I do not dally in the towns , but press into the forest, to be devoured by the mngwa!
And if the mngwa seizes me, devouring my flesh, that is the fortune of the hunt!
This is an excerpt from a popular hunting song of the natives of Tanzania written in 1150. That is how long tales of the Mngwa have been around the east coast of Africa. What is the Mngwa you ask?
Mngwa which translates from Swahili to “strange one” is a ferocious feline predator said to roam the coastal jungles of the East African country of Tanzania. It is said to be bigger than the largest lion with grey brindled fur (much like that of a tabby cat). It has a long tail, enormous claws and teeth and purrs like the tabby cat it’s coloring matches. It’s footprints are said to resemble a leopard but much larger.
In the early 1900’s, British official Captain William Hichens who was serving as magistrate in the Tanzanian coastal village of Lindi encountered his own tale to tell of the Mngwa. Up until this point he had assumed the stories he heard of the Mngwa were just local folklore. Then in 1922 something happened that changed his mind.
The village market place was patrolled at night by an askari ( native policeman) as it was custom for merchants to leave their belongings every night so they were ready for trade the next morning. One night at the midnight change of the guard the guard on duty was found to be missing by his relief. After secarching the man discovered his co-worker mutilated underneath one of the stalls. It was apparent that he had been mauled and killed by some animal. It was assumed that it was a lion until upon closer examanation it was discovered the man had tufts of grey fur such as from a lions mane clenched in his hands. Lions fur is golden not grey and no lion had ever been known to come into the town.
Hichens was confused and shocked but the villagers were not. They told him it must have been a Mngwa. Then the confirmation came when two men informed Hichens that they had been passing by the market place on the night in question and had been terrified to see a huge brindled grey cat leap out of the shadows and attack the askari. Two nights later another askari was killed in the same manner and again the strange grey fur was found around the body. Over the next month several more killings happened up and down the coast. Despite the police officials best efforts the predator was never found.
In the 1930’s another series of identical attacks happened in the same district. One victim was attacked but somehow survived. The victim was a well known local hunter who was very familiar with the local lions and leopards. He swore that it was neither one of these that had attacked him but was in fact a Mngwa.
Hunter Patrick Bowen also had his tale to tell of the Mngwa. He related to author Frank Lane that he had once tracked a Mngwa. He stated that a yourng boy had been carried off by the Mngwa and he, along with another man followed it tracks until they lost it. He stated the tracks were like that of a leopard but as large as the largest lion. He also found brindled fur.
There are several theories and possibilities as to what the Mngwa could be. One is that it may be just an abnormally colored specimen of some known species.
Another possibility is that it may be some type of hybrid cat such as a Tigon ( the offspring of a male tiger and female lion), A Liger ( the offspring of male lion and a female tiger) or a Leopon ( the offspring of a male leopard and a female lion). Of the three the Liger is the most likely suspect. Ligers are the largest of the three hybrids and also more closely fit the description of the Mngwa. They have both spots and stripes and while they are generally orange/gold in color it is possible that there could be a gene mutation that would cause the grey color. Male offspring have a mane like a lion although it is not as large or defined as a lion’s mane. Standing on their hind feet Ligers stand approximately 12 feet tall and can weigh up to 1000 pounds making them possibly the largest cats in the world. The main problem with this theory is that there are no known Tigers in East Africa however although there is no evidence to support it there may have been Tigers in the area in the distant past. Remember tales of the Mngwa have been around for centuries.
Antoher more intriguing theory in my opinion was put forth by Cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans. His theory is that the Mngwa is an undiscoverd giant species of African Golden Cat. The Golden Cat is not only one of Africa’s most viscious and elusive predators but also one of it’s most morphologically versatile. It’s coat can vary in color from golden through a wide range of reds, browns and greys to all black. It can also have just as wide a range of dark spotted patterns. Other charactaristics that make a giant species of Golden Cat a likely suspect are the fact that due to is savage and blood thristy nature the Golden Cat inspires extreme fear and superstition among the natives. And most compelling is that because of it’s throat structure the Golden Cat does not roar like a lion or leopard, it purrs like a domestic cat which is one of the main characteristics attributed to the Mngwa.
Whether Tigon, Liger or new species of Golden Cat one thing is certain. The Mngwa inspires respect and fear in the natives of Tanzania.