Mokele-Mbembe: The Living Dinosaur?
An artist's concept of the Mokele-mbembe. Source: (cryptidz.wikia.com)
While there may be some debate over exactly how long ago dinosaurs roamed the Earth, the one thing that is unanimously agreed upon is that they are now extinct. After all, if dinosaurs still existed, everyone would know, right? They are a little too big to hide. So, there is no way that anyone could believe they still exist. Except some people believe exactly that.
A creature called the mokele-mbembe is believed by some to exist in the remote jungles in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Similar to Scotland’s legendary Loch Ness Monster, mokele-mbembe is said to resemble the brontosaurus or the Apatosaurus. It is described as being up to thirty-five feet long, with brownish-gray skin, a long neck, and a long tail. Some descriptions claim it also has a single horn. Its diet either consists of elephants, hippos, and crocodiles, or it’s an herbivore.
The Congo is no stranger to rumors of incredible creatures. Dr. Roy Mackal, a retired Biologist from the University of Chicago, said the area “gives you a feeling of surviving prehistoric time.” There are stories of giant beasts inhabiting the area which date back as far as the sixteenth century. But the legend of the mokele-mbembe was born quite recently in the twentieth century, its earliest mention being in Carl Hagenbeck’s 1909 book Beasts and Men. While the book merely speculated on the possibility that such a creature might exist deep in the Congo, the Washington Post ran with the story, making the claim that the “Brontosaurus Still Lives.”
Lack of evidence of its existence has not stopped people from searching for the creature. Mackal led two teams to the area in the 1980s. While he failed to find any physical evidence of the creature, he heard many stories about it from the natives. In 1992, a Japanese film crew attempted to capture the beast on video, but the footage they came back with could easily have been a crocodile or an elephant. In 2012, Stephen McCullah launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for his own expedition to the Congo. He managed to raise almost $30,000, but the expedition failed almost immediately and, based on the comments on the Kickstarter page, donors were still trying to get their money back as recently as 2018.
More than fifty expeditions have been launched to the Congo, with more than two dozen of them specifically searching for the “living dinosaur,” but definitive proof has yet to be produced. The only evidence is a large claw-shaped footprint discovered in 1776 by a French missionary, and a few others since then, fuzzy photographs, and countless so-called eye-witness accounts. Paul Ohlin, a community development worker who lived in the area for ten years, urges people not to dismiss the stories told by the natives as doing so would be disrespectful.
Should the mokele-mbembe be discovered, it would not be the first time that a supposedly mythical creature turned out to be real. The okapi, a hooved animal with a brown coat and zebra-striped legs, was rumored to exist in the Congo in the nineteenth century but was not officially document until 1901. According to the Congolese government, eighty percent of its 66,000 sq. km rainforest is uncharted. Therefore, it is highly probable that there are species of plants and animals yet to be discovered. However, most scientists put mokele-mbembe in the same category as Nessie, Bigfoot, and the Yeti - creatures who don’t exist but make for intriguing tall tales.