From the mysterious Himalayan Yeti to the southwestern Chupacabra – and all the Loch Ness monsters, Alties, Bunyips, Sasquatches, and Babayagas in between – our world is just filled with shadowy creatures of myth and legend. Or, at least, the world is filled with stories about these shadowy creatures of myth and legend. And the vast and enigmatic continent of Africa is no exception!
While cryptozoology has been pretty well-documented and culturally prominent in North America and other western countries for a while now (and it seriously is culturally prominent, by the way – there are even Meetup.com groups devoted to spotting Bigfoot in the United States), the epic monsters of African folklore have taken a little longer to get their moment in the global spotlight.
Tales of these mythic African beasts remained endemic to the continent until the turn of the 20th Century, when Captain William Hichens, on a lion hunt, became the first non-African to record the local tales and superstitions. He published his notes on these infamous creatures in the magazine Discovery in 1937 – including his own personal supposed sighting of the secretive Agogwe, a small, furry humanoid from eastern Tanzania. Thus did the rest of the world first learn of these amazing animals!
If you and your kids have the cryptozoology bug, what trip could be more exciting than a family safari tracking down these animals right in there own backyard?
With the help of Aardvark Safaris, a company dedicated to tailor-made family safaris in Africa, we’ve devised a hypothetical 6-beast, 6-day, 6-country (how’s that for you, numerologists?) itinerary that will show you the incredible sights of Africa – and, if you’re very lucky, incredible sights of incredible cryptids!
So strap on your best pair of binoculars and hiking boots, intrepid explorers! And kids, be sure to be there for your parents in case they get scared! Because this wild African safari will surely be one of mythic proportions.
The first day, of course, is all about “getting there.” For purposes of this safari, it makes the most sense to fly into Kenya, where our travel story begins, and then work our way south. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (formerly Nairobi International) is the largest aviation facility in East Africa, and relatively accessible from any major western airport.
Once you’ve arrived, get a good night’s sleep; tomorrow, you seek the Nandi Bear!
The Beast: The “Nandi Bear” (or Kerit)
The Scene: West Kenya
The Great Rift Valley traverses the continent of Africa, from Lebanon all the way down to Mozambique. In Kenya, however, is where the Great Rift Valley truly earns its reputation. Awaiting you here are sprawling scenic vistas, with incredibly diverse terrain and ecosystems all contained in a relatively small area. In Western Kenya, where the Rift Valley winds its way down, human life is said to have started: some of the earliest human remains we have on record, those of the Australopithecus Anamensis (of which the most famous is “Lucy”), were found in Lake Turkana between Kenya and Ethiopia.
It is in this land, brimming with life and ancient history, where the “Nandi Bear” is said to flourish.
The jury’s still out on what the Nandi Bear, or Kerit, really is. Some say it’s a surviving member of an officially extinct species of bear, presumably hunted to extinction by the Romans in the second century. Some believe it’s some sort of as-yet undiscovered giant hyena species. Still others seem to think it’s a rather unfortunate-looking baboon. Generally, though, it is said to be roughly the size of a fully grown lion, with a very bear-like face, and a long, sloping back. It has broad shoulders and long powerful arms with huge claws.
The Nandi people, to whom most sightings are attributed, know it as “Kerit.” They claim that the Nandi Bear almost never attacks people – though when it does, it only does so to eat human brains. Comforting!
While You Wait:
Lake Nakuru is nestled deep in the Great Rift Valley, and has had a few Nandi Bear sightings of its own. But if you shouldn’t see a Nandi Bear on your trip, fear not! There are still plenty of exciting things for you and your kids to do to pass the time!
Kiangazi House sits alongside the shores of Lake Naivasha, near Lake Nakuru National Park. The grounds offer stunning views of the Rift Valley, including Mt. Kenya, and access to the Lake itself – where you will have ample opportunity to spot (and even get close to) countless animals as they come to the lake to drink. The region is especially a birdwatcher’s paradise, so though you may not see a Nandi Bear, you will definitely see plenty of flamingo, grebes, heron, storks – as well as waterbuck, warthogs, giraffes, baboons, and rhino!
You can take a 4×4 off-road and into Lake Nakuru National Park to discover even more of the Great Rift Valley. You can even visit some of the locations where it is believed early humans once lived!
Then, it’s off to Uganda, for the next leg of your adventure!
The Beast: Ndalawo
The Scene: Northwest Uganda
Uganda rests on the equator, but you wouldn’t know it by visiting. The country is at an incredibly high altitude, and prominently features forest-strewn mountains and lush plateaus. It is rainy most of the year, save a 2-month dry season. Its misty mountains and impenetrable forests have lent Uganda an atmosphere of mystery that is closely tied to its portrayal here in the west. This is the land of mountain gorillas, of beautiful deltas, and majestic waterfalls, where the enormous Lake Albert feeds into the Nile River. The northwest features miles of flat but highly vegetated plains surrounding the many great lakes and rivers, punctuated by intimidating mountain ranges densely forested in temperate trees.
This heavy forestation serves as the perfect home for Ndalawo – the “Dark Leopard.”
The Ndalawo – or Ondurlarwo, as it’s known in Northwest Uganda – is a feline hunter and alleged man-eater the shape and size of a leopard. However, unlike leopards, Ndalawos have two-tone fur: they have black fur on their backs, and gray fur on their flanks. Of course, as with all legendary beasts, appearances aren’t the only thing that sets them apart from the mundane.
They allegedly hunt in packs, sticking to heavily forested and shadowy areas until they are ready to pounce. While hunting, Ndalawos are said to make hyena-like laughs and cries. For this reason, many people dismiss Ndalawo sightings as simple cases of mistaken identity. But according to William hichens, there’s no mistaking the Ndalawo: “Hyænas are cowardly brutes. They do attack humans occasionally when in packs; and sometimes a lone hyæna will sneak in and snatch away a child. But there is nothing in this dodge-and-sneak behaviour comparable with the ferocity of ndalawos. Natives, moreover, are not afraid of hyaenas” – but the natives most certainly Are afraid of Ndalawo!
While You Wait:
Murchison Falls, Uganda, is the largest National Park in Uganda – and, sadly, it is also the most often overlooked! most Ugandan tourists want to see the mountain gorillas of the Bwindi National Forest in the southwest, but at Murchison you are guaranteed to see a lot more wildlife! The Nile is the major feature of this 5,000 square kilometer park, attracting countless birds as well as crocodiles, elephants, and lions. And if you don’t spot a Ndalawo, you may at least be lucky enough to catch a leopard lounging in a forest tree! For a wonderful day trip, consider a combination game drive and boat trip to the Falls themselves with the Nile Safari Lodge. These experienced guides will take you up Lake Albert to the mouth of the river, where you will see plenty of wild animal action!
After Uganda, hop on a short-range plane and head south to Tanzania.
The Beast: Agogwe
The Scene: The Forests and Plains (Iringa Region) of Tanzania
Tanzania, rich in rivers and diverse ecosystems, is home to abundant wildlife. Like Uganda and Kenya, it also sits at a fairly high elevation – so although it is just south of the Equator, it is still very temperate, with plenty of dense forests and vegetation surrounded by lakes, rivers, streams, and waterfalls. To the East lies the cost, and in the center of the country (particularly the Iringa Region) lie the majestic Tanzanian forests.
As Captain William Hichens learned on his famous African expedition, these forests are what the Agogwe call ‘home.’
Perhaps the most famous of the African cryptids, due to the sheer number of “sightings” recorded by westerners, the Agogwe is sort of like Africa’s Bigfoot. Except smaller – a lot smaller!
Described as “furry little men” by Hichens, the Agogwe are said to be about 4 feet tall and red-haired, in many respects resembling a chimpanzee or a large gibbon – however, they have a very human stride, a rounded forehead, and small feet with an opposable toe on each. In some native stories, they wear very simple clothing. Other native tales insist that if you put out a gourd of beer and some food in a grain garden, the Agogwe will come by at night and do some weeding in your garden as thanks. Helpful little critters!
People who study the Agogwe seem to think it may be an as-yet-undiscovered species of great ape (perhaps loosely related to the orangutan), or else a surviving Australopithecine.
While You Wait:
The Agogwe may be very mysterious and adept at hiding in the dense forests of Tanzania, but many other animals are not! A trip to Tanzania promises plenty of sightings, so get your binoculars ready!
The Iringa Region lies just east of central Tanzania and boasts simply HUGE populations of elephant, giraffe, and buffalo. The Mdonya Old River Camp is one of the best places to see these animals – in fact, if you have an outdoor picnic here, elephants may walk right up to you! 4×4 game drives head out from the camp on a daily basis, and thoroughly explore some of the hottest sightseeing spots in Ruaha National Park.
The Beast: Kongamato
The Scene: Northern Zambia
Northern Zambia features lots of tributaries and rivers, and thus, lots of swampland. Swamps are a fascinating ecosystem in Africa, housing countless birds, hippos, and crocodiles as well as unique tree and plant life. The country itself tends to be overlooked on many westerners’ safaris, but then most people haven’t heard of the dreaded Kongamato, the pterosaur-like monster whose name means “The Boat Breaker!”
The Kongamato, like the Agogwe, actually has many recorded sightings to its name. Said to stalk the swampy shores of Lake Bangweulu, Kongamato has been seen as far east as Shiwa Ngamu and seemingly spends its time among the myriad swamps of Central Africa.
It is a large, leathery-winged animal with anywhere from a 3 to 6 foot wingspan, a large bony protrusion from the back of its head, and either a snout like a dog’s, or a pointy bird-like beak, depending on who you ask. Kongamato dive bombs its prey in the water, and thus many natives who claimed to have been attacked were in the lakes or swamps at the time. The Kongamato has been known to dive bomb and capsize boats, hence its name!
While You Wait:
The Kongamato, if it exists, may be a real life dinosaur. But if you don’t get the chance to see it, at least you might get a glimpse of another real life dinosaur: African crocodiles!
Shiwa House, just alongside Shiwa Ng-andu (or, “Lake of the Royal Crocodiles”), is a wonderful blend of colonial and traditional history, and sits on 10,000 hectares of reserved land. This land is home to tons of animals, including – of course – massive crocodiles. Nile crocodiles, Africa’s own native species, can grow to be about 16 feet long, with hard, armor-like scales and rows of enormous teeth. Despite being fearsome predators, Nile crocodiles are also famously great parents!
Crocodiles evolved some 200 million years ago, and they are still alive and kicking today. They haven’t even had to evolve very much! Modern crocodiles are more closely related to dinosaurs and birds, in fact, than they are to most other reptiles. So if you can’t catch a Kongamato, at least you can see real dinosaurs by paying a visit to the Lake of the Royal Crocodiles near Shiwa House!
The Beast: Tokoloshe
The Scene: Botswana
The waters of Botswana aren’t just attractive to all the herding animals, however. This is also the primary stomping grounds of the mischievous water sprite known as “Tokoloshe.”
These guys are the trouble-making imps or goblins of African folklore. They can be extremely mean-spirited, very much like the “gremlins” of American myth. They are fickle, selfish, tricky, and very dangerous. They are able to change their shape and appearance, and can even become completely invisible when they drink from their local waters!
Naturally, this makes them incredibly difficult to spot. It also doesn’t help that, like many imps and demons, Tokoloshe mostly only come out at night to terrorize their victims. Legend has it that the only way to keep a Tokoloshe away is to put a brick beneath each leg of your bed – so you may want to try that while searching for the Tokoloshe!
Even today, many people all across Africa genuinely believe the Tokoloshe exists – so much so, that a quick Youtube search will reveal plenty of Tokoloshe pranks played off of peoples’ real fears, such as this one!
I think, of all the cryptids you might see on this safari, the Tokoloshe is probably the only one you really, really don’t want to see.
Luckily, Botswana is just filled with plenty of cool stuff you actually DO want to see!
While You Wait:
Botswana’s Okavango Delta is the largest inland delta in the world, spreading out into a collection of spectacular lakes and rivers that net the Kalahari sands and high plains of Botswana in nourishing water. It’s no question that this is one of the world’s greatest safari destinations! It’s probably your best bet for an encounter with the water sprite Tokoloshe, but it’s also certainly your best bet for an amazing elephant safari!
Abu Camp, located along the western edge of the Delta, has a particular reputation for its elephant safaris, which spends anywhere from 1 to 3 days among its 7 herds of local elephant. The elephants here are very used to humans, and so Abu Camp is the bet place to go and see the elephants as they go about their daily routines – whether they’re taking a leisurely stroll, scavenging food, or playing in the Delta, you’ll be able to stroll right alongside them! Many of the local elephants have even been tamed and trained to serve as riding animals – truly, there is no safari quite as exhilarating as traveling around on the back of an enormous African elephant!
The Beast: Mamlambo
The Scene: South Africa
Africa’s most popular tourist destination, known for both its spectacular wilderness (including Kruger National Park, Africa’s #1 game park and home to all of the “Big 5” game species) as well as its sprawling, westernized cities (charming Cape Town to the west, the major cultural metropolis of Johannesburg inland, and coastal Durban – in many respects, Africa’s version of Miami).
South Africa, for all its diversity, is sometimes called “a world in one country.” This description is indeed apt: snow capped mountains, lushly forested reserves, temperate lakes, dry plains teeming with game, and tropical white sand beaches all call this country home. It’s also a land rich in culture, featuring highly developed metropolises living right alongside traditional nomadic societies. This environment is the perfect melting pot to produce rich folklore, superstition, myth, and legend.
The final beast you’ll be tracking on this brave expedition is not simply a myth to the natives: it is, in many ways, a bona fide god. To the Zulu, Mamlambo is literally a deity, the “goddess of the rivers.” She’s also a huge, reptilian, Mosasaur-like monster that measures about 20 meters long and apparently enjoys eating human brains! What is it with African these cryptids eating human brains, anyway? High protein, I guess.
Many modern cryptozoologists believe that Mamlambo is actually a surviving Mosasaur, which is a species of giant marine reptile that lived alongside the dinosaurs – and presumably went extinct when they did.
Most Mamlambo sightings have occurred near Mount Ayliff, though she has been spotted in many major waterways throughout South Africa. She is often described as having the torso of a horse, the lower body of a fish, and the head of a serpent. Over the years, 9 human bodies have been found washed up alongside the Mzintlava River near Mount Ayliff – each one, with a hole in their skulls, presumably where Mamlambo sucked their brains out. Yummy!
But there’s an upside to catching the Mamlambo, aside from just having an amazing story to tell: like a leprechaun, it is said that anyone who captures this “goddess of the rivers” will be gifted tremendous riches and good luck for life if they set her free.
While You Wait:
North of Mount Ayliff, and sharing many of its waterways, is the Ukahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage Site, prominently featuring Mount Drakensberg itself. The region of Highmoor, in the northeast section of the Reserve, is home to Cleopatra’s Farmhouse. Nestled among the majestic mountains of Drakensberg range, this lodge offers a wholly different feel from most African safaris – it’s more like country living, but there is still plenty to see and do.
The area is home to the most native bushmen rock art of its kind, and more of this artwork gets discovered every year. This art depicts daily life for ancient South African bushmen, and can be wonderfully educational for kids and adults – plus, it’s really fun hiking to get to these rock paintings! Most of these hikes do wind alongside rivers, lakes, and streams, so who knows – you might just get a glimpse of the Mamlambo!
Then, you head north to Johannesburg, where your adventure comes to a close. You board the plane, and reminisce on your decidedly unorthodox safari. And, if you were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one of Africa’s cryptids (and lived to tell the tale!), smile to yourself as you realize there are still many great mysteries and adventures left in this great big world of ours.
So there you have it, a week’s worth of adventure hot on the trail of some of Africa’s most elusive legends! And just in case you don’t actually spot any of these incredible beasts, you can take comfort in knowing that you at least got to see some of the most beautiful forests, savannahs, beaches, and (of course) wildlife that the world has to offer. But if you dare to attempt this trek, O brave explorer, be sure to keep your eyes peeled! In Africa, you never know when you’re going to see something truly unbelievable!
Looking for your own fairy tale safari? Start building it today with Aardvark Safaris! Sightings of Agogwe and Mamlambo NOT guaranteed.