Monday, June 30, 2014

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.


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

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