You trudge through the brackish water, calf deep in swamp muck and tangled mangrove roots. Occasionally you feel something brush past your leg and hope it is a fish, scanning the scum and plant covered surface of the water for any sign of alligators or crocodiles, whichever one makes its home this far inland.
From the opposite bank you hear the snap of branches and the slurp of mud, and turn just in time to see a creature pull itself from the swamp and into the shallows. Three horns curve from its long, equine head, its giraffe-like neck and splay legged reptilian body incongruous, like someone pasted together the wrong animal parts. You cannot see the entire animal, but you can tell that it is massive, thirty feet long at least, probably more. It turns, looks at you, and you feel heavy, your legs suddenly weak as it stares.
Uh-oh, you’ve been spotted by the Ninki Nanka.
This West African cryptid is pretty much a swamp dragon, with its name literally translating to “devil dragon.” Stories of the Ninki Nanka have been passed down by word of mouth for generations, a longtime cautionary tale to keep children away from the water. Get too close and the Ninki Nanka will eat you.
Folklore describes a creature that is sometimes winged, sometimes breathes fire, and is always gigantic, anywhere from 30 feet to 30 meters long. Similarities between the Ninki Nanka and Chinese dragons are often noted, with both types of dragon having long, serpent-like bodies and features that seem pieced together from other animals. The Ninki Nanka is often said to have the head of a horse, the neck of a giraffe, and the body of a crocodile, not unlike the camel-headed, deer-horned, eagle-clawed dragons of Chinese folklore.
Unlike their Chinese counterparts, sighting the Ninki Nanka spells certain doom. There aren’t many tales told by those who have seen the creature because, even if they escape, to see the Ninki Nanka is to be marked for death. But not immediate death. Think of it like a living version of the tape from The Ring, but instead of seven days, you have anywhere from two weeks to four years until your number is up. All you’ll know for sure is that as soon as you cross the Ninki Nanka’s path, the clock is ticking.
There aren’t any stories of successfully slaying the Ninki Nanka, so it’s unknown if felling the creature also frees you from imminent death. But given that the Ninki Nanka is described as aggressive and carnivorous, fighting it may be inevitable anyway. Know that, as is the case with most dragons, you will not be in for an easy fight.
Dex Dylan is the founder and acting president of the International Society of Astrocryptozoology. For decades, Dex has scoured the skies and seas (and sometimes the land, but honestly it’s so crowded) for hints of unusual life forms, and has done extensive research into the possible existence of chupacabras on Mars.