Monday, June 30, 2014

Mokèlé-Mbèmbé, Part 5: “TheReal Brontosaurus of the Congo”

This very inaccurate  reconstruction of a Diplodocus is similar to what is being described from Lake Tele.


In the previous chapter, I told of the various expeditions to the Lake Tele area in search of a living brontosaurus. According to native descriptions the animal is 5-10 m (15-30 feet) long, much of which is neck and tail, with scaly reddish-brown to gray skin, a snake-like head that has a sort of fleshy frill on the back (which is often compared to a rooster’s comb in texture), and three webbed toes at the end of short legs. It may also have filaments growing on its head or neck and two pouches or pocket-like depressions near the junction of its neck and shoulders. The creature hides in the mud during the day with only its nostrils showing and travels and feeds mostly at night. It floats in the water, stretching its neck out to pluck fruit hanging from vines that lay low over the water. 

As any paleontologist will point out this description sounds nothing like a sauropod of any kind. In some ways, it is reminiscent of the older water dwelling dinosaurs of the 1020s to 1960s but in others, it is radically different that even those outdated theories.  This has caused some to dismiss the reports as either wishful thinking or accounts of a new species of lizard. However, there is a simple logical answer to the Congo sauropod reports and this answer was discovered way back in 1981.

That year Mackal received a letter from a J. M. Lefebure of Pretoria Africa who claimed to have seen the Mokèlé-mbèmbé and studied its tracks in the 1960’s. The sighting was obscured do to distance and haze but it was a large mass estimated to be 20-30 feet long with a very small head held at an angle to the neck. The tracks were formed by a by a central furrow made by the creatures body dragging itself through the mud. This furrow was between 3-feet wide. On each side of this furrow were flipper marks 2-3 feet wide by 3-4 feet long with the deeper imprint deeper of five or six toes partially obscured by the webbing that were approximately 3 inches wide. The flipper-marks were compared to those of a duck.  The flipper marks were between five and 6 feet on each side of the belly mark and the toes of the rear feet overlapped those of the front. The shrubs and plants that were on the spoor were crushed like a bulldozer. 

These tracks are nothing like those of a sauropod dinosaur or a monitor lizard. They are without a doubt turtle tracks and thus are a great clue to the identity of the n’yamala.  In addition, during this expedition Mackal and Bryan discovered several other local cryptids one of which he called the “Ndendeki”. This was a huge variety of African Soft-shelled turtle (Trionyx triungus) found in the vicinity of Lake Tele that supposedly had a shell with a diameter of 4-5 meters (12-15 feet). We now know that this was a miss-print and Mackal actually meant the total length of the animal rather than shell diameter but this is still a huge turtle. 
The Giant African Soft-shell


The African soft-shell has an enormous range encompassing much of Africa, parts of the Middle East, and as far north as Turkey. It is found in a wide variety of habitats including rivers, streams, lagoons, swamps, lakes, and has even been captured 3 or 4 km (2 miles) out at sea. In color, it is olive-gray to brown and juveniles may have yellow spots as well as a modest vertebral keel along the back. Like all soft-shells, the bony parts of the shell are simply a light framework covered by skin. It is nothing like the horny shell of the typical turtle and allows these animals to swim and run with amazing quickness as can be seen with this footage of the American species:


In addition, T. triunguis, like most soft-shells, spends the daytime laying in the muddy bottoms of waterways using cutaneous and pharyngeal respiration to satisfy its oxygen demands. It comes out at night to feed and can both swim quickly and run with surprising speed on its three-toed feet thanks to the fact that its shell is covered with skin instead of heavy horn. Thus, behavior also matches the Mokèlé-mbèmbé.

Long thought to never get bigger than 1 meter (3 feet) in length new findings have shown that the Congo population is one of the largest of all turtles. With a total shell length of 120 cm (3 feet 9 inches) and a mass of over 60 kg (132 lbs).

Some confusion of the length of the gigantic turtles as stated by the Natives is probably the result of differences in measurement. In the scientific measurement of turtles, the overall length is not measured but rather just the length of the shell. In a soft-shelled turtle, the head and neck can be long as the shell a turtle only a meter and a half over the curve would be reported as three meters long overall including the neck and tail. Dividing Mackal’s Ndendeki lengths by a third gives a shell length of 1.3-1.6 meters (4-5 feet) which is close enough to known T. triunguis length especially if measured along the curve of the shell. 

A picture worth a 1000 words: a soft-shell turtle (enlarged to the size of the largest African specimens) in  scale with some typical pygmies. Thanks to Dale Drinnon for permission to post this image.
As Dale Drinnon has pointed out the sightings of Mokèlé-mbèmbé simply do not match sauropod anatomy but do match a turtle. According to the sightings, the creatures have legs that are stuck on the sides of the belly like those of a lizard. These legs end in webbed three-toed feet and that when the animals come on land they slide on the belly leaving flipper marks. Note that during his expedition Powell obtained results that matched Plesiosaurs as well as sauropod dinosaurs. This indicates that the natives were responding to the distinctive look of a rounded back and long neck protruding from the water and no other feature.

The comb-like decoration on the head was thought by Dale to be due to confusion with other traditional water-monsters from the area. However, the turtle’s anatomy easily explains this feature as well as the tendrils on the face and the so-called pouches near the shoulder.

In the image below the giant African soft-shell has its head partially retracted into its shell and in this position, the neck skin bunches up into a sort of frill behind the head. Thus, the frill occasionally alluded to. In addition, young African soft-shells often have several rows of small tubercles that disappear with growth thus explaining the rare report of tendrils on the head and neck. The final feature, the pockets are simply the hollows where the neck and front limbs protrude from the shell.

Young African soft-shell showing "frill" behind the head
 As for the supposedly poisonous flesh note, that the meat took several days to butcher and (if the account by Jorgen Birket-Smith was of the same event) feed the villagers for a week. This is long enough for bacteria to form causing food poisoning. It also obviously did not kill everyone as the survivors of the tale prove. In fact, these turtles are commonly eaten but some tribes have strong taboos against eating it.

These turtles may not be between a full-grown hippo and bush elephant in size but they are defiantly bulky and the description reminded explorers of dinosaurs. Even before his death, Roy Mackal thought that some sightings of the Mokèlé-mbèmbé were actually those of Trionyx triunguis.

So why didn’t Mackal realize that the Lake Tele Mokèlé-mbèmbé and T. triunguis were the same animal? Simply because be believed that Giant soft-shells were fully carnivorous and the Mokèlé-mbèmbé ate fruit. However, it turns out that some of the informants claimed that the creatures ate fish as well as Molambo fruit. Moreover, according to ‘Turtles of the World’ by Franck Bonin, Bernard Devaux, and Alain Dupre the Giant African Soft-shell is a true omnivore that consumes fish, insects, mollusks, amphibians, plants, and fallen fruit. It also is ‘unpopular with fishermen because it can damage their nets while trying to get at the fish therein and becomes very aggressive if one tries to pick it up.”  This last explains why the pygmies were so upset when the Mokèlé-mbèmbé kept invading their fishing spot.

Therefore, there is little doubt that the classic brontosaurian Mokèlé-mbèmbé is nothing more than Trionyx triunguis, the Giant African Soft-shell turtle. The environment is fits, the behavior is fits, the appearance is the same, and who knows they may even get bigger than what is currently thought. As the Cryptodominion pointed out years ago this creature is defiantly a turtle. It is not even an unknown turtle as Trionyx triunguis has been known by science since 1775.  Therefore, the classical Mokèlé-mbèmbé should be removed from cryptozoology lists, as it is no longer a cryptid.

Sources: 

Bonin, Frank et all, (2006). “Turtles of the World”.  John Hopkins University Press.

Drinnon, Dale. “Congo Dragons And The Colossal Confusions Over The Colossal Beasts”. Frontiers of Zoology, http://frontiersofzoology.blogspot.com/2012/11/reposting-congo-dragons-and-colossal.html  

Drinnon, Dale. “Titanic Turtles of Tele ”. Frontiers of Zoology, http://frontiersofzoology.blogspot.com/2011/04/titanic-turtles-of-tele.html

Drinnon, Dale. “Was a Mokele-mbembe killed at Lake Tele?” Frontiers of Zoology, Was a Mokele-mbembe killed at Lake Tele

Mackal, Roy P. (1987). A Living Dinosaur? In Search of Mokele-Mbembe. E.J. Brill.

Naish, Darren. “Giant African softshells – wow!” Tetropod Zoology, January 16, 2010. http://scienceblogs.com/tetrapodzoology/2010/01/16/giant-african-softshells-wow/

Cryptodominion, ‘Prehistoric Reptiles’: http://www.angelfire.com/bc2/cryptodominion/frames.html

Mokèlé-Mbèmbé, Part 4: The “Brontosaur” Reports

Typical depiction of the Mokèlé-Mbèmbé as a sauropod dinosaur


As previously mentioned the word Mokèlé-mbèmbé simply means ‘monster’. The ‘brontosaur’ that most people think of when hearing the name Mokèlé-mbèmbé is properly called the n’yamala. The n’yamala is known mainly from reports from the Lake Tele area that refers to an animal with a large body, long neck, and long tail that is intermediate in size between a hippo and a forest elephant. Most cryptozoologists are under the impression that these reports or those of a sauropod dinosaur or some unique herbivorous monitor lizard. Once the reports are fully examined however, the actual animal behind these reports is rather obvious.

The first modern report of this type came to the attention of scientists in 1978 when herpetologist James H. Powell, Jr. went to Gabon to study crocodiles and heard of an animal called the "n'yamala", or "jago-nini" which lived in the local swamps. Powell thought this was the same as the "amali" of Smith's 1920's books and decided upon a second expedition to study this animal. 

Powell returned to the same region in 1979 where he met American missionary Eugene Thomas, who was able to introduce Powell to several claimed eyewitnesses. Unlike Smith’s amali, They said the n’yamala did not have a horn, even after being pressed by Powell. When shown a children’s book on animals the natives chose both a plesiosaur and a Diplodicus as the n'yamala.  Other animals including a bear, tyrannosaurus, stegosaurus, and triceratops were identified as unknown. A pterosaur was identified as a bat. Two unusual features of the n'yamala was thread-like filaments at the back of the head and neck and a pair of ‘pouches’ near the shoulders and front legs where the natives claimed the animal stored the fruit of the jungle chocolate.  

In 1079 Reverend Eugene Thomas from Ohio, USA, told James Powell and Roy P. Mackal  a story that involved the purported killing of a Mokèlé-mbèmbé near Lake Tele. Thomas thought the killing must have taken place in 1959 or thereabouts since one of the tellers claimed; he was a child when it happened. According to this story, the Bangombe tribe of pygmies daily fished in the water channels in the Bai (also known as the Tibeke) river near the north end of the lake. These channels merged with the swamps, and were used by a pair of Mokèlé-mbèmbé to enter the lake. This disrupted the pygmies fishing activities so the pygmies constructed a large spiked fence in the tributary to keep the animals out of the lake. One of the beasts managed to break through and was wounded on the spikes so the natives speared the creature to death.

The animal was described as being bigger than a forest elephant with a long neck, a small snake-like or lizard-like head decorated with a comb-like frill, a long tail, a smooth reddish-brown skin, and four stubby legs with clawed toes.

The pygmies butchered the animal, a task apparently took several days due to the size of the animal and later had a victory feast in which parts of the animal were cooked and eaten.  However, those who participated in the feast supposedly died apparently from food poisoning. 

For his third expedition in February 1980, Powell was joined by Roy P. Mackal. On this expedition, they decided to focus their efforts on visiting the northern Congo regions, near the Likouala aux Herbes River and isolated Lake Tele. At the time, this region was largely unmapped and the expedition was unable to reach the lake. 

During this expedition Powell and Mackal interviewed several people who claimed to have seen Mokèlé-mbèmbé. Descriptions of the creature were of an animal 15 to 30 feet (5 to 9 m) long with a reddish-brown to grey hide, snakelike head (sometimes said to have a frill or rooster-like comb atop it) and neck and a long thin tail. Again, informants again pointed to a picture of a sauropod or plesiosaur when shown pictures of various animals. The Malambo or Jungle chocolate supposedly eaten by the animal was identified as the fruit of the plant Landolphia manni

In 1981, Mackal received a letter from a Jorgan Birket-Smith stating that during the winter of 1949 he saw an unknown monitor lizard in the French Cameroons. The lizard was bulkier than the Nile monitor, sandy colored, and had a meter long body and two-meter long tail. Excited Birket-Smith asked the locals about the local reptiles and in addition to news about the lizard also heard of a creature called ‘nwe’ that had a bulky round body and a long neck and tail. One of the local men told him that when he was a boy the people in his village caught and ate one of these ‘brontosaurs’. According to him, the meat lasted for a full week. According to the natives, the nwe only came out of the water at night and spent the day buried in the muddy river bottoms with only its nostrils and back showing above the surface. 

In 1981, American engineer Herman Regusters led his own Mokèlé-mbèmbé expedition where he and his wife Kai reached Lake Tele. Regusters and his wife claimed to have observed a "long-necked member" traveling across Lake Tele. They also claimed to have tried filming the creature, but said their motion picture film was ruined by the heat and humidity. Only one picture was released showing a large, but unidentifiable, object in the lake. The Regusters expedition also returned with droppings, footprint casts, and sound recordings of a "low windy roar [that] increased to a deep throated trumpeting growl", which Regusters believed were from the Mokèlé-mbèmbé'. However, the Botterweg expedition of 1986 discovered that the local guides that had accompanied the Regusters during their supposed sighting never saw anything. This indicates that this entire event was a hoax.

Congolese biologist Marcellin Agnagna led an expedition to Lake Tele in 1983. There Agnagna discovered that Lake Tele was only 1.5-6 meters (5-20 feet) deep . During his visit Agnagna saw a head on a long neck rise from the water and swim across the lake for about 20 minutes before diving. He tried to film it, but said that in his excitement, he forgot to remove the motion picture camera's lens cap. In a 1984 interview, Agnagna claimed, contradictorily, that the film was ruined not because of the lens cap, but because he had the camera on the wrong setting: macro instead of telephoto and the film was almost completely exposed anyway. Tracks were found that turned out to be forest elephant tracks. 

Another expedition led by the Congolese wildlife official Jose Bourges entered the Congo in 1988. As they were filming aerial footage from a small plane over Lake Tele they filmed a bulbous shape with a long thin protrusion in the front. Despite claims that this was a sauropod dinosaur, the film (which is on You-Tube) is clearly that of a swimming elephant.

Several other expeditions in search of the Mokèlé-mbèmbé have taken place in the lake Tele area but have done little more than collect native folklore or photograph unidentifiable blurry lumps in the water. For a full account of these, see Wikipedia.

So what is behind the brontosaurus of Lake Tele? Well it turns out that the Mackal expedition of 1981 is the single most useful expedition for indentifying the lake Tele Mokèlé-mbèmbé type for Mackal actually discovered what the creature was but went to his death without realizing it. 

Next Chapter will identify the beast behind the legend.


Sources:

Mackal, Roy P. (1987). A Living Dinosaur? In Search of Mokele-Mbembe. E.J. Brill.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mokèlé-Mbèmbé, A Living Dinosaur? Part 3: Kasai Rex & Afroraptor

Artist impression of the Kasai Rex obtained by modifying clip art


Kasai rex is a darling of the internet. No discussion online of African dinosaurs can be made without someone claiming that the Kasai rex must be real because we have photos. The Kasai rex is supposedly a living Tyrannosaurus rex (and it is always T. rex rather than any theropod that was actually indigenous to Africa) that stomps about the Congo like Godzilla.

The glamor of this huge carnivorous theropod seems to cause people to lose their objectivity. I say this because as soon as one does even a few minutes of research the Kasai rex story dissolves into a huge pile of steaming manure.

The Kasai Rex Report


Most believers speak of a tradition among the natives of a tyrannosaurus in Africa. However, note that nobody gives it a native name. The reason for this is simple - the “tradition” of the Kasai rex does not exist. The only evidence for it is a single report by a white hunter.  There are several versions of this report but in all of them the sighting was made by a Swedish plantation owner named John Johnson (also spelled Johanson) and supposedly occurred on February 16, 1932 in the Kasai valley, Belgian Congo.

Most versions on the internet are actually a short summary of the sighting that state:




Johnson was traveling with a servant in the Kasai valley, in the Belgian Congo. They encountered a rhinoceros, and, while attempting to pass it without detection, were surprised by a large creature rushing out of the undergrowth and attacking the rhinoceros. The servant ran away and Johnson fainted. He awoke to see that the creature was eating the rhinoceros.

Most websites simply say the creature was a Tyrannosaurus. Those that give a description usually state that the creature was reddish in color with blackish-colored stripes, a long snout with numerous teeth, was 13 meters (43 feet) long, and had thick legs that reminded Johnson of a lion, “built for speed". All of which sound more like a vastly exaggerated tiger than any dinosaur.

The most complete version of the report can be found in the Rhodesia Herald and is as follows:

On February 16 last I went on a shooting trip, accompanied by my gunbearer. I had only a Winchester for small game, not expecting anything big. At 2 p.m. I had reached the Kasai valley.
No game was in sight. As we were going down to the water, the boy suddenly called out "elephants". It appeared that two giant bulls were almost hidden by the jungle. About 50 yards away from them I saw something incredible - a monster, about 16 yards in length, with a lizard's head and tail. I closed my eyes and reopened them. There could be no doubt about it, the animal was still there. My boy cowered in the grass whimpering.
I was shaken by the hunting-fever. My teeth rattled with fear. Three times I snapped; only one attempt came out well. Suddenly the monster vanished, with a remarkably rapid movement. It took me some time to recover. Alongside me the boy prayed and cried. I lifted him up, pushed him along and made him follow me home. On the way we had to transverse a big swamp. Progress was slow, for my limbs were still half-paralyzed with fear. There in the swamp, the huge lizard appeared once more, tearing lumps from a dead rhino. It was covered in ooze. I was only about 25 yards away.
It was simply terrifying. The boy had taken French leave, carrying the rifle with him. At first I was careful not to stir, then I thought of my camera. I could hear the crunching of rhino bones in the lizard's mouth. Just as I clicked, it jumped into deep water.
The experience was too much for my nervous system. Completely exhausted, I sank down behind the bush that had given me shelter. Blackness reigned before my eyes. The animal's phenomenally rapid motion was the most awe-inspiring thing I have ever seen.'
I must have looked like one demented, when at last I regained camp. Metcalfe, who is the boss there, said I approached him, waving the camera about in a silly was and emitting unintelligible sounds. I dare say I did. For eight days I lay in a fever, unconscious nearly all the time.'

Criticism of the Case

The Kasai rex story has been criticized due (to all things) the hunter’s claim that "giant bull" elephants were in the jungle. The complaint is that forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) are much smaller than the familiar Bush elephant (Loxodonta africana) of the plains. Maybe so but most forest elephants are still enormous compared to a man and adult bull elephants larger than younger bulls and cows.

The report has also been criticized for being stated in “mumbo jumbo” terms as if written to entertain instead of in a neutral-termed scientific account. To this I say of course, it was meant to entertain, it was written for a newspaper not a scientific journal! Besides the report is typical of the hunting stories from its era.

Honestly to debunk the Kasai rex all you need to do is show the photograph.


The Photographs


Three photographs of the Kasai rex exist. The first one is the one actually taken by Johnson.

The Original Kasai Rex Photo

This is clearly a monitor or tegu lizard crudely superimposed upon the picture of a sleeping or dead rhinoceros. You can even see the original lighter background of the original lizard photo surrounding the “monster”.  The photo is so obviously fake that even true believers admit that yes this photo is a hoax but this one is the REAL Kasai rex photo!


The second Kasai Rex Photo by Finbar

To be honest I always thought the dinosaur in this photo looked like the Allosaurus that was animated eating a dead dinosaur in the original Land of the Lost television show. Thus I figured someone just superimposed a still from that scene over a dead rhino.

The Highland Tiger recently unmasked this photo as a mockup (not a hoax but an image made as a book illustration) created by a photo manipulator who goes under the internet name of Finbar.  Finbar says the “Kasai Rex” model was created by fellow artist  Yarriwarrior based on a Charles R Knight’s famous painting of an Allosaurus feeding upon the tail of an Apatosaurus. The Land of the Lost Allosaur was based on this same painting so I was not far off.



Alan Friswell of the CTZ has also created a mockup, which he describes as “crap” that “in all honesty--that I only took twenty minutes to cobble it together.”
  
Third Kasai Rex Photo by Alan Friswell

So of the three Kasai Rex photos the original has long been acknowledged to be a hoax along with the report accompanying it. Of the other two, they are admitted mockups! None are real but all have appeared as “evidence” on creationist’s websites.  

Afroraptor the Living Dromaeosaur!

There is another supposed theropod that I have seen mentioned on cryptozoologist blogs and creationist sites that I have yet to see debunked – and it really needs to be. This is a supposed “Velociraptor” inhabiting the Congo. It usually goes under the name Afroraptor.

Afroraptor in the game Zoo Tycoon 2

Afroraptor has no native reports and I first heard of it when it appeared as a “hypothetical dinosaur” in the African Abnormalities Mini-Pack for the game Zoo Tycoon 2 created by Kingcobrasaurus. It has subsequently appeared in the movie The Dinosaur Project where it sported a Jurassic Park Dilophosaurus frill.

The truth is “Afroraptor” first appeared in the role playing game supplement Dark Matter: Xenoforms for the Alternity game. This book, published by the same folks who made Dungeons & Dragons, featured a creature called Congoraptor. Congoraptor was a cryptid dromaeosaur from the Congo along with the Mokèlé-mbèmbé and similar living dinosaurs. 

Congoraptor from the 'Dark Matter' RPG

Therefore, Afroraptor/Congoraptor is not a real animal – or a hoax. Its a d&d monster like the owlbear and rust monster!

I find it hysterical that the same people who damn role-playing games as evil are useing a d&d monster as “proof” that evolution is a lie – and they wonder why so many people now think Christians are nuts. Sigh.

The conclusions are obvious: there is no Kasai Rex or Afroraptor in Africa – or anywhere else the in the real world for that matter. Both are completely imaginary and no more proof of living dinosaurs than Barney is.

Barney & Friends

Sources:

Mackal, Roy P. (1987). A Living Dinosaur? In Search of Mokele-Mbembe. E.J. Brill.

Mandanas, Cedric. (March 14, 2012). 10 Cryptids That Were Proven False. Listverse.

The Highland Tiger. (Saturday, 22, March, 2010)  “The Kasai Rex, and the Laziness of CFZ Researchers.” Cryptozoology – The Truth.  http://cryptozoologythetruth.blogspot.com/

The Highland Tiger. (Wednesday, 31, March, 2010)  “Are the CFZ Relaxing their Stance?.” Cryptozoology – The Truth.  http://cryptozoologythetruth.blogspot.com/

Wiker, J.D. (2000). Dark Matter: Xenoforms. TSR11648. Wizards of the Coast.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Mokèlé-Mbèmbé, A Living Dinosaur? Part Two: Native Art

Kuppenhole Rock Art



In the last post I reviewed the earliest reports of the so-called African Dinosaurs and found them inconclusive at best and outright hoaxes at the worst.  Several of these early sightings mention native rock art of these mysterious saurians. Maybe they can clear up the puzzle? 

The most commonly reproduced of these images are some African rock art from Kuppenhole, Tanganyika (Tanzania). A copy of this art can be seen at the head of this articles and it is clearly a picture of a giraffe as can be seen by its mane and ossicones. Comparisons to other native drawings of giraffes conforms this.



The Kuppenhole 'dinosaur' compared to various giraffes in African Rock art 




Dale Drinnon of FRONTIERS OF ZOOLOGY thinks the animals found below the ‘dinosaur’ in the Kuppenhole picture are a Sivatherium and two seals. According to him the ungulate has “multiple horns” that mean that it is “probably a Sivatherium.”

There is just one problem; the animal does not have multiple horns. It has two horns just like the majority of bovids in the world and is clearly either a roan (Hippotragus equinus) or sable (Hippotragus niger) antelope, both of which are native to Tanzania. 

Sable antelope (on the left) and roan antelope (on the right)


As for the “seals” they are so vague and stylized it is hard to tell what they are: seals, rabbits, monkeys, or my personal suspicion – Two men, one naked and the other wearing a headdress.

Makal also sites same Zambian cave paintings reported by Clark in 1959. They are a group of three animals on one panel. The short limbs, thick necks, and long tails are consistent with depictions of lizards or crocodiles. The short snouts show that they are lizards, probably monitors. The quadrupedal body, proportions, short necks and large heads rules out sauropods or any other dinosaur.

Zambian "Dinosaurs"


The last piece of native art that is supposed to show the Mokèlé-mbèmbé is this “Little Gold Dinosaur” found by Manny Staub in a set of Ashanti balance-scale weights.  Cryptozoologists have claimed it represents a Brontosaurus, an Iguanodon and even a Tyrannosaur.  Most people however, even Dale Drinnon, suspect it is simply a monitor lizard. 

The Little Gold "Dinosaur"



Therefore, of three supposed African Dinosaur native depictions two show lizards and one shows a giraffe, a Hippotragus antelope, and possibly some naked men. None show dinosaurs.

What about photographs? The Kasai Rex photos are often given as the best ones of the so-called African dragons. Let us look at them next. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Mokèlé-Mbèmbé, A Living Dinosaur? Part One: 1776 to 1939

Mokele-Mbembe according to Roy P. Mackal



Mokèlé-mbèmbé is a legendary water-dwelling creature of Congo River basin folklore, claimed to be a living sauropod by creationists and many cryptozoologists. In addition to a sauropod some claim there are living sivatheres, ceratopsians, stegosaurs, and even tyrannosaurs in the African Congo. To these people Central Africa is an actual Lost World that will disprove evolution

Unfortunately, no matter how much I would love to see a living dragon, once the actual reports are consulted the claims fall apart into wishful thinking, misquoted scientists, reports of known animals, reports of an unidentified rhinoceros, and hoaxes.

First the name “Mokele-mbembe” is a Lingala word that can mean a variety of things including "one that stops the flow of rivers, "one who eats the tops of trees," "monstrous animal “or even”spirit beast." It is thus a generic local term for “water spirit/monster.”

Now let’s look over the history of this entity starting with the earliest reports and clearing up some of the misconceptions given in Wikipedia…

 The Early Reports

1776:  Abbé Lievain Bonaventure, a French missionary to central Africa claimed to have seen enormous three clawed footprints “about three feet in circumference."

1909: famed big-game hunter Carl Hagenbeck claimed in his book Beasts and Men, of hearing stories about a creature "half elephant, half dragon” in the Congo. Naturalist Joseph Menges told Hagenbeck about an animal alleged to live in Africa, described as "some kind of dinosaur, seemingly akin to the brontosaurs." Another of Hagenbeck's sources, Hans Schomburgk, asserted that while at Lake Bangweulu his native guides informed him of a large hippo-killing creature that lived in the Lake.

1909:  According to Lt. Paul Gratz  the indigenous legends of what would be modern day Zambia spoke of a creature known by native people as the "Nsanga", which was said to inhabit Lake Bangweulu. He was shown a hide which he was told belonged to the creature, while visiting Mbawala Island. Gratz speculated that it was a saurian after consulting with Carl Hagenbeck.

NOTE: According to Wikipedia Gratz described the creature as resembling a sauropod. This is not so. The original report states a saurian. A saurian is NOT a sauropod but rather is a term that was used for any sort of lizard-like reptile in the 18th and early 19th century. In fact it was commonly used for crocodiles as well as any sort of prehistoric reptile. Inany case it is obvious that Carl Hagenbeck is the source of the rumors that our cryptid is a living dinosaur.
A lovely piece of Apatosaurus from Clipart


1913:  German Captain Freiherr von Stein zu Lausnitz was ordered to conduct a survey of German colonies in what is now Cameroon. While there he heard stories of a brownish -gray animal with a smooth skin that was between the size of a hippopotamus and an elephant.  It was said to have a long, flexible neck a very long tooth or horn on its snout. A few spoke about a long, muscular tail like that of a crocodile. The creature was said to live in caves washed out of the river bank and to attack canoes and kill the people but not eat the bodies as it was completely vegetarian. Its preferred food was a kind of liana with large white blossoms, a milky sap, and an apple-like fruit.

The Smithstonian/Le Page Hoax

1919-1920: A 32-man expedition was sent to Africa from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. between 1919 and 1920. The objective of this expedition was to secure additional specimens of plants and animals. Supposedly the African guides found large, unexplained tracks along the bank of a river and heard “mysterious roars”. A train wreck supposedly killed four team members and injured several others so the expedition was curtailed before anyone could confirm these rumors. However, the “dinosaur” reports are actually due to the following report…

1919: In November reports began appearing in newspapers claiming that the Smithstonian Institution encountered a living dinosaur that October. It began with “A Tale From Africa, Semper Aliquid Novi” published in the London Times. According to this report  one of the explorers named M. Le Page who was in charge of railroad construction in the Congo followed some strange footprints while hunting and encountered a monster.

The creature charged out of the jungle forcing Le Page to flee. Now at a safe distance Le Page watched the animal through binoculars. It was 24 feet long with a long pointed snout, tusks like a boar, a single short rhino-like nose horn, a scaly hump on its back, and the front feet ended in solid hooves like a horse while the rear feet ended in cloven hooves!

This which-what-who then supposedly rampaged through a village, killing several natives. According to the Smithstonian “Primeval monsters could of survived in the African Swamps”.

This story was expanded upon in latter newspapers until the New York Times in December 13th 1919 claimed the hunter, now named M. Gapelle, shot a “brontosaurus of the rhinoceros order” with large scales reaching far down it’s body, a kangaroo-like tail, a horn on it’s snout, and a hump on it’s back.

Things got so silly that Wentworth D. Grey, acting representative of the Smithstonian African Expedition, contacted the London Times on January 21st to contradict the reports. According to him the dinosaur story was just a practical joke that had got out of hand and Le Page/Gapelle did not exist but the name was coined from the famed paleontologist L. Le Page.

So there you have it, the whole Smithstonian report was a Hoax!

Other Early Sightings

1927: in the 1870s Alfred Aloysius Smith while working for a British trading company in Gabon hears native tales from the natives of a strange beast called the "jago-nini" or "amali". The creature was said to be very large, leave three clawed footprints, and would surge out of the water to devour people. Smith speculated that it was responsible for the dead elephants occasionally encountered with shattered tusks. He published this in his Trader Horn in 1927.

1932: Ivan T. Sanderson claimed that, while in Cameroon in 1932, he and zoologist Gerald Russel was looking at some waterlogged caverns in the river bank when they heard animal noises. Suddenly a large back surfaced before almost immediately submerging. They latter encountered hippo-like tracks. The natives said there were no hippos in the area and that the animal they saw was called "m'koo m'bemboo". Sanderson latter joked that “The head alone was nearly the size of a hippo”, something later cryptozoologist have taken seriously.

1938: Leo von Boxberger mounted an expedition to investigate the Mokèlé-mbèmbé reports. He supposedly collected much information from natives, but his notes and sketches had to be abandoned during a conflagration with local tribesmen.

1939:  the German Colonial Gazette (of Angola) published a letter by Frau Ilse von Nolde, who asserted that she had heard of the animal called the "coye ya menia" ("water lion") from both natives and settlers.  It was a hippo sized, long necked creature that lived in the rivers. It was known to attack hippos but never ate them.

Conclusions

So the early history of the Mokèlé-mbèmbé is nothing but recordings of native folklore, a single possible sighting, and a hoax. Note how none of these early reports are anything like a brontosaurus. If anything they seem to be describing a new form of rhinoceros. Only a few reports mention a long neck but even they have mention three toed rhino-like tracks and a horn on the nose. In addition the neck could be long only in comparison to a hippo or elephant, so still be short by modern standards. Besides several extinct rhinoceri had rather lengthy necks such as this hyracodon: 

Hyracodon



If the neck truly is long and the tail is indeed heavy and reptilian than the result still does not resemble a sauropod. Sauropods did not have three claws on all four feet. The front prints resembled nail less horseshoes, though early groups had a single thumb claw.

Another nice piece of Apatosaur clipart, this one showing acurate foot anatomy!

If anything the result sounds more like the dragon on the Ishtar Gate. The Dragon on the gate has often been linked to the “Congo dragon”. The Babylonian dragon or Mushushu (Sumerian for "Adorned or Glamorous Serpents" which were also called Sirrush by the Akkadians) was a common symbol in the Middle East and was considered a sacred beast. Most identify it as a monitor lizard but the bird-like feet and single horn of the animal on the Ishtar Gate caused early archeologists to compare it with the Iguanodon. And so the dragon was linked to living dinosaurs and still used by creationists to ‘prove” that dinosaurs lived with man. 

Mushushu of the Ishtar Gate
 Unfortunately for creationists the Iguanodon of the 18th century was a giant rhino-like lizard that never existed. Better fossils showed that the Iguanodon was actually a rather horse-like animal with a spike on the thumb not the nose.




In addition other images of mushushu exist that clearly show that the animal had two horns. In addition the animal is clearly the ancestor of the Serpopard (stylized snake-necked lions that have also been claimed to be sauropods by creationists) and ultimately of the questing beast of King Arthur. 

 Today, despite comparisons by some cryptozoologists to sea serpents, the mushushu is considered to be a monitor lizard wearing a crown to show it’s sacred and kingly status. Some papers even indicate that it was the source of the sacred oil used during biblical times. In all it probably was the Nile Monitor and its only link with the Mokèlé-mbèmbé is that some of the latter reports may also be of monitors.

Well that’s long enough for this post. Maybe later reports will be more dinosaurian, or maybe not. Next time a look at the alleged cave paintings of the Mokèlé-mbèmbé
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Sources:
Carroll, Robert T. "mokele-mbembe". The Skeptic's Dictionary. John Wiley & Sons. Retrieved 28 December 2011.

Drinnon, Dale. “Ancient Babylonian and Assyrian Dragons are also Euryapsids”. Frontiers of Zoology. http://frontiersofzoology.blogspot.com/2011/08/ancient-babylonian-and-assyrian-dragons.html

Drinnon, Dale. “More Gargoyle Dragons but out of Africa by Rome”. Frontiers of Zoology. http://frontiersofzoology.blogspot.com/2011/08/more-gargoyle-dragons-but-out-of.html

Gardener, Laurence. Realm of the Ring Lords;  Fair Winds Press. 2003

Gibbons, William J., Missionaries And Monsters; Coachwhip Publications, 2006

Ley, Willy (1966). Exotic Zoology. New York: Capricorn Books.

Mackal, Roy P. (1987). A Living Dinosaur? In Search of Mokele-Mbembe. E.J. Brill.