#23 – Mokele-Mbembe

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Africa gets all the cool stuff. Well, except maybe all the famine. And the rampant AIDS. And apartheid. And the child soldiers, and the violent civil wars, and the botflies and… still, they have cool monster stories. Swings and roundabouts and all that. I mean sure, my biggest irritant living in England is the fact that none of the idiots that live near me know how to use a communal fucking bin, but I also don’t get awesome cryptids. The best we’ve had in Manchester were the bipedal rats that United Utilities pretended were living in the sewers, in a bizarre attempt to get us to think about maybe not flushing away our tampons:

That was a genuine April Fools from 2011. Because apparently, the best way to get the message across that we should be putting our cotton buds in the bin is the threat of a sentient man-rat that might scamper up the U-bend and bite us on the labia. I don’t know who dreamt up the concept, but I want to shake that bastard’s hand. Anyway, back to Africa and its awesome monsters.

I’ve already written about the Emela-Ntouka, the horny swamp-rhino that guts elephants in the Likouala region of the Congo River basin. As a beastie it’s pretty badass in isolation, but it’s not even the biggest cryptid reported in that area. That honour goes to the Mokele-Mbembe, which translates into ‘one who stops the flow of rivers’:

The Land Before Time 15 was less cutesy, and much more bushmeat-oriented.

The Land Before Time 15 was less cutesy and much more bushmeat-oriented.

Despite how absurd and fantastical they might self-evidently seem to be, stories of surviving dinosaurs have been reported from the jungles of central Africa for hundreds of years. The first printed record of clawed prints in the jungle three feet across dates back to French missionary Abbé Bonaventure’s expedition records from 1776, and the folklore among locals goes even further back than that. A German expedition in the Congo in 1913 reportedly met a band of pygmies that gave Western civilisation its first proper description of the Mokele-Mbembe – a creature the size of a small elephant with a long, flexible neck and a tail like that of an alligator. The pygmies of Likouala to this day are even specific about the creature’s diet, insisting it essentially lives off two particular types of plant. Because hey, when you’ve apparently survived millions of years and the extinction of all your brethren, you’ve earned the right to be a fussy eater.

It’s hard to imagine a bigger and more unbelievable national headline than HOLY SHIT DINOSAURS STILL EXIST, beyond perhaps “Snooki receives string theory research grant”. Rather understandably, the Mokele-Mbembe rumours have spawned dozens of expeditions chasing the story and the resulting dollar, and some of the eyewitness accounts to come out of them are downright awesome-sauce with a side of… erm… wonder-chips?

"YOU WILL WAIT UNTIL I'M DONE WITH THE LOOFAH!"

“YOU WILL WAIT UNTIL I’M DONE WITH THE LOOFAH!”

According to the lore, the Mokele-Mbembe is not content with the inherent badassery of being a living fucking dinosaur. It also apparently hates hippopotamuses hippopotami hippopopopatamuses…. hippos, killing any and all that have the nerve to swagger into its territory. Cryptozoologist Roy Mackal looked into the idea, and found that for no good reason at all, hippos are curiously absent from the Lake Tele and Likuoala regions that spawn the most sauropod sightings. If I saw enough of my friends’ brains smashed in by a giant pissed-off Littlefoot, I imagine I’d want to move on as well.

FEAR US.

Who’s hungry hungry now, bitch?

Mackal also heard a story from Pascal Moteka, a villager who lived near Lake Tele itself. He insisted that at some point in the past his people had dammed a river with wooden stakes to snare one of the beasts, and after they’d killed it with spears had butchered and eaten the carcass. That turned out to be a bad idea, because everyone who’d apparently chowed down on dino-steak died not long afterwards. Perhaps of chronic diarrhoea? Because… wait for it… that’s what I’d call a Bronto-sore-arse.

Oh fuck the lot of you.

Oh, fuck the lot of you.

The Mokele-Mbembe continues to inspire monster hunters to this day, with the most recent failed expedition even being funded through Kickstarter (an infinitely better use for the service than Zach Braff’s latest ego-wank, by the way). Filmed from a small aircraft in 1992, one of the most popular pieces of video ‘evidence’ comes from Lake Tele and seems to show something moving across the surface before submerging:

As always, the video’s hardly conclusive, but its analysis has also yielded conflicting results. A crocodile wouldn’t produce the same protrusions above the water and an elephant wouldn’t submerge the way the object does. Critics have argued that the best visual match is two men paddling a canoe, but that doesn’t account for the speed of the object. As a criticism it also ignores the fact that most indigenous villagers don’t have canoes that also double as submarines. That’d be fucking cool, but I imagine pressurised submersibles are pretty hard to build out of wood and twine. Unless this guy’s behind the whole thing:

IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW.

IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW.

Whatever the truth behind the Mokele-Mbembe story, as acclaimed zoologist Karl Shuker notes, ‘if there’s one place in the world where dinosaurs could still exist, it’d be the Likouala region’. Or not, because y’know… it’s fucking dinosaurs we’re talking about. Still, there could easily be something big out there still waiting to be discovered, and the possibilities are pretty awesome.

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