What do you get when you mix old hunter tales, a few myths, some real-life animals, and a dash of imagination? The answer should be nothing at all – but this time, you’ll get a dinosaur called Mokele-mbembe for your trouble. Or rather, you’ll get plenty of things all rolled up in one.
Over 200 years’ worth of witnesses, expeditions, and a lot (and I mean a lot) of gigantic footprints set the scene for this mystery thriller that is yet-to-be-solved. There are plenty of pieces in this puzzle – and most of them don’t even fit.
This is the story of Mokele-mbembe, a creature that, according to several somewhat-trustworthy sources, could be a huge dinosaur, a small animal, a spirit, a deity, or a tourist trap. It’s definitely one of those things. It’s hard to narrow it down, though.
What is Mokele-mbembe?
It’d be easier to answer what’s the meaning of life. When it comes to Mokele-mbembe, saying “42” won’t cut it. There may be 42 different answers to this question, though.
At first, Mokele-mbembe was, allegedly, a huge animal. One that was 10 feet tall and 20 feet long. A big, loud, scary beast of an animal that could put up a fight with the most dangerous dinosaurs back in the day. Some people claim Mokele-mbembe was a dinosaur, the last one of its kind!
As time passed, more stories surfaced. What once was considered as a mighty dinosaur became a 5 feet long-necked hippo-like animal that ate nothing but leaves. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Several natives claim Mokele-mbembe is not an animal nor a dinosaur but a spirit. A guardian of sorts that no human should see without permission. Oddly enough, natives never grant permission to visitors, so that’s as far as we’re getting.
Defining what Mokele-mbembe appears to fall under the DIY category. I’ll stick to believing it’s a real-life, modern dinosaur.
What does Mokele-mbembe look like?
As you know, there are as many descriptions of Mokele-mbembe as there are people who claimed to have seen it (and they are a lot). The best description of this creature goes something like this:
“A huge animal, 10 feet tall and 20 feet long, with a long neck and a long tail. It has one tooth alone, although some people claim it’s not one tooth but one horn. It has short legs and big feet armed with terrifying claws that are used to battle with animals trying to conquer their territory. It’s brown-skinned with no scales. It’s one big smooth killing machine.”
Personality-wise, it’s a bit of a big meanie. Even though most people claim this animal is vegetarian, it’s not the peaceful kind.
Apparently, Mokele-mbembe likes to mess with canoes that come near it. And by mess with I mean killing everybody on board. It seems that this dinosaur has a no-prisoners kind of policy.
When was Mokele-mbembe first mentioned?
In 1776, a missionary named Bonaventure wrote a book about the African continent and its contents. In that book, he talked about many different animals. And even though he didn’t name it explicitly, he talked about a huge animal that left 3-feet wide footprints wherever it went.
At that time, Mokele-mbembe had no name, no fame, and no story. 244 years later, we have plenty of conflicting information to try and figure out what hides behind the deep African forests and lakes.
The people that “spotted” Mokele-mbembe
Lieutenant Paul Gratz was the first to write about Mokele-mbembe and give it a name. He heard the stories, saw a couple of footprints, and even saw a piece of skin that allegedly belonged to the creature.
In that same year, another man named Hagenback also wrote about this creature in his memoirs. The stories he put to paper came from the natives.
Countless other times, countless other dates
There’s no way to include everyone who claimed to see something related to Mokele-mbembe. Most of them saw nothing but footprints. Sometimes, someone sees the creature itself far away on the horizon. Other times, it’s a story told by a friend of a friend. Or native stories that change every day.
For a 10 feet tall dinosaur, it definitely has some A+ hide-and-seek skills. There are two times when people claim to have been face-to-face with this animal – and there’s video footage of one of those encounters – sort of.
Has anyone ever seen Mokele-mbembe?
Ivan Sanderson claims to have seen Mokele-mbembe coming out of a cave when he was traveling around Cameroon. Sanderson said he was on a lake when a gigantic creature came out swimming, roared loudly, and then submerged in the water.
Marcellin Agnagna, a biologist native from Congo, went out on an expedition to find Mokele-mbembe. After days and days of looking, Agnagna claims to have spotted this animal. Not only that, but he says that it was right in front of him for more than 20 minutes!
Agnagna was ready to record this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He grabbed his camera, hit record, and filmed what later on would get him worldwide recognition. When he got back to civilization, he was hailed as a hero. A historic man with game-changing footage.
Unfortunately, Agnagna forgot to remove the lens off of his camera before he started recording. There’s no footage. You live and you learn.
So, is Mokele-mbembe an animal, a monster, a myth, a spirit, or something in between?
All in all, when we’re talking about Mokele-mbembe, we’re talking about an animal, probably a hippo or a giraffe, that was spotted in the early 20th century by people who didn’t know what a hippo was.
After that, the stories kept on building until they were out of control. Those stories mixed with local myths give us Mokele-mbembe, the stealth dinosaur.
On the other hand, we should also consider the fact that there is plenty of uncharted territory in Africa. There are a lot of places that are off-limits for anyone who isn’t a native – and that’s more than enough turf to hide a huge creature that a few people were lucky to encounter. That creature may be a dinosaur. Or it may be a hippo with a long neck.
Want more Mokele-mbembe? Listen to our podcast episode about it below!