From the early 1600s European travelers in central Africa have reported the existence of a monstrous mystery creature. According to Abbe Proyart, a French priest who published a history of the African interior in 1776, missionaries had seen tracks with clawprints that were at least 90 centimeters in circumference and more than 2 meters apart.
Pygmies inhabiting the Likouala swamplands of the Congo claim to have seen the mystery animal, which they call mokele-mbembe. Eyewitnesses describe a huge, shy, semi-aquatic creature with a body the size of an elephant, four sturdy legs, a slender 3 meter long tail and a neck roughly 1.8 meters long. On land the beast leaves distinctive three-toed footprints, characteristic of certain sauropod dinosaurs, but unlike the tracks of any known contemporary animal species. When shown pictures of living and extinct creatures, pygmies pick sauropods as the closest match to mokele-mbembe. Similar reports come from neighboring Cameroon, and from Gabon, where the animal is called n’yamala.
Since the early 1980s several scientific expeditions have searched for conclusive evidence that this odd creature really exists. One leading investigator, Roy Mackal, professor of zoology at Chicago University, took teams to the Congo in 1980 and 1981. Although both teams failed to encounter mokele-mbembe they collected important anecdotal evidence, including information on its principal food source, a type of vine. In 1985 and 1992 British explorer Bill Gibbons added further local reports to the expanding dossier.
Mokele-mbembe may not be the only living dinosaur inhabiting the Congo. Of two other contenders, one is the allegedly aggressive emela-ntouka. The size of an elephant, it has a long horn and a heavy tail recalling Monoclonius, a relative of Triceratops. The other is mbielu-mbielu-mbielu, a bizarre creature described as having planks growing out of its back, which the pygmies identify with pictures of the plated Stegasaurus. Could some dinosaurs have defied evolution and still be living in the Congolese swamplands? Only future explorations will tell.
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