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Chipekwe Coudray

Illustration of the chipekwe by Philippe Coudray, combining features of the first and third animals.


It’s a Chipekwe

Chipekwe is a Bemba word roughly equivalent to "monster," used to refer to at least three different cryptids of Lake Bangweulu in Zambia, one of which is highly reminiscent of the Emela-Ntouka reported from the Republic of the Congo. The infamous "Kasai Rex" photograph was also mistaken for a photo of the chipekwe by Franz W. Grobler.

The original chipekwe was the first of Central Africa's supposed living dinosaurs to be heard of by Europeans. Initial reports were vague - various explorers were told by the locals around Lake Bangweulu, North-Eastern Rhodesia, that there were no hippopotamuses on the lake because of the hippo-eating "chipekwe", which rarely if ever left the water. Based on this information and on the discovery of a Bushman painting of a dinosaur-like animal, zoo owner Carl Hagenbeck speculated that the chipekwe could be a living sauropod dinosaur. Hagenbeck's theory, alongside talk of another supposed living dinosaur, the nzéfu-loï (which is now theorised to be a water lion) prompted a number of expeditions into Africa to search for a Brontosaurus. Hagenbeck himself sent an expedition, which was forced to turn back due to disease.

European settlers near the lake also heard about the chipekwe. J. E. Hughes gathered several reports, including those of Robert Young, who claimed to have encountered an unseen animal on the lake which left a wake like that of a steamer; and was told that a group of locals who entered Lake Young to hunt hippos were killed by the "Guardian Spirit of the Lake," which capsized their canoe. Hughes was also given a third-hand account of a 19th Century chipekwe hunt, in which an animal described as having a smooth dark body without bristles, and a single smooth, polished, white ivory horn upon its head or snout, was speared to death by Aushi hunters. The description of the animal is similar to that of the Emela-Ntouka, with which the chipekwe is synonymised by cryptozoologists including Karl Shuker. Some other researchers believe the reports may refer to elderly, aggressive hippopotamuses.

The second type of chipekwe was reported by a Zambian local who claimed to have seen a number of them among the swampy edges of Lake Bangweulu on several occasions, including in 1928. This chipekwe was described as being a little larger than a hippopotamus, with shaggy hair, paddles rather than feet, and two large downward-pointing fangs. Like the original chipekwe, it was said to kill hippopotamuses. This chipekwe is immediately reminiscent of the water lions - presumed riverine sabre-toothed cats - reported from further north. Significantly, J. E. Hughes also wrote that a huge, short-tailed "water panther" had been seen in the swamps around the lake. An incident reported to R. M. Green in 1906, in which a hippo had its throat torn out by a chipekwe in the Lukula River, may also refer to this animal - a torn-out throat is more likely to be caused by fangs instead of a horn, and the original dinosaur-like chipekwe is reported from lakes, not rivers.

Chipekwe elephant

Chipekwe painting by Jirka Houska

The third chipekwe was only reported once, in May 1954, by one Alan Brignall. He reported seeing a small head atop a long neck rise out of the water of the lake. The head had a distinct brow, a blunt nose, and a visible jawline.


  • Heuvelmans, Bernard (1955) On the Track of Unknown Animals
  • Mackal, Roy P. (1987) A Living Dinosaur? In Search of Mokele-Mbembe
  • Eberhart, George (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology
  • Heuvelmans, Bernard & Rivera, Jean-Luc & Barloy, Jean-Jacques (2007) Les Félins Encore Inconnus d’Afrique