Spot the beast 19

Back to Africa for a while while I develop another story from “Out of Africa”. Poor internet connection and farm work… are attempting against my productivity.

This is not a difficult “Spot the Beast” but I thought it is a nice situation to challenge your power of observation. I would be worried if you cannot find it within the first 10 seconds…

Here it is:







I hope you agree with me that she was not only beautiful but well placed to see what was happening!


A few more pictures of her:



The water elephant

For hundreds of years humanity has discovered and classified the organisms that inhabit our planet. However, even today we continue to find new species. These are not tiny insects but fish, reptiles, birds and mammals, some even very large!

In 2004, while we were working there, United States scientists discovered a new species of monkey in the jungle of the Madidi National Park in Bolivia. The ape, of the group of the marmosets, was placed in the genus Callicebus. Following a novel initiative, its species naming was the result of a contest in Internet won by the Golden Palace Casino. This institution paid U$S 650,000[1] for the name Callicebus aureipalatii that -in Latin- means Golden Palace![2]

So far in 2016 several new species have been found. Some of them are small animals that can be considered difficult to see. However, this is not the case of the seven-metre long Black Whale defined as a new species this year. The finding is so recent that it still does not have its scientific name![3]

In addition, there is a new shark called Ninja lantern shark (Etmopterus benchleyi), found in the sea near Costa Rica in 2015.[4] Again, United States scientists studying aboard the Spanish research vessel Spanish B/O Miguel Oliver, discovered it. The species name refers to Peter Benchley, author of the novel Jaws.[5]

So far we have dealt with the amazing animals that have been discovered. But what about those animals suspected to exist but that we have not yet found? Cryptozoology is the study of animals -“cryptids”- that are believed to exist. The example that comes immediately to mind is “Nessie” the Loch Ness “monster” in Scotland that, despite a long search, continues to be the epitome of the elusive creature.


However, other instances exist of other beasts that had been seen but never confirmed. One of them is supposed to dwell in the Belgian Congo (now Democratic Republic of Congo) and the information comes from a professional hunter called R.J. Cunninghame. This experienced hunter became world famous when he shot dead a hippo that attacked the then US President Theodore Roosevelt while on safari in East Africa in 1909.

A Frenchman named Le Petit told Cunninghame about Water Elephants that he saw in 1907 during his five-year stay in the Congo. Le Petit saw them for the first time while traveling through the river in the wetlands between Lake Leopold II (now Lake Mai-Ndombe) and Lake Tumba.

The first time he saw just a head and a neck that appeared on the water surface. His companions, natives of the place, told him that what he had just seen was a Water Elephant. Later he saw the animals again. This time they were five and he allegedly watched them for about a minute. He described them as between 180-240cm tall with relatively short legs and curved backs, elephant-like.


The water elephant by artist and writer Philippe Coudray. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Their heads were ovoid and elongated with a short trunk of about 60cm in length (tapir-like), but no tusks were seen. Their skin reminded him of hippo skin but it was darker. They walked with an “elephantine” gait that left footprints in the sand with four separate toes. This was the last time they were seen as they quickly disappeared into deep water. His fellow local companions reaffirmed Le Petit that the animals were common in that area and that they spent much time in the water, like hippos.

Interestingly, in the same general area another animal is reputed to exist, known as the Mokele-Mbembe, a creature believed by cryptozoologists to have a prehistoric look similar to “Nessie”. Although several expeditions have searched this area of the Congo, none have found it or the Water Elephant.

However, the Water Elephant existence came to the fore again when in 2005 a pilot flying over Lake Tumba apparently spotted them again. The animals seen would fit the description of Le Petit!

Not many scientists believe that a beast of this size can still be unknown to science. However, the Congo region -like Bolivia and others- has surprised us earlier with the discovery of other interesting creatures. You may also think that what Le Petit saw were African Forest Elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis), considered as pygmy elephants for quite some time but now as small specimens of L. cyclotis. This is unlikely for an experienced observer.

Le Petit’s description would fit that of the Moeritherium if the latter had been taller than its estimated one metre height.[6] Philippe Coudray, who I thank for his permission to use his picture of the Water Elephant, theorizes that elephants regarded as extinct -such as the Water Elephant- could still exist. He bases its reasoning on the finding of a tusk with a reverse curvature to normal elephants in 1904 in Ethiopia. The fact that the tusk was not fossilized would indicate that the animal did not live so long ago. The cryptid species postulated would be smaller than a prehistoric elephant known as the Deinotherium.

During our safaris we have seen elephants with weird-looking tusks.

THis year, while visiting the Kruger National Park, we spotted an elephant with one of its tusks pointing downwards so these tusks are still on live elephants! It reminded me of the Deinotherium-like cryptid!


Did the Water Elephant ever exist or what Le Petit saw were the smaller forest elephants? The area of Congo where they could be is still difficult to access so a final solution to the mystery may yet take a long time. In the meantime we can only wait.


[1] Donated to the Madidi National Park.






Note: This post is a translation and adaptation of an article published in the Spanish on-line Muy Interesante magazine. If interested see:

Nota: Este artículo es una traducción y adaptación de uno publicado en la revista Muy Interesante. Si tiene interés vea:

Another draught victim?

Staying at Satara Rest Camp, following the advice of our Kruger National Park guidebook, we opted to drive along the Timbavati River hoping that there still was some water left and the animals were drinking there. We also had the white lions in mind! We drove to the picnic site but it was almost totally dry so we decided to carry on along the river.


We did not!


Driving along the Timvabati River.


The carapace of a Leopard tortoise highlights the dryness of the Kruger.

Eventually we found some large pools that still had water and, as expected, several animal species were congregated there. We spent some time observing their interaction until it was time to return to our camp.


On the way back we spotted a dead elephant. Although the sight was pitiful, we were already “death-conditioned” after witnessing several dead and dying hippos earlier on along the Lower Sabie River[1]. The animal was laying in an odd position that seemed to indicate a sudden collapse.

We could see that the elephant had some small tusks and, planning on reporting the find to the KNP authorities, we took the GPS coordinates. We looked at it through our binoculars and could not observe any breathing movement. Before we moved on, we noted that there were a couple of other elephants nearby and, aware that elephants have a special attitude when confronted with a dead mate, we decided to stay and observe their reaction.

We were somehow surprised when they just walked passed it without even looking at it! Sooner, our surprise became shock when, suddenly, the dead elephant moved an ear and resuscitated. Eventually, it stood up, stretched and started to feed totally unconcerned.

It was a case of “death by deep siesta”, something we had earlier observed with humans after a heavy lunch in tropical South America.




Doomed bug

In the evening, after returning from a game drive, the traditional endeavor is to have a shower, taking advantage of the excellent facilities that exist in all camps at the Kruger National Park. I, as usual the gentleman, let my wife go first while I kept busy selecting the best pictures to free some valuable memory card space in the always full camera.

That evening at Satara Rest Camp my wife praised the shower quality so, as soon as I was done with the pictures, I hastily took my turn. It was an experience I was not ready for. No amount of tap opening would produce hot water and a cold shower has never been in my agenda, not even in the hottest deserts! Swearing at the new solar power water-heating technology, I aborted the mission and put back my dirty clothes. As usual, my wife overlooked this hazard while -I am sure- suppressing yet another chuckle…

Those who had shared safaris with me would not be fussed about this kind of event taking place. “I have had a good dust shower during the game drive and, after all, animals roll themselves in the dust for a reason!” I was reasoning with myself when my wife called me for dinner. Confronted with her usually outstanding delicacies, I soon forgot about my dusty condition and, after enjoying the meal, my frustration rapidly faded and soon it was time to sleep.

Without thinking clearly, the following morning I went straight into the shower convinced that the (solar!) water heater should have recovered during the night. After a while of running cold water I remembered that the night sun only shines much further North and only at certain times of the year! Hearing my resumed loud protestations my wife intervened and informed me, rather casually, that for some reason in this shower the hot water tap was on the right hand side!

Feeling rather stupid I tried opening the other tap and hot water immediately gushed out and I had a great shower during which I voiced all my conceivable praise for solar water heaters…

The story, however, does not end there. Before leaving the bed to go into the shower, I smelled something really unpleasant in my bed. Thinking that it was probably the residual effect of my unwashed status, I did not know the truth until I returned to the bedroom to dress up, and spotted a rather large stink bug crawling out of the sheets!


First sighting of the bug.

Although I do not know what took place during the night while I shared my sleep with the invertebrate, the latter was in poor condition and it sadly died a few minutes later! Luckily I managed to record its last living minutes so that I can show them to you.

There was no doubt in my mind that overnighting with me in my “showerless” status had taken care of it!


Unfazed by the temporary bug relationship, the bushsnob, sporting at least a clean shirt continued with his activities.