Water lions, water leopards, or jungle walruses are a group of semiaquatic cryptids reported from rivers and occasionally wetlands across tropical Africa, particularly in the Central African Republic. Usually described as large cats (but sometimes as proboscideans), their diagnostic characteristics are their prominent fangs or tusks, and their habit of killing hippopotamuses. Ingo Krumbiegel and Bernard Heuvelmans theorised that water lions represent a surviving species of sabre-toothed cat (subfamily Machairodontinae) adapted to an amphibious lifestyle, but a number of alternate theories exist, and certain water lions have also been identified or conflated with with neodinosaurs, water rhinoceroses, and pseudodeinotheria. Most accounts of water lions were collected during the 20th Century, but the n'gooli is still reported from Cameroon.
A second grouping of machairodont-like cryptids, termed tigres de montagne, have been reported from some of the same regions as water lions, with which they are sometimes synonymised; however, the two types are distinguished by habitat, with the latter only reported from mountainous regions, and the two putative species would probably have very different behaviours, lifestyles, and ecologies. In what has been described as a case of cryptozoological convergent evolution, cryptids very similar to both water lions and tigres de montagne are also reported from South America, where they are termed water tigers and tigres dantero.
List of water lions
- Bingolo: Gabon
- Coje ya menia (Mbundu-Loango: "water lion"): Cuango and Cuanza Rivers, Angola
- Dilali (Gbaya-Gossangoa: "water lion"): Ouham River, Chad
- Ghéboghabogha (Mitsogo: "water panther"): Gabon
- Mamaïmé (Zandé: "water lion"): Central African Republic
- Mourou-ngou (Banda: "water leopard"): Chari River, Chad; Bamingui, Bangoran, Gribingui, Iomba, Kotto, Koukourou, Mbari, and Ouaka Rivers, Central African Republic
- Ndzin médzim (Fang: "river tiger"): Cameroon; Gabon
- N'gooli or súà nà ngo (Baka: "water panther"): Boumba and Lokomo Rivers, Cameroon
- Ngoroli (Zandé: "water elephant"): Vovodo River, Central African Republic
- Ntambo wa luy (Luba-Kasai: "water lion"): Luembé River, Central African Republic
- Ntambue ya maï: Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Nzèghwa nini or nze gwa nini (Pove: "water panther"): Bouenguidi River, Gabon
- Simba ya mail ("water lion"): Lupudi River, Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Ze-ti-ngu (Sangho: "water leopard"): Central African Republic
- "Water leopard": Lake Bangweulu and Lukanga Swamp, Zambia
- "Water lion" (Swahili): Upper Congo River, Democratic Republic of the Congo
- "Water lion": Falémé River, Mali/Senegal/Guinea
- "Water lion" (Yulu): Central African Republic
- "Jungle walrus" (Mbuti): Ituri Rainforest, Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Chipekwe (Bemba: "monster"): Lake Bangweulu, Kafue River, and Kafue Flats, Zambia
- Dingonek (Okiek): Migori and Mara Rivers, Kenya
- Mamba mutu (Swahili): Lake Tangayika, Burundi/Democratic Republic of the Congo/Tanzania/Zambia
- Ndamathia (Kikuyu): Tana River, Kenya
- Ndgoko na maiji (Teke): Congo and Kasai Rivers, Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Nsanga: Lake Bangweulu, Zambia
- Nyokodoing (Nuer): Sudd, South Sudan
- N'yamala (Orungu): Ogowe and Ngounie Rivers, Gabon
- Nzéfu-loï (Luba: "water elephant"): Kamolondo Depression, Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Ol-umaina (Maasai): Amala River, Kenya
Attestations and history of study
In 1904, the explorer and hunter Percy Powell-Cotton (1866 – 1940) led an expedition to the Upper Congo in search of the okapi (Okapia johnstoni), the then still-mysterious giant forest hog (Hylochoerus meinertzhageni), and...
In 1907, Lord Walter Rothschild described reports of amphibious animals with downwards-curved tusks existing in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Ethiopia. Such an animal had allegedly been seen dead by an officer of the Congo Free State, and another in Lake Tanganyika, alive, by a police officer. Although these animals, like the Lake Chad and Lake Tanganyika monsters, have been associated with the Rothschild tusk and Deinotherium survival, Bernard Heuvelmans groups them with water lions, with which their sightings range overlaps.
In 1939, botanist Ilse von Nolde published a description of the coje ya menia, an aggressive tusked animal reported from rivers and stagnant wetlands in Angola. Published in German just before the outbreak of the Second World War, Nolde's account initially remained obscure, but in 1947, German zoologist Ingo Krumbiegel (1903 – 1990) published a detailed study of the coje ya menia, in which he argued that it could be either a giant beaked reptile, or, more likely, a surviving sabre-toothed cat, which he believed could plausibly survive, undiscovered, in Africa's marshlands. Subsequently, a former colonial officer of the Kaiserliche Schutztruppe named Naumann communicated to Krumbiegel a description of a similar animal he had heard of north of the Ouham River in 1912, the dilali. Water lions were one of about a dozen unknown animals covered by Krumbiegel in Von Neuen und Unentdeckten Tierarten (1950), a work which anticipated cryptozoology.
Lucien Blancou (1903 – 1983), a French colonial wildlife inspector, had also been collecting information on such cryptids throughout the Central African Republic since 1930, data which he communicated to cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans. Based on the work of Blancou and Krumbiegel, and on information from forestry official Professor Paul Bonnivair, Heuvelmans covered the coje ya menia, dilali, mourou-ngou, nzéfu-loï, and gassingrâm in On the Track of Unknown Animals (1955), in which he did not recognise water lions as a distinct type of cryptid, instead identifying the coje ya menia as a small descendant of Deinotherium, and the mourou-ngou as a short-nosed crocodile. After further research, in Les Derniers Dragons d'Afrique (1978) Heuvelmans supported Krumbiegel's sabre-toothed cat theory, recognising water lions as one of the major kinds of aquatic cryptid in Africa, alongisde neodinosaurs, giant catfishes, and unknown sirenians. Heuvelmans' theories on water lions were developed further in Les Félins Encore Inconnus d’Afrique (2007), which utlised more bibliographical research, as well as the work of field correspondents such as hunter Christian Le Noël, who had been investigating various water lions and tigres de montagne in Chad and the Central African Republic; and naturalist Robert Kirch, who had received data on the ngoroli and mamaïmé from the missionary Piet van Horne (1930 – 1997).
Retroactively, Heuvelmans cautiously suggested that a very large water lion could not be ruled out as the originator of enormous clawed tracks observed in the Congo, mentioned by Abbé Liévin-Bonaventure Proyart (1743 – 1808) in 1776, and usually attributed to the mokele-mbembe. Other traditionally-neodinosaurian cryptids which Heuvelmans classified as possible water lions include the chipekwe, nsanga, water elephant, and n'yamala. Specifically, he argued that the chipekwe and nsanga associated with Zambia's Lake Bangweulu, initially reported by German explorer Hans Schomburgk (1880 – 1967) in 1910, could both be explained by a water lion, a cryptid explicitly reported from the lake in 1928. Schomburgk had discovered that hippopotamuses were rare in the marshes about Bangweulu, which local people claimed was because of a somewhat smaller animal inhabiting the lake, which killed and possibly fed on them. However, the horned chipekwe, usually described as a 'water rhinoceros,' is more often associated with cryptids such as the emela-ntouka and ngoubou. Heuvelmans' explanation for this description is that the chipekwe may have been based on the existence of one or more horn-shaped teeth, initially preserved to commemorate the killing of a water lion which had since been forgotten or modified by myth, which had been mistakenly reinterpreted as horns. Heuvelmans also argued that chipekwe reports from the Kafue River and the wetlands of the Kafue Flats could be explained by the water lion.
More recently, French field cryptozoologist Michel Ballot has collected descriptions of a water lion called the n'gooli from rocky stretches of rivers in Cameroon. This animal is described as a very large cat with a mane and, according to some informants, long canines, which attacks gorillas when they come to drink from the river.
There are a number of reported sightings of water lions, mainly the mourou-ngou, but also the coje ya menia, dingonek, and chipekwe, which are detailed on those cryptid's individual pages. However, some sightings are particularly significant for various reasons.
One of the most notable sightings of a mourou-ngou, an archetypal water lion reported from rivers in the Central African Republic, reportedly occurred at the confluence of the Bamingui and Koukourou Rivers in 1911, when a detatchment of French tirailleurs were travelling from Fort Crampel to Ndélé. This sighting, which was covered by Lucien Blancou, involved an alleged human death caused by the mourou-ngou. Blancou investigated the records office at Ndélé, and discovered evidence that a rifleman had indeed been lost at around this time.
While Heuvelmans theorised that the water rhinoceros chipekwe was based on a misremembered water lion, such an animal, an aquatic sabretooth, was explicitly reported from the marshes of Lake Bangweulu in the 1920s. In 1928, when at Broken Hill, colonial administrator Farquhar Baliol Macrae heard an account of the chipekwe given to E. B. H. Goodall, who was then Native Commissioner at Broken Hill, but was later Senior Provincial Commissioner for Northern Rhodesia. Their informant, a Chiwemba man, claimed to have seen chipekwes multiple times, and he gave a unique description of the animals. Macrae was unable to speak Chiwemba, but claimed he could understand the man's statement due to his proficiency with other Bantu languages. According to Macrae...
Notes and references
- Eberhart, George M. (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, ABC-CLIO, Inc., ISBN 1576072835
- 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
- Coudray, Philippe (2009) Guide des Animaux Cachés, Editions du Mont, ISBN 978-2915652383
- Heuvelmans, Bernard "Annotated Checklist of Apparently Unknown Animals With Which Cryptozoology Is Concerned", Cryptozoology, No. 5 (1986)
- Krumbiegel, Ingo "Was ist der 'Lowe des Wassers'?," Kosmos, No. 42 (1947)
- Heuvelmans, Bernard (1978) Les Derniers Dragons d'Afrique, Plon, ISBN 978-2259003872
- Ballot, Michel Mokele - Mbembe Expeditions: L'Expedition de Juin - Juillet 2010 mokelembembeexpeditions.blogspot.com (9 July 2010) [Accessed 19 February 2021] — Wayback Machine
- Shuker, Karl P. N. "A Supplement to Dr Bernard Heuvelmans' Checklist of Cryptozoological Animals," Fortean Studies, Vol. 5 (1998)
- Shuker, Karl P. N. (2020) Mystery Cats of the World Revisited: Blue Tigers, King Cheetahs, Black Cougars, Spotted Lions, and More, Anomalist Books, ISBN 978-1949501179
- "Seeking the White Rhinoceros," The Teesdale Mercury (26 October 1904)
- Krumbiegel, Ingo (1950) Von Neuen und Unentdeckten Tierarten
- Heuvelmans, Bernard & Hopkins, Peter Gwynvay (2007) The Natural History Of Hidden Animals, Routledge, ISBN 978-0710313331
- Heuvelmans, Bernard (1955) On the Track of Unknown Animals, Routledge, ISBN 978-1138977525
- Macrae, Farquhar Baliol "More African Mysteries," The National Review, No. 111 (December 1938)