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Makalala

The description of the Makalala somewhat recalls the phorusrhacids or terror birds, which are believed to have gone extinct around two and a half million years ago. Although the only confirmed terror bird fossils come from the Americas, a possible phorusrhacid, Lavocatavis africana, is known from Eocene Algeria, from a single femur bone. However, terror birds were definitely flightless. Some zoologists have suggested that the secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) of east Africa could be a seriema relative, making it a modern-day terror bird descendant.

The single reference to the Makalala comes from an account written by Fischer, who attributes it to the Wasegua or Wasequa of Tanzania. These people live some 8-9 days’ journey inland from Zanzibar, with Fischer hearing of the Makalala during a stay in Bagamojo and a visit to the Nguru Mountains. Fischer’s observations were summarized and repeated by Marschall under the title “Problematic bird.”

The Makalala is an enormous bird, standing taller than an ostrich, with very long legs. Its head and beak are those of a bird of prey. Its wings end in plates of a compact, horny substance, which make a lot of noise when struck against each other – hence its name, which means “noisemaker.” It is a powerful flyer and feeds on carrion.

For all its size, the Makalala is a very skittish, shy bird. The only way to come close enough to kill it is to feign death, and when the Makalala approaches, the hunter can spring to life and knock it down.

Terrorbirdskeleton

The terror bird Lavocatavis once roamed Africa. It may have resembled the American phorusrhacids, such as this skeleton.

Chiefs of the Wasegua wear Makalala skulls as helmets. Fischer also saw in Zanzibar a baleen-like object tapering from 20 cm to 1.5 cm, and with a thickness of 0.5 cm, but did not believe at the time that it came from a bird.

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