The emela-ntouka (Bomitaba or Lingala: "killer of elephants" or "eater of the tops of trees") is a neodinosaurian cryptid reported from the rainforest swamps and rivers of the Republic of the Congo and the southwest Central African Republic, described as a horned animal, which has been compared to rhinoceroses and ceratopsian dinosaurs. It is frequently synonymised with the older, but now lesser-known, Zambian water rhinoceros, the chipekwe, as well as the ngoubous of Cameroon and the ntambue ya mai of the southern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and with certain reports of forest rhinoceroses.
The emela-ntouka's morphology has been described as well-defined, but perplexing. It is said to be an elephantine, rhinoceros-like amphibian with a large horn on its nose, and a heavy crocodile-like tail. Traditionally, two very different competing theories regarding the emela-ntouka's identity have been held: a large semiaquatic rhinoceros; or, mainly in light of the cryptid's heavy tail, a surviving ceratopsian dinosaur. However, the latter theory is no longer supported by many cryptozoologists, with the emela-ntouka now regarded as a mammal. One ethnic group, the Aka, apply the name mokele-mbembe to the emela-ntouka, a custom which has caused some confusion.
Lucien Blancou, a French colonial wildlife inspector who was a regular correspondent of Bernard Heuvelmans, published the first possible information regarding the emela-ntouka in a 1954 Mammalia article on forest rhinoceroses in the Republic of the Congo, which was then a French colony.
French hunter turned cryptozoologist Christian Le Noël, best known for his investigations into tigres de montagne and water lions in Chad and the Central African Republic, also collected reports of a "lake rhinoceros" from the Republic of the Congo when he visited Lake Tele in 1974.
When Roy P. Mackal and James Powell traveled to Impfondo and Epena in 1980, as part of a preliminary trip to establish information regarding the mokele-mbembe, they heard stories of a second cryptid in the region, an amphibious horned animal. The earliest rumours related to "a strange, rhinoceros-like animal" which killed elephants, but one of their first local informants, a young man named Joachim Mameka, gave a slightly more detailed description.
The first alleged alleged mokele-mbembe eyewitness interviewed by Mackal and Powell, Firman Mosomele, also spoke of a second animal, the aseke-moko or emela-ntouka, an aquatic animal with a long horn. However, he knew little about this animal, and had never seen one.
In 1981, when Mackal and Herman Regusters led concurrent expeditions to the Republic of the Congo investigating the mokele-mbembe, both expeditions heard stories of the emela-ntouka. Regusters' report was published first, in 1982. He maintained that the name emeula natuka, which he interpreted as meaning "eater of the tops of the palms," was simply the Bomitaba term for the mokele-mbembe, but he also received an account of an elephant-killing, rhinoceros-like animal which appears to be the horned emela-ntouka. This animal was blamed for killing three elephants earlier in 1981.
Mackal's expeditions collected descriptions of the emela-ntouka from a few dozen individuals of different ethnic and geographic backgrounds, allowing him to describe the cryptid in his book A Living Dinosaur? In Search of Mokele-Mbembe (1987). Emela-ntouka is the Bomitaba name for the animal, and the form emia-ntouka is used in the Lake Tele region; less common names encountered by Mackal included aseka-moke and ngamba-namae. Mackal also found that the name mokele-mbembe was sometimes applied to different cryptids, most commonly the emela-ntouka; according to Bill Gibbons, the Aka are the only ethnic group in the region with this practice. Mackal believed that, through this etymological confusion, both cryptids had taken on traits from the other, which he thought could explain both the emela-ntouka's heavy tail and the mokele-mbembe's horn.
During expeditions to Cameroon, Jean-Claude Kerhoas and Michel Ballot have discovered and photographed carvings↗ depicting the emela-ntouka, featuring small elephant-like ears. In 2012 and 2013, two depictions↗ of the emela-ntouka, labelled mokele-mbembe, created in the Central African Republic in the 1980s or 1990s by Jean Claude Thibault, were uncovered, also showing the animal with frilly ears. One illustration depicts the emela-ntouka disembowelling an elephant. The drawings were made as part of a series depicting legends of Dzanga-Sangha National Park, in the southwestern Central African Republic, near Cameroon and the Republic of the Congo, a region inhabited by the Aka people. Bill Gibbons questions whether either of these depictions are based on reliable descriptions of the emela-ntouka.
The emela-ntouka was described to Mackal as similar to the mokele-mbembe in its torso: elephant-sized or larger, with heavy straight legs, and a heavy, crocodile-like tail, which Mackal felt was supposed to be shorter than that of the mokele-mbembe. Its skin is described as elephant-like and hairless, with no obvious scales, and brownish or grey in colour. However, the head and neck are shorter and larger than those of the mokele-mbembe. The emela-ntouka's most distinguishing feature is its single large, curved horn, located on its head, which local informants claim is very similar to the ivory tusk of an elephant. Local depictions frequently depict the emela-ntouka with a pair of frilly ears, similar to those of an elephant, but much smaller. Artwork also habitually displays the animal's legs as bent. Mackal was told that the tracks of the emela-ntouka are elephant-sized, with three toes or "claw marks". No frills or neck ridges are reported.
The emela-ntouka is said to be an amphibious animal, leaving the water at times to feed. It is reported to be an herbivore, feeding on malombo lianas (Landolphia mannii and Landolphia owariensis), which is also said to be the principal food source of the mokele-mbembe. However, Mackal got the impression that, rather than the malombo fruits, the emela-ntouka preferentially fed on the lianas themselves, as well as their leaves. It is infamously aggressive and foul-tempered, killing elephants, buffaloes, and hippopotamuses which wander into its territory by tearing, stabbing, and puncturing them with its horn. Unlike the mokele-mbembe, the emela-ntouka is universally described as a vocal animal. However, the sounds ascribed to it are inconsistent, including snorts, howls, roars, rumbles, and growls.
In 1966, French wildlife photographer Atelier Yvan Ridel came across a series of three-toed tracks along a steep, marshy riverbank northeast of Loubomo in the Republic of the Congo. He later described them as around 10'' wide. Initially taking them for hippopotamus tracks, he photographed the clearest impression, and "scarcely thought of it again," until reading Les Derniers Dragons d'Afrique (1978), and realising that the three toes on his track were reminiscent of certain neodinosaurs. Ridel subsequently forwarded the photograph to Bernard Heuvelmans and Roy P. Mackal. The track superficially resembles that of a rhinoceros, but the impression of the middle toe is abnormally sharp. Similarly, tracks of the chipekwe discovered near the Luapula River in Zambia were once described as having "three toes ... like a rhino's spoor, except that the middle toe, instead of being moon-shaped, was sharply pointed".
Heuvelmans ruled out a hippopotamus, which leave four-toed tracks, as the originator of the footprints. However, Rémy Jalowézak has argued that the tracks were in fact made by a hippopotamus, the fourth toe of which was obscured. Mackal believed the tracks had been made by the emela-ntouka, which he argued was a species of large, semiaquatic rhinoceros, an identity with which Richard Freeman concurs. Freeman and Heuvelmans both note that a rhinoceros living in a marshy environment might evolve longer hooves, like tapirs and certain antelopes.
Ridel thought that the trail had been made by a bipedal animal, giving rise to speculation regarding iguanodonts, which Heuvelmans had previously suggested as an African neodinosaur candidate in On the Track of Unknown Animals (1955). However, Mackal argued that the animal which made the tracks had most likely placed its hindfeet into the impressions made by the forefeet, making it appear as if only one pair of feet had been in action. This occurs in horses, which are relatives of rhinoceroses.
Few sightings of the emela-ntouka have been recorded. Lucien Blancou heard that one had been killed in the Belgian Congo, near Dongou, during the 1930s, and in 1981 an emela-ntouka was blamed for killing three elephants northeast of Boa. Bill Gibbons has interviewed around a dozen alleged emela-ntouka eyewitnesses in the Republic of the Congo, and Michel Ballot has received accounts from the Boumba River and Nki Falls in Cameroon. In the Central African Republic, a sighting has also been reported from near Bayanga in the Dzanga-Sangha National Park, where the Aka name mokele-mbembe is used.
Exploring Lake Tele in 1974, Christian Le Noël was told by one of his Bomitaba guides that a water rhinoceros, one of a pair, had been killed by the guide's parents; it was described as a hippo-sized animal with dark skin, one horn on its nose, and a hatred of elephants. Jacques Mangin, a French hunter who aided Mackal during his two expeditions, confirmed this story, alleging that it must have occurred in 1958 or 1959. However, both of these claims have also been associated with the alleged 1950s or 1930s killing of a mokele-mbembe at Lake Tele: according to Bill Gibbons, an unnamed Frenchman living in the Congo contributed to the confusion between the emela-ntouka and mokele-mbembe, having been told about the animal by the Aka.
Jean-Claude Kerhoas also told Le Noël that a water rhinoceros had been killed and buried about a week's trek from Lidjombo in the Central African Republic. According to Kerhoas, the animal had been shot and photographed by a white man, whom Le Noël suspects kept quiet out of fear of being prosecuted as a poacher. A gendarme and a pilot, flying over the same area in a small plane, reportedly also saw a one-horned, rhinoceros-like animal from the air.
Michel Ballot received an account of a horned, rhinoceros-like animal in May 2008, from a fisherman of northern Cameroon who was visiting the Boumba River, about eighty kilometres from the Congo border at Moloundou. He claimed to have seen the animal just a week before Ballot's arrival. He had been raising his nets on the river early one morning when he saw a very large animal–"big like a canoe," possibly more than ten metres in length–moving away from him. It was dark in colour and, although the fisherman could not see its head, he noticed the presence of a horn, which he described as "white like an ivory tusk." The fisherman was certain that the animal was completely unknown to him, and had not been a hippopotamus or a rhinoceros, which was found in the fisherman's native north until very recently.
Several cryptozoologists theorise that the emela-ntouka and related cryptids represent a large semiaquatic species of rhinoceros, a theory suggested by Roy Mackal, and expanded on by Richard Freeman and Dale A. Drinnon. This theory was initially invoked to explain the chipekwe, which was described as a water rhinoceros, at the beginning of the 20th Century.
Mackal observes that the general form, skin texture and colour, diet, vocalisations, and aggression are consistent with a rhinoceros identity. Freeman also cites the track photographed by Atelier Yvan Ridel as a major piece of evidence in favour of the water rhinoceros theory, as this track closely resembles that of a rhinoceros, with a sharp middle toe as opposed to a wide, rounded one. Such digital elongation may be an adaptation to walking on marshy terrain. There is some precedent for the idea of an aquatic rhinoceros, as some prehistoric groups were amphibious, and the extant, one-horned Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), spends much of its time in shallow water, often feeding on submerged and floating aquatic vegetation. Mackal suggests that the semiaquatic lifestyle of the emela-ntouka would be only a small step from that of the Indian rhinoceros.
As a water rhinoceros, the emela-ntouka is usually synonymised with several other cryptids, including the chipekwe of Zambia, the irizima and ntambue ya mai of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and sometimes the ngoubous of Cameroon and the abūqarn of Chad, with the few differences between these cryptids being explained as sexual dimorphism and age-related changes. It has also sometimes been mistakenly synonymised with the njago gunda, a cryptoproboscidean. Dale A. Drinnon suggests that the water rhinoceros would be more closely related to the Asian species, the Indian and Sumatran rhinoceroses (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), than to either of the known African species, the white (Ceratotherium simum) and black rhinoceroses (Diceros bicornis).
The two main issues with a rhinoceros identity are the emela-ntouka's long and heavy tail, and its ivory horn. The tail, compared to that of a crocodile, is unlike anything known in extant ungulates, which have short and thin tails. However, Mackal strongly believed that the emela-ntouka's tail was not a genuine feature of the animal, but a characteristic accidentally borrowed from the mokele-mbembe, with which the emela-ntouka is sometimes confused. He felt that a similar confusion had given rise to allegations that the mokele-mbembe has a horn, although it was later discovered that the mokele-mbembe is also usually described as horned in Cameroon. The emela-ntouka's supposed ivory horn is also problematic, as ivory, which comes from the elongated teeth of animals such as elephants and walruses, is composed mainly of dentine, whereas horns usually consist of bone or keratin, with rhinoceros horns being composed of the latter. Freeman suggests that the description of the emela-ntouka's horn as ivory is simply a mistake made by local people. The emela-ntouka's alleged habit of killing elephants and hippopotamuses is also inconsistent with known African rhinoceroses, which usually lose in fights with these animals, although the emela-ntouka is said to be much larger than the known species, while forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) are smaller than the better-known bush elephants (L. africana).
Another mammalian candidate considered by Mackal was a descendant of Arsinoitherium (~34–24 MYA), a horned Afro-Arabian embrithopod, a distant relative of proboscideans and hyraces, which resembled a rhinoceros. The emela-ntouka sculptures photographed by Michel Ballot also somewhat suggest Arsinoitherium to Karl Shuker.
Superficially resembling a rhinoceros, Arsinoitherium was a very large, powerfully-built, elephantine animal. It had two very large, hollow horns, composed of bone rather than keratin, placed one-next-to-the other on its head. Arsinoitherium fossils have been discovered in formations suggestive of tropical rainforests and mangrove forests; it has often been considered an semiaquatic animal, although this interpretation is sometimes debated. Whatever its lifestyle, it is known to have inhabited tropical forested wetlands and river floodplains. Arsinoitherium was most famously found in North Africa, but it also inhabited Central Africa, as far southwest as northern Angola during the Early Oligocene, and related genera have been discovered as far south as Namibia. The youngest known fossils of Arsinoitherium date to the Late Oligocene, and are from Kenya (~27–24 MYA) and Ethiopia (~28–27 MYA).
Mackal ruled out Arsinoitherium as a possible identity on account of its two distinctively-placed horns, as the emela-ntouka was always described as having just one horn. Karl Shuker suggests that a one-horned modern descendant of Arsinoitherium could possibly explain the emela-ntouka, but also notes that there is little to favour this over a more conservative water rhinoceros identity. While certain "water rhinoceroses" such as the chipekwe and the irizima have been described as having multiple horns, their placement is not usually mentioned. However, one such cryptid, the ngoubou of Cameroon, is explicitly described as having a pair of laterally-positioned nasal horns, like Arsinoitherium–although some informants claimed that the horns were actually placed one-behind-the-other.
Mainly owing to the emela-ntouka's alleged tail, Mackal suggested "with the greatest reservations" that the cryptid could be a surviving ceratopsian dinosaur (~161–66 MYA), a possibility he found "viable, but improbable," instead favouring the water rhinoceros theory. The emela-ntouka's basic form and diet are consistent with a ceratopsian identity. Unlike the famous three-horned Triceratops, some ceratopsians, such as Centrosaurus, possessed only a single horn, on the nose, like the emela-ntouka. A ceratopsian is thought to be the only identity which could account for the emela-ntouka's supposed tail, which is described as heavy, resembling that of a crocodile. Regarding this theory, Karl Shuker also suggested that the bone horns of a ceratopsian might resemble ivory more than the keratinous horns of a rhinoceros.
However, there are several major issues with the ceratopsian theory, which has been extensively criticised by Michel Raynal. While a ceratopsian would possess the emela-ntouka's crocodilian tail, it would also have one notable characteristic entirely absent from the cryptid's description: a bony frill, something found in all later, fully-horned, ceratopsians. No fossils of any ceratopsian have ever been discovered in Africa, which Mackal states would not ordinarily be a problem, considering the incomplete nature of the fossil record; however, the African fossil record of the Mesozoic is particularly rich, yielding the remains of many dinosaur groups–but no ceratopsians. Mackal also found no indications that the emela-ntouka laid eggs. Freeman adds that there is no evidence of aquatic behaviour in any horned ceratopsian; in fact, large ceratopsians are thought to have been poor swimmers. The South Korean genus Koreaceratops (~103 MYA) may have been aquatic, but this was an early ceratopsian, small and probably hornless. Shuker argues that the frilly ears appearing in artwork rule out any non-mammalian identities for the emela-ntouka, including a ceratopsian.
For the sake of completion, Mackal briefly considered, and firmly rejected, a titanothere (~56–34 MYA) identity. Titanotheres or brontotheres were large, browsing, rhinoceros-like perissodactyls which ranged across the forests of the Northern Hemisphere during the Eocene. Late Eocene titanotheres had prominent nasal horns composed of bone, but these structures were flattened, rounded, and two-pronged, completely unlike the horn of the emela-ntouka. Due to its single, large horn, it has been suggested that the emela-ntouka is a surviving African variety of Elasmotherium (~2.6 MYA–26 KYA), a giant rhinoceros thought to have had one horn. However, Elasmotherium is no longer regarded as amphibious, as it once was, and its remains have never been discovered outside of Eurasia. A group of semiaquatic rhinoceroses, the hippopotamus-like metamynodontines (~46–33 MYA), existed in Asia and North America during the Early Cenozoic, leading Richard Freeman to suggest an African metamynodontine as an emela-ntouka candidate; however, he considers the novel species theory to be more likely.
Notes and references
- Blancou, Lucien "Notes sur les Mammiferes de l'Equateur Africain Francais: Un Rhinoceros de Foret?," Mammalia, No. 18 (1954)
- Eberhart, George M. (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, ABC-CLIO, Inc., ISBN 1576072835
- Killer of Elephants Revisited (2018) — Online
- Mackal, Roy P. (1987) A Living Dinosaur? In Search of Mokele-Mbembe, Brill, ISBN 978-9004085435
- Heuvelmans, Bernard "Annotated Checklist of Apparently Unknown Animals With Which Cryptozoology Is Concerned", Cryptozoology, No. 5 (1986)
- Shuker, Karl P. N. (2016) Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors: The Creatures That Time Forgot?, Coachwhip Publications, ISBN 978-1616463908
- Coleman, Loren & Clark, Jerome (1999) Cryptozoology A to Z: The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters, Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 978-0684856025
- Heuvelmans, Bernard (1955) On the Track of Unknown Animals, Routledge, ISBN 978-1138977525
- Le Noël, Christian "A La Recherche des Bêtes Ignorées d'Afrique," Connaissance de la Chasse, No. 72 (April 1982)
- Le Noël, Christian "Y a-t-il Oui ou Non un Animal Inconnu au Lac Tellé?," Connaissance de la Chasse, No. 139 (November 1987)
- Ballot, Michel (2014) À La Recherche du Mokélé-Mbembé, TRESOR, ISBN 979-1091534116
- Ballot, Michel "Que Représente la Sculpture Trouvée par Michel Ballot en 2005?," Cahiers Cryptozoologiques Africains, No. 1 (December 2007 — January 2008)
- "Le Yéti Partie d'une Espèce en Voie de Disparition," Le Mague (October 2008)
- Regusters, Herman A. "Mokele-Mbembe: An Investigation into Rumors Concerning a Strange Animals in the Republic of the Congo, 1981," Munger Africana Library Notes, No. 64 (July 1982)
- Regusters, Herman & Vandusen, Kia L. "An Interim Report on the Search for Mokele Mbembe," Pursuit, No. 180 (1985)
- Stephenson, John Edward (1937) Chirupula's Tale: A Bye-Way in African History
- Jalowézak, Rémy "Une Empreinte de Grande Taille Photographiée au Congo en 1966: Vraie ou Fausse Enigme Cryptozoologique," Cryptozoologia, No. 16—20 (September 1997—January 1998)
- Freeman, Richard Richard Freeman on Africa's Mystery Rhino forteanzoology.blogspot.com (22 September 2012) [Accessed 24 March 2021] – Wayback Machine
- Gibbons, Bill Comment on Emela-Ntouka: Africa’s Killer of Elephants cryptomundo.com (21 January 2006) [Accessed 10 March 2021] – Wayback Machine
- Ballot, Michel Un Temoignage Interessant Venant de Republique Centrafricaine mokelembembeexpeditions.blogspot.com (30 April 2012) [Accessed 17 March 2021]
- "Sur les Traces du Mokélé Mbembé," Brazzamag, No. 2 (April — June 2017)
- Ballot, Michel Témoignage du Mois de Mai 2008 sur un Grand Animal Avec Corne groups.google.com (10 April 2011) [Accessed 8 March 2021]
- Drinnon, Dale A. The African Unicorn, Killer of Elephants frontiersofzoology.blogspot.com (19 April 2011) [Accessed 27 March 2021]
- Werdelin, Lars & Sanders, William Joseph (2010) Cenozoic Mammals of Africa
- "William Gibbons," Monster X Radio (2020) — Online
- Raynal, Michel "Rhinocérotidé Inconnu ou Cératopsien Attardé?," Les Survivants de l'Impossible, Vol. 2 (2015)
- Eberth, David A. (2014) Hadrosaurs
- Lee, Yuong-Nam, et al. "The First Ceratopsian Dinosaur From South Korea," Naturwissenschaften, Vol. 91, No. 1 (2011) – Online