Mokele-mbembe: The Monster of the Congo River

Mokele-mbembe: The Monster of the Congo River


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Mokèlé-mbèmbé is the name given to a creature believed to inhabit the upper reaches of the Congo River basin, i.e. Congo, Zambia, and Cameroon, as well as in Lake Tele (in the Republic of Congo) and its surrounding regions.

This name originates from the Lingala language, and is commonly translated to mean ‘one who stops the flow of rivers’, said to be a reference to the creature’s supposed preference for nestling in the bends of rivers. Mokèlé-mbèmbé is also said to be the word for ‘rainbow’, as well as ‘mystery’, according to Paul Ohlin, a missionary who has spent more than a decade living with the Bayaka pygmies of Congo and the Central African Republic.

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An artist’s illustration of a Mokèlé-mbèmbé. ( cryptidz.wikia.com)

Description of the Creature

Over the years, numerous physical descriptions of the Mokèlé-mbèmbé have been provided. The various accounts generally agree that the creature is enormous in size and has a long neck with a small head, as well as a long tail. In some accounts, the Mokèlé-mbèmbé is also said to be an herbivorous creature that lived in caves by the river, where it could find its favorite food - a certain type of liana.

Despite its vegetarian diet, it is thought that the Mokèlé-mbèmbé would act aggressively if approached by people. In one account, it is said that the beast has a single horn, perhaps like a rhinoceros, with which it would kill elephants. There are also claims that the Mokèlé-mbèmbé is a spiritual, rather than a physical being.

Illustration of a Mokèlé-mbèmbé

Mokèlé-mbèmbé Sightings

The first report of the Mokèlé-mbèmbé by Westerners dates back to 1776, and is attributed to a French missionary in the Congo River region by the name of Liévin-Bonaventure Proyart. The missionary reported that he had seen enormous footprints (a meter (3.28 ft) in diameter with claw prints) of some animal in that region. The creature that left these footprints, however, was not sighted. No further reports about the Mokèlé-mbèmbé were made until the early part of the 20th century.

In 1909, an explorer by the name of Lt. Paul Gratz wrote about a creature similar to the Mokèlé-mbèmbé, known as the ‘Nsanga’. This creature is found in the legends of the natives living in present day Zambia, and is rumored to inhabit the Lake Bangweulu region. Gratz’s report is important, as it is the first account that describes the animal as dinosaur-like. Since then, it has been commonly accepted that the Mokèlé-mbèmbé is some kind of dinosaur.

Around the same time, Carl Hagenbeck, a renowned German big game hunter , claimed that he had heard about the beast as well. In his autobiography, Beasts and Men , Hagenbeck wrote that he was told about “a huge monster, half elephant, half dragon” that was living “in the depth of the great swamps” in the interior of Rhodesia (an unrecognized state that once occupied the territory which is today Zimbabwe). Hagenbeck also wrote that:

“I am almost convinced that some such reptile must be still in existence. At great expense, therefore, I sent out an expedition to find the monster, but unfortunately they were compelled to return home without having proved anything, either one way or the other.”

An artist's concept of the Mokele-mbembe. ( CC BY SA 4.0 )

Disputed Existence of Mokèlé-mbèmbé

Hagenbeck may have been the first Westerner to have led an expedition to find the Mokèlé-mbèmbé, but he would certainly not be the last. As of 2011, over 50 expeditions have been carried out to find the creature.

Apart from alleged footprints, fuzzy photographic images, and a deluge of eyewitness reports (including one in which a missionary claims to have been acquainted with some pygmies who killed a Mokèlé-mbèmbé during the 1960s), there is a lack of indisputable evidence to prove the existence of the Mokèlé-mbèmbé.

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In addition to the absence of hard evidence, the existence of the Mokèlé-mbèmbé is doubted based on several factors. For example, it has been argued that, if the Mokèlé-mbèmbé is a prehistoric dinosaur, as many claim, then it is highly unlikely for it to be just one animal, or a few individuals.

If the Mokèlé-mbèmbé had survived unchanged in the Congo River basin for the last 65 million years, then there must be a sizeable population of them. Enough physical evidence (such as skeletal remains or feces) would have been left behind by the creatures, and should have been found by now.

Illustration of Brontosaurus in the water, and Diplodocus on land.

Another argument against the existence of Mokèlé-mbèmbé draws from the experience of zoologists who search for species believed to have gone extinct in recent history. If one intends to re-discover a presumably extinct animal, one would need to conduct multiple searches. It has been found that if such a creature still exists, it would usually turn up after three to six searches were conducted, after which the probability of its existence decreases. Given that over 50 expeditions have been conducted, the likelihood that the Mokèlé-mbèmbé exists seems to be pretty slim.

Nevertheless, there are those who have not given up, and who fervently believe that the Mokèlé-mbèmbé will one day be found. The most prominent of these are the Creationists , who hold the view that the Mokèlé-mbèmbé, if found, would provide hard evidence for their literal interpretation of the biblical account of creation.

Depiction of humans attacking a Mokèlé-mbèmbé. ( cryptomundo)

They also believe that the existence of such a creature would serve to discredit the claims of evolutionists, as the Mokèlé-mbèmbé would be ‘proof’ that dinosaurs reproduced “after their kind, not ‘evolving’ from (or into) other life-forms”. Considering what is at stake, it is likely that the hunt for the elusive Mokèlé-mbèmbé will continue for some time to come.


Mokele-mbembe

In cryptozoology, the Mokele-mbembe is a water-dwelling entity that supposedly lives in the Congo River Basin, sometimes described as a living creature, sometimes as a spirit.

During the early 20th century, descriptions of the entity increasingly reflected public fascination with dinosaurs, including aspects of particular dinosaur species now known among scientists to be incorrect, and the entity became increasingly described alongside a number of purported living nonavian dinosaurs in Africa. [1]

Over time, the entity became a point of focus in particular among adherents of the pseudoscience of cryptozoology, and young Earth creationism, resulting in numerous expeditions led by cryptozoologists and funded by young Earth creationists and groups with the aim of finding evidence that invalidates scientific consensus regarding evolution. Paleontologist Donald Prothero remarks that "the quest for Mokele Mbembe . is part of the effort by creationists to overthrow the theory of evolution and teaching of science by any means possible". [2] Additionally, Prothero observes that "the only people looking for Mokele-mbembe are creationist ministers, not wildlife biologists." [3]

Historian Edward Guimont has argued that the Mokele-mbembe myth grows out of earlier pseudohistorical claims about Great Zimbabwe, and in turn influenced the later reptilian conspiracy theory. [4]


The Institute for Creation Research

Perhaps the most exciting prospect for the world of creation science is the possibility that dinosaurs may still be living in the remote jungles of the world. Evolution and its accompanying necessity of long ages of evolutionary development would be hard pressed to accommodate a living dinosaur. Such is the story of Mokele-mbembe, a creature that some scientists believe could be a surviving sauropod dinosaur. The one area today that would favor living dinosaurs is the vast and unexplored swamps of equatorial Africa. Many of the early accounts of the flora and fauna of West and Central Africa came from missionaries and explorers. In 1776, the Abbé Lievain Bonaventure Proyart, wrote in the History of Loango, Kakonga, and other Kingdoms in Africa, about a group of French missionaries who had found the tracks of an enormous unknown animal in the jungle. Pinkerton's translation, published in 1914, reads:

It must be monstrous, the prints of its claws are seen upon the earth, and formed an impression on it of about three feet in circumference. In observing the posture and disposition of the footprints, they concluded that it did not run this part of the way, and that it carried its claws at a distance of seven or eight feet one from the other.

Prints this large could only have been made by an animal the size of an elephant, but elephants do not possess clawed toes. What kind of monster was it? In 1913, the German government decided to survey its then colony of Cameroon, and chose Captain Freiherr von Stein zu Lausnitz to lead the expedition. Von Stein included the following fascinating report on a creature "very much feared by the Negroes of certain parts of the territory of the Congo, the lower Ubangi, the Sangha, and the Ikelemba rivers." They called the animal, Mokele-mbembe.

The animal is said to be of a brownish gray color . . . its size approximating that of an elephant. It is said to have a long and very flexible neck. Some spoke of a long muscular tail like that of an alligator. Canoes coming near it are said to be doomed the animals are said to attack the vessels at once and to kill the crews but without eating the bodies. The creature is said to live in the caves that have been washed out by the river in the clay of its shores at sharp bends. It is said to climb the shore even in daytime in search of its food its diet is said to be entirely vegetable.

Very little was heard of Mokele-mbembe until 1976 when herpetologist,
James Powell from Texas, traveled to Gabon to study rainforest crocodiles. Powell picked up stories from the Fang people about an enormous river monster called N'yamala, and a local witchdoctor called Michael Obang picked out a picture of the diplodocus from a book on dinosaurs as being a dead ringer for the N'yamala which he saw exit a jungle pool in 1946. Powell later conveyed this information to Dr. Roy P. Mackal, a biologist from the University of Chicago and vice president of the International Society of Cryptozoology. In 1979, Mackal and Powell traveled to the People's Republic of the Congo to investigate Mokele-mbembe activity which Mackal believed would be centered in the Likouala region, a huge area of seasonally inundated swamps that was left blank on most maps. In the northern town of Impfondo, situated on the Ubangi river, Mackal and Powell met with the Reverend Eugene Thomas from Ohio, a missionary who had served in the Congo since 1955. Thomas had heard many stories about Mokele-mbembe and sent out for firsthand eyewitnesses who had seen the monster. At first Mackal was reluctant to believe that he was on the trail of a living dinosaur. Yet each witness was absolutely emphatic that the illustrations of the apatasaurus and diplodocus in Mackal's book on dinosaurs were dead ringers for the Mokele-mbembe. According to Mackal:

The witnesses described animals that were 15 to 30 feet long, mostly head, neck and tail. The head was distinctly snake-like, a long thin tail, and a body approximating the size of an elephant, or at least that of a hippopotamus. The legs are short, with the hind legs possessing three claws. The animals are a reddish brown in color, and have a rooster-like frill running from the top of the head down the back of the neck.

All the eyewitnesses agreed that mokele-mbembes live in the rivers, streams, and swampy lakes, and that they are rare and dangerous. Time ran out for Mackal and Powell, and they headed back to the U.S., tantalized by the reports. Mackal returned to the Congo in 1981 with a larger team, and this time headed south on the Likouala aux Herbes River. He attempted to reach the remote Lake Tele, a small, shallow body of water situated in the heart of the swamps where at least one Mokele-mbembe was reportedly speared to death by the Bagombe pygmies in 1960. Unfortunately, the narrow water channels that led to the lake from the unexplored Bai River were jammed with fallen trees, making passage impossible with heavy dugout canoes. One flutter of excitement occurred when the expedition was rounding a river bend just south of the town of Epena. A large creature had abruptly submerged near the far bank, producing an 18 inch high wave that buffeted Mackal's canoe. Crocodiles do not leave such a wake, and hippos that do, are not present in the area, for they have all been chased away by Mokele-mbembes, according to the pygmies.

Also in 1981, Herman Regusters, an engineer from Pasadena, California, led his own expedition to the Congo and actually managed to reach Lake Tele. During their exploration of the lake, Regusters and his wife, Kia, observed a long graceful neck ending in a snake like head, emerge from the water about 30 feet away from their inflatable raft. The creature regarded the astonished explorers for a few seconds with its cold reptilian stare before slipping silently under the water. Towards the end of their expedition, the Regusters team heard the ear-splitting roar of a huge animal as it crashed through the swamp near their camp one night. In 1983, Congolese biologist, Marcellin Agnagna, led his own expedition to Lake Tele. After five days of exploring the swamps surrounding the lake, Agnagna and his colleagues spotted a large animal moving out into the water. It had a small head like a lizard, a long neck, and a large broad back. Agnagna attempted to film the creature with his Super 8 cine camera, but during the excitement he forgot to switch the lens setting from macro to a long distance setting. Once again, vital film evidence eluded the world.

My own (first) expedition to the Congo took place from November 1985 to May 1986. Although we were delayed in Brazzaville for several weeks by the slow-motion bureaucratic system, Pastor Thomas graciously used his contacts in the various government departments to help us get underway. We eventually reached Lake Tele after a challenging five-day slog through the dense forest where we observed gorillas, chimpanzees, large pythons, crocodiles, and turtles, but no large monster. We also found that the fear of Mokele-mbembe was considerable among the rural Congolese which made information gathering very difficult at times. Our guides hunted daily, and on one occasion shot a monkey that we were unable to identify. The remains (the skin and head) were preserved in formaldehyde and later presented to the British Museum of Natural History in London, England. The monkey was later classified as a new subspecies of Cerocebus galeritus, or crestless mangabey monkey.

My second expedition was launched in November 1992 and doubled as an emergency delivery of medical supplies to the mission station in Impfondo where the missionaries maintained a free clinic. On this occasion we headed north on the unexplored Bai River and pushed our way northwest through dense swamps where we found two small lakes that were not even on the maps. Once again our guides were fearful of remaining in the area and we had to cut short our exploration of the swamps. Although many of the inhabitants of the Likouala Region know exactly where we can observe and film a specimen of Mokele-mbembe, they believe that to speak openly of the animals to white outsiders means death. It was nothing more than fear and superstition that was stopping us from making a major discovery.

In 1994, a civil war broke out in the Congo, scotching any possibility of a third expedition there. At this point I began to look for an alternative location in Central Africa in order to continue my search and decided to take another look at Cameroon. The south of the country (which borders the Congo) has scarcely been explored and is still rich in lush forests, swamps, and deep broad rivers, just as Freiherr von Stein had described it in 1913. In November 2000, I traveled to Cameroon with Dave Woetzel from Concord, New Hampshire. We teamed up with Pierre Sima, a Cameroonian national who hunted regularly in the jungle with the Baka pygmies. After purchasing additional supplies, we headed south on some of the worst roads imaginable.

The remainder of our time was spent slogging through waist-high swamp, going from one pygmy village to another. Our efforts were rewarded with firsthand, eyewitness accounts of Mokele-mbembe activity dating from 1986 to April 2000. Although the Baka people referred to the animals as La`Kila-bembe, they described the animals exactly as the Kelle pygmies in the Congo and confirmed that the monsters still inhabited the rivers, swamps, and streams of southern Cameroon. The pygmies also described the monster as having a series of dermal spikes running the length of its neck, back, and tail. This is a physical feature of sauropod dinosaurs that was unknown to paleontologists until 1991. Additional information was also gathered about other strange animals that reputedly inhabit the forest and swamps, including a large quadruped armed with a heavy neck frill and up to four horns on its head. Our witnesses immediately picked out a picture of the triceratops as being a dead ringer for this animal which is reputed to kill and disembowel elephants.

To our surprise, unlike the pygmies of the Congo, the Baka pygmies of Cameroon do not attach any supernatural or mythical beliefs to the mystery animals of southern Cameroon and were happy to answer our questions and provided a great deal of information about them. As a test, we showed the pygmies pictures of other animals such as the North American bear, which they did not recognize, thus establishing a measure of accuracy and truthfulness in their reporting. Enthralled by our progress, we returned home greatly motivated by the knowledge that we had made important progress in the search for Mokele-mbembe.

In February 2002, I returned to Cameroon with a four man Christian expedition. Much valuable time was lost due to problems in finding suitable transportation. However, we did make it back into the target area. Again with the help of our friend, Pierre Sima, we interviewed new eyewitnesses and gathered even more valuable information on Mokele-mbembe and other mystery animals of the region. It was, however, the dry season with the river level very low and very little time left for actual field research. We would have to return during the wet season (which is the best time to observe Mokele-mbembes, according to almost all eyewitnesses).

I must ask the reader to forgive me for the lack of detail regarding the precise location of my field work as I strongly believe that we are a hairsbreadth away from locating and filming a specimen of Mokele-mbembe. If the Lord is willing, I will return to Cameroon in October this year and once again team up with Pierre Sima. Perhaps on this, my fifth expedition, I will now at last film a specimen of Mokele-mbembe, the ultimate living fossil!

* Mr. Gibbons has led four expeditions to Africa in search of Mokele-mbembe.

Cite this article: William J. Gibbons. 2002. In Search Of the Congo Dinosaur. Acts & Facts. 31 (7).


Is Mokele Mbembe a Dinosaur?

By some accounts, it certainly sounds like Mokele-Mbembe could be a type of extant sauropod that was somehow spared the Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction that wiped out the rest of the dinosaurs. It’s a fascinating theory, but pocked full of holes.

The extinction event that killed off the dinosaurs was a world-wide calamity. It was sudden and severe, and the prevailing theory says a large object from outer space such as an asteroid collided with our planet causing massive devastation. The initial impact would have ignited firestorms worldwide, followed by a prolonged sunless winter-like state where plants soon perished.

Herbivores like sauropods that survived the initial impact would have starved once the plants began to wither. Predators would go soon after. No terrestrial animal larger than a few pounds would live. It was a massive kill-off, eliminating the dinosaurs along with over half the species on this planet.

Given this widely accepted theory, how would it ever be possible for even an elephant-sized sauropod to survive to this day? One theory is that, like crocodilians that survived the dino-apocalypse, Mokele-Mbembe somehow lived through the extinction because it is semi-aquatic. If large crocodiles can still exist today, why not a sauropod?

But there is a problem here too. It turns out those old images of the Brontosaurus flopping around in swamps because it was too heavy to walk on land are pretty inaccurate. Modern theories say sauropods were browsers, land animals, and not great candidates for living in lakes and rivers.

And, massive sea creatures like the plesiosaurs did not escape extinction, so semi-aquatic or no it seems Mokele-Mbembe should have perished with the rest of the sauropods.

Paleontologists now know that sauropods like Apatosaurus (formerly Brontosaurus) likely did not live in swamps and lakes.


Taken in 1959 by a Col. Remy Van Lierde, while on patrol over the congo. The snake he saw measured approximately 50 feet in length, dark brown/green with a white belly. It had triangle shaped jaws and a head about 3 ft x 2 ft. Experts have analyzed the pictures and have verified them as authentic

When I read about size, and a creature is described, I have a hard time visualizing the size unless I compare it to something I know the size of. So in this case, 50 feet, is about 5 stories in a city building. Each story is about 10 feet.

So about 5 stories high, if it were stretched out, from cute nose to cute tail tip.

A common comparison method is using trucks, a US semi (the type from the film Convoy) will be between 50 & 57ft from bumper to bumper depending on type of cab and trailer.

I do this too! I use my ceiling. My room is 15 feet wide,each square is 12 x 12

In 1959, as full Colonel, he commanded the air base at Kamina in the Belgian Congo. While there, in the Katanga region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while returning from a mission by helicopter, he encountered a Giant Congo Snake emerging from a hole as he flew over the forests, describing the snake as being close to 50 feet (about 15 meters) in length, earning its place among the largest snakes ever reported.

Upon the incredible discovery, he then turned around and made several passes over the snake at a lower altitude in order to allow another person on board to photograph the creature.

Thanks for the Tumblr link. Great read!

While I'm sure the picture's authentic, I see absolutely nothing that could be used reliably to determine size. A little skeptical.

I believe they used what is believed to be termite mounds in the picture to estimate the size.

I'm not sure if they are actually termite mounds or how big they are if they were. Whatever the object is, the snake length is probably 10-12 times the width of one of these mounds.

These mounds can get a diameter of 30m(98 feet). Obviously these mounds are nowhere near that size. Iɽ say maybe 2 at most to be on the safe side. It probably puts the snake in the 20-30 foot range.

It's probably an african rock python. They say the longest one ever shot was 25ft long. I'm not sure how accurate that is. That being said, they are known to reach 15-20ft in captivity. So it could just be a 20 footer. Still a massive scary snake.

the congo is a terrifying place. this wouldnt surprise me at all if there is any place that would harbor something like this it would be there. the villagers have reported nile crocks that were well beyond the accepted sixteen foot range of accepted adult growth, and is also home of a cryptid, and other places of something many people have reported, called the mokele mbembe. its described as something looking like an aquatic bronto saurus.

I don't doubt the photo is real, but the idea that this is an image of a 50ft snake seems nearly impossible to me. There is nothing nearby to support that claim. There's also simple human nature of seeing something new/exciting/uncommonly big and making it bigger in your head, especially if you don't know what 50' actually looks like, and most people don't know what 50' feet, or really any distance, looks like. There's a picture online of a 21' saltwater crocodile. If you weren't told it was 21 feet, I guarantee that 90% would guess much bigger. If you saw it from a distance, alive and moving, youɽ probably guess it to be even bigger.

Iɽ love for this to be true. I don't rule it out as impossible. Africa is home to many of examples of unusually large creatures. This photo just isn't proof, or even good evidence. It's just an interesting exhibit to go along with an interesting story.

File this under: Really, really cool if it's true but don't hold your breath.

I hate to be a Debbie Downer, and I really appreciate the post OP. Iɽ never heard of this until today. I'm just a skeptic, a real skeptic and not a denier.


Rising 'out the water'

To date, there have been more than 50 expeditions to the region, but no scientific evidence, unless you include the large claw-shaped footprint recorded by a French missionary in 1776, and by a number of others since.

The only photographic images have been so fuzzy, they prove nothing.

But there is no shortage of eyewitness reports.

"I was in a boat on the river when I saw Mokele-mbembe. He began to chase us. Mokele-mbembe rose out of the water," one man told the BBC. "We ran, or he would have killed us."

Lake Tele, 5km across, is a hotspot for Mokele-mbembe sightings

Paul Ohlin, a community development worker who spent more than 10 years living with the Bayaka in Congo and the Central African Republic, just to the north, says the people who live in the area are in no doubt about the creature's existence.

"When people are sitting around the campfire talking, they talk about the Mokele-mbembe - it's something that's a reality in everyday life," he says.

At the same time he emphasises their "spiritual connection" and "mystical relationship" with it.

"The way they see the world is a little different to the way you and I see it," says Paul.

But their eyewitness reports still need to be taken seriously, in his view.

"Certainly mythology surrounds it," says Adam Davies, a British man who spends his spare time and money travelling the world in search of undocumented species, and has twice gone to Africa on the trail of the Mokele-mbembe.

"But when you put it to people, 'Is this a real creature?' they become quite affronted… and they consistently came out with physical descriptions."

"Never dismiss tribal accounts on the basis that they must be talking tosh because they are tribal - that's not right and it's actually disrespectful," he says.


References & Further Reading

Bölsche, W. Dragons: Legend and Science, a popular representation. Stuttgart: Franckh'sche Verlaghandlung, 1929.

Black, R. "A Dinosaur Expedition Doomed From the Start." Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian Institution, 23 May 2012. Web. 1 May. 2020. <https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/a-dinosaur-expedition-doomed-from-the-start-103367120/>

Coleman, L., Clark, J. Cryptozoology A to Z. New York: Fireside, 1999. 167-169.

Hagenbeck, C. Beasts and Men: Being Carl Hagenbeck's Experiences for Half a Century among Wild Animals (English ed.). London: Longmans, Green, 1911. 95-97.

Heuvelmans, B. On the Track of Unknown Animals. London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1958. 435-484.

Ley, W. The Lungfish and the Unicorn: An Excursion Into Romantic Zoology. New York: Modern Age Books, 1941.

Loxton, D., Prothero, D. Abominable Science! New York: Columbia University Press, 2013. 261-295.

Mackal, R. Searching for Hidden Animals. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1980. 59-69.

Radford, B. "Mokele-Mbembe: The Search for a Living Dinosaur." Live Science. Future US, Inc., 13 Aug. 2013. Web. 30 Apr. 2020. <https://www.livescience.com/38871-mokele-mbembe.html>

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Disneyland

The field of cryptozoology - the search for large, unproven species - extends well beyond the realms of mainstream science.

But those who believe Mokele-mbembe exists point out that some animals once dismissed by science have turned out to be real.

The most often cited example is the okapi - a cloven-hoofed mammal with zebra-like stripes on its legs, which lives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, just to the east of Congo-Brazzaville.

In the 19th Century, there was talk among Westerners in Africa of the existence of an "African unicorn" and the explorer Henry Morton Stanley - who had earlier tracked down the missing missionary, Dr David Livingstone - reported seeing a mysterious donkey-like animal on a journey through the Congo in the late 1880s.

It was only in 1901 that the okapi was properly documented and identified as a relative of the giraffe.

"Iɽ put Mokele-mbembe in the same category as the Loch Ness Monster," says Bill Laurance, professor at James Cook University in Australia, a conservation biologist and an expert in tropical rainforests.

"My gut sense is that the likelihood of the creature actually existing today is small.

"However, one thing you learn early on in science is never say never. We are still discovering new species all the time."

The Likouala region in the north-east of Congo Brazzaville is the kind of place that it is easy to imagine containing hidden mysteries. Congolese government officials say 80% of its 66,000 sq km is uncharted. Much of it is dense, often flooded forest, forming part of the second largest rainforest in the world.

"The idea of a creature which is very rare, living in a very remote area with a vast size to it, is not remotely implausible," argues Adam Davies.

But some wonder about the motivations of the Congolese who promote the existence of the creature.

US writer Rory Nugent who went to Congo in search of the Mokele-mbembe and wrote a book about his experience, Drums Along the Congo, says he saw "an elegant French curve moving through the water".

He believes it might have been the head of the famed creature, but he is also deeply sceptical.

"The guides were screaming about a god beast. Whether it was part of the show, whether there was somebody swimming under the water with flippers pushing a cardboard piece across the lake, I couldn't tell you."

Taking foreigners on expeditions to try to find the Mokele-mbembe is a good "money making operation" for those involved, he adds.

Mr Nugent fears that one day a kind of "Disneyland Congo" could be created in the area - similar to the tourist trap around Loch Ness - with scientists and tourists from the world flying in and out.


Mokele-mbembe

Variations: Mokéle-mbêmbe, Mokele Mbembe, Monstrous Animal Nsanga Emela-ntouka, Emia-ntouka, Aseka-moke, Ngamba-namae, Killer of Elephants, Water Elephant Nguma-monene, Badigui, Ngakoula Ngou, Diba, Songo Mbielu-mbielu-mbielu

Tales of the Mokele-mbembe, “One Who Stops the Flow of Rivers” (or, more simply, “River-Shutter”), come from the Congo River Basin, around the Ikelemba, Sanga, and Ubangi rivers and Lake Tele. It is the most discussed and well-known of the “African mystery beasts” primarily due to the cryptozoological interpretation that defines it as a surviving sauropod dinosaur. It – or its unnamed predecessor, at any rate – was initially described as hailing from Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).

There is nothing unique about the mokele-mbembe. It is at least four notable mythic creatures: the river-shutter, the pachyderm slayer, the unicorn, and the giant reptile. River-shutters are sub-Saharan creatures with an aptitude for withholding or releasing a river’s water in communities dependent on life-giving water, this can mean the difference between life and death. The pachyderm slayer – a creature so mighty and dangerous that it routinely kills the biggest and scariest animals known – is a far broader category that has been famously applied to the dragon and the unicorn. The presence of a single horn is a recurring feature of monsters, most notably the unicorn. Finally, giant reptiles (often irresponsibly called “dragons”) are a worldwide theme.

The first to suggest the existence of a large dinosaurian creature was big-game hunter and zoo supplier Carl Hagenbeck. Hagenbeck reports a huge animal, half elephant and half dragon, from deep within Rhodesia (not the Congo, where the mokele-mbembe eventually took up residence). He said that there are drawings of it on Central African caves but provides no further detail on that angle. All in all it is “seemingly akin to the brontosaurus [sic]”. Hans Schomburgk, one of Hagenbeck’s sources, stated that the lack of hippos on Lake Bangweulu was due to a large animal that killed hippos. An expedition sent by Hagenbeck to investigate the creature’s existence found nothing. Tantalizing as it may be, the entire episode with the nameless saurian is no more than an aside in Hagenbeck’s book, an attempt to attract potential investors by capitalizing on the contemporary “dinomania” sweeping the globe.

The first decade of the twentieth century saw a vast increase in public interest in dinosaurs. In 1905 the mounted skeleton of Apatosaurus was unveiled at the American Museum of Natural History and London’s Natural History Museum inaugurated its Diplodocus. Soon museums across the world were receiving their own gigantic sauropod skeletons courtesy of Andrew Carnegie, industrialist and patron of the sciences. In 1907 the skeletons of enormous sauropods emerged in German East Africa these eventually formed a hall of titans in Berlin’s Natural History Museum. Hagenbeck’s account of a living sauropod was not written in a vacuum, but was – consciously or not – drawing on contemporary massive interest in massive reptiles.

E. C. Chubb of the Rhodesia Museum dismissed Hagenbeck’s claim. To him, this creature was no more than another example of the “land edition of the Great Sea Serpent”. He received further accounts of the Rhodesian creature, a large beast with flippers, rhinoceros horns, a crocodile’s head, a python’s neck, a hippo’s body, and a crocodile’s tail a three-horned creature from Lake Bangweulu, Zambia, that killed hippos.

The next step came with Lieutenant Paul Graetz in 1911. He wrote about the Nsanga of Lake Bangweulu, a “degenerate saurian” like a crocodile but without scales and armed with claws on its feet. Graetz supposedly came by strips of nsanga skin but saw nothing more tangible.

The account that concretized the mokele-mbembe and gave it its name was that of German officer Ludwig Freiherr von Stein zu Lausnitz. His report places the mystery beast firmly in the Congo, around the Likouala rivers. The mokele-mbembe has smooth, brownish-grey skin. It is approximately the size of an elephant, or a hippopotamus at the smallest. Its neck is long and flexible. It has only one tooth, but that tooth is very long “some say it is a horn” adds Stein (this feature is usually ignored, as it does not conform to the sauropod narrative). It has a long, muscular tail like a crocodile’s. It attacks canoes and kills its occupants without eating them. The mokele-mbembe is vegetarian and it feeds on a type of liana, leaving the water to do so. It lives in caves dug out by the sharp bends in the river. Stein was shown a supposed mokele-mbembe trackway but could not make it out among the elephant and hippo tracks.

Stein’s account is the basis for the modern mokele-mbembe legend. The report was never officially published, but was publicized by Willy Ley (who inexplicably linked the mokele-mbembe to the dragon of the Ishtar Gate).

This in turn led to successive expeditions to the Congo by James H. Powell Jr. and Roy Mackal. Mackal determined the mokele-mbembe to be 5 to 10 meters long, most of which is neck and tail. It has smooth brown-grey skin and a very long neck with a snakelike head on the end. Sometimes there is a frill, like a rooster’s comb, on the back of the head. The legs are short and stout, with three claws on the hind legs, and leave 30-centimeter-wide prints. The malombo plant is the staple of the creature’s diet. While herbivorous, the mokele-mbembe is very aggressive and will destroy any canoes that approach it. It does so by tipping the vessels, then biting and lashing out with its tail.

In addition to the mokele-mbembe, Mackal is responsible for bringing to light a whole menagerie of prehistoric survivors and some unusually-sized modern reptiles as well. The Emela-ntouka, for instance, is larger than an elephant. Its skin is smooth, hairless, and wrinkly, brown to grey in color. Its legs are thick and columnar to support its weight. The tail is heavy and similar to a crocodile’s. There is a single horn on the front of the head. These creatures are herbivorous and kill buffaloes and elephants by goring them with their single horns. If all this sounds familiar, it’s because none of it is distinguishable from what has been said about the mokele-mbembe (including the horn, no longer an inconvenient detail). Mackal optimistically proposes that the emela-ntouka is a late-surviving ceratopsian dinosaur.

Nguma-monene, “large python” (from nguma, “python”, and monene, “large”) is reported from the Dongou-Mataba river area. It is a large, serpentine reptile, some 40 to 60 meters long, with a saw-toothed ridge down its back. The head is snake-like with a forked tongue that flicks in and out. It is greyish-brown like just about every other large reptilian cryptid. It is indistinguishable from the badigui, ngakoula ngou, diba, or songo of the Ubangi-Shari. All of these are giant snakes which kill hippos and browse on tree branches without leaving the water. They leave tracks behind like those of a lorry. All of them are indistinguishable from the mokele-mbembe. Mackal describes them as enormous monitor lizards.

The Mbielu-mbielu-mbielu, or “animal with planks growing out of its back”, is restricted to the Likouala-aux-Herbes in the Congo. It is known solely as a large animal that has large “planks” on its back with algae growing between them. The rest of its appearance is unknown. Only one informant reported the mbielu-mbielu-mbielu. Mackal makes a surviving stegosaur out of it.

Finally there is the Ndendecki (a giant turtle), the Mahamba (a giant crocodile), and the Ngoima (a giant eagle). None of these are any more believable than the mokele-mbembe and its host of synonyms.

It would be tedious to list all subsequent expeditions (all unsuccessful) or the anthropological procedures used (all unprofessional). It should however be noted that the hunt for the mokele-mbembe has been coopted by the creationist movement. For some reason these people have decided that the discovery of the mokele-mbembe will be enough to destroy the entire theory of evolution (it won’t) because a surviving dinosaur would be a lethal paradox to science (it isn’t).

There is nothing unique about the mokele-mbembe, but as a vaguely defined reptilian river-shutter it is a sort of Rorschach test that viewers can project their preconceptions onto. Far from a detailed local legend, the myth of the mokele-mbembe evolved to suit the needs of the visitors who sought it, whether zoo suppliers, colonialists, cryptozoologists, or creationists. Any underlying folklore about river-shutting reptiles has long been abandoned and discarded, relegated to an etymological footnote. It does not fit the narrative.

Hagenbeck, C., Elliot, S. R. and Thacker, A. G. trans. (1911) Beasts and Men. Longmans, Green, And Co., London.

Ley, W. (1959) Exotic Zoology. The Viking Press, New York.

Loxton, D. and Prothero, D. R. (2013) Abominable Science! Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and other Famous Cryptids. Columbia University Press, New York.

Mackal, R. (1987) A living dinosaur? E. J. Brill, New York.

Naish, D. (2016) Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths. Arcturus, London.

Weishampel, D. B. Dodson, P. and Osmolska, H. (2004) The Dinosauria, 2nd Edition. University of California Press, Berkeley.


The Tracks of the Mokèlé-mbèmbé

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The people around the Congo River Basin have a long oral history of their people and their lands. Among and intertwined with those stories are tales of a gigantic beast that lives in the swamps and rivers of the Congo. Generally it’s a harmless beast, uninterested in eating people, and sticking to a type of liana that grows along the river. That isn’t to say that it isn’t dangerous the tales say that the Mokèlé-mbèmbé will attack and sometimes kill people and hippos. Strangely, this area of the lowlands has an unusually low hippo population.

So the question arises: what exactly is the Mokèlé-mbèmbé? Simplest answer is that it is the Sasquatch of Africa. The name even means “one who stops the flow of rivers”. There are crypozoologists in the world who would say that it/they are real living dinosaurs of the sauropod family still roaming the earth.

They are described as being bigger than a forest elephant with a long neck, a small snake-like or lizard-like head, which was decorated with a comb-like frill. They have a long, flexible tail, reddish-brown skin and four stubby, but powerful legs with clawed toes.

Not unlike Nessy of Lock Ness fame, Mokèlé-mbèmbé just aren’t photogenic. There are some pictures that claim to have captured the image of such a creature, but as a rule they are too distant, too blurry, or too dark. Such obstacles are no deterrent to the determined. Expeditions to find the Mokèlé-mbèmbé have come home with photos of footprints and super-sized trails through the flora.

There is a long history of people encountering the Mokèlé-mbèmbé, including:

    1776 – French priest Abbé Lievain Bonaventure Proyart described the natural history of the Congo Basin of Africa. He wrote about a creature “which was not seen but which must have been monstrous: the marks of the claws were noted on the ground, and these formed a print about three feet in circumference.”

Though there is no conclusive evidence that the Mokèlé-mbèmbé are loitering in the lakes and swamps of the Congo, there are enough hints to make one wonder. Personally, I think it would be keen if such a monster were still out there. Improbable as it is that a beast of such dimension could elude being caught on film for so long, it isn’t impossible. New species are still being cataloged in Africa⁠&mdashand other parts of the world⁠&mdashthough none quite so big.


Watch the video: Could A Living Dinosaur Really Be Stalking The Rivers Of Liberia? Expedition Mungo