Saturday, February 8, 2014
Post Revamp: the Nandi Bear
The Mokele-Mbembe is Africa's most famous cryptid. But surely the most infamous is the Nandi Bear. By definition, cryptids are mysterious creatures -- but for the most part, they're not particularly deadly. The Nandi Bear is an exception, known for its reported habit of eating human brains. This creature dwells in eastern Africa, and tends to hunt at night. It is large, slightly smaller than a bear or lion, and lacks a long tail. It has a bearlike snout, a shuffling gait, and longer front legs than hindlimbs. It is said to be a climber of trees, and is much feared by native Kenyans. Due to superstition, some will not speak of it; they view it as a sort of boogeyman.
The Nandi Bear's identity is the subject of fierce speculation. But contrary to what its name implies, the creature is probably not a bear. Only one modern bear species lived in Africa -- the Atlas Bear, now extinct for 120 years. The Nandi Bear could be a relic population, but this doesn't seem probable. The Atlas bear never lived in eastern Africa, and the migration of this species across the Sahara is unlikely. Besides, small bears like this one aren't known to attack humans.
Another popular candidate is the chalicothere -- a prehistoric mammal that shared the Nandi Bear's claws and sloped back. Chalicotheres did live in East Africa, but they went extinct 800,000 years ago. More importantly, all of them were herbivores, and used their claws to strip vegetation from trees. The idea of a brain-eating chalicothere is honestly preposterous.
Somewhat more likely is a giant baboon. Baboons have sloped backs, long fangs, and aggressive temperaments. They've been known to attack humans before, and on occassion they will eat meat. In prehistoric times, gigantic variants did exist, and these reached the size of the Nandi Bear. But all baboons live in packs, while the Nandi Bear is solitary -- and unlike the cryptid, baboons are diurnal.
And so we come to our final candidate, and by far the most likely -- a hyena. Hyenas are deadly predators, and an excellent phyiscal match for the Nandi Bear. They have powerful jaws, short snouts and a sloping back. Their gait resembles the cryptid's, and so do their habits -- hyenas often hunt at night, and occasionally attack humans. What's more, a prehistoric species called the short-faced hyena is about the Nandi Bear's size. It was a known predator of our ancestors -- in fact, one hominin fossil contains bitemarks that match its teeth. Where did the hyena bite its poor victim? Right on the skull, like a Nandi Bear.
Now, the hyena theory isn't perfect. Hyenas tend to go for the faces of human victims, not the braincases. What's more, the people of Kenya know a hyena when they see one -- and typically, they call the Nandi Bear a primate. But no other candidate is very likely, leaving the short-faced hyena as our best bet. Has this species been hiding in Africa for half a million years?
Read more about the Nandi Bear:
Image (of short-faced hyena) from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2e/Short-faced_hyena1.JPG