|Posted by Jim Bevan on October 9, 2012 at 3:05 PM|
Humans have been fascinated by dinosaurs for centuries. Since the first intact fossils were discovered, we’ve developed theories as to how these great creatures existed in a harsh prehistoric world, how they adapted and evolved to survive in drastically changing ecosystems, even how they behaved in aspects such as hunting and raising young. We’ve also been intrigued by another hypothetical scenario – how would we have lived alongside them. Fantasy novels such as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pellucidar series and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World offered harrowing looks into secluded environments where dinosaurs still roamed, threatening the lives of primitive people who lived there as well as explorers who came to the area. Several B-movies of the 1950s and ‘60s, like Valley of the Gwangi, used this scenario to create simple stories with cheap thrills. Author and illustrator James Gurney took a different approach with his series Dinotopia, presenting an idealistic society where humans and intelligent dinosaurs had learned to co-exist peacefully. It’s a popular subject in fiction, though some believe it’s much more than simple stories. There are many tales of surviving dinosaurs that inhabit remote areas, hailing from almost every continent. Some of the most widely-spread stories come from Africa, where a wide menagerie of prehistoric beasts are still said to dwell. We’ll be looking at two of these supposed surviving dinosaurs, starting with a well known, widely publicized titan that is rumored to have inhabited the Congo river basin for centuries, if not much longer.
The Mokèlé-mbèmbé (a Bantu term which means “one who stops the flow of rivers” ) is a massive creature said to be larger than an elephant. It has smooth, brownish-gray skin, a reptilian head resting atop a very long, flexible neck, and a long muscular tail. Its feet are similar to an elephant’s, but with three-clawed toes and leaving prints a foot in diameter. This description is similar to the physiology of sauropod dinosaurs like brachiosaurs and apatosaurs. But while these ancient reptiles are assumed to have been gentle herbivores, the mokèlé-mbèmbé are known for their aggression. They’re very territorial, willing to kill any animal that intrudes upon its domain, including hippopotami, elephants, and crocodiles. They would slaughter natives that traveled into their territory through the river by overturning their boats, then lashing at them with a deadly blow from their mighty tail. Despite this ferocity, they don’t eat their kills, instead feeding on liana fruit like their herbivorous ancestors. Mokèlé-mbèmbé also have an interesting post-mortem defense, as mentioned in a 1959 anecdote. A group of Pygmies killed one of the beasts at Lake Telé in the Republic of the Congo, then carved it up and ate the meat, but all died shortly thereafter. The beast’s meat is apparently poisonous to humans.
While a French missionary group in Gabon found tracks said to belong to the beast in 1776, non-Africans were kept in the dark about the mokèlé-mbèmbé until the early 20th century. Hunter and animal trader Carl Hagenbeck was the first to report on the animal’s resemblance to a dinosaur, and its aggressive nature, during a 1909 expedition. The rumor that dinosaurs still lived somewhere in Africa fueled intense media speculation, encouraging a slew of successive expeditions into the Congo basin in search of the mokèlé-mbèmbé. The Smithsonian Institution funded a 32-man trek between 1919 and 1920, the members of which claimed to have found large, unexplained tracks and heard mysterious roars, but did not encounter the creature. Naturalists Ivan Sanderson and Gerald Russell, both well versed in encounters with animals previously unknown to science, claim to have glimpsed the creature in 1932 while canoeing along the Mainyu River in Cameroon. Sanderson was astounded by the size of the beast, saying that its head was as large as a full-grown hippopotamus. Many other searches were conducted between the 1930s and 1980s, with all explorers coming back having claimed to have sighted the creature, or at least seen its tracks, but offering no concrete evidence of its existence.
As sensationalist media grew during the 70s and 80s, the search for proof of the paranormal became a great way for television shows to boost their ratings while allowing average people their 15 minutes of fame. Finding proof of the mokèlé-mbèmbé’s existence was one such way, even if that proof had to be faked. Kevin Duffy submitted a film of the creature swimming through the river to the television show That’s Incredible!, but analysis showed it to be a hoax; a balsa wood model strapped to a swimmer’s back. Young-Earth creationists such as William Gibbons hoped that finding the mokèlé-mbèmbé would prove that the planet was only about 6000 years old as stated in the Bible, and demonstrate that early man coexisted with dinosaurs. Gibbons launched two expeditions into the Congo in 1986 and 1992, focusing on its rumored dwelling around Lake Telé, but was unsuccessful in both cases. Professional cryptozoologists have been as unsuccessful as the amateurs, occasionally capturing blurry photos that are difficult to verify or, as in the case of Herman Regusters’ search in 1981, audio recordings of sounds that don’t match up with any animals known to inhabit the Congo. Hunts for the mokèlé-mbèmbé have been popular subjects for paranormal reality shows like Destination Truth, MonsterQuest, and Beast Hunter. Even with advanced camera technology and trained crews, no sightings have ever been verified, though encounters with the beast still come out of the area.
How can the mokèlé-mbèmbé be so difficult to capture on film if the local people have been encountering them for centuries? Most likely it’s because they’ve been mistaken about what they’ve seen. Congo, a 2001 documentary series produced for the BBC, interviewed several members of the Biaka and Baka tribes and asked them about the creature. When they were shown a picture of a rhinoceros, they identified it as the mokèlé-mbèmbé. Rhinos don’t inhabit the Congo River basin, but they did millennia ago. Of course, rhinos don’t possess long necks or powerful tails, as the mokèlé-mbèmbé is said to have. However, the indiricothere, an extinct genus of giant hornless rhinoceros, did possess a very long neck. It’s possible that the folk memory of when their ancestors dealt with these animals changed over the centuries, transforming it into the beast of legend. Present day sightings could be attributed to misidentification of common animals like the African softshell turtle, which can grow up to 15 feet in diameter, or the West African manatee, capable of reaching 12 feet in length. It’s possible, though, that the tales are spread just to keep the legend alive.
Categories: Manic Expression's Monster Extravaganza