In Lingala  Mokele-mbembe
has multiple meanings depending on where you are and who you are
talking to. Loosely translated it can stand for either “one who stops
the flow of rivers,” “one who eats the tops of trees,” or more
dramatically “half god, half beast.”
of a large exotic animal resembling a sauropod (a four legged
herbivorous dinosaur thought to have become extinct by the end of the
Late Cretaceous 65 million years ago) have circulated within Africa’s
native community and worldwide amongst missionaries, scientists,
explorers and especially cryptozoologists  for centuries. The
allegedly live in the Likouala Swamp, Republic of the Congo, a largely
inaccessible and mostly unexplored region encompassing 55,000 square
miles (143,000 square kilometres), an area larger than England.
living along the border of Likouala tell stories of not only seeing the
huge creatures but also killing and attempting to eat one (apparently
it made them ill). It has been described as having a long neck and
tail, being mostly brown in color, hairless and with a length that
varies between 16 and 32 feet (5 to 10 meters), though word has it that
where the swamp extends into the neighboring country of Cameroon
creatures as large as 75 feet (23 meters) have been sighted.
appears to be herbivorous feeding on local vegetation of all types with
its favorite being a berry encrusted shrub called malambo. Herbivorous
doesn’t necessarily mean docile, however, and the huge creatures
apparently in defense of their territory have been known to overturn
canoes and boats and kill either with a swipe of their tail or by
first reference to an unidentified animal that could be Mokele-mbembe
comes from a book written in 1776 by French priest and amateur
naturalist Abbe Bonaventure. While working as a missionary in the Congo
he claimed to have seen enormous clawed footprints 3 feet in
circumference spaced 7 feet apart and though he never actually saw the
creature he did record that “it must have been monstrous.”
1909, Lt. Paul Gratz while traveling in central Africa, supposedly
heard tales from terrified natives who described a large ferocious
creature that made its home in nearby swamps. He referred to it as “a
degenerate saurian,” probably the first correlation drawn between the
animal and a prehistoric dinosaur.
1909 big-game hunter Carl Hagenbeck making reference to the creature in
his autobiography titled "Beasts and Men" claimed to have heard rumours
of a behemoth that was “half elephant, half dragon.” He also claimed to
have had the rumours corroborated by naturalist Joseph Menges who
apparently had heard similar stories of a huge animal, which he
described as “some kind of dinosaur seemingly akin to the brontosaurus.”
1913 the German government sent Army Captain Freiherr von Stein zu
Lausnitz to explore the Cameroon at the time a German protectorate.
While there Lausnitz reported hearing about the large animal that was
causing so much controversy. He wrote that the locals called it
Mokele-mbembe, and said that it was "herbivorous, brownish gray in
color, had a long neck and tail and was about the size of an elephant".
the end of the decade, newspapers throughout Europe and North America
were busily printing articles concerning this supposed vestige of
prehistory and the hunt for the elusive cryptid was on in earnest.
1920 the Smithsonian mounted a sizable expedition which found little of
consequence a few muddy tracks and an unidentified roaring sound the
sum total of their endeavors. The expedition ended when a train on
which they were traveling overturned crushing four team members to
death and seriously injuring others.
West Cameroon allegedly provided some anxious moments for zoologist and
cryptologist Ivan T. Sanderson and animal trader Gerald Russell. In
1932, while traveling up the Mainyu River through an area known as the
Mamfe Pool they apparently encountered something extraordinary.
to Sanderson the canoeists were paddling desperately, fighting a strong
current which threatened to draw them into a large partially submerged
cave, when suddenly the water ahead of them began to boil furiously and
from the foam burst a lizard-like head the size of a hippopotamus.
Allegedly the monster stared menacingly at the terrified paddlers, then
roared loudly, before sliding back beneath the river's murky surface.
zoologist was to later write “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.”
story certainly sounds exciting even convincing, unfortunately it's
also apparently a hoax, disproved by herpetologist James H. Powell Jr.
who traveled to the exact location of Sanderson’s purportedly horrific
encounter and found no evidence of either strong currents, a partially
submerged cave, or a monster. He did, though, find a modern railway
passing within a few feet of the supposedly secluded Mokele-mbembe
In an attempt to
uncover the truth, Dr. Roy P. Mackal cryptozoologist/zoologist of Loch
fame questioned Sanderson, who admitted to the fraud saying that he
"loved to eat lobster,” or to put it another way he loved the good
life, a life he afforded through the sale of his books, sales which
were increased considerably by a dash of dramatic license and a dollop
1980 James H. Powell Jr. arrived in Africa in the company of Dr.
Mackal. Unfortunately their objective, Lake Tele in the wilds of
Likouala, proved elusive.
1981 Mackal returned for what was to be his last expedition this time
accompanied by Marcellin Agnagna a Congolese biologist who would later
become the centre of a new wave of debate. Mackal once again failed to
reach Lake Tele, an unidentified wake and loud splash the closest he
came to observing the elusive beast.
1983 Agnagna led an expedition of his own to Lake Tele this time
succeeding and in the process becoming mired in controversy. The
biologist claimed to not only having seen Mokele-mbembe but also to
have filmed it. Unfortunately, he maintained, there was no proof
because in the excitement of the moment he forgot to remove the
camera’s lens cap. Well maybe you might say but then a year later,
during an interview, the biologist changed his story stating that he
didn’t have proof, not because of a forgotten cap but because the
camera was on the wrong setting. This along with personal and financial
problems placed both his claims and his credibility in doubt.
the early 1990s Redmond O’Hanlon, author (his book "No Mercy: A Journey
Into the Heart of the Congo" is a great read) and fellow of the Royal
Geographical Society, traveled throughout the region finding no trace
of the cryptid. He did, however, discover that many of the locals
believe Mokele-mbembe to be a spiritual rather than a physical entity.
His personal opinion is that other animals, perhaps elephants crossing
rivers with their trunks in the air, are the reality behind sightings.
aforementioned notwithstanding, the following is a given:
swamp is a huge area and huge areas can hide many secrets.
what they wish to believe.
Hoaxes are as old
footprints have been found there is no hard incontrovertible evidence
that they were made by a dinosaur.
unknown, thought extinct, or critically endangered are, however, being
found on a continuing basis:
1902, Oscar von Beringe, a young German military officer, discovered
mountain gorillas (at the time an unknown species) on the highest
slopes of the Virunga Mountains of central Africa.
1938, a coelacanth, a species believed to have died out in the Late
Cretaceous, was discovered in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of
August of 2008 the Wildlife Conservation Authority announced the
discovery of over 125,000 western lowland gorillas, a species on the
critically endangered list, living in the Likouala.
Lingala is a Bantu language spoken by over 10 million people in an area
comprising Angola, the Central African Republic, the Republic of the
Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Refering to those who pursue creatures that are (at present)
unsubstantiated by modern science their alleged existence based on myth, rumor and eyewitness sightings.
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