Encyclopaedia of Cryptozoology
Category Water lion
Proposed scientific names
Other names Nzefu-loi, nzéfu-loi
Country reported Democratic Republic of the Congo
First reported 1955
Prominent investigators Bernard Heuvelmans

The nzéfu-loï (Luba: "water elephant"[1]) was a cryptid reported from the lakes and wetlands of the Upemba Depression, in the south-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Distinguished by its heavy tusks, it has been associated with neodinosaurs, water elephants, pseudodeinotheria, and water lions.[2][3][4]


Information on the nzéfu-loï was transmitted to Bernard Heuvelmans by Professor Paul Bonnivair, Inspector-General of Agriculture and Forests in the Belgian Congo, who in turn had received his data from a subordinate named Maurice Vermeersch, who had lived with the Baluba people. Upon hearing its description, Bonnivair suggested to Vermeersch that the nzéfu-loï could be "a belated dinosaur of the Brontosaurus type," and he believed that Vermeersch may have repeated this suggestion in South Africa, ultimately inspiring the Great Brontosaurus Hoax of 1919.[2]

The Baluba people used to hunt the nzéfu-loï using special traps, which they had forgotten how to make by Vermeersch's time, and even traded their ivory. According to the Baluba, a Portuguese man went off in a canoe to hunt an nzéfu-loï one day, but never returned. The animal was reported to have historically inhabited the whole of the Kamolondo (Upemba) Depression, a region including wetlands, papyrus marshes, and lakes between Bukama and Ankoro now lying within Upemba National Park.[2] On the map in Les Derniers Dragons d'Afrique (1978), Heuvelmans places the nzéfu-loï in the marshy "lakes of the Lualaba" in the Depression: these include Lakes Kabwe, Kabele, Mulenda, Upemba, Kapondwe, Kayumba, Lunda, Kisale, Zimbambo, and Kabamba.[3]


The Baluba described the nzéfu-loï as an amphibious animal with a body almost as large as that of a hippopotamus, but a much longer neck, and a short and hairy tail, like that of a horse. It also has short and heavy ivory tusks, which Bonnivair thought were like those of a walrus.[2]


Although nzéfu-loï means "water elephant," Heuvelmans argues that this does not necessarily suggest a proboscidean identity, citing the example of the hippopotamus, and suggests that the name was probably applied because of the nzéfu-loï's prominent tusks. Nevertheless, he did initially suggest that it could be a tusked amphibious elephant, like the Rothschild tusk animals.[3][2] Dale A. Drinnon supports the elephant theory, suggesting that it is a species of forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) with short, downwards-oriented tusks.[5]

However, Heuvelmans later rejected a proboscidean identity for both the nzéfu-loï and the water elephant, on account of their long necks, and classified it instead as a water lion, which he theorised to be aquatic sabre-toothed cats.[4]

Notes and references[]

  1. Eberhart, George M. (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, ABC-CLIO, Inc., ISBN 1576072835
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Heuvelmans, Bernard (1955) On the Track of Unknown Animals, Routledge, ISBN 978-1138977525
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Heuvelmans, Bernard (1978) Les Derniers Dragons d'Afrique, Plon, ISBN 978-2259003872
  4. 4.0 4.1 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
  5. Drinnon, Dale A. Frontiers of Zoology: UPDATE on The Sea Elephants frontiersofzoology.blogspot.com (18 April 2011) [Accessed 8 February 2019]