For many years there have been rumors of something unusual hidden in the deepest and most impassable areas of the Congo river Basin. Descriptions vary but it is most commonly known as Mokele-mbembe: “one who blocks rivers”.
It is difficult to piece together what this creature could be, and some people do not consider it a creature at all, but rather a spirit. While it is the size of an elephant, the scattered descriptions sound like something far more exotic.
People who have seen mokele-mbembe describe it as a quadruped with smooth skin. The creature has an unusually long neck with a single tooth or horn at its head. In all, it sounds like nothing less than a dinosaur, a remnant population living in the jungle.
Most will dismiss such a possibility instantly. But could there be, in this remotest of locations, something beyond our knowledge? Is the creature that blocks rivers something unknown to science?
The Existence of Mokele-Mbembe
Putting aside the rumors for one moment, the existence of such a creature would require humanity to rethink its understanding of evolution. Species older than the dinosaurs persist to this day (crocodilians spring to mind) but all of the great sauropods, the long-necked herbivores with a similar appearance to Mokele-mbembe, have been extinct for millions of years.
Mokele-mbembe is describes as largely aquatic, spending most of its time in water. In most reported sightings only its head and neck are visible, with the rest of the creature underwater in a similar manner to the Lock Ness Monster.
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When it has been observed out of water, it is usually seen feeding on plants and fruits, after which they quickly return to the water. Such observations typically occur around dusk, and it is surmised that the animal prefers to wait out the heat of the day in the rivers.
The best way to proceed would be to find out what exactly this creature is, and indeed there have been many expeditions carried out in the search for this animal. But no expedition has produced any evidence about any large creature holding the flow of rivers, or any concrete evidence of a sustainable population of large animals in the region.
One such attempt was made by Stephen McCullah, an amateur biologist. McCullah started a funding page in order to get the required money to undertake a 3-month expedition in the Congo basin. McCullah mentioned briefly on the page that this expedition will categorize different animal and plant species in the Republic of Congo. But the true purpose was clear: this expedition was to find the lost dinosaur.
McCullah’s expedition was a failure, and perhaps this is not surprising. For such a large cryptid to exist undetected would be a unique occurrence indeed, and seems highly unlikely. Why then do people persist in believing mokele-mbembe is out there?
Where do the Stories Come From?
The stories of the existence of African sauropod around the Congo basin began in the late 18th century. It was when a French missionary claimed to have discovered a giant. He said that the giant had clawed footprints that measured around 3 feet.
But it wasn’t until 1909 that Mokele-mbembe became truly famous. During this year, the German big-game hunter named Carl Hagenbeck, added to his autobiography that a naturalist told him about a dinosaur in the region. He described it as a brontosaurus, a long necked dinosaur that lived in north America about 150 million years ago.
For the next century many expeditions to the Congo basin were undertaken to search Mokele-mbembe. All were failures, and no explorer to date has got a glimpse of this mysterious beast.
But local tribespeople remain strong in their claims that they have seen this beast. Were they simply telling the explorers what they wanted to hear? Or did they know something that everybody else did not?
The Congo river basin covers an area of around 1.5 million square miles (3.9 million square kilometers) in central Africa, more than twice the size of Alaska or six times the size of Texas. Much of this land is unexplored and impassable. If dinosaurs still exist somewhere on this planet, the Congo is among the likeliest locations.
If not a Dinosaur, What?
Almost all of mainstream science has concluded that this story is a myth, and indeed the descriptions also fit this explanation. Some of the African tribes also refer to this creature as some form of ghost, a spirit rather than a living animal.
Mokele-mbembe may also come from cultural traditions and shared memories of the region.1,000 years earlier this area of Africa was inhabited by rhinoceroses and elephants. The memories of these beasts and belief that they still inhabit the forests may have evolved into Mokele-mbembe.
But a sustainable population would require thousands of the creatures to exist, and in the face of this the lack of any sighting seems damning. It seems that, after all, there is no living creature that is blocking the river in the Congo basin.
It might be some different animal or water species that would have caught the African tribe’s attention. The claims or sightings might have been misinterpreted as a sauropod or dinosaur.
Could there be a dinosaur in the Congo, then? Probably not.
Top Image: Who knows what is hidden in the heart of Africa. Source: Kozerog2015 / Adobe Stock.
By Bipin Dimri
Wikipedia, 2022. Mokele-mbembe. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mokele-mbembe
Radford, B, 2013. Mokele-Mbembe: The Search for a Living Dinosaur. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/38871-mokele-mbembe.html
Black, R, 2012. A Dinosaur Expedition Doomed From the Start. Available at: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/a-dinosaur-expedition-doomed-from-the-start-103367120/
Strauss, B, 2019. Is Mokele-Mbembe Really a Dinosaur? Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/mokele-mbembe-really-a-dinosaur-1092005
Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology, 2022. Mokele-mbembe Behavior. Available at: https://cryptidarchives.fandom.com/wiki/Mokele-mbembe#Behaviour