In Search of African Dragons

Posted by: Loren Coleman on June 7th, 2006

Gambia Logo

Jon Downes has announced that his Center for Fortean Zoology will attempt to track down recent accounts of “dragons” or monitor lizards in West Africa.

In early July 2006, a six-person team from the North Devon-based UK group is travelling to Gambia to investigate these folktales. They may find the trail a little cold.

Back on June 12, 1983, 15-year-old amateur naturalist Owen Burnham discovered the fresh carcass of a strange beast on the remote Bungalow Beach in Gambia. The stranded dead cryptid was around 15 feet long and looked like a cross between a crocodile and a dolphin.

Owen Burnham

Owen Burnham is today an accomplished wildlife photographer and author on African biology.

Realizing that it was something unknown to science, Owen, a missionary’s son, made detailed sketches of the creature. He and his family then buried it in the hot sand above the tide line, hoping that the dry sand would preserve the body.


Click image for full-size version

Owen made a detailed map. But the Burnhams never re-discovered the site, and the identity of the cryptid has been a hotly debated topic in cryptozoology for years, many considering it an unknown beaked whale, a misidentified dolphin, or an unknown reptile. The Centre for Fortean Zoology has a copy of the map and intends to try to find, dig up, and examine the cryptid’s body.

The group also plans to track down the source of the stories of a swamp-dwelling dragon known as Ninki-nanka. The 30-feet-long beast is said to lurk in deep riverbank holes and emerge into the swamps at night. In this way, it overlaps with the reported behavior of the Cameroon-Congolese reports of Mokele-mbembe. As recently as the early 1990s, Ninki-nanka allegedly is reported to have killed people.

Cryptozoologist Richard Freeman thinks Ninki-nanka may be a giant, semi-aquatic monitor lizard. Related to the celebrated Komodo dragon, the African reptile would be three times as long, perhaps as big as a very large crocodile. The team hopes to interview witnesses and venture into the deep mangrove swamps on the trail of the beast.

Living Dinosaur

Click image for full-size version

The team members are, as pictured, left to right below:
Suzi Marsh, computer specialist;
Dr. Chris Clark, engineer;
Chris Moiser, biologist and team leader;
Lisa Dowley, first aid and security expert;
Oll Lewis, ecologist; and
Richard Freeman, cryptozoologist.

Gambia Team

The expedition’s progress can be charted on the CFZ website.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. 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. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

17 Responses to “In Search of African Dragons”

  1. SaruOtoko responds:

    Oh how I wish I could go with this group! I love the idea of real dinosaur like creatures still roaming our earth!!

  2. twblack responds:

    Me too, would love to be on a trip like this one. I hope the best for this group and their safety as well! Please keep us updated on their trip and any findings they may have.

  3. stompy responds:

    That group is gonna get eaten. Except maybe for the tough broad in the front.

  4. Dan responds:

    Nah, because the older guy in the middle looks like the wise hero so he would probably survive a Jurassic Park-type scenario. Like Gandalf.

  5. Tobar responds:

    Gandalf? You mean Grant?

  6. Ole Bub responds:

    Best of luck to these intrepid folks….nothing wrong with having a wise old guy along….they can always use him for bait….

    all the best….and good hunting

    ole bub and the dawgs

  7. stonelk responds:

    The sign says here be dragons. I would have loved such a journey in my younger days. Now that I’m older and settled I’m not much of a sprinter. What was it Ian Malcomb said In Jurassic park II ? There’s running and screaming then more screaming.

  8. MountDesertIslander responds:

    When is the last time that an expedition like this one came back a success? I mean by actually confirming the object of their quest.

    The celocanthe search maybe?

  9. corax responds:

    I have thought for a few years that the sketches of the Gambian sea creature look rather like reconstructions of protocetids and (to a lesser degree) remingtonocetids.

    These supposedly primitive whales (having read a lot of the published material on them I am not completely convinced they are actually connected with whales – the main points in common seem to be related to the inner ear, dentition and being aquatic) seem to be somewhat crocodile-like and aquatic.

    The location where ‘it’ was found is in one of the main tourist areas of Gambia – the beach is lovely, the bird watching superb (that was the main reason I was there) and the people wonderful (the don’t call it the ‘Smiling Coast’ for nothing!). I hope that the body was well buried, since it does occur to me that given the proximity of several major hotels and lots of tourists as well as local fishermen, the possibility that it has been disturbed is significant.

    I was a bit puzzled about the timing of the visit. Unless my memory is playing tricks they are going in the rainy season (I think that is June/July to August/September) – which means its hot with high humidity, lots of mosquitoes (and hence malaria) and generally less pleasant. The Gambian climate during November to January is wonderful. Other than cheaper accomodation why have they picked the rainy season.

    I would love the creature to prove to be an extant protocetid/remingtonocetid as the additional information would allow the actual status of these forms to be tested.

    I would also encourage anyone anyone to visit Gambia – it is an excellent location for a holiday, and since their peanut industry collapsed (I am told largely as a result of US economic policy) tourism is about all they have. Everyone there seems to speak English well – so you don’t have to learn any Wolof or Mandinka.

  10. jayman responds:

    Yes, one of the primitive whales could match the description of the carcass, based on published reconstructions of their probable appearance.
    I think another possibility to be considered is one of the extinct marine crocodiles. They were completely aquatic and had paddle-shaped limbs.

  11. SheliakBob responds:

    That logo would look sweet on a T-Shirt. I think I want one…

  12. cor2879 responds:

    Hey I am a Computer Expert if anyone else is planning to go on any African Cryptid expeditions…

  13. nightfyre responds:

    From the illustration provided, this cryptid could be a Mosasaur or a similar ancient aquatic species.

  14. PhilinFL responds:

    Is Bungalow Beach “remote” or is it one of the most popular tourist destinations in Gambia? Can it be both?

  15. corax responds:

    I suppose ‘remote’ is a relative thing – but unless there is more than one Bungalow Beach in Gambia, this is very much a part of the tourist area. Try Googling it – you will find plenty of hits telling you about the hotels there.

    I found calling it remote somewhat amusing and I guess that either the source of that phrase didn’t know the area at all, or else that the view was taken that from a ‘western’ viewpoint west Africa in general is remote.

  16. TerraTerror responds:

    Oh my gosh! I’m so excited!

  17. cryptolover responds:

    I would like to do this more then anything and I would not be surprized if such a creature is real some parts of the earth have stayed the same for ions and a creature such as this in isolated area would be possible I hope so to see the look on some skeptics faces would be the best reward a crypto researcher could ever get except for finding it i some times wonder if we are doing more harm than good as we find these creatures one by one we now have more people wanting research on them which disturbs there habitat bounties in the past for species such as the great auk wiped them out because all the scientest wanted a speciman i think a law should be passed by all nations and call it the cryptos-law were when a new species is discovered it is given a 100 mile minimum radius and further if it is a animal that would need a large range to hunt and thrive minimum radius will be protected from any future forrest development this bill would allow full protection and a grant to study the creature find out how many as best as possible their food and other valid info to make the proper choice on how best to protect it anyone whether it be private or corparate or government all must obey this law this then would help save the animal you could have a amount of forrest given to protect it and if it is owned allready private the law forces private owners to sell it back to the government and fair market value thats what I would like to see

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