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Mokele-Mbembe: Modern Dinosaurs

In the impenetrable African jungle there is a gigantic being that tears hippos to pieces and terrorizes pygmies: is it a survivor of the Mesozoic era or an unknown species?

Mokele-Mbembe: Modern Dinosaurs
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If you venture into the equatorial forest between Congo, Cameroon, and Gabon and reach the lands inhabited by Pygmy tribes near Lake Tele, it will feel like entering a primitive world. Giant trees thirty to forty meters tall, a scorching climate with 100% humidity, and an aquatic environment where the boundary between water and land is very thin; animals of all kinds, gazelles, water buffaloes, hippos, crocodiles... Actually, hippos are no longer found at a certain point. According to the Pygmies, they stay away from those swamps... Because here lives one of the largest existing animals, the terror of Central Africa: the Mokele-Mbembe, the last surviving dinosaur!

But understanding what the Pygmies mean by this word is quite challenging. Dozens of scientific expeditions have come up empty-handed, and so we are left with hypotheses, as if the last surviving member of the dinosaur lineage were a myth...

However, apart from concrete evidence, there are numerous testimonies.

The name in the Likuala language means "The One Who Blocks the Flow of Rivers," but sometimes it is referred to as "The One Who Eats the Leaves at the Tops of Trees": according to the descriptions of the Pygmies, who do not know what dinosaurs look like, it is an animal with an elephant-like body and a very long head and tail, like giraffes. Its approximate length is 10 meters, with the head and tail each about three meters long. The head might have a horn or prominent bony plates, and even fleshy growths like those of roosters.

Map of Congo and the Mokele-Mbembe sighting area.
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Map of Congo and the Mokele-Mbembe sighting area.

The legs are columnar, like those of elephants, with three toes per limb, about one meter in circumference, and a stride of 1.5 to 2 meters. The skin is described as scaly, without hair, and reddish-brown or gray. The animal does not produce sounds or cries and primarily lives submerged in water, coming out at night (but sometimes during the day) to feed. According to the Pygmies, it is entirely herbivorous—its diet consists solely of "Malombo" leaves, a plant known scientifically as Landolphia—but it is very aggressive towards humans and other potentially dangerous species. In fact, the Mokele-Mbembe mercilessly attacks hippos, not to eat them but to protect its territory, possibly its offspring: it is known that the aquatic mammal is also aggressive and often feeds on eggs and young hidden along the banks.

In the areas where the Mokele lives, hippos do not live, and vice versa. However, it supposedly has a more balanced relationship with crocodiles, as the Pygmies claim that the reptiles do not attack the presumed dinosaur unless the animals are sick or old. Regardless, the Mokele is also aggressive towards humans: when a canoe has the misfortune of navigating through a territory "governed" by one of these mysterious animals, it is certain to be capsized by a tail swipe, and its occupants will be killed by drowning.

The Lake Tele.
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The Lake Tele.

For this reason, the Pygmies consider the Mokele-Mbembe an evil god and respect it by keeping their distance. Only in very few cases do they deliberately attack the animal, such as when a specimen inexplicably goes mad and decides to attack a village. In that case, the poor inhabitants must arm themselves with courage and spears to face this real "challenge for survival."

But what is true in these accounts? Many scientists swear that it is all accurate, word for word, even though they cannot document it. Western expeditions reached these areas of the African continent relatively late: after the first approaches by Belgian colonists in 1880, the first scientific expedition reached these deep Congo regions in 1909, led by naturalist Carl Hagenbeck.

Imaginative depiction of a fight between men and Mokele-Mbembe.
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Imaginative depiction of a fight between men and Mokele-Mbembe.

Through the account of two white hunters, he spoke of a creature "half elephant, half dragon." Some time later, another naturalist, Joseph Menges, claimed it was "a type of dinosaur similar to a brontosaurus."

A German expedition in 1913, carried out when Germany took control of the territory, reported details about the Mokele-Mbembe for the first time: Captain Freiherr Von Stein zu Lausnitz reached the Congo from Cameroon, in the area of the Ssombo River, and saw the animal up close. He described in detail the long, muscular neck, the frontal horn, the elephant-like body ("but there are also smaller animals, roughly the size of a hippo"), and the tail that Von Stein said was identical to that of a crocodile. He said he saw the Mokele eating vine-like plants.

In 1920, a 32-man expedition from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington ended in tragedy, and after another unsuccessful expedition in 1932, the Americans returned to Africa only in 1972. Led by herpetologist James H. Powell, amid a thousand difficulties, the expedition's only result was learning that another name used for the mysterious animal is "N'Yamala."

The incredible image of a flesh and blood stegosaurus carved on the walls of the Cambodian temple of
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The incredible image of a "flesh and blood" stegosaurus carved on the walls of the Cambodian temple of Angkor Wat: proof that not all dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago ?

After another trip by Powell in 1976, during which the testimonies of the Pygmies that we have also recounted were collected, the 1980s saw a flourishing of missions. In 1980, a German expedition led by engineer Herman Regusters and an American one headed by cryptozoologist Roy Mackal clearly saw the animal. In 1981, Mackal returned to the Likuala River, and a Congolese scholar in his group, Marcellin Agnagna, had a close encounter with the Mokele-Mbembe. Two years later, Agnagna, who was a zoologist in Brazzaville, was fortunate enough to see and film the animal from 275 meters away: his account is rich in details and led scientists to rule out that it was a monitor lizard, crocodile, or giant turtle. However, the footage appeared grainy and did not explain anything; not even a subsequent 1987 film by a Japanese team helped to clarify the mystery. Four British expeditions between '85 and '92 had the same outcome, although they were led by an expert in the Loch Ness Monster, William Gibbon.

The Barosaurus, a dinosaur extremely similar to an elephant in body and with a very long neck and ta
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The Barosaurus, a dinosaur extremely similar to an elephant in body and with a very long neck and tail. A relationship with the Mokele-Mbembe could be attributed to this type of reptile, which is quite small in size.

Here is the account of those who have been to or live in those places. The only certainty comes from the similarity of the testimonies. The Pygmies are one of the oldest populations on Earth, incredibly in touch with nature, true humans who do not destroy the environment but venerate and respect it: people with an ancient culture, though primitive technologically, and we believe their account should be taken as true. However, they do not know dinosaurs and thus cannot understand what the real existence of the Mokele-Mbembe means to us. Dinosaurs existed until 65 million years ago; at the end of the Cretaceous period, a still partly mysterious event wiped out an entire order of animals that had dominated the Earth for hundreds of millions of years.

Lake Bunyonyi in Uganda, another place where an animal similar to the Mokele-Mbembe has been spotted
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Lake Bunyonyi in Uganda, another place where an animal similar to the Mokele-Mbembe has been spotted.

In a particularly short span of time, a few hundred years, thousands of species became extinct without reason, leaving perfectly symmetrical replacements. Thus, birds succeeded pterosaurs; marine cetaceans replaced plesiosaurs; ruminants took the place of large terrestrial herbivores, and warm-blooded carnivores like Andrewsarchus replaced tyrannosaurs and similar creatures. For a time, gigantism was lost (though it later reappeared among mammals), and there are no logical explanations for what actually happened. Simply put, dinosaurs disappeared, leaving room for the genera of mammals and birds. Some speak of genetic evolution: in essence, it would not be extinction but a sudden and forced mutation on a large scale that led a genus like the dinosaurs, which had become very different from the original reptiles, to develop new potentials. In all this, one wonders how it is possible that a being that should have gone extinct 65 million years ago could have survived all this time in such a relatively small ecological niche.

Camarasaurus is identical to Barosaurus with the exception of a shorter neck and tail. Could a small
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Camarasaurus is identical to Barosaurus with the exception of a shorter neck and tail. Could a small group of these specimens have been saved from extinction 65 million years ago?

Is it really a dinosaur? Or, as eminent zoologists suggest, could it be an unknown species of giant monitor lizard? From fossil remains, we can only say that there are two animals similar in size and build to the Mokele-Mbembe: the Barosaurus and the Camarasaurus. Both effectively have the body of an elephant, but the former has a very long neck and tail, while the latter has much shorter limbs. Perhaps a Camarasaurus could have survived the dozens of cataclysms that have shaken the Earth in these 65 million years, or perhaps it is indeed an example of parallel evolution, being another reptile. However, until a live specimen is captured and scientifically studied, the Pygmies will be the sole custodians of "He who bars the course of rivers."

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