Olly writes from Gambia....
6th of July - Abuko national park
Today we decided to visit Abuko national park as it was the setting for one of the most well known sightings of the Ninki-Nanka, and so we could learn more about the ecology of the Gambia in general. We left our base at 9am in a ten seater taxi driven by Chris Moiser's long term associate Assan, and after a 45 minute journey through pot-holed tarmac roads and compacted mud streets we arrived at the national park. The entrance fees were very reasonable, coming to about 50p each. As soon as you pass the perimeter fence in Abuko, you enter the jungle and start to see animals; almost imediately we spotted a giant milipede walking accross the path, and when we reached the first hide we were able to watch crocodiles in the wild. Richard in paticular was overjoyed by this as it was, despite his having been reptile keeper at Tycross Zoo, the first time he had been able to see one of his favourite animals in the wild.
A crocodile peers nervously at the CFZ Team
It was by the first hide that we met a guide called Musa Jatta. After being followed by a so called 'guide' against our will yesterday, as we went on our recce to Bungalow Beach, we were wary. We needn't have been, however, as Musa Jatta proved himself to be a first rate spotter of animals (even better than me) and perhaps saved Richard from getting on the wrong end of a spitting cobra too. While all of this was happening Chris Moiser had walked on ahead and was talking to a lady with a carving shop at the half way point of the path circit around the reserve, from whom he found out more about the famous sighting in the reserves area, and that the grandson of Papa Jinda, the man who had seen the Ninki-Nanka, was a young man called Hassan working at the reseve.
Dr Clark I presume
We all met up by a small drinks stand called the Ninki-Nanka cafe and Richard asked our guide if he had heard anything of the cafe's namesake. Musa had. There was apparently a report in August, a few years ago (we pinned it down to 2001-2003]. The beast had apparently left a long furrow in the mud road, and the driver and his passenger were said to have died when their lorry ran into the furrow during heavy rain. Musa’s description of the animal was: “like a huge python, big enough to swallow a cow’. It had legs and bat like wings and could spit fire. He did not know if it could fly, but it could move in water and over land.
When we made our way back to the entrance we passed the remains of the pumping station that Papa Jinda had been working at when he saw the Ninki-Nanka. The whole area, with long established trees growing though the derilict buildings, rusted machinery and long abandoned dams looked like a cross between the temple of Ankor-Wat and a level in Tomb Raider. When we made it back to the entrance, spotting a brightly patterned juvenile monitor lizard en route, we found Hassan and were able to interview him about his grandfather's sightings of the Ninki-Nanka.
Papa Jinda had witnessed a scene of devestation at the pumping station in Abuko when a Ninki-Nanka had destoyed several pipes at the pumping station. The mention of a Ninki-Nanka had caused a panic among the workers, and they had asked for a mirror as it was comonly thought that the only way to get rid of the animal was to show it its reflection. The second time Papa Jinda came into contact with the Ninki-Nanka was to prove fatal, as after seeing the beast he fell ill, complaining about pains in his legs and waist, and his hair fell out. He died two weeks later. The Ninki-Nanka being seen as an omen of imminent death, either sudden or within the next 4 years, is one of the few aspects of the folklore surrounding it that has been consistant in every case we've had reported to us so far. If we do find the creature on this expedition, we can only hope that will prove to be incorrect. Hassan said that his grandfather had described the animal as having what looked like a tiara of flames on top of it's head; it is a possibility that this was a red and orange crest.
Hassan (Right), a wizened old man with the `scales`
An abandoned dam at the pumping station
When we asked about recent sightings of the Ninki-Nanka, Hassan told us of a man who had found what he claimed were scales of a Ninki-Nanka nearby. This was too good an opportunity to pass up, so whilst Richard and Lisa went back into the jungle accompanied by Musa on a bike to try to find the man, Dr Chris Clark, Chris Moiser, Suzi and I hopped into Assan's mini bus acompanied by a policeman on a mission to find the man with the Ninki-Nanka scales. After tearing around the local streets in a manner that would put local TV show 'Banjul cops' to shame we eventully pulled up outside a local slaughter house, where our quarry had just finished prayers for that part of the day. A look of fear passed across the wizened old man's face as the burly policeman shouted at him to "get in!" but he soon brightened up when he realised he wasn't in trouble.
Eventully we were shown the scales of the Ninki-Nanka... sadly from my examination of them I think they may just be a bit of rotted film cell, and Richard and the others are certain that they are not biological, least of all scales or skin. However we have aquired a sample to test when we get back to the UK, as it would certainly be bad science not to investigate every claim as thoroughly as possible.
Lastly, before we left we met up with another employee of Abuko national park, Bakary Jarju, who claims that the Ninki-Nanka has been seen recently in a lake near a village 80km away. Richard Freeman and I will be investigating this sighting on Saturday.
Pumping station buildings