The Nandi bear or chemosit (Kalenjin: "devil") is a cryptid reported from the highlands of western Kenya, in East Africa. Usually described as a shaggy, slope-backed predator reminiscent of a hyena, it is widely regarded as a composite cryptid, created by the lumping together of reports describing distinct animals, both known species and genuine cryptids. Some of the cryptids or folkloric beings united under the name "Nandi bear" include the afformentioned chemosit, the baboon-like koddoelo, and the shivuverre; other names applied to it include "Mubende beast," "nyangau" (Swahili: "bloody beast"), and several variations on the name "giant forest hyena".
Most cryptozoologists regard the "core" Nandi bear seen by Williams and Hickes as a single cryptid, although even this is sometimes split into two seperate cryptids, a hyena-like animal and a baboon-like animal. Identities put forward for it range from misidentified hyenas to giant baboons or living short-faced hyenas, or even living chalicotheres. Whatever its identity, no sightings of the Nandi bear have been reported since the 1990's, and much of its alleged range has been deforested and transformed into farmland and towns since, though the most recent sightings emanate from regions which still have some forests.
Although regarded as a monkey by some tribes, eyewitness sightings of the Nandi bear uniformally describe a shaggy animal very similar to a hyena. Its size is consistently given as "very high forward, 4 ft. 3 ins. to 4 ft. 6 ins. at the shoulder," "nearly 5 feet high," "about as high as a lion," and "about four to five feet in height ," and all reports note that its back slopes down from the shoulders, like a hyena. The head is said to be notably large, with unusually large and powerful jaws and teeth, and a stumpy, bear-like snout. The ears are small, "very short," or small and rounded, and its tail is usually reported to be rather short and tufted or hairy, whilst the feet are said to be large. It is frequently described as having "fore quarters [which] were very thickly furred, as were all four legs, but the hind quarters were comparatively speaking smooth or bare," and legs which are "very shaggy right down to the feet". The colour of this fur is said to be tawny, to gingery-brown, to dark brown.
The earliest known sighting of the Nandi bear was made by Geoffrey Williams and his cousin, with the Nandi Expedition to the Uasin Gishu, in 1905, although Williams did not report the sighting until 1912. He reported seeing the animal, which was 5' high and both sat like and greatly resembled a bear, sitting on its haunches near the Sirgoit Rock. Before he could do anything, the animal "shambled away" with "a sort of sideways canter".
A spate of sightings, which introduced the Nandi bear to the wider world, occurred during the construction of the Magadi Railway in British East Africa, principally in 1912 and 1913. The most famous sighting was that reported by railway engineer G. W. Hickes on 8 March 1913, at around 9 A.M.. Travelling to railhead via motor trolley, Hickes saw what he initially took to be a hyena:
Hickes realised afterwards that the animal was the unknown "bear" which had been seen, and considered stopping to pursue the beast, which he could still see in the distance, before remembering that the other engineers were waiting for him. He intended to return to the spot during the return journey to examine the tracks, but they were washed away by rain. Shortly afterwards, the native servant of a Mr. Archibald claimed to have seen a very similar animal, which he said was standing on its hind legs. A sub-contractor, Mr. Caviggia, had already reported seeing a very similar animal the year previous.
Sightings continued into the Twentieth Century, and in around 1914 one was reported to have been killed near Kapsowar after killing several villagers. Another example of a man-eating Nandi bear struck in that same year in unnamed Kenyan village, where it killed a six year old girl. Colonial administrator William Hichens was dispatched to hunt the beast, and though he set up a perimeter around his tent, during the night an animal with "the most awful howl [he had] ever heard" tore down the tent and carried off Hichens' dog, leaving behind enormous clawed tracks. Hichens later wrote of the "sheer demoniac horror" of the beast's howl. A couple of years later, a "giant hyena" killed twelve cattle near Tuso, and sometime before 1936, a settler in Trans-Nzoia claimed to have been attacked by an 8' tall animal "like a grey polar bear" which broke into his hut.
Some of the latest sightings have occurred on the Chemomi Tea Estate in the Nandi hills. In 1957 or 1958, Douglas Hutton supposedly shot two large (3' 3) hyena-like animals with sloping backs, heavy mains, short broad heads, and small ears on the estate. The bodies were layed out in the factory and seen by the staff, who later described them, before being sent to Coryndon Museum, Nairobi, where they were identified as "giant forest hyenas". Un July 1981, some locals around the estate claimed to have seen a "nyangau," (Swahili: "dirty dog" or "bloody brute"), a wild animal which was not a hyena, a baboon, or a pig, and which was described similarly to the animals shot by Douglas Hutton. Another, similar animal, described as a lion-sized, shaggy-haired "giant forest hyena" with large teeth, was shot elsewhere in Kenya by a big game hunter in 1962. In another 1960's incident, engineer Angus McDonald claimed to have been chased around his hut in Kipkabus by a 7' tall ape-like animal which ran bipedally and quadrupedally. The latest known sighting occurred on a road running along the base of the Nandi Escarpment in February 1998, when enginer Dennis Burnett and his wife observed a very large, shaggy, bear-like hyena.
Although the Nandi bear's tracks have frequently been described, no known casts were ever made, and only one image exists: a rough sketch made by Fritz Schindler of a track found in mud near the Magadi Railway. Bernard Heuvelmans suggested that this track was in fact two honey badger footprints, one superimposed over the other.
As mentioned above, no less than five or six Nandi bear specimens have allegedly been shot over the years, only to disappear upon being sent to London's Natural History Museum, or, in one case, the Coryndon Museum. The material thus vanished includes a skin; a skin and a skull; an entire specimen; an unknown amount of bones from two individuals; and the skeleton, skin, tracks, and photographs of one individual.
Some have suggested that the Nandi bear could be explained by spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta), especially erythristic (red-furred) individuals, which would supposedly be unfamiliar. However, other than the physical details, many of the Nandi bears reported behavioural attributes are inconsistent with the spotted hyena, and Captain Hichens wrote that hyenas are so common around African villages that a villager confusing one with the Nandi bear would be like an Englishman confusing a rabbit with a fox.
Although any mistaken identity other than a brown hyena is not considered a good explanation for the "core" Nandi bear, the shaggy animal seen by Williams, Hickes, the Huttons, etc., a number of supposed "Nandi bear" sightings describing very different animals can be explained by mistaken identity, as first examined by Bernard Heuvelmans in On The Track of Unknown Animals (1955). The most notable of these are the multiple sightings - occurring in 1912, multiple times during the 1930's, and on other, undated occassions - which refer to the animal as relatively small, with black fur, and sometimes a pointed head. Bernard Heuvelmans felt that these sightings referred to the honey badger (Mellivora capensis), which sometimes turns entirely black as it grows older and larger, presenting an unfamiliar sight - alternatively, he speculated that they might represent a much larger subspecies of honey badger.
In March 1913, District Commissioner N. E. F. Corbett reported having a glimpse of what he thought was a Nandi bear: he described it as lightly built, with "hick, reddish-brown hair, with a slight streak of white down the hindquarters, rather long from hock to foot, rather bigger than a hyena, with largish ears". From his description, Heuvelmans felt that he had seen an African hunting dog (Lycaon pictus). Another anomalous "Nandi bear," reported from the Kipsanoi River by Charles Stoneham and described as having a pig-like snout, an enormous tail, and large circular ears, is considered likely to have been an aardvark - Stoneham himself thought it was a mutant aardvark.
To explain the shaggy, slope-backed animals often described as giant hyenas, many cryptozoologists have turned to the fossil record. Bernard Heuvelmans, in his original examination of the case, felt that a good identity would be some form of giant baboon, perhaps similar to the prehistoric Dinopithecus, based on the animal's appearance and behaviour as well as its reported gait, which was identical to the pithecoid gallop of monkeys. The Mau, Nandi, and Wa-Pokomo people describe the "Nandi bear" as an ape or an enormous baboon, and some early investigators such as Captain Hichens and A. Blayney Percival also theorised that "the brute" may be a monkey. Giant baboons, far larger than any known species, have also been reported from East Africa independently of the Nandi bear (see The Menagerie of Marvels: A Third Compendium of Extraordinary Animals (2014) by Karl Shuker).
Perhaps the most well-known theory, first proposed by Charles William Andrews in 1924 and later supported by Louis Leakey, is that it may be a living chalicothere, a horse-like animal with a sloping back. This theory originated with the discovery of very recent chalicothere bones in Uganda, and the observation that chalicotheres were contemporaneous with the ancestors of the okapi, which famously still exists in the Congo's Ituri Rainforest. Chalicotheres, however, were herbivorous animals (though they may have been aggressive), and were presumably slow-moving.
In light of the Nandi bear's hyena-like attributes, which are especially apparent in the most recent accounts, Karl Shuker has suggested that it may represent a living relative of the short-faced hyena (Pachycrocuta brevirostris), which was larger than any modern hyena and is known to have lived in East Africa until the Late Pleistocene. Almost all of the more recent Nandi bear sightings describe the animal as a giant hyena.
In popular media
- The Nandi bear was featured in a Gold Key Comics' Tarzan #134 (March 1963), in a story called "The Hunting of the Beast," in which it is battled by Tarzan. Although portrayed as a bear-like animal (with long ears, like the ngoloko), it is referred to as a chalicothere. This version of the Nandi bear also appeared in Gold Key Comics' Korak: Son of Tarzan #28 (April 1969), in which Korak rescues a race of miniature people from it.
- The Nandi bear appears on card #29 of the Weird n' Wild "Monsters of the Mind" card set. Oddly, it is depicted as having only a single eye, like a cyclops, in the centre of its brow.
- The chemosit appears as a magical beast in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, where it is depicted as a 9' tall, half-ape-half-bear creature with black fur. Like the real Nandi bear, the chemosit is said to eat its victims brains, and to have a terrifying roar.
The Malawi terror beast, a large, man-eating, hyena-like animal reported from Malawi, has some similarities with the Nandi bear. Patrick Bowen and Frank Lane theorised that attacks carried out by the mngwa, a feline cryptid, could be blamed on the Nandi bear.
The map is automatically displayed in labelled mode: for a better experience, it is advisable toand enter satellite mode. Click on a marker for more details on a sighting. Please note that the majority of the sighting locations are not absolutely precise, unless otherwise mentioned.
- Heuvelmans, Bernard (1955) On the Track of Unknown Animals, Routledge, ISBN 978-1138977525
- Heuvelmans, Bernard "Annotated Checklist of Apparently Unknown Animals With Which Cryptozoology Is Concerned", Cryptozoology 5 (1986)
- Shuker, Karl P. N. (1995) In Search of Prehistoric Survivors: Do Giant 'Extinct' Creatures Still Exist?, Blandford, ISBN 9780713-724691
- Shuker, Karl P. N. (1997) From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings, Bounty Books, ISBN
- Shuker, Karl P. N. "A Supplement to Dr Bernard Heuvelmans' Checklist of Cryptozoological Animals," Fortean Studies 5 (1998)
- Eberhart, George M. (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology ABC-CLIO, Inc. ISBN 1-57607-283-5
- Muirhead, Richard "Some Notes on the Nandi Bear," Flying Snake 1 (2011)
- Heuvelmans, Bernard & Rivera, Jean-Luc & Barloy, Jean-Jacques (2007) Les Félins Encore Inconnus d’Afrique, Les Editions de l'Oeil du Sphinx, ISBN 978-2914405430
- Shuker, Karl "A Fossil Nandi Bear?," Fortean Times 380 (June 2019)
- Williams, Geoffrey "An Unknown Animal on the Uasingishu", Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society 4 (1912)
- Hobley, C. W. "On Some Unidentified Beasts", Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society 6 (1913)
- Hickes, G. W. "Notes on the Unknown Beast Seen on the Magadi Railway" Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society 6 (1913)
- Hobley, C. W. "Unidentified Beasts in East Africa", Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society 7 (1913)
- Percival, A. Blayney "The Chemosit", Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society 8 (1914)
- Courtney, Roger (1936) Africa Calling
- Copley, Hugh "Nandi Bear?," East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society 70 (September 1941)
- Someren, G. R. Cunningham van "The Nandi Bear", EANHS Bulletin (1982)
- Lead image artist & source unknown
- Track sketch from Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society 6 (1913)
- Spotted hyena
- Brown hyena
- Black honey badger from Coudray, Philippe (2009) Guide des Animaux Cachés, Editions du Mont, pp. 101, ISBN 978-2915652383
- Short-faced hyena
- Guinea baboon
- Chalicothere digital reconstruction by Philip72, source unknown - Image background
- Black-and-white Nandi bear illustration from Wikimedia Commons & cryptid.ru
- Screencap from "Poltergeists of Pompeii/Nandi Beast". Destination Truth: Series 4, Episode 1 (35)