Willem is a wildlife artist based in South Africa. He says "My aim is simply to express the beauty and wonder that is in Nature, and to heighten people's appreciation of plants, animals and the wilderness. Not everything I paint is African! Though I've never been there, I'm also fascinated by Asia and I've done paintings of Asian rhinos and birds as well. I may in future do some of European, Australian and American species too. I'm fascinated by wild things from all over the world! I mainly paint in watercolours. . . but actually many media including 'digital' paintings with the computer!"
Today I bring you something quite special – the Hooganod! This is an animal long rumoured to exist in the isolated Central African Republic, but until recently only cryptozoologists took it seriously. But recent evidence from hair, footprints and a few blurry snaps from camera traps provide strong evidence for this creature's actual existence! Until good photos come out I must caution that my reconstruction in this painting is largely based on guesswork – but I do owe you folks something nice to look at!
As for its behaviour, for that, too, we have to rely mostly on tales from the Bwambali, a 'pygmy' people living in the rainforests it inhabits, who call it 'Uganodo'. By all accounts it is a totally unique creature. It's rather like a huge, shaggy bear, but with green fur. It is very wary of being seen, and only goes about at night. During the day, it draws its head and limbs – it has no tail – in underneath its body, and its great, round back then makes it look like a big, mossy boulder. It even feels like a boulder, and the story goes that many a traveller has unwittingly sat on or leaned against a hooganod, sometimes for hours. But the hooganod sleeps and remains totally inert until nighttime.
The hooganod has very long hind legs and very short front legs. It goes about on all fours with its butt raised high and its head down close to the ground. It also has huge floppy ears. While it is walking, it stuffs its ears in its mouth to keep them from dragging on the ground. It has to spit them out before it can make any sound.
Hooganods are not really dangerous except where one thing is concerned. They eat charcoal, ash, and burned wood. So, they will come to burnt-out campfires and snack on them. They will not come to a fire that is still burning, but a burnt-out fire will draw a hooganod even from miles away. If they can't find human-made fires, they will seek out charred and burnt trees that have been struck by lightning.
To prevent hooganods from consuming their burnt-out fires, hikers and campers should cover them up with a layer of soil of at least four to six inches, before they go to sleep at night – or they must build it up big enough to burn all through the night. If they don't, the hooganod will come to eat it, and in its excitement it may trample anyone nearby. The Bwambali know that the charred end of the top fire-stick they use for fires made by friction is the greatest delicacy a hooganod knows of. They know that they should bury their fire-sticks at night and dig them up the next morning. If they keep them on or near their persons and the hooganod smells them, it will maul them to shreds trying to get at them. 'Modern' people that use matches or lighters are at a lesser risk but they should still be careful.
The hooganod has one last trick. All the charcoal it eats, ferments in its belly into combustible fumes. So, if you perhaps forgot to take the precautions and a hooganod comes to your burnt-out fire and you somehow escape being mauled or trampled by it – get away and leave it; do not attack it. If it feels threatened, it will expel these fumes from either of its ends – and at the same time producing a spark to ignite it, causing an explosion – how exactly this is done, no-one knows, no-one having been able to witness the process from close-up and surviving. But the hooganod itself will survive and make its getaway.
These tales sound far-out and yet the concrete evidence collected indeed shows that a very large, heavy, round-bodied animal with long ears and green fur – unique among mammals – does live in these forests. Strange wailing calls have been recorded, green hairs have been collected at blackened stumps after a rare forest fire, and at least three dozen eyewitness accounts have been recorded. The photos, though blurry, after digital enhancement do show a creature very much resembling the traditional description. Mainstream science is right at the point of recognizing the existence of this incredible species. What could it possibly be related to? Genetic analyses of the fur suggest that it is most probably a very distant relative of the Aardvark. I am as excited as anyone about this marvellous new discovery! Remember you read it here first, folks!