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Illustration by William M. Rebsamen

Mngwa (the strange one) or Nunda is a gigantic feline-like creature, said to live in Tanzania.


Etymology

'Nunda' in Swahili translates as 'strange one'.


Description/Morphology

Described as the size of a donkey, the animal looks like a hybrid of a lion and a leopard with a grey fur.


History of sightings

English contact with this animal first began in the 1900s.

In 1938, an open-minded discussion of this animal appeared in the then-world-famous British scientific journal Discovery. William Hichens, a British administrator working in Tanzania reported that several natives were attacked by this animal and recorded the following events, which had taken place in 1922. He thought it to be a giant, man-eating lion that was responsible, but both fur-samples and tracks were different from those of a lion

Going to relieve the midnight watch, an oncoming native constable one night found his comrade missing. After a search he discovered him, terribly mutilated, underneath a stall. The man ran to :his European officer, who went with me at once to the market. We found it obvious that the askari had been attacked and killed by some animal--a lion, it seemed.
In the victim's hand was clenched a matted mass of greyish hair, such as would come out of a lion's mane were it grasped and torn in a violent fight. But in many years no lion had been known to :come into the town.
We were puzzling the problem at the boma next morning when the old Arab Liwali or native governor of the district hurried into our office, with two scared-looking men at his heels. Out late the :previous night, they said, they had slunk by the market-place lest the askari should see them and think them evil-doers; and as they crept by they were horrified to see a huge brindled cat, the :great mysterious nunda which is feared in every village on the coast, leap from the shadows and bear the policeman to the ground.
The Liwali, a venerable and educated man, assured us that within his memory the nunda had visited the village several times. It was an animal, not a lion or a leopard, but a huge cat as large as :a donkey and marked like a tabby. I had heard this tale, and put it down as silly superstition, but the Liwali's assertion put a different light on things...
...That same night another constable was torn to pieces, and clutched in his hands and scattered about the buckles of his uniform was more of that grey, matted fur... (Welfare & Fairley, 1981).

In Frank W. Lane's 1954 issue of Nature Parade, Patrick Bowen, a hunter who tracked the Mngwa at one time, remarked that the animal's tracks were like those of the leopard but much larger. The Mngwa was also described to have brindled fur that was visibly different from that of a leopard. Lane believed that the attacks reported in the 19th century by the Chimiset, associated with the Nandi Bear, might actually have been attacks by the Mngwa.


Story

There is an old, traditional Tanzanian folktale that tells of the Sultan Majnun's youngest son who went seeking a murderous feline monster called the nunda, which had killed his three brothers and many other hapless humans too. Evidently not the most zoologically-knowledgeable of people, he proceeded to kill several different animals, including a zebra, a rhinoceros, an elephant, a civet, and a giraffe, each time mistakenly assuming that this must be the nunda. Eventually, however, he encountered the real nunda, lying asleep under the shade of a tree. As large as a donkey, with distinctive brindled fur, huge claws, and enormous teeth, it was a terrifying sight, but the Sultan's son slew it as it slept, and returned home in triumph, having rid his father's kingdom of this malevolent scourge.


Theories about origin and existence

Bernard Heuvelmans speculated Mngwa to be an abnormally colored specimen of a known species such as an oversized leopard. Striped leopards have been recorded in the past, and the nunda's footprints do resemble a leopard's, except for their larger size.

Heuvelmans also has suggested that the nunda may be a larger subspecies of the African golden cat Profelis auratus. Normally measuring up to 4.5 ft in total length, and native to East as well as West Africa, this is not only one of Africa's most elusive but also one of its most morphologically versatile species of cat. Its pelage can vary in colour from gold, through a wide range of reds, browns, and greys, to a melanistic all-black form.


References

  • Karl P.N. Shuker: Mystery Cats of the World. Robert Hale: London, 1989. ISBN 0-7090-3706-6
  • Simon Welfare and John Fairley: "Arthur C. Clarke´s Mysterious World". Bonnier, 1981.


Sources

Part of this article consists of modified text from Wikipedia, and the article is therefore licensed under GFDL.