The nsanga was a cryptid reported from the Bangweulu Wetlands, in north-eastern Zambia, described as a reptilian animal with smooth skin. Its connection with Bangweulu's other cryptids, the chipekwes and a water lion, is unclear.
The nsanga was reported by Lieutenant Friedrich Paul Graetz (1875 – 1968), who in 1907–1909 crossed Africa's waterways east-to-west by motorboat, passing through the Bangweulu region, where he stayed for three months, on the way. Local people told him of monsters in the marshes around the lake, and, although he did not see a living nsanga, he claimed to have "come by" some strips of its skin on Mbwala Island.
Graetz described the nsanga as a "degenerate saurian," which could be mistaken for a crocodile, were it not for its smooth, scaleless skin and clawed digits. It was said to inhabit swamps and marshes, and was much feared by local people.
Bernard Heuvelmans initially felt that there was not enough data to say whether or not the nsanga was synonymous with the chipekwe, their only known point of similarity being their smooth skin. However, he ultimately concluded that the "smooth-skinned crocodile" nsanga was definitely distinct from the "one-horned dragon" chipekwe, and that there were, to all appearances, three cryptids in the Bangweulu region: the essentially aquatic nsanga, the amphibious chipekwe, and a water lion. George Eberhart and Heuvelmans synonymise it with a fully-aquatic animal reported from Lake Bangweulu by Hans Schomburgk, also sometimes considered a chipekwe or water lion, which was said to be smaller than a hippopotamus, which it preyed on. Heuvelmans based this synonymy on the fact that Schomburgk's predator was said to never leave the water, whereas the chipekwes and water lions are described as amphibious. Although it is not known if the nsanga is supposed to be aquatic or amphibious, unlike with the other two cryptids, fully aquatic behaviour cannot be ruled out.
The name nsanga has been used in Bangweulu to refer to the goliath tigerfish (Hydrocynus goliath). This predatory fish has a head full of crocodile-like teeth, but a normal body with fins and large scales.
Graetz wrote that the nsanga, while it could be confused with a crocodile, was not such an animal, and Heuvelmans agreed. Crocodiles have prominent scales, scutes, and armour, and, while their digits are clawed, Heuvelmans argued that they cannot be compared to the hooked claws of most lizards. Finding it reminiscent of the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), Heuvelmans initially theorised that the nsanga was a large monitor lizard, the scales of which are often so small as to be unnoticeable at a glance. The largest known monitor in Africa is the Nile monitor (Varanus niloticus). However, Heuvelmans later suggested that the nsanga could be a lizard-shaped mammal which appeared to be smooth-skinned from a distance, perhaps a water lion. As he believed the horned chipekwe to be a nonexistent animal inspired by the water lion, Heuvelmans' interpretation brings the number of lake monsters around Bangweulu down to one–a water lion.
Notes and references
- Heuvelmans, Bernard (1978) Les Derniers Dragons d'Afrique, Plon, ISBN 978-2259003872
- Eberhart, George M. (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology ABC-CLIO, Inc. ISBN 1-57607-283-5
- Graetz, Paul (1912) Im Motorboot Quer durch Afrika
- Heuvelmans, Bernard (1955) On the Track of Unknown Animals, Routledge, ISBN 978-1138977525
- Hobson, Dick (1996) Tales of Zambia