The Nandi bear is a ferocious cryptid allegedly native to Kenya, East Africa. The folklore originated among the Nandi people of western Kenya.
Most reports of the creature come from Nandi County and surrounding areas, including the Uasin Gishu Plateau in the North Rift.
The cryptid derives its name from its historical association with the county and its people.
The native people call the cryptid kerit or chemosit, meaning “the devil.”
[Note: The Nandi, a subgroup of the Nilotic Kalenjin, have their capital city at Kapsabet, Nandi County, in the North Rift of Kenya, formerly the Rift Valley Province.]
The first written descriptions of the Nandi bear come from accounts by European explorers, cryptozoologists, and colonists, such as the British colonial administrator Charles William Hobley (1867-1947) and the American cryptozoologist Gardner Soule (1913-2000).
The Nandi bear is a ferocious carnivore
Folklore describes the Nandi bear as an aggressive carnivore with nocturnal hunting habits. It is a bear-like beast that stands on all fours but may also stand on its hind legs or sit on its haunches. Some accounts claimed it looked like an oversized hyena.
Eyewitness descriptions suggest it is a stout creature about 3.5 -4.5 feet at the whithers. It is more than 5 feet high when standing on its hind legs.
Its back slopes towards its hindquarters because its front legs are much longer than the hind legs. It reportedly has a shaggy mane that covers most of its front quarters and forelegs.
The creature has reddish, tawny, or dark fur. It has an elongated head, a protruding snout, a stubby nose, red eyes, a prominent canine, small ears, and a vestigial tail.
The creature has baboon-like tracks. It is agile on the ground but has an ungainly, lopsided, and bounding gait. It is nimble and can leap over high fences with ease.
It has a moaning or howling call.
The Nandi bear eats brain tissues
The creature allegedly attacks livestock, pets, and humans. It targets vulnerable or solitary people.
The Nandi bear can leap over high fences, so it sometimes steals into villages at night and carries off children and infants.
It allegedly scalps its human victims. It then splits open their skulls and feeds on soft brain tissues.
Although most accounts suggested a bear- or hyena-like creature, investigators such as Richard Meinertzhagen, a British soldier and self-acclaimed ornithologist, suggested it could be an unknown primate species.
Sightings and Tales
According to Gardner Soule, known reports of the Nandi bear date back to the 19th century. But natives likely passed down accounts of the cryptid over several generations.
Europeans who visited Nandi communities in the 19th and 20th centuries learned about the mysterious creature from the natives. The natives described it as a savage creature that killed livestock, pets, and humans.
Reports of the Nandi bear or similar creatures have also come from Southern Kenya and Uganda.
Geoffrey Williams, 1905
According to George Eberhrt in his Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, Geoffrey Williams was one of the first Europeans to report sighting the Nandi bear.
Williams reported encountering the creature in 1905 near the Sergoit Rock in Uasin Gishu, western Kenya.
He saw the creature sitting on its haunches from about 30 yards. He thought the creature looked like a bear, so he nicknamed it the Nandi bear after the people who first described it.
Major Toulson, 1912
In 1912, Major Toulson reported sighting a hairy black beast while camping at Uasin Gishu, western Kenya. He saw the creature after it fended off the dogs and attempted to enter a camp kitchen.
When the dogs started barking, the creature ran away with a hobbling gait, making a moaning call. Toulson estimated that it stood about 20 inches at the shoulders.
G. W. Hickes, 1913
G.W. Hickes, a railroad technician, reported in March 1913 that he sighted a strange beast that looked like a hyena near the Magadi Railway in southern Kenya.
He watched the beast from about 50 yards and felt sure it was not a hyena.
Some cryptozoologists identified the creature known as the Magadi Railway beast with the Nandi bear, but others insisted on distinguishing them.
Kapsowar sighting, 1914
In 1914, villagers killed a creature believed to be the Nandi bear at Kapsowar, a town in the modern-day Elgeyo-Marakwet County in the North Rift of Kenya.
However, there are no records of qualified personnel examining the carcass to confirm the animal’s zoological identity.
William Hichens, 1925
The British colonial administrator Captain William Hichens, who reported sighting the Agogwe (an East African humanoid) in the forests of north-central Tanzania, also allegedly experienced what might have been an encounter with the Nandi Bear.
The colonial administration sent him to investigate reports of wild animal attacks in a rural district. He reported that a strange beast with a terrifying roar attacked their camp at night and carried off a dog.
Charles T. Stoneham
A European trader Charles T. Stoneham reported sighting a strange beast with unusual features at his trading station in Sotik, Kenya, in the 1930s.
The creature was about the size of a lion. It had a porcine (pig-like) snout, hyena-like ears, and a short thick tail.
Stoneham ran inside to get his gun, but the creature had gone before he returned.
He thought it looked like a giant anteater (suborder Vermilingua), but his friends told him it was likely a Nandi bear.
Other sightings in the 1930s involved Capt. F. D. Hislop at Kapsabet and Gunnar Anderssen at Kaimosi.
In the late 1950s, Douglas Hutton shot and killed two beasts at the Chemomi Tea Estate, Nandi district. Experts at the Nairobi Museum reportedly identified Hutton’s creatures as giant forest hyenas (George Eberthar, 2002; Karl Shuker, 2021)
Nandi bear explanation
Although many claimed to have seen the Nandi bear, African wildlife experts have no evidence of its existence.
No one ever provided evidence of its existence. Thus, wildlife experts and naturalists could only speculate about its identity.
Most experts believe that alleged sightings were most likely due to mistaken identity. Locals might easily have mistaken known species of wild animals for cryptids, especially during terrifying close encounters.
Citing fellow cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans, Karl Shuker noted that the traits ascribed to the Nandi bear were so variable that it was unlikely that all accounts described only one cryptid species.
He thus suggested that the cryptozoological picture of the Nandi bear is a composite of different animals.
Native species that people might have mistaken for a Nandi bear include:
The Atlas Bear
A favorite candidate for the Nandi bear is the Atlas bear, Ursus arctos crowtheri (also known as the North African bear).
The Atlas bear is the only known bear native to the African continent. It became extinct in the late 19th century.
Some cryptozoologists proposed that Nandi bear sightings in the 20th century could be due to surviving Atlas bears living in Kenya.
The British vertebrate paleontologist Charles William Andrews (1866-1924) once proposed controversially that native descriptions of the Nandi bear appeared to match an extinct species of animals known as Chalicotheres (genus Chalicotherium).
Chalicothere lived in Africa, North America, Europe, and Asia, in the Middle Eocene and Early Pleistocene (c. 49-1.8 million years ago). The strange creatures had forelimbs longer than their hind limbs and walked on clawed feet.
However, the suggestion by Andrew did not gain traction because Chalicothere was an herbivorous species. Native accounts of the Nandi bear claim it was a ferocious carnivore that preyed on animals and humans.
Native accounts that the Nandi bear can transition from walking on all fours to walking on two legs led to the suggestion that some witnesses might have mistaken a gorilla or another species of anthropoid ape for a strange cryptid.
Richard Meinertzhagen was a proponent of the anthropoid ape/ gorilla theory.
The suggestion that the creature could be an anthropoid ape species also appeared supported by accounts that claimed that the back of the Nandi bear sloped from front to back and that the hind legs were shorter than the forelegs.
However, Meinertzhagen proposed that given the rarity of Nandi bear reports in the early 1900s, the alleged anthropoid ape species might have gone extinct.
Regarding the alleged extinction of the Nandi bear, some investigators noted that reports of the beast decreased dramatically after the rinderpest epidemic (cattle plague) of the late 1800s.
The spotted hyena
Some skeptics proposed that eyewitnesses might have misidentified the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) as a strange carnivorous creature.
The British Natural History Museum also claimed in a report that the culprit in many Nandi bear sightings turned out after investigation to be the spotted hyena (John Guy Dollman, 1932).
Spotted hyenas live in many countries and regions of sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya.
Several cryptozoologists also proposed the short-faced hyena, a genus (Pachycrocuta sp.) that became extinct in the middle Pleistocene about 400,000 years ago.
The honey badger or ratel
The honey badger or ratel (Mellivora capensis) is another species that skeptics suggested people might have mistaken as a cryptid.
They are native to many parts of sub-Saharan Africa and occupy diverse habitats.
Other suggestions include:
Giant baboon (genus Papio)
African wild dog (Lycaon pictus)
Giant forest hog (Hylochoerus meinertzhageni)
African civet (Civettictis civetta)
After analyzing the Stoneham story, Cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans suggested the Aardvark (Orycteropus after).
|Chemosit, Kerit, Koddoelo, Ngoloko, Duba, Booaa, Duba
|Countryside, Farmland, Forest
Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, Eberhart, George M. (2002).
Cryptozoology A to Z: The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters, Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature, Loren Coleman & Jerome Clark (1999).
https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.b3301066&view=1up&seq=74, “Game animals of the empire,” John Guy Dollman, the British Museum, 1932, accessed on March 18, 2023.
https://karlshuker.blogspot.com/2021/04/how-nandi-bear-was-conclusively.html, “How the Nandi bear wa conclusively identified and contentiously lost- Or was it?” accessed on March 18, 2023.
https://karlshuker.blogspot.com/2022/04/mapping-out-nandi-bear.html, “Mapping out the Nandi bear,” accessed on March 18, 2023.