“What the Abominable Snowman is to Asia, or the great Sea Serpent is to the oceans,” writes natural historian Frank W. Lane, the Nandi Bear “is to Africa. It is one of the most notorious of those legendary beasts which have, so far, eluded capture and the collector’s rifle.”
Africa is the only continent officially without a member of the bear family Ursidae. Unofficially, it has the Nandi Bear, which is indeed a misnomer. Since the time of Herodotus, natives and colonists throughout East Africa have reported confrontations with a huge, dangerous part-bear/part-hyena. Reputed to kill both people and livestock, it is called—depending upon the particular region—chimisit, kerit, shivuverre, sabrookoo, koddoelo, ikimizi, or kikambangwe. More commonly, it is known simply as the Nandi Bear, after the local Kenyan tribe.
In the Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society, Geoffrey Williams of the Nandi Expedition wrote of his sighting in the early 1900s:
I was travelling with a cousin on the Uasingishu just after the Nandi expedition, and, of course, long before there was any settlement up there. We had been camped… near the Mataye and were marching towards the Sirgoit Rock when we saw the beast… I saw a large animal sitting up on its haunches no more than 30 yards away… I should say it must have been nearly 5 feet high… it dropped forward and shambled away towards the Sirgoit with what my cousin always describes as a sort of sideways canter… I snatched my rifle and took a snapshot at it as it was disappearing among the rocks, and, though I missed it, it stopped and turned its head round to look at us… In size it was, I should say, larger than the bear that lives in the pit at the “Zoo” and it was quite as heavily built. The forequarters were very thickly furred, as were all four legs, but the hindquarters were comparatively speaking smooth or bare… the head was long and pointed and exactly like that of a bear… I have not a very clear recollection of the ears beyond the fact that they were small, and the tail, if any, was very small and practically unnoticeable. The colour was dark…
Other reports come from the workers on the Magadi Railway then under construction. Railway employee Schindler came upon a series of clear canine-like, 8.5-inch-long tracks with five toes instead of four and a long heel. Sketches of these tracks show their unique character. On March 8, 1913, G. W. Hickes, the engineer in charge of building this railway through East Africa, saw a Nandi Bear. While travelling on a motor trolley at twenty-five miles per hour, he spotted what first appeared to be a hyena about fifty yards straight ahead. Though the “hyena” had seen Hickes and was heading off the line at a right angle, the trolley was approaching faster than the animal could make its escape through the eighteen-inch-high grass of the open country.
Hickes wondered what a “hyena” was doing out at nine in the morning, then realized that it was not a hyena. The animal was about as tall as a lion and tawny in colour. Its thick-set body had high withers and a broad rump. Its neck was short, its nose stumpy, its ears short. As it ran off with its forelegs and both hind legs rising at the same time, Hickes noted that its shaggy hair reached right down to its large, mud-covered feet.
Once past, Hickes realized that what he had seen was the strange beast that many had either heard of or reported seeing during the railway’s construction. He recalled that engineers had first spotted a strange footprint in the mud. Not long afterward, a native servant had seen such an animal much like the one Hickes had just observed standing on its hind legs. Subsequently a subcontractor had seen it or an identical specimen. Then as now, witnesses mentioned a thick mane, long claws, large teeth, and an upright stance of six feet.
Hickes’s account, which was collected by the anthropologist C. W. Hobley who traveled about Africa gathering native traditions in 1912-13, is but one element of this strange beast’s confusing history. What the local people, the Nandi, had long called the chimisit or the chemosit, the British named the Nandi Bear because of its footprint and tendency to rise up on its hind legs, and of course its association with the Nandi tribe. Mixed into reports of this large baboon-like beast are also sightings of what may be large black honey badgers (Mellivora capensis) and the savage deeds of spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) of unusual size or color. Some reports argue for identification of the animal as a hyena, possibly an undiscovered species. Bernard Heuvelmans senses some may be related to the aardvark (Orycteropus), possibly a third species (two, O. capensis and O. aethiopicus, are already known), or a form of fossil baboon. The Nandi tribal members tend to think of the Nandi Bear as a primate, specifically a huge baboon. Mark A. Hall and Loren Coleman concur that the Nandi Bear may be a variety of unknown giant baboon.
The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters,Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature
Written by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark – Copyright 1999 Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark