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On The Track of The Gbahali

Posted by: Loren Coleman on December 20th, 2007

Cryptomundo Exclusive

I am an American working in Liberia, West Africa with an international relief and development organization. I have always had a bit of an interest in cryptozoology, and enjoy your website.

Liberia is covered in dense rainforest and has a low population density. Because of its long civil war (now over), it has been almost totally neglected by biologists and other scientists.

In my work in northwestern Liberia I have been hearing reports about several animals which may be of interest to you. Most notable is a large amphibious reptile known as the “gbahali”.

It is described as being like a crocodile or monitor lizard, but much larger (up to 25 or 30 ft long). It has an armored back with three rows of serrations running down it, a powerful tail, and a short snout with many large teeth. It is known to be an ambush predator, carrying its prey underwater to drown before coming on shore to eat it.

I talked to a number of eyewitnesses who have seen this creature in recent years. I traveled to a village deep in the forest where fishermen used to actually catch these animals. They would use nets and shotguns to kill them, before butchering them and selling the meat in local markets. They told me that they used to have a skull of the animal in the village, but it was destroyed along with everything else when rebels set fire to the village. When I showed the villagers a picture of a Postosuchus taken off the internet, they all agreed that that is how the head and body of the gbahali looks, although the legs are semi-erect like a crocodile.

Postosuchus
Postosuchus

The river in which these creatures are said to live is very remote, passing through large areas of unihabited forest. They are said to mainly be seen during the rainy season, when they travel upstream to look for food. They are greatly feared by the local population, because they have been known to kill people.

As recently as this November 2007, someone was attacked and killed by a large unknown animal near a village called Gelema, on that river. The United Nations police went to investigate, and found out that only the man’s head and a few body parts were left on the river bank. In this same village, the town meeting house was built according to the length of a gbahali that was killed there in years gone by.

I know this might sound sensational, like a bad monster movie or something. I have lived in Liberia and have heard my share of tall tales about dwarfs and jinns and so forth. However, there is nothing fantastic or supernatural in the accounts I have been hearing. To them this is just another kind of water animal, albeit a very large and dangerous one! I talked to at least three people in different villages who have had encounters with these animals. I have also heard about a picture that was taken in the last ten years of this creature as people were trying to capture it. I hope to spend some time in the coming year investigating these reports further.~ Sincerely, John-Mark Shephard, December 19, 2007.

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


25 Responses to “On The Track of The Gbahali”

  1. Ceroill responds:

    Fascinating. One I’d never heard of, to be sure.

  2. Hawkeye responds:

    Very interesting hope to hear more of this in the future

  3. Christoph responds:

    awesome report! Thanks! And keep updates coming!

  4. fmurphy1970 responds:

    This sounds very promising. Definately worth further investigation. Just a pity the civil war situation will hamper further study

  5. Quacker1 responds:

    Do crocs live in Liberia?

  6. mystery_man responds:

    Quacker1- Liberia is actually home to several species of crocodile. The West African Dwarf crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspas), the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus), and the African Sharp Nosed crocodile also known as the African gavial (Crocodylus cataphractus), all can be found in Liberia.

    Interesting story on a cryptid I had not heard of. Thanks for the exclusive!

  7. Dragonheart responds:

    A very interesting case. Thank you for sharing… To me it sounds like a new kind of crocodile (although a very large one), because of how the legs were described. More research needs to be done on this one.

  8. Rappy responds:

    Although I doubt the beast is a postosuchus, this does fascinate me. Maybe it is a subspecies of the Nile crocodile, or even better, a 24th species of crocodilian?

  9. John-Mark Sheppard responds:

    There are three species of crocodiles in Liberia. Two are dwarf species which rarely reach more than five or six feet in length. Nile crocodiles are sometimes seen in river mouths or other bodies of brackish water. From the descriptions of this creature, I very much doubt it is a Nile crocodile. For one thing, the snout is described as being very short and wide. If indeed the gbahali is a crocodilian, it is probably in a genus only known from fossils. The gbahali really does sound a lot like a Rauisuchian, but I am certainly no expert on that family of reptiles. I had never even heard of them before I started doing researching on the ghahali. The reconstructions of Postosuchus typically show them with fully erect legs, but I suppose the “experts” could be wrong. Maybe their legs were in fact semi-erect like a crocodile.

    The civil war has been over in Liberia since 2003. The country is in the process of rebuilding and is fairly stable now. The large U.N. presence is definitely a stabilizing force. Logistics are certainly a challenge in rural areas, but there would be no real danger to anyone who wanted to do research here.

  10. mystery_man responds:

    John-Mark- Don’t forget the African gavial, also known as the African Sharp nosed crocodile (Crocodylus cataphractus), which is also found in Liberia. I also tend to think that this perhaps isn’t a crocodile we are dealing with here, or at least not a known one, because I would think that anyone who was used to seeing crocodiles and familiar with them at all would most likely be able to tell if that is what they were seeing or not. It seems to me that the eyewitnesses are firm in their reports that it is not a usual crocodile they saw. This is all very interesting news, and I wish you luck in any pursuits you may undertake concerning the matter.

  11. tsunamicarlos responds:

    I do not think it can be Postosuchus and their ilk, as those are reptiles that supposedly went extinct before the dinosaurs. They are actually part of the ancestral stock that gave rise to the dinosaurs.

    It could be a species of semi-terrestrial crocodilian. There were actually several species in the more recent past (more recent than Postosuchus, anyways) that could be something similar to this creature, although most were from other continents — namely South America and Australia. South America once had a crocodilian with a deeper skull and hooves at the tips of slender legs probably used for fast running.

    The recently extinct mekosuchine crocodilians of Australia and Oceania are another interesting group of terrestrial crocodilians that were aquatic enough to have island hopped across the Pacific. They went extinct when humans arrived about 3,000 years ago to New Caledonia and other Pacific Islands.

    Although I am not saying the Gbahali is one of the above, it is good to point out that crocodilians were not necessarily limited to what we are familiar with today, and one does not have to go quite so far back in time to find something similar-looking to a Postosuchus. *g*

  12. sschaper responds:

    Sounds like a suchian, most like the American alligator. IIRC, the Seminole reported that they used to get that big.

  13. jodzilla responds:

    Fascinating. I want one for a pet. I shall name it Snarky.

  14. DARHOP responds:

    How big does the biggest crocodile get ?
    Says this thing can get 30 ft. long. That is one huge croc, if it is a croc. Imagine a 30 foot croc, or a 30 foot anything coming at your lil row bout or canoe. Not !
    Anyway, real interesting story. Hopefully some of the villagers or someone can get a photo or two of this animal. Though we all know, photos don’t really prove anything do they ? Not in today’s world anyway.

  15. MattBille responds:

    If the description of the snout is accurate, then it’s not the Nile crocodile. If that detail is in error, then my first thought would be that “Gbahali” could be a name applied to the very largest specimens. I read once that northwestern Native American tribes knew well the separate species of salmon, but examples about 50 lbs and up, from whatever species, were called “tyee” (a name also applied, just to keep things confusing, to all individuals of the species known as king salmon). Mr. Sheppard is the cultural expert, though, so I am merely speculating from a distance.

    How widespread were the ancestors of the modern alligator, I wonder?

    BTW, the purported record for an American alligator was 19 feet, two inches, from Louisiana more than a century ago. Some experts doubt this claim. The record from Florida is over 17 feet.

    I had a letter about ten years ago from a woman who said her husband and his friends killed a 35-foot gator in Florida but were unable to get the animal or even its head out of the swamp.

    One last random brain-bit is that, on a construction project I did some work for in 1976-77 on the Indian River near Vero Beach, FL, workers spooked a 12-foot American crocodile from its home in the mangroves along the banks of the river (which is technically an elongated salt water lagoon and not a river.) The animal was later captured but escaped, and “Houdini,” is was named, was never seen again that I know of. The point here is that the darn thing was living, apparently for decades, in the mangroves on the bank of a body of water with constant pleasure boat, fishing, and water-skiing traffic, and apparently no one ever reported seeing it. At a distance it might be taken for a huge alligator (the alligators common around my hometown then were, albeit rarely, seen along salt-water bodies), which could make it less likely to be reported, but still…..

    Matt Bille

  16. DARHOP responds:

    MattBille responds:

    I had a letter about ten years ago from a woman who said her husband and his friends killed a 35-foot gator in Florida but were unable to get the animal or even its head out of the swamp.

    Wow. That is almost unbelieveable. I think I would of came back with a winch of some kind to haul that sucker out. 35 ft. is a huge gator. Hate to say this but, that fella would of made a lot of boots, wallets and belts. And don’t some people eat gator meat? To not haul it in was a total waste, I think.

  17. sasquatch responds:

    Catch one, then we’ll decide what it is.

  18. noobfun responds:

    “and found out that only the man’s head and a few body parts were left on the river bank.”

    “carrying its prey underwater to drown before coming on shore to eat it.”

    as crocodilians don’t have the jaws to chew they eat in water, so they can roll and rip chunks of flesh off the kill

    and have a specially adapted throat flap that can block water from entering further then the mouth

    or have i just watched 1 to many wildlife documentaries

    seems a strange behaviour for a hunting crocodile

  19. Richard888 responds:

    This sounds promising indeed.

    If Liberia is unsafe for visitors due to the civil war and other situations then why not arm certain locals with inexpensive but durable cameras and offer a generous a bounty for every clear picture produced of the creature?

    In fact, this strategy can be tried in other “inconvenient” locations where other cryptids are being reported. Even more important than the many cameras would be the bounty factor.

  20. mystery_man responds:

    noobfun- Yes, you are right about the way crocodiles eat and that is a good observation. It is a major detail that adds additional weight to my suspicion that this is no ordinary crocodile that is being seen.

  21. cryptidsrus responds:

    Like me and other people have said before, Africa is the perfect place for ANYTHING to live. It’s unlikely but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a Postosuchus-like creature (at least a descendant). One never knows.

  22. dogu4 responds:

    As soon as the locals get their hands on cheap cameras and cell phones we will begin seeing “blog-o-diles”.

  23. serpent_seeker responds:

    This is the first time i have heard of this animal, It looks almost prehistoric, which this thing looks extremely vicious maybe a hunter soon will get a specimen so science can exanine it but at the size of that thing i think it might be impossible.

  24. flame821 responds:

    If it is an apex predator and is protected from humans would it be possible for a ‘normal’ croc to grow that large?

    I know no one mentioned a shell, but the 3 rows of pointy projections and the grab and drown hunting method and the fact that it eats on land makes me think giant alligator snapping turtle.

    There was that one carcass in the American South that was the size of a bear; could there be a distant cousin that grows even larger? (again, without the interference of humans I would expect predators to grow larger since we aren’t there to stop them)

  25. Isaac responds:

    It looks really scary. It kinda looks like a dinosaur called Pristichampsus (PRIS-ti-Camp-sus).



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