I don't believe all creatures have been assigned unique scientific names. This possibility arose in my mind one afternoon as I chatted with Jas, who frequents the shores of Lake Victoria.
As we talked he mentioned that at the lake there are "many things." Immediately he fell to whistling and shaking his head gravely. That was my cue to press him: "What things?"
(Now, to any scientists reading this, listen carefully to what he said, so that you may go "discover" it and name it after yourself.) He said "Paka mwitu wa bahari." I exclaimed with incomprehension. "A wild cat of the lake" is a creature whose existence has never occurred to my mind. The way his description of it goes, it looks just like a wild cat but it has a snout just like a rat and is as big as a dog. I too, dear reader, was startled at the description. Maybe Jas was pulling my leg, I suspected, as the mutant he described struggled to maintain credulity in my mind's eye.
Nevertheless, Jas instantly jumped straight into a description of its hunting habits. "It lives in the water and on land," claimed he, "but if it sees somebody approaching, it quickly hides under water and looks at them from thereunder."
That perfectly explains why it has never been seen. The chills seized me; what a diabolical animal, and ugly besides! But the worst was yet to come.
Jas continued, with an alarming expression . "Everybody who goes to the lake must go in jeans. If it sees you exposed, it comes stealthily under the water, bites off your privates and swims away while eating it."
I laughed. I couldn't help it. To start with, a swimming cat. But my laughter, rather than silencing Jas, transposed his tone a few notes higher and accelerated his tempo. "It comes quickly under water - you know how it has a long snout like a rat - and just opens its long mouth and grabs them and goes with them."
As I was still laughing, he continued. "Even if you buy new jeans they get old within one or two months because of the mud and water and you must replace them." I beheld; indeed the jeans he wore were worn ragged.
I stopped laughing only with a great internal effort that shredded my abdominal laughter-brakes.
Then I asked Jase, simply and directly, how many people had been attacked by this creature within living memory. He answered immediately. "A long time ago they used to be many. In those days people used to come to the lake and remove their clothes. One of them, in fact I'll show him to you one day, would come from home, fold his suit and set it aside in a plastic bag, having cheated his wife at home that he is a teacher at a primary school. In reality he was fetching reeds from the lake and selling. So he would leave home in a suit to fool his wife. But one day, when they already had two children, his wife saw him carrying reeds. She was surprised, but the people at the market informed her that he usually does that work. So she just decided to stay in the marriage."
Silence. End of story.
Seeing there were no substantive leads to any empirical data on victims of the underwater-swimming wild cat of the lake, whose mouth looks like a rat's, I opted not to pursue it if he would not volunteer it. Besides, hadn't Jas promised to introduce me to his friend who used to fold his suit on the shores every morning? Perhaps that was the person better placed to furnish me with data on the animal.
If I find out anything, I'll tell you scientists all about it, just hang in there. (But I wouldn't keep my hopes up. In all likelihood, all this jeans-wearing by the animal's prey has probably driven it to extinction. Just like man-made climate change will shortly kill off the polar bears. Still, "finding" a fossil would earn us some serious cash, don't you say?)
The afternoon heat did not abate. "If she decided to stay in the marriage, then she decided well." I opined. Jas laughed in agreement.