Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Post Revamp: the Mokele-Mbembe

In 1912, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle released a novel called "The Lost World."  It concerned an expedition to remote South America, where explorers found a land of living dinosaurs.  This novel, and many like it, ingrained themselves into the public imagination.  It seemed easy to imagine that prehistoric creatures might still live-- that dinosaurs could be hiding in the dense African jungle.

This dinosaur infatuation boded poorly for cryptozoology.  Many an African explorer, when hearing of a local cryptid, jumped to the conclusion that it was prehistoric.  Such a fate befell the Kongamato (more likely a large bat) and the Emela-Ntouka (more likely a rhino).  But the most famous "dinosaur" cryptid of all is the Mokele-Mbembe-- and its case is not so easy to dismiss.

Mokele-Mbembe means "one who stops the flow of rivers"-- and as that name implies, this creature is reportedly massive.  Some accounts say it is the size of a hippo; others say it dwarfs an elephant.  This monster is semi-aquatic; it spends much of its time underwater, but also leaves huge footprints on the shore.  Highly dangerous, it is much feared by local villagers, who view it with great superstition.  According to their stories, it has a long neck and a single enormous tooth or horn.  Some say it has a frill on its head, and a thick, lizardlike tail.

This description is certainly reminiscent of a dinosaur-- in particular, a large sauropod.  Are alternative explanations possible?  Yes, but not strong ones.  A hippo might be mistaken for Mokele-Mbembe, as might a submerged elephant.  Indeed, swimming elephants often hold their trunks aloft-- making them look much like a sauropod's neck.  But elephants and hippos are well-known to Congolese locals, who insist that Mokele-Mbembe is a different creature.

Another theory is that Mokele-Mbembe is based on the rhinoceros.  No species of rhino lives in this cryptid's region of the Congo-- and the locals are not familiar with these animals.  Indeed, when showed a picture of a rhinoceros, one Congolese native described it as Mokele-Mbembe.  Of course, other locals have identified the creature with pictures of Apatosaurus-- but this is not surprising, as descriptions of Mokele-Mbembe are variable.  According to some, the animal has a sauropod-like neck and tail.  According to others, it has a short neck and a large horn like a rhino.

None of these explanations is especially satisfying.  Sauropods are long extinct, and could not support their own weight underwater.  Rhinos have short necks, and would be hard to mistake for a dinosaur.  The swamps of the Congo could certainly hide a monster-- eighty percent of them (a region larger than Florida) are unexplored.  But we have no solid theory for what that monster might be.  For the time, Mokele-Mbembe must remain a frustrating enigma.  Hopefully new evidence will shed some light on this creature.

Read more about the Mokele-Mbembe:
Image from http://static2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20130930015048/cryptidz/images/a/a8/Mokele.jpg

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