Written by Sean Rorison
© jumpinjimmyjava, Flickr
A prominent story that has developed over centuries of European exploration throughout the northern stretches of Congo concerns the possibility of a primeval beast that still exists in the region; call it the African version of the Loch Ness Monster if you will, yet its existence has never been called into doubt as much as its Scottish partner. It is undoubtedly based on a dinosaur, a four-legged herbivore, and explorers have recorded its existence in the far reaches of Congo for centuries.
French missionaries would record finding strange tracks in 1776, and after consulting with Pygmy tribes of the region, knew that they were not from an elephant. Several other explorers in the swampy outer limits of civilisation also recorded something large and massive living underwater – in 1913, a German explorer recorded stories from the Pygmies of a huge creature, and in 1932 a British scientist wrote of a frightening experience seeing a serpent-like head emerge from the water.
There is little doubt that it is a dinosaur of sorts, described to be something similar to a brontosaurus – over 20m long and 5m tall, a massive thing indeed; yet no-one has managed to encounter it up close and verify it, aside from the Pygmies.
Pygmy tribes in the area speak of building a wall in the 1960s to keep the beast away from their village, and spearing one to death. A victory feast was planned, and all who ate the meat later died from it. More research was done on the creature and an American by the name of James Powell travelled to Gabon in 1976 to explore these myths.
Pygmies told him of a large creature they called N’yamala. A subsequent expedition to Impfondo in 1979 by two biologists brought stories of the Mokele-Mbembe, as they called it, living somewhere in the vast swamps north of the town. The ‘living dinosaur’ has caught the imaginations of numerous explorers. Over a dozen expeditions have been launched into the Likouala swamp north of Impfondo in searched of the mythical beast, yet curiously enough for a massive dinosaur, it has never been found.
Yet several snippets of photo and video taken over the past decades point to something unknown living in the vast wetlands, a swamp which is mostly undeveloped and unexplored. It is a huge area, and local tribes have repeatedly confirmed that something similar to the dinosaur pictures they have been shown exists in the area.
Biologist William J Gibbons continued research on the Mokele-Mbembe in 2002, this time approaching the region from southern Cameroon, with a film crew in tow. Local people there made statements consistent with the Pygmies of northern Congo. However, when shown a picture of a rhinoceros, the locals became extremely excited, proclaiming it to be the dinosaur. Some speculation exists that Pygmies in these areas use the same terminology for both creatures; or, perhaps, they have only heard of the animal through oral histories and the similarities in descriptions makes differentiating the two creatures impossible for them. Either way, research from this expedition was ultimately inconclusive, and to this day no-one has managed to capture concrete evidence of the creature’s existence.