Encyclopaedia of Cryptozoology
Lake Tanganyika monster

Illustration of the Lake Tanganyika monster by Philippe Coudray in Guide des Animaux Cachés (2009).

Category Lake monster
Proposed scientific names
Other names
Country reported Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Zambia
First reported 1893
Prominent investigators • George Grey
Bernard Heuvelmans

Lake monsters have been reported from Lake Tanganyika, an African Great Lake located in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, and Zambia, which drains into the Congo Basin. Reports, many of which are viewed as dubious, describe disparate animals.[1][2]


The lake monster was first mentioned in 1893, when Joseph Augustus Moloney of the Stairs Expedition reported that an Mpala missionary claimed to have twice seen a 30' "sea serpent," once in the lake and once sleeping on the shore.[3] In 1907, during discussions of the Rothschild tusk, naturalist Lord Walter Rothschild reported that an English officer of the South African police had seen a tusked or fanged amphibious animal in the south of Lake Tanganyika—a report usually associated with either the unknown proboscidean or water lions.[4][2][5]

According to German reports from June 1928, a "saurian" was sometimes seen by ships on Lake Tanganyika, which initially took it for an island, until it dived. The report alleged that unidentifiable tracks had been discovered on the lakeshore, with "two claws like those of a gigantic bird, much larger than elephant tracks, and the dragging trail of a thick tail's end". George Grey, who was also supposed to have shot a kongamato, was said to be a committed investigator of the monster.[6][7] According to journalist Lawrence Green, who claimed that rumours of monsters in Lake Tanganyika were common, during the colonial era the German government of Tanganyika offered a reward for the capture of a "freshwater shark" seen in the lake. Green also refers to a legend of a "great fish" which devoured a canoe and its twenty occupants.[8] A merbeing, the mamba mutu, is also reported from Lake Tanganyika.[1]



A lake monster was reported from Burundi's portion of Lake Tanganyika in early 1914. German doctor M. V. Thierfelder, who was working in Tanganyika during a sleeping sickness epidemic, had gone hunting near the lake with a local teacher named Ilsgensmeier. When Thierfelder, Ilsgensmeier, and an African boy were trekking near a bay of the lake surrounded by cliffs...[1][9]

Suddenly, I saw coming from the lake, in the bay itself, something that I had never seen. It was a creature that looked like a monstrous serpent. However, it did not swim like snakes in horizontal movements, but its rings—I counted as many as six—rose vertically above the water. The animal arrived in the bay at a fairly brisk pace, and went straight to the vicinity of the rocky shore, on which I was lying motionless.

By comparing the loops with some nearby otters, Thierfelder estimated that the animal must have been around fifty meters (111' to 168') in length, each loop being about four-and-a-half meters (13') long and three meters (9') in diameter. The diameter of the whole animal was about the same from its head until its last third, where it tapered towards the tail.

The beast had neither legs, nor stumps, nor fins. Near the head, however, there were slender fin-like structures on either side. The colour of the animal was a bright brown; it had no scales, but was covered with a thick fleece. [...] The head was difficult to make out because it only appeared fleetingly above the water, but it was not wider than the body and was not separated from it by a constriction. It was not like a serpent's head, but, rather, that of a mammal, a manatee for example. The mouth, however, appeared narrow and elongated.
After the giant beast had spent some time moving among the otters, it turned around and came out of the bay in majestic undulations.

Ilsgensmeier had also seen the animal, and his observations were in perfect agreement with those of Thierfelder. Their African workers, who were not locals of the region, did not recognise the animal, but claimed that local people described it as appearing once every five years. Thierfelder published his sighting in German in 1948.[2]


Bernard Heuvelmans regarded any lake monster in the Tanganyika with scepticism, as the lake is very well-studied, but found the Thierfelder sighting hard to dismiss, given the apparent reliability of the two principal eyewitnesses. However, he did argue that Thierfelder's calculations regarding the animal's size were extremely flawed, leading him to exaggerate its size. Heuvelmans calculated that the animal could have been just two thirds or half the size as Thierfelder had believed, perhaps as small as fifteen meters (49'). He also observed that it was similar to the serpentine, vertically-undulating lukwata seen by T. E. Cox and his wife in Lake Victoria in 1959. In view of these undulations, the animal seen by Thierfelder must have been a mammal.[2]

Lake map[]

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Notes and references[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Eberhart, George M. (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, ABC-CLIO, Inc., ISBN 1576072835
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Heuvelmans, Bernard (1978) Les Derniers Dragons d'Afrique, Plon, ISBN 978-2259003872
  3. Moloney, Joseph Augustus (1893) With Captain Stairs to Katanga
  4. Rothschild, Maurice de & Neuville, Henri "Sur une Dent d'Origine Énigmatique", Archives de Zoologie Expérimentale et Générale, Vol. 4, No. 7 (15 October 1907)
  5. Heuvelmans, Bernard & Rivera, Jean-Luc & Barloy, Jean-Jacques (2007) Les Félins Encore Inconnus d’Afrique, Les Editions de l'Oeil du Sphinx, ISBN 978-2914405430
  6. Shuker, Karl P. N. (2016) Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors: The Creatures That Time Forgot?, Coachwhip Publications, ISBN 978-1616463908
  7. Mangiacopra, Gary & Smith, Dwight "Rescued from the Past #1—A 1934 German Account of a Lake Tanganyika Cryptid," North American BioFortean Review, Vol. 5, No. 4 (December 2003)
  8. Green, Lawrence G. (1961) Great North Road
  9. Thierfelder, M. U. [Untitled], Die Glocke (February 1948)