Today in Africa, in the People's Republic of the Congo, there lies a vast, hot and humid area covered with thick forests and dotted with streams and swamps. Of these swamps, there exists one that is undisputedly the largest in the entire world . . . the Likouala Swamp. Approximately 55,000 square miles, larger than the entire state of Florida, the government has officially declared it 80% unexplored. To the scientific community, this area is as foreign as an entirely new planet.
Reports of dinosaur-like creatures in Central Africa go back for more than 200 years, according to William "Bill" Gibbons. In 1776, French missionaries passing through the forests reported finding huge footprints in the ground. The clawed prints were three feet in circumference and were spaced about seven feet apart. This would have made the animal as big as an elephant, but it was common knowledge to the locals that the tracks were not from an elephant, since elephants do not posses claws. One of the priests, amazingly, even gave claim to have seen several specimens chewing on vegetation while wading in the rivers. Regardless, it was certain that these were an entirely new group of animals. At that time, however, they were neither "dinosaurs" nor "prehistoric," the words waiting to be invented nearly one hundred years later.
In 1913, a German explorer reported stories of, what the natives called, "Mokele-mbembe," which he had heard while in the Congo. Hearing the reports, a few scientists noticed that the descriptions of the creatures made them sound much like sauropod dinosaurs. Sauropods were the giants of the dinosaurs world, averaging about 70 feet (21 meters) long and standing 12-15 feet (3.7 to 4.8 m) tall at the hips.
In 1932, a British scientist, exploring near the Likouala region where the creatures are said to live, came across some abnormally huge footprints. Later, when he went down one of the rivers in a canoe, he heard strange sounds, but did not see anything.
Coincidentally, that same year the world famous zoologist and biologist, Ivan T. Sanderson, along with animal-trader Gerald Russel, were paddling up the Mainyu River in the heart of western Africa when, according to Sanderson's report:
"The most terrifying sound I have ever heard, which sounded like an on-coming earthquake or an exploding, nearby robot, suddenly greeted us from a large underwater cave."
While the water of the river was boiling and foaming directly in front of their canoe, a darkish, shining lizard-like head suddenly rose from the dark water. They described the head as nearly the size of the head of a fully grown hippo, which sat on a thick, swan-like neck. The enormous neck was turned towards the two men, and for just a few seconds, although it seemed like an eternity, the monster simply stared at Sanderson and Russel. Mr. Sanderson summed up his thoughts with these emphatic words:
"I don't know what we saw, but the animal, the monster, burned itself into my retinas. It looked like something that ought to have been dead millions of years ago. As a scientist, I should have been happy, of course, but this encounter was so frightening, so nasty that I never want to see it again."
A Brief Analysis
Mokele-mbembe is Lingala, and can mean a variety of things. The word is commonly defined as "One that stops the flow of rivers," but can also mean "one who eats the tops of palm trees," "monstrous animal," or even "half-God, half-beast." Mokele-mbembe is also used as a generic term to refer to other animals like Emela-ntouka, Mbielu-mbielu-mbielu, and Nguma-monene.
Mokele-mbembe has been described as an animal with a long neck, a long tail, and rounded shape tracks with three claws. The closest known animal that has these characteristics is a sauropod dinosaur.
Mokele-mbembe lives in the pools and swamps adjacent to the rivers of the Likouala swamp region of The People's Republic of Congo on the continent of Africa. It is said to use the lakes as a crossing path to go from one river to another.
The body size of each specimen is said to be somewhere between the size of a hippopotamus and an elephant. Its length is reportedly between 16 to 32 feet (5 to 10 meters). The length of the neck, according to various descriptions, is between 5 to 10 feet (1.6 to 3.3 meters). The length of the tail is somewhere between 5 to 10 feet as well, varying slightly.
Interestingly, there have been a few reports of a frill on the back of the head. The frill is said to be like the comb found on a male chicken (cock). There have also been reports of a small horn on its head.
The color of the skin is predominately reddish-brown with a color range from gray to brown. There are no reports of hair on the animal. If there were, it would obviously contradict the reptilian dinosaur theory.
Tracks possess a significantly rounded shape between 1 to 3 feet (30 to 90 centimeters) in diameter with three claws. The distance between tracks is about 7 to 8 feet (2.1 to 2.4 meters).
The predominant belief is that Mokele-mbembe does not create any sounds, though there have been some conflicting reports. This is probably due to the fact that Mokele-mbembe is used generically for other animals and the sound is being confused with Emela-ntouka, a creature which makes a sound like a snort, howl, roar, rumble, or growl.
The pygmies, natives of the Likouala Swamp region, report that the essential diet of Mokele-Mbembe consists primarily of the Malombo plant. Since it only eats plants, it is classified as an herbivore. The Malombo plant actually describes two plants: Landolphia mannii and Landolphia owariensis.
Mokele-Mbembe lives underwater most of the time except when it eats or travels to other parts of the swamp. It has as been reported that it does not like hippopotamuses and will kill them on sight, though it does not eat them. According to the pygmies, Hippopotamuses cannot be found where Mokele-Mbembe lives.
Expeditions primarily began in the 1880s, shortly after the region was taken over by Belgium. For many years, therefore, it was called the Belgium Congo. Beginning from 1909, here is a brief list of over a dozen of them.
AMERICAN EXPEDITION 1909
Naturalist Carl Hagenbeck recounted in his autobiography how two separate individuals - a German named Hans Schomburgh and an English hunter - told him about a "huge monster, half elephant, half dragon," which lived in the Congo swamps. Later, another naturalist, Joseph Menges, related to Hagenbeck that "some kind of dinosaur, seemingly akin to the brontosaurs," inhabited the swamps. Hagenbeck soon sent an expedition to the Congo to search for the monster, but the effort was quickly aborted due to disease and hostile natives.
GERMAN EXPEDITION 1913
In 1913, Capt. Freiherr von Stein zu Lausnitz was sent by the German government to explore the Cameroon. Von Stein wrote of a unique animal called, in the local tongue, Mokele-mbembe, said to inhabit the areas near the Ubangi, Sangha, and Ikelemba Rivers. Von Stein described the creature thus:
"The animal is said to be of a brownish-gray color with a smooth skin, its size approximately that of an elephant; at least that of a hippopotamus. It is said to have a long and very flexible neck and only one tooth, but a very long one; some say it is a horn. A few spoke about a long muscular tail like that of an alligator. It is said to climb the shore even at daytime in search of food; its diet is said to be entirely vegetable. At the Ssombo River I was shown a path said to have been made by this animal in order to get at its food. The path was fresh and there were plants of the described type [a liana] nearby"
AMERICAN EXPEDITION 1920
A 32-men-strong expedition was sent out from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. After six days, African guides found large, unexplained tracks along the bank of a river and later the team heard mysterious "roars, which had no resemblance with any known animal," coming from an unexplored swamp. However, the Smithsonian's hunt for Moklele-Mbembe was to end in tragedy. During a train-ride through a flooded area where an entire tribe was said to have seen the dinosaur, the locomotive suddenly derailed and turned over. Four team members were crushed to death under the cars and another half dozen seriously injured.
AMERICAN EXPEDITION 1932
In 1932, American cryptozoologist Ivan Sanderson was traveling in Africa and came across large hippo-like tracks in a region with no hippos. He was told by the natives that they were made by a creature named the "mgbulu-eM'bembe." Later, Sanderson saw something in the water that seemed too large to be a hippo, but it disappeared before he could investigate further.
AMERICAN EXPEDITION 1972
In 1960, herpetologist James H. Powell, Jr. took interest in the African dragons and organized an expedition to the Congo in 1972. Powell's expedition, unfortunately, was fraught with problems (the United States and the Congo had poor relations at the time). Many months of hardships such as snake-bites, near-drownings and tropical diseases only led to more witness testimonies about Mokele-Membe and another lizard-like creature which locally was called "n'yamala."
AMERICAN EXPEDITION 1976
In 1976, James Powell decided to go to Gabon instead, inspired by a book called "Trader Horn." (In 1927, the book, a memoir of the author's time in Gabon, specifically along the Ogooue River, was written by Englishman Alfred Aloysius Smith. He recorded hearing of a creature called the "jago-nini" and identified it with the "amali," a creature whose tracks he had seen). He was quick to realize they were probably identical to the Mokele-mbembe. Furthermore, Powell heard local legends of the n'yamala, and locals identified pictures of a sauropod dinosaur as bearing the most resemblance to the animal.
GERMAN EXPEDITION 1980
An expedition mounted by engineer Herman Regusters and his wife Kia managed to make its way to Lake Tele, where they heard the growls and roars of an unknown creature. They also claimed to have photographed Mokele-Mbembe in the lake, as well as watching it walk on land through the brush. According to Regusters, the creature they saw was 30-35 feet long.
AMERICAN EXPEDITION 1980
Powell launched another expedition in 1980, but this time cryptozoologist Roy P. Mackal came along. Powell and Mackal found that a large number of reports came from the banks of the Likouala-aux-herbes River near Lake Tele. They said that most witnesses maintained that the animal was between 15-30 feet long (a long neck accounted for much of the length). The creature was also said to be a rust color, and that some had been seen to possess a frill or crest.
AMERICAN EXPEDITION 1981
Yet another expedition was organized in 1981 - this time composed of Mackal, J. Richard Greenwell, M. Justin Wilkinson, and Congolese zoologist Marcellin Agnagna. The expedition encountered what they believed was a Congo "dinosaur" along the Likouala River, when they heard a large animal leaping into the water near Epena. They also discovered a path of broken branches supposedly made by the animal, as well as a number of footprints.
AFRICAN EXPEDITION 1983
In April, 1983, a Congolese expedition led by Marcellin Agnagna, a zoologist from the Brazzaville Zoo, arrived to Lake Tele. Agnagna claimed to have seen the beast some 275 meters out in the lake. The animal held its thin, reddish head - which had crocodile-looking, oval eyes and a thin nose - on a height of 90 cm and looked from side to side, almost as if it was watching him. According to Agnagna, the animal was a reptile, though not a crocodile, nor a python or a freshwater turtle.
BRITISH EXPEDITION 1985-86
Englishman William J. Gibbons (presently living in Canada) talked to several eye-witnesses who gave him valuable information about the Mokele-Mbembe. He is currently convinced that the dinosaur exists, but at the time was unable to prove it. However, upon his return to the UK he brought with him the remains of a monkey which he could not identify. This was later classified as a new sub-species of crestless mangabey monkey (cerocebus galeritus). Fish and insect specimens also found in the Congos remain unclassified to date.
JAPANESE EXPEDITION 1987
A piece of blurry video footage filmed by a Japanese film crew supposedly showing the creature in Lake Tele remains disputable evidence of the animal's existence. The film is indistinct and grainy, possibly just showing two men in a boat with one of them standing upright in the front of the vessel, as is common in Africa. This has been interpreted as a head and neck, but this interpretation of the videotape is purely speculative at best.
BRITISH EXPEDITION 1990
Author and explorer Redmond O'Hanlon returned from his failed expedition convinced that witnesses must have mistaken wild elephants, crossing rivers with their trunk in the air, for a prehistoric Mokele-Mbembe.
BRITISH EXPEDITION 1992
William Gibbons tried again six years later, this time together with American explorer Rory Nugent. Together they searched almost two thirds of the unexplored Bai River while also examining two small lakes North West of Lake Tele. These are Lake Fouloukuo and Lake Tibeke, which are surprisingly absent from most maps. Both are said to be haunts of Mokele-Mbembe. Rory Nugent also took two interesting photographs of something most unusual in Lake Tele. One may actually show the head of a Mokele Mbembe.
What are we to conclude about the Mokele-mbembe . . . in essence, what would be the correct, most unbiased position to take? To give such a conclusion, we believe, requires the admittance of all facts.
#1. There lies an area larger than the state of Florida in the People's Republic of Congo. This area has been officially declared by government officials as 80% unexplored.
#2. Natives of the area, namely the Pygmies, speak of a strange animal roughly the size of an elephant, possessing a long, thin neck, which they call "Mokele-mbembe."
#3. Expeditions to the area have proven unsuccessful. Though claims have been made of the animal being seen and heard, clear, unmistakable photographs or video footage have not yet been attained.
#4. Unusual footprints have been found, notably by Dr. Roy Mackal. The footprints are large and wide, clearly bearing claws at the tips of each toe. These footprints do not belong to any known species.
These four facts in and of themselves deserve careful consideration. We simply know too little of the area. "The Dark Continent" still remains just that, and time is our only proponent in man's search for a living dinosaur. Until then, we can only wonder what animals have yet to be discovered in this vast and mysterious world of ours.