The Dingonek is a creature that lives in the Maggori River in Kenya, as well as in Lake Nyanza (Victoria). Our primary source for the dingonek comes from big-game hunter John Alfred Jordan, as recorded by Edgar Beecher Bronson. As a tale told by one big-game hunter to another, there is no reason to believe there was any embellishment or exaggeration involved.
Legends of aquatic monsters predate Jordan’s account, but they describe a generic large water python. Clement Hill claimed to have seen one in Lake Nyanza that attempted to seize a man on the prow of his boat. It had a dark, roundish head.
The dingonek as described by Jordan is a cross between a sea serpent, a leopard, and a whale. It is fourteen or fifteen feet long. Its head is similar in shape and markings to that of a leopard, but is the size of a lioness’ head. There are two long white fangs protruding downwards from the upper jaw. The back is broad like that of a hippo, patterned and colored like a leopard, and “scaled like an armadillo”. The tail, used for aquatic propulsion, is broad and finned. When ashore, the dingonek leaves behind prints as wide as a hippo’s but with reptilian claw-marks.
A .303 shot behind the ear had no effect on the dingonek. It reared straight up out of the water, and Jordan ran for his life. The dingonek was not seen again.
Hobley tells of another man who swears he saw a dingonek. When the Mara River was in flood, the eyewitness said he saw a creature floating down the river on a big log. It had its tail in the water, but its length was estimated to be sixteen feet. It had scales, spots like a leopard, and a head like an otter, but no long fangs. When shot at, it slipped into the water and disappeared. Apart from the (surely inaccurate) length given, this is a good account of a Nile monitor lizard.
Finally, rock art from a cave in Brakfontein Ridge, South Africa, has been claimed to depict a walrus-like dingonek, but the location is far from the dingonek’s habitat, and the association is arbitrary.
Heuvelmans initially believed the dingonek to be an odd species of prehistoric crocodile. Later he revised this to create an aquatic saber-toothed cat whose wet fur clumped and gave the appearance of scales.
As armadillos are New World animals, modern reconstructions have assumed the armadillo “scales” to be those of a pangolin instead. Other recent additions include a single horn and a stinger tail, neither of which have any basis.
Cryptozoologists have equated the dingonek with a number of other creatures, including the far better known Lukwata, the Ndamathia, and the Ol-umaina or Ol-maima of the Mara River. This is known to the Masai and has been described by Hobley as fifteen feet in length and scaly with a dog-like or otter-like head, leopard spots, small ears “marked somewhat after the fashion of a puff adder”, a short neck, short legs with claws. It may be seen sunning itself on logs and riverbanks, and dives into the water when threatened. Hobley’s ol-umaina account is copied by Heuvelmans, who expresses some confusion at the “ears” comment but otherwise affirms that the dingonek and the ol-umaina are one and the same. Shuker corrects the name to ol-maima.
All of this is moot. Ol-maima (or, more correctly ɔl-máɨ́má) is the Maa term for a cripple or a Nile monitor lizard (owing to its waddling movement on land). The descriptions are exaggerated but recognizable accounts of monitor lizards – as the dingonek itself almost certainly is.
Bronson, E. B. (1910) In Closed Territory. A. C. McClurg & Co., Chicago.
Bryant, A. T. (1948) The Zulu People. Shuter and Shooter, Pietermaritzburg.
Conway, J.; Kosemen, C. M.; and Naish, D. (2013) Cryptozoologicon Vol. I. Irregular Books.
Heuvelmans, B.; Garnett, R. trans. (1958) On the Track of Unknown Animals. Rupert Hart-Davis, London.
Hobley, C. W. (1913) On Some Unidentified Beasts. The Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society, III(6), pp. 48-52.
Oswald, F. (1915) Alone in the Sleeping-Sickness Country. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., London.
Payne, D. L. and Ole-Kotikash, L. (2008) Maa Dictionary. University of Oregon, accessed online.
Shuker, K. P. N. (1995) In Search of Prehistoric Survivors. Blandford, London.
Stow, G. W. and Bleek, D. F. (1930) Rock-paintings in South Africa. Methuen & Co. Ltd., London.