Posted by: John Kirk on April 9th, 2006
The principal purpose of the Cryptosafari/BCSCC expedition to Cameroon a few years ago was to obtain evidence of the elusive saurian known as Mokele-mbembe. However, while Bill Gibbons, Robert Mullin, Scott Norman, Pierre Sima and I were in the bush we encountered people who were adamant that other life forms existed in their part of the world that really ought not to.
One of these was the Ngobou.
A few months before we set out on our expedition, Bill Gibbons and Dave Woetzel made a foray into Cameroon to reconnoiter a possible promising Mokele-mbembe habitat. They ranged over a tremendous area crossing a number of rivers and encountering many Bantu and Baka pygmies. It was while they were visiting with a group of pygmies that they first heard of an animal that was known locally as Ngoubou. Now in those savannah lands of Cameroon, there is a known species of Ngoubou, the rhinoceros, but this was not the Ngoubou the pygmies were referring to.
They all knew what a rhino was, but the Ngoubou they referred to lived in the savannah and was a curious sort of creature with a neck frill a beaky face and several horns. Gibbons sensed that the pygmies were talking about an animal that bore a more than passing resemblance to a triceratops – an animal that had been extinct for 65 million years but was never known to have inhabited Africa. This creature was found in North America primarily from Montana according to the fossil record.
When he returned, Bill advised us of this curiosity and we decided that we would follow up on this when we conducted our own expedition. He was wondering if the pygmies were confusing the creature with the Emela-Ntouka which has been described by Bantu people to animal collector Hans Schomburghk in 1913. This animal is about the size of an elephant, stands on thick legs and curiously possesses a single horn which rises from the end of its snout. Emela-Ntouka in Bantu signifies a “killer of elephants” and it was said to also inhabit Cameroon, Congo, the Central African Republic, Gabon and Zambia.
The pygmies were adamant that their creature had more than one horn and that the father of one of the senior members of the community had killed one with a spear a number of years ago.
We resolved to get to the bottom of this mystery while we were in Cameroon and it did not take long after hitting our search area that we began to find out that the knowledge of Ngobou the unknown creature was widespread. When I say unknown, I mean to us in the western world, because it was certainly known to Bantu and pygmy alike in Cameroon.
I recall us talking to the pygmies while on a trek in the forest. The subject was the Dodu, a hair covered hominid with three toes and fingers on each foot and hand. The Dodu is a story for another time, but while we discussed it, the subject of the Ngoubou arose. Bill had brought with him a binder with a variety of illustrations of living and extinct animals with which to test the faculties of the eyewitnesses of Mokele-mbembe and other sundry unknown African animals. He had inserted several illustrations of triceratops in the binder to see if the witnesses would be able to identify it as the Ngoubou. To a man, the pygmies all said, whilst the triceratops looked like the Ngoubou, it wasn’t the Ngoubou.
Some days later in the pygmy village of Langoue, we were talking to two French-speaking Bantus who seemed to be every articulate and bright men. One of them had personally witnessed a Mokele-mbembe feeding in a river for three hours. We questioned him about the veracity of reports indicating this strange animal called Ngoubou had been sighted. Both these men indicated that Ngoubou was a real animal and known very well in these parts. It was part of the local fauna and they wondered why we were so curious about an animal that, although rare, was taken for granted.
We told them that no one where we come from had heard of a second Ngoubou apart from the rhinoceros. They told us that it lived in the savannah to the west of the river and that nowadays not too many talked of seeing them, but it was accepted that there were still some around. Dutifully, we showed them the drawings of the triceratops and again were rebuffed by the comment that while it looked like the Ngoubou it did not have nearly enough horns and that they were in the wrong place on the triceratops. I asked what they meant by that, the men told us that Ngoubou had six horns on the frill itself and one of them drew the configuration for me on a scrap of paper.
During the rest of our stay we continued to talk to a variety of people who knew of or had seen Ngoubou, but none very recently.
When we returned from our expedition I got down, in earnest, to trying to find out if there was a match for the Ngoubou in the fossil record, bearing in mind that it looked like a triceratops but wasn’t exactly the same. Obviously, I had to look among the ceratopsians as the first point of reference and it did not take me long to find the perfect match for Ngoubou. I nearly had a heart attack when I turned to a page in a book on dinosaurs that featured ceratopsians and saw so clearly the animal that had been so often described and drawn for us in Cameroon.
There in all its glory was the styracosaur, a perfect match for the Ngoubou. The implications of this hit me like a ton of bricks. Here was another saurian that was supposed to have died out ages ago, but Africans – many who have never seen a textbook – had described this animal to perfection. This was as much a thrill to me as finding a Mokele-mbembe.
When I return on our next expedition, I will be armed with a myriad illustrations of the styracosaur and will be anxious to see whether this creature is positively identified as the Ngoubou. If it is then there will be some serious searching in the savannah to do and perhaps some textbooks to be rewritten.