Thursday, September 20, 2007

And now THIS happens

The CFZ are off again. Check out the blog of their Guyana expedition

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Dr Karl Shuker writes

I was very interested and pleased to learn of the team's unearthing of new info re the ninki nanka, which indicates that it is similar to or synonymous with the crowing crested cobra, reported widely across Africa.As for the Gambian sea serpent: I am sad, though not overly surprised, that the body was not recovered - it was always most likely that after having been buried on a beach over 20 years ago, its remains would have disappeared, which is a great pity as its conclusive identification would have ended a longstanding mystery.As it is, the naming of it as a huge dolphin by the eyewitness inteviewed by the team is unfortunately of little if any use in furthering the matter of its identity. Many years ago, this creature's principal eyewitness, Owen Burnham, an honorary Senegambian Mandinka fluent in their language, revealed to me a very pertinent piece of etymlogical information - I've just been re-reading his letter describing this issue, which I have on file. The local tribespeaople in this area of West Africa do not create new names for any rare or mysterious creature encountered by them. Instead, even if it only vaguely resembles a more common animal, it is immediately called by the name that they give that common animal. So if a mystery animal had, for example, a dolphin-like beak, or dolphin-like flippers, this would be enough for them to call it a dolphin, irrespective of any non-delphinoid features that it possessed, which, in the Gambian beast's case, included nostrils at the end of its beak, a long fluke-less tail, two pairs of limbs, and no dorsal fin. Indeed, this etymological situation is exactly what Owen himself encountered back in the 1980s when investigating his sighting - locals to whom he described his beast referrred to it as a dolphin - even though Owen's description and detailed drawings clearly suggested otherwise, and even though the locals themselves knew that it wasn't a dolphin! It's just that they didn't have any other name for it.It seems safe to say that the mystery of just what Owen did see lying on Bungalow Beach two decades ago is destined to remain precisely that, but the CFZ team should be congratulated for their valiant bid to solve it by actually going out to the source and seeking the carcase. If only more field searches like this one were conducted, we may all learn a lot more, because however much discussion occurs regarding the identity of a given cryptid, ultimately the only way in which a conclusive answer can ever be obtained is by examining physical evidence. So well done for trying, guys - and every success for your next planned Gambian trip to continue your ninki nanka investigations.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

No sleep till .......................WOOLSERY!

Just when you thought that it couldn't get any stranger, it does!

The other afternoon we had a telephone call from MTV in Canada. Their special guests that evening were pioneering rock/rap act The Beastie Boys, and much to my delight (I have happy memories of annoying my ex wife by playing `Licence to Ill` very loud about 20 years ago), it turns out that the band are actually fans of the CFZ and have been following our activities in West Africa.

The upshot was that Richard was a guest (via telephone) on the show that evening, and the CFZ's ongoing mission to fight for our right to party was upheld.

Strange old world innit?

Friday, July 21, 2006

So, you thought it was all over?

For immediate release:
21 July 2006

Six explorers from the Centre for Fortean Zoology [CFZ] - the world’s largest organization studying mystery animals - have returned from a two-week expedition to the West African country of The Gambia. The CFZ are happy to announce that the expedition was a resounding success.

One of the most interesting findings was that not only is there still – at the beginning of the 21st Century – a firm belief in, and fear of, a monster called the Ninki Nanka in The Gambia, but that practically everything that has been written about the animal in the west has been wrong. The hunt for Ninki Nanka started decades ago, after Dr. Thomas Dalrymple, a retired Medical Officer from H.M Colonial Civil Service, reported having heard of a dragon-like creature in the Gambia River in 1935. Since then, the creature has appeared in dozens of books on mystery animals – always portrayed as a giant lizard or dinosaur-like creature!

The `J.T.Downes memorial expedition`, which returned to the UK a few days ago, can conclusively report that all the evidence actually points to an unknown species of giant snake, possibly with horn-like growths on its head.

“The sense of terror that this creature engenders is palpable”, says Richard Freeman (36), the Zoological Director of the CFZ. “Even Park Rangers refused to take us into areas where they believed this creature to live. Everyone reported it as being a huge snake with reflective scales and a crest. Most people fear it so much that they believe that to see it is death”.

The expedition garnered more information than ever before on the animal including:

An eye-witness who claims to have seen Ninki Nanka within the past few years
Information on three possible western eyewitnesses of Ninki Nanka
Links between the Ninki Nanka and pre-Muslim animist religions of The Gambia
New data on sightings at Abuko national park in 1943 and 1947.

However, it appears that the animal is now extinct in the lower reaches of The Gambia at least, and plans are now afoot to launch another expedition to investigate recent reports, further inland, in Guinea.

But the expedition also went to solve another mystery – that of a mysterious carcass buried on Bungalow Beach in 1983. “Amateur naturalist Owen Burnham tells a story about how, as a teenager, he witnessed the carcass of a massive sea creature that resembled a pliosaur being buried on the beach. Pliosaurs became extinct about 65 million years ago, and so if we had managed to dig up bones of a contemporaneous specimen, it would be a big deal indeed” said Oll Lewis (26), the expedition’s ecologist.

Sadly, although the expedition excavated the beach, they found no bones, and discovered that the carcass would have rotted away years ago, because despite Burnham’s hope that it had been buried above the tide line, as soon as the hole was under a foot deep it began to fill with seawater.

However, the team did interview a witness to the original incident, who described it as a huge “dolphin”, but without a dorsal fin. Whether the fin had been removed by trauma, or it is a rare species without one is unknown, but expedition leader Chris Moiser (51), a Plymouth based zoologist, and long-term member of the Permanent Directorate of the CFZ believes that it may be one of the beaked whales; obscure and little known species which are found in most of the world’s oceans. “Some are only known from bones, and we have no idea what they look like alive” he said.

The final objective of the expedition was also a success. Armitage’s skink (Chalcides armitagei) is a small lizard known only from three specimens found in 1922, and a handful of others about fifteen years ago. The only area where the animal was known to live was cleared for development some years ago, and it was feared that the species was either on the edge of extinction or had gone forever.

The expedition failed in its hope of producing the first film of the living animals, but did manage to locate people who have seen it recently, and can announce that the known habitat for the creature has now been extended by 20-30 miles from the original place where it was found. “This is excellent news” said CFZ Director Jon Downes (46) who co-ordinated Mission Control at the CFZ headquarters in rural North Devon. “That means that the species may be viable after all, and would seem to be an excellent candidate for a captive breeding and reintroduction programme”.

The expedition will present their findings at the annual CFZ Conference in August, when a book of the expedition will be published.


NOTES FOR EDITORS:+ The Centre for Fortean Zoology is a non profit-making organisation, which was founded in 1992. Over the last 14 years we have mounted expeditions to Central America, Puerto Rico, Thailand, Mexico, Mongolia, Sumatra, and various parts of the United States, as well as numerous investigations in the UK. Further information on the CFZ can be found on the website,

+ Team members were· Chris Moiser: Zoologist and team leader· Dr Chris Clark: Engineer· Lisa Dowley: First aid and security expert· Richard Freeman: cryptozoologist· Oll Lewis: Ecologist· Suzi Marsh: computer expert

+ Future CFZ projects include an online TV Station (, and the first museum of cryptozoology in Europe, on which building work will begin this autumn.+ C F Z director Jonathan Downes has written numerous books on the subject of mystery animals. The latest, entitled `Monster Hunter` is his long awaited autobiography. Zoological Director Richard Freeman is the author of `Dragons: More than a myth?`, the first scientific look at the subject since the late 19th century, and expedition leader Chris Moiser is the author of several books including `Mystery Sea-serpents of the south-west` (Bossiney books).+ The honorary life President of the Centre for Fortean Zoology is renowned explorer, author and soldier Colonel John Blashford-Snell OBE, best known for his pioneering Operation Drake and Operation Raleigh expeditions during the 1970s.

+ The expedition was dedicated to the memory of the late J.T.Downes I.S.O, a West African explorer and colonial service officer, and father of the director of the CFZ. He died in February and donations to the expedition fund were made in his name.+ The CFZ is looking for corporate and private sponsors

+ Pictures from the expedition are available, and Richard Freeman is available for interview. Please telephone Jon or Oll on +44 (0)1237 431413

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Th-th-th-thats all folks

Final Thoughts

Oll Lewis

Looking at the various witness statements it seems clear that in the Gambia the name 'Ninki-Nanka' doesn't apply to an animal of any one particular appearance; some say it has legs, others that it has wings, or even that it's some sort of serpent of monstrous proportions. There are a few things that have been consistent in nearly all of the sightings reported though, particularly the crest on its head, a large body size and scales. What is ever present though and remarkably consistent is the folklore surrounding the Ninki-Nanka; the creature is said to bring death and is much feared in the Gambia and if you don't die immediately upon sighting it you can be brought down by a mysterious illness, the only protection from which is said to be spiritual, usually from an imam. Where traditions of the old animalist religions of Gambia have been absorbed into Islam, like at the sacred crocodile pool of Folonko, the Ninki-Nanka is sung about when a newly circumcised person takes their first ritual bath in the river about 2 weeks after being cut at the crocodile pool in order to ward off the Ninki-Nanka. Practices like this suggest that perhaps the Ninki-Nanka has been blamed for sudden deaths of people in the Gambia going back as far as when animalist religions were widely practiced in the area and could even have been the origin of the folklore in the first instance. More research would need to be undertaken to prove or disprove this theory of course. On balance I think that the Ninki-Nanka is a mix between vibrant and compelling folklore and sightings of unfamiliar animals in an area.
Gambo, the mystery creature of Bungalow beach, is likely just a large dolphin that was in a fairly bad way when it was washed up on the beach. Although the bones are almost certainly gone for good, rotted away in wet sand if not removed during the construction of Destiny’s nightclub, we did manage to locate a new eye witness who like everyone else bar Owen Burnam has identified it as a dolphin. I must admit I was a little sorry that it turned out that Gambo was nothing too unusual, but you have to base your conclusions on the available evidence.
All in all this expedition has been rather fruitful in my opinion as we have uncovered a lot of new information about the Ninki-Nanka and laid to rest the story of Gambo.

Richard Freeman

Perhaps, once, long ago, there was some kind of creature lurking in the swamps and forests of the Gambia but I think it is long gone. What remains is a distorted folk memory of something huge and awful. This something has become a convenient bogeyman onto which locals can blame accidents, bad luck and death. What the original Ninki-Nanka was is the $64,000 question. Maybe some kind of huge snake or a demonised python god from a pre-Islamic snake worship cult.
Ninki-Nanka is also a means by which locals can twist cash out of westerners. Shortly after the broadcast of my radio interview everyone became a Ninki-Nanka expert. People knew where to find the dragon, for insane fees of course. Others claimed they could photograph it, for money naturally. In a country so filled with scams finding the truth behind Ninki-Nanka, if there ever was any, would be a daunting task. We have however laid the groundwork for any glutton for punishment who wants to continue the quest beset by bums and scammers. Perhaps a country less open to tourism might yield better results.
The smart money is on Gambo being some kind of cetacean, possibly a bottle nosed dolphin or a young beaked whale.
As for me, I think the CFZ's limited resources would be better spent elsewhere.

Lisa Dowley

This was my first jaunt abroad with the CFZ, and I have enjoyed being part of the team immensely, however at times I have become somewhat confused and at times disparaged with the descriptions and alleged sightings of Ninki-Nanka, even more so after the BBC broadcast, when everyone seemed to be aware of the whereabouts of what they perceived to be a Ninki-Nanka. However, they were only prepared to point us in the general direction of one (for a ridiculous fee, naturally) as the fear of seeing it, even in the 21st century, seems to evoke waves of fear within certain groups of local people. I think perhaps in a by-gone time there was once creature/s of immense size that commanded fear throughout the mangroves of Gambia, and these accounts have been passed via the traditions of the elders of villages. These oral traditions have then taken on a modern interpretation as they have been passed down to the present day. After being here and exploring and listening to the many accounts I feel that one of the strongest leads is the area of Guinea (as we had two separate accounts based in this area and the creature going by another name but having very similar descriptions) as this part of West Africa has next to no tourist trade and is very under explored and as a consequence very little is known of its fauna.
As for Gambo, only the sands on Bungalow beach have the answer to that question, and with so much development occurring in the last 23 years, the beach is almost completely different with the advancement of buildings etc. My money would be on the actual creature in all probability being a rare type of dolphin

Suzi Marsh

I feel that we have achieved a lot on this expedition; with regards to Ninki Nanka, we have not only amassed a large amount of data in terms of stories that have been passed down within families and tribes for generations, we have also collected the first recorded eyewitness testimony and come away with a substantial amount of information on modern sightings, which were few and far between before this trip. We have also taken things as far as they can be taken with the mystery of Bungalow Beach; we are in a position to surmise that the carcass was most likely that of a dolphin missing its dorsal fin, and have confirmed that whatever was buried there has sadly been lost to both natural and manmade interference.

As seems to be often the case with such things, in finding answers to old questions we have come away with many new ones. We have some exciting leads on Ninki Nanka that we can follow up on our return to the UK, and most of us have developed our own avenues of thought as to what the creature could be. Personally, I believe it could be a case of occasional sightings of exceptionally large snakes, possibly with a deformity or other natural anomaly causing a crest-like formation on their heads, combining with local folklore of a dragon like being; although, in true Fortean style, I am open to speculation and certainly don’t see this as a given conclusion. One thing that is certain, however, is that in the minds of the Gambian people the Ninki Nanka is as real as anything else, and still, in the 21st century, a cause of great fear and suspicion.
Chris Moiser

In a way if we had found any definitive answers on our quests the trip would have been a failure. Really we have only raised more questions, by answering some of the original questions that we came to answer.

Ninki Nanka, well the story continues, but we have, at least, added some greater accuracy to earlier reports. It has though, as Richard has identified, now become another potential source of income for some of the local “tourist-exploiters”. It did, however, also bring out the best in some of the locals; at least one local policeman, and Maryam (at Abuko) put themselves out, without any expectation of reward, to help us. An animal may exist in the mangroves, which still, despite the Gambia’s high population density, can form a frighteningly large and lonely area. If it is does the individuals that get into Gambia are probably only stragglers from a much more remote area such as the Fouta Djallon in Guinea.

Gambo, by virtue of when and where it is buried is more open to investigation, both by questioning and excavating, although the construction of the night club on the site did not help us at all. Pilot holes did not reveal anything, but questioning of one of the older men in the market does suggest a cetacean with some minor changes. More of that when we go through our notes.

Armitage’s skink, we didn’t see one, but we know a man that did, and photographed it. We also have data that extends its range beyond that previously reported, so partial success there.

My ambition for the future: to take a landing craft up the Gambia River and investigate the Ninki Nanka story from the river.

Chris Clark

It seems to be a property of the other creatures that the CFZ has looked for that the closer you get to the source of the stories the more consistent and rational the accounts become. The Mongolian Death Worm loses its electric powers, ceases to spit poison and dwindles to a featureless two-foot snake-like creature. Orang pendek walks through the jungle investigating fallen logs; it never yodels, does cartwheels or displays a tail. Ninki-Nanka, on the other hand, becomes more diverse as we investigate it. It sometimes has legs or even wings, sometimes has only a snake-like body. Its head is like a horse, or else is round; the head bears a crest which in turn has Islamic verses, which it is death to read. The length may be anything up to 150 feet. Unfortunately we were based in an urban area, where the people have no first-hand evidence of the creature: our only eye-witness account came when we drove 150 km into the countryside. Everything else is derived from an uncle or grandfather, now dead. The creature may have no objective basis at all: it is only two generations since Patrick Leigh Fermor was given detailed accounts by Greek peasants of the appearance and habits of a man-like creature with goat’s legs called the Kallikantzaros, a being quite certainly fictional and presumably based on the classical satyr. In the same way, the Ninki-Nanka may be no more than a folk-tale; if a large snake should appear the name Ninki-Nanka will be applied to it.

Certainly it is difficult to get reliable accounts. Now that our purpose has become common knowledge the professional friends who follow you on the street offering various services have become more ambitious: only an hour ago I was greeted as I stepped out of the hotel with the cry ‘Hello, you want to see dragon?’. In these circumstances all accounts become suspect. Perhaps the only real hope is a water-based expedition, entirely self-contained, which could investigate right up the River Gambia, putting into creeks to follow up any promising report.

The sun sets on another cfz expedition - but the mystery continues....

Monday, July 17, 2006

Lisa writes....

The mangroves of Mandinari

Yesterday morning shortly after breakfast Richard got a phone call from a woman by the name of Mariama (who works at Abuko National Park), saying that a man had told her that he knew where Ninki-Nanka lived. He said it was in a hole in some mangrove swamps, in a place called Mandinari, just down the road from Abuko, and that he also said that if you threw a dog into the hole it would bring Ninki-Nanka out to eat the dog. Richard was interested by such news, but point blank declined the use of a dog, opting for a chicken instead.

We had already decided to go to Abuko in search of the English guy who was said to have seen Ninki-Nanka some years ago, but all we had to go on was his Mandinka name of 'Sudokodo' (we were hoping to check with the records kept at the lodge house on site), so calling into Mandinari was no problem really as it was en-route.

Just as we were all sitting down to dinner Richard was summoned to the reception as there was a phone call for him so he hurriedly left the table, some time passed, he returned with a somewhat stern look on his face. Apparently the call was from the actual man who allegedly knew where Ninki-Nanka could be found. He had asked Richard if he was the man that had been on the wireless the day before, 'the Ninki-Nanka hunter', he replied yes, the man then said he knew where there was a real Ninki-Nanka at Mandinari and that he could lead us there, but he would not go all the way as he was fearful of death if he did so. He said he would go within 50 yards of it and point the rest of the way. He then said that if you see this dragon 'YOU WILL DIE'; this was said rather ardently. Richard replied that he was not scared of dragons, and that we have many dragon stories in England. The man then said that this was different, as this was an African dragon, and then proceeded to ask repeatedly “what do i get?, telling Rich to tell the people in reception to “shut up” as they were making a noise. By this time Rich's suspicions were raised, suspicions which turned out to be well founded when the guy started to make demands of upwards of £2000, £3000, £4000, £5000, as if in some cryptozoological auction!. Rich politely told the man that he would have to discuss this with the rest of the group.

It was agreed by all to decline offer/demand, however we did elect to go to the mangroves at Mandinari en-route to Abuko and have a look round ourselves.

We woke Sunday morning to heavy humidity, the worst it’s been during our time here, which was surprising, as it had rained heavily during the night. We had breakfast, got ourselves ready, and by 10am we were waiting for our trusty chauffer/guide/protector, Assan. We climbed aboard the mini-bus and asked him to take us to Mandinari. The journey was somewhat bumpy as the nightime down pours had had an effect on the road, namely that any infill had been washed away leaving large pot-holes strewn across our route, but Assan with his ever careful driving avoided most of them.

When we reached the mangrove area of Mandinari the tide was out, so we were able to negotiate into the swamps a little way, crunching along the shell strewn paths and getting a feel of the environment. There was a small wooden and somewhat rickety jetty that some of us ventured onto, at the end of which were the local village children swimming. The only wildlife we observed in this vast swampland were little bee-eaters, mudskippers, fiddler crabs, and the locals who began to follow us and ask us for our possessions (at one stage this incuded Suzi).

1-2-3-4-5 We saw baby crocs alive

Having only wandered and explored a small proportion of this mangrove, which has a total mass is approximately 10km, it is quite easy to see how people can become disorientated and lost, and why such places hold great mystique and allure for humans ascribing it as the home to such creatures as the Ninki-Nanka. We bid farewell to the small group that had become interested in us, and made our way to Abuko.

Steady on that Jetty

On arrival we asked if anyone could remember Sudokodo, they didn’t, so we made our way into the park, and towards the Darwin Centre tower in a bid to observe the Nile crocs they have there. We watched for some time, but all the crocs would give us was a few bubbles. We were then joined by a not-so-expert-guide, who led us to the other pool where we actually saw in total 11 baby crocs, so it’s good to know that they are breeding successfully. We then made our way round Abuko; unfortunately the guide we had was not very good and made more noise than all of us put together, so on this occasion we did not see a great deal, apart from a ground squirrel, vervet and red colobus monkeys. I also noticed that Chris Moiser was in fact giving the tour guide more information than he was giving us. We reached the cafe and stopped for some well needed refreshment, and as we departed the guide then tried to tell Chis that the Aldabran giant tortoise was native to the area! Chris corrected him on this matter and we moved on. As we neared the exit this so called guide began working his way down the line which was our group asking for, well anything really, money, watches; he was most unprofessional, unlike the first guide, Musa Jatta, who really did know his stuff. Ahh.. well the luck of the draw i suppose!

Sampling refreshment at Max's Bar

On leaving the park we made our way across the road to Assan who was waiting for us in a little bar owned by a Rasta by the name of Max, who was a refreshingly honest chap. Max told us of a place he thought the Ninki-Nanka may reside, ”Bintang Bolon is a place where you may find what you are looking for”, he told us, however he wouldn’t go because he had a near death experience where he had nearly drowned there as a small boy. Even now he will not wash in the river. He also told us that the founder of Abuko, a Mr Edward Brewer, had at some stage erected a mirror akin to the one that was erected in the 1940s after Papa Jinda was supposedly killed by the ninki-nanka. It is not clear whether this was done to appease the locally employed people at the park or for other reasons.

As we approach the end of this expedition I feel we have more new information and leads than answers to the questions we arrived with surrounding Ninki-Nanka, and I strongly feel that the possible root to these answers lies in less well explored areas of West Africa; a possible candidate for this I feel would be Guinea, as its relatively tourist free and poorly explored. All in all it’s been one heck of an eye-opening, interesting expedition.

A quick note from Chris Moiser

Hi, mega probs in getting reports off to you today. Ollie is currently on the other machine here doing it now.Went to the Gambian Daily observer today and gave our story to the security man, the editor, and a reporter. The reporter we found out to be the agricultural correspondent. It all was treated with much more interest when the senior reporter came in and asked if we had heard about the report on the BBC about Ninki nanka. We then pointed to Richard and said it was him.We were then taken to a nearby internet cafe with a memory stick so that we could donwload the CFZ site report for them. We ended up paying for the internet cafe! and then back to the observer office for a photograph. We had the photograph done on the balcony there, under a mango tree. I pointed out to the reporter that Lisa loves mangos, so the reporter picked her one! As the Agriculture correspondent I believe that it was a good mango!We may be in tomorrows paper which we will try and get before we get taken to the airport. If not it may be under Gambia on There is also a Gambia Daily Observer website, but I do not know its address.

Chris. M.

Fun Fun Fun with The Beach Boys

As the CFZ get to work, a large lizard (ahem) MONITORS the situation

Gambo, Sacred Trees, Ninki-Nanka, Giant Snakes And A Legend Put To Rest.


This morning we set off bright and early to search for the truth behind two modern day Gambian legends. The first of these, and potentially the easiest to verify, was that of the Bakau Ninki-Nanka hole.

According to local folklore, when a hotel near the coast called the Palma Rima was being built in around 1990, the builders would not commence building work because the area was rumoured to be the home of a Ninki-Nanka, that would come out of a large hole on a regular basis. No one was brave enough to hunt the Ninki-Nanka so the hole was filled in while it was away and an established tree planted over the hole, meaning the Ninki-Nanka would not be able to use this particular lair and be forced to move on. According to the legend the plan worked; the Ninki-Nanka was never seen in the area again, and work continued on the nearby hotel. Hooray.
Making conversation with our taxi driver Assan, who works nearby at the Bungalow beach hotel (our man in Havana, if you will), I had asked him his opinion on the Palma Rima Ninki-Nanka story. Assan was of the opinion that the creature was certainly not Ninki-Nanka, but in fact a very large python that locals had perhaps mistaken for the Ninki-Nanka. However, Ninki-Nanka or not, the words 'very large python' were certainly enough to keep our interest. After all, the eye witness we found near Dumbltore claimed that the Ninki-Nanka he saw was a snake of immense proportions. Walking across the paddy fields behind the Palma Rima Chris Moiser noticed one tree that was rather different to the others and halfway between the road and the path, which was where we had been told to look for the tree. We gingerly approached the tree, walking over the small ridges in the fields so we could be sure we weren't trampling a farmer's rice crop, and saw it was a baobab tree. Baobab trees are often considered to be sacred trees, and this tree certainly was, as prayers had been stuffed into knot holes and even hammered into its trunk using steel bolts. The tree itself was clearly over 16 years old, so if this was the tree it had been well established before it was transplanted in the hole. To have replanted a baobab over the Ninki-Nanka's hole would also have served to calm the fears of the builders, as it would perhaps offer them a sort of spiritual protection from an angry and newly homeless monster who, according to rumour, could kill you without even needing to touch you.

Approaching the Sacred Baobab Tree

Close up of the prayers inserted in the sacred tree

From the baobab tree we walked onwards to investigate the second modern legend of the day: Gambo, the mystery creature of Bungalow Beach.

Gambo was an animal allegedly washed up on Bungalow Beach in 1983. According to Owen Burnham, who was 14 at the time, the strange creature bore a resemblence to a pliosaur and was buried on the beach, 3 feet under the sand and above the tideline. We had some soft drinks in the bar at the Bungalow Beach Hotel while we reviewed Burnam's map of where Gambo had been buried and planned our next move. Our investigation had already been compromised by the fact that the paved beer garden of a nightclub had been built next to the hotel, infringing on the exact spot, indicated by the map, where Gambo had been buried. The investigation was further hampered by the fact that the nightclub was owned by the presidents brother; one thing you don't want when digging a 3 foot deep hole in the hope of finding the mortal remains of a cryptid is the secret police turning up with the army in tow. Try explaining that to a policeman:

"Stop that right now what are you up to?" the policeman might enquire.

"We're trying to dig up what might possibly be an unknown species of animal." might come the reply, which might have resulted in us being kept in Gambia longer than we'd originally planned.

Richard digs a hole...

Oll digs another...

while Chris M keeps the locals at bay (and pretends he is nothing to do with the rest of the party

Thankfully, all we had to contend with was the local beach crowd, who often follow tourists around, pretend to know them and then ask for money. We had had to contend with these people before, and they could be a bit of a pain to say the least. However, this time, as we excavated the sand as near as possible to the cross on Owen's map, we were provided with the perfect opportunity to get our own back on them. Maybe they will talk for years to come about the day the troop of six scientists from the geology department of 'Woolfardisworthy University' came to investigate beach erosion in the Gambia by digging a series of 70 cm (3ft) deep holes in the sand, of the short lecture on sand dynamics and erosion Chris Moiser gave them, and of Dr Chris Clark's 'tricorder'. By the time we had finished the sadly fruitless search for Gambo's bones the beach boys were offering to help us dig and all wanted to be scientists too.

The story of Gambo dosen't end there though. It does seem that it might have been a dolphin after all from what another eyewitness, local shopowner Baka, told us when we asked him about the incident in 1983. Baka was present when Gambo was washed up and he said that Gambo had been a large dolphin, missing its dorsel fin, which had been washed up on the beach where it vomited and died. I also aquired a carving of a dolphin in Abuko that looked very simmilar to Owen Burnam's description of Gambo, so it's tempting to assume that the animal was, as so many people have insisted, just a dolphin. Sadly, our excavations on Bungalow Beach also showed that the sand is moist from 40 cm (1ft 4ins) down in the area where Gambo was buried, so it is likely that the creature's bones rotted away some time ago even before the nightclub was built.

On a lighter note, however, I found out from interviewing staff at the Bungalow Beach Hotel that these days when large animals wash up on the beach they are required to call a local vet, who will arrange for them to be taken away and disposed of accordingly. So, presumably, if anything like Gambo washes up on a Gambian beach again it will be looked at by a scientist rather than being left to rot under the sand.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Richard's thoughts after ten days...

The habitat of Armitage's skink
Day 10, 13th July

I was interviewed by a man from BBC World Service Africa. He asked all the usual questions: why are you here? What is Ninki-Nanka? Have you seen it? He also said that some listeners might think it was just an excuse for a holiday. I explained that our group counted among it a zoologist, an archaeologist, a biologist, an ecologist, and even an astrophysicist.

Later that day we travelled down to Gunjur Beach. Luke had told us that a couple of Rastafarian men who owned a beach bar had provided him with two specimens of Armitage's skink. After traversing a foul smelling fish market we came upon the bar. It was a tumbled down wooden shanty, festooned with wind chimes created from sea shells. They jangled eerily. The owner was a friendly guy. We ordered a round of soft drinks and then asked him about the skink. He confirmed that he had caught two in his toilet and passed them on to Luke at the Gambian Reptile Park. He described them as around 10 inches long, as thick as his finger and sandy brown with a black stripe.

We asked him about Ninki-Nanka and he said that it was an animal so powerful that those who saw it died. He had known people who had seen it but they were 'no longer conscious'.
We walked along the beach towards the grassy dunes that Luke had told us were the skink's habitat. A local beach bum and his dog started to follow us quite unbidden. He trailed round after us where ever we went. Suzi asked him to leave and he ignored her. I asked him why he was following us and he said he wanted to 'help us' (i.e. get some money off us) We told him we were scientists looking for lizards and that his dog was scaring them away. Finally he left.

We searched the dunes as the temperature became cooler but found nothing. We began to walk back along them, looking for a suitable area to sit quietly as the sun set and watch for the skinks. Unfortunately the pestering beach bum reappeared (this time sans dog) and proceeded to attach himself to our group. He claimed to have seen a snake beside the road 4 years previously, but he said it was green.

Hunting for the skink

At this point it may be useful to look back on the descriptions of Ninki-Nanka that we have received:

Baka Samba, Mr Fixit, whose uncle saw the dragon: Huge and terrible, has fire in the mouth.
Musa Jatta, guide at Abuko: It is like a huge python. It is big enough to swallow a whole cow. It has legs, and wings like a bat's. It breathes fire.
Hassan Jinda, grandson of victim Papa Jinda: It is unimaginably big. If you see the front of it you cannot see the end. It has a crown of fire on its head. Male and female have different crowns. Its scales glitter.
Dodgy fishmarket guy 1: It is like a snake, but it can grow as big as a palm tree. Its scales are like mirrors and you can see yourself in them. When it grows big it goes into the sea.
Dodgy Fishmarket guy 2: It has a snake like body and a face like a kangaroo. It has a forked tongue.
Momomudu park ranger at Kiang West, and so far our only first hand witness: It has a face like a horse. A feather like crest falls down over its face. Its scales are reflective like mirrors, mainly black and green. 50 meters long by 1 meter wide. Snake like body.

None of the descriptions match up. Crests, reflective scales and a snaky body do seem to be constants, as does the idea of seeing a Ninki-Nanka leading to death. I am considerably less convinced of the existence of this creature than other beasts I have hunted such as the Naga, Orang-Pendek, and the Mongolian Deathworm.

Chris Clark writes...

Well, the CFZ has now extended its activities to the very frontier of Senegal. Today we travelled to the far south of Gambia, to the Allahein river, and went out in two dug-out canoes much like those we used to cross Gunung Tujuh in Sumatra. We circled the mangrove swamps, at one point coming within touching distance of Senegal (the river forms the frontier here), and made a landing at a likely spot, but saw little except small crabs. The existence of a Swedish-built tourist pavilion a little further along suggested that we had not yet crossed the boundaries of civilisation.

Richard and Suzi looking across at Senegal

On the way back, we passed through the Kartong area and stopped at the village of Follonko to see one of Gambia's sacred crocodile pools. We began by removing our shoes as though we were approaching a mosque, but this was the last Islamic element of the experience.Our guide told us that the pool is associated with female circumcision ceremonies and with people hoping for children; Chris M added later that the site is also popular with wrestlers. Although the pool, much shrunken with the dry season and covered with water-hyacinth, contains well over a dozen crocs, only one juvenile specimen was visible. It is said to contain one albino crocodile: if you see this, we were told, you will shortly become a great man. No member of the party claims to have seen it.

A juvenile inhabitant of the sacred crocodile pool

We stopped at the Gambia Reptile Park, and were given a tour of the snakes (and other animals). We were able to hold a Ball Python, an African Egg-Eater and a Shovel-Headed snake. The more dangerous creatures, such as the Spitting Cobras and Puff Adders, remained in their enclosures. The Park also takes in other creatures in need of attention, including a young baboon and a fine pelican. When the owner, a Frenchman called Luke Paziand, found that Richard was experienced with reptiles he came out for a long talk with us. Over a pastis Luke explained the work of the Park and recent knowledge about venomous snakes (humans are vulnerable to the cytotoxin element of the spitting cobra but not the neurotoxin: if bitten, you may lose the limb but will not necessarily die). The interview was interrupted by Luke's four children, particularly a delightful two-year old boy who used all members of the party indiscriminately as a climbing frame.

Puff Adder

Luke Paziand

Chris Clark with Ball (Royal) Python

The trip ended back at Bungalow Beach with an encounter with a man called Lami. Speaking in English (his third language, since he is from French-speaking Guinea) he explained how his grandfather had seen Ninki-Nanka, describing it as being like a snake with a round head. For further details he invited us to come to Guinea and speak to his grandfather. He claimed that the old man could even summon Ninki-Nanka for us, like a sort of West African Doc Shiels [Glendower: 'I can summon spirits from the vasty deep'. Hotspur: 'Why so can I, and so can any man. But will they come when you do call?']. However, Guinea is beyond Senegal, and is out of reach on this trip.

The whims of the Gambian banking system mean that there is only one ATM system in the whole country, and it takes a card which only one member of the party possesses even if you can find one that works. The limit on the daily withdrawals meant that we were restricted to £40 among the whole party. I hoped to raise money on my American Express card, and made a phone call to England to get the address of the local office. I got the address and a phone number, and when I asked whether I could get money from the office I was reassured in the sort of tones that you would use to guarantee that the sun would rise tomorrow. Well, the sun has indeed risen, but a phone call to the local office received a flat denial that they had ever supplied money, would ever supply money, or had any money to give. At this point the financial problems of the two most experienced members of the party, who have worked in eight or ten backward countries, were relieved by a timely contribution from the youngest and most inexperienced: so at the risk of embarrassing her, thanks to Suzi for dipping into your emergency fund.