Within central Africa is a territory known as Congo Basin, a sprawling tapestry of dense jungles, flowing streams, flooded bogs and vast savannas. Over ten-thousand varieties of tropical plants cover the land, thirty percent of which are unique to this area. Inhabiting these five hundred million acres are a plethora of endangered wildlife including gorillas, elephants and chimpanzees. A total of four-hundred varieties of mammals call the region home. According to many indigenous people there is another elusive species that roams the deep Congo, a creature known as Mokele-mbembe.
In the Lingala language this name translates to “one who stops the flow of rivers”. Based on eye-witness accounts, the semi-aquatic monster is described as closely resembling a sauropod. It possesses a long snake-like neck which is supported by a round grayish-colored body. They can reach heights of over thirty feet and frequently pluck leaves from tall trees. Some allege there is a spike atop the ancient being’s head. Natives both revere and fear this enigmatic and territorial beast. Some claim Mokele-mbembe is supernatural in nature and should be avoided at all costs.
Westerners first began catching wind of the unaccounted herbivore over two hundred years ago, a time when dinosaurs remained undiscovered. Explorers who traveled to the distant landmass heard legends from nearby citizens regarding an unidentified forest-dwelling animal. One early account occurred in 1776 when French missionaries discovered huge footprints in a rural location. These tracks were similar to the size of an elephant’s, about three feet in circumference, with long claw-marks present. Each church member was perplexed as to what could have created such bizarre impressions. An escorting priest then shared he previously encountered the source firsthand. According to the man of god, he observed a prehistoric-looking brute feasting on vegetation.
During the early nineteen hundreds a German Captain, Ludwig Freiherr von Stein, was visiting the remote district. Trusted Congolese leaders warned von Stein of an enormous reptile that lived nearby. Independent sources all recounted an identical character adding further validity to such grandiose declarations. Despite extensively searching the surrounding wilderness the respected commander was unable to find hard evidence of Mokele-mbembe. Von Stein interviewed many tribesmen and chronicled his findings. In 1959 science writer Willy Ley published this section of von Stein’s report:
“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 fewspoke 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.”
By 1932 news of the alleged saurian was spreading throughout Europe and the Americas. One British naturalist toured Likouala in hopes of catching a glimpse of the obscure giant. While traveling by canoe he began hearing intense and frightening sounds. These bellowing roars were completely different from any organism he had previously encountered. Although a lengthy investigation was conducted the thunderous source was never identified and the researcher returned home empty-handed.
That same year Ivan T. Anderson, famed zoologist and biologist, embarked on a journey to the mysterious land. As he and his endemic friends leisurely paddled down a river they began hearing haunting noises, comparable to loud rumbles produced by an earthquake. Suddenly the water beneath burst into an eruption of bubbles and a gargantuan shape emerged. Anderson said its head alone was the size of a hippopotamus and resembled something that should have gone extinct thousands of centuries ago. His aboriginal companions were familiar with this primitive entity. They informed their traumatized companion that the mythical breed goes by the name Mokele-mbembe.
Less than two decades after this bizarre incident an equally intriguing sighting took place. One warm summer day a group of English soldiers went swimming at Lake Barombi in Northern Cameroon. As the men were cooling off in the picturesque oasis an enormous figure surfaced nearby. Terrified, the troop frantically swam towards land. Once safely on shore they watched in horror as a pair of massive reptiles emerged from the murky abyss. Each possessed scaly skin and long necks with the larger specimen bearing a horn. Observers were utterly perplexed as to what these strange amphibious habitants might be.
Another fascinating case involves a reverend named Eugene Thomas. Since the 1950s he had journeyed to Congo Basin repeatedly on various mission excursions. Over time the clergy built a sincere relationship with local residents. Twenty years into his frequent trips one group of pygmies recounted a disturbing tale. Apparently, not long ago, abominable reptilian beasts began to intrude on their territory. Fishing, a vital source of sustenance, became increasingly difficult with creatures’ constant interference. In order to protect themselves they made the decision to erect a spiked fence around their waterside settlement.
Soon after, a rogue vertebrate broke through the defensive barrier. Alarmed tribal members began to throw spears and fatal wounds were inflicted. Dozens of victorious warriors harvested its colossal carcass succeeding the slaying. That night a feast ensued and many men, women and children consumed its meat. Those who ate the flesh quickly perished of a terribly agonizing sickness. Remaining pygmies who had not ingested the tainted fare were horror-stricken and utterly terrified. Following this tragedy, frightened survivors drew the conclusions that Mokele-mbembe was a paranormal spirit. Interestingly, during the early 1980s, remains of a sharpened fence were found surrounding the village.
Japanese trailblazers trekked to the exotic continent in 1988. Their goal was to capture footage of the fabled Congo inhabitant. Jose Bourges, a renown environmental official, led the expedition. While filming areal footage over Lake Tele, a videographer noticed something anomalous beneath the plane. He examined the strong wake and attempted to focus on whatever was creating this disturbance. Unfortunately, in his eager and excitable state, the cameraman did not initially remove the lens cap. Ultimately only fifteen-seconds of footage was captured. Viewers of the brief clip are torn: some believe it’s merely an elephant, others feel something entirely different was recorded.
Writer Rory Nugent visited Africa to study the world’s largest swamp. In December of 1985 he spotted a peculiar form moving across the lagoon. Closer inspection revealed it was in fact the legendary critter. Nugent moved his boat to get a better view and watched in fascination while taking several photographs. Before he could get closer look accompanying Congolese guides demanded him to stop at gunpoint. Back at camp they instructed him to destroy all the film which had been shot. Due to superstitious beliefs, locals felt that keeping the pictures would anger Mokele-mbembe and put them in great danger.
Doctor Roy Mackal, biochemist and evolutionist, dedicated his life to the pursuit of cryptozoology. Mackal was determined to prove the existence of supposed African dinosaurs. Interviews were conducted with tribes throughout multiple nations. These groups had no communication with each other nor the outside world. However, each person shared identical descriptions of the creature ranging from physical appearance to behavioral traits. During another excursion he presented flashcard illustrations to dozens of residents. Some were familiar, such as hippos, others like American black bears were completely foreign. They recognized domestic inhabitants but could not identify overseas varieties. Shockingly, when shown a rendering depicting a brontosaurus, they positively identified the sketch as Mokele-mbembe.
Science teacher Peter Beach was determined to uncover tangible proof of the shy vegetarian. Whilst exploring a muddy shoreline in 2006 he stumbled upon abnormally large footprints with prominent claws present. Surrounding canopies with abundant foliage had been completely stripped at heights in excess of eighteen feet. Giraffes, the only reasonable culprit, do not occupy this part of the country. Perplexed, Beach took snapshots to document his peculiar findings. Plaster castings were made from the unique impressions. Further analysis of the tracks has brought forward more questions than answers.
By 2009 researchers once again undertook the quest for Mokele-mbembe. Credible informants relay that during dry seasons the cryptid hides in natural caves. Air passages are dug along the riverside and eventually dry out becoming similar to concrete. Such structures ensure they have ample air supply to last through lengthy hibernative states. Investigative parties located several of these formations along the muddy embankment. Implementation of a fish finder provided further fascinating discoveries. Numerous serpentine figures moved below the dismal depths. Experts were extremely baffled by the specimens’ astonishing size. Unfortunately, severe thunderstorms forced the team to abruptly abort their mission before definitive data could be obtained.
Much of the Congo remains unseen by human eyes. Earth’s final frontier is filled with dangerous predators, deadly insects, armed militias and extreme weather. Such factors cause much hindrance on further exploration of this rugged terrain. It was not until 1998 that the four-thousand pound Javan rhino was recognized. Only five years ago, in 2013, a quarter-ton pygmy tapir was positively identified. It’s entirely plausible that an unknown species is avoiding detection within the depths of Africa. However, until hard evidence surfaces we can only theorize and evaluate spectators’ testimonies. For now Mokele-mbembe will remain one of the world’s greatest mysteries.