The vorompatra (Malagasy: "marsh bird" or "bird of the Ampatres") was a cryptid megafaunal bird reported from the forests and wetlands of Madagascar, frequently identified with one of the elephant birds, giant flightless birds known from subfossil remains. The vorompatra was originally described by early French settlers, but rumours of its existence continued into the 19th Century, and rare allegations of its survival are still reported in modern times.
In his work Histoire de la Grande Isle de Madagascar (1658), the French Governor of Madagascar Admiral Étienne de Flacourt (1607 – 1660) recorded "scrupulously accurate" descriptions of a number of Malagasy animals, including three now often identified with subfossil species; the tratratratra, antamba, and vorompatra.
"Ampatres," meaning "marshy places," is a region of Androy in the extreme south of Madagascar. In the centuries following Flacourt's report – which was not believed, and was later connected with the roc – the Malagasy swamp forests and wetlands were severely depleted, but rumours continued into the middle of the 19th Century. The diary of John Joliffe, surgeon on HMS Gesyer, records an 1848 conversation with a French trader named Dumarele, who attested that Malagasy traders at Port Leven used to store rum in enormous eggs which, they claimed, were occassionally to be found in forests and reed beds, lain by a giant bird which very rarely was seen in the densest forests. Ferdinand von Hochstetter (1829 – 1884) independently recorded the same claim, although in his account, the traders had visited Dutch Mauritius. Alfred Grandidier (1836 – 1921) later found that the Tandroy people of Androy still recognised the term vorompatra, although his informant, Chief Tsifanihy of Cape Sainte-Marie, had never seen one of these birds, "well known to his ancestors," for himself. Tsifanihy was able to lead Grandidier to a nearby marsh where he discovered subfossil remains of an elephant bird.
Roy P. Mackal wrote in 1980 that some local informants of his insisted that "the smaller kind" of elephant bird (Mullerornis) still survived in very remote forests, where its marshy, woody habitat has shrunk but not disappeared. A number of more recent rumours prompted English conservation officer Barry Ingram to attempt a search for elephant birds in 1997 or 1998. Ivan Mackerle also made a search at around the same time.
Following the death of Étienne de Flacourt, the French attempted to re-establish control on Madagascar under a new Governor, the Marquis de Montdevergue. A member of the expedition named Ruelle left a diary of his time on Madagascar, 1667–1668, which contains a first-hand account of the killing of a "dragon" which is sometimes identified as an elephant bird, a theory first posited by Claude Allibert and Jean-Claude Hébert.
Notes and references
- Flacourt, Étienne de (1658) Histoire de la Grande Isle de Madagascar
- Heuvelmans, Bernard (1955) On the Track of Unknown Animals, Routledge, ISBN 978-1138977525
- Richard-Vindard, G. & Battistini, R. (2013) Biogeography and Ecology in Madagascar
- Hochstetter, Ferdinand von (1867) New Zealand: Its Physical Geography, Geology and Natural History
- Grandidier, Alfred & Milne-Edwards, Alphonse (1876) Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux, Vol. 1
- Mackal, Roy P. (1980) Searching for Hidden Animals: An Inquiry Into Zoological Mysteries, Cadogan Books, ISBN 978-0946313051
- Shuker, Karl P. N. (2010) Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times, CFZ Press, ISBN 978-1-905723-62-1
- Shuker, Karl P. N. (2013) Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History, Anomalist Books, ISBN 978-1-938398-05-6
- Pearson, Michael Parker & Gooden, Karen (2002) In Search of the Red Slave: Shipwreck and Captivity in Madagascar