Encyclopaedia of Cryptozoology
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Mokele-mbembe

The alleged 1959 killing of a mokele-mbembe at Lake Tele as pictured by David Miller on the cover of A Living Dinosaur? In Search of Mokele-Mbembe (1987).

Category Neodinosaur
Proposed scientific names
Other names See below
Country reported Benin, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo
First reported 1929[1]
Prominent investigators Willy Ley
Ivan T. Sanderson
Roy P. Mackal
James Powell
J. Richard Greenwell
Herman Regusters
Marcellin Agnagna
Bill Gibbons
Michel Ballot

The mokele-mbembe or li'kela-bembe is a neodinosaurian cryptid reported mainly from the Republic of the Congo and Cameroon, where it is alleged to inhabit swampy or marshy wetlands, lakes, and rivers. It is particularly associated with the Likouala region and Lake Tele, but is also reported from a number of other bodies of water. The mokele-mbembe is described as a large amphibious animal with a bulky body, a long neck and tail, and a small head, a description which has long suggested a sauropod dinosaur to many cryptozoologists, although a wide variety of other reptilian and mammalian identities have been suggested.[2][3]

The mokele-mbembe is allegedly ethnoknown to most indigenous peoples of the western Congo Basin, who apply various names, most of them resembling the word mokele-mbembe, to it, although the etymology of this best-known name is debated. The earliest written accounts of the mokele-mbembe were published by German explorers during the interwar period, and the mokele-mbembe was subsequently covered in works on romantic zoology, and early cryptozoological works,[4][5] but little new information was gathered for fifty years. During the 1980s, the well-publicised field research of Roy P. Mackal, James Powell, Herman Regusters, and Marcellin Agnagna made the mokele-mbembe one of the most well-known, and controversial, subjects of cryptozoology.[6] Since then, a number of large and small expeditions have investigated the mokele-mbembe, without discovering proof of its existence. Two of the mokele-mbembe's most prominent current investigators are Bill Gibbons and Michel Ballot, both of whom have moved their focus from the Republic of the Congo to Cameroon, with a view to future expeditions in Gabon.[7]

Depending on the region, the mokele-mbembe may be seen by local people as a normal, albeit rare and dangerous, animal, or as a mythological creature. Cryptids apparently analogous to the mokele-mbembe have been reported from other regions of Central Africa; possible equivalents to the mokele-mbembe include the n'yamala, jago-nini, badigui, kikuru, zuje, and mbilintu.[6][5] In the Aka language, mokele-mbembe is used as a generic term referring to any large unknown animal, most commonly the horned emela-ntouka, a convention which has caused confusion.[6]

Attestations and history of study[]

Possible early reports[]

An account of a large animal in the western Congo, believed by several cryptozoologists to be a very early mokele-mbembe report, appears in the Abbott Liévin-Bonaventure Proyart's (1743 – 1808) Histoire de Loango, Kakongo et Autres Royaumes d'Afrique (1776). According to Proyart, missionaries in West Africa had reported the existence of a very large animal, on the basis of tracks they had discovered.[3]

The missionaries observed, passing along a forest, the trail of an animal 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. The arrangement of the impressions indicated that the animal was walking, not running; the distance between the footprints measured seven to eight feet.

Bernard Heuvelmans, who was the first to quote Proyart's account in a cryptozoological context, felt that the track could plausibly have been left by a very large water lion.[5] However, most later cryptozoologists have classified the report as a possible mokele-mbembe account.[3][8][9]

1929–1980[]

The mokele-mbembe was first reported by the German colonial officer Ludwig Freiherr von Stein zu Lausnitz (1868 – 1934), who in 1913 came out of retirement to lead the Likuala-Kongo Expedition, to what is now part of the northern Republic of the Congo, but was then part of the German colony of Kamerun. Stein was forced to turn back on the Sanga River due to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, and his account of the zoological and botanical side of the expedition was therefore never published. However, he did send his unpublished data to the German writer and naturalist Wilhelm Bölsche (1861 – 1939), who was then working on a study of dragons, Drachen: Sage und Naturwissenschaft (1929), in which he was to argue that such legends may have been inspired by the historical survival of dinosaurs and other prehistoric reptiles. Bölsche subsequently included Stein's notes on the mokele-mbembe in this work.[5] Romantic zoologist Willy Ley, who had corresponded with Bölsche, also acquired a copy of Stein's manuscript, which he translated and published in English in The Dodo, the Lungfish and the Unicorn (1948).[3]

Stein's descriptions of the mokele-mbembe came independently from guides in the regions of the Lower Ubangi, Sanga, and Ikelemba Rivers, all of whom gave consistent accounts. Stein regarded the mokele-mbembe with caution, referring to it as a "very mysterious thing," which "possibly does not exist except in the imagination of the natives"; however, he believed that it was "probably based on something more tangible".[3] Although a number of alternative renderings of the cryptid's name have since been recorded, Stein's original spelling, mokele-mbembe, has stuck.

The creature is reported not to live in the smaller rivers like the two Likualas, and in the rivers mentioned only a few individuals are said to exist. At the time of our expedition a specimen was reported from the non-navigable part of the Sanga River, somewhere between the two rivers Mbaio and Pikunda; unfortunately in a part of the river that could not be explored due to the brusque end of our expedition. We also heard about the alleged animal at the Ssômbo River. The narratives of the natives result in a general description that runs as follows:
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. Canoes coming near it are said to be doomed; the animal is 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 at daytime in search of food; its diet is said to be entirely vegetable. This feature disagrees with a possible explanation as a myth. The preferred plant was shown to me, it is a kind of liana with large white blossoms, with a milky sap and apple-like fruits. At the Ssômbo 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 near by. But since there were too many tracks of elephants, hippos, and other large mammals it was impossible to make out a particular spoor with any amount of certainty.

Stein also transmitted certain comments on the mokele-mbembe made in his expedition diary to Bölsche, but these were not published verbatim. According to an entry made on the Upper Sanga at Bomassa, the Nzimu people gave an identical description of the mokele-mbembe, while some Fula people from the Garoua region of northern Cameroon claimed that a very similar, but rare animal existed in the Benue River in the far north of Cameroon, part of the Niger Basin.[1]

In 1934, an anonymous Belgian described a similar animal in a longer travel article for Avenir Colonial Belge, which was later reprinted in the French periodical L'Etoile de l'A.E.F. According to this man, stories of such animals were current around the Great Lakes and Uele Basin in the northeast, Katanga in the southeast, and Bangala in the northwest; but his personal knowledge of the cryptid came from accounts received in the Kasai Basin, to the south of the usual mokele-mbembe zone.[10]

... they call it the "sanki"; when they describe it, the blacks tell you: "It exceeds the tallest trees, the body is like that of a formidable ox, with a large tail; its neck is immense and ends in a rather small head on which it has a large crest like a coxcomb; it dwells in the swamps and swims at a very great speed" ... In Kasai, I even heard of a native chief who jealously guarded the tail of a brontosaur.

Another German explorer, the magistrate Leo von Boxberger (1879 – 1950), also corroborated Stein's information in a 1938 article in the periodical Umschau, entitled "Ein Unentdecktes Grosstier in Innerafrika?," which Mackal regarded as "very sketchy" but important.[3] According to Boxberger's account...[4]

My own contribution to the subject is unfortunately very small. At the mouth of Mbam in Sanaga in Central Cameroons and on the Ntem in Southern Cameroons, I collected a variety of data from the natives about the mysterious water-beast, but alas, all my notes and also the local description of the animal were lost in Spanish Guinea when the Pangwe attacked the caravan carrying my few belongings. All that I can report is the name mbokalemuembe given to the animal in Southern Cameroons...
The belief in a gigantic water-animal described as a reptile with a long thin neck, exists among the natives throughout the Southern Cameroons, wherever they form part of the Congo basin and also to the west of this area, doubtless wherever the great rivers are broad and deep and are flanked by virgin forest. This belief seems to be widespread throughout the Congo Basin. The monster is herbivorous and mainly feeds on the luxuriant aquatic vegetation of this region: to do this it does not come out of the water until after sunset. Its preferred habitat is in places where, as a result of the force of the current, deep and peaceful creeks have formed. These are the features common to all indigenous stories of this kind.

Following the First World War, German Kamerun was divided between the French and the British, with the French taking possession of the regions from which the mokele-mbembe was reported. During his attempt to establish the etymology of the name mokele-mbembe, the French anthropologist and linguist Pierre Alexandre (1922 – 1994), a regular correspondent of Bernard Heuvelmans, was told by around thirty young Congolese people, from both sides of the river, that the mokele-mbembe was a "species of giant crocodile". One man present said that it was actually "a legendary beast," but the others immediately rejected this with reports of sightings, all of them second-hand, from Cameroon to the centre of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[5]

In 1960, Alexandre communicated firsthand information on a similar animal from the Dja River to Bernard Heuvelmans, having made the connection between it and the mokele-mbembe while reading On the Track of Unknown Animals (1955). During a tour of the Dja, Alexandre had discovered that the Zaman people refused to take their canoes out onto the open water of the river out of fear of an unnamed "monster." This animal was described as having a long neck, at least as long as 6' Alexandre's leg, a head "like a big turtle," hard or scaly skin, and a body initially compared to a car, a machine with which the Zaman were only cursorily familiar. Pressed further on the monster's size, they stated that it was much larger than a 200 liter gasoline barrel, but smaller than an elephant. It was alleged to live in deep water, coming out only during the night, and left tracks the shape and size of a large paddle. While it did not eat people, it was feared for its habit of overturning canoes and drowning the occupants.[5]

A significant testimony apparently referring to the mokele-mbembe was made by Doctor Pierre Nuyen, who was stationed in French Equatorial Africa in 1958–1959. After a journey across the swamp from Impfondo and Epena, Nuyen and his party had arrived at a small village near the Cameroon border, where elderly villagers told him that...[11]

... according to the tradition transmitted by the parents of their parents, in these swamps of Lake Tele, would live a beast that looks like an enormous pangolin. They told me that if it crossed the arm of the Likouala aux Herbes at the post of Epena, its tail would still drag on the shore as its head and its forelegs would have reached the opposite bank, which would give it a length of 20 meters.

Waldfried Ted Roth, former General Curator of the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, and a member of Ivan T. Sanderson's Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained, claimed to have received a description of a mokele-mbembe-like animal from Benin, the details of which were published in Pursuit in January 1970.[5] During an expedition to the marshy western affluents of the Oueme River in 1959, Roth's Waci guides refused to cross a swamp for fear of this animal, the m'ké-n'bé–possibly a contraction of mokele-mbembe. Upon returning to a nearby village, the local chief, who spoke poor English, told him that the swamp was home to "water elephants," which were not related to normal elephants. He described these animals as far larger than elephants, with a long neck (described as a 'trunk' coming out of the body) featuring a small head, flat paddle-like forelimbs, and a long whiplike tail. The m'ké-n'bé was not supposed to kill men, feeding on herbs and small trees, but it would trample them to death. Roth drew a picture of a manatee for the chief, who said that the body of the m'ké-n'bé was similar, but the neck was much longer, and the head was more like that of a monitor lizard.[12]

Sanderson himself was also interested in the mokele-mbembe, which he claimed to have seen in the Mainyu River region of Cameroon in 1932, in company with Gerald Russell. According to Sanderson, the local name used was 'mbulu-em'bembe or m'kuoo-m'bemboo.[5] Sanderson's 1948 Saturday Evening Post article on the mokele-mbembe and similar cryptids, "There Could Be Dinosaurs," was a major inspiration for Bernard Heuvelmans, although Sanderson did not mention his own sighting in this article.[5] Philip Averbuck, another SITU member, also investigated stories of mokele-mbembe-like cryptids in Cameroon during late 1979.[6][13]

1980–2000[]

Biologist and cryptozoologist Roy P. Mackal (1925 – 2013) is considered to have sparked the modern interest in the mokele-mbembe with his two expeditions to the Republic of the Congo.

Modern interest in the mokele-mbembe was sparked by a series of international and local expeditions beginning in 1980, but having their origin in the 1970s, with James Powell's investigation into the n'yamala in Gabon. Powell was a herpetologist who was in Africa to study crocodiles, but, having an interest in cryptozoology after reading On the Track of Unknown Animals, he also made enquiries about unknown animals. Bernard Heuvelmans utilised Powell's early research in Les Derniers Dragons d'Afrique (1978), which covered the mokele-mbembe and other neodinosaurs, but advised Powell to turn his investigations east.[5] Powell also shared his data with Roy P. Mackal, whose subsequent book Searching for Hidden Animals (1980) included a chapter on the n'yamala and mokele-mbembe. Like Heuvelmans, Mackal concluded that the best place to search for neodinosaurs would be further east, in the northern Republic of the Congo, where Stein had originally heard of the mokele-mbembe:[14][15] Powell thought that Lake Tele would be a suitable region.[16]

In 1980, Mackal and Powell travelled to the northern Republic of the Congo, as far as Epena, to collect preliminary information on the mokele-mbembe, but their investigations were hampered by their limited visas. At Impfondo, they received critical help from an American missionary, Eugene Thomas, who would go on to help several mokele-mbembe expeditions. It was soon established that locals of Impfondo were familiar with the mokele-mbembe, and one informant, a young man named Joachim Mameka, gave them a detailed description of its alleged distribution.[3]

It is an animal of the water. My father knew this animal and always spoke the truth ... It has been seen in the Ubangi to the south and where there is a big bend in the river and a vortex. Also there is another place where there are many rocks on this side of the Ubangi. I do not think anyone has seen it at these places just now, but, in the Epena district to the west, there are reports of this animal right now. You must speak with the pygmies–they travel in the jungle–they know–they have lots of courage and go to places Africans would never dare to go. They know the truth about the Mokele-mbembe. The name Mokele-mbembe is not given to a nonexistent animal–of that you can be sure.

The first alleged eyewitness introduced to Mackal and Powell, Firman Mosomele, also told them that the mokele-mbembe lived in the Epena district, where people avoided the riverbank at dusk, when it came to the water's edge to browse. Only its head and neck were usually seen, but its tracks were sometimes seen on the bank at Mokengi. Mackal and Powell also received information indicating that a variety of superstitions and taboos were attached to the mokele-mbembe; most importantly, it was believed that talking about the mokele-mbembe would cause death, and several people feared that village elders would harm them if they shared information with outsiders. However, Mackal and Powell did confirm that Stein's description of the mokele-mbembe's favoured food, the malombo liana, had been accurate. An employee of the Congolese Ministry of Agriculture named Daniel Omoe reported that a mokele-mbembe inhabited a pool in the swamp between Dzeke and Epena, on the Likouala-aux-Herbe. According to Omoe, during the dry season of 1979, very large clawed tracks were discovered on a sandbar in the middle of this part of river, associated with flattened grass.[3]

Mackal was able to establish that belief in the mokele-mbembe as a real animal, and consistent identification of the sauropod drawings with the mokele-mbembe, became stronger towards a swampy area in the north of the country, in the vicinity of Epena. Here, Mackal and Powell received consistent descriptions of the mokele-mbembe, which was invariably identified with a picture of a sauropod. Local knowledge petered out near the border with DR Congo and in the south, at Molembe and Mobenzele, where there were not even third-hand sightings, and where nobody knew what the mokele-mbembe looked like. The most current stories regarding the mokele-mbembe were said to be at Epena, where Mackal and Powell received confirmation of the rumour, first heard at Impfondo, that a mokele-mbembe had been killed at Lake Tele many years ago.[3] Mackal and Powell therefore concluded that the epicentre was likely Lake Tele, where they believed they might discover remains of the dead mokele-mbembe, or even come across the surviving individual. However, the journey to Lake Tele was known to be extremely difficult, and, with their visas running out, Mackal and Powell decided to return to the United States, planning to make a second attempt.[17] Upon their return to the United States, Mackal and Powell published much of their data in various magazines and journals. Both men had also been interviewed in the United States before and after the expedition, and these interviews appeared on an episode of Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World.

Herman Regusters (1933 - 2005) made the journey to Lake Tele, where he claimed to have recorded the roaring of a mokele-mbembe.

Intending to gather better evidence, and to reach Lake Tele by water, Mackal led a second, better-equipped expedition with J. Richard Greenwell, whom Mackal had met when Greenwell was surveying scientific opinion on the Loch Ness monster, geomorphologist M. Justin Wilkinson, and photographer Marie Womack. Funding was provided by Texan businessman Jack Bryan. Aerospace engineer Herman Regusters was to accompany the expedition, but he and Mackal clashed, and, for reasons which are debated, Regusters ultimately chose to lead his own expedition.[3] In the Congo, the expedition was joined by Eugene Thomas and government biologist Marcellin Agnagna. The party travelled the Ubangi, Likouala-aux-Herbes, and Bai Rivers, collecting mokele-mbembe accounts from locals, but found navigation difficult due to aquatic vegetation. It was ultimately discovered that the expedition's geographical information was incorrect, and that Lake Tele and another lake allegedly home to the mokele-mbembe could only be reached by a difficult overland trek, which was reluctantly decided against. The Mackal expedition therefore continued gathering information from local people, before returning to the U.S.[18][6] Though Lake Tele was again not reached, the Mackal expedition had collected more than thirty consistent first-hand descriptions of the mokele-mbembe, from people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. They had also learned of other cryptids in the Likouala region, including the emela-ntouka, nguma-monene, mbielu-mbielu-mbielu, mahamba, and ngoima.[3] Mackal and Greenwell, who co-founded the International Society of Cryptozoology the year after their return to the United States, reported on their expedition in the society's journal Cryptozoology, and Mackal later published a book on the subject, A Living Dinosaur? In Search of Mokele-Mbembe (1987).

Regusters' rival expedition, which was in the Congo at the same time as the Mackal expedition, reached Lake Tele after an overland journey in September 1981.[19] Regusters claimed that his expedition had made several mokele-mbembe sightings, and, met with some media scepticism at his press conferences, he produced low-quality photographs and sound recordings as corroboration.[6] He published his findings in Munger Africana Library Notes and Pursuit.

Congolese biologist Marcellin Agnagna accompanied several early mokele-mbembe expeditions, and claimed to have observed the cryptid for himself in Lake Tele.

The first local Congolese investigation into the mokele-mbembe occurred in Spring 1983, when Agnagna led an team from the Ministry of Water and Forests to Lake Tele for two months. Agnagna controversially claimed to have seen and attempted, but failed, to photograph a mokele-mbembe during this expedition.[6] Agnagna also interviewed elephant hunter Immanuel Mongoumela, who had previously reported an enormous trail to the Mackal expedition; he took Agnagna to the spot, where fresh tracks were discovered. Mongoumela claimed to have observed the mokele-mbembe, emerging from the water or feeding on vegetation, on three separate occasions since the departure of the Mackal expedition. According to Agnagna, Mongoumela was one of the few supposed mokele-mbembe eyewitnesses unmystified by the animals.[20]

Hoping to obtain hard evidence, Regusters announced plans for a second expedition to Lake Tele in late 1984. He was to be accompanied by Kia Regusters, writer John Sack, palaeontologist John Rajca, geologist David Jordt, and entomologist David Evans. Rajca was also a creationist, and was touted by the Institute of Creation Research, which hoped that the discovery of a living dinosaur would overturn the theory of evolution, as "the only creationist in the group." However, Regusters was unable to obtain the funding he required.[21]

Mackal also wished to lead a third expedition, but had not wanted to be in comptetition with Regusters again; he began planning a return to the Congo when Regusters' funding fell through. However, at the International Society of Cryptozoology's July 1985 Brighton Symposium, Mackal and Greenwell were approached by Bill Gibbons, who was planning on leading his own expedition. Mackal supplied Gibbons with information and advice, and temporarily cancelled plans for his third expedition. Gibbons' expedition, called Operation Congo, was sponsored by Fortean Times, and also included Mark Rothermel, Jonathan Walls, Joe Della-Porta, and Marcellin Agnagna. The expedition reached Lake Tele in early 1986, and explored some smaller nearby lakes in which mokele-mbembes were supposed to live,[6] but no sightings were made during the expedition, although several alleged eyewitnesses were interviewed.[22] Upon their return, it was alleged that Agnagna had deliberately attempted to sabotage the expedition, an accusation which he denied. Gibbons converted to Christianity while staying with Eugene Thomas at Impfondo,[21] and has subsequently taken up a Young Earth creationist position. However, he maintains that the discovery of a living dinosaur would not "prove the Bible to be a handbook on living dinosaurs, prove that the earth is 6,000 years old, or disprove evolution."[23] Mackal's own expedition, which was to be his longest and best-equipped, was pushed back to 1987,[24] but again fell through.

Bill Gibbons has led several expeditions in search of the mokele-mbembe into the 21st Century.

A number of Japanese expeditions, all involving Tokuharu Takabayashi, also investigated the mokele-mbembe throughout the late 1980s, in 1986, 1987, and 1988, accompanied by Agnagna in the final two years. The Japanese expeditions collected more data on the mokele-mbembe from Lake Tele, but, despite much time spent searching for the mokele-mbembe in the molibos of Lake Tele, but no encounters were made. However, one of their Boha porters claimed to have recently seen a mokele-mbembe enter the lake, in February 1988. Immanuel Mongoumela told the expedition that he did not believe the mokele-mbembe could permanently inhabit Lake Tele, probably living instead in the Likouala-aux-Herbes, Bai, and Sanga Rivers.[25] According to wildlife official Jose Bourges, who accompanied the 1988 expedition, the entire party observed the humped back of a large animal slowly moving across the lake.[22] Bill Gibbons returned to the Republic of the Congo in 1992 for Operation Congo 2, which was mainly intended as a reconnaissance trip for future expeditions, and Adam Davies and Jan-Ove Sundberg made the journey to Lake Tele in 2000 for the Dino2000 Expedition.[6]

Throughout this period, a number of individuals also made solo journeys to Lake Tele, including Rory Nugent, Redmond O'Hanlon, and artist David Choe. Nugent, who encountered Operation Congo during his trip, claimed that he had caught a glimpse of what could have been the mokele-mbembe on Lake Tele, but was forced back by his local guides at gunpoint. Nugent also took several blurry photographs of an alleged mokele-mbembe.[6] O'Hanlon, on the other hand, claimed that Agnagna was a hoaxer who used the mokele-mbembe to attract paying explorers.

2000–present[]

Since the beginning of the 21st Century, many cryptozoologists interested in the mokele-mbembe have turned their focus to eastern Cameroon, due to political instability in the Republic of the Congo. In November 2000, Bill Gibbons and creationist Dave Woetzel undertook a reconnaissance trip to southeastern Cameroon, having learned through missionary contacts in that country that the mokele-mbembe was known, under the name li'kela-bembe, to the Baka people. Gibbons and Woetzel explored the swamp forests around the Boumba and Loponji Rivers during this expedition, collecting information on the li'kela-bembe, including alleged eyewitness accounts dating from 1986 to April 2000.[26][6]

Informants consistently picked out a sauropod dinosaur as being representative of the Li'kela-bembe. Although these people do not regard it as unusual, they do fear the Li'kela-bembe because of its ferocity in attacking hippos, elephants, and even crocodiles ... It is said to inhabit several rivers in southern Cameroon that border Gabon, the Congo, and the Central African Republic. These include the Boumba, Ngoko, Loponji, Dja, Padama, and Sanga Rivers. According to indigenous fishermen and hunters, the Ngoko River (a tributary of the Sanga River) is the best place to find the Li'kela-bembe.[27]

Following this reconnaissance expedition, 2001 saw the CryptoSafari-BCSCC Expedition to Cameroon, composed of Gibbons, John Kirk of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, Scott T. Norman, and Robert Mullin. Insurance broker and creationism advocate Milt Marcy took Gibbons' place on a 2006 expedition to Cameroon with Mullin and fellow creationist Peter Beach, but Gibbons and Mullin both returned to the region in 2009, for an expedition which was televised by MonsterQuest.[6]

Several alleged mokele-mbembe sightings have been reported from the Dja River in the 21st Century (CC BY-SA 1.0).

French cryptozoologist Michel Ballot, a former lawyer who founded the environmental and humanitarian association Ngoko, became interested in neodinosaurs after reading Heuvelmans' Les Derniers Dragons d'Afrique; he subsequently became a "disciple" of Heuvelmans.[28] Since 2004,[29] Ballot has led almost yearly expeditions to Cameroon, particularly the Nki Falls region, collecting consistent accounts from local fishermen, trackers, forestry officers, and park rangers.[30][31]

As with Mackal's expedition, the research of Gibbons and Ballot–who have occasionally led expeditions together, as well as an expedition with John Kirk–has also brought to light several previously-unknown cryptids, in this case reported from Cameroon, including the ngoubous, dodu, j'ba fofi, n'gooli, and yoli. Pat Spain also investigated the mokele-mbembe in Cameroon for Beast Hunter (2011), finding that local informants occasionally took cues from guides.[32] However, an ongoing civil war in Cameroon which began in 2017 has made further field investigations in that country difficult, and, as of 2021, Gibbons and Ballot are planning future expeditions to Gabon, where modern interest in the mokele-mbembe began with the n'yamala.[7]

Description[]

Appearance[]

Depictions of the mokele-mbembe made by Baka people in Cameroon.

Described generically as a large-bodied quadruped with a long neck and tail and a small head, the mokele-mbembe is most often identified by alleged eyewitnesses with illustrations of sauropods, such as Brontosaurus, Apatosaurus, and Diplodocus. It has been compared to "an enormous pangolin," and has twice been called a "giant crocodile,"[5][33] albeit an herbivorous crocodile.[33] It is generally said to be a large animal, although its exact size varies by account and location. Except for one traditional account which describes it as hippo-sized,[3] it is certainly larger than a hippopotamus, and was first described as being about the size of a forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis).[5] Accounts from Cameroon describe it as much larger, often exceeding an elephant in size; some Baka informants interviewed by Bill Gibbons failed to recognise a drawing of the mokele-mbembe from A Living Dinosaur? simply because it was barely larger than the human included for scale.[6][23] The neck is long (up to two metres, but alleged to be shorter in male specimens[23]) and generally slender, as thick as a man's thigh, and the comparatively small head is usually compared to a snake's,[3][23] a lizard's, or a turtle's,[5] with nostrils placed on the front of the snout.[23]

The colour of the mokele-mbembe is usually said to be grey, brown, or reddish.[5][3] Although often described as smooth-skinned, in Cameroon, it is said to have thick, armour-like scales,[33] something like the scutes on the back of a crocodile.[23] According to several of Ballot's informants, the mokele-mbembe's back is sometimes carpeted with greenery when it emerges from the river.[30][34] A drawing made by Baka people depicts it with relatively long, slender, and pointed digits. However, similar cryptids such as the Dja River monster and the m'ke n'be are described as having flipper-like limbs.[5]

Protuberances such as spines or a horn are sometimes mentioned. This characteristic first appeared in Stein's original description, in which he referred to a horn or a single long tooth.[5] None of Mackal's informants claimed the mokele-mbembe had a horn, and he believed that Stein's description was due to confusion with the emela-ntouka.[3] However, Mackal and Powell were told that the mokele-mbembe had a frill on its head resembling a coxcomb,[17][35] a characteristic previously mentioned by the anonymous Belgian traveller. Protuberances are most commonly reported in Cameroon. One of the two animals reported from Lake Barombi Mbo, presumed by the witness to be the male, allegedly had a horn on its head; and the Baka claim that the male mokele-mbembe sports a row of dermal spines, "horns," or even "claws" on its neck,[6][23] or down its entire spinal column, including the tail.[26]

The mokele-mbembe is distinguished from many large animals by its supposed tail, which is longer than its neck and muscular, originally compared to that of an alligator.[5] In Cameroon, the danger presented by the tail of the mokele-mbembe is sometimes stressed. Ballot was told by the chief of Mambélé that the mokele-mbembe uses its tail to whip the water, overturn canoes, and attack elephants.[33] The great length of its tail was also stressed in one account of the Lake Tele killing,[17] and in a traditional description of a hippo-sized mokele-mbembe with a small head on a normal neck.[3]

Behaviour[]

Illustration of the mokele-mbembe feeding on the malombo liana, by Philippe Coudray in Guide des Animaux Cachés (2009).

Usually reported from rivers, but sometimes from the forest, the mokele-mbembe is amphibious, allegedly spending much of its time in the water, where is is said to flee for safety; it is capable of "hiding" underwater like a hippopotamus.[23] Its great bulk creates prominent wakes, and gives the impression that the river is "flowing backwards" when it rises from the water. Although only its head and neck are often seen when it is swimming, when it emerges from the water, it does so back-first.[9] It is sometimes claimed to inhabit caves in the riverbank,[5][23] which are either natural or dug out by the animal.[3] Female mokele-mbembes allegedly rear their young in nests constructed in swamps.[23] Some Baka claim that it is capable of rearing up on its hind legs to feed, and that it sometimes digs out channels. It is generally said to be crepuscular or nocturnal, coming out of the water to feed at dusk.[3] Sightings are most commonly reported during the morning and the evening.

The mokele-mbembe is almost always described as entirely herbivorous, feeding on terrestrial plants and aquatic vegetation. Since 1913, the it has been said to feed preferentially on the apple-like fruits of the malombo liana, a species of Landolphia. Chemical analysis of malombo fruit collected by Mackal indicated that they could not be the mokele-mbembe's only food source, as the fruit is too low in fiber and protein to support a non-ruminant, and probably also too low for a ruminant animal.[36] However, informants from the confluence of the Likouala-aux-Herbes and the Sanga reported that a mokele-mbembe used to rise out of the water and kill, and possibly eat, domestic goats.[37] Despite its diet, it is notoriously foul-tempered, overturning canoes with its tail, and has a particular hatred of hippopotamuses. It will also allegedly kill elephants and crocodiles, although Ballot describes the crocodile as the mokele-mbembe's only formidable enemy.

Mackal was told that mokele-mbembes do not usually vocalise, but reports of vocalisations do exist. Besides the controversial recording made by Herman Regusters,[19] some of Mackal's informants claimed that the mokele-mbembe killed at Lake Tele produced a strange cry, and the Baka people told Gibbons that the le'kela-bembe has a frog-like vocal sac below its throat.[38] A Boumba River fisherman also told Michel Ballot that the mokele-mbembe makes a sound like "gou-gou-gou".[34]

It is usually reported alone or in male-female pairs, although at least two claimed sightings of a mother and a single calf have been recorded. The Baka hunters who made these observations believed that the mokele-mbembe gave live birth, once every twenty years.[23] In the Republic of the Congo, it is usually seen during the dry season.[6] In Cameroon, Ballot was often told that the mokele-mbembe appears when the rivers rise, and leaves downstream when they fall,[39] and Gibbons was also told by the Baka that the monsoons were the best time to see a mokele-mbembe.[26] The seasonal movements of the kikuru of the northeastern Congo were similarly alleged to be tied to the rising and falling of the waters. Dave Woetzel believes that mokele-mbembes are born in the Likouala region, and migrate to the Dja-Sangha region of southern Cameroon as adults, explaining certain discrepancies in descriptions from the two countries.[40]

Physical evidence[]

Photographs[]

The Regusters photograph.

A handful of alleged mokele-mbembe photographs exist, but none are high-quality. Herman Regusters photographed what he claimed was a mokele-mbembe at Lake Tele during his 1981 expedition. However, Regusters' photographs are regarded as too low-quality to be of value, as they are badly underexposed, with little detail.[18][6] Rory Nugent's photograph is controversial, with Bill Gibbons opining that it "could be anything,"[22] Karl Shuker stating that it is too blurred to be of much value,[6] and others arguing that it likely depicts a floating branch.

Audio recordings[]

Living_dinosaurs_Mokele-mbembe_Sound_Recording_(Levande_dinosaurier_Mokele-mbembe_ljudinspelning)

Living dinosaurs Mokele-mbembe Sound Recording (Levande dinosaurier Mokele-mbembe ljudinspelning)

During his expedition to Lake Tele, Herman Regusters recorded anomalous audio of what he believed to be a mokele-mbembe roaring. He described the events leading up to the recording in his Munger Africana Library Notes paper.[19]

At 11:45 on November 4th, as Kia and I investigated the southernmost lobe of the lake, an extraordinary and loud animal cry was heard. It came from the jungle along the shore of the lobe, and seemed to be not more than 40 or 50 meters into the thicket. The cry can best be described as starting with a low windy roar, then increasing to a deep-throated trumpeting growl. Sounds of a large beast making through the bush were clearly distinguishable, as it moved away from us farther into the swamp. The roar recurred in about five minutes and then was not heard again ... The Congolese attributed its source to the mokele-mbembe. Attempts to record the sound on several occasions resulted only in rather poor quality productions, owing to the high level of foreground noises.

Regusters claimed that, after being analysed by several authorities, the recording, which he believed had captured multiple mokele-mbembes vocalising, could not be identified with any known African animal.[41] Sound mixer David Yewdall (1950 – 2017) examined the recording several years later, removing the "insect hash".[42] However, Regusters' recording is controversial, as the mokele-mbembe is said to rarely vocalise. Because of this, Bill Gibbons suggests that Regusters had actually recorded the vocalisations of an emela-ntouka.[43]

Artifacts[]

The "little gold dinosaur" from Ghana.

The carving at Glencomeragh House, photographed by Richard Hendrick.

Since 1970, a reptile-shaped Ashanti gold weight obtained in Ghana, called a "little gold dinosaur," has frequently been associated with the mokele-mbembe and similar cryptids.[2][44] This was first pictured in Margaret W. Plass' book African Miniatures: The Golden Weights of Ashanti (1967).[5] Designer Emmanuel Staub was commissioned to make replicas of it, and other gold weights depicting known animals, during the 1960s, and, being a founding SITU member, he recognised the object's "striking resemblance to a dinosaur," leading to its discussion in Pursuit. However, in the article, written by Ivan T. Sanderson,[5] the object's country of origin was incorrectly given as Dahomey (modern Benin), and it was photographed uncomfortably leaning back on its hind legs and tail, as if it were bipedal. Sanderson identified it as a possible Iguanodon, an ornithopod dinosaur.[6][45] Karl Shuker criticises this identification, arguing that the bulky body, legs of equal length, long tail, and long curving neck come together to form "an extraordinarily precise rendition of a sauropod," although he and Heuvelmans[5] note that the head is unusually large in comparison to the body. This leads Shuker to suggest that the range of the mokele-mbembe could extend to Ghana, which is west of Benin, past Togo.[6] On the other hand, it has been argued that the weight may depict a stylised monitor lizard. A replica of the "little gold dinosaur" is on display at the International Cryptozoology Museum.

Another artifact, of unknown provenance, which may depict the mokele-mbembe is a wooden African carving of a sauropod-like animal kept at Glencomeragh House in County Tipperary by the Rosminian Missionary Fathers. Matt Bille suggested that it could be a modern carving made to capitalise on interest in the mokele-mbembe, but Richard Hendrick, a monk who brought the object to attention, believed it may have been at the house since the 1950s, although he could not be sure. The carving depicts two animals: a larger individual with a long neck and tail, a body covered with large scales, sharp teeth, and an unusual rayed structure under its tail; and a smaller individual with the same characteristics but a very short neck. The nonexistent neck of the smaller animal is highly anomalous, given its similarity to the bigger animal in all other respects; Penny Odell suggests that the artist may have simply ran out of wood to use.[6]

Sightings[]

~1924–1933[]

During a cryptozoological discussion with geologist Gérard Delorme, who worked in Gabon between 1968 and 1986, Raoul Lehuard, editor of the periodical Arts d'Afrique Noire, claimed that his father Robert Lehuard, a telecommunications engineer, claimed to have observed a sauropod-like animal during his time in the French Congo, between 1924 and 1933. The elder Lehuard had been hunting east of Ouesso on the Sanga River, possibly somewhere near Lake Tele, when he allegedly came across a crocodile fighting with a large animal. From what he could see, it had a long tail and a long neck, and he estimated that it was around ten metres long. The long-necked animal eventually "broke up the fight". Lehuard often repeated the story to his children, including Raoul, and once took them to see the Diplodocus skeleton at Paris to demonstrate what he had seen.[46][47]

1932[]

Cryptozoologist Ivan T. Sanderson claimed to have seen a mokele-mbembe during the Percy Sladen Expedition to West Africa, in 1932. Sanderson did not mention the incident in his published account of the expedition, Animal Treasure (1937) or in his early articles on neodinosaurs, but first referred to it in a letter written to Bernard Heuvelmans in 1958. Sanderson reported coming across "vast hippo-like tracks," patches of trampled grass, and large partially-chewed fruits, near one of his camps on the Upper Cross River. Sanderson claimed that a few months later, while canoeing on the Mamfe Pool with Gerald Russell, both men caught a glimpse of an enormous animal in the water.[5]

Gerald Russell and I with two boys in two small canoes entered this river from below through a gorge into the Mamfe Pool at dusk, as we passed some all-but-submerged caves in the cliffside, got the shock of our lives when the most terrific noises I have heard outside of warfare issued from one of the said caves and something (and it was the top of a head we both feel sure) much larger than a hippo rose out of the water for a moment, set up a large wave and then gurgled under.

When Heuvelmans questioned Russell on the sighting, his response was that "it was like Ivan tells it". Sanderson was known for dramatisation and exaggeration, and Heuvelmans believed that Russell did not want to seem to contradict him by telling a more down-to-earth version of the sighting.[5] Sanderson published a more detailed account of the sighting in his book More Things (1969), which was later reprinted in Pursuit after Sanderson's death.[48]

When we were about in the middle of the mile-and-a-half-long winding gorge, the most terrible noise I have heard, short of an on-coming earthquake or the explosion of an aerial-torpedo at close range, suddenly burst from one of the big caves to my right. Ben, who was sitting up-front in our little canoe with a "moving" paddle, immediately dropped backward into the canoe. Bassi in the lead canoe did likewise, but Gerald tried to about-face in the strong swirling current, putting himself broadside to the current. I started to paddle like mad but was swept close to the entrance of the cave from which the noise had come. Thus, both Gerald and I were opposite its mouth; just then came another gargantuan gurgling roar and something enormous rose out of the water, turned it to sherry-colored foam and then, again roaring, plunged below. This "thing" was shiny black and was the head of something, shaped like a seal but flattened from above to below. It was about the size of a full-grown hippopotamus–this head, I mean.
We exited from the gorge at a speed that would have done credit to the Harvard Eight and it was not until we entered the pool that Bassi and Ben came-to.

In 1971, Sanderson communicated another version of the sighting to James Powell, affirming that the animal and its tracks were certainly not crocodilian, and that "the effing thing's head was bigger than a whole hippo". Powell travelled to the Mainyu River in Cameroon to gather more context regarding the sighting, but a cable bridge had been built directly over the spot where the sighting allegedly occurred, and none of Powell's informants at Mamfe–an African missionary, the local prefect, and a hunter–recognised pictures of sauropods or plesiosaurs, nor were they familiar with the names mokele-mbembe and mbulu-mbembe.[16]

After the incident, Sanderson and Russell asked local people what they had seen. Sanderson told Heuvelmans that the animal's name in the Anyang language was given as 'Mbulu-eM'bembe,[4] but he later changed this to "M'kuoo-m'bemboo".[48][5] Locals told him that the animal killed hippos and crocodiles, but fed only on the fruits of lianas and low riverside vegetation.[48]

~1935[]

The first alleged mokele-mbembe eyewitness who was found for Mackal and Powell was a man named Firman Mosomele, who claimed to have seen a mokele-mbembe when he was fourteen, some forty-five years before, as he was coming around a bend in the Likouala-aux-Herbes. He had noticed that the water was "flowing backwards," when "a great, red-colored animal" rose above the surface, with "a reddish-brown, snakelike head" projecting around 6' to 8' out of the water. Firman Mosomele immediately paddled his canoe in the opposite direction, and the animal submerged, its "brownish back" breaking the surface momentarily before it disappeared.[3][17]

A drawing of the Lake Barombi monsters by A. S. Arrey, published in Pursuit.

Mackal and Powell's book of prehistoric animals was lying on the table during their interview with Mosomele, who, without being asked, identified a picture of a sauropod with what he saw. Mosomele was certain the animal had not been a snake, because it had definitely had a body, and he was emphatic that it had been nothing like a hippopotamus.[3]

1948[]

The Commander of Army Security for Brazzaville, a man named Mouassiposso, told Mackal during his first expedition that he had twice seen a mokele-mbembe, both sightings allegedly occuring during 1948. In the first sighting, he and his mother supposedly observed the animal wading across the river, from a distance of ten metres, while paddling near Epena. On the second occasion, Mouassiposso was alone, paddling downstream of Ependa, when...[3]

... to his surprise, [he] ran aground in the middle of the river. Instantly, the object which he had run onto moved away and shortly submerged. His initial reaction was not fright, because he thought he had enountered a partially submerged log. He was, of course, astonished when the object moved away and he observed it to be an animal. Its physical features, as described by the commandant, were identical to what he had heard already.

1948 or 1949[]

Following Mackal and Powell's first expedition, Philip Averbuck, who had investigated the mokele-mbembe in Cameroon in 1979, published his own findings in Pursuit, including a sighting report he had received from a Douala security officer named A. S. Arrey, who claimed to have seen a dinosaur-like animal in Lake Barombi Mbo. Averbuck initially thought the sighting had occurred in 1960, but Arrey later clarified that the date was 1948 or 1949, when he was just four or five years old.[13]

It was about 1949 and I was 4 or 5. I was swimming with my friends in Lake Barombi Mbo in Kumba. While we were swimming, the water in the middle of the lake started to boil, so we ran out of the water onto the shore. The British soldiers who were swimming there ran up onto the cement pier they had built for diving. Then the smaller female animal appeared; a few minutes later, the larger male came up. They were about 200 yards away from us. When the animals appeared, the British men ran up the steps from the pier, and away from the lake. We yelled for them to stop, but they ran all the same.
The male animal had a neck that stretched perhaps 12 or 15 feet above the water. The skin was like a viper's; smooth scales that would not go up if you rubbed them the wrong way, as a fish's do. The head of the male was about 2 feet long. At the back of the head of both animals was a horn, or cap, about 8 inches long. The head is carried above the water as a viper's [cobra's]; the neck is slightly curved to balance the head. The neck tapers just like a snake's. In fact, that part of the animal which is visible above the water appears in every way to look like a huge snake. The body, which was in water, appeared to me to be about as wide as this area around you and I; say one meter thick. The animals never come out of the water, so no one has ever seen their legs. Lake Barombi Mbo is very, very deep; when the British tried to take soundings there, they did not reach bottom. This animal, however, stays on the surface; no, I don't think it floats, because the water around it is still. When a hippo or a crocodile float, they have to move their legs to stay up, and this disturbs the water. We believe that the animals have legs which stretch to the bottom of the lake. When the two animals appeared, we all stayed still and watched them; we had been told that to run away would put you in the animals' power: I was led to believe that the British officers who ran, died a short while later.
The animals were visible for at least an hour, only moving their heads and necks. They made no sound. All the time I watched them, I was trembling, and I continued to tremble for some time after they went back down. When they went down, the female went down first, then the male a few minutes later. They say that this is how the animals always act—the female always comes up first, and goes down first.

1959[]

Depiction of the Lake Tele killing by William Rebsamen.

The best-known mokele-mbembe sighting is said to have occurred at Lake Tele in 1959 or so, when a mokele-mbembe was allegedly trapped by a pike barrier and speared to death by the Bangombe people. By the time Mackal and Powell heard the story, everyone who had been involved in the killing was dead, allegedly overwhelmingly due to food poisoning, with one or two dying of natural causes. This has led to the suggestion that the flesh of the mokele-mbembe is poisonous, or contains dangerous microbes or parasites, but Mackal[49] and Gibbons,[22] noting the generally very low life expectancy in the region, argues that no significance can be placed in the deaths.

The first references to the killing were published by Powell and Mackal following their first expedition, during which several informants told them about the killing. Eugene Thomas recalled that, shortly after he arrived at Impfondo in the late 1950s, he had heard of a gigantic animal having been killed at Lake Tele.[17] Miobe Antoine[17] or Antoine Meombe,[3] the Chief of Police at Impfondo, also claimed that a mokele-mbembe had been killed at Lake Tele or one of its waterways in 1959, and a fisherman from the lake named Mateka Pascal recalled hearing about the killing of a very large animal by pygmies there when he was a child.[17] According to Pascal's account...

... the mokele-mbembe had been entering Lake Tele from the moliba in which it lived via one of the waterways which enter the lake on its western side. After the animal had entered the lake, the pygmies blocked off its waterway by constructing a barricade of large stakes across it. When the mokele-mbembe tried to return to its moliba, it was trapped by the barricade and killed with spears. Some of the stakes used to construct the trap were large tree trunks, and are still there. The pygmies cut up the animal and ate it. All who ate of it died. The animal killed was said to be one of two. The other one – possibly a mate – is said to still be there, but has become wary and difficult to approach. However, it will occasionally stick its neck out of the water to a height of about two meters.[17]
When he was a child, about twenty-five years ago, he heard of the killing of a Mokele-mbembe at Lake Tele. He did not see the killing of this animal by pygmies, but he knew it had happened sometime before he was born. When I requested Gene to ask whether it was a long time before he was born, Pascal replied that it was not. The pygmies had cut trees about 15 centimetres (6 inches) in diameter, trimmed the branches and sharpened each to a point. These stakes were driven into the bottom of the molibo, or waterway, through which the creatures were in the habit of entering the lake. These molibos (seven in number) are rivers with lagoonlike openings into the lake. It was hoped the barrier of stakes would prevent the creatures from entering the lake and disturbing the fishing activities of the pygmies. When one of these animals was attempting to force its way through the barrier the pygmies speared it to death. Part of the celebration of their triumph consisted of cutting up and eating this creature. Their triumph was a hollow one for everyone who ate the meat died within a short time ... Because Pascal still goes to fish in the very molibo where the killing occurred, he could affirm that the stakes are there to this day, and, therefore, the story is true.[3]

Herman Regusters, who reached Lake Tele, claimed that two mokele-mbembes had been killed at the northernmost lobe in the 1930s, not the 1950s.[19] Hydrographer Jacques Charpentier, who visited Lake Tele several times between 1949 and 1954, also included an account of the killing in his book Vagabondages à Travers le Congo: La Centrafrique et d'Ailleurs (2006), which he claimed to have received from a Bomitaba sergeant named Gilbert.[50]

Formerly, the environs of the lake were inhabited by the pygmies. Day after day, they had noticed the enlargement of the lake, and heard horrible noises caused by the movement of a monster. On more than three occasions, they tried to act against this monster. There came a day when a man and his wife, going fishing, noticed landslides caused by the monster the day before. They understood that this was the source of the horrible noises they heard every night.
Having found the place, they immediately went to alert the others and a plan of action was drawn up for the annihilation of the monster.
In the first and second attempts, the pygmies succeeded in reaching the beast, but it always fled by throwing itself into the lake. It was at this time that they conceived the idea of building dams along the path that the monster was taking. There were a total of nine roadblocks. They finally decided to attack the monster with spears, and each time, the dams constituted an obstacle in its progression towards the lake. It was only after crossing the ninth roadblock that the monster succumbed.
At this place where it succumbed, the pygmies, seeing the monster, which appeared to be standing, thought that the water was shallow. They then tried using poles to measure the depth, but unfortunately, these poles never reached the bottom.

According to Bill Gibbons, not all of the people involved in the alleged killing were dead by the time of the first Mackal expedition, and Eugene Thomas was supposedly able to eventually interview two of the people who claimed to have taken part in the killing. Gibbons' account is therefore supposedly based on firsthand knowledge of the incident.[22]

Around 1960, the forest dwelling pygmies of the Lake Tele region (the Bangombe tribe), fished daily in the lake near the Molibos, or water channels situated at the north end of the lake. These channels merge with the swamps, and were used by Mokele-mbembes to enter the lake where they would browse on the vegetation. This daily excursion into the lake by the animals disrupted the pygmies fishing activities. Eventually, the pygmies decided to erect a stake barrier across the molibo in order to prevent the animals from entering the lake.
When two of the animals were observed attempting to break through the barrier, the pygmies speared one of the animals to death and later cut it into pieces. This task apparently took several days due to the size of the animal, which was 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. The pygmy spearmen also described a long, flexible tail, a smooth, reddish-brown skin and four stubby, but powerful legs with clawed toes. Pastor Thomas also mentioned that the two pygmies mimicked the cry of the animal as it was being attacked and speared.
Later, a victory feast was held, during which parts of the animal were cooked and eaten. However, those who participated in the feast eventually died, either from food poisoning or from natural causes.

There has also been some confusion regarding the 1959 killing and the emela-ntouka. When Christian Le Noël arrived at Lake Tele in 1974, his Bomitaba guide told him that his parents had once killed a "water rhinoceros," described as horned and dark-skinned, which had been accompanied by a second animal. Jacques Mangin, a French hunter who aided Mackal during his two expeditions, confirmed this account, claiming that incident must have occurred in 1958 or 1959.[51] However, Le Noël has also independently referred to hearing an account of the 1958/1959 mokele-mbembe killing,[52] and Bill Gibbons wrote than an unnamed Frenchman resident in the Congo had once confused the emela-ntouka with the mokele-mbembe.[6]

~1960s[]

An informant named Nicolas Mondongo told Mackal of a mokele-mbembe sighting he had made on the Upper Likouala-aux-Herbes River, between Mokengi and Bandeko, when he was around seventeen years old, probably during the 1960s.[2] He had been paddling upstream from Mokengi to Bandeko in the mid-morning, when he stopped to hunt monkeys on the riverbank. At that moment, a large animal emerged from the river, making the water run backwards. As the river was relatively shallow there, only about a metre in depth, Mondongo was able to get a good look at the animal's body during his three minutes of observation.[3]

Nicolas saw most of the body, including the upper part of four legs and part of the underbelly at the front ... The long neck was as thick as a thigh at the base, reddish brown in colour, and the head bore a ridge or frill, like the comb of a rooster. Nicolas estimated the distance, from where he stood on the riverbank and where the animal was, to be about 12 metres. He could see its whole length in the water and estimated it to be about 10 metres from tip of head to tip of tail. If the animal had been standing on dry land, Nicolas thought it would be about 1-1.5 to 2 metres in height, with an overall head-neck length of about 2 metres. Its tail was certainly longer than its neck, but he could not judge its exact length because it was mostly down in the water. He also described the differentation between the back of the head and the neck region as clearly delineated, although the head was not very much larger in diameter than the neck region immediately behind the head.

Mondongo also claimed that his father had once reported seeing "a large animal with a long neck" emerge from the same part of the Upper Likouala-aux-Herbes. The animal left a furrow in the sand and footprints the size of dinner plates. Mondongo wondered if the animal he had seen was the same one seen by his father.[3]

~1961[]

Military officer Emmanuel Mossedzedi's drawing of the animal he allegedly saw, published in Pursuit.

Herman Regusters received a mokele-mbembe sighting report from Colonel Emmanuel Mossedzedi, Chief of Air Force Operations and Logistics, after his arrival in Brazzaville. Mossedzedi told him that in his youth, some twenty years beforehand, he had accompanied a safari from Itanga which came across an unfamiliar animal in the forest. When Regusters asked Mossedzedi to draw the animal, he produced a "vague and unesthetic" sketch showing what appeared to be a long neck.[41]

1963[]

In the leadup to his second expedition, in July 1981, Mackal received a letter from J. M. Lefebvre of Pretoria, who claimed that he had once seen what he now thought was a mokele-mbembe. He alleged that, in July 1963, he had observed such an animal in a wetland somewhere in the northern Democratic Republic of the Congo, much further west than most other attestations, although one possible regional version of the mokele-mbembe, the kikuru, was indeed reported from the northeast of DR Congo, and there have long been rumours of neodinosaurs in the Ituri Rainforest.[53][5] Lefebvre, a French speaker, admitted that his English was imperfect, and that he might have misremembered some details about the sighting after twenty years.

The sighting took place in an area situated between 20° and 28° long. East and 0° and 4° Lat. North. The country was rather marshy, pools of mud divided by narrow stretches of dry land. It was a vast clearing, approximately 1 mile diameter. The vegetation was tall elephant grass, reeds and Papyruss. The surroundings of the clearing was the tropical rain forest; trees about 90 feets high. Time 13:00 H Date July 1963.
I first came across the spoor, in a muddy spot. It was formed by, in the center a kind of depression or farrow between 3 and 6 feets wide, similar in shape to the one one would make by dragging a bag of coal in the sand. On each side of it were footprints, 2 to 3 feets wide by 3 to 4 feets long, eggshaped with the broad side towards the front. Imprinted deeper into the mud was the mark of five ribs or fingers aproximately 3 inches wide, starting from a common centre at the back of the print, diverging towards the front and sides. The space between he fingers was also imprinted with something softer, the ground was raising slightly. I would compare it to the diamphragm between the claws of a duck- The footprints were between 3 and 5 feets on each side of the belly mark, and the marks of the rear feets were overlapping the ones of the front one. The tall shrubs witch were on the spoot were crushed like with a bulldozer.
At the sight, my trackers stopped abruptly and refused to let us go farther. Considering the size of the animal and the gauge of our guns, my friend and I decided to retreat–
On our way back, the trackers showed to us on the other side of the clearing the animal. However, at about 1 mile distance and with the haze it was not very clear A huge grayish mass, towering well above the grass. I estimate from 20 to 40 feets high. A long flexible neck about the size of a tree trunk and ± 30 feets long. A very small head held at a right angle from the neck. I had a camera with me, and i did not take a photo–in the first place because I never tought about it, in the second place because at this distance and with the haze, it never works.

Lefebvre was aware that his claimed sighting was misplaced, as he pointed out to Mackal that, in twenty years, the animal could easily have moved west to the Republic of the Congo. Lefebvre also referred Mackal to a friend of his, Guy De La Ruwiere, who claimed to have seen a lizard-like animal which Mackal classified as a possible nguma-monene.[3]

~1978[]

During Mackal's first expedition, an informant named David Mambamlo, who was then working as a teacher at Impfondo, claimed to have seen a mokele-mbembe some two or three years before, while paddling on the Likouala-aux-Herbes River upstream from Epena, in a region lush with malombo lianas. At around 3:00 PM, a long neck and head suddenly emerged out of the water some ten metres from the dugout, rising about two metres, followed by the upper back and breast. The animal was greyish, with no visible hair or scales, and had a snakelike head.[3]

Mambalmo identified the mokele-mbembe with the head and neck of a sauropod in Mackal's picture book, finding the similarity of the mouth to be particularly striking. He took Mackal and Powell to the location of the sighting, where most of the malombo lianas had been cut down within the past couple of years. However, Mackal and Powell did not consider Mambamlo to be entirely trustworthy.[3]

~1980[]

The Lake Tele fisherman Mateka Pascal, who gave an account of the 1959 killing to Mackal, also claimed that he sometimes saw a mokele-mbembe on the lake, usually at mid-morning. He "described seeing the long head and neck rise out of the water as much as two meters ... the creature waved and twisted its head and, at times, its back came up like a buoy," but Pascal never tried to paddle closer for a better look, as he was afraid of the animal.[3]

1981[]

Mackal Expedition[]

During the second Mackal expedition, the party had a close encounter with what could possibly have been a mokele-mbembe, although none of the scientists saw the animal itself, only its large wake.[6]

After completing a curve in the Likouala River (north of Epena), a large wake (approximately 5 inches high) was observed originating from the east bank; under the circumstances, such a wake could only be caused by the sudden submersion of a large animate object. Crocodiles do not leave such wakes, and elephants and other large mammals cannot submerge, with the exception of the hippopotamus. Our understanding was (and is) that hippos do not exist in the Likouala swamps, and villagers on the Likouala never see them (they are found in the Ubangi, on the edge of the Likouala swamps). The wake is therefore cataloged as having been made by a large, unknown animal.

According to Mackal's longer, solo coverage of this incident in A Living Dinosaur?, the expedition's guides identified the animal which made the wake as a mokele-mbembe.[3]

As we rounded a sharp bend in the river the green monotony was suddenly broken by a break in the shoreline canopy, revealing a bright sunlit expanse of elephant grass comprising a small savannah. All eyes were instantaneously focused on this area, the bank rising at a surprising 1.5 metres (5 feet) above the river's surface. The water inshore was in the shadow of the bank (all of these details were not grasped at that moment but were noted as we examined the area subsequently). At that very moment, a great "plop" sound and wave cresting at 25 centimetres washed over the dugout, directly from the bank of the shadowed area. The pygmies screamed hysterically, "Mokele-mbembe, Mokele-mbembe", as I frantically signalled Gene to swing the dugout shoreward in a tight arc. Both the Congolese and the pygmies were extremely frightened and did not want us to turn about. Ignoring their protestations, Gene throttled the outboard, bringing the dugout close inshore to the area from which the wave had originated. To our disappointment, although we probed about the area for at least half an hour, no further evidence of anything unusual presented itself. None of us could honestly say we had glimpsed whatever it was that had been responsible for the disturbance ... One of the pygmies claimed to have momentarily observed the back of the creature as it submerged, probably by stepping off from the shallow shelf into the deep water.

Regusters Expedition[]

Herman Regusters and his wife Kia claimed to have had several sightings, close encounters, and other experiences with the mokele-mbembe during their expedition to Lake Tele, which were detailed in Regusters' Munger Africana Library Notes paper.

At 5:30 on the evening of October 28th, we noticed perturbations in the glass-smooth surface of the lake, which implied the presence of a sizeable object ... the velocity and magnitude of the surface disruption exceeded that which would have resulted from any of our watercraft. The weather was clear and calm, with no noticeable movement of air.
On the following morning at 6:30, a moving object was again sighted by one of the men. I estimated it to be about 1.5 kilometers southwest of our location, as it moved south, away from us. A long neck-like member was witnessed by every member of the scientific team, except the photographer. At least ten members of the Boa group also witnessed the event. The color of the object could not be determined, appearing only as a dark color. After we had watched it for more than five minutes, it submerged and did not surface again. Two additional brief sightings of a similar kind were made by members of the scientific team on November 1st and 2nd. At 11:45 on November 4th, as Kia and I investigated the southernmost lobe of the lake, an extraordinary and loud animal cry was heard. It came from the jungle along the shore of the lobe, and seemed to be not more than 40 or 50 meters into the thicket. The cry can best be described as starting with a low windy roar, then increasing to a deep-throated trumpeting growl. Sounds of a large beast making through the bush were clearly distinguishable, as it moved away from us farther into the swamp. The roar recurred in about five minutes and then was not heard again. After a lapse of about 30 minutes, we disembarked from the boat and entered the jungle in an attempt to locate some trace of the beast. However, the standing water and soft leaf beds obstructed any such possibility. Subsequently, the cry was heard by all members of our party, at various times throughout our stay at the lake. The Congolese attributed its source to the mokele-mbembe. Attempts to record the sound on several occasions resulted only in rather poor quality productions, owing to the high level of foreground noises.
At 9:00 a.m. of November 24th, the appearance of a very large object moving through the water was witnessed by four members of the expedition, Étienne, Djoni, Honoré, and the Boa chief. It was about one kilometer distant, at the north end of the lake between the ninth and tenth lobes. As they watched, the object moved through the water, leaving a visible wake on the surface. No head or neck members could be seen above the water level because of the distance. The object was described as appearing dark-brown in color, and smooth-surfaced. It was observed for about eight minutes, part of that period with the aid of binoculars, after which it submerged and did not reappear. All four of the observers were intimately familiar with the fauna of the area, and agreed that the object was much too large to have been the back of a hippopotamus, which in any case is not indigenous to the region. The profile of a crocodile would have not been visible at such a distance. The observers were in full agreement that what they had seen constituted, in appearance and behavior, something totally beyond their personal experience.
In the early afternoon of November 27th, while exploring the first lobe at the southernmost point of the lake, Étienne and Kwabena, members of the scientific team, heard the same loud growling sound at close proximity. It was shortly followed by the unmistakable splash of something huge entering the water. A little later, during an exploratory trip at the northern end of the lake between lobes nine and ten, Kia was surprised by the appearance of a long, serpent-like neck emerging from the water, at an estimated distance of about 30 meters, and facing in the direction of the boat. The broad neck tapered into a slender head about two meters above the water. In the bright midday sun, its color appeared to be dark gray and its skin smooth. After wavering from side to side only once, the head and neck entered the water straight down, vertically, as the creature submerged swiftly. Apparently it had seen the boat and its occupants, yet no aggressive action was instituted. The entire episode lasted for no more than five seconds, and in the surprise of the moment few other distinguishable features were observed. The animal did not reappear during the rest of that day.

Although Regusters wrote that his companions had shared in the sightings, during his own expeditions to the Republic of the Congo, Bill Gibbons was unable to locate anyone who could corroborate Regusters' claims.[22] A contemporary investigation also found that only Regusters and his wife, rather than any of the Congolese expedition members, claimed to have seen the mokele-mbembe.[18]

1983[]

During the 1983 Congolese expedition to Lake Tele, Marcellin Agnagna both collected sightings from locals, and claimed to have seen the mokele-mbembe for himself. It was reported to him that a young girl from Edzama had seen "an enormous animal" in the Bai River just two weeks before his arrival. Agnagna found that a sand bar which she claimed the animal had pushed her canoe up against was "swept clean, as if by the resting body of a bulky animal".[20]

Agnagna himself also reported a notorious mokele-mbembe sighting at Lake Tele during this expedition, which allegedly occurred when Agnagna was filming monkeys in the forest by the lake.

On May 1, 1983, the author decided to film the fauna in the low-canopy forest surrounding the lake. This forest is a habitat for many mammalian and bird species. The author and two Boha villagers, Jean Charles Dinkoumbou and Issac Manzamoyi, set out early in the morning. At approximately 2:30 p.m., the author was filming a troop of monkeys. One of the villagers, Dinkoumbou, fell into a pool of muddy water, and went to the edge of the lake to wash himself. About 5 minutes later, we heard his shouts to come quickly. We joined him by the lake, and he pointed to what he was observing, which was at first obscured by the heavy foliage. We were then able to observe a strange animal, with a wide back, a long neck, and a small head ... The animal was located at about 300 meters from the edge of the lake, and we were to able to advance about 60 meters in the shallow water, placing us at a distance of about 240 meters from the animal, which had become aware of our presence and was looking around as if to determine the source of the noise. Dinkoumbou continued to shout with fear. The frontal part of the animal was brown, while the back part of the neck appeared black and shone in the sunlight. The animal partly submerged, and remained visible for 20 minutes with only the neck and head above the water. It then submerged completely, at which point we trekked rapidly through the forest back to the base camp, located 2 kilometers away. We then went out on the lake in a small dugout with video equipment to the spot where we had observed the animal. However, no further sighting of the animal took place.
It can be said with certainty that the animal we saw was Mokele-Mbembe, that it was quite alive, and, furthermore, that it is known to many inhabitants of the Likouala region. Its total length from head to back visible above the waterline was estimated at 5 meters.

A drawing by Marcellin Agnagna of the animal he allegedly saw in Lake Tele in 1983, published in Cryptozoology.

Though he had his camera ready, Agnagna failed to capture the alleged animal on film, a fact which has made his sighting highly controversial. This controversy stems, in part, from a translation error made when his report was first published in English. Agnagna's field report, translated from French, was published in Cryptozoology in 1983; in this translation, the explanation given for Agnagna's failure to film the animal is that the lens cap was still on the camera, a Minolta XL-42, when he began filming, and, by the time he noticed, he had ran out of film.[54] Very soon, it was pointed out that the design of the Minolta XL-42 would have made such a mistake impossible–this camera cannot be used without looking through the lens. However, the lens cap story had arisen from a translation error, due to linguistic ambiguity and faulty information received from a third party.[55] In an interview with J. Richard Greenwell, Agnagna explained that his camera had in fact been on the wrong setting.[56]

I tried to film the animal, but the film was almost finished because I had been filming monkeys. Also, there are different settings on the camera, and I had it set on "macro" by mistake. So, when I looked through the viewfinder, I couldn't see anything. But I started filming anyway. By the time I realized my mistake and corrected it, the film was finished.

Although he could not film the animal, Agnagna was allegedly able to use the lens to get a better look at its face as he waded into the lake towards it. He also claimed to have taken several poor-quality photographs of the head and neck using a 35mm camera, photographs which he sent to a laboratory in Paris. In his interview with Greenwell, Agnagna added that the animal's eyes were oval-shaped and resembled those of crocodiles, it did not have any ears, and that, when it turned in the water, only its head and neck moved. He was sure it was a reptile, not a mammal, and was emphatic that it was not a crocodile, a manatee, a snake, or a turtle–however, he would not commit himself to any theory regarding what it was.[56] As of 2004, Agnagna was still certain that he had seen the mokele-mbembe, and that it was a reptile.[57]

1993[]

Didier Nanga, a forestry officer working in Salapoumbé and Mambélé in Cameroon, told Ballot in 2007 that local trackers had reported seeing a mokele-mbembe in 1993, in the wetlands of Lobéké National Park, near the Boumba River. Nanga was under the impression that the mokele-mbembe was a very rare species known to local poachers, although he still attributed a supernatural aspect to it.[30]

2000[]

During their November 2000 reconnaissance expedition, Gibbons and Woetzel interviewed a Moloundou security guard who claimed to have observed a li'kela-mbembe nine months previously. He was guarding a river ferry when he saw the animal swimming downstream, towards Moloundou; however, it stopped suddenly, and began swimming back up the Ngoko River. The guard believed the li'kela-bembe had fled because it had noticed him watching it. He described it similarly to the Baka interviewed by Gibbons and Woetzel.[27]

~1980s or 2004[]

A Baka tracker named André Gislin[58] told Ballot that, when he accompanied a German expedition to the N'Dongo Marshes in April 2004, he observed a mokele-mbembe resting on the riverbank, or in shallow water near the bank. He described it as around fifteen metres in length, with a row of small "horns" or "claws" from the top of its head to its tail; the informant identified it as "the man," on account of these protuberances. The tracker claimed that the Germans had used a device, apparently sonar, to see the animal, and that they had taken photographs of it. While accepting that the story was "extraordinary," Ballot felt that his informant was honest.[59] Ballot interviewed Gislin for a second time during his 2009 expedition, when the tracker drew the animal he allegedly saw.[58][60] According to later sources, the sighting actually occurred during the early 1980s, at the peak of interest in the mokele-mbembe.[28]

~2005[]

Michel Ballot's tracker Janvier Bombi told him in 2007 that he had seen a mokele-mbembe "a few years ago," on the Boumba River. He reported that "it was something that heaved up with a tremendous bubbling. I was frightened at the sight of this sudden apparition and left".[30][61]

2006[]

During the 2006 Milt Marcy Expedition to Cameroon, a missionary named Paul Ohlin, who had replaced Gene Thomas in 1992, claimed to have seen a mokele-mbembe three weeks before, on 10 January 2006, on the Republic of the Congo side of the Sanga River. The expedition also interviewed three fishermen who had allegedly seen a mokele-mbembe just two days before their arrival.[62][63]

Before 2007[]

Michel Ballot collected several undated accounts of mokele-mbembe sightings during his 2007 expedition. One alleged eyewitness claimed to have observed a large brown animal with a long neck and small head, in an eastern arm of the Ngoko River, for about two minutes at sundown; and a pair of fishermen claimed to have seen a huge body and head emerge from the water of the Boumba, three hours from Lokomo.[64][65] A local of the Boumba River also claimed to have seen a mokele-mbembe covered in greenery near his fishing camp on the Boumba. It allegedly made a "gou-gou-gou" vocalisation.[34]

2008[]

A man named Benjamin Lomo claimed to have seen what he called an ngoubou in the Boumba three months before Michel Ballot's 2008 expedition. This ngoubou was identified with a picture of Diplodocus, and had a notable tail. Lomo, who believed the animal was larger than an elephant, described it emerging from the river "shrugging its shoulders and nodding its head".[66][67]

2012[]

Baka fisherman Norbert Naga allegedly watched a mokele-mbembe emerge from a river in 2012, when in company with several other villagers:[28]

Its back, covered in algae, emerged first, then its neck, then it threw its head towards a tree to feed on its fruit. We were very scared, all the fishermen are scared when they see it. So we ran away, but it paid no attention to us.

Theories[]

Mistaken identity[]

Sanderson's sighting may have involved a hippo, the traditional enemy of the mokele-mbembe (CC BY 2.0).

Large softshell turtles could explain certain well-known sightings, but not the majority of accounts (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Bernard Heuvelmans argued that Ivan T. Sanderson's 1932 sighting could be explained as the back of an angry hippopotamus, disturbed by the men paddling too close to its cavern; the powerful roaring Sanderson reported may have been amplified by acoustics within the flooded cave, and the sudden fear could have led to Sanderson's mind exaggerating the whole incident.[5] When James Powell investigated the region in the late 1970s, he found that hippopotamuses were known to live in the caverns.[16] Sanderson's report has always been controversial because of the immense size of the head of animal he described.[16] However, Karl Shuker argues that most mokele-mbembe sightings cannot be explained by hippos, as these animals are absent from much of the cryptid's supposed range, and bear little physical resemblance to a sauropod.[6] Shuker similarly discounts the West African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis), which bears even less physical resemblance to the mokele-mbembe, as a plausible identity.[6]

Redmond O'Hanlon concluded following his own expedition that mokele-mbembe sightings could be explained by elephants swimming with their trunks in the air. Karl Shuker argues that this is a very unlikely explanation, as such encounters would be highly rare, and several alleged witnesses were familiar with elephants, including the elephant hunter Emmanuel Moungoumela.[6]

Among the reptilian candidates, Shuker also discounts the largest known African reptiles, crocodiles and rock pythons, as they bear little resemblance to the mokele-mbembe. However, Shuker considers the African softshell turtle (Trionyx triunguis) a good candidate for certain sightings made at distance or in deep water, in which case their long necks and backs could make them resemble swimming sauropods. The African softshell turtle officially does not usually exceed around 3' in length, but much larger specimens are reported from around Lake Tele, where they are called ndendecki and are said to have shells up to 12' or 15' in diameter. In particular, Shuker and Mackal[22] support the possibility that the mokele-mbembe allegedly observed by Agnagna, with its relatively long snout, could have been a large softshell turtle. However, Shuker argues that sightings in which the mokele-mbembe was allegedly seen at close range, or mostly out of the water, cannot be explained by softshell turtles.[6]

Dinosaur[]

The mokele-mbembe has been compared to the South American sauropod Amargasaurus, on account of its neck spines (CC BY-SA 4.0).

With its long neck, small head, and long tail, the mokele-mbembe has long been identified by romantic zoologists and cryptozoologists as a relatively small sauropod dinosaur (~215–66 MYA), a wide variety of which are known from Mesozoic Africa.[6]

The mokele-mbembe has also sometimes been associated with ornithopod dinosaurs, though not always deliberately; Herman Regusters argued for a relationship with the African iguanodont Ouranosaurus (~112 MYA), which he mistakenly believed was a sauropod. Regusters owned an Ouranosaurus fossil which he claimed had been dated to the Late Cenozoic, but the palaeontologists he cited denied this.[21] Bernard Heuvelmans' original theory regarding the "Congo Dragons," posited in On the Track of Unknown Animals, was that they could be ornithopod dinosaurs such as hadrosaurs or iguanodonts.[3][4] However, this possibility was based mainly on the Ishtar Gate dragon,[4] which Heuvelmans later concluded was not relevant to the African neodinosaur question,[5] and he abandoned the iguanodont theory, arguing that, "because of the frequent mention of a long neck ... it was probably a middle-sized Sauropod." The ornithopod theory received some brief support from Yvan Ridel's photograph of a three-toed track near Loubomo, which Ridel believed had been made by a bipedal animal, but which Heuvelmans and Mackal identified as a possible water rhinoceros footprint.[3] One genus of Early Cretaceous iguanodont known from Niger, Lurdusaurus (~112 MYA), is believed to have been semi-aquatic, possibly living like a hippopotamus in forested rivers. Lurdusaurus had an unusually long neck and small head, although it also had powerfully-clawed forelimbs.

Giant reptile[]

Megalania (Varanus priscus) of Australia is the largest known varanid (CC BY 3.0).

Mackal's alternative, comparatively conservative, identity for the mokele-mbembe, which he regarded as a weaker descriptive match than a sauropod, was a giant monitor lizard or iguana, large enough to look a man in the eye.[3] Richard Freeman, who supports this theory, compares the putative monitor to a more gracile version of the giant Australian megalania (Varanus priscus).[68] Mackal felt that, of all known lizards, the monitors and iguanas came the closest to resembling the mokele-mbembe, although neither group provides an exact match. Iguanas are herbivores, and many species have spiny ridges on their backs and necks, but their necks are short. Monitor lizards, on the other hand, tend have have long, slender head-neck regions. Both monitors and iguanas include semi-aquatic species found in rivers.[3]

Mackal and Shuker both note some problems with this theory.[3][6] All known varanids are carnivores, while the mokele-mbembe has always been described as a browsing herbivore, and no known varanid has such a comparatively long neck as the mokele-mbembe. Shuker also questions why local people have never described the mokele-mbembe as a monitor lizard, nor have they compared it to one, even though these lizards are familiar to them.[6] Mackal's conclusion was that, if the mokele-mbembe were a lizard of any kind, "it would have to be a very strange lizard indeed, quite unlike any known forms, living or extinct". However, Mackal did believe that such an animal could explain certain other Congolese cryptids, such as the nguma-monene and mbielu-mbielu-mbielu.[3]

A different reptilian identity which has been suggested is a giant long-necked freshwater turtle, as the mokele-mbembe has sometimes been described as possessing flippered limbs, and its head has occasionally been compared to that of a turtle. In Zimbabwe, a giant turtle called the gucheche was said to come out of the river during the night to feed on vegetation, leaving hippo-like tracks. Like the mokele-mbembe, the gucheche was feared for its habit of capsizing canoes.[69] No known turtles approach the alleged size of the mokele-mbembe, but very large turtles, distinct from the mokele-mbembe, are reported from the Lake Tele region, where they are called ndendecki.[6]

Mammal[]

The vaguely sauropod-shaped indricotheres are promoted as a possible mokele-mbembe candidate by Loren Coleman (CC BY 3.0).

Michel Ballot has considered the possibility of an amphibious "supergiant pangolin" (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Bernard Heuvelmans would not rule out the possibility of some large mammal, resembling a sauropod in general appearance and habits, explaining the mokele-mbembe and associated cryptids,[5] a theory prominently supported by cryptozoologist Loren Coleman.[70][8] Shuker has criticised this possibility, arguing that such an animal would have to be entirely new, unknown to both zoology and palaeontology, and would therefore be even less likely to exist today than a sauropod dinosaur, which are at least known to have existed tens of millions of years ago.[6]

One prehistoric mammalian candidate, promoted by Coleman, is an indricothere (~37–20 MYA), a subfamily of long-necked stem rhinoceroses typified by Paraceratherium (~33–23 MYA), one of the largest known land mammals. Although indricothere skeletons had long necks and relatively small heads, how comparatively long the neck would appear in the flesh is debated; most modern reconstructions depict them with sauropod-like long necks. They are also sometimes theorised to have inhabited forests, such as enclosed woodlands or rainforests, a habitat choice supported by isotopic analysis; it has been suggested that the shade of the forest prevented them from overheating. However, as ungulates, indricotheres had short, thin tails, unlike the crocodilian tail of the mokele-mbembe. Indricothere fossils are also known only from Eurasia, although Coleman suggests that the modern survival of other rhinoceroses in Africa could indicate the possibility that an indricothere has also survived on the continent.[71]

Michel Ballot has considered the possibility of a "supergiant pangolin" (order Pholidota) which has undergone adaptations to an aquatic lifestyle in rivers and wetlands.[72] The largest known modern pangolin is the giant pangolin (Smutsia gigantea), which is found in Central African rainforests, and has been known to grow as long as 5'8''. The fossil record of African pangolins is exceptionally poor,[73] but larger prehistoric species are known from elsewhere, such as the Pleistocene Manis paleojavanica of Indonesia, which may have been 7' in length, and is itself one possible identity for the veo. Enormous, but short-necked, pangolin-like cryptids have been reported from elsewhere in Africa, such as the dingonek of Kenya and the kumbway of Liberia. Ballot cites various lines of evidence supporting this theory, including the large scales on the alleged mokele-mbembe carving and on certain other local depictions, and on the testimony of an inhabitant of Ndongo, Cameroon, who claimed to have seen huge claw marks on trees.[72] Doctor Pierre Nuyen also claimed that people near the Cameroon border described the mokele-mbembe as an enormous swamp monster resembling a pangolin.[11]

French cryptozoologist Florent Barrère theorises that the mokele-mbembe is an aquatic chalicothere (~46–1 MYA), a clade of clawed, horse-like perissodactyls which are known to have survived in East Africa, with Ancylotherium (~7–1 MYA), until the Early Pleistocene. Like the mokele-mbembe, African chalicotheres are believed to have been forest-dwelling browsers.[73] Specifically, Barrère suggests that the mokele-mbembe is a highly-specialised form similar to the North American genus Tylocephalonyx (~15–13 MYA), which had a domed head; according to Barrère, such a structure could have developed into the frequently-described horn. Perissodactyls do not have long sturdy tails, but Barrère argues that an aquatic chalicothere could have evolved one as an adaptation to swimming.[74] Such an identity has been proposed for other Central African cryptids, including the dilali[4] and mbilintu.[5]

Cryptozoologists such as Heuvelmans, Peter Costello, and Coleman have theorised that long-necked sea serpents and temperate lake monsters are a species of giant long-necked seal (Megalotaria longicollis), which occasionally swim up rivers or become trapped in lochs which were once coastal fjords.[75][76] Heuvelmans believed that a long-necked seal which had entered South Africa's Orange River could explain the grootslang, and similar animals have been reported from the African Great Lakes,[5] including Lake Tanganyika, part of the Congo Basin. While Heuvelmans did not suggest that the mokele-mbembe could be a long-necked seal, later cryptozoologists have considered the possibility. Shuker, who is critical of the idea of a long-necked seal, feels that the distinct tail of the mokele-mbembe argues against such an identity,[6] while Coleman also opines that the hot and humid swamps of West Africa do not seem to be a suitable habitat for a giant pinniped.[8]

Maps[]

Locations in the southeast[]

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Locations in the northwest[]

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Confirmed hoaxes[]

A still from the Duffy film shown on That's Incredible!.

Alleged footage of a mokele-mbembe was shown in a December 1981 episode of the television program That's Incredible!. The film was allegedly shot by Kevin Duffy, who appeared in the episode, on a visit to Impfondo, and depicted the animal's head and neck in the Ubangi River. However, while the Mackal expedition was at Impfondo, Eugene Thomas and others told Mackal and Greenwell that the "animal" had in fact been a wooden carving, created to show Duffy what the mokele-mbembe supposedly looked like. Mackal was later asked to appear on That's Incredible!, but declined, citing the Duffy film, to which the program's producers responded that "their program was not a scientific forum, but an entertainment show."[77]

A 27 August 1985 article in The Sun of Florida written by Barbara Gilbert claimed that a mokele-mbembe had been captured alive in Zaire (the Democratic Republic of the Congo) by a team of scientists who had been tracking it for three years, and who subsequently released it in a game reserve. J. Richard Greenwell suggested that this account had been inspired by the recently-released film Baby, and noted the author's confusion between the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[78]

In popular culture[]

  • A film featuring the mokele-mbembe, Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (1985), was released shortly after the Mackal and Regusters expeditions. The character of Dr Eric Kiviat, portrayed by Patrick McGoohan, is popularly believed to have been based on Mackal.[6]

Notes and references[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Bölsche, Wilhelm (1929) Drachen: Sage und Naturwissenschaft
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Eberhart, George M. (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, ABC-CLIO, Inc., ISBN 1576072835
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 3.19 3.20 3.21 3.22 3.23 3.24 3.25 3.26 3.27 3.28 3.29 3.30 3.31 3.32 3.33 3.34 3.35 Mackal, Roy P. (1987) A Living Dinosaur? In Search of Mokele-Mbembe, Brill, ISBN 978-9004085435
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Heuvelmans, Bernard (1955) On the Track of Unknown Animals, Routledge, ISBN 978-1138977525
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 5.14 5.15 5.16 5.17 5.18 5.19 5.20 5.21 5.22 5.23 5.24 5.25 5.26 5.27 5.28 5.29 Heuvelmans, Bernard (1978) Les Derniers Dragons d'Afrique, Plon, ISBN 978-2259003872
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 6.13 6.14 6.15 6.16 6.17 6.18 6.19 6.20 6.21 6.22 6.23 6.24 6.25 6.26 6.27 6.28 6.29 6.30 6.31 6.32 Shuker, Karl P. N. (2016) Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors: The Creatures That Time Forgot?, Coachwhip Publications, ISBN 978-1616463908
  7. 7.0 7.1 Cameroon Expedition Update (2019) — Online
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