Mokele Mbembe


Some people believe there's no need to clone DNA preserved in prehistoric amber in order to return dinosaurs to the Earth, on the grounds that the creatures never went fully extinct. For hundreds of years, stories have been told of surviving dinosaurs in the jungles of central Africa. The earliest written record comes from a 1776 book in which Abbe Proyhart described seeing giant, clawed animal footprints in west central Africa, tracks that he claimed were three feet across.

In 1913, a German expedition in the Congo met a group of pygmies who described an animal they called mokele-mbeme, which means "one who stops the flow of rivers." They said this beast was about the size of an elephant or hippopotamus, with a long, flexible neck and a long tail like an alligator's. They claimed that the animal would attack and kill any humans that got too close to it, but it would not eat them, because of its strictly herbivorous diet. Similar descriptions have been given time and time again throughout central Africa, consistent with a sauropod or other small dinosaur.

Numerous expeditions have been mounted in search of mokele-mbeme, with mixed results. In 1980 and 1981, monster-hunter Roy P. Mackal headed explorations into the Likouala and Lake Tele regions of the Congo, reputed hot spots of dinosaur sightings. Mackal documented a number of past eyewitness accounts, including one exciting story of how one mokele-mbeme was attacked and killed. Pascal Moteka, who lived near Lake Tele, said that his people had once constructed a barrier of stakes across a river to keep the giant beasts from interfering with their fishing. When mokele-mbeme tried to break through the barrier, the assembled villagers managed to kill it with spears. Celebrating their triumph, the people butchered and cooked the carcass, but everyone who ate the dinosaur meat reportedly died soon afterwards.

Mackal never saw the creature himself, although he says he did have one close call. One day while paddling down the Likouala River in dugout canoes, his group heard a loud "plop" sound and a large wake splashed up on the far bank. The pygmy guides cried out frightfully, "Mokele-mbeme! Mokele-mbeme!" Mackal and his colleagues believed that only a large animal diving under the water could have caused such a wake, and since hippos are not present in the Likouala area, they felt that they narrowly missed seeing the elusive dinosaur.

Marcellin Agnagna, a Congolese biologist who had accompanied Mackal on his searches, led his own expedition in 1983. Agnagna claimed to have a firsthand sighting of a mokele-mbeme as it waded in Lake Tele. He described it as having the long-necked form typically attributed to the creature, although he could not see its legs or tail, which remained underwater. Agnagna had a movie camera, but he later reported that there was little film left when the creature appeared, and he began filming it without realizing that the lens cap was left on. Thus, even though he says he observed the animal for about 20 minutes before it submerged and vanished, Agnagna was sadly left with no photographic evidence -- a convenient circumstance, skeptics might say.

In 1992, a Japanese film crew captured some of the best photographic evidence of a mokele-mbeme ever presented. They were filming aerial footage from a small plane over the area of Lake Tele to obtain some panoramic landscape shots for a documentary. They noticed a large shape moving across the surface of the lake and leaving a V-shaped wake behind itself. The cameraman zoomed in and got about 15 seconds of the object in motion before it dives under the surface.

The resulting footage is very jumpy and indistinct, but it shows a vertical protuberance at the front of the object that could be a long neck. A second, shorter projection could be a humped back or possibly a tail. If the object is not a dinosaur, it's difficult to say what animal it could be, since a crocodile would not have two such protrusions above the water, and an elephant would not submerge in the way the object does. The explanation that makes the best visual match is actually two men paddling a canoe, although the object's speed is too fast to be a non-powered boat. (The illustration on this page contains an inset from the footage.)

The existence of dinosaurs in central Africa is unlikely, but not a total scientific impossibility. According to cryptozoologist Karl Shuker, "If dinosaurs could exist unknown to science anywhere in the world, the Likouala is where they would be."