Thursday, April 07, 2011

Tracking The Mokele-Mbembe Legend


Reports of dinosaur-like creatures in Central Africa go back for more than 200 years, according to William "Bill" Gibbons. In 1776, French missionaries passing through the forests reported finding huge footprints in the ground. The clawed prints were three feet in circumference and were spaced about seven feet apart. This would have made the animal as big as an elephant, but it was common knowledge to the locals that the tracks were not from an elephant, since elephants do not posses claws. One of the priests, amazingly, even gave claim to have seen several specimens chewing on vegetation while wading in the rivers. Regardless, it was certain that these were an entirely new group of animals. At that time, however, they were neither "dinosaurs" nor "prehistoric," the words waiting to be invented nearly one hundred years later.

In 1913, a German explorer reported stories of, what the natives called, "Mokele-mbembe," which he had heard while in the Congo. Hearing the reports, a few scientists noticed that the descriptions of the creatures made them sound much like sauropod dinosaurs. Sauropods were the giants of the dinosaurs world, averaging about 70 feet (21 meters) long and standing 12-15 feet (3.7 to 4.8 m) tall at the hips.

In 1932, a British scientist, exploring near the Likouala region where the creatures are said to live, came across some abnormally huge footprints. Later, when he went down one of the rivers in a canoe, he heard strange sounds, but did not see anything.

Coincidentally, that same year the world famous zoologist and biologist, Ivan T. Sanderson, along with animal-trader Gerald Russel, were paddling up the Mainyu River in the heart of western Africa when, according to Sanderson's report:

"The most terrifying sound I have ever heard, which sounded like an on-coming earthquake or an exploding, nearby robot, suddenly greeted us from a large underwater cave."

While the water of the river was boiling and foaming directly in front of their canoe, a darkish, shining lizard-like head suddenly rose from the dark water. They described the head as nearly the size of the head of a fully grown hippo, which sat on a thick, swan-like neck. The enormous neck was turned towards the two men, and for just a few seconds, although it seemed like an eternity, the monster simply stared at Sanderson and Russel. Mr. Sanderson summed up his thoughts with these emphatic words:

"I don't know what we saw, but the animal, the monster, burned itself into my retinas. It looked like something that ought to have been dead millions of years ago. As a scientist, I should have been happy, of course, but this encounter was so frightening, so nasty that I never want to see it again."

Is this a Mokele-mbembe footprint? (Republic of the Congo 1966)
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A Dinosaur In Africa?

It was 1986, Rory Nugent and his expedition party were out in the world's largest unexplored swamp on earth, the Likouala Swamp of Africa. While near Lake Tele he saw a long, thin neck come up out of the water, like that of a dinosaur. Rory immediately took two photographs and quickly got in his canoe, but his native guides stopped him at gunpoint and said, "He (the creature) would have killed us all..."

Over the last 100 years, evidence has accumulated that sauropod dinosaurs may still be roaming the vast, unexplored regions of the African swamp and jungle. Places like Nigeria, Congo, Angola, Gabon, and Cameroon have similar reports of huge, long-necked monsters, some with a length of 75 feet! Native sightings have been confirmed by reports from missionaries, explorers, and even army personnel. The natives in the Congo region call this creature “Mokele-mbembe” (the one who stops the flow of rivers). This creature is said to possess a long neck and tail, small head, large body, and four legs. They say the animal is very aggressive when disturbed and will bite and lash its tail at you when it is tipping over canoes, killing elephants or hippos. It is herbivorous (plant-eater) and enjoys eating very large amounts of the Malombo fruit that grows on vines at the edge of the rivers. Tracks from this creature range from 1 to 3 feet wide and are spaced 7 to 8 feet apart. It has no hair and it’s skin is very smooth. Dr. Bill Gibbons and Dr. Roy Mackal have done much research on Mokele-mbembe and without their work, little would be known about it.



At Lake Tele in 1983, Marcellin Agnaga was on an expedition when he said he saw Mokele-mbembe swimming in the lake. The creature was half-way out of the water and he could see it’s head, neck, and part of its body. His sketch resembles a sauropod dinosaur. He got his camera and began filming, but left the lens cap on and lost all proof of his encounter.

In a nearby part of Africa called Cameroon, there is another creature called Le’Kela-mbembe. It is said to grow around 70 feet in length and will eat the leaves from the Esem Tree. Dr. Bill Gibbons has done over twenty years of research on Mokele-mbembes and has discovered that Le’Kela-mbembes are actually mature Mokele-mbembes that migrate into Cameroon to mate (in September) and later return to the Congo to give birth to live young. Bill Gibbons discovered also that it will dig tunnels or caves on the shores of rivers. It mostly eats between 3:00 to 5:00 P.M. and is active at night. An expedition in 2003, confirmed that the Le’Kela-mbembe has a height of up to 18 feet by finding trees with all their branches eaten off up to a height of 18 feet. They also found tracks and a cave that had been sealed partly from the inside with mud. One biologist named Peter Beach could hear scratching sounds inside the cave. As the noises became louder it was evident that what ever was inside the cave was digging it’s way out towards them. One member of the expedition named Pierre feared for their lives and they quickly left, since an adult Mokele-mbembe can be very dangerous if disturbed at close range.

S. Arrey was housing some British soldiers in 1948 near Lake Barombi in Northern Cameroon. While he and some others were swimming in the lake, something broke through the surface of the water. In a very short time everyone was out of the water. They observed two giant reptiles coming out of the water. The larger one had a longer neck (about 15 feet long) and a spike or horn on it’s head that the smaller one did not have. Their skin was not smooth, but rather scaly.

Please note that the natives who see these creatures are not afraid to tell others what they have seen because they haven’t been taught about evolution, and do not know that dinosaurs were suppose to have been extinct millions of years ago. I feel the theory of evolution actually hinders the discovery of animals thought to be extinct. When the school text-books teach about the history of dinosaurs, why don’t they mention there is a strong possibility they might still be living? Because of this unproven theory, people are hesitant to tell anyone when they see dinosaurs like the Loch Ness Monster or Mokele-mbembe for fear of what people might think.

Here is some recently contributed information by David Woetzel (who has been on expeditions in search of Mokele-mbembe):

1.) The older 20-45 ft long creatures live and mate in the Dja and maybe the Sangha rivers. These mature MM's (Mokele-mbembe) have very tough scales, like the back of a crocodile. Also like a croc, their underbelly is much softer. Their coloration is a dulled brownish gray.

2.) The younger creatures live in the Likouala swamp region. Their scales are softer and their colors are a more vivid reddish-brown. They're probably more skittish then their older counterparts.

3.) This sharp contrast in areas by age suggests a migration that only happens once in their lives (although the mother likely goes with its offspring to take them to the swamp).

4.) Their birth instincts are peculiar and vague. The native people say the MM gives birth to live young every 20 years. This is not a trait likely in reptiles, maybe the people their have it wrong because they are not able to find a nest site (some nests have been found) for how territorial these animals are they likely guard their nests very aggressively. They would likely kill anyone that gets close enough to see the eggs.

5.) No matter what, the mother's birth migration probably happens 1 of 2 ways. They either migrate to the swamp and lay eggs (or give birth) there, or they lay their eggs along the river and the mother and offspring go to the swamp together. I'm in favor of that idea because the nests are found along the rivers and the only time more than one MM is seen is when it is with its mother (according to the natives).

6.) The mother remains with her offspring for about a year (it may use this time to take the baby to the swamp and prepare it for life on its own)

7.) The adult male has a shorter neck but it also has a spiky back, and the female has a longer neck without the spikes.

8.) The young all have dermal ridges. - www.livingdinos.com

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Japanese team filmed this image over Lake Tele, Republic of the Congo, 1987

EXPEDITIONS

Expeditions primarily began in the 1880s, shortly after the region was taken over by Belgium. For many years, therefore, it was called the Belgium Congo. Beginning from 1909, here is a brief list of over a dozen of them.

AMERICAN EXPEDITION 1909

Naturalist Carl Hagenbeck recounted in his autobiography 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. Later, another naturalist, Joseph Menges, related to Hagenbeck that "some kind of dinosaur, seemingly akin to the brontosaurs," inhabited the swamps. Hagenbeck soon sent an expedition to the Congo to search for the monster, but the effort was quickly aborted due to disease and hostile natives.

GERMAN EXPEDITION 1913

In 1913, Capt. Freiherr von Stein zu Lausnitz was sent by the German government to explore the Cameroon. Von Stein wrote of a unique animal called, in the local tongue, Mokele-mbembe, said to inhabit the areas near the Ubangi, Sangha, and Ikelemba Rivers. Von Stein described the creature thus:

"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. It is said to climb the shore even at daytime in search of food; its diet is said to be entirely vegetable. 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 [a liana] nearby"

AMERICAN EXPEDITION 1920

A 32-men-strong expedition was sent out from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. After six days, African guides found large, unexplained tracks along the bank of a river and later the team heard mysterious "roars, which had no resemblance with any known animal," coming from an unexplored swamp. However, the Smithsonian's hunt for Moklele-Mbembe 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.

AMERICAN EXPEDITION 1932

In 1932, American cryptozoologist Ivan Sanderson was traveling in Africa and came across large hippo-like tracks in a region with no hippos. He was told by the natives that they were made by a creature named the "mgbulu-eM'bembe." Later, Sanderson saw something in the water that seemed too large to be a hippo, but it disappeared before he could investigate further.

AMERICAN EXPEDITION 1972

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, unfortunately, was fraught with problems (the United States and the Congo had poor relations at the time). Many months of hardships such as snake-bites, near-drownings and tropical diseases only led to more witness testimonies about Mokele-Membe and another lizard-like creature which locally was called "n'yamala."

AMERICAN EXPEDITION 1976

In 1976, James Powell decided to go to Gabon instead, inspired by a book called "Trader Horn." (In 1927, the book, a memoir of the author's time in Gabon, specifically along the Ogooue River, was written by Englishman Alfred Aloysius Smith. He recorded hearing of a creature called the "jago-nini" and identified it with the "amali," a creature whose tracks he had seen). He 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.

GERMAN EXPEDITION 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 Mokele-Mbembe 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.

AMERICAN EXPEDITION 1980

Powell launched another expedition in 1980, but this time cryptozoologist Roy P. Mackal came along. Powell and Mackal found that a large number of reports came from the banks of the Likouala-aux-herbes River near Lake Tele. They said that most witnesses maintained that the animal was between 15-30 feet long (a long neck accounted for much of the length). The creature was also said to be a rust color, and that some had been seen to possess a frill or crest.

AMERICAN EXPEDITION 1981

Yet another expedition was organized in 1981 - this time 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 discovered a path of broken branches supposedly made by the animal, as well as a number of footprints.

AFRICAN EXPEDITION 1983

In April, 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.

BRITISH EXPEDITION 1985-86

Englishman William J. Gibbons (presently living in Canada) talked to several eye-witnesses who gave him valuable information about the Mokele-Mbembe. He is currently convinced that the dinosaur exists, but at the time was unable to prove it. However, upon his return to the UK he brought with him the remains of a monkey which he could not identify. This was later classified as a new sub-species of crestless mangabey monkey (cerocebus galeritus). Fish and insect specimens also found in the Congos remain unclassified to date.

JAPANESE EXPEDITION 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.

BRITISH EXPEDITION 1990

Author and explorer Redmond O'Hanlon returned from his failed expedition convinced that witnesses must have mistaken wild elephants, crossing rivers with their trunk in the air, for a prehistoric Mokele-Mbembe.

BRITISH EXPEDITION 1992

William Gibbons tried again six years later, this time together with American explorer Rory Nugent. Together they searched almost two thirds of the unexplored Bai River while also examining two small lakes North West of Lake Tele. These are Lake Fouloukuo and Lake Tibeke, which are surprisingly absent from most maps. Both are said to be haunts of Mokele-Mbembe. Rory Nugent also took two interesting photographs of something most unusual in Lake Tele. One may actually show the head of a Mokele Mbembe.

WINTER 2006 - 1/12/2006 - Cryptomundo.com:

The Milt Marcy Expedition is the fourth such trek to Africa, with the three before this one being lead by William Gibbons. Marcy is an insurance broker (Milt Marcy Insurance) in Portland, Oregon, who has funded the last three expeditions, and will be participating in this one himself as Gibbons cannot go.

The four expeditions have been greatly assisted by the cryptozoology-friendly government of Cameroon (they received all their official documents quickly). Furthermore, Pierre Sima has collected several new reports of Mokele-mbembe activity in the river system which borders the Congo Republic. Ed Holdroyd, an atmospheric scientist, has also helped the expedition by providing some superb high resolution satellite photographs of an undisclosed area of the river system where Gibbons, Marcy, and all believe the animals are currently active.

Through a combination of field expeditions, recons by Pierre Sima, native reports and the satellite images, the Milt Marcy Expedition feel that they can now track the migration patterns of mokele-mbembe much more effectively.

Update - 2/3/2006:

Milt Marcy is in good shape given all the travel time and tough conditions (the insect problem was awful and his feet are swollen up from all the bites). But he sounded encouraged and in good spirits.

He took a boat with him (11ft with 24 hp outboard) that performed flawlessly and took them far up the Dja for 110 miles. They interviewed three fishermen and acquired three independent eyewitness accounts of Mokele-mbembe observed merely days before they got there.


Missionary Paul Ohlin saw a Mokele-mbembe on the Sangha River on January 10, 2006!

This incident reportedly occurred on the Congo side, as Ohlin works there among the Aka pygmies. This is the area also bordered by the Ngoko River, which in west-central Africa forms part of the Cameroon-Congo (Brazzaville) boundary. The Dja Faunal Reserve (Cameroon) lies along its upper course.

Peter Beach did a great job with the satellite maps and has marked a number of places (including caves) in the general target area. According to Pierre Sima, new information on the animals confirms that they were in the Forbidden Zone from 1984 to 2003/4, so the Mokele-mbembe sometimes stay in one area long-term if the conditions are right. This explains why the villagers in Langoue saw them with such frequency in that area throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

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One fantastic tale, not bearing much difference from a legend, tells how the locals, or pygmies, built a barrier of stakes to keep the Mokele-mbembe from entering Lake Tele. That way, the pygmies could fish in a safe haven. This particular story is actually quite recent, somewhere around the 1930s to be precise. As the story goes, two of the creatures, obviously displeased with the course of action taken by the natives, attacked the wall of stakes. The pygmies attacked and speared one of the creatures to death. To memorialize this achievement, the pygmies cooked the animal and feasted over its flesh. It is said that all who tasted the meat died. This, of course, might just be an exaggeration, an effect evident on all stories that travel through time. The pygmies believe that the magical and mystical properties of the Mokele-mbembe were released after this event....

Local's sketch of the Mokele-mbembe

Was a Mokele-mbembe Killed at Lake Tele? - by Bill Gibbons Anomalist.com

I can confirm that at least two of the pygmies who were directly involved in the killing of a Mokele-mbembe at Lake Tele about three decades ago were acquainted on a personal level with missionary pastor Eugene P. Thomas. I have discussed this incident with Pastor Thomas, and he was able to confirm most of the details of the story which follows.

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. It should be noted that pygmies rarely live beyond 35, and pygmy women give birth from aged 12. I also believe that the mythification (magical powers, etc) surrounding Mokele-mbembes began with this incident.

During my first expedition in 1985, we met with several eyewitnesses who have observed Mokele-mbembes in the Sangha and Likouala aux Herbes Rivers. Our pygmy informants also mentioned that there was at least two Mokele-mbembes still living in the Lake Tele vicinity, but they were simply too afraid to take us to a precise location where we could actually film and observe a specimen of Mokele-mbembe, due to their superstitious beliefs surrounding the animals and fear of reprisals from the Boha villagers who are regarded as the owners of the lake. The Boha villagers are also familiar with areas in the river and swamps where we can observe these animals for ourselves. However, the general belief that speaking of Mokele-membes to white outsiders will result in great misfortune or death is fairly prevalent throughout the Likouala region. This presents huge problems in obtaining accurate and up-to-date information on Mokele-mbembes and other cryptids.

I should add that I am not convinced that Marcellin Agnagna, Rory Nugent, or Herman Regusters have observed Mokele-mbembes. During our two visits to the Congo, my colleagues and I were unable to locate a single one of the "dozens" of witnesses that allegedly observed Mokele-mbembes with the aforementioned explorers. Marcellin Agagna changed his story several times, and is now thought (by Roy Mackal) to have observed the giant African freshwater turtle, Trionyx triunguis. Herman Regusters and his wife Kia are the only individuals on his expedition to have observed a "long-necked member" travelling across Lake Tele, in spite of the fact that 28 other people were with them from the village of Boha. Rory Nugent's alleged Mokele-mbembe photos could be anything, although he may have seen "something" in the distance.

But Jose Bourges, the Congolese wildlife official who accompanied the 1988 Japanese expedition to the lake, reported that the entire expedition observed a large humped back of an animal, slowly moving along, as if foraging on the bottom of the lake, which is three meters deep at most. So the animals are still there, and I still want to find one! - Bill Gibbons has conducted two major expeditions to the Congo, in 1985-6, and 1992, in search of the Mokele-mbembe

Destination Truth

In March 2008 an episode of the SyFy (formerly the SciFi Channel) series Destination Truth involved investigator Joshua Gates and crew searching for the elusive dinosaur. 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". The crew of Destination Truth kept calling the animal "Mokèlé-mbèmbé" to the locals, when that name is only used in the Republic of the Congo. The name used in that particular spot is "chipekwe". 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 than two submerged hippopotami.

MonsterQuest

In March 2009 an episode of the History Channel series MonsterQuest involved Bill Gibbons, Rob Mullin, local guide Pierre Sima and a two-man film crew from White Wolf Productions. It took place in Cameroon, in the region of Dja, Boumba, and Nkogo Rivers, near the border with the Republic of the Congo. The episode aired in the summer of 2009, and also featured an interview with Roy P. Mackal and Peter Beach of the Milt Marcy Expedition, 2006.[24][self-published source?] While no sightings were reported on the expedition, the team found evidence of a large underground cave with air vents. The team also received sonar readings of very long, serpentine shapes underwater.

Beast Hunter

A March 2011 episode of Beast Hunter on the National Geographic Channel is planned to feature a search for Mokele-mbembe in Congo Basin.

NOTE: You can read other information at Mokele-Mbembe: Mystery Beast of the Congo Basin

Sources:
www.livingdinos.com
www.science-frontiers.com
www.trueauthority.com
www.cryptomundo.com
nationalgeographic.com
www.cryptozoology.com
www.anomalist.com
www.genesispark.com
www.icr.org

6 comments :

Lucas said...

You know? A thought occurs to me, that there would be more evidence of this beast if:

1. People would STOP RUNNING AWAY FROM IT!

2. People would start educating the natives. It's the 21st century, not the Stone Age. The natives really need to start living like it. Yes, it's remote, but for God's sake get rid of the superstition.

Jennae said...

Mokele-Mbembe is one of my favorite monsters of all time! I like to write about it too! I think it isn't as famous as other living dinosaur myths because it's pretty hard to say the name. Thank you for talking about Mokele-Mbembe, the world needs to know about it!

Jeffrey Long said...

My top favorite cryptid. Thanks for doing an article on it. Anyone know any good books on the subject?

Harpo said...

The Redmond O'Hanlon book "No Mercy" is very good and gives a real sense of what is involved in travelling in the Congo region. Although his conclusions regarding the MM were disappointing to me personally, the rest of the book was very informative and well-written (as are all of his books.)

SpookySr said...

@Lucas - Really? On #1: If empirical evidence suggests calamity when encountering the beasties unannounced, how do you suggest one "stop running away"? You do realize that most reptiles can outrun and out-swim humans (i.e. crocodiles).

On #2: Educating a people whose successful culture predates Western Civilization? Who's being delusional here? And how many superstitions do you practice on a daily basis? Be truthful now!

SpookySr said...

I learned of a wonderful tool to capture footage or photos of MM without disturbing it. I learned it from the NATGEO Beasthunter. Its called a GAME SPY and they only cost $149 from Walmart. Buy about 10 of them and aim them at the WATER near the Malumbo fruit trees NOT the shoreline as Beasthunter erroneously did. They are camo-colored so locals probably won't find them and tamper with them. They operate on IR so at night the MM's wont see them but you will. Please think about leaving behind the sauropod notion and adopt a Pliesosaur or Elasmosaur *possible* scenario. I don't think the legs are stumpy legs. I think they are clawed flippers. Has anyone thought to erect a fake hippo plastic dummy and let it float in the swamp near a Malumbo outcropping? I wonder if MM would appear for cameras then.

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