Mokele Mbembe

Unknown DlNOSAUR-like animal of Central Africa.

Etymology: Lingala (Bantu), "water monster" or "one who stops the flow of rivers."

Variant names: Am AU, Badigui, IriZIMA, Isiququm adevu, JagO-Nini, Le'kela-bembe (Baka/Ubangi), Mbokalemuembe (in Cameroon), Mbulu-em'bembe or M'kuoo-m'bem-boo (Denya/Bantu), M'(o)ke-n'be, Nwe (Ewondo/Bantu), N'yamala.

Physical description: Size of an elephant or larger. Length, up to 35 feet. Shoulder height, 5-7 feet. Smooth, reddish-brown or brownish-gray skin. The male has a single long horn or tusk. Serpentine head. Flexible neck, 6-12 feet long and as thick as a man's thigh. Feet are like an elephant's. Long, muscular tail.

Behavior: Amphibious. Moves singly or in pairs. Active early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Said to live in the forest but feed in the lake. Makes a deep-throated, trumpeting growl. Vegetarian diet. Prefers the applelike fruit of lianas (Landolphia mannii and L. owariensis) with white blossoms, known locally as Malombo. Digs caves in the riverbank. Aggressively defends its territory. Kills hippopotamuses, elephants, and crocodiles. Said to overturn canoes and destroy the occupants by lashing its tail. Its flesh is said to be poisonous.

Tracks: Hippopotamus-like but bigger than an elephant's, or 12 inches in diameter. Three clawed toes. Also makes a furrow like that made by a large snake or a wagon wheel.

Habitat: Caves in river banks.

Distribution: Bai River, Likouala aux Herbes River, Likouala Swamp, Lake Makele, Sangha River, Lake Tebeki, Lake Télé, and Lower Ubangi River, Republic of the Congo; Ikelemba River, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Boumba, Cross, Loponji, Mbamé, Ngoko, Ntem, and Sanaga Rivers, Cameroon.

Significant sightings: In the mid-eighteenth century, French missionaries in the area of

Mokele Mbembe

Gabon or the western Republic of the Congo reported finding clawed tracks about 3 feet in circumference and 7-8 feet apart.

Capt. Freiherr von Stein zu Lausnitz collected information on the Mokele-mbembe in the Republic of the Congo for the German government during the Likuala-Kongo Expedition of 1913. Natives told him it had smooth skin, was the size of an elephant, had a long and flexible neck, and had a long tusk or horn. He was shown a path made by the animal to get at its preferred food, a white liana blossom.

Ivan T. Sanderson and Gerald Russell heard a loud roar and saw a huge animal swim out from a submerged cave in Mamfe Pool on the Cross River, Cameroon, in 1932 or 1933. All they could see was a dark head larger than a hippo's, which created a wave when it submerged. Several months earlier, they had come across large, hippolike tracks near the river.

About 1935, Firman Mosomele saw a Mokele-mbembe in the Likouala aux Herbes River near Epéna, Republic of the Congo. It had a reddish-brown, snakelike head, and its neck was 6-8 feet long.

Around 1959, a Mokele-mbembe was killed by Pygmies at Lake Télé, Republic of the Congo, by putting up a barrier in a waterway that the animal used to enter the lake; the cornered animal was then speared to death. They cut it up and ate the meat, but everyone is said to have died shortly afterward.

In the 1960s, Nicolas Mondongo was hunting for monkeys along the Likouala aux Herbes River between Bandéko and Mokengui when a huge animal reared out of the water about 40 feet away. Its head and neck together were 6 feet in length, and it had four sturdy legs and a long tail. Mondongo watched it for three minutes before it submerged.


In February 1980, Roy Mackal and James Powell went on a reconnaissance expedition that reached Epéna on the Likouala aux Herbes River, Republic of the Congo, and they collected firsthand reports of the Mokele-mbembe.

The Herman Regusters Expedition to Lake Télé, Republic of the Congo, from October 9 to December 9, 1981, made several observations of disturbances in the water caused by a large animal. A long neck was seen for five minutes during one encounter and for a few seconds on another occasion. On November 4, Regusters heard and recorded an animal making a loud growl.

Roy Mackal, Richard Greenwell, and Justin Wilkinson conducted an expedition to the Likouala Region, Republic of the Congo, from October 27 to December 3, 1981. They encountered an odd wake made by a large animal in the Likouala River between Itanga and Mahounda and examined the trail made by an unknown animal upstream from Djeké months earlier and discovered by Emmanuel Moungoumela.

A Congolese expedition led by zoologist Mar-cellin Agnagna surveyed the Likouala Swamp and Lake Télé area from April 3 to May 17, 1983. For twenty minutes on May 1, Agnagna and others saw a 15-foot animal with a wide back and long neck swimming in the lake; though the animal was observed through the telephoto lens of a movie camera, the film was on an incorrect setting and proved worthless. The expedition also found recent footprints near Djeké.

The British Operation Congo, led by William Gibbons from January to June 1986, returned from Lake Télé with little evidence, though it confirmed the existence of turtles, pythons, and crocodiles in the lake.

A Japanese film crew led by Tatsuo Watanabe shot a controversial video in September 1992 showing fifteen seconds of what they thought was a Mokele-mbembe crossing Lake Télé.

A village security officer at Moloundou, Cameroon, saw a Le'kela-bembe in the Boumba River in February 2000. The animal stopped swimming downstream when it saw a ferry and moved away upstream.

Possible explanations:

(1) Sauropod dinosaurs, herbivorous quadrupeds that ranged in total body length from 20 to 145 feet, had small heads, long necks, long tails, and massive limbs. They had five toes on all four limbs, with at most a single clawed toe on each forefoot and perhaps three on the hind feet. There were two types of sauropods, distinguished primarily from characteristics of the teeth: large animals with thick, spoon-shaped teeth, such as Brachiosaurus, and smaller animals with longer snouts and thin, peg-shaped teeth, such as Diplodocus. The earliest sauropod fossil is Vulcanodon, a 33-foot animal from Zimbabwe and dating from the Early Jurassic, 200 million years ago; other early species have been found in Germany and China. Sub-Saharan African sauropods include Barosaurus, Brachiosaurus, and Dicraeosaurus from Tanzania and Janenschia and Malawisaurus from Malawi. Presumably, the last sauropods died off at the end of the Cretaceous, 65 million years ag°.

(2) Ouranosaurus, a 24-foot, bipedal iguanodontid dinosaur, was excavated in the Sahara Desert in Niger in 1966. Its distinctive dorsal spines are 2 feet high and may have supported a sail-like membrane. This explanation was proposed by Herman Regusters, who misidentified the fossil as a sauropod and alleged that one vertebra was radiocarbon-dated as only a few thousand years old. In fact, the remains date from the early Cretaceous, some 110 million years ago.

(3) An unknown species of giant Monitor (Varanidae) or Iguana (Iguanidae) lizard. Both groups include semiaquatic species, and some iguanas are herbivorous.

(4) Large African softshell turtle ( Trionyx triunguis), called NDENDEK by locals living in the Lake Télé area and said to grow up to 15 feet in diameter. Marcellin Agnagna's 1983 sighting may have involved this turtle.

(5) An African elephant (Loxodonta africana) swimming with its trunk raised.

(6) The Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus), which can grow to over 20 feet long.

(7) During the rainy season,

Hippopotamuses (Hippopotamus amphibius) are said to hibernate in caves along the riverbanks. If disturbed, one of them might surprise and confuse the unwary traveler. This might explain Ivan Sanderson's sighting in Mamfe Pool, Cameroon. (8) The West African manatee ( Trichechus senegalensis) grows to about 12 feet in length and might be mistaken for a larger animal if encountered suddenly. It may be found in certain rivers of the Republic of the Congo. Sources: Abbé Proyart, Histoire de Loango, Kakongo, et autres royaumes d'Afrique (Paris: C. P. Berton, N. Crapart, 1776), pp. 38-39; Wilhelm Bölsche, Drachen: Sage und Naturwissenschaft (Stuttgart, Germany: Franckh'sche Verlagshandlung, 1929), pp. 49-54; Leo von Boxberger, "Ein unentdecktes Grosstierart in Innerafrika," Die Umschau, 42 Jahr, Heft 49 (1938): 1133; Ivan T. Sanderson, "There Could Be Dinosaurs," Saturday Evening Post 220 (January 3, 1948): 17, 53-56; Bernard Heuvelmans, On the Track ofUnknown Animals (New York: Hill and Wang, 1958), pp. 461-467, 475-478; Bernard Heuvelmans, Les derniers dragons d'Afrique (Paris: Plon, 1978), pp. 248-261, 269-270, 299-301; Herman A. Regusters, "Mokele-Mbembe: An Investigation into Rumors Concerning a Strange Animal in the Republic of the Congo, 1981," Munger Africana Library Notes, no. 64 (1981): 1-27; Charles W. Weber, James W. Berry, and J. Richard Greenwell, "Mokele-Mbembe: Proximate Analysis of Its Supposed Food Source," Cryptozoology 1 (1982): 49-53; Roy P. Mackal, J. Richard Greenwell, and M. Justin Wilkinson, "The Search for Evidence of Mokele-Mbembe in the People's Republic of the Congo," Cryptozoology 1 (1982): 62-72; Marcellin Agnagna, "Results of the First Congolese Mokele-Mbembe Expedition," Cryptozoology 2 (1983): 103-112; Herman A. Regusters and Kia L. Vandusen, "An Interim Report on the Search for Mokele Mbembe," Pursuit, no. 72 (1985): 174-180; "Mokele-Mbembe: New Searches, New Claims," ISC Newsletter 5, no. 3 (Autumn 1986): 1-7; Roy P. Mackal, A Living Dinosaur? In Search ofMokele-Mbembe (Leiden, the Netherlands: E. J. Brill,

1987); Rory Nugent, Drums along the Congo (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993); Redmond O'Hanlon, Congo Journey (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1996); Mike Dash, "Dinosaur Caught on Film?" Fortean Times, no. 86 (May 1996): 32-35; Adam Davies, "I Thought I Saw a Sauropod," Fortean Times, no. 145 (May 2001): 30-32; Karl Shuker, "Mokele-Mbembe Goes West!" Fortean Times, no. 146 (June 2001): 20; David Woetzel, Behemoth or Bust: An Expedition into Cameroon Investigating Reports of a Sauropod Dinosaur, August 2001, at expedition/report.htm; William Gibbons, "Cameroon Field Investigation Report," unpublished report, 2001.

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