Cryptozoology, BioForteana, Zoological Oddities, Unusual Natural History

BioFortean Review, (January 2007)

Historical Note: The Dingonek

From: Bronson, Edgar Beecher. 1910. In Closed Territory. Chicago: A. C. McClurg.

Nights about the camp fires with Jordan were never dull. Some incident of the day or turn of the talk always served to start him on some stirring tale of weird bush happenings. That night he was particularly interesting, notwithstanding a heavy electrical storm was on and we were tightly shut in my tent, with no light but the dull flicker of our pipes.

"Wonder how long it will be before the last of all the strange animal and reptilian types native to Africa have been taken and classified?" he mused.

"What do you mean?" I asked. "Are there many types left which have been seen but remain untaken?"

"God only knows how many," he replied. "Why, it is only four years ago I killed my bongo and got the first perfect bongo skin ever taken. Before that Deputy Commissioner Isaac had gotten a piece of a bongo hide from the Wanderobo and had sent it to the British Museum, but mine was the first whole skin ever seen by a white man, and not so very many have been shot since.

"My word, but they are beauties!—bright red as an impala, white of jaw, with nine white stripes over sides, back, and quarters, short of leg but heavier of body than a roan, with horns curved and shaped like a bush buck's but tipped white as ivory. Mine was a corker, nine feet, six inches from nose to tail tip, with twenty-nine and one­half-inch horns. And it's hard to get, the beggars are; never see them outside the heaviest forest or afoot except at nights or at dawn or in the dusk. Indeed, I only got mine after putting out a lot of Wanderobo for days and days to beat up the forest.

"What did I do with him? Nothing, just nothing. Helpful Government did it all for me. A new species unincluded in the game license, when I got to the Eldama, Ravine Boma, Collector Foaker seized skin and head, under instructions from Provincial Commissioner Hobley, and they were sold at public auction at Mombasa for £50, a little later reselling at £250.

"Odd ones! Why, there's the okapi, sort of a cross between a giraffe and a—I don't know what—perhaps a 'what is it.' Hyde Baker killed two in the Congo country less than three years ago, and one or two Germans have taken them; that 's all.

"Then there's that infernal horror of a reptilian 'bounder' that comes up the Maggori River out of the lake the Lumbwa have christened Dingonek. And it's real prize money that beauty would fetch, five or ten thousand quid at least, and you bet I've got my Wanderobo and Lumbwa always on the lookout for one when the Maggori is in flood.

"Ever see one? Did I? Rather! Mataia, the boy there, and Mosoni were with me. It was only about a year ago. Mataia vows he has seen two since; can't tell whether he really saw them or dreamed he did—like as not the latter, for I know Dingonek were trying to crawl into my blankets for weeks after we saw that 'bounder.'

"How was it? Well, we were on the march approaching the Maggori, and I had stayed back with the porters and sheep and had sent the Lumbwa ahead to look for a drift we could cross—river was up and booming and chances poor. Presently I heard the bush smashing and up raced my Lumbwa, wide-eyed and gray as their black skins could get, with the yarn that they had seen a frightful strange beast on the river bank, which at sight of them had plunged into the water—as they described it, some sort of cross between a sea serpent, a leopard, and a whale. Thinking they had gone crazy or were pulling my leg, I told them I'd believe them if they could show me, but not before. After a long shauri [palaver] among themselves, back they finally ventured, returning in half an hour to say that IT lay full length exposed on the water in midstream.

"Down to the Maggori I hurried, and there their 'bounder' lay, right-oh!

"Holy saints, but he was a sight—fourteen or fifteen feet long, head big as that of a lioness but shaped and marked like a leopard, two long white fangs sticking down straight out of his upper jaw, back broad as a hippo, scaled like an armadillo, but colored and marked like a leopard, and a broad fin tail, with slow, lazy swishes of which he was easily holding himself level in the swift current, headed up stream.

"Gad! but he was a hideous old haunter of a nightmare, was that beast-fish, that made you want an aeroplane to feel safe of him; for while he lay up stream of me, I had been brought down to the river bank precisely where he had taken water, and there all about me in the soft mud and loam were the imprints of feet wide of diameter as a hippo's but clawed like a reptile's, feet you knew could carry him ashore and claws you could be bally well sure no man could ever get loose from once they had nipped him.

"Blast that blighter's fangs, but they looked long enough to go clean through a man.

"He had not seen or heard me, and how long I stood and watched him I don't know. Anyway, when I began to fear he would shift or turn and see me, I gave him a .303 hard-nose behind his leopard ear—and then hell split for fair!

"Straight up out of the water he sprang, straight as if standing on his blooming tail—must have jumped off it, I fancy.

"Me? Well, I never quit sprinting until I was atop of the bank and deep in the bush—fancier burst of speed than any wounded bull elephant ever got out of me, my word for that!

"That was one time when my presence of mind didn't succeed in getting away with me from the starting post, and when, finally, it overtook me, and I bunched nerve enough to stop and listen, the bush ahead of me was still smashing with flying Lumbwa, but all was silent astern.

"His legs? What were they like? Blest if I know! The same second that he stood up on his tail, I got too busy with my own legs to study his.

"Gory wonder, was that fellow; a .303, where placed, should have killed anything, for he was less than ten yards from me when I shot, but though we watched waters and shores over a range of several miles for two days, no sight did we get of him or his tracks.

"Ask Mataia, Mosoni, or the lad there what they saw."

I did so, through my own interpreter, Salem, and got from each a voluble description of beast and incident differing in no essential details from Jordan's description.

Moreover, were it necessary, which I do not myself regard it, the strongest corroboration is obtainable of the existence in Victoria Nyanza of a reptile or serpent of huge size, untaken and unclassed.

While in Uganda with ex-Collector James Martin in November last, he told me it was a well-known fact that at intervals in the past, usually long intervals, a great water serpent or reptile was seen on or near the north shore of the lake, which was worshipped by the natives, who believed its coming a harbinger of heavy crops and large increase of their flocks and herds.

Again, in December, while dining with the Senior Deputy Commissioner, C. W. Hobley, C. M. G., at his residence in Nairobi, the very night before starting on this safari, in speaking of the origin of the sleeping sickness Mr. Hobley told me that the Baganda, Wasoga, and Kavirondo of the north shore of the lake had from time immemorial sacrificed burnt offerings of cattle and sheep to a lake reptile of great size and terrible appearance they called Luquata, which occasionally appeared along or near the shore; that since the last coming of Luquata was just shortly before the first outbreak of the sleeping sickness, the natives firmly believe that the muzungu have killed Luquata with the purpose and as the means of making them victims of the dread plague. Of the existence in the lake of such an unclassed reptile, Mr. Hobley considered there was no question.

Historical Reprints