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The people around the Congo River Basin have a long oral history of their people and their lands. Among and intertwined with those stories are tales of a gigantic beast that lives in the swamps and rivers of the Congo. Generally it’s a harmless beast, uninterested in eating people, and sticking to a type of liana that grows along the river. That isn’t to say that it isn’t dangerous; the tales say that the Mokèlé-mbèmbé will attack and sometimes kill people and hippos. Strangely, this area of the lowlands has an unusually low hippo population.
So the question arises: what exactly is the Mokèlé-mbèmbé? Simplest answer is that it is the Sasquatch of Africa. The name even means “one who stops the flow of rivers”. There are crypozoologists in the world who would say that it/they are real living dinosaurs of the sauropod family still roaming the earth.
They are 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. They have a long, flexible tail, reddish-brown skin and four stubby, but powerful legs with clawed toes.
Not unlike Nessy of Lock Ness fame, Mokèlé-mbèmbé just aren’t photogenic. There are some pictures that claim to have captured the image of such a creature, but as a rule they are too distant, too blurry, or too dark. Such obstacles are no deterrent to the determined. Expeditions to find the Mokèlé-mbèmbé have come home with photos of footprints and super-sized trails through the flora.
There is a long history of people encountering the Mokèlé-mbèmbé, including:
- 1776 – French priest Abbé Lievain Bonaventure Proyart described the natural history of the Congo Basin of Africa. He wrote about a creature “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.”
- 1909 – Naturalist Carl Hagenbeck recounted how two separate individuals: a German named Hans Schomburgh and an English hunter, told him about a “huge monster, half elephant, half dragon,” which lived in the Congo swamps.
- 1980 – An expedition mounted by engineer Herman Regusters and his wife Kia managed to make its way to Lake Tele, where they heard the growls and roars of an unknown creature. They also claimed to have photographed Mokèlé-mbèmbé in the lake, as well as watching it walk on land through the brush. According to Regusters, the creature they saw was 30-35 feet long.
- 1983 – A Congolese expedition led by Marcellin Agnagna, a zoologist from the Brazzaville Zoo, arrived to Lake Tele. Agnagna claimed to have seen the beast some 275 meters out in the lake. The animal held its thin, reddish head – which had crocodile-looking, oval eyes and a thin nose – on a height of 90 cm and looked from side to side, almost as if it was watching him. According to Agnagna, the animal was a reptile, though not a crocodile, nor a python or a freshwater turtle.
- 1987 – A piece of blurry video footage filmed by a Japanese film crew supposedly showing the creature in Lake Tele remains disputable evidence of the animal’s existence. The film is indistinct and grainy, possibly just showing two men in a boat with one of them standing upright in the front of the vessel, as is common in Africa. This has been interpreted as a head and neck, but this interpretation of the videotape is purely speculative at best.
- 2000 – Cameroon, Boumba River, Two Congolese security guards spotted a Mokèlé-mbèmbé in the water.
Though there is no conclusive evidence that the Mokèlé-mbèmbé are loitering in the lakes and swamps of the Congo, there are enough hints to make one wonder. Personally, I think it would be keen if such a monster were still out there. Improbable as it is that a beast of such dimension could elude being caught on film for so long, it isn’t impossible. New species are still being cataloged in Africa—and other parts of the world—though none quite so big.