- For information on the African political theorist, see: Achille Mbembe
Mokèlé-mbèmbé: meaning "one who stops the flow of rivers" in the Lingala language, is the name given to a large water dwelling cryptid found in the legends and folklore of the Congo River basin. It is sometimes described as being a living creature and sometimes as being a spirit. It is analogous to the Loch Ness Monster in Western culture.
Several expeditions have been mounted in the hope of finding evidence of the Mokele-mbembe, though without success. Efforts have been covered in a number of books and by a number of television documentaries (See main text). The Mokele-mbembe and its associated folklore also appears in several works of fiction and popular culture (See main text).
According to the traditions of the Congo River basin the Mokele-mbembe is a large territorial herbivore, approximately the size of a small elephant or a large hippopotamus. It dwells in the Congo river and the surrounding swampland, and has a preference for deep water, with local folklore holding that its haunts of choice are river bends.
Descriptions of the Mokèlé-mbèmbé, vary. Some legends describe it as having an elephant-like body with a long neck and tail and a small head, making it similar in appearance to the extinct Sauropoda, while others describe is as more closely resembling elephants, rhinoceros and other known animals. It is usually described as being gray-brown in color. Some traditions, such those of Boha village, believe it to be a spirit rather than a flesh and blood creature.
According to science writer Willy Ley, while there is a sufficient anecdotal accounts to suggest "that there is a large and dangerous animal hiding in the shallow waters and rivers of Central Africa", the body of evidence so far presented remains insufficient for any realistic conclusions to be drawn on what the Mokele-mbembe may be (Ley, 74).
According to the writings of biologist and cryptid researcher Dr. R. P. Mackal, who mounted two unsuccessful expeditions to find it, it is unlikely that the Mokele-Mbembe is a mammal or an amphibian. This leaves a reptile as the only plausible candidate. Of all the living reptiles, Mackal argues that the iguana and the monitor lizards bear the closest resemblance to the Mokele-Mbembe, though, at 15 to long, the Mokele-mbembe would exceed the size of any known examples of such reptiles.
Mackal judged available evidence as consistent, writing, "I believe the description of the Mokele-mbembe is accounted for in all respects by an identification with a small sauropod dinosaur". Mackal also judged the existence of an undiscovered relict sauropod to be plausible on the grounds that there were large amount uninhabited and unexplored territory in the region where a creature might live, and on the grounds that other large creatures such as elephants, exist in the region, living in large open clearings (called bai) as well as in thicker wooded areas. In conclusion, Mackal states the personal belief that the Mokele-Mbembe may be a relict sauropod.
The argument for the Mokele-Mbembe being a relict sauropod has also been supported by some creationists, who believe the creature is a surviving dinosaur, and use it in support of their own views.
BBC/Discovery Channel documentary Congo interviewed a number of tribe members who identified a photograph of a rhinoceros as being a Mokele-Mbembe. Neither species of African rhinoceros are common in the Congo basin, and the Mokele-Mbembe may be a mixture of mythology and folk memory from a time when rhinoceroses were found in the area.
Numerous expeditions were undertaken to discover uncharted Africa. During these, there were some sightings that might involve an unidentified dinosaur-like creature. Also there have been several specific Mokele-mbembe-hunting expeditions. These expeditions have been undertaken with varying degrees of scientific rigor. Although several of the expeditions sent to find it have reported close-encounters none have been able to provide incontrovertible proof that the creature exists Though evidence was found of a widespread folklore and anecdotal accounts covering a considerable period of time.
Amongst the earliest reference that might be relevant to mokele-mbembe stories (though the term is not used in the source) comes from the 1776 book of Abbé Lievain Bonaventure
, a French
missionary to the Congo River
region. Among many other observations about flora, fauna and native inhabitants related in his lengthy book, Bonaventure claimed to have seen enormous footprints in the region. The creature that left the prints was not witnessed, but Bonaventure wrote that it "must have been monstrous: the marks of the claws were noted on the ground, and these formed a print about three feet in circumference."
According to Lt. Paul Gratz, indigenous legend of the Congo River basin (Modern day Zambia
) speak of a mokele-mbembe-like creature. Known by native people as the Nsanga
, which is said to inhabit the Lake Bangweulu
region. Gratz, describes the creature as resembling a sauropod
. This is one of the earliest references linking the legend with dinosaurs. In addition to hearing stories of the Nsanga
Gratz was shown a hide which he was told belonged to the creature, while visiting on Mbawala
1909 saw another mention of a mokele-mbembe-like creature, in Beasts and Men, the autobiography of famed big-game hunter Carl Hagenbeck. He claimed to have heard from multiple independent sources about a creature living in the Congo region which was described as “half elephant, half dragon.” Naturalist Joseph Menges had also told Hagenbeck about an animal alleged to live in Africa, described as “some kind of dinosaur, seemingly akin to the brontosaurs.” Another of Hagenbeck’s sources, Hans Schomburgk, asserted that while at Lake Bangweulu, he noted a lack of hippopotami; his native guides informed him of a large hippo-killing creature that lived in Lake Bangweulu; however, as noted below, Schomburgk thought that native testimony was sometimes unreliable.
Reports of dinosaur-like creatures in Africa caused a minor sensation in the mass media, and newspapers in Europe and North America carried many articles on the subject in 1910-1911; some took the reports at face value, others were more skeptical.
Another report comes from the writings of German Captain Freiherr von Stein zu Lausnitz
, who was ordered to conduct a survey of German colonies in what is now Cameroon
in 1913. He heard stories of an enormous reptile alleged to live in the jungles, and included a description of the beast in his official report. According to Willy Ley
, "von Stein worded his report with utmost caution," knowing it might be seen as unbelievable. (Ley, 69) Nonetheless, von Stein thought the tales were credible: trusted native guides had related the tales to him; the stories were related to him by independent sources, yet featured many of the same details. Though von Stein's report was never formally published, portions were included in later works, including a 1959 book by Ley; von Stein wrote:
- 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 few spoke 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. (quoted in Ley, 70)
1919-1920: Smithsonian Institute
A 32-men-strong expedition was sent out to Africa from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.
The objective of this expedition was to secure additional specimens of plants and animals. Moving picture photographers from the Universal Film Manufacturing Company accompanied the expedition, in order to document the life of interior Africa. According to Loren Coleman & Patrick Huyghe, authors of the Field Guide to Lake Monsters
, "African guides found large, unexplained tracks along the bank of a river and later in a swamp the team heard mysterious roars, which had no resemblance with any known animal". However, the expedition was to end in tragedy. During a train-ride through a flooded area where an entire tribe was said to have seen the dinosaur, the locomotive suddenly derailed and turned over. Four team members were crushed to death under the cars and another half dozen seriously injured.
The expedition was documented in the H.L. Shantz papers.
1927 saw the publication of ‘’Trader Horn
’’, the memoir of Alfred Aloysius Smith
, who had worked for a British trading company in what is now Gabon
in the late 1800s. In the book, Smith related tales told him by natives and explorers about a creature given two different names: ‘’jago-nini’’ and ‘’amali’’. The creature is said to be very large, according to Smith, and to leave large, round, three-clawed footprints.
Zoologist Ivan T. Sanderson
claimed that, while in Cameroon
in 1932, he witnessed an enormous creature in the Mainyu River
. The creature, seemingly badly wounded, was only briefly visible as it lurched into the waters. Darkly colored, the animal's head alone was nearly the size of a hippo, according to Sanderson. His native guides termed the creature "m'koo m'bemboo" (in Sanderson's phonetic
In 1938, explorer Leo von Boxberger
mounted an expedition in part to investigate mokele-mbembe reports. He collected much information from natives, but his notes and sketches had to be abandoned during a conflagration with local tribesmen.
In 1939, the German Colonial Gazette (of Angola) published a letter by Frau Ilse von Nolde, who asserted that she had heard of the animal called "coye ya menia" ("water lion") from many claimed eyewitnesses, both native and settlers. She described the long necked creature as living in the rivers, and being about the size of a hippo, if not somewhat larger. It was known especially for attacking hippos - even coming on to land to do so - though it never ate them. (Ley, 71-72)
1959: Mokele-mbembe killing
Reverend Eugene Thomas from Ohio, USA, told James Powell and Dr. Roy P. Mackal
in 1979 a story that involved the purported killing of a Mokele-mbembe near Lake Tele
in 1959. Thomas was a missionary who had served in the Congo since 1955, gathering much of the earliest evidence and reports, and claiming to have had two close-encounters himself . Natives of the Bangombe tribe who lived near Lake Tele were said to have constructed a large spiked fence in a tributary of Tele to keep Mokele-mbembe from interfering in their fishing. A Mokele-mbembe managed to break through, though it was wounded on the spikes, and the natives then killed the creature. As William Gibbons writes, "Pastor Thomas also mentioned that the two pygmies mimicked the cry of the animal as it was being attacked and speared... Later, a victory feast was held, during which parts of the animal were cooked and eaten. However, those who participated in the feast eventually died, either from food poisoning or from natural causes. I also believe that the mythification (magical powers, etc) surrounding Mokele-mbembes [sic] began with this incident." Furthermore, Roy P. Mackal heard from witnesses that the stakes were in the same location in the tributary as of the early 1980s.
In 1960, an expedition to Zaire
was planned by herpetologist James H. Powell, Jr.
, scheduled for 1972, but was canceled by legal complications. By 1976, however, he had sorted out the international travel problems, and went to Gabon
instead, inspired by the Trader Horn
book. He secured finances from the Explorer’s Club
. Although Powell’s ostensible research aim was to study crocodiles
, he also planned to study mokele-mbembe.
On his first journey, Powell located a claimed eyewitness to an animal called n’yamala, or jago-nini, which Powell thought was the same as the amali of Smith's 1920's books. Natives also stated – without Powell’s asking – that n’yamala ate the flowering liana, just as von Stein had learned half a century earlier. When Powell showed illustrations of various animals, both alive and extinct, to natives, they generally suggested that the diplodocus was the closest match to n’yamala.
Powell returned to the same region in 1979, and claimed to receive further stories about n’yamala
from additional natives. He also made an especially valuable contact in American missionary Eugene Thomas, who was able to introduce Powell to several claimed eyewitnesses. He decided that the n’yamala was probably identical to the Mokele-mbembe. Though seemingly herbivores, witnesses reported that the creatures were fearsome, and were known to attack canoes that were steered too close.
For his third expedition in February 1980, Powell was joined by University of Chicago
biologist Roy P. Mackal
. Based on the testimony of claimed eyewitnesses, Powell and Mackal decided to focus their efforts on visiting the northern Congo regions, near the Likouala aux Herbes River
and isolated Lake Tele
. As of 1980, this region was little explored and largely unmapped, and the expedition was unable to reach Lake Tele. Powell and Mackal interviewed several people who claimed to have seen Mokele-mbembe
, and Clark writes that the descriptions of the creature were "strikingly similar ... animals 15 to long (most of that a snakelike head and neck, plus long thin tail). The body was reminiscent of a hippo
’s, only more bulbous ... again, informants invariable pointed to a picture of a sauropod when shown pictures of various animals to which mokele-mbembe might be compared."
Mackal and Jack Bryan mounted an expedition to the same area in late 1981. He was supposed to be joined by Herman Regusters, but they came in conflict in terms of finance, equipment and leadership and decided to split and make separate expeditions.
Although, once again, Mackal was unable to reach Lake Tele, he gathered details on other cryptids and possible living dinosaurs, like the Emela-ntouka
(giant turtle), Mahamba
(giant crocodile of 15 meters), and Ngoima
(a giant monkey-eating Eagle). Among his company were J. Richard Greenwell
, M. Justin Wilkinson, and Congolese zoologist Marcellin Agnagna.
The 1981 expedition would feature the only "close encounters" of the Mackal expeditions. It occurred when, while on a river, they heard a loud splash and saw what Greenwell described as “[a] large wake (about 5”) ... originating from the east bank”. Greenwell asserted that the wake must have been caused by an "animate object" that was unlike a crocodile or hippo. Additionally, Greenwell noted that the encounter occurred at a sharp river bend where, according to natives, mokele-mbembe frequently lived due to deep waters at those points.
1987 saw the publication of Mackal’s book, A Living Dinosaur?, in which Mackal detailed his expedition and his conclusions about the mokele-mbembe. Mackal tried, unsuccessfully, to raise funds for additional trips to Africa.
In 1981, American engineer Herman Regusters led his own mokele-mbembe expedition, after there was a conflict with the Mackal-Bryan expedition that he intended to join. Regusters and his wife Kia reached Lake Tele, staying there for about two weeks. Of the 30 expedition members (28 were men from the Boha village), only Herman Regusters and his wife claim to have observed a "long-necked member" traveling across Lake Tele. They also claim to have tried filming the being, but said their motion picture film was ruined by the heat and humidity. Only one picture was released showing a large, but unidentifiable, object in the lake.
The Regusters expedition returned with droppings, footprint casts
, which Regusters believed were from the mokele-mbembe.
It also returned with sound recordings of "low windy roar [that] increased to a deep throated trumpeting growl", which Regusters believed to be the mokele-mbembe's call. Regusters conclusions about this tape were later contradicted by Mackal, who asserted that the Mokele-mbembe did not have a vocal call. Mackal asserts that vocalizations are more correctly associated with the Emela-ntouka, a similarly described creature found in the Central African legends.
Herman Alphanso Regusters passed away on December 19, 2005, aged 72.
Congolese zoologist Marcellin Agnagna led the 1983 expedition of Congolese to Lake Tele. According to his own account, Agnagna claimed to have seen a mokele-mbembe at close distance for about 20 minutes. He tried to film it, but said that in his excitement, he forgot to remove the motion picture camera's lens cap. In a 1984 interview, Agnagna claimed, contradictorily, that the film was ruined not because of the lens cap, but because he had the Super 8
camera on the wrong setting: macro
instead of tele
1985: Rory Nugent
In December 1985 Rory Nugent claimed to have spotted the animal but to have been ordered at gunpoint by the natives not to approach it. Nugent claimed that they view the creature as a god "that you can not approach, but if he chooses, this god can approach you". He also provided some pictures, which are too blurry to be identifiable.
1985-1986: Operation Congo
Operation Congo took place between December 1985 and early 1986, and was led by Englishman William Gibbons, comprised of "four enthusiastic but naïve young Englishmen." They hired Agnagna to take them to Lake Tele, but did not report any mokele-mbembe sightings. The British men did, however, describe Agnagna as doing "little more than lie, cheat and steal (our film and supplies) and turn the porters against us." After criminal charges were filed against him, a Congolese court ordered Agnagna to return the items he had taken from the expedition.
Although the party found no evidence of the mokele-mbembe, they discovered a new sub-species of monkey, which was later classified as the Crested mangabey monkey (Cerocebus galeritus), as well as fish and insect specimens.
In 1986 another expedition was mounted, consisting of four Dutchmen, organized and led by Dutch biologist Ronald Botterweg, who already had experience with tropical rainforest research in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
, and who later visited, lived and worked in several African countries. This expedition entered the Congo
down the Ubangi River
in the Central African Republic
, and managed, with considerable organizational challenges, to reach Lake Tele, with a group of guides from the village of Boha, some of which had also accompanied Regusters. Since they had only managed to obtain permission from the local authorities (not having passed by Brazzaville) for a very limited period in the area, they only spent about three days at the lake before returning to Boha. During their stay at the lake they spent as much time as possible observing the lake and its surroundings through from their provisional camp on the north-eastern shore, and navigating part of it by dug-out canoe. No signs of any large unknown animal were found.
On the way back, arriving at the town of Impfondo, they were detained by Congolese biologist Agnagna and his team, who had just arrived there for an expedition with the British team of Operation Congo (see before), allegedly for not possessing the proper documents. They were detained for a short while, and the largest part of their film and color slides were confiscated, before being released and leaving the country (again by the Ubangui river and Bangui).
No signs, tracks or anything tangible or visible of the alleged animals was seen or shown whatsoever. Tracks, droppings, and other signs of forest elephants and gorillas were commonly seen, as well as crocodiles in the lake. Despite the fact that the African guides were extremely capable and experienced hunters, guides and experts of the African rainforest, they were not able to show any track or sign of the Mokele-mbembe and none of the several interviewed guides even claimed ever to have seen one personally, nor its tracks. Remarkable is the fact that the guides that were interviewed by the Dutch expedition and that also accompanied Regusters, stated that they never saw a Mokele-mbembe during that expedition, although Regusters himself claims to have seen one.
This expedition received some attention in the Dutch media (radio, TV, newspapers) from 1985 to 1987.
1988 Japanese expedition
Occurred in 1988 , and was lead by the Congolese wildlife official Jose Bourges. Members of a Japanese film crew allegedly captured the first evidence of Mokele-mbembe.
As they were filming aerial footage from a small plane over the area of Lake Tele
, intending to obtain some shots for a documentary, the cameraman noticed a disturbance in the water. He struggled to maintain focus on the object, which was creating a noticeable wake. About 15 seconds of footage was captured with skeptics identifying it as two men in a canoe or elephants.
British writer Redmond O'Hanlon
traveled to the region in 1989 and not only failed to discover any evidence of Mokele-mbembe but found out that many local people believe the creature to be a spirit rather than a physical being, and that claims for its authentic existence have been fabricated. His experience is chronicled in Granta
39 (1992) and in his book No Mercy
1992 Operation Congo 2
William Gibbons launched a second expedition in 1992 which he dubbed "Operation Congo 2". Along with Rory Nugent, Gibbons
searched almost two thirds Bai River along with two poorly charted lakes: Lake Fouloukuo and Lake Tibeke. Both of which local folklore held to be sites of Mokele-Mbembe activity. The expedition failed to provide any conclusive evidence of the Mokele Mbembe, though they did further document local legends and Nugent took two photographs of unidentified object in the water. One of which he claimed was the creatures head.
The Extreme Expeditions team was set to travel to the Likouala Region, however the 1997-1999 civil war made this impossible.
During the 1999 megatransect
into the wilderness of the Congo basin by the biologist and Africa explorer Michael Fay
did not reveal any trace of the Mokele-mbembe. However, it must be noted that the trek did not pass through the Likouala and lake Tele regions.
- In January 2000, the Congo Millennium Expedition (aka. DINO2000) took place, the second one by Extreme Expeditions. Consisting of Andrew Sanderson, Adam Davies, Keith Townley, Swedish explorer Jan-Ove Sundberg, and five others.
- In November 2000, William Gibbons did some preliminary research in Cameroon for a future expedition. He was accompanied by David Wetzel. While visiting with a group of pygmies, were informed about an animal called Ngoubou. It might be related to the Emela-ntouka, but this animal is single-horned. The pygmies asserted it was not a regular rhinoceros, as it had more than one horn (six horns on the frill in one eyewitness account), and that the father of one of the senior members of the community had killed one with a spear a number of years ago. The locals have noted a firm dwindle in the population of these animals lately, and are hard to find. Gibbons identified the animal with a Styracosaurus, but these are currently only known to have inhabited North America.
- In February 2001, in a joint venture between CryptoSafari and the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club (BCSCC), a research team traveled to Cameroon consisting of William Gibbons, Scott T. Norman, John Kirk and writer Robert A. Mullin. Their local guide was Pierre Sima Noutchegeni. They were also accompanied by a BBC filmcrew. However, no evidence of Mokele-mbembe was found.
- In January 2006, the Milt Marcy Expedition traveled to the Dja river in Cameroon, near the Congolese border. It consisted of Milt Marcy, Peter Beach, Rob Mullin and Pierre Sima. They spoke to witnesses that claimed to have observed a Mokele-mbembe only two days before, however they did not discover the animal themselves.
- A May 2006 episode called "Super Snake" of the National Geographic-series "Dangerous Encounters" included an expedition headed by Dr. Brady Barr to Lake Tele. No unknown animals were found.
- In March 2008 An episode of the SciFi Channel original series "Destination Truth" involves investigator Josh Gates and crew searching for the elusive dinosaur. However, it must be noted that they did not visit the Likouala Region, which includes Lake Tele, but they visited Lake Bangweulu in Zambia instead, which had reports of a similar creature in the early 20th century, called the "'nsanga" as earlier described in this article. It must be noted that the crew of Destination Truth kept calling the animal "Mokele-Mbembe" to the locals, when that name is only used in the Republic of the Congo. Their episode featured a videotaped close encounter, but filmed from a great distance. On applying digital video enhancement techniques, the encounter proved to be nothing more then two submerged hippopotami.
- James Blish's 1962 science fiction novel, The Night Shapes, centered upon Mokèlè-mbèmbé.
- In 1985 a movie was released based on the rumours about Mokèlè-mbèmbé, called Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend. It featured American scientists who discovered a surviving family of sauropods in Central Africa.
- A fictional book was written about this creature called Cryptid Hunters by Roland Smith.
- In White Wolf's RPG World of Darkness, the Mokole are one of the "Changing Breeds". They shapeshift into reptilian forms such as crocodiles, alligators and gila monsters, but can also take attributes from dinosaurs and even dragons. Mokole-Mbembe himself is said to be the legendary and immortal progenitor of their race (at least in Africa).
- A game module for the roleplaying game Conspiracy X, is titled Bodyguard of Lies 2: Mokolé.
- In the online videogame Steppenwolf, the first chapter focuses on finding the Mokèlè Mbèmbè.
- In the book Mortal Engines, by Phillip Reeve, the character Captain Khora is an African with an airship called the Mokele Mbembe.
- The Pokémon, Tropius, bears a distinct resemblance to the Mokélé-Mbémbé, and also shares some features.
- In Uncharted Waters: New Horizons, the Mokele Mbembe is a discovery.
- In the novel Reptilia, written by Thomas Thiemeyer, the Mokèlè-mbèmbé is a mutated prehistoric reptile.
- The 92nd novel in the Destroyer series, Last Dragon, features Mokele m'bembe as a surviving strain of apatosaurs which Chiun values for the longevity supposedly conveyed by eating their bones.
- In the video game Guild Wars Nightfall, there is a species of creatures named Mokeles and a skill named after them called Mokele Smash.
- A harmless family of Mokèlè-mbèmbé are menaced by poachers in "The Company of Men" (issues 6-8), the second arc of the ongoing Image Comics book Proof.
- Gibbons, William J., Missionaries And Monsters; Coachwhip Publications, 2006
- Leal, M. E., 2004. The African rainforest during the Last Glacial Maximum, an archipelago of forests in a sea of grass; Wageningen: Wageningen University: ISBN 90-8504-037-x
- Ley, Willie, Exotic Zoology; New York: Capricorn Books, 1966 (trade paperback edition)
- Mackal, Roy P. A Living Dinosaur? In Search of Mokele-Mbembe; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1987: ISBN 90-04-08543-2
- Ndanga, Alfred Jean-Paul (2000) 'Réflexion sur une légende de Bayanga: le Mokele-mbembe', in Zo, 3, 39-45.
- Nugent, Rory (1993) Drums along the Congo: on the trail of Mokele-Mbembe, the last living dinosaur. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-58707-7 or ISBN 0-395-67071-3
- Redmond O'Hanlon, No Mercy: A Journey Into the Heart of the Congo, 1997
- Regusters, H.A.(1982) Mokele - Mbembe: an investigation into rumors concerning a strange animal in the Republic of the Congo, 1981 (Munger Africana library notes, vol. 64). Pasadena: California institute of technology. http://www.cryptoarchives.com/1900/1980/1981-regusters.pdf
- Shuker, Karl P.N., In Search of Prehistoric Survivors. London: Blandford, 1995: ISBN 0-7137-2469-2
- Sjögren, Bengt, Berömda vidunder, Settern, 1980, ISBN 91-7586-023-6