The sowara ("horse panther") or siruku was a cryptid hyena reported from Mali, Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, and possibly Guinea, in West Africa. It was described as a giant hyena distinct from the ordinary spotted (Crocuta crocuta) and striped (Hyaena hyaena) species, but descriptions were inconsistent regarding its exact appearance. It has been compared to the Nandi bear of East Africa.
During his 1898–1900 West African expedition, Charles-Alexandre d'Ollone (1865 – 1918) heard stories of a giant hyena called the sowara, which was said to be spotted and "much larger, stronger and bolder" than other hyenas, and inspired great terror among local people. During the timeframe of his expedition, a sowara supposedly killed a French sergeant in a hut. When Harry Johnston visited Liberia, the Mandingo people frequently described a third variety of hyena known as the siruku, a striped animal compared to "a great dog," which was very ferocious. When Johnston showed them an image of a zebra, hoping to discover whether that animal existed in Liberia, the Mandingo identified it as the siruku, "the bad animal in our country that kills so many human beings," but they changed their minds when he explained what a zebra was. They were emphatic that it was not a leopard.
In 1986, R. Favier sent Jean-Jacques Barloy photographs of tracks taken near Sassandra in Côte d'Ivoire. Bernard Heuvelmans identified them as hyena tracks, but their size indicated that they were made by something three times the size of a normal spotted hyena. Owen Burnham has also reported rumours of the booaa, a giant, abnormally-coloured hyena in Senegal.
Harry Johnston believed that the sowara and the siruku were probably synonymous, explaining the discrepancy regarding the coat pattern by reference to a variety of spotted hyena found in the northeastern Congo, which has distinct black markings which sometimes blend together into horizontal stripes. Johnston suggested that these cryptids could represent an undiscovered species of giant hyena, which he compared to the cave hyena (Crocuta spelaea) of ice age Eurasia. Bernard Heuvelmans, however, classified the siruku as a tigre de montagne, a type of mystery cat reported from mountainous regions of Africa, which he argued could be a surviving sabre-toothed cat.
Notes and references
- Heuvelmans, Bernard & Barloy, Jean-Jacques (2015) Les Ours Insolites d'Afrique, Les Éditions de l'Œil du Sphinx, ISBN 9791091506298
- Shuker, Karl P. N. "The Secret Animals of Senegambia," FATE, No. 51 (November 1998)
- d'Ollone, Charles-Alexandre (1901) Mission Hostains-D'Ollone 1898-1900. De la Côte d'Ivoire au Soudan et à la Guinée
- Johnston, Harry (1906) Liberia, Vol. 2
- Johnston, Harry "Notes on the Mammals and Birds of Liberia," Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (21 March 1905)
- 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