by David Catchpoole
Over the past 100 years, there have been many reports of sightings, in a remote area of central Africa, of a swamp-dwelling animal known to local villagers as ‘mokele-mbembe’—the ‘blocker-of-rivers’.1-7 It is described as living mainly in the water, its size somewhere between that of a hippopotamus and an elephant, but with a squat body and a long neck that enables it to pluck leaves and fruit from plants near the water’s edge. The creature is said to climb the shore at daytime in search of food.8 Witnesses’ drawings show that mokele-mbembe resembles nothing recognisable as still living on Earth, but it does bear a startling likeness to a sauropod dinosaur known to us by its fossil skeletons—similar in shape to a small Apatosaurus.9
The imprints of clawed feet and other tell-tale animal trail marks in the jungle around the swamps clearly show evidence of a large, heavy creature that is not a crocodile, hippopotamus or elephant.10 Most reported sightings of mokele-mbembe itself are by local fishermen who, while fishing or travelling by dugout canoe, have unexpectedly encountered the creature. However, there have been scientific expeditions mounted specifically to find the animal in the swamps that dominate much of Congo, Gabon and Cameroon. University-trained biologist Marcellin Agnagna described what he saw on one such expedition to remote Lake Tele in 1983:
‘At approximately 2:30pm, … [we] were then able to observe a strange animal, with a wide back, a long neck, and a small head. … The animal was located at about 300 metres from the edge of the lake, and we were able to adv[a]nce about 60 metres in the shallow water, placing us at a distance of about 240 metres from the animal, which had become aware of our presence and was looking around as if to determine the source of the noise. Dinkoumbou [a local villager] continued to shout with fear. The f[r]ontal part of the animal was brown, while the back part of the neck appeared black and shone in the sunlight. The animal partly submerged, and remained visible for 20 minutes with only the neck and head above the water….
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