Niger Firespitter is a nickname given to reptilian creature sighted in Arlit, Niger, in 1980s. The report of the sighting came from an engineer named Philip Abuja. He emailed a creationist about how he knew about a dinosaur sighted by his Tuareg steward named Mohammed. Philip himself is living in Nigeria, while the sighting took place in Niger, just north of Nigeria. His email is featured here.
Philip _____ Abuja, Nigeria 2002
I am living in Nigeria, and I often browse the web collecting articles on topics that I'm interested in. As an engineer and a Christian, I always thought that a lot of what they taught us in school does not make sense, specifically regarding geology, evolution, and time scales.
These past few weeks, I've been reading a lot about dinosaurs in several websites. This has never really been my cup of tea, and I do not have much knowledge about dinosaurs.
After reading about various cave paintings, stone engravings, and clay statuettes of dinosaurs, I thought that maybe here in Africa, they may have traditions about them.
Just in passing, I called my steward. He is a Tuareg from northern Niger, at the fringes of the Sahara. He has been to primary school and knows how to read, but he is definitely not somebody who has much knowledge of the world. He does not read newspapers, doesn't watch television save for some local programs, and does not read novels or watch movies.
I quickly made a very basic drawing of a brontosaur-like thing, actually just the outline with a long neck, fat body, short and sturdy legs, and long tail.
Then I asked Mohammed: "Do you know this animal"?,-- expecting either an embarrassed "Er? No", or "I saw it at school, or on TV" or something similar.
Instead he snapped, excited: "Yes, I know it! But it is not like that!!" Needless to say, I was surprised by his reaction!
"What do you mean, it is not like that?"
"I saw it in my place, but it has spines on its back, like that" and he gestured to show me. He then came to my desk, and scribbled on the paper to show me the spines. He drew a kind of crest on the back of my dino.
He was agitated, and started telling me the following story:
"They killed one in my place, Arlit, fifteen years ago. The soldiers killed him. Nobody knows where it came from, maybe from the mines (note: there are uranium mines in the area), but also some people said it was because of the earthquake.
There was an earthquake, or maybe it's the thunder that hit the ground, I don't know, but then there was a huge crack in the ground, wide, somebody could not jump across, and very long, maybe one kilometer.
Anyway, people were afraid. And there was this animal, some shepherds saw it in the bush, it was attacking their flocks.
They were afraid, because they had never seen something like that, they ran and they called people, and the soldiers. The animal was spitting fire. He would hunch his back, and all the spines would stand, they were sharp, and he would lower his neck, and he was spitting fire. Like these things that the soldiers wear on their back and that spit fire, the same.
The soldiers killed him, and they took it to the Prefecture (note: the regional government building), because they wanted everybody to see it, to see that it was dead, because people were afraid, and were talking too much, and they even refused to go to the mine to work.
I saw it there with my eyes. Nobody had ever seen something like that. Then they started looking for the mother, because they said that this one was small, that there may be the mother around. They called the French people from the company (note: one of the mining companies), and they said that they knew the animal, but that this was not possible, that he did not exist in Africa.
One of them took a lot of pictures, I knew him, and he told me that this animal was laying eggs, like a chicken, and that he would sit on top and hatch. They looked all over the place, in the bush and in the Sahara, maybe for one month, but they did not find anything. After, the soldiers even said it was forbidden to talk about it, because people were restless about it, some left the place, some refused to work, and the soldiers did not want unrest." (Note: at that time, Niger was a military regime)
I was more than surprised, and all along he was sounding so true, so sure of what he was saying, that I asked him more details on the animal. Again, he was just telling them out as a first person thing, without the slightest hesitation, and citing names of people who were there when this happened.
I asked: "How big was it?"
"Not very big, like that" He gestured to show an height of 60 to 80 cm.
"And the spines, where did they start and finish?"
"They were on his back. From the neck to the back"
"They were on the neck?"
"No, they started at the base of the neck, and they finished before the tail."
"How were the legs?"
"He had four legs, short."
"Were they different at the front and at the back?"
"No, they were the same." (Meaning the same length)
"And the feet?"
"The feet were like those of an ostrich. He had big fingers, opened, with claws. Claws like a cat, but bigger. His track on the ground was like that of an ostrich."
"And the skin, what did it look like? How did it feel?"
"I don't know how it felt, I did not touch it. But it was looking strong, like the skin of an elephant. It was the color of the sand, and it had spots on the side, like when you sprinkle paint, small spots. Red, and white."
"And the neck, how long was it?"
"He had a long neck. And the head was looking like a crocodile, but he had big eyes. Big eyes."
"What of the tail?"
"The tail was not very long, but thick, very strong." He showed the tail in my drawing and said that it was shorter than that.
"What happened to the animal"?
"They took it to Niamey, I don't know. Anyway, after, the soldiers did not like people to talk about it. But nobody had ever seen anything like that.
Even the elders did not know what it was. But if you come to Arlit, there is one of my neighbours, he is now retired, but he was among the soldiers who killed it, he can tell you.
And Kader, he saw it too. Sule, no, not Sule, he was there, but he was afraid, he did not come to see. (Kader and Sule are two other Tuaregs from the same area, whom I know. I'll of course ask them what they know the next time I meet them!). And the white men, they were looking at it, and they were talking, talking, and saying that it was not possible, and taking pictures. A lot of people came, even from the government."
"What do you mean by a crack in the ground?"
"There a was a crack, very long, very deep, you could not see the bottom. The crack was long like from here to the roundabout (note: approx. 300 to 400 meters). I don't know how the crack happened. "I did not feel any earthquake, nor did anybody I know." The crack just happened one day, people were wondering. And it's the next day that they saw the animal. So, some people were saying that it came from there, and some said that it came from the mine."
"What happened to this crack?"
"Now they've closed it. After some time, there was water seeping out of it, and they filled it with rubbles, they brought machines to push stones and soil in it. Then they put concrete on top. But up to today, there is water coming out."
"Not much, it's like when a pipe is broken in the ground, even if you put soil on top, there is humidity coming around. This is why they closed it, the engineers said that the water was coming from deep in the ground, and that it would become worse. So the government had the crack closed." (Note: Arlit is in a desert area. There are no wells, water comes from deep boreholes, and there is definitely no surface water.)
Now, I know perfectly that this would be totally unacceptable as evidence anywhere, and that it does not have value except for me who know the man, and could really assess how true he was sounding. But I would like to know if the description of the animal corresponds to any known dinosaur, and if there is any other report of the same story by somebody else. According to Mohammed, this happened in 1984, and engineers from Cominak (uranium mining company) saw the animal.
Examinations of the Creature
From the email, we know that the creature is 60-80 cm tall crocodile-like animal. The creature is thought to be a young animal, citing its small size and big eyes (big eyes may also meant nocturnal animal, but this sighting is in daytime). The creature is carnivorous, but never seen by people before. If the creature itself is native carnivore to the area, the people would have knew about it, but in case of this – even the elder didn’t know about it.
The head is likened to a crocodile’s head, with “long neck”. The creature has spines starting from the base of the neck and end before the tail. The tail was long, but not as long as the brontosaur drawn by Philip. By this point we can conclude the creature is probably a spinosaurid dinosaur.
This creature has 4 legs with feet likened to ostrich feet with claw like those of a cat, but bigger (bigger in comparison to the feet?). The intriguing feature is that the creature’s leg is about the same length each other. This description pre-date the new discovery of Spinosaurus fossil in 2014. It is discovered that the Spinosaurus had short hindlegs, nearly identical in size compared to its “arms”. Philip’s email itself sent in 2002, 12 years before the new discovery. And the sighting itself happened in 1984, predates the discovery by whopping 30 years.
Before Spinosaurus new fossil discovery in 2014, Spinosaurus is portrayed just like other theropod, with longer hind legs, but as a semi aquatic animal. After the discovery, Spinosaurus is thought to be an aquatic animal, but may venture to the land just like a crocodile. This is contrast to the sighting, which describes the creature wandering far from large body of water, to the dry bushlands.
Nevertheless, the most intriguing feature of the animal is its ability to spit fire. The creature would hunch, its spines goes standing, then lower its neck, and spits fire to the soldier shooting it. As said by Mohammed “like these things that the soldiers wear on their back and that spit fire, the same” (he meant like a flamethrower). As for present, no creature is observed as having the ability to spit fire, and that means the discovery of flame-throwing dinosaur would be cool.
Pity, no picture of the creature has been found. Few people may have taken photographs of it, maybe mainly by Frenchmen working in Uranium mines. And there is no new news about the creature after the corpse sent to Niger capital, Niamey. Perhaps the regime tried to cover it, or just not interested in it? Who knows, but some photograph of this creature would make good deal in Cryptozoology.