‘I was travelling with a cousin on the Uasin Gishu just after the Nandi expedition, and, of course, long before there was any settlement up there. We had been camped… near the Mataye and were marching towards the Sergoit Rock when we saw the beast… I saw a large animal sitting up on its haunches no more than 30 yards away… I should say it must have been nearly 5 feet high… it dropped forward and shambled away toward the Sergoit with what my cousin always describes as a sort of sideways canter… I snatched my rifle and took a snapshot as it was disappearing among the rocks, and, though I missed it, it stopped and turned its head round to look at us… In size it was, should I say, larger than the bear that lives in the pit at the “Zoo” and it was quite as heavily built. The forequarters were very thickly furred, as were all four legs, but the hindquarters were comparatively speaking smooth or bare… the head was long and pointed… exactly like that of a bear… I have not a very clear recollection of the ears beyond the fact that they were small, and the tail, if any, was very small and practically unnoticeable. The color was dark…’
The words of one Geoffrey Williams, writing in the Journal of East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society. He was part of the Nandi Expedition of the early 1900s, searching for a mysterious beast reported by the natives for centuries before. Reported to live in East Africa, taking its name from the Nandi people who live in western Kenya. Frank W. Lane once wrote, ‘What the Abominable Snowman is to Asia, or the great Sea Serpent is to the oceans, the Nandi Bear is to Africa. It is one of the most notorious of those legendary beasts which have, so far, eluded capture and the collector’s rifle.’
1919. Major Toulson, a military settler upon the Uasin Gishu plain, reported a strange encounter with the beast. “One of my boys came in to my room and said that a leopard was close to the kitchen,” Toulson said. “I rushed out at once and saw a strange beast making off; it appeared to have long hair behind and was rather low in front. I should say it stood about 18 inches to 20 inches at the shoulder. It appeared to be black, with a gait similar to that of a bear – a kind of shuffling walk…”
Early March, 1913. N.E.F. Corbett, the District Commissioner of Eldoret, was having lunch one day by a wooded stream just below Toulson’s farm. “To my surprise, I walked right into the beast. It was evidently drinking and was just below me, only a yard or so away… it shambled across the stream into the bush… [I] am certain that it was a beast I have never seen before.”
Late March, 1913. G.W. Hickes, the engineer in charge of building the Magadi Railway through East Africa, reported seeing a Nandi Bear. Whilst travelling on a motor trolley, he spotted what he thought was a hyena, 50 yards straight ahead. Although the ‘hyena’ had noticed Hickes, the trolley was travelling faster than the animal could run. As Hickes drew closer to the beast, he knew it was no hyena. It was, in fact, something completely different.
He described it as being ‘as tall as a lion,’ and ‘tawny in colour.’ He said it had a thick-set body, high withers and a broad hump. He also said it had a short neck, stumpy nose and short ears. Hickes noticed it had shaggy hair, which ran down its large, mud covered feet. As soon as he saw it, it had vanished. Hickes soon realised that what he had seen was exactly the same mysterious creature haunting those building the railway, many of which had seen it too.
At the same time, Major Braithwaite and Mr. C. Kenneth Archer also reported a sighting. They claimed to have seen what they, at first, believed was a lioness, but later, they saw a snout. The beast stood high forward, “the back,” they said, “sloped steeply to the hindquarters and the animal moved with a shambling gait which can best be compared with the shuffle of a bear. The coat was thick and dark brown in color. Finally, the beast broke into a shambling trot and made for a belt of trees near the river, where it was lost.”
1919. “A short time ago [a Nandi Bear] visited the district,” said farmer Cara Buxton. “This name is given to the animal by the Lumbwa and signifies the ‘brain-eater.’ Its first appearance was on my farm, where the sheep were missing. We finally found all ten, seven were dead… In no case were the bodies touched, but the brains were torn out. During the next ten days fifty-seven goats and sheep were destroyed in the same way…”
In 1925, a six-year-old girl disappeared from a small village in Uasin Gishu. She had been pulled violently through a fence of thorns that surrounded the village. The thorns were found covered in blood. Nobody had much hope of finding her alive. They believed if she were found, she would be dead, killed by a brain eating terror that stalked the night.
In response, Captain William Hitchens was sent to investigate by the colonial government. Hitchens was an officer of the Intelligence and Administrative Services of East Africa. He was ideally suited to the task, purporting to have had several encounters with various mysterious beasts across Africa. Once he arrived in Uasin Gishu, he set about establishing where this beast might have lived. The villagers informed him that it lived five miles out and the hunt was on.
For the first few nights, the hunt was unfruitful and frustrating. But then, one cold and dark night, the beast found him. Hitchens was awoken from his slumber and startled by the sound of a blood-curdling scream and a commotion outside that shook his very tent. He escaped the ruckus, seeing beneath him a trail of blood. It was then he knew. Something had killed his hunting dog, all that was left, the frayed end of the tether used to tie the dog to a pole.
After investigating the blood trail, he found paw prints in it, but larger than a man’s hand or even a lion’s paw. He also found imprints of claw marks. But what struck Hitchens the most was that scream. “The most awful howl I ever heard split the night,” he said. “The sheer demonic horror of it froze me still. Never have I heard, nor do I wish to hear again, such a howl.”
Such reports triggered the interest of adrenaline junkies, anthropologists, researchers and scientists. Since the sightings go back to ancient times and have remained consistent into modern times, many don’t doubt that some fearsome nocturnal carnivore is roaming the lands, killing and eating the brains of unfortunate victims. But other than the Atlas bear, extinct since the 1800s, no bears are known to be native to modern Africa. Some, therefore, have speculated such a beast could be a last surviving remnant of some ancient extinct creature, such as the Chalicotherium, closely resembling the Nandi Bear. Others, however, hold firm to their belief that it is nothing more than a misidentified hyena.
It certainly sounds more like a legend than a reality, what with evidence little more than a story or two about a native or a westerner killing one. With the westerners, the stories are of brave men shooting at it, whilst with the natives, the stories are often of the creature entering a hut a native then burnt down. The fact remains that the Nandi Bear has eluded both hunters and researchers for centuries.
So, is it an unknown bear? Perhaps. It does share many qualities, such as the facial features and standing on its hind legs. The Nandi Bear can also climb trees and it does bear a striking resemblance to the Atlas bear. But no fossils of such have been found as far away from the Atlas Mountains as the Nandi Bear is said to roam. Could it be an extinct beast then, such as the Chalicothere? The match is uncanny, yet the Chalicothere was a herbivore. A giant baboon is also a possibility, with the Nandi tribe often describing the beast as a ‘baboon like primate.’
The most likely explanation is that of a hyena, perhaps some undiscovered giant hyena or even a prehistoric survivor. During the Pleistocene era, humans in Africa were plagued by a beast known as the Short-Faced Hyena, a huge and terrorsome creature the size of a lion, and, sometimes, even bigger. Could it be that what the Nandi fear is nothing more than a story passed down from their ancient ancestors, who were terrorised by a very real monster?
Despite all these possible explanations, we still don’t know what, if anything, stalks the plains of Africa. Enough people have seen something for that something to be real or, at least, misidentified. The beast was last sighted in 1960 in Kipkabus, in Kenya. The local’s claim it invaded a hut and chased a man named Angus McDonald around the village for five minutes, before running away. The villagers tracked the trail it left behind, but it went cold. With no sightings since, many have wondered if the species died out, pushed to extinction by the prevalent deforestation. But did it ever exist in the first place? The scientific community do not believe in it whatsoever, but with crypto-hunters still out there looking for it, one thing is for sure. The Nandi Bear will continue to evoke the interest of many for a long time to come…
So I’ll give this cryptid a 154 on my patented Cryptid-o-Meter, putting it 12th in the list of 64, with the Pope Lick Monster still bottom and Beast of Gévauden still holding top spot.
The Nandi Bear. A fascinating cryptid indeed.
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