Mokèlé-mbèmbé is the name given to a large water dwelling cryptid found in the legends and folklore of the Congo River basin. It is analogous to the Loch Ness Monster in Western culture.
Mokèlé-mbèmbé means 'one who stops the flow of rivers' in the Lingala language. According to local tribes, the creature goes by a variety of different names including jago-nini (giant diver), dingonek, Ol-umaina, and chipekwe. To add to the confusion, mokele-mbembe is also used as a generic term to refer to other animals like Emela-ntouka, Mbielu-mbielu-mbielu or Nguma-monene.
Some legends describe Mokèlé-mbèmbé as having an elephant-like body with a long neck and tail and a small head, making it similar in appearance to the extinct sauropod dinosaur, while others describe is as more closely resembling elephants or rhinoceros. There have also been reports of a frill on the back of the head. The frill is like the comb found on a cock (male chicken). The color of the skin is predominately reddish-brown with a color range from gray to brown. Some traditions, such those of Boha village, believe it to be a spirit rather than a flesh and blood creature.
Its body size is somewhere between the size of a hippopotamus and an elephant. Its length has been reported to be between 5 to 10 meters (16 to 32 feet). The length of the neck is between 1.6 to 3.3 meters (5 to 10 feet). The length of the tail is between 1.6 to 3.3 meters (5 to 10 feet).
The basic belief is that Mokele-mbembe does not make any sounds, though there have been come conflicting reports. This is probably due to the fact that Mokele-mbembe is used generically for other animals and the sound is being confused with Emela-ntouka which makes a sound like a snort, howl, roar, rumble, or growl.
The pygmies, natives of the Likouala Swamp region, report that the essential diet of Mokele-Mbembe consists primarily of the Malombo plant. Since it only eats plants, it is classified as an herbivore. The Malombo plant actually describes two plants: Landolphia mannii and Landolphia owariensis.
The tracks left are rounded shape between 30 to 90 centimeters (1 to 3 feet) in diameter with three claws. The distance between tracks is about 2.1 to 2.4 meters (7 to 8 feet).
Mokele-Mbembe lives underwater most of the time except when it eats or travels to other parts of the swamp. Through, it is reputed as a rather aggressive animal. It is known to turn over boats, and even to have killed by biting or hitting with its tail. One important detail, as stated by Captain von Stein, is that the creature never fed on its victims. This particular detail shows that this behavior is not hunting, but more of a territorial aggression. It has as been reported that Mokele-mbembe does not like hippopotamuses and will kill them on sight, but it does not eat them either. Hippopotamuses cannot be found where Mokele-mbembe lives.
Mokele-mbembe lives in the pools and swamps adjacent to the rivers of the Likouala swamp region of The People's Republic of the Congo on the continent of Africa. Its uses the lakes as a crossing path to go from one river to another river.the Likouala Swamp. Approximately 55,000 square miles, larger than the entire state of Florida, the government has officially declared it 80% unexplored. To the scientific community, this area is as foreign as an entirely new planet.
History of searchings
Numerous expeditions were undertaken to discover uncharted Africa. During these, there were some sightings that might involve an unidentified dinosaur-like creature. Also there have been several specific Mokele-mbembe-hunting expeditions. These expeditions have been undertaken with varying degrees of scientific rigor. Although several of the expeditions sent to find it have reported close-encounters none have been able to provide incontrovertible proof that the creature exists Though evidence was found of a widespread folklore and anecdotal accounts covering a considerable period of time.
Amongst the earliest reference that might be relevant to mokele-mbembe stories (though the term is not used in the source) comes from the 1776 book of Abbé Lievain Bonaventure, a French missionary to the Congo River region. Among many other observations about flora, fauna and native inhabitants related in his lengthy book, Bonaventure claimed to have seen enormous footprints in the region. The creature that left the prints was not witnessed, but Bonaventure wrote that it "must have been monstrous: the marks of the claws were noted on the ground, and these formed a print about three feet in circumference."
According to Lt. Paul Gratz, indigenous legend of the Congo River basin (Modern day Zambia) speak of a mokele-mbembe-like creature. Known by native people as the Nsanga, which is said to inhabit the Lake Bangweulu region. Gratz, describes the creature as resembling a sauropod. This is one of the earliest references linking the legend with dinosaurs. In addition to hearing stories of the Nsanga Gratz was shown a hide which he was told belonged to the creature, while visiting on Mbawala island.
1909 saw another mention of a mokele-mbembe-like creature, in Beasts and Men, the autobiography of famed big-game hunter Carl Hagenbeck. He claimed to have heard from multiple independent sources about a creature living in the Congo region which was described as “half elephant, half dragon.” Naturalist Joseph Menges had also told Hagenbeck about an animal alleged to live in Africa, described as “some kind of dinosaur, seemingly akin to the brontosaurs.” Another of Hagenbeck’s sources, Hans Schomburgk, asserted that while at Lake Bangweulu, he noted a lack of hippopotami; his native guides informed him of a large hippo-killing creature that lived in Lake Bangweulu; however, as noted below, Schomburgk thought that native testimony was sometimes unreliable.
Reports of dinosaur-like creatures in Africa caused a minor sensation in the mass media, and newspapers in Europe and North America carried many articles on the subject in 1910-1911; some took the reports at face value, others were more skeptical.
1913: Captain Freiherr von Stein zu Lausnitz
Another report comes from the writings of German Captain Freiherr von Stein zu Lausnitz, who was ordered to conduct a survey of German colonies in what is now Cameroon in 1913. He heard stories of an enormous reptile alleged to live in the jungles, and included a description of the beast in his official report. According to Willy Ley, "von Stein worded his report with utmost caution," knowing it might be seen as unbelievable. (Ley, 69) Nonetheless, von Stein thought the tales were credible: trusted native guides had related the tales to him; the stories were related to him by independent sources, yet featured many of the same details. Though von Stein's report was never formally published, portions were included in later works, including a 1959 book by Ley; von Stein wrote:
The animal is said to be of a brownish-gray color with a smooth skin, its size is 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 shores 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 applelike fruits. At the Ssombo River I was shown a path said to have been made by this animal in order to get at its food. The path was fresh and there were plants of the described type nearby. 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. (quoted in Ley, 70)
1919-1920: Smithsonian Institute
A 32-men-strong expedition was sent out to Africa from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. The objective of this expedition was to secure additional specimens of plants and animals. Moving picture photographers from the Universal Film Manufacturing Company accompanied the expedition, in order to document the life of interior Africa. According to Loren Coleman & Patrick Huyghe, authors of the Field Guide to Lake Monsters, "African guides found large, unexplained tracks along the bank of a river and later in a swamp the team heard mysterious roars, which had no resemblance with any known animal". However, the expedition was to end in tragedy. During a train-ride through a flooded area where an entire tribe was said to have seen the dinosaur, the locomotive suddenly derailed and turned over. Four team members were crushed to death under the cars and another half dozen seriously injured. The expedition was documented in the H.L. Shantz papers.
1927 saw the publication of ‘’Trader Horn’’, the memoir of Alfred Aloysius Smith, who had worked for a British trading company in what is now Gabon in the late 1800s. In the book, Smith related tales told him by natives and explorers about a creature given two different names: ‘’jago-nini’’ and ‘’amali’’. The creature is said to be very large, according to Smith, and to leave large, round, three-clawed footprints.
Zoologist Ivan T. Sanderson claimed that, while in Cameroon in 1932, he witnessed an enormous creature in the Mainyu River. The creature, seemingly badly wounded, was only briefly visible as it lurched into the waters. Darkly colored, the animal's head alone was nearly the size of a hippo, according to Sanderson. His native guides termed the creature "m'koo m'bemboo" (in Sanderson's phonetic spelling).
In 1938, explorer Leo von Boxberger mounted an expedition in part to investigate mokele-mbembe reports. He collected much information from natives, but his notes and sketches had to be abandoned during a conflagration with local tribesmen.
In 1939, the German Colonial Gazette (of Angola) published a letter by Frau Ilse von Nolde, who asserted that she had heard of the animal called "coye ya menia" ("water lion") from many claimed eyewitnesses, both native and settlers. She described the long necked creature as living in the rivers, and being about the size of a hippo, if not somewhat larger. It was known especially for attacking hippos - even coming on to land to do so - though it never ate them. (Ley, 71-72)
1959: Mokele-mbembe killing
Reverend Eugene Thomas from Ohio, USA, told James Powell and Dr. Roy P. Mackal in 1979 a story that involved the purported killing of a Mokele-mbembe near Lake Tele in 1959. Thomas was a missionary who had served in the Congo since 1955, gathering much of the earliest evidence and reports, and claiming to have had two close-encounters himself . Natives of the Bangombe tribe who lived near Lake Tele were said to have constructed a large spiked fence in a tributary of Tele to keep Mokele-mbembe from interfering in their fishing. A Mokele-mbembe managed to break through, though it was wounded on the spikes, and the natives then killed the creature. As William Gibbons writes, "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. I also believe that the mythification (magical powers, etc) surrounding Mokele-mbembes began with this incident." Furthermore, Roy P. Mackal heard from witnesses that the stakes were in the same location in the tributary as of the early 1980s.
1976: James H. Powell
In 1960, herpetologist James H. Powell, Jr., took interest in the African dragons and organized an expedition to the Congo in 1972. Powell's expedition was fraught with problems (the United States and the Congo had poor relations at the time), but he finally launched the expedition in 1976. Powell went to Gabon instead (the region where Trader Horn had collected his reports). Powell was quick to realize they were probably identical to the mokele-mbembe. Furthermore, Powell heard local legends of the n'yamala, and locals identified pictures of a sauropod dinosaur as bearing the most resemblance to the animal.
Another expedition was organized in 1981, composed of Mackal, J. Richard Greenwell, M. Justin Wilkinson, and Congolese zoologist Marcellin Agnagna. The expedition encountered what they believed was a Congo "dinosaur" along the Likouala River, when they heard a large animal leaping into the water near Epena. They also found a path of broken branches supposedly made by the animal, as well as a number of footprints.
1985: Rory Nugent
In December 1985 Rory Nugent claimed to have spotted the animal but to have been ordered at gunpoint by the natives not to approach it. Nugent claimed that they view the creature as a god "that you can not approach, but if he chooses, this god can approach you". He also provided some pictures, which are too blurry to be identifiable.
1985-1986: Operation Congo
Operation Congo took place between December 1985 and early 1986, and was led by Englishman William Gibbons, comprised of "four enthusiastic but naïve young Englishmen."They hired Agnagna to take them to Lake Tele, but did not report any mokele-mbembe sightings. The British men did, however, describe Agnagna as doing "little more than lie, cheat and steal (our film and supplies) and turn the porters against us." After criminal charges were filed against him, a Congolese court ordered Agnagna to return the items he had taken from the expedition.
Although the party found no evidence of the mokele-mbembe, they discovered a new sub-species of monkey, which was later classified as the Crested mangabey monkey (Cerocebus galeritus), as well as fish and insect specimens.
In 1986 another expedition was mounted, consisting of four Dutchmen, organized and led by Dutch biologist Ronald Botterweg, who already had experience with tropical rainforest research in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and who later visited, lived and worked in several African countries. This expedition entered the Congo down the Ubangi River from Bangui in the Central African Republic, and managed, with considerable organizational challenges, to reach Lake Tele, with a group of guides from the village of Boha, some of which had also accompanied Regusters. Since they had only managed to obtain permission from the local authorities (not having passed by Brazzaville) for a very limited period in the area, they only spent about three days at the lake before returning to Boha. During their stay at the lake they spent as much time as possible observing the lake and its surroundings through from their provisional camp on the north-eastern shore, and navigating part of it by dug-out canoe. No signs of any large unknown animal were found.
On the way back, arriving at the town of Impfondo, they were detained by Congolese biologist Agnagna and his team, who had just arrived there for an expedition with the British team of Operation Congo (see before), allegedly for not possessing the proper documents. They were detained for a short while, and the largest part of their film and color slides were confiscated, before being released and leaving the country (again by the Ubangui river and Bangui).
No signs, tracks or anything tangible or visible of the alleged animals was seen or shown whatsoever. Tracks, droppings, and other signs of forest elephants and gorillas were commonly seen, as well as crocodiles in the lake. Despite the fact that the African guides were extremely capable and experienced hunters, guides and experts of the African rainforest, they were not able to show any track or sign of the Mokele-mbembe and none of the several interviewed guides even claimed ever to have seen one personally, nor its tracks. Remarkable is the fact that the guides that were interviewed by the Dutch expedition and that also accompanied Regusters, stated that they never saw a Mokele-mbembe during that expedition, although Regusters himself claims to have seen one.
This expedition received some attention in the Dutch media (radio, TV, newspapers) from 1985 to 1987.
1988 Japanese expedition
Occurred in 1988 , and was lead by the Congolese wildlife official Jose Bourges. Members of a Japanese film crew allegedly captured the first evidence of Mokele-mbembe. As they were filming aerial footage from a small plane over the area of Lake Tele, intending to obtain some shots for a documentary, the cameraman noticed a disturbance in the water. He struggled to maintain focus on the object, which was creating a noticeable wake. About 15 seconds of footage was captured with skeptics identifying it as two men in a canoe or elephants.
British writer Redmond O'Hanlon traveled to the region in 1989 and not only failed to discover any evidence of Mokele-mbembe but found out that many local people believe the creature to be a spirit rather than a physical being, and that claims for its authentic existence have been fabricated. His experience is chronicled in Granta 39 (1992) and in his book No Mercy (1997).
1992 Operation Congo 2
William Gibbons launched a second expedition in 1992 which he dubbed "Operation Congo 2". Along with Rory Nugent, Gibbons searched almost two thirds Bai River along with two poorly charted lakes: Lake Fouloukuo and Lake Tibeke. Both of which local folklore held to be sites of Mokele-Mbembe activity. The expedition failed to provide any conclusive evidence of the Mokele Mbembe, though they did further document local legends and Nugent took two photographs of unidentified object in the water. One of which he claimed was the creatures head.
The Extreme Expeditions team was set to travel to the Likouala Region, however the 1997-1999 civil war made this impossible.
During the 1999 megatransect into the wilderness of the Congo basin by the biologist and Africa explorer Michael Fay did not reveal any trace of the Mokele-mbembe. However, it must be noted that the trek did not pass through the Likouala and lake Tele regions.
- In January 2000, the Congo Millennium Expedition (aka. DINO2000) took place, the second one by Extreme Expeditions. Consisting of Andrew Sanderson, Adam Davies, Keith Townley, Swedish explorer Jan-Ove Sundberg, and five others.
- In November 2000, William Gibbons did some preliminary research in Cameroon for a future expedition. He was accompanied by David Wetzel. While visiting with a group of pygmies, were informed about an animal called Ngoubou. It might be related to the Emela-ntouka, but this animal is single-horned. The pygmies asserted it was not a regular rhinoceros, as it had more than one horn (six horns on the frill in one eyewitness account), and that the father of one of the senior members of the community had killed one with a spear a number of years ago. The locals have noted a firm dwindle in the population of these animals lately, and are hard to find. Gibbons identified the animal with a Styracosaurus, but these are currently only known to have inhabited North America.
- In February 2001, in a joint venture between CryptoSafari and the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club (BCSCC), a research team traveled to Cameroon consisting of William Gibbons, Scott T. Norman, John Kirk and writer Robert A. Mullin. Their local guide was Pierre Sima Noutchegeni. They were also accompanied by a BBC filmcrew. However, no evidence of Mokele-mbembe was found.
- In January 2006, the Milt Marcy Expedition traveled to the Dja river in Cameroon, near the Congolese border. It consisted of Milt Marcy, Peter Beach, Rob Mullin and Pierre Sima. They spoke to witnesses that claimed to have observed a Mokele-mbembe only two days before, however they did not discover the animal themselves.
- A May 2006 episode called "Super Snake" of the National Geographic-series "Dangerous Encounters" included an expedition headed by Dr. Brady Barr to Lake Tele. No unknown animals were found.
- In March 2008 An episode of the SciFi Channel original series "Destination Truth" involves investigator Josh Gates and crew searching for the elusive dinosaur. However, it must be noted that they did not visit the Likouala Region, which includes Lake Tele, but they visited Lake Bangweulu in Zambia instead, which had reports of a similar creature in the early 20th century, called the "'nsanga" as earlier described in this article. It must be noted that the crew of Destination Truth kept calling the animal "Mokele-Mbembe" to the locals, when that name is only used in the Republic of the Congo. Their episode featured a videotaped close encounter, but filmed from a great distance. On applying digital video enhancement techniques, the encounter proved to be nothing more then two submerged hippopotami.
Theories about origin and existence
According to science writer Willy Ley, while there is a sufficient anecdotal accounts to suggest "that there is a large and dangerous animal hiding in the shallow waters and rivers of Central Africa", the body of evidence so far presented remains insufficient for any realistic conclusions to be drawn on what the Mokele-mbembe may be (Ley, 74).
According to the writings of biologist and cryptid researcher Dr. R. P. Mackal, who mounted two unsuccessful expeditions to find it, it is unlikely that the Mokele-Mbembe is a mammal or an amphibian. This leaves a reptile as the only plausible candidate. Of all the living reptiles, Mackal argues that the iguana and the monitor lizards bear the closest resemblance to the Mokele-Mbembe, though, at 15 to 30 feet (9.1 m) long, the Mokele-mbembe would exceed the size of any known examples of such reptiles.
Mackal judged available evidence as consistent, writing, "I believe the description of the Mokele-mbembe is accounted for in all respects by an identification with a small sauropod dinosaur". Mackal also judged the existence of an undiscovered relict sauropod to be plausible on the grounds that there were large amount uninhabited and unexplored territory in the region where a creature might live, and on the grounds that other large creatures such as elephants, exist in the region, living in large open clearings (called bai) as well as in thicker wooded areas. In conclusion, Mackal states the personal belief that the Mokele-Mbembe may be a relict sauropod.
The argument for the Mokele-Mbembe being a relict sauropod has also been supported by some creationists, who believe the creature is a surviving dinosaur, and use it in support of their own views.
BBC/Discovery Channel documentary Congo interviewed a number of tribe members who identified a photograph of a rhinoceros as being a Mokele-Mbembe. Neither species of African rhinoceros are common in the Congo basin, and the Mokele-Mbembe may be a mixture of mythology and folk memory from a time when rhinoceroses were found in the area.
- James Blish's 1962 science fiction novel, The Night Shapes, centered upon Mokèlè-mbèmbé.
- In 1985 a movie was released based on the rumours about Mokèlè-mbèmbé, called Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend. It featured American scientists who discovered a surviving family of sauropods in Central Africa.
- A fictional book was written about this creature called Cryptid Hunters by Roland Smith.
- In White Wolf's RPG World of Darkness, the Mokole are one of the "Changing Breeds". They shapeshift into reptilian forms such as crocodiles, alligators and gila monsters, but can also take attributes from dinosaurs and even dragons. Mokole-Mbembe himself is said to be the legendary and immortal progenitor of their race (at least in Africa).
- A game module for the roleplaying game Conspiracy X, is titled Bodyguard of Lies 2: Mokolé.
- In the online videogame Steppenwolf, the first chapter focuses on finding the Mokèlè Mbèmbè.
- In the book Mortal Engines, by Phillip Reeve, the character Captain Khora is an African with an airship called the Mokele Mbembe.
- The Pokémon, Tropius, bears a distinct resemblance to the Mokélé-Mbémbé, and also shares some features.
- In Uncharted Waters: New Horizons, the Mokele Mbembe is a discovery.
- In the novel Reptilia, written by Thomas Thiemeyer, the Mokèlè-mbèmbé is a mutated prehistoric reptile.
- The 92nd novel in the Destroyer series, Last Dragon, features Mokele m'bembe as a surviving strain of apatosaurs which Chiun values for the longevity supposedly conveyed by eating their bones.
- In the video game Guild Wars Nightfall, there is a species of creatures named Mokeles and a skill named after them called Mokele Smash.
- A harmless family of Mokèlè-mbèmbé are menaced by poachers in "The Company of Men" (issues 6-8), the second arc of the ongoing Image Comics book Proof.
- Clark, Jerome and Coleman, Loren. Cryptozoology A-Z. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999. Pages 98, 167-169
- Clark, Jerome. Unexplained!. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1999. Pages 273-274, 300-310
- Keel, John A. The Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings. New York: Doubleday, 1994. Pages 315-316
- Mackal, Roy P. A Living Dinosaur: In Search of Mokele-Mbembe
- Newton, Michael.Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology: A Global Guide to Hidden Animals and Their Pursuers. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2005. Pages 13-14, 97, 101, 132-135, 148, 171, 182, 208, 210, 277, 289,300, 303-304, 338, 345-346, 379, 394-395, 403, 410
- Nugent, Rory. Drums Along the Congo: On the Trail of Mokele-Mbembe, the Last Living Dinosaur. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1993.
- O'Hanlon, Redmond. No Mercy: A Journey Into the Heart of the Congo
- Quammen, David. The Flight of the Iguana: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature. Pages 93-94
- Steiger, Brad. Out of the Dark: The Complete Guide to Beings from Beyond. New York: Kensington Books, 2001. Pages 99-101
- Weidensaul, Scott. The Ghost with Trembling Wings: Science, Wishful Thinking and the Search for Lost Species. New York: North Point Press, 2002. Pages 11, 179
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