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Ivan Sanderson, Mokele-Mbembe, and Kongamato

Ivan T. Sanderson was one of the first people to seriously investigate reports of strange creatures, UFOs, and other things of the sort. While he is probably best known for his book Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life (1961), he also investigated many other cryptids, including the Minensota Iceman, and the mokele-mbembe and other cryptids in Africa. The latter cryptids are the subjects of this post.
Ivan T. Sanderson


Before we get to Sanderson, the mokele-mbembe was first described in 1913, when Captain Freiherr von Stein zu Lausnitz went to explore the Cameroon when he was sent to do so by the German government. While there he was told of an animal called mokele-mbembe.

He described the creature:

"The animal is said to be of a brownish gray color with a smooth skin, its size approximately that of an elephant; at least that of a hippopotamus. It is said to have a long and very flexible neck and only one tooth, but a very long one; some say it is a horn. A few spoke about a long muscular tail like that of an alligator. It is said to climb the shore even at daytime in search of food; its diet is said to be entirely vegetable. At the Ssombo River I was shown a path said to have been made by this animal in order to get at its food. The path was fresh and there were plants of the described type [a liana] nearby."

In 1920, a 32-man expedition was sent from the United States to search for the mokele-mbembe. The team found large, unexplainable tracks on the bank of a river and also hear "roars, which had no resemblance to any known animal." But, during a train ride through a flooded area, their train derailed and tipped over, leaving four dead and half a dozen seriously injured.


Sanderson went to Africa in 1932, and that year he encountered what may have been mokele-mbembe.

First, Sanderson came upon some odd, hippo-like tracks. His native guides told him they were made by a creature called "mgbulu-eM'bembe." Sanderson also saw something swimming that was too large to be a hippo, but the creature disappeared before he could determine what, exactly, it was. Maybe it was mokele-mbembe?


That wasn't Sanderson's only odd encounter in Africa. He also had a run it with a flying creature, which some people think is a surviving pterosaur. It's called the kongamato.


The kongamato is a mysterious flying monster, and is believed by some to be a pterosaur. The name "kongamato" means "overwhelmer of boats" and the creatures are said to attack people on boats when they get too close. The creature is said to be a reddish color and has a beak full of teeth. Frank Melland first wrote about the creature in his book In Witchbound Africa (1923), which he said the natives described as "a lizard with wings like  a bat." The wingspan is between 4 and 7 feet, and it is featherless. When Melland showed them a drawing of a pterosaur, they identified it as kongamato.
Kongamato - "The Overwhelmer of Boats"

Now, to Sanderson's encounter.


During the same time he was in Africa and may have spotted a mokele-mbembe, Sanderson also had an encounter with a flying cryptid creature. He and others had made camp near a river, and one evening Snaderson shot and killed a large, fruit-eating bat. That dead bat fell into the river, so Sanderson waded out to get it. As he went towards it, he lost his balance and fell. He steadied himself, but when he did, his companion yelled "look out!"

Below is the encounter in Sanderson's words:

"And I looked. Then I let out a shout also and instantly bobbed down under the water, because, coming straight at me only a few feet above the water was a black thing the size of an eagle. I had only a glimpse of its face, yet that was quite sufficient, for its lower jaw hung open and bore a semicircle of pointed white teeth set about their own width apart from each other. When I emerged. it was gone. George was facing the other way and blazing off his second barrel. I arrived dripping on my rock and we looked at each other. 'Will it come back?' we chorused. And just before it became to dark to see, it came again, hurtling down the river, its teeth chattering, the air 'Shss-shssing' as it was cleft by the great, black, dracula-like wings. We were both off guard, my gun was unloaded, and the brute made straight for George. He ducked. The animal soared over him and was at once swallowed up in the night."

Sanderson and George made it back to their camp and Sanderson asked the natives "What kind of bat is this large and all black?," spreading his arms to show the size of the wingspan. The response he got was "Olitiau." Sanderson told the natives he had encountered the creature at the river, and they immediately fled.

In their book Cryptozoology A to Z, Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark note that "A large flying animal, possibly a giant unknown bat or more improbably a Jurassic pterosaur seen throughout sub-Saharan Africa, is called Kongamato or, less frequently, Olitiau or Sasabonsam."  So, it is likely that kongamato and olitiau are the same animal. It also seems that kongamato may not be a surviving pterosaur, but a giant bat of some kind.


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