The Grootslang: An African Cryptid with a Fascinating Legend

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By: Alex Postrado

Grootslang: The Primordial Elephantine Serpent of South African Lore

On May 22, 2009, the American animated TV series The Secret Saturdays introduced one of the best-known appearances of the Grootslang in modern-day pop culture.

In it, the cryptid was portrayed as a horned, green-skinned elephant with an interestingly spiked tail.

If you know the original Grootslang story, you might easily recognize what that ‘tail‘ is all about!

But, if not, here goes the Grootslang lore.

Grootslang from the show Secret Saturdays

Legendary Tales of the Grootslang

In African folklore, the Grootslang — or, alternatively, Grote Slang — is a gargantuan meld of an elephant and a serpent that is said to live deep in a certain cave in Richtersveld, South Africa.

This cave is known as the “Bottomless Pit” or the “Wonder Hole“.

It supposedly connects to the open sea and other bodies of water within, at least, a 40-mile radius. However, it is not just warm water that is to be found in the Grootslang’s dwelling.

The cave — as local legends say — is also brimming with loads of diamonds, treasures, and other precious stones.

This is what makes the Wonder Hole popular with explorers and fortune seekers alike.

In fact, it was from one of these adventurers’ accounts that — perhaps — the most notorious Grootslang legend to date was formed.

In 1917, after hearing about the purported hidden treasures in Richtersveld, South Africa, English businessman Peter Grayson, along with some associates, eagerly set off in a search to make their fortune.

Thinking it would all be smooth sailing, the team was instead critically met by obstacles after obstacles, in a span of just a few nights.

First, a lion found its way into their camp, killing one of them in the ordeal and maiming another.

A couple of days later, someone else pegs out after being bitten by “either a venomous snake or deadly spider“.

But it was only when another member falls “violently ill” that the course of the quest began to fall into disarray.

The man desperately begged his comrades not to let him die — asking them to take him to the nearest village, where he could seek aid to recover. Two of the group — both of whom felt sympathy for their companion and were, nevertheless, starting to lose faith in their search — agreed to accompany him. But Peter refused.

At one point, he was even believed to say:

“I am determined to return to England as a very rich man or a dead man.”

And perhaps it is true that we must be careful what we wish for because, in the case of Peter Grayson, he did get one of his wishes.

In one version of the story, Peter braved deep into Richtersveld, searching alone for his coveted treasures — never to be heard from again.

In another, comparably grimmer version, however, when his associates finally returned, Peter was found dead, near the opening of a cave, believed to be the Wonder Hole…

Well, some parts of him were indeed found. The rest — said to be eaten by the elephantine Grootslang.

Artist rendition of a Grootslang or Grote Slang (in Afrikaans) a mythical creature from South Africa. By Guatemalan artist Jeff McArthur. Source

Should We Fear the Mythical Elephant/Snake Hybrid?

First things first, what is not to fear about a man-eating behemoth? Moreover, a particularly villainous and cleverly cunning one.

Yes, the Grootslang is not just about size and teeth. It is also about wit and greed. Let me explain.

While the Grootslang is believed to be incredibly strong — thanks to its 20 to 40 feet long and 1.5 to 3 feet wide body — it is also unbelievably sharp.

Perhaps, smarter than any man alive.

Other than that, some stories also tell of its other advantages, which may include a pair or more tusks, as well as toxic breath.

So, apparently, it would be best just to stay away from the Grootslang and its beloved cave, regardless of how many tales you hear about the treasures it keeps in it.

If you don’t, then you are bound to see a monster that even the gods feared and forsaken!

To some, it is more of a gigantic, scaly, and pitch-black snake.

To others, it is an elephant-like beast with a serpent for a tail.

But most would agree that the Grootslang has gems for eyes. Funnily enough, it also has eyes for gems!

And that — you could count as your first advantage against the dreaded monster.

Not so fast, though! It has nothing to do with how clever the Grootslang is. Let us just say, the Grootslang has its own fatal flaw.

The greediness of the Grootslang is like no other. It is the reason why the Wonder Hole, in which the Grootslang dwells, is filled with gold and jewels.

So, if you happen to stumble upon the Grootslang — I guess, for whatever ‘valid’ reason you may have — just offer it some diamonds and you are free.

Oh — you don’t have one with you? Sorry, then. You would likely be the Grootslang’s next meal.

The Origins of the Myth and the Monster

According to the lore, the Grootslang is “as old as the world itself.” And it was actually the gods who were directly responsible for it.

When the gods were still learning how to create things, they accidentally made a host of creatures so grotesque — yet, at the same time, so powerful and cunning.

They were absolute horrors and as soon as the gods realized it, they knew they had to get rid of the creatures.

In the end, though, they decided to repurpose them, splitting them into two separate groups of beings — one that eventually became the first snakes to come into existence, and the other, the first elephants.

Unfortunately for the world, one of the menacing beings escaped and hid deep in an expansive, underground cave, located somewhere in South Africa, where it managed to survive for millennia to come.

This creature ate humans and other animals for sustenance and hoarded riches beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

When the local tribespeople first learned about its existence, they called it the Grootslang — meaning, “big snake”.

Could “big snakes” be behind the myth of the Grootslang?

They recorded their encounters with it through rock paintings, scattered across ancient caves — most of which are still available for display across South Africa today, as proof of the antiquity of the Grootslang’s lore.

In more recent years, as sightings began to rise in numbers, the Grootslang have also started to pop up in newspapers and other forms of media.

Does the Grootslang Exist?

Amusing as it may be, the Grootslang and its origin story continue to be challenged by questions and general disbelief to this very day.

Many skeptics have tried to explain what the Grootslang may have actually been.

Although some just plain defy the Grootslang’s ‘reality’, others rationalize alleged Grootslang sightings by claiming that they were nothing but encounters with either a water monitor lizard, a long-necked seal, or an unusually huge rock python.

Be that as it may, it is still unclear just how any of those three could explain the Grootslang’s colossal size.

Nor its gemstone eyes.

Nor its unworldly abilities.

And until one of these things remain unturned, the Grootslang’s actual existence would remain a mystery yet to be answered as well.


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