologists - what it could be. The features of the Nandi Bear are indeed bear-like, from its general appearance to its movement. There is also the fact that it has been said to stand upright, which bears can indeed do. As stated earlier bears are now absent from Africa, there is however one African bear that fits the general description of the Nandi Bear. The Atlas bear was a small brown bear known to have lived up until the Paleolithic. Its description is like that of the Nandi Bear, it was rather small for a bear and is thought to have had a fur of a dark color. Some reports of the Nandi Bear have it waiting in a tree for a possible victim to pass by. Being a small bear the Atlas bear could easily perform these deeds. One thing holding back the likelihood of the Atlas bear being the Nandi Bear is the fact that its range was in Northern Africa. It is also the only bear to have a fossil record in Africa, so an Atlas bear surviving in East Africa seems highly unlikely. It could of course be an unknown species of bear, however there is no fossil record to back up this fact. There still is the chance that an ancient species of bear could yet to be discovered as both a fossil and a living animal, science will have to keep looking before we know for sure.

For hundreds of years, stories of surviving dinosaurs have come out of the jungles of central Africa. The first printed reference, in a 1776 book, relates Abbe Proyhart's discovery of giant, clawed animal footprints in west central Africa, tracks that he claimed were three feet across. In 1913, a German expedition in the Congo met a band of pygmies who described an animal they called mokele-mbembe, which means "one who stops the flow of rivers." They said this beast was about the size of an elephant or hippopotamus, with a long, flexible neck and a long tail like an alligator's. This description would be repeated by numerous witnesses since. It is consistent with a sauropod or other small dinosaur.

Mokele-mbembe reportedly does not like hippopotamuses and will kill them on sight, but it does not eat them. Perhaps lending credence to this allegation, cryptozoologist Roy Mackal has found that hippos are curiously absent from areas where Mokele-mbembe is said to live. Pygmies claim that Mokele-mbembe attacks and kills any humans who get too close to it, but it would not eat them, because of its strictly herbivorous diet. The pygmies of the Likouala swamp region report that the essential diet of Mokele-mbembe consists of the Malombo plant. (The term "Malombo plant" actually denotes two plants: Landolphia mannii and Landolphia owariensis.)

Numerous expeditions have been mounted in search of Mokele-mbembe. In 1980 and 1981, monster-hunter Mackal headed explorations into the Likouala and Lake Tele regions of the Congo, reputed hot spots of dinosaur sightings. Mackal documented a number of past eyewitness accounts, including one dramatic story of how one Mokelembembe was attacked and killed. Pascal Moteka, who lived near Lake Tele, said that his people had once constructed a barrier of wooden spikes across a river to keep the giant beasts from interfering with their fishing. When Mokele-mbembe tried to break through the barrier, the assembled villagers managed to kill it with spears. Celebrating their triumph, the people butchered and cooked the carcass, but everyone who ate the dinosaur meat reportedly died soon afterward.

Mackal never saw the creature himself, though he says he did have one close call. One day while paddling down the Likouala River in dugout canoes, his group heard a loud "plop" sound, and a large wake splashed up on the far bank. The pygmy guides cried out frightfully, "Mokele-mbembe! Mokele-mbembe!" Mackal and his colleagues believed that only a large animal diving under the water could have caused such a wake, and since hippos are not present in the Likouala area, they suspected that they narrowly missed seeing the elusive cryptid.

Marcellin Agnagna, a Congolese biologist who had accompanied Mackal on his searches, led his own expedition in 1983. Agnagna claimed to have a firsthand sighting of a Mokele-mbembe as it waded in Lake Tele. He described it as having the long-necked form typically attributed to the creature, though he could not see its legs or tail, which remained underwater. Agnagna had a movie camera, but he later reported that there was little film left when the creature appeared, and he began filming it without realizing that the lens cap was still on. Thus, even though he says he observed the animal for about twenty minutes before it submerged and vanished, Agnagna was sadly left with no photographic evidence.

In 1992, members of a Japanese film crew captured some of the best photographic evidence of a Mokele-mbembe. As they were filming aerial footage from a small plane over the area of Lake Tele, intending to obtain some panoramic landscape shots for a documentary, they noticed a large shape moving across the surface of the lake and leaving a V-shaped wake behind itself. The cameraman zoomed in and got about fifteen seconds of the object in motion before it dived under the surface.

The resulting footage, though jumpy and indistinct, shows a vertical protuberance at the front of the object-possibly a long neck. A second, shorter projection could be a humped back or a tail. If the object is not a dinosaur, it's difficult to say what animal it could be, since a crocodile would not have two such protrusions above the water, and an elephant would not submerge in the way the object does. The explanation that makes the best visual match is actually two men paddling a canoe, though the object's speed is too fast to be a nonpowered boat. The existence of dinosaurs in central Africa is unlikely, but not a total scientific impossibility. According to cryptozoologist Karl Shuker, "If dinosaurs could exist unknown to science anywhere in the world, the Likouala is where they would be."

Loren Coleman & Jerome Clark. Cryptozoology A To Z: The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters, Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature . A Fireside Book. 1999.

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