Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Suzi speaks...

Baboons drop in for a drink

8th July Diary

In my opinion, the most exciting day so far. Following the reports of Abuko employee Bakary Jarju regarding sightings of a Ninki Nanka near his village, Richard, Chris C., Oll and myself took a long journey inland to the area concerned – Kiang West National Park.

The lorry after its ill-fated run in with Ninki Nanka

About half an hour out of Banjul we ran out of paved road, and drove on through a spine-jarring combination of dirt track and tarmac which was more pothole than surface. The further we travelled inland and towards the rural heart of the Gambia, the easier it became to imagine mysterious monsters lurking around each bend in the road. Indeed, that’s just what one unlucky driver and his passenger are said to have encountered one day whilst travelling this route. About 10 miles up the road from Kiang West we came to the site of a crashed lorry, as described to us previously by Abuko guide Musa Jatta. The accident, dated somewhere between 2001 and 2003, was allegedly caused by a Ninki Nanka crossing the road; the animal is said to have left a furrow in the road later turned into a bridge. The wreckage of the lorry itself lies in a ditch some 200 feet up the road. Our major concern with this story was the apparent age of both the vehicle and the crossing site, which appeared to be more of a drainage system than a bridge. Although both looked older than the claimed date of the accident, further research is definitely needed to determine how much the climate in this area could speed up the deterioration of both sites.

Richard looking intrepid

We continued on and shortly arrived at the breathtaking Kiang West National Park. If this really is the habitat of Ninki Nanka, it’s no wonder he’s so elusive; with plenty of lush vegetation and baboons, hyenas, antelope and otters on the menu, there can hardly be much call to leave. Our guide Bakary took us to an area of marshland where his companion refused to go any further; Bakary translated that he was afraid, because past this point was where the Ninki Nanka was sighted. We gleaned an interesting piece of information at this point which may explain the lack of first person reports; Bakary claimed that if you see a Ninki Nanka and tell too many people, you will die. Bakary himself took us a little further, then said he would wait for us to return. He too, it seemed, was afraid to go into the mangroves beyond. Since the spitting cobra incident I had been nursing a niggling feeling that I might be in slightly over my head; at this point it kicked into overdrive. Despite this, I bravely, or more likely stupidly, ploughed on. We followed the trail through the mangroves along the shore of the River Gambia, to the site of a village abandoned, according to Bakary, in fear of the Ninki Nanka. What might have been an altogether more eerie atmosphere was slightly marred by the presence of a collection of new huts, left half finished through lack of funds, and a rather nice picnic spot. In spite of this, the spot had a still, quiet atmosphere of a sort I had not felt elsewhere in the Gambia. The water was vast and dark, and the landscape in turns thick vegetation and stark mudflats; it was the sort of place you could easily imagine something hiding, and waiting…

A hole from which Ninki Nanka is said to emerge

The spot where our guides would go no further

Back in the truck Bakary took us into his village and collected a man who travelled with us out to a heavily wooded area. This was the real highlight of the day – a first hand eyewitness of Ninki Nanka! Bakary translated as the witness, Momodo, pointed out several holes in the ground, from which he claimed he had seen Ninki Nanka emerging. The holes ranged in size from approximately the girth of a large python to the width of a manhole cover; Momodo said that time had seen sand encroach on what had once been much larger holes. He took us to a point overlooking the water where he claims to have seen Ninki Nanka. He described it as an astonishing 50 metres long and 1 metre wide – having paced out a metre so we could be sure there was no confusion – with the face of a horse and the legless body of a snake. He said its mouth was closed, so he could not see any teeth or tongue, and that it had mirrored scales with a many-hued, predominantly green, skin, and a feathered crest which hung over its face. Later, on being shown pictures of a Chinese dragon, a Komodo dragon, a brontosaurus and a Nile monitor, and asked which one best described what he had seen, Momodo picked out the Chinese dragon, saying its face was that of the Ninki Nanka. He told us that he had become very ill after seeing the Ninki Nanka, suffering from skin abrasions, and that he had seen a marabout, an Islamic holy man, who had cured him with a herbal potion. Momodo also informed us, to our relief, that white people are seemingly immune to the curse that brings serious illness or death to those who see the Ninki Nanka.

This is the spot where Ninki Nanka is said to have crossed the road

We trekked up from this point past dense mangroves; sadly, no Ninki Nanka were spotted, but to me this spot seemed the most likely out of all we have seen to be hiding an undiscovered species. It has a wild feeling to it, vast, seemingly untouched and far from the nearest village. Momodo, through Bakary, pointed out a spot on the opposite shore where an Englishman working for the Gambian wildlife authorites, going by the Gambian name of Sodokudo, had camped out for five days looking for Ninki Nanka. It seems his effort was worth the endeavour, as our witness claimed he did indeed sight the animal. We are currently trying to trace this man; if anyone has any information please contact the CFZ where it will be gratefully received.

Where Ninki Nanka is said to lurk


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