Conventional wisdom holds that dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago. However, there is another school of thought that says at least one variety of these mighty beasts is and well, living in the dense and impenetrable jungle of equatorial Africa.
From an urban or western perspective it seems inconceivable that there is a corner of the planet that remains obscure. Yet one part of the African continent most closely associated with dinosaur sightings is so remote and dense with undergrowth, that it is impossible to explore it thoroughly. Lake Tele is In the People’s Republic of Congo, a country recently torn by conflict and all too often rife with disease. It is fed by numerous tributaries, and lies at the heart of some 42,450km2 of swampland, only an estimated 80 per cent of which has been even cursorily explored. Even In the twenty-first century, the number of visitors to the shores of the lake is startlingly few. If dinosaurs had survived largely unseen anywhere on earth, then it would be here.
The evidence for the existence of a dinosaur is mostly anecdotal. However. these are stories that have persisted for centuries and are particularly potent among the indigenous population. As long ago as 1776, before the existence of dinosaurs was even known about, the French missionary Abbe Proyart wrote a description of the clawed tracks he saw embedded in African mud. Their dimensions were 90cm in width with about 2m between steps.
In 1913, a German explorer revealed the name given to the mysterious creature by locals, Mok’ele-mbeme, It was, he claimed, ‘of a brownish-grey colour With a smooth skin, approximately the size 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 described it as a horn. A few spoke about a long muscular tail like that of an alligator’. In 1932, a British scientist roaming in the region, heard some unidentifiable
sounds and recorded gigantic tracks. The waters were muddied in the years following the Second World War by a hoax and by claims that creatures of similar dimensions were residing in the Congo River. the swamps of Gabon and also Lake Bangweulu in Zambia.
Nevertheless, a series of expeditions to the Congo from the UK, America and Japan was dispatched between 1972 and 1992 – with largely disappointing results. Most had difficulty breaching the shores of Lake Tele or even of the Congo river: Those that did often claimed that they heard noises that they presumed belonged to mok’ele-mbeme. Two men saw the monster but in both cases film taken of the momentous event failed to come out.
In 1981 Herman Regusters took number of pictures of a swamp beast but the film was apparently damaged by the extreme climatic conditions of the jungle. Two years later Congolese zoologist Dr Marcellin Agnagna was so awestruck when the creature reared up in front of him that he neglected to take the lens cap off his movie camera. The resulting footage was useless.
In 1992 the most convincing film was shot as a Japanese documentary crew flew over Lake Tele, not on the trail of the elusive monster, but in search of panoramic views of the region. As the plane pulled over the lake the cameraman noticed a disturbance in the water. He struggled to maintain his focus on the object, but by the time the plane banked around and around and returned the thing had vanished, although ripples in the surface of the water were still visible.
The film is indistinct. It could be the first genuine footage of mok’ele-mbeme or it might bean elephant on the move. The blurred shape in the frame mostly resembles two people traveling in a motorized canoe, although it is said that no people travel across this part of the lake. One inexplicably strange aspect of the film is that whatever is in the water ends up entirely submerged – unlikely for either an elephant or a canoe.
But the most irresistible evidence to date has come from people living in the vicinity. The swamp Inhabitants are various pygmy tribes, all of whom appear to have some knowledge of mok’ele-mbeme Shown pictures of gorillas, hippopotamuses and elephants they have quickly registered recognition and put a name to them all. When shown a picture of a sauropod – the dinosaur that best fits the description of what lives in the lake – a consensus is swiftly reached. It is mok’ele-mbeme
One hunter, Nicolas Mondongo, was a teenager when he encountered the monster. He said it had a head and neck some 2m long, crowned by a frill like that of a cockerel. Its four legs were stout and its tail was greater in length than Its neck Another persuasive tale was recorded among the people of the river villages who remembered when a monster was attacked and killed by fishermen. The corpse was cooked and eaten by selected tribes people. All those who tasted the flesh died soon afterwards, although no one as yet knows why. The event apparently occurred in the later I 950s and there is still the hope that explorers will discover the bones discarded after the fatal feast.
From the villagers of the swamp, expedition members have discovered that mok’ele-mbeme is vegetarian but nonetheless ferocious, using its tail to lash out at anyone who gets too close. Tribespeople are also convinced there is enmity between mok’ele-mbeme and hippopotamuses as they do not cohabit the same stretches of water.
Since 2000 there There have been a number of expeditions to track down the illusive mkolo mbembe with the most recent being conducted by French explorer Michel Bailot in 2016. In November 2000 however, Adam Davies undertook one of the most intriguing expeditions to this inhospitable region and the following year he reported his findings in the Fortean Times, a journal that specializes in cryptozoology. Although Davies did not see or hear mkolo mbembe himself, he picked up two vital pieces of information.
The first was a description from a village elder who claimed to have seen it many times. ‘It has feet like an elephant and a neck like a giraffe. It does not live on the lake but in the forest. It travels across the lake for food’. The second fact that he gathered was from Dr Agnagna, who told him not to concentrate his search on Lake Tele but on other lakes close by that were even more remote.
At the end of this examination, the facts are maddeningly few. Something has been seen in the vicinity of Lake Tele – and at other locations – that has led a significant number of people to believe that dinosaurs still exist in the heart of Africa. A series of expeditions has brought various pieces of evidence to light, but these are mostly anecdotal and a definitive photograph has not yet been produced. Rather than an unknown beast, there is a possibility that the sightings were of unexpected activity by elephants – although local people well acquainted with wildlife might be expected to distinguish between elephants and other creatures. Testimony from local tribes might be coloured by superstition or imagination.
The density of the jungle works both for and against sceptics. While hostile terrain makes the dinosaur idea difficult to prove, it likewise means the notion is perhaps feasible, as this is uncharted territory and no one can say with certainty what does, or does not, reside there.