Not Appearing in ABC: The Ol-maima

Not Appearing in ABC: The Ol-maima

While searching for information on the dingonek, I found that it’s been synonymized with a whole bunch of other creatures. These include, for instance, the Lukwata (a far more “legitimate” creature), the Ndamathia, and the Olmaima or Ol-umaina. That last one piqued my curiosity, and further research into it serves as a cautionary tale – one that cryptozoologists would do well to heed.

The original reference is Hobley (1913):

At the time this story appeared it was considered that this [Bronson’s account] was probably a traveller’s tale, told to entertain a newcomer, but I have since met a man who a few years back wandering about the Mara River or Ngare Dubash which rises in Sotik, crosses the Anglo-German boundary and runs into Lake Victoria in German territory. He emphatically asserts that he saw the beast [i.e. the Dingonek]. He was at the time where the Mara River crosses the frontier, and the river was in high flood. The beast came floating down the river on a big log, and he estimated its length at about sixteen feet, but could not certain of its length as its tail was in the water. He describes it as spotted like a leopard, covered with scales, and having a head like an otter; he did not see the long fangs described by Mr. Jordan. He fired at it and hit it; it slid off the log into the water and was not seen again.

I made inquiries of the District Commissioner, Kisii, Mr. Crampton, and he wrote recently and said he had visited the Amala River and made inquiries from the Masai in the neighbourhood, and they knew of the beast, which they called Ol-umaina, and described it as follows: About fifteen feet long, head like a dog, small ears marked somewhat after the fashion of a puff adder, has claws, short legs, short neck, is said to lie in the sun on the sand by the river-side and to slip into the water when disturbed; when in the water only its head is visible. This story does not radically disagree with the others…

There are a few conclusions to draw here. First, the author believes the dingonek, the unnamed Mara River creature, and the ol-umaina to be one and the same. Second, the features shared by all three are notable size, scales, spots like a leopard, and possibly a long tail.

Heuvelmans (1958) quotes Hobley (1913) (in fact, almost exactly the previous quote) and concurs that the “description agrees fairly well with the dingonek”. However, he has a comment on the ol-umaina’s description:

The puff-adder has no external ears. Perhaps Hobley means the small horns on the horned viper, but the text is by no means clear.

The ears thing confused me as well, but the most logical conclusions I can come up with is that a) like the puff adder, it has markings by its ears, or b) like the puff adder, it has no visible ears, or c) both of the above.

Finally Karl Shuker, in his In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), straight-up refers to the Mara River creature as a dingonek, and makes a correction to the ol-umaina’s name: it is now the ol-maima.

So what are we to make of all this? Turns out there is a creature that answers to the descriptions given. A normal, unremarkable creature, but not as big as it is claimed to be.

Image from Wikipedia.

That’s right, it’s the humble Nile monitor lizard (Varanus niloticus). Note the scales, the “leopard” spots, the tail, an otter- or dog-like head without long fangs, sharp claws, short neck and legs, and a long tail. It basks in the sun and dives into the water when threatened.

Of course, Nile monitors don’t grow 15 feet long, but this can be chalked up to exaggeration and/or honest overestimation.

The final nail in the coffin is the name ol-maima or ol-umaina. Looking up a reputable Maa dictionary, we discover that ɔl-máɨ́má is the Maa word for a) a cripple and b) a Nile monitor lizard.

There is no need to invoke aquatic walruses, relict dinosaurs, or crocodiles with missing jaws. If the dingonek and the ol-maima are the same animal, then they are no more than fanciful descriptions of Nile monitors. The Dingonek gets a full entry because its description is so unusual, but the ol-maima, literally “Nile monitor lizard” in Maa, will not be so lucky.

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