The Kongamato is a flying reptilian cryptid allegedly native to the remote, dense, swampy forests and wetlands of East, Central, and parts of South Africa.
According to folklore, the Kongamato lives in caves in the Mutanda River, Jiwundu swamps, and the Mwinilunga District of northwestern Zambia. It is also allegedly found in the Bangweulu Wetlands of the northeastern part of the country.
There are also alleged sightings of cryptids believed to be the same or similar creatures in East, Central, South-West, and South-Central Africa, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Kenya, Angola, and Zimbabwe.
The oral traditions of the Kaonde people of East and Central Africa described the Kongamato as a flying creature with a beak.
In the book In Witchbound Africa (1923), the explorer and Rhodesian administrator Frank Hulme Melland ((1879-1939)) reported that the oral traditions of the Kaonde described the Kongamato as a winged reptilian with a beak filled with pointy teeth.
The Kongamato was featherless. Its wings consisted of tough, leathery, and reddish skin stretched tight like a membrane over the bony structures of its arms.
According to George Eberhart in his Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology (2002), the creature’s body was 2ft 6 inches to 4 feet 6 inches long. It had a wingspan of 3-7 feet.
Some accounts claimed it had a long and narrow forked tail.
The Kongamato resembled a pterodactyl
Alleged eyewitness accounts suggested that the Kongamato was similar in appearance to the ancient pterodactyls (Pterodactylus antiquus).
Pterodactyls were a genus of reptilian pterosaurs that dominated the skies over Europe and Africa during the Late Jurassic period (c. 150 million years ago).
Melland reported that when he showed the natives drawings of different types of ancient reptiles, they unanimously identified only pterodactyls as the Kongamato, even though they had no previous knowledge of pterodactyls.
In his book Tales of Zambia (1996), Dick Hobson reported that in the 1920s, Headman Kanyinga, a chief of one of the clans native to the Jiwundu Swamp region on the Zairean border (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) with Zambia, unhesitantly identified a drawing of a pterodactyl as the Kongamato.
An article by the journalist Maurice Burton published in the Illustrated London News in 1958 reported native accounts about a flying creature similar to the prehistoric pterodactyls living in the Bangweulu Swamps of northeastern Zambia (Dick Hobson, 1996).
The Kongamato was a fearsome monster
The natives considered the Kongamato a fearsome monster more dangerous than man-eating lions.
Such was the intensity of the dread in which they held the monster that they never attempted crossing certain rivers in northwestern Zambia without carrying protective charms known as “muchi wa Kongamato.”
They believed the charms protected them from the swamp monster’s deadly attacks.
The Kongamato was the destroyer of boats
In the Kaonde language (KiiKaonde), the name Kongamato means “destroyer of boats.” It referred to alleged attacks against people traveling on forest waters.
[Note: The Kaonde language is spoken across Central Africa, especially Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the language is known as Kiluba.]
Kaonde folklore claimed that the Kongamato lived downstream of rivers and that it may stop the flow of rivers causing canoes to stop midstream despite frantic paddling.
The monster also made river levels rise, causing boats to capsize and occupants to drown.
When it kills a human, it allegedly prefers to eat the little fingers, toes, earlobes, and nose.
Melland reported that Central Africans recounted tales about people killed in Kongamato attacks. In 1911, the cryptid allegedly killed two men and two women traveling on the Mutanda River near the village of Lufumatunga.
However, skeptics claimed the natives tended to ascribe river-related deaths to Kongamato attacks. When people drowned, the villagers would say the Kongamato killed them.
Sightings and Tales
Reported sightings of the Kongamato were commonplace among natives of the forest and swamp regions of Zambia and neighboring Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo or DRC).
George Ward Price, 1925
During a visit to Zimbabwe in 1925, the natives reportedly told the explorer George Ward Price (1886-1961) about a flying monster with a long beak that lived in the swamps and attacked people.
A man who claimed to have survived a Kongamato attack screamed in terror when Price showed him a drawing of a pterodactyl.
Reported sightings were rare among European travelers, explorers, and colonists, but a few have occurred.
J.P.L. Brown, 1956
A European engineer named J.P.L. Brown reported sighting a flying reptile near Zambia’s Lake Bangweulu in 1956 (George Eberhart, 2002).
Brown visited the Kasenga area in the Haut-Katanga province of the DRC and was driving back to Salisbury (Harare) in Zimbabwe. At about 6 p.m., he stopped at Fort Rosebery (Mansa) west of Lake Bangweulu in the Luapula Province of Zambia.
While by the roadside, he noticed two large creatures flying leisurely in formation across the sky. The creatures had tails, long heads, and wingspans of about 3.5 feet. They looked like pterodactyls.
Brown gazed after them as they flew past and noticed that one opened its mouth, revealing a row of pointy teeth.
In 1957, an African presented at a local hospital near Fort Rosebery (Mansa) with a deep wound in the chest. He told doctors that he survived an attack by a flying beast at the Bangweulu swamps.
When asked to sketch the beast that attacked him, he drew a creature similar to a prehistoric pterosaur.
Winged creatures similar to the Kongamato
The Kongamato is only one of several types of winged serpents, dragons, or reptilian monsters that feature in the folklore of African peoples.
Some cryptozoologists suggested that the Cameroonian Oliatiu, a nocturnal batlike creature, could be the same creature as the Kongamato.
The cryptozoologist Ivan T. Sanderson reported that he and the naturalist Gerald Russell sighted the Oliatiu while exploring the forest in Cameroon as part of the 1930s Percy Slanden Expedition.
African people native to districts near Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Kenya also shared tales about nocturnal flying dragons called the Batamzinga.
Members of the Awemba tribe who live near the Zambezi River claimed that ancient-looking flying reptiles lived in caves on the cliffs along the great river.
Reports of similar pterodactyl-like creatures have also come from Angola.
A Kenyan student, Steve Romandi-Menya, reportedly claimed that forest-dwelling people of Kenya continued reporting Kongamato sightings until the late 1990s. He said the creatures were carrion eaters. They fed on human corpses and dug up bodies buried in shallow graves.
However, there have been no recent reported sightings of the Kongamato. It suggested to cryptozoologists that they might have gone extinct.
What was the Kongamato?
Although cryptozoologists often compare the Kongamato to a pterodactyl, biologists have proposed several known and extant animal species to explain the African legends.
The Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex) is a long-legged wading bird native to the forest swamps of East Africa. The species’ habitats range from South Sudan to Zambia.
They are called shoebills because of their heavy bulbous bills. Shoebills are large and tall birds. Adults may weigh up to 7kg and stand up to 55 inches.
Their wingspan may exceed 8.5 feet.
The Southern ground hornbill
The Southern ground hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) is a heavy turkey-like bird native to Africa. Its natural habitat extends from Kenya in East Africa to South Africa.
They feed on insects and small animals and spend time hunting on the ground. However, they are also graceful in flight despite being a large species.
Adult individuals may stand as high as 4 ft 3 inches and weigh more than 6kgs. The wingspan may reach 5 feet 11 inches.
The Saddle-billed stork
The Saddle-billed stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis) is also a large wading bird with long legs that belongs to the same family as storks (family Ciconiidae).
The species is widely distributed across sub-Saharan Africa, from The Gambia, Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), and Senegal in West Africa to Sudan and Ethiopia in East Africa, and parts of South Africa.
It is a large and tall bird. Adults may stand as high as 4 ft 11 inches- 5 ft 11 inches. The wingspan may reach 8 ft 10 inches. Adult males may weigh more than 7.5kg.
Lord Derby’s scaly-tailed squirrel
Other species proposed to explain the Kongamato legend include Lord Derby’s scaly-tailed squirrel (Anomalurus derbianus), an animal native to West and Central Africa.
It is a nocturnal animal that glides with the help of membranes attached to the sides of its body. Individuals fly more than 800 feet.
However, they are herbivores that live on leaves, nuts, and fruits.
|destroyer of boats
|Angola, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia,
|Forest, Jungle, Lake, Marsh, River, Swamp
In Witchbound Africa: An Account of the Primitive Kaonde Tribe & Their Beliefs, Frank Hulme Melland (1923).
Tales of Zambia, Dick Hobson, 1996.
Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, George M. Eberhart, 2002.
Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors: The Creatures That Time Forgot? Karl Shuker, 2016.
https://karlshuker.blogspot.com/2016/11/still-in-search-of-prehistoric.html, “Still in search of prehistoric survivors,” accessed on March 1, 2023.
https://www.genesispark.com/exhibits/evidence/cryptozoological/pterosaurs/kongamato/, “The “Kongamato” of Africa,” accessed February 28, 2023.