|Posted by Jim Bevan on October 10, 2012 at 4:50 AM|
Yesterday’s article focused on the mokèlé-mbèmbé, the most famous alleged surviving dinosaur species said to inhabit the jungles of Africa. But it is not the only rumored prehistoric relic that makes the continent its home. There have been thousands of reports of dinosaurs roaming the Congolian jungles, many found in the territory near Lake Telé. This massive lake is surrounded by swampy forested land that has still yet to be fully explored, potentially hiding animals that most of the world is unaware exists. According to native inhabitants, one of these beasts is so fierce and terrifying that its name in Bantu simply translates to “monster”; the chipekwe.
Said to inhabit swamps and lakes in the jungles of Zambia, the Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, and Angola, natives describe the chipekwe as a creature that is part elephant, part dragon. It can grow as large as an elephant, the smaller members of the species being about the size of full-grown hippopotami. Covered in smooth dark scales, they have thick, sturdy legs, feet similar to a crocodile’s and powerful tails that allow them to move through the water quickly. The most unique feature of the chipekwe is the long white horn that grows from its snout, a trait found in ceratopsian dinosaurs. Their sharp horns make them incredibly dangerous to cross as, like the mokèlé-mbèmbé, they are highly territorial and quick to provoke. Witnesses have claimed to see chipekwe kill and eat (the second claim is questionable since ceratopsians were herbivores) hippos, rhinos, and elephants that encroached upon their territory. Its behavior has led some tribes to refer to it as the emela-ntouka, or “killer of elephants,” though there is some confusion as to whether these are two names for the same animal or for two different species. Its methods of killing are very brutal, as a 1906 account tells of a hippopotamus that had its throat torn out by an angered chipekwe near the Lukulu River.
The first published account of the chipekwe was in 1909 by hunter Carl Hagenbeck who, along with colleagues Joseph Menges and Hans Schomburgk, learned of the beast’s existence from the Zambian natives. At first they believed the stories to be false, but after hearing many similar accounts, as well as drawings on cave walls that depicted the chipekwe, they considered the possibility that a dinosaur was living somewhere in the jungle. The tale quickly spread through Europe along with similar tales, fueling the growing interest in the possibility of living dinosaurs in Africa. The only sightings by non-Africans for several years, though, were either lies or findings of strange footprints. In 1932, J.C. Johansen, the overseer of a rubber plantation in the Congo, claimed to have seen a chipekwe while on a hunting expedition, describing it as being nearly 16 yards long. He took several photos of it as it tore chunks of flesh from a rhinoceros, sending them to the press as proof of the chipekwe’s existence. However, the pictures were quickly dismissed as a cheap hoax; Johansen had simply placed a Komodo dragon on the carcass of a dead rhino and used trick perspectives to make it look much larger than it was. One year later, Joseph Hughes spoke of an event where several Wa-Ushi tribesmen living along the Luapula River claimed to have killed a chipekwe by harpooning it to death, though they did not keep any of the remains, including the ivory-like horn, once again leaving no evidence. Biologist/cryptozoologist Roy Mackal led several expeditions into the Congo jungle during the 1980s and early 90s in search of the chipekwe and other supposed living dinosaurs, but found nothing except anecdotal evidence.
Experts in the field of cryptozoology such as Willy Ley, Adrienne Mayor, and Bernard Heuvelmans have noted similarities between the chipekwe and the Sirrush, a dragon-like creature depicted on the Gate of Ishtar from ancient Babylon. The Apocryphal story of Bel and the Dragon (written circa 600 BCE) says that the Babylonians worshipped a great lizard kept in the Temple of Bel, which was eventually slain by the prophet Daniel. The Babylonians were known to travel to central Africa, and the theory was presented that during one of their excursions they encountered a giant lizard (possibly a dinosaur) and captured it, returning to Mesopotamia where it was treated as an object of worship. An interesting hypothesis, but fittingly for a tale inspired by the Apocrypha, its authenticity is questionable. A more likely scenario for the chipekwe’s true identity is that it an unknown species of rhinoceros that prefers living near more aquatic habitats.
Both the chipekwe and mokèlé-mbèmbé have intrigued enthusiastic humans for more than a century, yet there is no proof to verify the existence of either creature, and there are rational explanations as to what they actually are. Still, reports of giant lizards continue to come from Africa, touted by locals and outsiders as being authentic. Is it possible that dinosaurs are still roaming the jungle? As fascinating as the concept is, science says it cannot be so. For any dinosaur species that managed to survive the great extinction to be able to thrive, it would need a large population to ensure that the species would continue, and it would need to be able to cope with drastically shifting climates and food supplies. Even if we were to play devil’s advocate and assume that, like tortoises, these reptiles had incredibly long life spans (say 150-200 years), and even going out on a further reach and assuming they were capable of parthenogenesis (the ability of some reptiles to reproduce asexually), they would eventually die and leave corpses or remains, none of which have been found. There may still be undiscovered animals in the jungle, perhaps even some prehistoric relics like the coelacanth, but it’s doubtful that a living dinosaur will ever be found.
Categories: Manic Expression's Monster Extravaganza