Monday, January 20, 2014

Post Revamp: the Kongamato

I've written about the Kongamato before-- in fact, it's the first cryptid I profiled on this blog.  Fitting, then, that it features in my first-ever post revamp.  Eventually, I hope to improve and recreate all of my old blog entries.  I wrote them in ninth grade, and as you might expect, they're not high-quality stuff.  The Kongamato deserves better treatment, and now I have a chance to provide it.

So what is the Kongamato?  Last time I wrote about the creature, I had a very clear idea.  I was convinced that the animal was a relict pterosaur-- a survivor of the Mesozoic era.  This isn't an unusual theory, and it's been passed around since the 1920s.  Congolese natives describe the Kongamato as a leathery-winged flying beast, with sharp teeth and a  very long tail.  There are plenty of pterosaurs with those traits-- perhaps the closest match is Rhamphorhynchus (pictured above).  This pterosaur was small, with a six-foot wingspan that matches the Kongamato's.  It also lived by rivers and ate fish, just like the cryptid here described.

But some things about the pterosaur explanation don't add up.  Especially suspicious are the origins of the theory.  In the early 20th century, Congolese tribesmen told European explorers of the Kongamato.  Without ever seeing the creature, the explorers then identified the beast as a pterosaur.  They showed pictures of Rhamphorhynchus to the natives, who agreed that it resembled the cryptid.  But they failed to compare the Kongamato to less sensational animals-- like large birds or bats.

This "leading of the witness" is not uncommon in cryptozoology.  In the early 1900s especially, dinosaurs held a huge grip on the imagination of European scientists.  They desperately wished to find living specimens-- perhaps hiding in some unexplored corner of Africa.  Explorers were thus extremely willing to identify cryptids as dinosaurs.  Almost every African beast has been compared to a prehistoric one:  Mokele-Mbembe might be a sauropod, Emela-Ntouka might be a ceratopsian, and Kongamato might be a pterosaur.  Could there really be a "lost world" of Congolese dinosaurs?  Perhaps.  Is it particularly likely?  No.

This doesn't mean that the Kongamato isn't real.  In fact, there's a fair body of evidence for it-- multiple claimed attacks, drawings by locals, and plenty of Congolese folklore.  If the Kongamato exists, though, it's most likely a large bird or bat.  It could be a misidentified stork-- there are plenty of these in Africa, and they're large enough to be mistaken for a pterosaur.  But since the Kongamato is reportedly nocturnal, a bat is a more likely culprit.  There are plenty of enormous chiropterans in the old world-- and this cryptid may be an unidentified Congolese species.

Another theory relates to the Kongamato's name-- which means "overturner of boats."  It has been suggested that the Kongamato is not a flying creature at all-- but that it represents a freshwater stingray.  Stingrays have leathery wings and whiplike tails like the Kongamato-- and a large one, rising from beneath, could certainly overturn a canoe.  Was the flying element of the Kongamato a later addition to the story, or a European corruption?  It's certainly possible that this "pterosaur" is in fact a fish.

Read more about the Kongamato:
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