Ever since the 19th century when the first dinosaur fossils were identified by scientists, stories and rumors suggested that the extinction of the dinosaurs was not as complete as it seemed, and that at least one species of these great reptiles survived, living in the swamps of central Africa.
The tales told of a creature living in the swamps and rivers. The animal was called ‘Jago-Nini’ which meant ‘giant diver.’ Although the actual creature had never been seen by Western eyes, explorers were told that it “Comes out of the water and devours people.” Footprints were examined by western scientists which were “about the size of a good frying pan in circumference and three claws instead o’five.”
Many tribes were familiar with this elusive animal so the creature goes by a variety of different names including ‘dingonek,’ ‘Ol-umaina,’ and ‘chipekwe.’ Dispite great efforts, explorers never saw direct evidence of the creatures existence for themselves, only hearing the tales from the natives.
One exception was when, in 1932, British cryptozoologist Ivan Sanderson was traveling in Africa and came across large hippo-like tracks in a region with no hippos. He was told by the natives that they were made by a creature named the ‘mgbulu-eM’bembe.’ Later Sanderson saw something in the water that seemed too large to be a hippo, but it disappeared before he could investigate further.
Perhaps the best known reports about this kind of creature came out of the Congo after the turn of the century. Captain Freiheer von Stein zu Lausnitz, a German explorer, heard stories about an animal that was “brownish gray with a smooth skin, its size approximately that of an elephant, at least that of a hippopotamus.” The creature had a long flexible neck and enjoyed a vegetarian diet. The natives called it mok’ele-mbembe.
As more and more of Africa was charted and explored, the dinosaur tales faded away. However, in 1980, Dr. Roy Mackal, a biologist at the University of Chicago, and James Powell, a herpetologist, decided to go and take another look at the source of the mok’ele-mbembe tales. As with earlier explorers they failed to see the creature themselves. However, they did interview several people who had, and also heard about a creature with a long neck and tail that was killed along Lake Tele in 1959. According to the story, anyone who ate of the creature’s meat died. Witnesses said mok’ele-mbembe was about thirty feet long. Of that, ten was head and neck, the rest body and tail. Mackal and Powell suspected that the creature was a small relative of the Apatosaurus, but gathered no proof. A second expedition the next year added nothing but some strange footprints.
Shortly after Mackal’s second expedition a group from California, led by Herman and Kia Regusters, reported seeing and photographing a large creature in the Lake Tele area. While the descriptions matched those heard since von Stein, the photos turned out to be inconclusive.
James Powell, an American explorer, visited the area and showed pictures of various known animals to the inhabitants which they correctly identified. When shown a picture of a sauropod dinosaur they identified it as Mokele M’Bembe, the large animal living in the nearby swamps and river systems.
Other creatures fitting the description of the Mokele M’Bembe type of animal have been sighted in Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganiyka, Lake Albert, and Lake Tele. Both the indigenous African population and the foreign settlers have seen what seems to be some sort of relic from the primeval past. The eyewitnesses have carefully described animals that are nothing like the known animals of Africa, but very similar to dinosaurs known to have lived in the past. Whatever is lurking in the jungles is most likely to be shy and wary of humans and is said to shun any contact with our species, making further proof very difficult to come by.
The idea of a living breathing saurian relic from prehistory surviving and thriving in modern times may seem more than improbable at first sight, but it must be noted that the Congo Basin in Africa has remained largely unchanged and undisturbed both in geography and climate since the days of the dinosaurs. Reports of sightings continue to this day.