Heavy breathing and a grunting noise heralded the brute’s emergence into the open of the runway. It had evidently heard them and was bent on making trouble. Scott had never imagined a beast so peculiar; in size, it was as big as a buffalo and stood fully that height at the shoulder: the hind-quarters sloped down like those of a hyena, and it had the hyena’s short, coarse hair, but here all similarity to that cowardly animal ceased. It had an enormous square head and short ears like those of a lion, a long snout with protruding incisors and a small, red-tinged eye. The creature moved like a large ape, its lengthy arms hanging down before it, the paws just touching the ground, and Scott was amazed to see that these paws were like an ape’s: prehensile, and equipped with thumb and fingers. …
‘Ahi…i…e ! the Nandi Bear,’ gasped one of the boys, through chattering teeth.
C.T. Stoneham – ‘The Bear of the Nandi’, in Killers and Their Prey
The above quote is from a short story of fiction, but its subject may be only too real. Also known variously as the chemosit, kerit, koddoelo, gadett, and khodumodumo, Africa's legendary Nandi bear must surely be one of the (if not THE) most formidable, ferocious mammalian cryptids ever documented, judging at least from the horrific experiences claimed by some of those persons who have allegedly encountered it at close range. Having said that, this infamously-aggressive, murderous monster has scarcely been reported for at least 60 years now, leading even the most optimistic mystery beast investigators to suspect that even if it were indeed real, it may have simply died out, quite probably as a result of its once-extensive, dense, rarely-penetrated Nandi and adjacent (once-contiguous) Kakamega Forest domain having been severely cut back and turned into farmland. Irrespective of its terrifying, ultra-dangerous nature, the loss of such a creature before its very existence had been confirmed and its taxonomic identity formally determined would be a profound zoological tragedy.
However, thanks to an ostensibly unrelated yet very significant (albeit extremely belated) palaeontological discovery made public just a short time ago, some decidedly chemosit-shaped shadows have begun to rise and thence flit tellingly through the collective cryptozoological consciousness.
One day in 2013, while conducting postgraduate research at Kenya's Nairobi Museum, palaeontologist Matthew Borths from Ohio University, USA, happened to open a cabinet drawer, and made a truly incredible discovery. Inside the drawer was an enormous fossil lower jawbone bearing some teeth, plus some individual teeth, a heel bone, and some distal toe bones. When enquiring about these mysterious remains, Borths learned that they had originally been collected as far back as 1978-1980 during various scientific excavations at an early Miocene-aged fossil bed named Meswa Bridge, in western Kenya, but had never been formally examined by anyone, lying forgotten and unstudied in that drawer for over 30 years instead. Moreover, he discovered that another Ohio University palaeontological researcher, Nancy Stevens, had also seen them in that same drawer and had puzzled over them when she too had been conducting research at Nairobi Museum.
After Barths contacted her, they lost no time in researching these remains comprehensively, and revealed that they belonged to a hitherto-undescribed but quite enormous species of primitive mammalian creodont carnivore known as a hyaenodontid. The hyaenodontid lineage's most recent fossils are around 5-6 million years old (those of the giant new species were some 22 million years old), after which they apparently became extinct. Using three different methods of size estimate, Borths and Stevens obtained estimated total body masses for this very belatedly-recognised species of 280 kg, 1308 kg, and 1554 kg, plus a total length estimated at up to 2.5 m and a height of up to 0.75 m. If the creature had attained the upper estimates of mass, length, and height, it would have been at least as big as the polar bear, today's largest terrestrial mammalian carnivore, but rather less than that if it had only attained the lowest estimates (something not mentioned in media reports).
In a 17 April 2019 Journal of Paleontology paper, they formally named this giant hyaenodontid Simbakubwa kutokaafrika, which is Swahili for 'big lion from Africa'. For although entirely unrelated to it, this huge beast would definitely have been an apex predator in its time, just like the lion is today. All in all, therefore, an exceedingly interesting and significant palaeontological find - but what bearing (if any) does it have upon cryptozoology? Let's rephrase that question as: don't you just love totally random, meaningless coincidences?
Kisumu County in western Kenya contains Meswa Bridge, the site where the long-overlooked remains of a monstrously-huge fossil mammalian carnivore were discovered; and Kisumu County just so happens to be situated immediately below western Kenya's Nandi County, which contains the dense, once-contiguous Nandi Forest where a monstrously-huge mystery mammalian carnivore dubbed the Nandi bear has been reported many times. But what is, or was, the Nandi bear? (Alleged sightings during the past 70 years have been far fewer than back in the early 20th Century, leading to speculation that even if it were real, it may now have died out.)
Maps revealing the very close proximity of western Kenya's Kisumu County (left) and Nandi County (right); maps created by me from Wikipedia maps - please click to enlarge them (public domain)
In fact, this ferocious, greatly-feared cryptid has been described in so many different ways by eyewitnesses down through the years that some cryptozoologists, including Dr Bernard Heuvelmans and myself, have opined in our respective works that the Nandi bear is almost certainly a non-existent composite. That is to say, it has been 'created' via the erroneous lumping together by native traditions and Western investigators alike of sightings of several very different animals, known and unknown.
These may include such disparate species as hyaenas, baboons, large male ratels, and aardvarks. According to some peoples' views, additionally, one or more prehistoric survivors may also be involved, like the giant short-faced hyaena Pachycrocuta brevirostris, the African bear Agriotheriium africanum, the giant baboon Dinopithecus ingens, and/or maybe one of those bizarre claw-footed ungulates known as chalicotheres.
All of these latter creatures were still in existence in Africa as recently as the Pleistocene (2.5 million to 11.7 thousand years ago), as confirmed by fossil finds. (See my book Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors for an extensive documentation of the Nandi bear and its preponderance of proposed identities.)
Should a surviving hyaenodontid (not necessarily Simbakubwa itself, but potentially a reclusive modern-day descendant, one whose morphology and gait may have changed somewhat during the 22 million years of evolution occurring from Simbakubwa's time into modern times) now also be added to this list? Who can say?
Everything about the Nandi bear is highly speculative and fiendishly complicated, but my cryptozoological antennae definitely began twitching when I saw how unexpectedly close to one another were the fossil bed where Simbakubwa's remains were found and the Nandi Forest where the Nandi bear was traditionally reported. Like I said earlier, don't you just love totally random, meaningless coincidences??
Just for the record, I have modified my personal opinion recently as to the most likely identity of the Nandi bear, thanks to a truly remarkable and exceedingly exciting but previously obscure report hitherto unknown to me that I only lately obtained, and which I am now very actively investigating. More news concerning this will appear here on ShukerNature if and when I have it. Meanwhile, for previous ShukerNature accounts appertaining to the Nandi bear, please click here, here, here, here, and here.
Size comparison of Simbakubwa and human (© Mauricio Anton/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)