Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

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Saturday, 5 July 2014

THE EMELA-NTOUKA – NEW CORROBORATIVE EVIDENCE FOR THE CONGO'S CRYPTIC 'KILLER OF ELEPHANTS'?

Reconstruction of the emela-ntouka (© David Miller under the instruction of Prof. Roy P. Mackal)

I've been promising ShukerNature readers for almost a year now that I'd write up this fascinating discovery and post it – so now I have done, and here it is!

A little over 30 years ago, the most famous creatures of cryptozoology were Nessie, the yeti, a sundry array of sea serpents, and the North American bigfoot. In 1982, however, following his return to the USA in December 1981 at the end of the second of two expeditions to the People’s Republic of the Congo (formerly the French Congo), veteran American cryptozoologist Prof. Roy P. Mackal revealed to an astonished media and general public that the elusive swamp monster that he had been searching for in the Congo may conceivably be a living dinosaur! A new cryptozoological star had been born – an elusive long-necked mystery beast bearing an extraordinary outward resemblance to a sauropod, and known to the local Congolese pygmies as the mokele-mbembe. But this wasn't the only Congolese cryptid that Mackal's team had learnt about during their forays there. Less familiar but definitely no less interesting was a second major mystery beast claimed by the pygmies to inhabit that country's vast Likouala swamplands – a truly extraordinary (and exceedingly formidable) horned creature known to them as the emela-ntouka, or ‘killer of elephants’.

Another reconstruction of the emela-ntouka (© Hodari Nundu/Deviantart.com)

The size of an elephant itself, but semi-aquatic, the emela-ntouka is said to have a long heavy tail, four sturdy legs, and, most notable of all, a very long, sharp horn borne upon its snout. On first sight, this cryptid sounds like some form of rhinoceros. However, its long heavy tail differs dramatically from the short, lightweight version possessed by all known rhino species. So too does its horn, for whereas those of rhinoceroses are nothing more than masses of compressed hair, according to native testimony the emela-ntouka’s is said to resemble the ivory tusk of an elephant. As ivory is only associated with tusks and teeth, not horns, however, it is probable that if the pygmies' claim about it is correct, the emela-ntouka's horn is composed of bone.

Its behaviour is also very distinctive. Although wholly herbivorous, the emela-ntouka is claimed to be extremely belligerent, so much so that if even something as mighty as an elephant or buffalo enters a lake in which one of these creatures is residing, the latter will not hesitate to attack the intruder - stabbing and disembowelling its hapless victim with its formidable snout-horn.

An emela-ntouka facing off a wary herd of elephants (© William Rebsamen)

Following his own investigations of this extraordinary beast, Mackal proposed, albeit cautiously, that it may actually be a surviving ceratopsian or horned dinosaur – i.e. belonging to a group of huge herbivorous dinosaurs that included such prehistoric stalwarts as Triceratops and Styracosaurus. Many ceratopsians possessed more than one horn, but at least one famous example, Centrosaurus (formerly called Monoclonius), bore only a single horn, at the end of its nose – and reconstructions of Centrosaurus certainly recall descriptions of the emela-ntouka. Moreover, because the horns of ceratopsians were true horns (composed of bone), not compressed hair, they may well have resembled ivory, just like the emela-ntouka’s; and all ceratopsians had long heavy tails, providing yet another match with the emela-ntouka.

Modern restoration of Centrosaurus in life (© Nobu Tamura/Wikipedia)

Indeed, the only major discrepancy between the pygmies' description of this cryptid and palaeontological reconstructions of ceratopsians is that the latter dinosaurs bore a huge bony frill around their neck, protecting this otherwise-vulnerable body region from attack by carnivorous dinosaurs, whereas no such frill has been reported for the emela-ntouka. However, if the latter beast is indeed a surviving ceratopsian, it is the product of 64 million years of continued evolution, i.e. from when the most recent fossil ceratopsians died out right up to the present day - a immense period of time during which evolution could readily have engineered the reduction or complete elimination of a frill (especially as such a heavy accoutrement would no longer be needed following the extinction of the mighty carnivorous dinosaurs).

The emela-ntouka envisaged as a reptile (© Sebastian Tawil)

Equally interesting is that, as with the mokele-mbembe, reports of creatures resembling the emela-ntouka are not confined to the Congo’s Likouala swamplands. The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) also has its own counterpart, dubbed the irizima, and there are even reports from as far west as Liberia. Moreover, several notable East African lakes, including Lakes Bangweulu, Mweru, and Tanganyika, as well as the Kafue swamps, are said to be inhabited by a very comparable cryptid known as the chipekwe, which kills hippopotamuses with its horn, but does eat them. Occasionally, one of these aggressive animals has itself been killed by native hunters, but, sadly, no remains have ever been made available for scientific analysis. However, the ivory-like horn is said to be highly prized by them, so perhaps there is a chipekwe horn or two preserved in a local chief’s dwelling somewhere in East or Central Africa and awaiting discovery by a sharp-eyed Western explorer, scientist, or missionary?

The emela-ntouka/chipekwe as portrayed in its jungle swampland domain, complete with hippos! (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Meanwhile, French cryptozoologist Michel Ballot has lately found what may be the next best thing. Since 2004, he has conducted a number of excursions into Cameroon, seeking evidence for the existence of unknown aquatic beasts. In 2005, during his second expedition, travelling through a region of northern Cameroon bordering the Central African Republic, he visited a village where he saw (and purchased) a large, truly remarkable wooden carving. It depicted in great detail a strange beast with four sturdy legs, a long heavy tail, and a head whose nose bore a long horn.

Although this carving doesn’t match any known animal alive today, as can be seen from the photograph of it reproduced below in this present ShukerNature blog article (and also click here for Michel's own account of it, with additional photos) it is a faithful representation of the emela-ntouka.

Photograph of the more detailed, better-known of the two emela-ntouka carvings encountered by Michel Ballot in Cameroon (© Michel Ballot)

Interestingly, this carving portrays the emela-ntouka with a pair of small frilly ears, almost like miniature elephant’s ears, a feature not previously reported for this cryptid but which, if genuinely possessed by it, indicates a mammalian rather than a reptilian identity. Moreover, in his own account Michel revealed that in 2005 he had actually found not one but two such carvings, in separate locations and created by separate artists, but identical in appearance. Judging from the photo below of the second one, however, it is less detailed and less well-executed than the first, more famous carving.

Photograph of the second, less-publicised emela-ntouka carving encountered in Cameroon by Michel Ballot (© Michel Ballot)

Now, in a ShukerNature world-exclusive, I can reveal a third, independently-obtained but undeniably corroborative piece of iconographical evidence for the veracity of this specific morphological identikit relative to the emela-ntouka.

And here is where that remarkable piece of evidence came to light. Situated in the Central African Republic (CAR), to quote from their website (click here) the Dzanga Sangha Protected Areas or APDS:

"…are internationally known for their beautiful rainforests, host to a remarkable diversity of wildlife, comprising western lowland gorillas, forest elephants, bongo antelopes, forest buffalos and a multitude of bird species. Furthermore, a rich local culture, comprising the Sangha Sangha fishermen as well as hunting and gathering BaAka, are present in the area. Apart from conservation and local development efforts, Dzanga Sangha operates as an eco-tourism and research centre. A variety of well developed tourism activities and a beautiful hotel complex, overlooking the Sangha River, are at your disposal.

"Sharing borders with Cameroun and Congo, the Dzanga Sangha Protected Areas are part of the Trinational Sangha (TNS) complex, currently in the process to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Roundtrips to the other National Parks (Lobéké in Cameroun and Nouabalé Ndoki in Congo) can be organized with ease."

Dzanga Sangha (public domain)

On 8 August 2012, I receieved a fascinating email and attached set of four photographs from Anette Stichnoth of Hannover, Germany. The photographs, taken by a friend of hers from the above-mentioned APDS and named Cem Kok, were of four drawings on display at the first, now-dismantled Dzanga Sangha Exhibition (Cem was currently working on the second one), held in the APDS - with whom Anette was working in the capacity of utilising its exhibition's artworks as designs on souvenirs, such as t-shirts and mugs, that could be sold to APDS visitors in order to raise money for the area's continuing conservation. In relation to this, she asked me if I had any idea what the entities were that the drawings depicted, because she wanted to produce an information card for each one but no-one whom she had previously contacted had been able to identify them.

The artist responsible for these four drawings was a Frenchman named Jean Claude Thibault, who had produced them during the early 1990s or late 1980s. He had lived in the Central African Republic (a former French colony) for a number of years, but could not be contacted personally concerning his drawings because he had died in Bangui, the CAR's capital, a couple of years ago.

After examining Thibault's drawings, it was clear to me that they were nothing if not interesting from a cryptozoological standpoint. Three of them depicted humanoid or semi-humanoid beings, and are exclusively documented in a separate ShukerNature blog article (click here) - but the fourth one was very different, and is reproduced below.

Thibault's fourth drawing from the first Dzanga Sangha Exhibition (©  Jean Claude Thibault)

As can be seen, it portrays one elephant fleeing in the background, plus a second one that has been stabbed in its underside by a horned beast bearing an uncanny resemblance to Michel Ballot's Cameroon-procured emela-ntouka carvings!

In order to compare those works of art directly, I have horizontally flipped one of Michel's photographs of the more detailed of the two Cameroon emela-ntouka carvings, thereby enabling its orientation to match that of the creature in Thibault's drawing. So here now are the two images placed alongside one another:

Michel Ballot's Cameroon-procured emela-ntouka carving (top); and Thibault's Dzangha Sangha Exhibition drawing, cropped to concentrate upon the horned beast depicted in it (bottom) (© Michel Ballot/(©  Jean Claude Thibault)

And as can be readily discerned, there is no doubt whatsoever that these two artworks are indeed depicting the same species of animal – whatever that may be! Every major morphological feature - from those strange little frilly ears, and sharp vertical snout-horn, to the very long, broad, sweeping tail with its distinctive dorsal ridge or keel, and the relatively short, sturdy, bent legs with well-differentiated digits - is portrayed in an identical manner by the carving and the drawing. Even the seemingly stylised, non-differentiated pointed teeth are the same in both pieces.

Fascinated by this extraordinary correspondence between works of art created in two entirely different countries by artists very unlikely to have ever seen each other's work, I swiftly emailed Anette for additional information. Unfortunately, however, she didn't have anything further of substance to offer me at that time, but promised to contact me again once she had obtained more details – and almost exactly a year later, she did so.

On 18 August 2013, Anette emailed me a series of descriptions for the four drawings that she had lately been given by a CAR local with knowledge of his country's legendary creatures and entities. The one depicting the emela-ntouka was labelled as 'Mokele-Mbembe', and the creature was said to inhabit the deepest stretches of the River Ndoki. Referring to it as a mokele-mbembe may seem strange on first sight. However, as I discussed in my book In Search of Prehistoric Survivors, in central Africa (i.e. not just the CAR but also the two Congos, Cameroon, etc) the long-necked lake-dwelling cryptid (mokele-mbembe) and the horned lake-dwelling cryptid (emela-ntouka) are often conflated in local reports, with features of one sometimes being wrongly attributed to the other, so this is not as surprising as it might otherwise seem.

Cropped version of Thibault's emela-ntouka drawing (© Jean Claude Thibault)

Due to how astonishingly similar Thibault's CAR emela-ntouka drawing was to Michel Ballot's Cameroon emela-ntouka carvings in terms of the creature's morphology, I had initially wondered whether the former had been directly copied from the latter. Perhaps Thibault had seen online images of the Cameroon carvings? However, when I learnt that Thibault had produced the drawing a decade or more before Michel had even encountered the carvings, let alone photographed them and brought them to public attention by uploading the photos onto the internet, it is surely evident that they are of independent origin, neither one influenced by the other. After all, it is highly unlikely that the Cameroon villagers responsible for the carvings had ever seen Thibault's drawing, which had only been exhibited publicly within the CAR, never outside it.

Equally relevant is that although the carved animals and the drawn one possess identical morphologies, the specific poses respectively adopted by them are not the same at all. Both carved animals are standing stationary, in a neutral behavioural pose, with the head held at a normal height, the hind limbs close together, and the tail (curving to the right in the original, non-flipped version of Michel's photograph of the first carving, to the left in the second carving) held laterally for much of its length and very close to the body. The drawn animal, conversely, is in ferocious attack mode, with its head lowered as it belligerently drives its horn into the body of its hapless pachyderm victim, its hind legs splayed well apart in order to brace itself as it performs the powerful thrusting stab with its horn, and its tail (curving to the left) held out further away from its body in a much wider arc and portrayed throughout its length from above. In short, the two carved animals and the drawn animal indisputably portray the same species, but the two carved animals' shared pose is very different from the drawn animal's - thereby further indicating that the drawing was not copied from or influenced by the carvings or vice-versa.

Yet as the carvings and the drawing correspond with one another so closely morphologically speaking, we must conclude that the image of the emela-ntouka provided by them is an accurate one – that it really does possess small frilly ears, a vertical snout-horn, bent legs, and a very broad, lengthy, powerful tail. The ears alone are enough to demonstrate that it is clearly mammalian in nature (as they are clearly bona fide ears and not, for instance, an abbreviated ceratopsian frill), thereby eliminating a surviving ceratopsian dinosaur from serious consideration in the future. Yet it does not compare with any known species of mammal. Indeed, it is not even possible to allocate this mysterious creature with ease to any existing taxonomic order of mammals. Having said that, however, the image of it yielded by the carvings and the drawing does remind me a little of Arsinotherium zitteli.

Restoration of Arsinotherium zitteli in life (© Dmitry Bogdanov/Wikipedia)

Dating from the late Eocene, this was a massive elephantine horn-bearing species of fossil African ungulate belonging to the extinct order Embrithopoda. Named after eminent palaeontologist Dr Karl Alfred von Zittel and Queen Arsinoe I, the wife of the Egyptian pharaoh Ptolemy II (its remains were found in present-day Egypt's Faiyum Oasis), it was believed to have been aquatic in lifestyle, spending much of its time wading and swimming in rainforest swamps rather than walking on land, as it was unable to straighten its legs (thus recalling the emphatically bent legs of the emela-ntouka depicted in the drawing and carvings). Moreover, it is particularly famous for its pair of truly enormous, laterally-sited snout horns, composed of bone but hollow and covered in keratinised skin.

Skeleton of Arsinotherium zitteli (© Dr Karl Shuker)

According to their known fossil record, embrithopods officially died out almost 30 million years ago (Arsinotherium was their last known genus), but could the emela-ntouka possibly be a single-horned, scientifically-undiscovered, modern-day representative? The hefty, lengthy tail, however, poses a notable problem - why would an embrithopod evolve such a decidedly non-ungulate feature? Going full circle, a more conservative alternative would be a species of semi-aquatic water rhinoceros, as first suggested by certain cryptozoologists many years ago. Yet in spite of its single horn, the heavy-tailed creature portrayed by the carvings and drawing bears scant resemblance to any of the diverse array of rhino forms on record from either the present day or prehistoric times.

Currently, therefore, the emela-ntouka remains an enigma, but at least it is one that now appears to have a well-defined albeit extremely perplexing morphology.

Swedish artist Richard Svensson's delightful take on the emela-ntouka (© Richard Svensson)

If you wish to learn more about or offer assistance to the Dzanga Sangha Protected Areas (APDS), please visit their website here.

For an extensive account of the emela-ntouka, chipekwe, and other African counterparts, check out their coverage in my book In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995).



UPDATE: A SECOND THIBAULT DRAWING OF THE EMELA-NTOUKA

Today, 9 July 2014, I received an extremely interesting email from French cryptozoologist Michel Raynal (thanks Michel!), which provided me not only with additional information concerning the emela-ntouka drawing by Jean Claude Thibault documented here, but also with sight and details of a second one prepared by him, as now revealed.

The drawing already documented here was #12 of twelve Thibault drawings of mythological/legendary entities from the CAR that in 1996 were featured in a special calendar produced by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in the CAR to raise funds for the Doly-Lodge Project in Bayanga, the largest village within the APDS. So this was not a worldwide calendar, but one specifically for the APDS in the CAR. The emela-ntouka drawing subsequently reappeared in 2000 within an article concerning this cryptid published in issue #3 of the Bangui-based anthropological periodical Zo, and written by Alfred J-P. Ndanga, from Bangui University's Department of Anthropology and Palaeontology. Intriguingly, throughout the article Ndanga referred to the creature not as the emela-ntouka but rather as the mokele-mbembe - another instance of conflating these two great water cryptids of central Africa. 

As for the second Thibault drawing of the emela-ntouka: this appeared in a Congolese newspaper (date and title currently unknown to me), and is reproduced below (note that once again this cryptid is mis-labelled as a mokele-mbembe):


The emela-ntouka (© Jean Claude Thibault)





16 comments:

  1. Dear Dr. Karl Shuker, sorry for my bad english. I'm Zero from Italy and read your blog for a long time, compliment for your excellent work. I wanted to ask you a question: do you know some italian cryptid? For example the Lariosauro or the Tarantasio dragon?

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    1. Hi Zero, Thanks for your kind words. I know that Lariosaurus is a genus of fossil nothosaur, and the Tarantasio dragon supposedly lived in a Gerundo Lake southeast of Milan but was killed by a knight from the Visconti family.

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  2. Perhaps the emela- ntouka really is a ceratopsian dinosaur, and the ears depicted on the statue are a interpretation of the creature's frill. Same goes for the drawing, as we know that the artist has a habit of contorting his creatures.

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  3. The drawing's artist did contort the elephant being stabbed, but the frilled ears of the emela-ntouka in that drawing are portrayed in exactly the same manner in both carvings too, which were created independently of the drawing, so I think that they are depicted accurately and hence are indeed ears, and thus mammalian.

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    1. In fact, the details of the carvings are incredibly well replicated by Thibault's illustration, to so high a degree I find it far more likely that he had encountered one of those or similar carvings and, history has omitted such contact, than that he had details of the creature conveyed to him with such precision that he was able to reproduce so perfect a duplicate.

      The muscular tail depicted in the emela-ntouka carvings is every bit as distinctly reptilian to me as the ears are mammalian. My feeling has always been they show a mythical composite creature, comprising the tail of something like a monitor lizard, the body of perhaps a hippo, the head of a rhino, and the ears of an elephant.

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    2. Thank you for your insight. I still think the ears being frills is a possibility though, simply cause I think a reptilian identity is more plausible than a mammalian one. But you are the expert.

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    3. @Peter Byrdie - Thibault's drawing (one of four that he produced together depicting Central African Republic mythological/cryptozoological entities - my next ShukerNature blog post will reveal the other three) was prepared during the early 1990s or late 1980s in the Central African Republic (CAR) but never made public until just a couple of years ago (and even then, only in the CAR), whereas the two carvings were created independently of one another by villagers in two completely separate villages in Cameroon, and again received no outside publicity until seen by Michel Ballot in 2005, so it seems highly unlikely that Thibault saw these sculptures - indeed, judging from the above dates,, he had probably already produced his drawing before the sculptures had even been created. And he had lived in the CAR for many years, dying there too, in its capital, Bangui, so again it seems very unlikely that he had ever found his way into those two particular remote villages in Cameroon. The simplest and certainly the most plausible explanation for the similarity between drawing and sculptures is that they were all basing their artworks on traditional descriptions of the emela-ntouka. I don't think that it's a composite, because very similar descriptions are also given by natives outside the CAR and Cameroon, re the chipekwe and irizima.

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  4. Could the Rothchilds tusk be from the hippo killer animal?

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    1. When I first read about the Rothschild tusk many years ago I wondered exactly the same thing, but after reading the Rothschild-Neuville paper on the tusk it was clear that it really was a tusk and not a horn.

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  5. Could the carvings and drawings not have been based on a lost/as-yet-unknown earlier depiction? I think we would have heard more about this creature had a Westerner really seen it so recently. Alternatively, they could simply both be representations of the "traditional" description of this creature, with the elephant-stabbing also pointing in this direction...

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    1. The Westerner, Frenchman artist Jean Claude Thibault, didn't see it personally - he was merely producing a series of four drawings depicting various Central African Republic mythological/cryptozoological entities - my next ShukerNature blog article will reveal the other three of his drawings. So yes, both his drawings and the Cameroon carvings are indeed representations of the traditional description of the emela-ntouka.

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  6. Actually, Ceratopsians were very different from the descriptions of Emela-ntouka. They were fully terrestrial rather than semi-aquatic, and had very different skin. A recently-found Triceratops mummy shows that the belly had large, square scales, while the back was covered in round pebbly scales interspersed with large scutes. These scutes have been found in other ceratopsian skin impressions, so it would seem that this was the norm for them.

    Furthermore, the primitive ceratopsian Psittacosaurus is known to have had long, bristley quills on the back of its tail. Based on structures found on the Triceratops mummy I mentioned eariler, scientists think it may have had them too. The fact that these structures are found both in primitive and advanced ceratopsians suggests that they all head them to some extent, another inconsistency with the Emela-ntouka. While it's true that a modern Ceratopsian would have 66 million years of evolution behind it, these features were found in all ceratopsians for nearly 100 million years and never went away. It would seem odd for them to disappear in a modern member of the group.

    Also, ceratopsian frills were almost useless for defence because in almost all species they had large holes in them to reduce weight (Triceratops is the exception, but if Torosaurus turns out to be its adult form then it has a holy frill too). They were very fragile structures and seem to have been used more for communication and display than for defense.

    If there is anything behind Emela-ntouka, it would have to be a mammal of some sort, but my personal feeling is that it doesn't exist, and is instead folkloric.

    Sincerely,
    Tyler Stone

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    1. 66 million years is a very long time for evolution to utilise, and in w world where reptiles had ceded their domination to reptiles, who knows along which routes continuing evolution may have taken a post-KT ceratopsian? So I feel there is only a limited degree of information that can be drawn from fossil ceratopsians when attempting to speculate on the possible appearance of a 21st Century survivor and it is risky to be too adamant on what such a creature could or could not look like. Bearing in mind that mammals 66 million years ago were small, generalised creatures, it would be difficult indeed to have predicted from such animals how diverse mammals would be 66 million years later.

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  7. The tellings of the Emela-Ntouka killing elephants with his horn reminds me of the Karkadan (Persian for rhinoceros). A mythical single horned beast said to live on the grassy plains of Persia and India. The Karkadan was highly territorial and would kill elephants from underneath with it's horn.

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  8. Dr. Shuker sorry for my english, i'm argentinian, I was also thinking about the possibility of the arsinoitherium being the emela ntouka and here are my reasons:
    -Arsinoitherium was a relative of elephants, could had some large ears too, as the emela ntouka carving has?
    -Emela ntouka is said to make some characteristic noises, and arsinoitherium had hollow horns that could be use as a resonator.
    -As Roy Mackal said, the tail of emela ntouka may be a confusion with the mokele mbembe.
    -Seen in profile, arsinoitherium looks like it has one single large horn.
    -About the ngoubou, some websites describes a type of ngoubou that inhabits rivers, having two horns side by side. (I personally believe that ngoubou and emela ntouka are the same animal)
    -The legend of emela ntouka could be based on historical arsinoitherium sightings.
    -And as we know, remains of this prehistoric animal was found in Africa, and is believed that could lived in habitats very similar to emela ntouka.
    It is only my opinion.
    Could all this stuff be possible Dr. Shuker? Thank you very much.

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  9. However, its long heavy tail differs dramatically from the short, ... hybridswimshorts.blogspot.com

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